Sunday, 23 February 2014

Habari from Kenya

So here I am at last in Kenya. I had planned to come here last year, but the visit had to be postponed when I broke my ankle. I am staying with Sandy (whom some research participants will remember from Port Phillip Community Group). Kenya is marvellous, and we had a close encounter with elephants in Samburu Reserve last week.

Apart from enjoying the wonderful hospitality, scenery and wildlife, I have also been finding out about some of the voluntary work Sandy does here. Kenya is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with huge divisions of wealth and poverty. It also has much corruption, often linked with ethnic affiliation. I love the people I have met here, they are friendly, vital and hard working, but they face many challenges.

In partnership with Chris Ellard in Melbourne, Sandy has set up a breakfast program in two local schools. Not all families are able to give their children enough food, particularly at this time of year, which is the dry season, when there is not much growing in the shambas (the gardens or subsistence plots for growing fruit and vegetables). Providing breakfast not only helps the children's nutrition, but encourages them to come to school and ensures they are not too hungry to learn. Primary education for all children is a key national priority in Kenya.

I had the pleasure to visit one of the schools. Below I am showing some of the children and their teacher photos of Australia. The children particularly loved the photo of a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch.

Yesterday, Sandy and I went to visit the widow and three children of a local man who recently died, at only 46 years old. He was a mountain guide of many years' experience, and was dedicated to conservation and wildlife. With help from his former employer and workmates, his widow is managing to feed and care for her children, but it is clear that that she (and the children) have to work very hard to achieve this.

The two younger children, both boys, are still at primary school. The oldest, a girl, has recently completed secondary school. Like her father, she is passionately committed to conservation and wildlife, and her ambition is to train in wildlife management with Kenya Wildlife Service. The diploma course costs about $3000 AUD however, and without her father's income it is unlikely that she will be able to do so. She is a bright and impressive young woman, and we felt it would be good if we could assist her in some way. It would be great to support a woman entering this field in Kenya. One  of Kenya's most famous environmental and political activists was a woman, Wangari Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Sadly, however, Kenya's environment and wildlife are under great threat, from climate change,  forest clearing and poaching, in particular

If anyone would like to know more, or offer support, please contact me on for further information. Please also feel free to disseminate this information to friends and contacts. Kenya is a beautiful and vivid country with beautiful and vivid people. From an Australian project dedicated to promoting equity and environment, to support people in a poor country who are working towards the same goals seems a very worthwhile aim.

I recognise that in a way the connection I am seeking to make with Kenya is a chance one, arising from the fact that I visited this country at this time. Yet I believe in building on chance connections. There are huge differences between Kenya and Australia. But if you look deeper, there are also profound similarities, such as our love of nature and wildlife, our desire to see children thrive and learn, and the quest for women's participation and empowerment.

Classified as: reflective journal, ideas, advocacy

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Unfinished business - sexism in left wing politics

Classified as: reflective journal, politics, discourse, feminist theory, advocacy

So according to John Quiggin, my concerns about sexism on his blog are unfounded and arise simply because I can't tolerate any criticism of Julia Gillard:

"OK Val, I think we’ve established that your only concern about sexism on this site relates to your view that criticism of Gillard, even on policies which you are unwilling to defend, was automatically sexist"

Well I guess I'm just a silly emotional woman, probably unrealistic to expect anything better of me ...

For some time now I've been trying to write a post about the way certain left wing or "progressive" male bloggers reacted to the prime ministership of Julia Gillard. I've trawled through the blogs and I've engaged in on-line discussions with the bloggers and with people who comment on the blogs. I've done some background reading on the issues.

Nevertheless I can't write a definitive post at this time. What I can say is this: there are general themes and tendencies in the way anti-Gillard left bloggers and their supporters reacted to Gillard, and there are also general themes in the way they responded to critics like me.

These are:
  • Their criticisms of Gillard were immoderate and often personal
  • They saw moral failures (eg being dishonest) or being on the wrong side of politics (eg being right wing or neo-liberal) as the cause of her mistakes
  • They blamed her personally for government failures or mistakes, but they did not give her personal credit for government successes
  • They reacted to feminist criticism by refusing to address the substance of the criticism or by denigrating the critic.
  • Where the critic was a woman, a very common response was to say that she was incapable of accepting any criticism of Gillard (as per John Quiggin's comment above - I don't think I ever saw any of them suggest this when the critic was male)
  • Another common response was to say that the feminist critics were participating in a Rudd-Gillard "stoush" or similar
I'm not trying to do commentary in this post, but I find the last two points so interesting that I will make a quick comment. In my view, what the anti-Gillard bloggers and their supporters were doing was trying to reconstruct feminist criticism in terms of a patriarchal discourse of competing individuals. More on this later ...

Certain relevant points about the bloggers: they are male, they are Queensland based and they supported Kevin Rudd. In my view, these bloggers and their supporters contributed to the election of the Abbott government. One of the key reasons swinging voters gave for voting against the previous ALP government, as I've noted in a previous post, was that they saw it as chaotic and unstable. These bloggers contributed to that instability.

I'm setting up a work-in-progress page on this subject, where I will keep my notes, evidence and analysis. Anyone who is interested to know more about this is welcome to trawl through that page when I set it up (soon) but I warn you it will be pretty random for a while, even though there will be a a lot there.

The reason I haven't tried to write a definitive post on this at present is that it's a huge task, and trying to get the perfect post done is blocking me from writing about other things that are interesting or important. So I will keep pursuing this issue, and ultimately I will tie it in to my thesis, but yep, it's a work in progress and will be for some time.