Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is Mr Brown for Turning?

Yesterday Gordon Brown espoused a new world vision, proposing that society's values of "fairness, stewardship and co-operation" must be upheld in business, markets, public policy and across the whole public arena. These are welcome words, but are they just that? They come from the very man who at the 11th hour kicked out the very mechanism that would have ensured the incorporation of such values into the boardroom just two years ago.

The Operation and Financial Review, if it were still operational, would have mandated the 1,300 or so publicly listed companies in the UK to produce narrative statements assessing their performance for the next financial year, including the reporting of social and environmental risks and opportunities. The OFR was set to be included in companies' annual reports, and the first batch were to be published in April 2006. Yes, the new Companies Act was subsequently rolled out, but the included amendments (the limply termed "expanded business review") had successfully watered down any level of increased corporate accountability.

So I am greatly intrigued to hear Gordon's rhetoric. He is right of course, we do need these three values embodied within business practise. But of course, it all depends on how you define and act on these terms (I hear the chant of the Suffragettes echoing ever louder inside my head: Deeds Not Words). Could this mean a reinstatement of mandatory reporting by boards on environmental and social issues? Could it mean the bottom line not being just one of profit but also people and planet? Businesses built on partnerships, support, co-operation, equality, protection of their communities (not just human communities), gender balanced - and dare I say it, love? A place where communication and creativity thrives, where flexibility and decentralisation become the norm rather than the top-down dominator hierarchy that most corporations adhere to (and are now beginning to fail). This would indeed be the business world of the future.

Mr Brown, I hold you to your words.

If you want to know more about how to restructure corporations for the 21st century, read these two:
Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom The Starfish and the Spider
David C. KortenThe Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Communities

[with thanks to John for nudging me to ping this up]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sarkozy's Council of Wise Men

It is with some concern that I found myself reading Sarkozy’s latest proposal – the creation of a Council of Wise Men to ponder the future of Europe. The man who is touted as being in favour of women’s equality, who has half a cabinet of women (his so-called 'babes') and has traded in one intelligent lady for a younger, leggier but dumber model (she is the one who gained extensive column coverage after claiming on her recent state visit as newly married Mrs Sarkozy that she would like to have a bath with Tony Blair).

So, here we have it, 80 years on since women won the right to vote on equal terms with men, and the start of democratic representation as we know it today - 100 years after the suffragettes fought in this country for those equal rights (and a mantle in their honour I was carrying, just the previous night in Parliament Square), one of the highest profile men in the world (the EU presidency is currently vested in France) has determined that his Council for such weighty matters would be manned by well, men! The implication being that there are no women up to the job, that Sarkozy's women are for the pleasure of the eye, but little more. Certainly this is the case when it comes to weighty matters of the EU. But maybe he allows a little lassitude of the non-political persuasion when at home. How very French.

I put this very issue to a panel of women in the House of Commons last night, who were discussing why so few women are in politics (No Politics Please...We're Women!). I asked them to comment on this decision. One response came back that made me sit up, from fellow celt Lee Chalmers of the The Downing Street Project. She suggested that a corresponding Council of Wise Women be appointed - and see what issues they thought important to ponder upon - and then bring the two together.

This make a lot of sense on numerous levels. Firstly, women do approach politics in a different manner. As Helen Goodman MP pointed out last night, we think differently, we have a different agenda, we have a different style. This is not mere observation, but is fact. Investigations have established that from the age of seven, males and females develop differing approaches to the concept of reason. Males, it was discovered, are more linear in their thinking - issues tend to be either right or wrong. Whereas females diverge and become more holistic, and therefore find it difficult to answer a moral question immediately. Look how this plays out in politics, even today, with the cut and thrust and subsequent reportage on politics. One of our broadsheets presents a boxing scoring on politicians on the issue of the day.

But this is not to say that women are not suited to our masculine, male dominated political world. Decisions are at the end of the day taken in multi-lateral institutions. It's about coalition building, and women are very good at doing that. Look at Angela Merkel, she is exceptionally effective in this arena. Women network on multi and numerous levels, cross referencing and supporting.

Secondly, can a man ever properly represent a woman? Is it practical, do they have the drive to represent women's interests? To really understand and be in a woman's shoes - you really have to be a woman.

I agree with Lee, it is not simply a matter of either/or, but a matter of balance - of both male and female - if we are to benefit for all and our future, tackle trans-boundary issues such as global warming, food, poverty. That's why I set up Wise Women, my network of women who care about creating a more sustainable and environmentally benign world - to start to redress that imbalance, and facilitate more women in becoming comfortable with their voice in what is still predominantly a man's world (in this case with regard to the environment). This is not to say we need less men, but rather that we need more women stepping into leadership roles, now more than ever. It has been statistically proven that countries that have higher participation by women in politics do better and correspondingly encourage more balanced decision making.

If Sarkozy was setting up his team within a company context, he would quite rightly be accused of bias and discrimination. I am if nothing but a lawyer with years of experience in the employment courts. Discriminatory behaviour is something I understand well. Yet for some reason, when it comes to the larger stage, such rights which have been hard-fought for are so easily disregarded. Not one country has taken issue with this anomaly. Why is Sarkozy allowed to do this? The EU, that so prides itself in being transparent and accountable after the debacle of the corruption they swept out in the late 90's, has just demonstrated - that when it comes to the crunch - once again it is jobs for the boys.

I have set up my own Council of Wise Women, and I invite Mr Sarkozy to join us. Maybe that way we can find a way forward for us all.

Women's Resource Centre
The Downing Street Project
Women's Environmental Network
Women and the Vote

Climate Rush: The Aftermath

So, news. What a night! All dressed up in our Edwardian bloomers, piled hair, high collars and red sashes, 2000+ of us took to Climate Rush in Parliament Square. Just as the suffragettes of a century ago had fought for Women's Rights so here we were fighting for the Planet's Rights. The feminine energy was palpable, as was the spirit of our female ancestors.

Two of my Wise Women had made me a wonderful banner, Trees Have Rights Too, appliqued with the clothes of their mother, full of references to times past, present and future, imbued with such spirit - there were even buttons that had been worn at suffragette rallies of the previous century (thank you Tabitha and Lucy). Thus, so the wisdom of our sisters a hundred years back came pouring through - those of the past helping those in the present to move forward into the future. It was a cause they would be fully in accord with, for sure. And so we rushed (ladylike of course) at Parliament's doors.

One rather surly interviewer questioned me at length on whether the potential breach of security was justified. Yes, I replied. If it takes the storming of Parliament to get Gordon Brown to take action on climate change, then yes, the end certainly justifies the means. What of our democratic right to protest? Time now for action - that's why we were chanting the very chant of the Suffragettes - Deeds Not Words. Going by the heightened activity of my inbox and texts the following morning, all and sundry who couldn't make it supported my sentiment after hearing me speak on the 10 o'clock BBC news that night. A collective cheer, I am told, reverberated across the country.

It seems District Judge Michael Snow at City & Westminster Magistrates (an old haunt of mine) also agreed. There had been arrests - five brave ladies in pursuit of direct action were handcuffed and removed. Tamsin, who had organised the event, was up on breach of her bail conditions after having scaled the Houses of Parliament's roof in November of last year in protest against the planned expansion of Heathrow Airport. Sage DJ Snow said he recognised "the need for proportionality and one should hesitate from taking away bail from someone exercising their right to protest."

So it had been a remarkable and joyous event, with some fine cakes, tea and something far stronger to keep off the chill. Be warned Mr Brown, this is but a taster - the beginning of something far bigger. Women are fighting for the Planet (with a little help from the chaps too). We shan't stop until you and your government do so too.

For more wonderful pics, see Amelia's Blog.
video of protestand shots of friends being arrested.
Indymedia pics

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Climate Rush

Monday 13th is the 100th anniversary of the Suffragettes rush on Parliament. Climate Rush (organised by Wise Woman Tamsin Ormond) ask all Wise Women - and men - to a rally and celebration in Parliament Square to call on politicians to take immediate action on climate change. Just as the Suffragettes fought for Women's Rights; now it's time that we fight for our Planet's Rights.

Speakers include wise women Caroline Lucas MEP, Rosie Boycott, and many more.

What to wear: Dress in white or wear period costume (just like our ladies on their bikes!). You will be given a Climate Rush sash. For inspiration & photos see here.
What to bring: flask of tea and cakes
Where: Parliament Square outside the Houses of Parliament, London.
WISE WOMEN rendezvous: under the Churchill statue for WW flyers and stickers. Watch out for the WW banner Trees Have Rights Too (appliqued by WW Tabitha Neal in honour of the Tree Lady and fellow Wise Woman Wangari Maathai) - there you will find a cluster of WW!
When: 5.30 pm, Monday 13th October 2008

WISE WOMEN - Women In Sustainability and the Environment

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Climate Change & Me

Lots happening in my neck of the woods these days. This weekend there's a free family festival to empower you to save cash and have fun tackling climate change. It's on Saturday the 11th October 2008 11am - 6pm at Highbury Fields Secondary School.

I shall be time and space travelling with Dr Who in his tardis to look at the effects of climate change and what positive solutions we can put in place. In the afternoon I will be giving workshops on how to be an effective eco-activist (with a few newly learned tricks up my sleeve, thanks to all at Kingsnorth Climate Camp).

Fellow Wise Woman Penney Poyzer will be there too, to answer questions on how to green your home; authors Pete May (of the deliciously funny There's a Hippo in my Cistern) and Wise Woman Nicola Baird (of the fantastically practical Save Cash and Save the Planet) will be joining other writers to sign copies of top eco-must-reads. There will be clothes swaps ('swishing', for those in the know, so my 8 year old neighbour proudly tells me), there will be local grown and home-cooked fayre, there will be workshops on how to make your Victorian home more energy efficient, and how to have fun on your street. This and much more can be found at Climate Change and Me

See you there!