Tuesday, 6 June 2017

May is in the Past, Vote for the Future this June

As a feminist who loves to see women succeed, I always dreamed of the day that I would see a female Prime Minister in the UK. I enjoy observing women who achieve success but to describe May’s leadership as an anti-climax would be an understatement. When I look at Teresa May I genuinely don't believe she even wants to be Prime Minister of our State. 

I'm lucky enough to know women who are confident, driven, intelligent and that make leadership look effortless. I have a positive outlook on life and always try hard to see the best in people. However, I sincerely do not see confidence, passion or leadership in May. Sadly, she comes across as awkward, uncomfortable and lacking passion for her position. She reminds me of that person in the office who begrudgingly accepts a task from her supervisor, despite hating the task.

May has called this snappy General Election like she's making a request to an intern to fetch her a Starbucks, without any regard for the amount of work that goes into preparing for elections by our local councils. What reason does she provide for further disruption and wasted public funds during times of division and a supposed drought of funds..."it will give me a stronger hand at the Brexit negotiating tables." Perhaps if her private education, decades of experience as a professional and access to a large team of legal advisors still makes her feel insufficiently confident to enter these negotiation this is because May is not leadership material and Brexit is not in the interest of the British public.  Meanwhile, her attempt at a little ego boost is costing an estimated £170 million while people working full time are visiting food banks and people who have paid taxes for decades are suffering from poor health because our NHS is struggling. 

Mays "strong and stable" slogans are completely empty. If you think that she is the answer to the horrific events that have taken place the past few months think again. Remember immigration would have been one of her main focuses for 6 years as the Home Secretary. If she had a magic wand to improve our security, why did she not wave it then? Personally, I see huge benefits in migration and open borders, but if May has all of the answers to our problems why has she not achieved any of it after being in a position of power for over 7 years?

If Teresa May cares about survivors of terrorism, then why is access to counselling and other support for people suffering PTSD so difficult? When I was in Nice and was lucky enough to survive the 14/07/16 terror attack, we had easy access to councillors within a couple of days through drop-in sessions all around the area. However, when I returned to England a week later, I had to go on a waiting list. Even after being 'fast tracked' up the list I had to wait six months!!! Six months with NO professional support after witnessing and feeling the unimaginable.

Then there are continuous cuts to vital community services and charities. Over the past 5 years, I have tried to dedicate a lot of time to charity work so I have a lot of insight into their struggles. In the past year in Northamptonshire alone I have seen a shocking fall in funding for vital services. In this short period of time, a local charity supporting local rape victims had to wind up. A charity that supports equality and challenges hate crime has lost over 75% of their funding. A national charity that supports young people living in troubled families or caught up in the criminal justice system has lost most of its funding in the county and has gone from offices all around the county and a large workforce to a mainly volunteer-led team working remotely and in a shared office space. I literally could write a book on the number of charities struggling to survive who are vital for supporting the most vulnerable members of our community. 

Vote for whoever you think is the most competent on Thursday. I believe in democracy so I would rather people vote for someone I disagree with instead of not bothering. Just pause first and ask yourself what stability you and the people around you have gained in the past 7 years under Conservative leadership. You might be both fortunate and privileged enough to think that you have not experienced any hardship under the Conservatives. Therefore, try to at least take the time to ask people working with the public (particularly the vulnerable) what changes they have noticed over both the past 2 years and 7 years under Conservative leadership. If you still decide to vote Conservative, then fair enough but you should be purchasing the drinks next time you are out as you must have a generous bank balance!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Texan Bill Undermines Female Intellect and Doctor-Patient Trust

Since the newly elected President Donald Trump came into power women's rights have been on a downward spiral across the USA. This week, while women all around the world marked International Women's Day, it was reported that Senators in Texan had other ideas for women's rights. Senator Brandon Creighton intends on introducing a bill which will permit doctors to withhold information about fetal deformities or disabilities from pregnant women, without the risk of being sued for withholding information from their patients. Shockingly, Blake Rocap, legislative director for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas stated that "we shouldn't have to stand up and say that it shouldn't be policy for the state of Texas to excuse doctors from lying to their patients, and that is what this bill does,"

There are so many reasons why this bill is unacceptable in the 21st century. Firstly, it is one step backwards for women's rights. Why should women's rights to autonomy be dictated by out of touch males hiding behind prehistoric religiously inspired policies? We all deserve the right to religious freedom, which should include not being subjected to religiously motivated policies & legislation. Everyone has the right to practice (or not practice) a religion of their choice. Nobody should be forced by the State into following religious customs, particularly when they could have such adverse effects on their future wellbeing. Allowing a couple to get excited about the birth of a child who is unlikely to survive is cruel. So is withholding information about potential disabilities, when the family need to decide whether they are in a position to cope. Yes, this may mean that a woman decides that a termination is right for her, or it could mean that she has time to learn to understand what support her and her future child may need. Removing both the right and responsibility from an expectant mother to make decisions is both patronising and disempowering. If the State can not trust women to make decisions about their own bodies and offspring, what hope do women have of achieving gender equality in the workplace, particularly during pregnancy?

I'm optimistic that most medical experts practice in medicine because they want to use their knowledge to both help and inform patients. A medical practitioner is responsible for providing a  patient with enough information to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. It is not their place to make moral judgements. If you don't believe in abortion and contraception then you should practice in another area of medicine to avoid a conflict of your personal moral opinions and professional responsibilities. Allowing a medical practitioners religious views to take precedence over a patient's is as unacceptable and inappropriate as allowing a solicitor in family law to obstruct a client's right to a divorce simply because they do not agree with divorce. You would expect the solicitor to practice in an alternative area of law if there was going to be a clear conflict of interest between their moral opinions and their client's rights to access justice. This should be the same response when a woman (or a man) is accessing medical services.

Doctor-patient trust is vital for building a positive relationship. Trust is central to the practice of healthcare and medical ethics, without it diagnosis and treatment would become problematic. The purpose of visiting a doctor is to maintain your wellbeing and to obtain a diagnosis when there are complications. Therefore, if this bill is implemented, what would be the point of expectant mothers visiting a doctor for check-ups during pregnancy if they were not being informed of potential fetal risks.

This bill sounds nearly as dangerous for the future of the Texas medical profession as it is for a woman's wellbeing. Therefore, I struggle to understand why any medical expert would consider supporting this bill. What is the purpose of having knowledge if you can not act on it or share it? The moment you intentionally start withholding information from patients they lose trust in you. This will lead to a lack of patient confidence and consequently, patients will avoid visiting their doctors until it is too late.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

International Women's Day 2017

Over the past week, I have attended a few different events to mark International Women's Day (IWD). During the day itself (8th March 2017) I shared lots of posts within the spirit of marking the day and celebrating the strength and achievements of women. However, I was slightly surprised when an intelligent but young American male acquaintance asked why women were campaigning that day. If I didn't know him it would have been easy to assume that he was being sarcastic, another "whens International Men's Day" kind of guy. However, after pausing before I responded, I quickly realised that he was genuinely asking why women were protesting in the USA and why other women that he knew were marking the day worldwide. His question and my response inspired me to write this blog.

So what is International Women's Day? The official website defines it as "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity." The day has been marked since the early 1900's and the focus has frequently changed as consequence of political and social change worldwide. For example, this year there was an influx in support for IWD in response to the way the newly elected President Trump has both spoken and acted towards women. This includes the recent controversy over an all-male cabinet making decisions on abortion policy and his distasteful and misogynistic comments toward women such as "grab her by the pussy". 

IWD is an opportunity to come together and remember the strong women who have enabled many women to enjoy the rights and equality that we may take for granted day to day. From the more publicly and politically defiant women such as the Suffragettes to more discreet role models such as the Bletchley Code Breakers and Florence Nightingale. When you spend your whole life exercising your rights daily, it is very easy to take them for granted. However, we must remember that these rights are to the detriment of the battles of strong women. While this is obviously important as a mark of respect, it is also important to remind us of the importance of continuing the fight, in order to retain and improve our rights as women for equality. 

Therefore, the day can also be spent identifying areas where we need to continue to improve in society, in order to reach true gender equality. It is also a day for encouraging solidarity, confidence and empowerment amongst women. This can include acknowledging the role women play in both society and the family. Some people choose specific topics of interest and others embrace the day in a broader context. 

Worldwide women continue to suffer from injustice and struggle for equal rights. From access to education and child brides to FGM and right to autonomy. The list in itself would provide enough content to complete many blogs. While the struggle for gender equality within 'Western civilisation' may appear less trivial that in other parts of the world where women have little or no rights, the struggle for equality and justice is real. Particularly, for the most vulnerable female members of society. 

In England, on average 2 women, a week die from domestic violence and roughly 10 women an hour are raped, totalling over 85,000 rape victims per year (imagine the figures if we included children). Then there's all the women and girls who are sexually exploited, enslaved and subjected to FGM. Yes, some people still struggle to accept that females living in the UK are subjected to FGM. Nevertheless, government funding for vital services continues to be cut, resulting in significant strains and closures to vital services accessed by vulnerable women. Then there's the everyday misogyny, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, unequal gender pay and unbalanced gender representations in the workplace. Sadly, the list goes on.......and so must IWD and the fight for gender equality, social justice and adequate funding for vital support services which remain under threat. 

Challenging Discrimination and Inequality-Never loose Momentum

This blog is inspired by a combination of a talk from Peter Tatchell, a rise in hate crime post-Brexit and a need to find inspiration during politically and socially deflating times.

In October 2016 I met Peter Tatchell when he hosted a lecture for Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (NREC). During his talk, Peter explored various issues surrounding discrimination and inequality in society. The theme of his discussion felt very relevant in the current social and political climate. From the recent Brexit Referendum and the refugee crisis across Europe to the impending USA Presidential Elections and the upcoming Dutch General Elections, it is clear that human intolerance is prominent.

So it's understandable that Peter emphasised concerns over recent increases in hate crime, particularly against members of the LGBT community, Muslims and members of the BME community. If you are unsure of the definition of hate crime it can be defined as 'crimes that are hostile and prejudiced in their manner, when targeting a person merely as a result of their: disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender identity.'

Disgracefully, racially motivated hate crimes remain the most persistent, accounting for a staggering 42,930 (82%) of all hate crimes recorded in 2014/15. It has been reported that there has been a 41% increase in racially motivated hate crime, since the European Referendum. These statistics could be even higher as many victims of hate crime are reluctant to report hate crime. Also, the recording of hate crime can vary across different police forces and public bodies. This can be due to a variety of reasons including lack of training, resources and a failure by some to take it seriously or identify an act as a hate crime. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we should turn our backs and shrug our shoulders.

One of Peter's messages during his lecture was to speak up against inequality and hate crime. He explained that if enough people make a stand we can make any Government listen. He reminded us of our power when we come together to make a stand against injustice. He reminded attendees of our power when we made a stand together against the unfair poll tax,  which led to changes. (Ok so some of us, including myself, are too young to remember, but the momentum is not lost.) Peter suggested lots of different ways that we can come together including raising concerns with our MP.

Peter also explained that in order to improve equality & diversity you need to speak directly with the people involved to help identify practical resolutions. Anti-discrimination law alone (such as The Race Relations Act 1976) is not sufficient to prevent racial inequality. (I am currently gathering evidence of this through my research as the Project Manager of Race Act 40, a research project exploring local historic racism post-1967.) There must also be equal opportunities within education and the economy. Unfortunately, this is something NREC are very aware of through their day to day work supporting members of the local community. It was only last month that I spoke with a professional who had recently resigned due to institutionalised racism.

So what can you do to take a stand, in solidarity with those suffering from discrimination and inequality? Firstly, you have to remain strong and level headed, as the title says, 'never give up momentum'. You can then explore different ways of supporting victims and challenging injustice. This could include turning your back on everyday discrimination and offering victims support, to demonstrate disapproval of ignorant behaviour. Or you could challenge discrimination in the workplace and other public environments, by reporting incidents that you witness. You may wish to contact local Councillors and MP's to make them aware of your disapproval of incidents. Another method of challenging ignorance can be to encourage integration and debate as often ignorance can fuel intolerance. As Lester B. Pearson famously once said “Misunderstanding arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace.” Alternatively, you can support the work of an anti-discrimination organisation or campaigner as a supporter, member or volunteer etc. What every you decide to do remember that "whenever one person stands up and says "wait a minute, this is wrong," it helps other people to do the same". (Gloria Steinem)

What is important is that you remain focused on what you want to improve and how it can be done. This will prevent you from losing momentum or focus which could lead to you giving up on fighting for what is right. Or it could even lead to you falling into a trap of behaving in a way which could undermine the cause and what good would that do? As Martin Luther King once said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." I find this quote very appropriate when fighting ugliness and darkness, but the reasons are a blog in itself.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Interesting Upcoming Event for Aspiring Barristers & Junior Lawyers in London

I have noticed a few interesting events recently that are aimed at aspiring/junior lawyers/barristers. I have included further details below.

International Weekend 2016 

Taking place on 22-25 September 2016, at various venues across London. It's a great opportunity to network!If you are interested but are unable to attend this year do not worry as this is an annual event.

The event will open on the Thursday evening with a Welcome Reception at: The Anthologist, 58 Gresham Street, EC2V 7BB.

On Friday morning delegates will attend a couple of lectures, followed by a visit to the Supreme Court. There will be a social event in the evening. Full details are yet to be confirmed.

On the Saturday morning you will begin the day with breakfast, followed by the EYBA General Meeting. There will then be 3 seminars, followed by the International Oratory Competition and Gala Dinner.

The event is sponsored by:

Friday, 10 June 2016

Motivational Quotes

Most aspiring barristers and lawyers have days where they feel demotivated, particularly with pupillage/training contract rejections and demanding courses. So here are some motivational quotes to get you back on track!

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill

"Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment." - Thomas Carlyle
"The world has the habit of making room for the man whose words and actions show that he knows where he is going." - Napoleon Hill
"Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!" - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Your attitude is either the lock or the key to the door of success." - Denis Waitley
"The path to success is to take massive, determined action." - Tony Robbins
"Believe deep down in your heart that you're destined to do great things." - Joe Paterno
"Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude." - Ralph Marston
"Small opportunities are often the beginnings of great enterprises." - Demosthenes
"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me." - Ayn Rand
"A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds." - Francis Bacon

Saturday, 9 January 2016

What is Crowdfunding and Will it Answer all of my Prayers?

My Curiosity
Over the past couple of years, I have read many articles promoting Crowd Funder and similar sites for fundraising for business and community ventures. For example, there was an article in the Telegraph in November 2013 which explained which crowd funding website to use, depending on the type of project you intended on raising funds for. You can find the article from the Telegraph here.

What is Crowdfunding?
If you are familiar with the concept of Just Giving, Virgin Money Giving Local Giving, etc. , crowd funding is very similar. For those of you who have not heard of JustGiving et. they are fundraising websites where you can create a page for people to sponsor you. Not only does it allow people to sponsor you in a more convenient way, but it is also more secure as the money usually goes straight to your chosen charity. This option is also far less invasive than the traditional methods of fundraising by shaking a bucket or knocking neighbours doors. It also allows you to discuss your fundraising in a greater depth and you can provide updates and pictures for your sponsors. 

The only negative is that these websites usually charge a small handling fee, which is not exactly unreasonable. After all, they need to make money too. I have previous experience of using Just Giving after raising funds for Anthony Nolan in 2014. I decided to encourage people to sponsor me to raise awareness of the charity when I donated stem cells to an anonymous recipient in July 2014. I found this method of fundraising convenient to use during a time where my time was exceptionally limited. Using an hour of my time to set up the page allowed me to raise £186 for Anthony Nolan. I would not have had the time to raise this money at such short notice without the use of Just Giving. Therefore Just Giving has a huge thumbs up from me!

So for those of you who are yet to discover the world of crowdfunding, let me explain it briefly to you. It is very similar to websites like Just Giving. However, instead of just raising sponsorship money for your chosen charity, you can also raise money for your chosen project or business venture. You can use crowdfunding campaigns to support community projects or increasing the size of your business. In fact, I had even heard of law students successfully raising funds towards their tuition fees or to fund overseas internships.

You can choose whether to give people something in exchange for their money such as shares in your business or you can agree to do something for the greater good of the community. This may include campaigning or providing a service such as a youth club or mobility service for the elderly. The options are probably only limited by your imagination. You can also choose whether you accept all money raised or only the full amount if you successfully reach your full target. Your backers will only be charged when your fundraising ends, rather than being charged immediately, like most other fundraising options.

My Motivation for Finally Trying Crowdfunding
For some time, I have been considering using crowdfunding but I was not really sure about how it worked and had limited free time to satisfy my curiosity. I was finally persuaded by Habib Rahman, the brains behind the #IAmAMigrant Campaign, which was successfully funded through crowdfunding at the beginning of 2015. I had the honour of meeting Mr Rahman in July 2015 at Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council AGM. Talking to him inspired me that it was worth trying.

Setting Up My Crowdfunding Campaign
In August 2015, I finally had some free time to put crowdfunding to the test. With only a month to find £6,000  towards my 17,000 BPTC course fees I decided to see if I could raise any of this on crowdfunding. If successful it could be the answer to all of my prayers as I really did not know how I was going to raise the final £6,ooo of my fees in only four weeks.

It took me a couple of hours to set up my Crowd Funder page and to add my payment details etc. All that was left to do was to get one backer to activate my campaign. I decided to add £1 myself to activate it swiftly so I could start sharing it and encourage sponsors to donate. I then spent my spare time promoting my campaign to friends and family via social media, while observing my campaign page with great anticipation.

BPTC Crowdfunding Campaigns
While my crowdfunding project was active I noticed that another City Law School BPTC student was also fundraising towards her course fees. She was asking for £12,000 after securing a £5,000 scholarship. In fact, she had secured the same scholarship that I had been awarded in 2014. I am unsure how much she raised in the end but when I looked at her page during the first few days of her campaign she had raised hundreds which is pretty impressive when there is no financial risk.

My Crowdfunding Outcome
Moving back to my first attempt of crowdfunding. I managed to raise £155 in 28 days with seven backers. While admittedly it was nowhere near my goal of £6,000, I was still impressed. I really appreciate the financial assistance. The fact that some of my friends and family had enough confidence in me successfully completing my course was really motivating. Particularly considering the fact that some of the people who made donations are on low incomes. I had been tempted to defer my second year of the BPTC for a year to raise more funds. However, crowdfunding donations gave me the motivation to keep going and to work full time alongside the course.

Nevertheless, I do feel that I could have made my campaign even more successful by sharing it with more people. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I only had enough time to share my fundraising page around four times on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I did not make any other attempts to encourage sponsorships. Therefore, I would suggest to anyone serious about raising funds through crowdfunding to dedicate time to informing as many people as possible that they know about their campaign. You are much more likely to raise a reasonable amount then.

Would I Crowdfund Again?
Crowdfunding is definitely something I would consider using again. There a few community projects that I am interested in setting up over the next few years so I might give crowdfunding a second attempt shortly for the greater good of the local community. I think that I would feel more comfortable promoting a crowdfunding campaign that was for a community project/charity, compared to raising funds for myself. Personally, I felt a bit uncomfortable asking people to support me. However, I would be a lot more active in promoting a campaign that was for the greater good of others.

Good luck to anyone attempting crowdfunding for the first time. I hope it is a great success. Feel free to share your crowdfunding experience with me on Twitter (Siobhan8185).