Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism

Exploiting Feminism for Profit

Media Diversified

November 6, 2015

by Maya Goodfellow

Last week while flicking through TV channels an advert caught my attention. I was momentarily pleased to watch as a young girl was enchanted by clips of famous women – from feminist activist Emmeline Pankhurst to iconic singer Billie Holiday – while Fleur East’s version of Girl on Fire played in the background. But as the feature came to a close, I was jolted back into reality; this was an advert, a multimillion-pound advert for Virgin Media, to be precise. The billion pound conglomerate is now using women and girls to sell broadband. Exploiting feminism for profit.

I can’t celebrate seeing feminism exploited in the ad breaks by a company that has been built by taking millions from the taxpayer. Virgin ushers publicly run assets into the private sector then languishes on subsidies from the public purse while making a huge profit. This is not an outlandish statement; it’s what has happened in the past. Take a look at their involvement in the privatisation of our railways and you’ll see a pattern: Virgin takes state subsidies, distributes massive payouts for their shareholders, while the quality of service declines.

It doesn’t stop there. Virgin Media sits alongside Virgin Care Ltd, which is slowly creeping further into the NHS in the form of backdoor privatisation. Although the company’s foray into feminist territory might seem like a reason to celebrate, a win for women it really represents neoliberal capitalism’s attempt to co-opt the message of feminism. All in the name of profit.

Neoliberal capitalism, which is built on the disenfranchisement of women and people of colour, is attempting to contain radical discourse within its walls. In doing so it neutralises the potential for system change. Richard Branson, the billionaire businessperson who owns Virgin, is flourishing under the current system. Though he likes to cultivate a benevolent image, he isn’t doing anything that would seriously challenge the system out of which he does so well. It’s far better and easier for him to give the impression that he cares while making symbolic tweaks to unequal structures.

This is going on all around us; it’s how capitalism stayed relatively steady on its feet after the 2008 financial crash. It’s a dangerous process that inhibits the possibility for real change: it takes in the collective effort of intersectional feminism and spits out individualistic gender equality and antiracism in its most feeble form.

We’ve witnessed a similar phenomenon from one of neoliberalism’s cheerleaders, in the form of David Cameron’s recent jaunt into the world of antiracism. From his Conservative party conference speech this year to a recent article in the Guardian, the Prime Minister has proclaimed himself a champion of race equality.

But our PM has conveniently failed to touch upon the number of ways his Government is systematically disenfranchising black and minority ethnic people: through their aggressive cuts agenda, which disproportionately affect people of colour; their decision to continue protecting an unfair employment market, that leaves BAME young people worse off; and the role they play in sustaining racist – in particular Islamophobic – narratives, have we already forgotten when Cameron described migrants as a “swarm”?

Cameron and Branson are bringing antiracism and feminism – two struggles that are actually interwoven – into Margaret Thatcher’s arena of individualism. Helping the the few to appease the masses.

There is a big difference between certain women succeeding in a society that exploits the poorest and most vulnerable and a movement that reconstructs a system to create a fairer society. Similarly, there’s a vast chasm separating the recently announced name-blind university applications and deconstructing institutionally racist structures that see people of colour as lesser, structures that have been maintained since the era of colonialism.

None of this is to say that accepting these steps forward within the current system is a failure. We can recognise the benefits of quotas in the workplace (incidentally a policy Virgin say they’re all for) but challenge why this is not enforced across all companies and certainly with not enough attention paid to race.

But while we’re realising the shift in public discourse – usually a problematic shift where race is pushed to the back of the conversation – we have to remember that the real alterations won’t come by accepting these small steps from individuals. You can do both; as American scholar Kimerlé Crenshaw said: “I believe that women in power is absolutely essential, and that women in power is absolutely not enough”.

Or as writer Reni Eddo-Lodge put it, equality is a transitional demand; we must remember we don’t want to be assimilated into the status quo. For real change we have to reconstruct the system. We need liberation. But that goes against the interests of the people (often white men) who stand to benefit from the world the way it is. That’s why business tycoons and rightwing politicians saying they care about gender and race discrimination don’t convince me.

It’s as if Branson’s and Cameron’s media strategists are sitting in a room realising that some people want liberation from gender and race discrimination, and thinking of ways to give the illusion that they want the same thing too. Giving that impression is good for the brand.


[Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow]

Junk Food Journalism: Why Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet Is Toxic

New Matilda

October 29, 2015

by Amy  McQuire


When Crabb breaks bread with the Morrisons and Macklins of the world she helps further marginalise the people being punished by their policies, writes Amy McQuire.

ABC journalist Annabel Crabb last night began her sickeningly sweet profile of former Immigration Minister and current Treasurer Scott Morrison like this: “People describe Scott Morrison as ambitious, hard-line, even arrogant. But I’ve also heard compassionate, devout and a rabid Tina Arena fan. Clearly the man requires some further investigation.”

Well, yes, he does require further investigation, but probably not on his infatuation with outdated popstars (no offence to Tina, of course).

Crabb has been hosting her cooking show Kitchen Cabinet for five seasons now, and no one has pulled her up on the fact it’s about as nutrient rich as the majority of her desserts. She fluffs her way through interviewing some of the most powerful people in Australia by coating their numerous acts of structural violence with sugar frosting, and expecting us to become so dizzy on sugar highs that we can’t process their numerous failures.

It’s akin to spending a life gorging on sweets and then finding out later you have diabetes. This insidious spread of propaganda, soft interviews with hard-line politicians who wield enormous power over the lives of the most vulnerable, is sold as a fun, light-hearted look into the lives of the people we elect. But this taxpayer-funded sycophantic date with power will end up making us all sick. It completely dumbs down debate and again re-ingrains the perception that politicians are just like us, while the people their policies hurt, aren’t. They are the others who don’t dine with famous journalists on television.

Morrison is only the most recent example of this sycophancy, and Crabb’s episode last night with the former Immigration Minister rightly raised the temperature of many.

It began with Crabb greeting Morrison at the door of his holiday home with roses.

“This is amazing; this is the first time I’ve been greeted with flowers, sort of like the Cabinet Bachelor or something!” Annabel exclaimed as both exchanged a series of Cheshire Cat grins at each other.

Crabb seemed to think we actually cared about why Morrison began cooking as he made his ‘scomosas’ and Sri Lankan curry, because apparently he had fallen in love with ‘Indian and Sri Lankan food’ while on a trip to the country as shadow minister. Obviously, he had not fallen similarly in love with the people, enough to show any semblance of compassion to those who still remain under persecution.

Crabb smiled intently, her eyes glistening, as Morrison told her since he became Social Services Minister and later Treasurer, he has a lot more free time. This is evidently because selling internationally condemned human rights abuses that have left deep scars of trauma on so many lives used to take up a lot of his free time. Now he can spend more of it with his family, while the victims of his policies wallow in detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island, living a life far removed from his own.

“I had quite a significant trip with Julie Bishop and Michael Keenan while we were in opposition… we were over there obviously working with the then Sri Lankan government in how we would be pursuing our policies with them… it was a really important trip, and we went and had this meal at this fairly dodgy restaurant… and it sort of said to me, wherever you went in Sri Lanka the food was fantastic,” Morrison says.

That trip was undertaken in 2013. Morrison used a press conference when he returned to justify his party’s hard-line policy to ‘stop the boats’, which would later help them win an election. He was adamant Sri Lankan boats wouldn’t cross Australian borders.

“They won’t cross our borders, they’ll be intercepted outside of our sea border and we’ll be arranging for their return to Sri Lanka.”

Only a few months later, while in government, the Immigration Minister was taken to the High Court after holding 157 Tamil asylum seekers, 37 of them children, on a customs ship for more than a month while he tried to deport them back to their country. At the same time, he continued his attempts to defame Human Rights Commission head Gillian Triggs who was spearheading an inquiry into children in detention.

This came at a time when Triggs told the media up to 128 children had self-harmed at Christmas Island over a 15-month period. Crabb didn’t ask about this. Instead she let it slide, because Morrison sure can cook a mean Sri Lankan curry! He even makes his own chapatis!

“What! You’re making your own chapatis?!! What a renaissance man you are!” Crabb exclaims.

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A renaissance man with a talent for locking up traumatised children.

Crabb wasn’t interested in that of course, because this show is about humanising Morrison, while the thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers who have been incarcerated for seeking refuge remain faceless and nameless, tucked behind bars thousands of kilometres so they become ‘others’, less than people.

Crabb asks Morrison about his demeanour while delivering ‘militaristic and impassive’ press conferences as Immigration Minister. She says “I’m interested because I can’t be the only person who watched you on the telly and thought, I wonder what it feels like to be that person?”

“You’re a human being like anyone else,” Morrison says. “The same things impact me that impacts anyone else.”

The only problem is – he isn’t. He is a man with a great deal of power who can perpetrate acts of structural violence that irrevocably change the lives of our most vulnerable with largely no sanction or accountability.

Crabb’s questioning, her curiosity about how Morrison must be feeling as he rolls out sociopathic border patrol policies and slanders people like Triggs shows that, as a journalist, her allegiances lie with propping up power rather than speaking truth to it.

I’m just wondering if she would ever think to ask that of an asylum seeker stuck in Nauru? Would she ask “I’m interested, because I’m not the only person who wonders, what it feels like to be that person?” Has she ever thought to ask that of those who are crying out for help, who are the victims of Morrison and his cronies? Would she cook a cake for them?

I’ve never liked the format of Kitchen Cabinet, but my disgust was heightened when in 2013, Crabb interviewed then Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, who coincidently also made a curry.

Macklin was a minister who continued the greatest human rights abuse in Indigenous affairs in modern history – the NT intervention, a policy which led to a quadrupling in self-harm and suicide rates, and a severe feeling of disempowerment. At the same time she tried to sell her government as one that wanted to ‘reset the relationship’ with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. During the Rudd and Gillard governments – the time Macklin served as minister – the gap in life expectancy widened, the employment gap widened, Aboriginal children were removed at exponential rates, and Australia continued to jail more black men, women, and children.

Of course, none of that mattered to Crabb, who was more excited about the contents of Macklin’s spice drawer. Macklin never gave interviews to Aboriginal media, who would question her on her complete failure and the devastating consequences of her government’s policies. In fact, she would often only talk to sympathetic media, like The Australian. She once walked out in a huff from an interview with one of my closest friends – Kamilaroi journalist Chris Munro, who as the National Indigenous Television’s political correspondent used one of only two interviews he was ever able to secure with her to grill her on why she wouldn’t deliver reparations to members of the Stolen Generations. He never received another interview.

Maybe he should have cooked up a dessert, but Munners, from my knowledge, isn’t a very good chef.

Jenny Macklin
Jenny Macklin

When Macklin left the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, The Australian’s Patricia Karvelas delivered a glowing but completely irrational portrait of her tenure, claiming she had brought along the left to completely ‘transform Indigenous affairs’. It was completely ridiculous, but was a style of reporting that is alive and well in Australia – and it’s in the same camp as Kitchen Cabinet. There is nothing new about this. They’re just different styles of propaganda.

Crabb has her own type of power. She is very well-paid as one of the ABC’s ‘top’ political analysists and is complicit in framing the very limited discourse we have around issues affecting our most vulnerable. Giving Morrison a platform to sell himself does nothing in uncovering the dark, damp underbelly of Parliament House, the places where cake quickly turns mouldy.

In interviews leading up to last night’s Kitchen Cabinet, Crabb seems to have anticipated a bit of backlash. Questioned by the Sydney Morning Herald about how some journalists may think her show comes across as soft, she said: “My view is that when you sit down with someone in a peaceful way, or when you go to someone’s house… you get something different… For my money, I think it adds something and gives a more rounded sense of who this person is.”

Crabb seems to have a fascination with ensuring we realise that politicians are people too. She wants to humanise them because she feels they have somehow been unfairly maligned. She told the Herald Sun: “In my experience, they’re far better motivated and nicer people than is widely believed.”

But Crabb fundamentally misses the point of journalism. It’s not about humanising those in power, it’s about humanising those who are let down by those in power. But perhaps it is symptomatic of a wider problem, the fact that our most famous journalists, with the greatest platforms, now have more in common with those they are supposed to challenge, rather than those who are being let down by a corrosive political system.

Crabb claims that this was never the intention of the programme, that it is supposed to be soft, but the fact is in a space that is so crowded with soft, unquestioning journalists who are a complete disservice to the public, this high profile format provides only more of the same. We trust those we think we know, and we unconsciously prejudice their opinions above those who are unfamiliar. Crabb is helping Australia wash down the lies of our nation’s politicians.

This is certainly the case in Indigenous affairs, where solutions that are more palatable to white journalists are privileged over the solutions put forward by Aboriginal people themselves. The black voices of those who tell white people what they want to hear are accepted by non-Indigenous journalists because it mirrors their own experiences. That’s why white politicians can get away with so many lies, and spread their neoliberal agenda insidiously through Aboriginal policy – because white journalists are blinkered and, for the most part, don’t realise they are. They are more more likely to trust those who are like them – and sadly those people are likely to be a white politician than a blackfella dealing with multiple forms of complex trauma trying to heal his or her community.

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The same can be said for Crabb and her ridiculous, sickening show. You can spice it up as much as you like, but the ingredients used to cook up Kitchen Cabinet are the same used in the majority of political journalism today. And until we start to realise that this is still largely propaganda, it will keep us, and our standard of political debate, dangerously unhealthy.


[A Darumbul woman from central Queensland, Amy McQuire is the former editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine.]

Empire’s “Mimic Men”

Zero Anthropology

October 24, 2015

by Maximilian Forte


Imperialism by Invitation or Imitation?

US efforts in remaking the international system according to an image reflecting the US are not usually in complete vain since the track has already has already been cut. To continue with the analogy, US policy planners and military analysts are concerned about widening and then paving the track so that it becomes a permanent highway. None of the military or diplomatic documents consulted, not even those with the highest of scientific pretense, ever bothers to go into any detail about the origins, development, and constitutions of the actual people who are constructed as force multipliers. On the other hand, Harvard historian Charles S. Maier addressed these ideas under the lemma of “empire by invitation” or “consensual empire” (Maier, 2002). While US leaders speak in terms of “partners,” “alliances,” and “coalitions,” Maier is not convinced that any of these adequately describe the nature of the US as “a major actor” (in his minimalist terms) in the international system. Instead, it is more accurate to speak of “the subordination of diverse national elites who—whether under compulsion or from shared convictions—accept the values of those who govern the dominant center or metropole,” Maier maintains. What distinguishes an empire from an alliance is the inequality in terms of power, resources, and influence between leaders at the centre of empire and the national subordinates who are, at most, their nominal counterparts. Political, economic, and cultural leaders in the periphery “hobnob with their imperial rulers”. Even those who organize resistance, Maier argues, “have often assimilated their colonizers’ culture and even values”. Maier endorses the Cultural Imperialism thesis in explaining these deep ties between the US core and what V.S. Naipaul (1967) called “the mimic men” of the periphery:

“Empires function by virtue of the prestige they radiate as well as by might, and indeed collapse if they rely on force alone. Artistic styles, the language of the rulers, and consumer preferences flow outward along with power and investment capital—sometimes diffused consciously by cultural diplomacy and student exchanges, sometimes just by popular taste for the intriguing products of the metropole, whether Coca Cola or Big Mac”. (Maier, 2002, p. 28)

As for Naipaul’s “mimic men,” these tend to be members of the new national elites in “formerly” colonized territories, who have acquired the tastes and prejudices of the colonial master, who aspire to the culture and identity of the colonizer, while cringing from the culture of the colonized. Mimic men ultimately find themselves displaced, disenchanted, and alienated, not able to fully join the ranks of the master class in the colonial mother country, but divorced from the culture into which they were born and which causes them shame. It is also important to note that Naipaul’s protagonist in The Mimic Men, Ralph Singh, is a politician, and was educated in the UK.

Elsewhere I wrote in similar terms to Maier’s about the relationships between the domestic and international versions of the US (Forte, 2014). As I outlined there, one can discern what we might call a National United States of America (NUSA) and a Globalized United States of America (GUSA). NUSA is a simple reference to the current political geography of the US, filled in by places that can be specified with geographic coordinates, inhabited by people in relatively dense relations with one another. Most of the inhabitants of NUSA refer to themselves as “Americans,” or are “Americans in waiting” (immigrants awaiting eventual citizenship). GUSA is not so neatly geographic, but it can still be found and seen, concretely. GUSA’s existence can be observed (in no particular order of importance) in the adoption of US consumption patterns and standards by local elites around the world, who may also be dual US citizens. The existence of a transnational capitalist class, a large part of which is US-educated, also manifests this globalization of US power. Military leaderships formed by funding and training by the US military, must also be included, as should the tens of thousands fighting in US uniforms with the promise of getting Green Cards. Political parties funded by the US and often led by people who spent some time living and studying in the US, and who adopt the US as a model, form a part of GUSA. GUSA includes upper-class neighbourhoods, districts, and gated communities, and those whose life patterns, choices, and personal orientations have been seriously influenced or remade by US cultural imperialism, in a process commonly referred to as “Americanization”. One of my working hypotheses is that it is GUSA which is now largely responsible for sustaining and extending the imperial reach of NUSA. Leaving the critique of scientism behind, we should now move from this overview of the instrumentality of imperialist logic to consider some of the practices, tools and devices used to multiply, mirror, and extend US power globally.

Neocolonial Cargo Cults

That the so-called force multipliers of US dominance can comprise, to a significant extent, dependent and mimetic bourgeoisies in former colonies is something deeply problematic for scholars and critics such as Ali Shari’ati. As he argued, these elites consist of what has long been known and referred to as the “comprador bourgeoisie,” the functionaries who benefit from the distribution of Western imports and the export of local resources, but also those who are among the most assimilated and who encourage a “modernization” of local tastes and thus expand the market for foreign imported goods (Manoochehri, 2005, p. 297). In Shari’ati’s terms, assimilation applies to,

“the conduct of the one who, intentionally or unintentionally, starts imitating the manners of someone else. Obsessively, and with no reservations he denies himself in order to transform his identity. Hoping to attain the goals and the grandeur, which he sees in another, the assimilated attempts to rid himself of perceived shameful associations with his original society and culture”. (Shari’ati quoted in Manoochehri, 2005, p. 297)

The issue of dependency is also useful in another sense, one related to the broader, critical literature on the political economy of underdevelopment. Since the force multiplier idea is inherently an expression of the cost function of foreign action, it is appropriate to understand it in the terms of political economy as an extractive process. Extraction, and the accumulation of capital (understood in all senses) at the core, is an essential outcome of any formula that posits the use of the most strategic resources at the least expense.

Speaking of the Bulgarian case (see chapter 4), as just one example, the force multiplication of increased “Americanization” in the early 1990s could be viewed as taking on another facet, this one being a specialty of anthropologists who studied cargo cults. As explained better by Eleanor Smollett, an anthropologist with twenty years of research experience in Bulgaria,

“The thought that keeps coming to me is cargo. A mechanical analogy to cargo cults is meaningless of course. There is no cargo cult in Bulgaria. There is no charismatic leader. We are not seeing a revitalization movement (though some monarchists have appeared) or a millenarian religious movement. But still, in this secular, highly educated, industrial society, there are echoes that say ‘cargo’. The wealth that is coveted exists somewhere else, in an external society. The structure of that external society and the manner in which the wealth is produced are poorly understood. The young people who covet what they imagine is the universal wealth of the West were not suffering from unemployment, poverty or absolute deprivation under socialism (although, in the present situation, they are beginning to experience all of these). They were and are, however, experiencing relative deprivation, as compared with their external model. It is this relative deprivation that moves them, as David Aberle made clear long ago in discussion of cargo cults. And as Eric Hobsbawm pointed out in contrasting these movements with revolutions, the leadership of such movements has no clear programme or plan of implementation for a new social system. The expected improvement to society is based on faith. If we strip away the old institutions, then the foreign aid, the investment, the development, the cargo will come”. (Smollett, 1993, p. 12)

The Mexican philosopher of liberation, Enrique Dussel, like Shari’ati, wrote on the fabrication of culture in the image of imperial culture that is represented by the new national elites, those he sees as historically the most assimilated. Dussel notes that imperial culture is,

“particularly refracted in the oligarchic culture of dominant groups within dependent nations of the periphery. It is the culture that they admire and imitate, fascinated by the artistic, scientific, and technological program of the centre….On the masks of these local elites the face of the centre is duplicated. They ignore their national culture, they despise their skin color, they pretend to be white…and live as if they were in the centre”. (quoted in Manoochehri, 2005, p. 294)

Dussel, however, does not see this culture as being confined to the oligarchic minority alone. Instead, a “pop” version is produced, “the kitsch vulgarization of imperialist culture,” one that is encouraged, reproduced and distributed by the elites who thus help to expand the imperialist economy by supplying a willing market for its goods—which resonates in the research of Smollett in Bulgaria. The process then is one where the imperial culture is “refracted by oligarchical culture and passed on for consumption. It is by means of the culture of the masses that ideology propagates imperialist enterprise and produces a market for its product” (Dussel as quoted in Manoochehri, 2005, p. 294).

Shari’ati described the culmination of assimilation as being the creation of monoculture. However, we can add that matters do not stop there, since there is also the growth of something resembling a “monoeconomy” under neoliberal tutelage, and a “monopolitics” that absorbs the nation-states of the global periphery as the new wards and even outright protectorates under UN, EU, and NATO auspices. Thus are US strategists able to speak of growing “alliances” and the spread of “universal values”—monoculture is the smoothest path to acquiring the most efficient machines: the force multiplier.

On the other hand, in US military and diplomatic papers there is no exegesis, no treatment, description or interpretation of the nature of those reduced in their roles to functional force multipliers. One wonders who US writers think these people are, what image of these human beings exists in their minds. It would appear, from the unspoken assumptions, that the average force multiplying person is conceived as being idealistic, one who associates the US with his/her highest ideals, and thus one who suspends judgment, and defers questioning. Above all, the force multiplier, being on the front line, is willing to sacrifice. These are to be sensed then as the perfect Christian Soldiers, in the Church of American Divinity, and the reader’s job is to have faith in these force multipliers.

There is also an “ecological fallacy” at work in US writings about “civil society” and “youth” or other social collectivities as force multipliers. The ecological fallacy is, “a confusion of the forest and the trees or, more accurately, the observing of one and the drawing of inferences about the other” (Stevenson, 1983, p. 263). One result of this fallacy is drawing conclusions about individuals, on the basis of their membership in social groups. Specifically, this fallacy emerges as such in State Department documents that automatically cast “civil society” worldwide as opposed to the state, as pro-US democracy, and as a natural ally of the US. In the writings and speeches that emanate from the State Department, there never can be a “civil society” that comprises ideological adversaries of US power–no such thing exists, they would have us believe.

The Instruments of Imperial Practice

Both the US Departments of State and Defense have created multiple programs for “targeting” foreign audiences and “winning hearts and minds”—a subject that is far broader than what is presented below (or even in previous volumes in this series). Hillary Clinton’s “21st century statecraft” has been mentioned before. The approach involved using communications technologies “to connect to new audiences, particularly civil society” as part of an “engagement” strategy (DoS, 2010, p. 65). As parts of its “public diplomacy,” the State Department created “Regional Media Hubs” in Miami, London, Brussels, Pretoria, Dubai, and Tokyo, in order to “increase official U.S. voices and faces on foreign television, radio, and other media, so that we are visible, active, and effective advocates of our own policies, priorities, and actions with foreign audiences…serving as a resource and tool for amplifying the regional dimension of our message” (DoS, 2010, pp. 60-61). In addition, the State Department created the “Virtual Student Foreign Service,” enlisting the aid of US university students to support US diplomatic missions (DoS, 2010, p. 66). Also dealing with students, the State Department expanded the “ACCESS Micro-scholarships” program so that, “teenagers, particularly in the Muslim world,” could be funded “to attend English classes and learn about America” (DoS, 2010, p. 61), thus utilizing conventional techniques of cultural imperialism, targeting Muslim youths and enforcing the dominance of the English language. While some would say that these programs are “peaceful,” the State Department also announced it was partnering with the Pentagon, in particular by using USAID in support of the Pentagon’s regional Combatant Commands (DoS, 2010, p. 54).

One of the more central and consistent tools used to deepen US intervention has arisen from the exploitation of gender issues to win “hearts and minds” as part of the US’ globalization of its counterinsurgency practices (see Byrd & Decker, 2008, p. 96; Pas, 2013; King, 2014). The State Department itself officially announced that the “protection and empowerment of women and girls is key to the foreign policy and security of the United States….women are at the center of our diplomacy and development efforts—not simply as beneficiaries, but also as agents of peace, reconciliation, development, growth, and stability” (DoS, 2010, p. 23). As “women are increasingly playing critical roles as agents of change in their societies,” the US would, “harness efforts and support their roles by focusing programs to engage with women and expand their opportunities for entrepreneurship, access to technology, and leadership” (DoS, 2010, p. 58). Also, as Pas points out under the heading of “security feminism,” the fetishizing of oppressed women is used as an opportune asset to ideologically advance the cause of imperialist intervention: “the war becomes about her. In this process the host country is also feminized and the American heterosexual pursuit becomes about gallantly ‘saving’ the Muslim woman from Islam. While America strives to save the Muslim woman from her alleged theological oppression she is effectively put on the front lines” (Pas, 2013, p. 56).

The CIA has also instrumentalized gender issues as part of a covert campaign to bolster international support for US wars. In 2010, after the Dutch government fell in part because of the issue of its participation in the war in Afghanistan, the CIA began to worry about a possible electoral backlash in the upcoming elections in France and Germany, both of which suffered mounting casualties among their forces in Afghanistan. According to a confidential CIA memorandum made public by WikiLeaks,

“Some NATO states, notably France and Germany, have counted on public apathy about Afghanistan to increase their contributions to the mission, but indifference might turn into active hostility if spring and summer fighting results in an upsurge in military or Afghan civilian casualties and if a Dutch-style debate spills over into other states contributing troops”. (CIA, 2010, p. 1)

A CIA “expert on strategic communication” along with public opinion analysts at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) came together to “consider information approaches that might better link the Afghan mission to the priorities of French, German, and other Western European publics” (CIA, 2010, p. 1). This was critical to the US since Germany and France respectively commanded the third and fourth largest troop contingents in Afghanistan, and any withdrawal would have been a significant blow not just to military operations but especially to the public image of the US-led occupation effort, leading to a crumbling in the credibility of the US-led NATO alliance and its “International Security Assistance Force” in Afghanistan. The CIA was already aware that, though not a top election issue, the majority of public opinion in Germany and France was against participation in the Afghan war (CIA, 2010, p. 1). The CIA’s strategic information exercise in Europe was based on the following logic,

“Western European publics might be better prepared to tolerate a spring and summer of greater military and civilian casualties if they perceive clear connections between outcomes in Afghanistan and their own priorities. A consistent and iterative strategic communication program across NATO troop contributors that taps into the key concerns of specific Western European audiences could provide a buffer if today’s apathy becomes tomorrow’s opposition to ISAF, giving politicians greater scope to support deployments to Afghanistan”. (CIA, 2010, p. 2)

The question of girls in Afghanistan was thus brought to the fore: “The prospect of the Taliban rolling back hard-won progress on girls’ education could provoke French indignation, become a rallying point for France’s largely secular public, and give voters a reason to support a good and necessary cause despite casualties” (CIA, 2010, p. 2). The CIA proposed that,

“Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission”. (CIA, 2010, p. 4)

The CIA thus advanced the idea that, “media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences” (CIA, 2010, p. 4).

While there is no chain of leaked documents to show that this CIA-organized strategy session led to the formulation and then implementation of a specific propaganda effort that followed these guidelines, we do know that Western media, as well as the messages widely and prominently circulated by Western human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have over the years tended to heavily capitalize on the image of Afghan women and girls allegedly suffering from “Taliban oppression” as a major impulse toward supporting at least some US aims in Afghanistan. Even the otherwise anti-war US activist organization, Code Pink, sent a delegation to Afghanistan that spoke out about what could happen to Afghan women and girls if the US-led NATO occupation should come to an abrupt end: “We would leave with the same parameters of an exit strategy but we might perhaps be more flexible about a timeline,” said Medea Benjamin to the Christian Science Monitor, adding: “That’s where we have opened ourselves, being here, to some other possibilities. We have been feeling a sense of fear of the people of the return of the Taliban. So many people are saying that, ‘If the US troops left the country, would collapse. We’d go into civil war.’ A palpable sense of fear that is making us start to reconsider that” (Mojumdar, 2009/10/6; for more, see Code Pink, 2009/10/7a, 2009/10/7b, and Horton, 2009).

The goal of instrumentalizing Afghan women for pro-war public relations reappeared in another of the documents released to WikiLeaks, published by the Media Operations Centre of the Press and Media Service of NATO headquarters in Brussels. The document titled, “NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative as at 6 October 2008,” laid out a series of propaganda talking points oriented toward the domestic mass media in troop contributing nations, which NATO spokespersons were to follow. NATO’s “master narrative” concerning Afghan women was to tell the public that, “Presidential, Parliamentary and Provincial elections have taken place and women are now sitting in the Afghan Parliament. 28% of the MPs of the Lower House are female. Legitimate and representative government is now in place” (NATO, 2008). What is standard about these approaches is their superficiality, stressing numbers over qualitative realities, or in some cases inventing numbers outright, hence the recent admission that a large number of “ghost schools” exist in Afghanistan, that were either never constructed (but were paid for), or that were but have no teachers of pupils.

As with gender, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, has become another vehicle for the US to sell itself politically, or to create another wedge device for intervention and for practicing divide and rule. Thus in 2011, the State Department launched, “the Global Equality Fund to protect and advance the human rights of LGBT persons by supporting civil society organizations to protect human rights defenders, challenge discriminatory legislation, undertake advocacy campaigns, and document human rights violations that target the LGBT community”. Consequently, “over $7.5 million was allocated to civil rights organizations in over 50 countries; more than 150 human rights defenders have been assisted” (DoS, 2014b, p. 24). There is very little in the realm of “human rights,” LGBT and women’s activism, NGOs and “civil society” that is not touched by the US in nations that it is targeting—as the State Department itself proclaims, “advancing human rights and democracy is a key priority that reflects American values and promotes our security” (DoS, 2010, p. 42). The concept of “human security” has also been effectively reworked as part of a militarized, absolute security agenda (see McLoughlin & Forte, 2013).

In its search for more “force multipliers,” the State Department, particularly under the Obama administration, has established a series of programs to attract and enlist US and foreign students, corporate executives, and new media users. A program titled “100,000 Strong in the Americas”1 was launched by Obama in order to increase the number of US students studying throughout the Americas to 100,000, and likewise to increase the number of students from the Americas studying in the US to 100,000, by 2020. There is no explanation as to why 100,000 is the magic number—unless it is in fact founded on numerological mysticism. To fund the program, the State Department was joined by Partners of the Americas (see below) and NAFSA: Association of International Educators (NAFSA, 2013). US universities, without any known exception, are participants. The “Innovation Fund” that supports the program is hailed as a “public-private partnership,” in line with the growing corporatization, privatization, and outsourcing that now dominates ostensibly public institutions in North America. Obama’s program promises a propaganda boost to private corporations: “Highlight your corporate efforts to create jobs and international education for young people through media placement and recognition”.2 This connection between government, private business, and universities, brings to the foreground the widening idea of force multiplication employed by the US.

As just mentioned, Partners of the Americas is part of the above program. Partners of the Americas was first formed as part of the Alliance for Progress in 1964,3 during an earlier phase of US-led hemispheric counterinsurgency, marked by a developmentalist and militarized drive against “communism” as the US sought shore up its dominance by countering the example of revolutionary Cuba. Partners of the Americas involves itself in elections in Latin America, and in mobilizing people to impact on the selection of candidates for positions in justice systems such as Bolivia’s, until Partners’ partner, USAID, was expelled from the country. Partners boasts of funding hundreds of unnamed “civil society organizations” in 24 countries in the Americas.4

Among similar initiatives launched by the Obama administration, again by turning over part of US foreign policy to gigantic corporate entities, is the so-called “Alliance for Affordable Internet” (A4AI), which includes Google and the Omidyar Network. The program has clear political, strategic, and neoliberal aims. One of its top aims is to “reduce regulatory barriers and encourage policies to offer affordable access to both mobile and fixed-lined internet, particularly among women in developing countries”.5 A4AI is active in an unspecified number of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the only ones mentioned thus far being Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, and the Dominican Republic. Understanding that limitations to Internet access persist, the US government is directly involved in expanding the potential market of those listening to its messages, watching its corporate advertisements, and consuming US exports, both material and ideological.

A program that specifically targets Africa and what could be its future leaders, is the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) which has launched the “Mandela Washington Fellowship” (MWF) program. The State Department partnered with RocketHub on a crowdfunding campaign to support projects created by graduates of the MWF. The first class of 500 Mandela Washington Fellows arrived in June 2014, “to study business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public management at U.S. campuses, followed by a Presidential Summit in Washington”.6 The target audiences, as expected are women, youths, and “civil society”. So far 22 MWF projects have been funded. In undertaking this initiative, the US is reinforcing classic patterns of cultural imperialism.

It should become clearer how the employment of “force multipliers” can be seen as a threat to target states, when it comes to Western reactions to penetration of their own states. For example, when speaking of China’s force multipliers—or “agents of influence”— Western agencies such as the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) speak in no uncertain terms of their presence as a threat, constructed in terms of espionage, specifically naming “the mass of ordinary students, businessmen and locally employed staff” who work on behalf of China’s state intelligence gathering apparatus (MoD, 2001, p. 21F-2; see also WikiLeaks, 2009). What may be presented as innocuous ties of friendship, partnership, and aid when it comes to Western use of force multipliers, is instead dramatically inverted when speaking of Chinese influence, using a markedly more sinister tone:

“The process of being cultivated as a ‘friend of China’ (ie. an ‘agent’) is subtle and long-term. The Chinese are adept at exploiting a visitor’s interest in, and appreciation of, Chinese history and culture. They are expert flatterers and are well aware of the ‘softening’ effect of food and alcohol. Under cover of consultation or lecturing, a visitor may be given favours, advantageous economic conditions or commercial opportunities. In return they will be expected to give information or access to material. Or, at the very least, to speak out on China’s behalf (becoming an ‘agent of influence’)”. (MoD, 2001, p. 21F-2)


[Maximilian C. Forte has an educational background in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Spanish, International Relations, and Anthropology. He lived and studied for seven years in Trinidad & Tobago, for four years in Australia, and for three years in the U.S. He is a dual Italian-Canadian citizen, and had previously achieved Permanent Resident status in Trinidad & Tobago. His primary website is that of the Zero Anthropology Project.]



  1. The website for “100,000 Strong for the Americas” can be found at
  3. Partners of the Americas presents a brief history of the organization at
  5. Alliance for Affordable Internet:
  6. Details on YALI and the MWF were presented at


Byrd, M.W., & Decker, G. (2008). Why the U.S. Should Gender Its Counterterrorism Strategy. Military Review, July-August, 96–101.

CIA. (2010). CIA Red Cell Special Memorandum, March 11. Langley, VA: US Central Intelligence Agency.

Code Pink. (2009/10/7a). Afghan Women Speak Out: Dr. Roshnak Wardak. Code Pink, October 7.

————— . (2009/10/7b). Afghanistan: Will Obama Listen to the Women? Code Pink, October 7.

Forte, Maximilian C. (2014). Surveillance, Dissent, and Imperialism. Zero Anthropology, March 1.

Horton, S. (2009). Is Medea Benjamin Naive or Just Confused? Code Pink Rethinks Afghan Withdrawal., October 8.

King, H. (2014). Queers of War: Normalizing Lesbians and Gays in the US War Machine. In Maximilian C. Forte (Ed.), Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism (pp. 89–101). Montreal: Alert Press.

Maier, C.S. (2002). An American Empire? The Problems of Frontiers and Peace in Twenty-First-Century World Politics. Harvard Magazine, November-December, 28–31.

Manoochehri, A. (2005). Enrique Dussel and Ali Shari’ati on Cultural Imperialism. In Bernd Hamm & Russell Smandych (Eds.), Cultural Imperialism: Essays on the Political Economy of Cultural Domination (pp. 290–300). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLoughlin, K., & Forte, M.C. (2013). Emergency as Security: The Liberal Empire at Home and Abroad. In Kyle McLoughlin & Maximilian C. Forte (Eds.), Emergency as Security: Liberal Empire at Home and Abroad (pp. 1–19). Montreal: Alert Press.

Ministry of Defence (MoD). (2001). The Defence Manual of Security (Volumes 1, 2 and 3, Issue 2). London: Ministry of Defence.

Mojumdar, A. (2009/10/6). “Code Pink” Rethinks Its Call for Afghanistan Pullout. Christian Science Monitor, October 6.

NAFSA. (2013). Strategic Plan 2014–2016. Washington, DC: NAFSA, Association of International Educators.

Naipaul, V.S. (1967). The Mimic Men. New York: Vintage International.

NATO. (2008). NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative as at 6 October 2008. Brussels: Media Operations Centre, Press and Media Service, NATO HQ.

Pas, N. (2013). The Masculine Empire: A Gendered Analysis of Modern American Imperialism. In Kyle McLoughlin & Maximilian C. Forte (Eds.), Emergency as Security: Liberal Empire at Home and Abroad (pp. 47–71). Montreal: Alert Press.

Smollett, E. (1993). America the Beautiful: Made in Bulgaria. Anthropology Today, 9(2), 9–13.

Stevenson, R.L. (1983). A Critical Look at Critical Analysis. Journal of Communication, 33(3), 262–269.

US Department of State (DoS). (2010). Leading Through Civilian Power: The First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Washington, DC: US Department of State.

————— . (2014b). State of Global Partnerships Report. Washington, DC: The Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, US Department of State.

WikiLeaks. (2009). UK MoD Manual of Security Volumes 1, 2 and 3 Issue 2, JSP-440, RESTRICTED, 2389 pages, 2001. WikiLeaks, October 4.

zaniv5smExtracted from:
Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism
Edited by
Maximilian C. Forte
Montreal, Alert Press, 2015
Available in print, or as a
Free E-book


How to manufacture consent in the sex trade debate

Feminist Current

August 18, 2015

by Raquel Rosario Sanchez

So Amnesty International voted in favour of adopting a policy that calls for the full decriminalization of the sex trade. Hurray? Once the celebration or despair subsides we are left we a troubling picture… And what that picture reveals is one of deceitful propaganda and misleading rhetoric.

Amnesty International has claimed that this decision was made in the interest of protecting the safety and human rights of sex workers and included a thoughtful and thorough consultation process that explored all viable alternatives. Salil Shetti, Secretary-General of AI states, “The research and consultation carried out in the development of this policy in the past two years concluded that this was the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights and lessen the risk of abuse and violations they face.” He adds, “We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world.”

On its face, these efforts and intentions sound noble. Yet Amnesty International has concealed the cynical origins of the policy they are now selling to the masses.

Their press releases frame the conversation as one that happened as part of a “global movement,” when in fact only about 40 per cent of their own membership participated in the process (most members, in fact, weren’t initially made aware this policy was in development). Not only that, the organization has gone to great lengths to obscure the role that brothel owner, Douglas Fox, the man who crafted the original proposal on sex trade decriminalization and lobbied the organization to this effect, played in this process.

If you look beyond the façade of human rights for “sex workers,” what is revealed is a perfect example of an organization choosing ideology and profit over the well-being and human rights of women and girls.

Fox is the owner of England’s largest escort agency, Christony Companions Escort Services. It was during one of Amnesty International’s internal debates in Newcastle in 2008 that he drafted the original policy resolution which was subsequently leaked to Julie Bindel, who exposed the draft proposal-in-process. The outrage that ensued forced Amnesty International to distance itself from Fox. But regardless of the fact that the organization does not want to be connected to Fox — a man who attacks anti-violence activists and feminists for allegedly stigmatizing people in prostitution yet insists on referring to people in prostitution as “whores” — he continues to take credit for the policy that AI has implemented.

John Dockerty and Douglas Fox, owners of Christony Companions.
John Dockerty and Douglas Fox, owners of Christony Companions.

Fox is quoted as saying that Amnesty International’s internal violence against women campaign group was the key opposition to a decriminalization policy. He saw one of the “problems” within Amnesty as being that the organization has “(in some ways very effectively) campaigned against violence against women. The people and one woman in particular who has headed this campaign has taken what effectively is an anti-escorting stance and has quoted Melissa farley and Julie Bindel heavily in their literature.” Fox brags that he “challenged this position and the statistics used both on the Amnesty web site and at the conference where I basically caused a rumpus at the violence against women stall.”

Regarding concerns about decriminalization resulting in an increase in human trafficking, supported by evidence and research, he claims, “I was asked over and over and over again about fears that supporting sex workers would increase trafficking. I won them over very easily, however, which does show that getting the press/media on our side to give counter arguments is so important.” Fox then rallied his supporters to join Amnesty International as members in order to lobby for this policy. He said, “Getting Amnesty on side will be a huge boost to our morale… We need to pursue them mercilessly and get them on side.”

And it seems Fox was successful in pushing feminist anti-violence groups aside in order to convince Amnesty to advocate on behalf of men’s right to buy and profit from the sale of women and girls.

After the policy was approved, Fox was, naturally, thrilled. “It is exactly what I hoped for,” he said. “I am very, very pleased that Amnesty has taken this position.”

As an anti-violence and anti-trafficking activist, I find the callousness of Fox’s statements and the fact that the policy proposed and lobbied for by a brothel owner was eventually passed chilling and sickening.

And how was he able to get away with it? By adopting the term “sex worker.”

See, “sex work” rhetoric means that owning a large brothel in England and allegedly doing occasional sex work on the side qualifies people like Douglas Fox to speak on behalf of prostituted people worldwide.

Welcome to the dangerously deluded world of Amnesty International, an organization that did an about face on women’s rights. A world where brothel owners and pimps are equated with prostituted people (who are overwhelmingly women and girls) in order to ignore the voices and expertise of survivors, survivor-led organizations, anti-violence organizations and sex industry scholars, as well as evidence and research that shows their new policy supporting the full decriminalization of the sex industry leads to more trafficking.

But, in fact, throwing women under the bus is not new for Amnesty International. The former head of the gender unit in the organization, Gita Sahgal, told the Observer, after she was fired, that an “atmosphere of terror” prevailed inside the organization, that “debate is suppressed,” and that staff are cowed into accepting the party line. She also called the leadership of the organization “ideologically corrupt”, saying “there is a deep misogyny in the human rights movement and the kinds of issues that women have to face tend to bring that out.”

Now that we have this dubiously-concocted policy, initiated by a pimp and funded by a billionaire, the marginalization of survivor’s voices and feminists, an unwillingness to acknowledge the real meaning of this policy, and outright lies about the evidence behind their claims, what’s next?

What’s next is the silencing of critiques of the sex industry by implying that only “sex workers” can speak in this debate. Yet this policy was not approved by prostituted women and girls, but by Amnesty International, a so-called human rights organization run by people privileged enough not to have to prostitute themselves.

The policy states, “Many sex workers feel the term ‘prostitute’ is demeaning or misogynistic, and organized sex worker groups generally prefer the term ‘sex worker’ or ‘person in the sex industry.’” What they’ve failed to mention is that many more activists who have been in the sex industry reject the term. In fact, “sex work” is a very political term that intentionally erases the reality of who is prostituted and why, allowing men like Fox, who run the largest prostitution ring in north-east England, to call themselves “sex workers.”

By arguing that only “sex workers” can speak about “sex work,” you are effectively saying that only people who are in favor of decriminalizing pimps and johns have a valid opinion about policy, as it is only those who advocate for the full decriminalization of prostitution who use the term “sex work.” That is to say, sex industry advocates use the term intentionally as part of their efforts to normalize and degender the system of prostitution. If the sentence was altered to read “listen to survivors”, “listen to prostituted people,” or “listen to people who have been commercially exploited,” Amnesty International would have ended up with a different policy.

This argument narrows the debate to ensure an individual, tit-for-tat approach in which participants are forced into an Oppression Olympics-style rhetorical contest that ignores intersectionality in order to compete to see who is marginalized enough to have a voice. Experience and personal narrative can be crucial in many instances but also they, conversely, lack the broader contextual frameworks that a systems-level analysis requires. This kind of argument also erases the fact that the sex industry is not at all some sort of grassroots organization or collective but is, instead, a billion dollar industry driven entirely by male demand.

To be empowered as a sex worker in an industry that relies on the dehumanization and constant influx of the ever-younger bodies of mainly women and girls is a privilege. As an anti-violence worker and sex industry researcher, hearing people talk about how violence-free their experiences in the sex industry have been is encouraging. But even sex industry advocates know that this experience represents a very small minority of people in the sex trade. To use these few stories to promote a policy that has been proven to further marginalize and endanger women and girls globally is inhumane, oppressive, and counter to the purported goals of a human rights organization.


[Raquel Rosario Sanchez is an activist and advocate from the Dominican Republic. Her efforts center around violence against women and girls, anti-human trafficking efforts, and death penalty abolition. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies in Oregon.]

United Nations Covers Up Child Rape in Africa and the Buying of Sex in Haiti

InnerCity Press

June 18, 2015

by Mathew Russell Lee

With scandals surrounding UN Peacekeeping, from covering up child rape by French “peacekeepers” in the Central African Republic to buying sex in Haiti and selling UN Police jobs in the DR Congo, on June 18 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to give a speech to UN Force Commanders in Conference Room 9 of UN Headquarters in an open meeting, following a public photo-op with the commanders.

But when Inner City Press showed up for the photo op, UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous directed one of his officials to tell Inner City Press to leave.

Inner City Press refused, noting that Ban Ki-moon’s appearance was listed in the online Media Alert of the UN Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU). Nevertheless, Ladsous’ official insisted, and Ladsous himself began to film Inner City Press with his phone.

When Ban Ki-moon and his security detail of at least four arrived, they proceeded into Conference Room 9, as did Inner City Press accompanied by a MALU staff member and a staffer from UN Photo. But just as Ban Ki-moon began speaking, two of his security officers came over and told Inner City Press to leave. In the hall they said that “the organizer” — Ladsous — had ordered it.

Inner City Press asked, if some UN official tells you to throw out the media, you just do it? “If he told you to throw me on the ground, would you throw me on the ground?”

“Somebody doesn’t have to tell me to throw you on the ground, if I’ve got to put you on the ground, I put you on the ground,” came the response. Audio here. Periscope video here. Now YouTube video permalink here.

Another security officer said, at this point the media is not coming in. That’s it.

This is called censorship. And it happened right in front of Ban Ki-moon.  When Ban came out of Conference Room 9, he had a discussion with Ladsous – what about? – then walked on by. Periscope Video II here. This is Ban’s UN, UNtransparent, descended to censorship.

Inner City Press has reported not only on Ladsous’ cover up of rapes in CAR (and before that in Minova in the DRC and Tabit in Darfur), but also on a growing lack of transparency in Ban Ki-moon’s UN, including the reported use of Ban’s name by his nephew “Dennis” Bahn while purporting to sell real estate in Vietnam to the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar. (Bahn works for Colliers International, which rents office space to and for Ban’s UN system.) Now, outright censorship.

The old UN Correspondents Association has said nothing, just as they said nothing and more when Ladsous said he would not answer Inner City Press and Ban’s spokesman decided not to call on Inner City Press to put a question to Ladsous, on the CAR rapes and cover up. The new Free UN Coalition for Access has demanded an explanation and response from MALU and the Department of Public Information above it. A senior UN official told Inner City Press, “There is no court.”

This use of UN Security is ironic, given that as Inner City Press reported on June 17 and asked Ban’s deputy spokesman about on June 18, Ban shook hands in the UN in Geneva with a person on the US Al-Qaeda terrorist list, photo here. But today’s UN has become the source of lawless censorship, amid its scandals. Watch this site.

August 11, 2015: On rapes by UN peacekeeping in Central African Republic (CAR), InnerCity Press asks UN if Ban Ki-moon will disclose findings and punish men:


August 13, 2015: When InnerCity Press asks US Samantha Power about UN rapes and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) cover up in Tabit, Darfur, she ignores the question and walks off the podium:


Real Men Don’t Prostitute Women

August 18, 2015

Running time: 2:38

“To understand patriarchy is to understand that free choice is a fairytale.” — Dr Meagan Tyler

“Prostitution – We Don’t Buy It” – Speakers: Tom Meagher and sex trade survivor Rachel Moran


Playboy Feminism™: how the gentleman’s porn rag co-opted the women’s movement


June 30, 2015

by Meghan Murphy


Playboy’s recent attempts to incorporate “feminist” content into their online magazine are part of a longstanding effort to sell a version of “women’s lib” that really only benefits men.

Playmate Bunnies at Playboy’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 2014. Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Playboy
Playmate Bunnies at Playboy’s 60th anniversary celebrations in 2014. Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Playboy

If you ask Hugh Hefner, he’ll tell you he “was a feminist before there was such a thing as feminism”. Just this week, Cosmopolitan republished Hef’s love letter to himself, arguing that feminism was its own worst enemy, Playboy being the true source of women’s liberation. “Everybody,” he writes, “if they’ve got their head on straight, wants to be a sexual object”.

This piece was originally published in 2007, but Hef’s been making the same argument since the 1960s. And, in fact, the magazine did promote their own version of “women’s lib” back then – supporting reproductive rights and, of course, “sexual liberation”. The Playboy Foundation even donated generously to abortion rights organisations and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to fund daycare centers. Longtime senior editor, Nat Lehrman said the magazine “came out on these important feminist issues before feminists had figured out what their issues were”.

But their support for women was selective, to say the least, and back then there were few feminists who fell for it. Playboy still was known primarily for the centerfolds and was clear about their distaste for a certain kind of woman (and a certain kind of feminist). The Playmate was a young, happy, simple girl – not a “difficult” one, Hef told journalist, Oriana Fallaci, in 1967. Problem is, the feminist movement has fought for women to be seen as human, not one-dimensional playthings.

Claiming to support women’s rights while simultaneously insisting on our objectification was unconvincing for the second wave. But the times they are a-changing and the kind of feminism presented to today’s liberal doesn’t seem so far off from the magazine’s ethos. In an era that ascribes “empowerment” to everything from breast implants to nude selfies to pole-dancing classes, and when the hottest conversation of 2014 was Beyonce’s feminism, it only makes sense that the magazine would double-down on their efforts to capitalize on the movement.

Playboy’s existence relies on the notion of women as sexually liberated proponents of free love. As such, the introduction of the birth control pill in America was deeply connected to not only women’s liberation but to the sexual revolution – women could now have sex “like men”, no strings attached. Playboy was crafting a version of “women’s lib” that was, in the end, still male-centered. Women were permitted to be “sexual” but within the confines of a one-dimensional view of “sexuality” that had to, in the end, satisfy men.

In Right Wing Women, Andrea Dworkin said, of the sexual revolution, “It did not free women. Its purpose – it turned out – was to free men to use women without bourgeois constraints, and in that it was successful.”

So while the sexual revolution was a grand old time for men, for women it was more of a drugged up, floral-patterned version of rape culture. In the past, women could (theoretically) say “no” to sex lest they get pregnant. With the advent of the pill, there was no justifiable reason (from the perspectives of men) to say “no”.

What Playboy did 60 years ago mirrors the direction popular feminism (and liberal politics, more generally) has taken today. Playboy’s philosophy was an individualist one that valued “personal freedom” and “personal choice” above all else and saw the state as an impediment to the American Dream. Western men – progressives or activists who claim to oppose corporate power, imperialism, and white supremacy – have happily adopted Playboy’s version of feminism. Rather than questioning their own power and privilege and the way in which patriarchy has dictated representations of the female body and female sexuality, they’ve embraced porn culture, positioning the male gaze as liberatory.

In an imagined effort to defeat the virgin-whore dichotomy that had, in the past, created a class of women men could use and abuse in order to protect the “purity” of upper class women, many progressive men (and liberal feminists) found a “solution” in constructing all women as “whores.” Rather than challenge the notion of women as bodies that exist to serve men, in one way or another, whether through childbirth, sex, or unpaid domestic labour, they’ve embraced Playboy’s “all women are fuckable” vision of emancipation. And not only were all women to be sexualised, consumable objects, but they were supposed to love it. Women learned to always be “up for it,” lest we be labeled repressed prudes. Ergo, our liberation depended on our sexual availability to men.

Playboy’s “safe-for-work” site, launched in 2014, has been recruiting “feminist” content. While many saw this as an effort to rebrand, Playboy’s efforts to coopt the feminist movement are ingrained in the magazine’s history. Cory Jones, senior vice president for digital content told the Columbia Journalism Review, the brand has always been “inclusive,” “pro-consent,” and “pro-women”.

Indeed, Playboy’s foremost “feminist” writer is Noah Berlatsky, whose work exemplifies their longstanding approach to feminism: men know what’s best for feminism, regardless of what feminists say. His political philosophy appears to be “equal objectification for all”, which fits perfectly with the brand. It’s the idea that the more women we can view as “fuckable”, the more women will be liberated.

Today, Playboy and writers such as Berlatsky emphasise “choice” and “consent” in their writing on female sexuality – the objectified are meant to be eager about their objectification, not forced, not begrudging. This all serves to reinforce exactly what Hefner began selling in the 1960s: the Playboy man is a “gentleman”, which means that he won’t catcall women on the street or support revenge porn – rather, he wants a woman’s enthusiastic consent (nobody likes a downer, after all…). He wants her to have chosen objectification and to frame it has something she enjoys.

In a recent piece, Berlatsky wrote, erroneously, that radical feminists who criticise the notion that empowerment is achievable through male-dictated beauty standards were cruel and exclusionary. Misrepresenting feminist critiques of objectification as personal “attacks” on women is common practice for liberals who are unwilling to extend discourse beyond the personal. Using the language of liberal feminism, he capitalises on the very lack of accountability demanded of him as a white man, writing for Playboy, to trash and slander women who challenge the very systems of power that support him. Like Hef, he sees himself as a generous, open-minded, “feminist” man – one of the “good guys” – so kind as to engage in the sexualisation of all women, fairly and equally.

Apparently aware of critiques of both his work and of Playboy’s “feminist” marketing efforts (some of which came from myself), Berlatsky recently argued, defensively, that he chooses to write for the magazine in order to “change minds.” He claims that, despite feminists like Susan Brownmiller’s claims that Playboy doesn’t speak to women, but uses them as “masturbatory fantasies” instead, women were, in fact, enthusiastically speaking to him. Berlatsky has a habit of including particular women’s voices in his ongoing battle against feminism – women who will parrot back to him exactly what he already wants to believe and convey. It’s a shrewd move, learned from the masters. The sexual exploitation industries have always found women to bring onside – women who are hopeful that the “sexy = empowering” mantra will prove to be true. Though, somehow, despite all that sexy sex, Playboy has yet to end patriarchy…

Comedien and Playboy writer, Sara Benincasa, whose articles include “Why Every Woman Should Do A Pinup Photo Shoot,” describes herself as “a sex-positive, body-positive, fun-loving feminist”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with loving sex, your body, or fun – the problem is that these qualifiers are code for “unthreatening feminist” and, therefore, describe the ideal “Playboy Feminist”. It represents the kind of feminism that won’t interfere with men’s sexual fantasies – you can imagine the words placed right alongside a Playmate a la “I’m fun, easy going, and up for anything!”

Other “feminist” articles recently published on the site include a plea to decriminalise the purchase of sex, a piece about how empowering it is to give men blowjobs, and a couple about the compatibility of feminism and porn. The message isn’t particularly subtle…

Playboy will never bring on feminist writers who challenge men’s vision of women as beautiful creatures to be gazed at and carefree girls who are always up for a good time because it goes against everything Playboy stands for. Supporting writers who represent dissenters as bitter hags and hateful prudes is a far better marketing strategy.

What writers like Berlatsky (and Playboy as a whole) refuse to acknowledge is the possibility that women’s liberation does not rest on men’s ability to find them “beautiful.” His lie, that feminists find the bodies of naked women “disgusting” is particularly misguided (and willfully so) – we know full-well that our body-hatred derives from men like him and other Playboy readers. It is he and men of his ilk who tell us our happiness, our worth, our ability to love ourselves, our humanity, and our freedom all rest on their sexual arousal and satisfaction. Berlatsky’s misogyny is – like Playboy’s – subtle and cloaked in the language of “sex-positive feminism” and liberalism. It is a “pro-women” kind of anti-feminism. And his timing couldn’t be better.

Now that second wave feminists have been thoroughly trashed by progressive men and women alike, the time is ripe for Playboy Feminism’s resurgence. Today’s young feminist wants to make her own porn, perform stripteases (But for free… Because it’s not work, it’s “for fun”) take her objectification into her own hands via Kardashianesque Instagram “belfies”, and rebrand prostitution as an empowering choice sexually liberated women make for themselves.

Playboy never wanted to impose their version of liberation onto women – they wanted us to adopt it willingly, gleefully – with our consent. They wanted us to call it our own. And we did. Playboy Feminism is indistinguishable from mainstream liberal feminism: it is pro-capitalism, pro-sex industry, pro-beauty industry, and pro-objectification. It challenges little in terms of male power, but supports “sex” and uses buzzwords like “choice”, “agency,” and “consent” in order to avoid more complex, challenging conversations that situate “freedom” within a larger social and political context. It asks nothing of men but that they support our “choice” to hop out of our bunny suits and into the grotto.

Meghan Murphy is a writer and journalist from Vancouver, B.C. Her website is Feminist Current

Pornography, Prostitution & Trafficking

Public Good Project

by Jay Taber

Melissa Farley 1

Melissa Farley of Prostitution Research and Education discusses the public health crisis of pornography, in particular the human trafficking that makes prostitution profitable. Amnesty International is challenged by prostitution survivors to end its support for legalizing these crimes against humanity.


[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, a correspondent to Fourth World Eye, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project, a volunteer network of researchers, analysts and activists engaged in defending democracy. As a consultant, he has assisted ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples seeking justice in such bodies as the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations.]

For All Those Who Were Indian In A Former Life

Manataka American Indian Council

by Andrea Smith

The New Age movement has sparked a new interest in Native American traditional spirituality among white women who claim to be feminists. Indian spirituality, with its respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, is often presented as the panacea for all individual and global problems. Not surprisingly, many white “feminists” see the opportunity to make a great profit from this new craze. They sell sweat lodges or sacred pipe ceremonies, which promise to bring individual and global healing. Or they sell books and records that supposedly describe Indian traditional practices so that you too, can be Indian.

On the surface, it may appear that this new craze is based on a respect for Indian spirituality. In fact, however, the New Age movement is part of a very old story of white racism and genocide against the Indian people. The “Indian” ways that the white, New Age “feminists” are practicing have little grounding in reality.

True spiritual leaders do not make a profit from their teachings, whether it’s through selling books, workshops, sweat lodges, or otherwise. Spiritual leaders teach the people because it is their responsibility to pass what they have learned from their elders to the youngest generations. They do not charge for their services.

Furthermore, the idea that an Indian medicine woman would instruct a white woman to preach the “true path” of Indian spirituality sounds more reminiscent of evangelical Christianity than traditional Indian spirituality. Indian religions are community-based, not proselytizing religions. For this reason, there is not ONE Indian religion, as many New Agers would have you believe. Indian spiritual practices reflect the needs of a particular community. Indians do not generally believe that their way is “the” way, and consequently, they have no desire to tell outsiders about their practices. Also, considering how many Indians there are who do not  know the traditions, why would a medicine woman spend so much time teaching a white woman? A medicine woman would be more likely to advise a white woman to look into her OWN culture and find what is liberating in it.

However, some white women seem determined NOT to look into their own cultures for sources of strength. This is puzzling, since pre-Christian European cultures are also earth-based and contain many of the same elements that white women are ostensibly looking for in Native American cultures. This phenomenon leads me to suspect that there is a more insidious motive for latching onto Indian spirituality.

When white “feminists” see how white people have historically oppressed others and how they are coming very close to destroying the earth, they often want to disassociate themselves from their whiteness. They do this by opting to “become Indian.” In this way, they can escape responsibility and accountability for white racism.

Of course, white “feminists” want to become only partly Indian. They do not want to be part of our struggles for survival against genocide, and they do not want to fight for treaty rights or an end to substance abuse or sterilization abuse. They do not want to do anything that would tarnish their romanticized notions of what it means to be an Indian.

Moreover, they want to become Indian without holding themselves accountable to Indian communities. If they did they would have to listen to Indians telling them to stop carrying around sacred pipes, stop doing their own sweat lodges and stop appropriating our spiritual practices. Rather, these New Agers see Indians as romanticized gurus who exist only to meet their consumerist needs. Consequently, they do not understand our struggles for survival and thus they can have no genuine understanding of Indian spiritual practices.

While New Agers may think that they are escaping white racism by becoming “Indian,” they are in fact continuing the same genocidal practices of their forebears. The one thing that has maintained the survival of Indian people through 500 years of colonialism has been the spiritual bonds that keep us together. When the colonizers saw the strength of our spirituality, they tried to destroy Indian religion by making them illegal. They forced Indian children into white missionary schools and cut their tongues if they spoke their Native languages.

Sundances were made illegal, and Indian participation in the Ghost Dance precipitated the Wounded Knee massacre. The colonizers recognized that it was our spirituality that maintained our spirit of resistance and sense of community. Even today, Indians do not have religious freedom. In a recent ruling the Supreme Court has determined that American Indians do not have the right to sue under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. They have also determined that if Indian religious freedom conflicts with any “compelling” United States interest, the government always supersedes Indian peoples’ freedom of religion.

Many white New Agers continue this practice of destroying Indian spirituality. They trivialize Native American practices so that these practices lose their spiritual force, and they have the white privilege and power to make themselves heard at the expense of Native Americans. Our voices are silenced, and consequently the younger generation of Indians who are trying to find their way back to the Old Ways becomes hopelessly lost in this morass of consumerist spirituality.

These practices also promote the subordination of Indian women to white women. We are told that we are greedy if we do not choose to share our spirituality. Apparently, it is our burden to service white women’s needs rather than to spend time organizing within our own communities. Their perceived need for warm and fuzzy mysticism takes precedence over our need to survive.

The New Age movement completely trivializes the oppression we as Indian women face: Indian women are suddenly no longer the women who are forcibly sterilized and tested with unsafe drugs such as Depo Provera; we are no longer the women who have a life expectancy of 47 years; and we are no longer the women who generally live below the poverty level and face a 75 percent unemployment rate. No, we’re too busy being cool and spiritual.

This trivialization of our oppression is compounded by the fact that nowadays anyone can be Indian if s/he wants to. All that is required is that one be Indian in a former life, or take part in a sweat lodge, or be monitored by a “medicine woman,” or read a how-to book.

Since, according to this theory, anyone can now be “Indian,” then the term Indians no longer refers specifically to those people who have survived five hundred years of colonization and genocide. This furthers the goals of white supremacists to abrogate treaty rights and to take away what little we have left. When everyone becomes “Indian,” then it is easy to lose sight of the specificity of oppression faced by those who are REALLY Indian in THIS life. It is no wonder we have such a difficult time finding non-Indians to support our struggles when the New Age movement has completely disguised our oppression.

The most disturbing aspect about these racist practices is that they are promoted in the name of feminism. Sometimes it seems that I can’t open a feminist periodical without seeing ads promoting white “feminist” practices with little medicine wheel designs. I can’t seem to go to a feminist conference without the woman who begins the conference with a ceremony being the only Indian presenter. Participants then feel so “spiritual” after this opening that they fail to notice the absence of Indian women in the rest of the conference or Native American issues in the discussions. And I certainly can’t go to a feminist bookstore without seeing books by Lynn Andrews and other people who exploit Indian spirituality all over the place. It seems that, while feminism is supposed to signify the empowerment of all women, it obviously does not include Indian women.

If white feminists are going to act in solidarity with their Indian sisters, they must take a stand against Indian spiritual abuse. Feminist book and record stores should stop selling these products, and feminist periodicals should stop advertising these products. Women who call themselves feminists should denounce exploitative practices wherever they see them.

Many have claimed that Indians are not respecting “freedom of speech” when they demand that whites stop promoting and selling books that exploit Indian spirituality. But promotion of this material is destroying freedom of speech for Native Americans by ensuring that our voices will never be heard. Feminists have already made choices about what they will promote (I haven’t seen many books by right-wing, fundamentalist women sold in feminist bookstores, since feminists recognize that these books are oppressive to women.) The issue is not censorship; the issue is racism. Feminists must make a choice either to respect Indian political and spiritual autonomy, or to promote materials that are fundamentally racist under the guise of “freedom of speech.”

Respecting the integrity of Native people and their spirituality does not mean that there can never be cross-cultural sharing. However, such a sharing should take place in a way that is respectful to Indian people.

The way to be respectful is for non-Indians to become involved in our political struggles and to develop an on-going relation with Indian COMMUNITIES based on trust and mutual respect. When this happens, Indian  people may invite a non-Indian to take part in a ceremony, but it will be on Indian terms.

I hesitate to say this much about cross-cultural sharing however, because many white people take this to mean that they can join in our struggles solely for the purpose of being invited to ceremonies. If this does not occur, they feel that Indians have somehow unfairly withheld spiritual teachings from them. We are expected to pay the price in spiritual exploitation in order to gain allies in our political struggles.

When non-Indians say they will help us, but only on their terms, that is not help – that is blackmail. We are not obligated to teach anyone about our spirituality. It is our choice if we want to share with people who we think will be respectful. It is white people who owe it to us to fight for our survival, since they are living on the land for which our people were murdered.

It is also important for non-Indians to build relationships with Indian communities, rather than with specific individuals. Many non-Indians express their confusion about knowing who is and who is not a legitimate spiritual teacher. The only way for non-Indians to know who legitimate teachers are is to develop ongoing relationships with Indian COMMUNITIES. When they know the community, they will learn who the community respects as its spiritual leaders. This is a process that takes time.

Unfortunately, many white feminists do not want to take this time in their quest for instant spirituality. Profit-making often gets in the way of true sisterhood. However, white feminists should know that as long as they take part in Indian spiritual abuse, either by being consumers of it or by refusing to take a stand on it, Indian women will consider white “feminists” to be nothing more than agents in the genocide of their people.



Editor’s Note:  The article above first appeared in the “Cultural Survival Quarterly”, Winter 1994 and was written by Andrea Smith, who is a member of “Women Of All Red Nations” in Chicago, and she is the Chairperson for Women of Color for the “National Coalition Against Sexual Assault”.  While branded by right-wing Catholics as controversial, pro-gay, pro-abortion and a radical feminist, her opinions bear a strong resemblance to truth that some people find offensive.  We do not.


Human Rights vs. Right Based Fishing: The Ideological Battleground in Siem Reap

World Forum of Fishers People

April 28, 2015

By the international secretariat of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples – 26 April 2015


(2014) Photo courtesy of Masifundise 

On 23-27 March 2014, six representatives from the global fisher movements, the WFFP and WFF, supported by ICSF and a couple of researchers, participated in the UserRights2015 Conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Few in numbers, these delegates represents millions of people from indigenous and small-scale fishing communities. The additional 130 participants were from government, inter-governmental organisations, academia, big business, and international conservation organisations.

Even after the five days in Cambodia, it remains somehow unclear what the conference aimed at achieving. Bringing together 140 people from across the world – of whom only about 45 were women – should clearly aim at something more concrete than providing “… guidance on how to support appropriate rights-based systems in fisheries and thereby contribute to a sustainable future:”1

During the five days, it became clear that the dominant, hegemonic view brought to the fore by most speakers and delegates centred around ‘private property’ as a fundamental basis for user rights in fisheries. In fisheries governance this is also referred to as Rights Based Fishing, ITQs, Wealth Based Fishing or Catch Shares by various different players.

There is an irony in this almost fundamentalist belief in private property. On the one hand the FAO – the key host of the conference – and the World Bank aims at eliminating huger and reducing rural poverty. On the other hand, the World Bank – as one of the most powerful players in fisheries governance globally – admitted that the private property system is good for some and bad for many. If the very system aggressively promoted by the World Bank – and many other participants at the UserRights conference – is bad for many, how then can it contribute to eliminating hunger and reducing poverty?

For more examples on the devastating consequences of private property systems in fisheries – or Rights Based Fishing – see the Global Ocean Grab: A Primer.

The WFFP delegates repeatedly argued – from the floor, as panellists and in presentations – that small-scale fisheries must be governed by applying a Human Rights Based approach. The underpinning principles of such an approach include equality, indigenous peoples rights, food sovereignty, gender equity, poverty alleviation for all, customary and traditional rights, traditional low-impact fishing, and participation in governance. Yet, these arguments only gave rise to a minimal dialogue, and on numerous occasions the responses were degrading and unwarranted.

The form of the conference allowed for many short and long presentations but limited scope for real engagement and dialogue. As such, it took the shape of an ideological battleground, where the strongest voice may end up being the one that finds its way into a conference report. Considering that proponents of private property were stronger in numbers and were allocated the majority of slots – air time – at the conference, it is feared that the views of the WFFP will becomes oppressed in the outcomes of the conference. While we do not know what to expect in terms of concrete outcomes, it is speculated that the conference will produce a report that will be used by the FAO with respect to its future work on fisheries governance, including the International Guidelines on the responsible Governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests (Tenure Guidelines) and the International Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF Guidelines).

Considering that the FAO recently endorsed the SSF Guidelines (2014) and the Tenure Guidelines (2012), it was expected that the FAO would use the guidelines to set the scene and inform the contents of the programme. Yet, aside from a couple of references on the official conference website and the mentioning of the guidelines in an opening speech, it was only the WFFP, WFF and ICSF who consistently made use of the guidelines to inform presentations and dialogue. Many participants seemed unaware of the guidelines – or outright ignored their existence – and the FAO officials showed disappointingly little interest in picking up on the linkages between the main theme of the conference – ‘user rights’ – and the Tenure and SSF Guidelines.

Considering that the FAO has invested huge amounts of human and financial resources in the development of the guidelines, this almost ignorant position is even more controversial.

The strategic use of language in Siem Reap

While many of the ‘usual suspects’ spoke openly about the need for private property, ITQs and similar terms in relation to fisheries governance, some adapted the language and thereby masked their underlying belief in private property as the one and only solution. This way of adapting the language is used to strategically persuade others – including fisher movements across the world – about their ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’ support and not only in Siem Reap but more generally so. At face value, it can be difficult to distinguish the good from the bad, but by looking just a bit deeper it’s not that difficult at all. One approach is to look where the funding comes from, and another is to do a bit of research on the political positions of the various actors and to find out who is serving on their boards. Too often, and in particular with international conservation organisations, we see a very close tie with multinational agri-businesses, super-market chains or other financial giants, and some are even governed by top-business people from the same funding corporations.

In the light of the above, it should come as no surprise that the overall impression of the WFFP is that the conference failed in ‘providing guidance’ – which was the only concrete objective of the conference mentioned on the website. Yet, the participation in the conference was crucial for a couple of reasons. Firstly, without the interventions of the WFFP and friends from WFF, ICSF and a couple of researchers, the conference would have been an assembly of neo-liberal thinkers and institutions who would have had an unhindered opportunity to develop their own plans for fisheries governance on the basis of private property regimes. Secondly, the knowledge and information about some of the key actors and their agendas, which we have gained by participating in the conference, is critical for developing and refining strategies on how to push for a Human Rights Based approach and the implementation of the FAO Guidelines.

A couple of facts about UserRights2015

Donors/partners: Environmental Defence Fund (EDF), Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) Norad and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Participants: 95 men and 45 women

1 The only concrete reference to the objectives of the conference on the official website: