Exploring Power, Sex and Knowledge in the Feminist Debate on Pornography and Sex Work

Screenshot_20180717-185056_Google

Venus with Drawers, by Salvador Dalí

by Caroline West, Dublin City University.

What counts as knowledge in the sex work debate amongst feminists? Who is permitted to be an expert? Who is heard the most in this discussion? Why does ‘my body, my choice’ apparently not apply to sex work?

These questions occurred to me while studying pornography during my masters in Sexuality Studies. I noticed a trend: the voices being heard in the debate were primarily those of white anti-porn feminists. This is reflected in mainstream media too, where most of the voices heard are the same – with the voices of those actually doing the work marginalised in favour of those campaigning against sex work. Of the voices of those who have direct experience in sex work, the women who report negative experiences appear more than those who report positive experiences. Looking at the feminist debate, we have seen feminist authors such as Sheila Jefferies completely dismiss the lived experiences of sex workers such as Annie Sprinkle and label them as ‘victims’, with the people who listen to them labelled as ‘mistaken’. When we consider that Annie Sprinkle has decades of experience in many different aspects of the sex industry, as well as achieving a PhD in human sexuality, we must consider the ethics of this framing. What are the ethics of framing someone as a victim when they do not feel that term reflects their experiences? Indeed, what are the ethics of insisting someone is a victim, while making a career of campaigning against their chosen employment? And what are the ethics of publicly excluding someone from expert status when discussing their lived experiences? When someone like Annie Sprinkle has such a wealth of experience, why does this experience not count as valid knowledge and why is it subjected to dismissal?

Ethics is further critical when we consider the terminology used in discussing sex work. Some feminists will argue that sex work is not a valid term, and claim it hides the issue of sex trafficking. These feminists will write sex work as ‘sex work’; the use of these sneer quotes deliberately situates the term in a state of ambiguity, outside the realm of acceptable language. However, the term was coined by a sex worker named Carol Leigh who used it to recognise the labour of the worker, rather than a focus on the consumer. The outright dismissal and denial of women to name their work and identity in a way that works for them, is a critical question of power and ethics in the feminist debate over pornography. Through my research with sex workers, I have come to understand it as a form of violence, specifically epistemological violence. This nuanced form of violence is when a person is excluded from the status of expert, and their knowledge dismissed as not ‘true’ knowledge. It is exclusion from ways of knowing.

For all the heated discussion about pornography, there is very little research on the realities of working in the industry. Often, anecdotes are used in place of large scale, ethical, sound research, and anecdotes that tell of negative experiences are promoted in favour of ‘non representative’ positive anecdotes’. Porn studies is a relatively new field of research, and often ideology is substituted for rigorous research. You could almost count on your fingers the numbers of studies that actually talk to women in the industry; studies that talk to men or trans people are even rarer. Yet we see plenty of headlines talking about the ‘realities’ of working in the industry, generally written by outsiders to the industry. In any other field of research, this would be unacceptable and poor research would be instantly dismissed. Perhaps research subjects like porn and sex is too ’icky’ for some, or too extreme, or too close to home.  I have had a number of women come up to me after presentations on my research and tell me that the women who told me they willingly engaged with the industry were wrong, and they didn’t in fact consent. I ask how they know this, about these women they don’t know and will never meet, and the answers are always the same : ‘no woman chooses to do that’. And they will refuse to listen, instead preferring to cling to their beliefs. Or they end the conversation with a curt ‘we will have to agree to disagree’, without listening to what I or my interviewees actually have to say. Other porn researchers have confided the same has happened to them. It’s a fascinating glimpse of the relationship between power, sex and knowledge, and how this relationship can violently exclude and contribute to stigma.

My research involved interviewing women working in the American porn industry, travelling to the AVN awards show in Las Vegas to conduct my interviews. This research project will be one of the few studies that looks at the nuances of stigma experienced by women working in the pornography industry, a sorely neglected area of research. Along the way, I’ve learnt so much about how power operates in this debate, and how exclusion and dismissal of a marginalised group of women is justified by factions of feminists who simultaneously proclaim ‘my body, my choice’ and ask us to believe women’s stories.  A PhD will only address so much, but there is a massive scope for improving scholarly research in this area. A new approach that favours methodologically sound research over ideology is very much needed; one that is inclusive and goes beyond the usual tired binary of looking at sex work as being either exploitative or empowering. This approach will allow the multitude of lived experiences in between these opposites to be discussed in a more holistic and ethical way. But we also need to become more reflexive as researchers, and ask ourselves why we are doing this research; if the research contributes to harm to sex workers through stigma and exclusion, and if the research is accurately reflecting the experiences of the studied population. The violent Othering of research participants is of utmost ethical importance, especially in this field, and one cannot claim to contribute to a nuanced understanding of sex work without being cognisant of these concerns.

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Pride aside: Beg, borrow and fully realise the struggle of chasing the academic dream

by Dr. Zarah Pattison, University of Stirling.

Aaaaaaand…SEND.

When you have worked your arse off, gotten three degrees and work experience; sending (begging) emails to make people aware you are looking (desperately) for a job can hurt an already Imposter Syndrome riddled ego. Oh, and let’s not forget my Twitter CV post frenzy either…ahem.

I love where I work at the University of Stirling. Five months before I finished my PhD, I had secured a postdoc position with another group in the same department. This was something I never thought I could achieve. I worked furiously trying to finish the PhD whilst setting up the experimental design for my postdoc research. I handed in my thesis and went straight into my postdoc field- and lab-work for the next year. Once my data were collected, I had 6 months left and instead of smashing through the analyses and churning out a paper or two, I knew I had to start job hunting. Being in the position of not earning a salary was financially and mentally not an option for me.

I knew I wanted to stay in Scotland, preferably Stirling. So I wrote fellowship applications, grant applications, postdoc and lectureship applications – you name it. I also applied for a job outside of academia, as well as postdoc positions abroad. However, I didn’t want to move. I have recently gotten married and my now husband, who was previously supportive of a nomadic life, now says; ‘No, I am not moving unless you get a contract longer than a couple of years’. He has fallen in love with Scotland and has a job which enables him to support his daughter. But I can’t shift all the blame on him. I don’t want to move either. I enjoy where I am too.

ZP4

Zarah at her doctoral graduation

So herein lies the academic conundrums:

  • Don’t settle down, it will kill your academic career as it reduces your options.
  • To be a good scientist you must move institution.
  • Two bodies are more difficult to move than one.
  • This list could go on… (For example, I am not even going into to the whole ‘I am getting older what about having a kid’ situation).

This is how I am dealing with the academic conundrums occurring at this stage of my career:

  • ‘Don’t settle down, it will kill your academic career as it reduces your options.’

We want to stay here for now, so we are. A sacrifice which means accepting a non-academic position.

  • ‘To be a good scientist you must move institution.’

To be a good scientist is to gain various perspectives on your work and collaborate. So this is what I am doing. By collaborating and writing grant applications with current mentors and new ones at different institutions.

  • ‘Two bodies are more difficult to move than one.’

For now he keeps his job, we buy a house and focus on the present (like me trying to clear my years of study debt).

  • ‘This list could go on… (For example, I am not even going into the whole “I am getting older what about having a kid” situation).’

This is not my focus, but definitely on my mind.

Never underestimate how time consuming and draining the process of job hunting is. It became my full time job. This ultimately meant falling behind on my current postdoc work and triggered all-consuming guilt. However, I am lucky to have a supportive mentoring team. They looked at my applications, listened to my practice presentations for interviews and gave me the freedom to develop and chase my career.

I did not manage, as yet, to secure a long term academic post. I have accepted a post outside of academia, as well as being recently successful with two grant applications. Which is in itself another conundrum:

  • Give up a full time job for a short term postdoc contract?

Not possible for me in my current situation, but I am attempting to solve this another way. Wish me luck!

 

For more on imposter syndrome, read Eve Kearney’s excellent piece: ‘Dr Kearney Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Imposter Syndrome’

Is Street Art Subject to Copyright?

by Dr Aislinn O’ Connell, lecturer in law at Royal Holloway University of London.

Is there a copyright in street art? And if so, to what extent can artists use that right to protect and control their artworks? If Banksy wished for his work to remain on the street, and not be sold in a museum in Miami, is there anything he can do to enforce that wish?

Banksy art buff

A Banksy piece entitled ‘Art Buff’, which was returned to Folkestone in the UK from Miami, USA, following a lengthy legal battle. Photo via Helmut Zozmann.

In 2018, retail giant H&M launched an advertising campaign which showed a model wearing their clothes, in front of a wall which had been illegally sprayed by street artist Revok. He sent them a letter requesting they cease using his artwork without payment. H&M responded by seeking a declaration from the Eastern District of New York court that illegally placed graffiti is not subject to copyright protection.[1] Although H&M later dropped the suit, and posted on their Twitter that they did not intend to ‘set a precedent concerning public art’, interest in the legalities of protecting street art is clear, and growing. In the time between beginning[2] to write this article for Women are Boring and the time of publication, another lawsuit regarding street art has hit the headlines. Oakley, a glasses manufacturer, was named as the defendant in a Californian lawsuit.[3] Donald Robbins and Noah Daar, better known as Keptione and DJ Rakus, alleged that their artwork was deliberately included in an Oakley advertising campaign without the correct licence.

Street art – that is to say, visual artworks located in public – is not going away. Although the practice of writing on walls stretches back tens of thousands of years,[4] modern graffiti and aerosol painting dates slightly more recently, to the 1970s in New York,[5] then spreading to other locations.[6] The practice of writing and drawing on walls is not new, from London advertisers[7] to loyalist murals in Northern Ireland.[8] The monetisation of that work, however, brings new issues with it. With street art pieces selling for six-figure sums,[9] street art pieces being sold ‘with house attached’,[10] and disputes being taken to court over who owns the wall on which a Banksy mural was placed,[11] street art is a valuable commodity. It was this specific case – Creative Foundation v Dreamland – which ignited my interest in this area of law. Although it was a protracted legal battle over who owned an artwork, the person who created the artwork – anonymous street artist Banksy – was only briefly mentioned in the judge’s decision, to state that he presumably owned the copyright in the work.[12] From there, my interest was ignited. Is there a copyright in street art? And if so, to what extent can artists use that right to protect and control their artworks?[13] If Banksy wished for his work to remain on the street, and not be sold in a museum in Miami, is there anything he can do to enforce that wish? Why might street art be seen as less deserving of protection than other forms of art? Can multinational companies attempted to deny creators of artworks the right to profit from further use of those artworks?

Graffiti, street art, or any form of damage to property, is a criminal offence under s1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Local authority officers who suspect that an individual has been writing graffiti or fly-posting are empowered to issue a fixed penalty notice[14] of £100[15] on the spot. They can alternatively prosecute for penalties under the Criminal Damage Act, including a custodial sentence of up to ten years for sufficiently severe damage.[16] Local authorities are also empowered to serve notices on property owners, requiring them to remove defacements to their buildings,[17] or allowing the Local Authority to recover the costs of removing such defacements.[18] While there is much discussion on whether graffiti is art or crime (or both),[19] graffiti prevention and control,[20] urban perspectives on graffiti cultures,[21] there is little discussion of how, or whether, street artists can exercise their rights to control their artwork, and the tensions that might create when juxtaposed against the criminal penalties which exist, as well as the rights of property owners whose works are – arguably – defaced by the artist.[22] Therefore, when works of art are being sold for millions, or reproduced for public consumption, is there any benefit to the artist from this?

Under the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, any artistic work, any painting, drawing, chart, map, or plan, is protected by copyright.[23] Copyright is the set of rights which allows the owner of that copyright to control the reproduction and distribution of that work to the public, as well as controlling renting or lending to the public, communicating the work, or doing any of the above with relation to that work.[24] Simply put, an artwork cannot be reproduced or distributed without the permission of the author, or the person who the author assigned their copyright to. This applies regardless of the artistic quality of a work[25] – so a work of majestic skill and passion is protected to the same extent as a work which is badly drawn, badly executed, and visually unappealing – provided the required standard of creativity is met. The standard, which was set out in a European case called Infopaq,[26] states that in order to attain copyright protection, the work must be ‘the author’s own intellectual creation’.[27] This means it need not necessarily be skilled work, simply creative work. Thus, while there may be some street art that does not meet the required standard, it is so unlikely as to be impossible that all street art would fail the standard, meaning it is not a barrier to copyright protection. Thus, from a reading of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, together with relevant case law from the European Courts, there is nothing that prevents copyright from arising in works of street art. However, this then runs into tension against the conception of street art and graffiti as discussed above, illegal criminal damage, and subject to criminal penalties. As well as this, there are procedures in place to prevent those who commit crimes from profiting from that criminal activity – which could apply to those who seek to gain economically from graffiti or street art.[28] However, control of one’s art – and the rights granted by copyright – are more than just economic rights. Copyright also grants moral rights, including the right of attribution[29] (to be identified as the author of the work) and the right to object to derogatory treatment of the work.[30] As such, while the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 may prohibit artists from gaining economically from their criminal vandalism, it would not necessarily prevent the copyright from arising in the first place. It would simply empower the recovery of profits made after the fact.

While there have been multiple attempts by graffiti and street artists to claim copyright in their works, all have settled out of court or been dismissed, including suits against fashion house Moschino,[31] fashion house Cavalli,[32] McDonalds,[33] and American Eagle Outfitters.[34] Equally, street artists have exercised rights which are ancillary to copyright in both the UK and the US. Anonymous street artist Banksy profits[35] from the Artist’s Resale Right,[36] a right which entitles creators of physical artworks to a proportion of the proceeds from the sale of their work. Although not strictly copyright, the Artists Resale Right is closely linked to it. Similarly, a 2018 New York case granted almost $7million dollars in damages to 45 street artists after their (placed with permission) artworks were whitewashed by owner of the buildings they were painted on. This too was not under copyright, but under the Visual Artists Rights Act 1990,[37] which grants specific protections to artworks of recognised stature which are displayed in public.[38]

However, while the granting of ancillary rights may go far to suggest that street art is gaining legitimacy as art which is protected by law, there still is not yet a case precedent which adequately settles the question of whether street art is subject to copyright protections and provisions, whether legally or illegally placed.

All of the cases mentioned immediately above were from US courts, which have similar – although not identical – provisions to the UK. There is, as yet, no similar complaint which has been lodged in the English courts. The only mention in English courts – aside from prosecutions for criminal damage and vandalism – is in the 2015 Creative Foundation v Dreamland[39] judgment. In this case, which concerned the removal of a Banksy mural from a wall in Folkestone for sale in Miami, the dispute was whether the wall (and consequently the mural which was painted on the wall) was the property of the landlord of the building or the tenant occupier. In finding for the landlord, Arnold J stated:

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not concerned with the copyright in the artistic work, which prima facie belongs to Banksy[40]

This presumes not only that the copyright in the work belongs to Banksy, but also that a copyright actually exists in the work. However, it is not a binding declaration, and does not explicitly grant copyright in works of street art.

I would argue that an interpretation of UK copyright law as it stands does include street art and graffiti which reaches the required standard of creativity. There is no statutory provision or case law which denies those automatic protections to street art, and there is arguably case precedent which supports it. Although there are inherent tensions between the criminal nature of some works of vandalism and the granting of artistic rights, depriving artists who paint without permission of the rights which automatically arise for those who paint with permission is an unjustifiable derogation from current law which is not supported by an interpretation of the provisions as they stand. And, as the history of artists taking others to court to protect their rights shows, I am not alone in this stance.

 

[1] H&M Hennes & Mauritz GBC AB et al v Williams, EDNY 1:18-cv-01490

[2] H&M [hm]. (15 March 2018). https://t.co/NMLCiv4iSt [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/hm/status/974384097316491264 accessed 25 June 2018. The tweet consists of an image, with the following text:
H&M respects the creativity and uniqueness of artists, no matter the medium. We should have acted differently in our approach to this matter. It was never our intention to set a precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art. As a result, we are withdrawing the complaint filed in court. We are currently reaching out to the artist in question to come up with a solution. Thank you for your comments and concerns, as always, your voice matters to us.

[3] Robbins et al v Oakley, Inc et al, Central Californian District Court 2:18-cv-05116

[4] Valladas and others, ‘Radiocarbon AMS Dates for Paleolithic Cave Paintings’ 2001 43(2B) Proceedings of the 17th International Radiocarbon Conference 977.

[5] Norman Mailer, Mervyn Kurlansky and Jon Naar, The Faith of Graffiti (New York: Praeger, 1974)

[6] For more, see photographic collections of street art such as Magda Danysz, From Style Writing to Art: A Street Art Anthology (Drago, 2010); Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, Subway Art (Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1984); Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff, Spraycan Art (Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1987).

[7] On which see Alison Young, Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2013), 5.

[8] Magda Danysz, From Style Writing to Art: A Street Art Anthology (Drago, 2010) 304.

[9] Maev Kennedy, ‘Sotheby’s cleans up on Banksy at £500k a time’ (6 June 2014, The Guardian) <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/06/sothebys-banksy-artist-exhibition-street-art> accessed 25 June 2018.

[10] Sara Newman, ‘Banksy mural goes on sale – with a house thrown in’ (10 February 2007, Independent) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/banksy-mural-goes-on-sale-with-a-house-thrown-in-435813.html> accessed 25 June 2018.

[11] Creative Foundation v Dreamland Leisure Ltd, [2015] EWHC 2556 (Ch)

[12] ibid, 2.

[13] You may question why this article does not include any images of works of street art; this is because of its conclusion. I would argue that street art does attract copyright protection, and thus to include pictures of street art without a proper licence would be an infringement of copyright. Even if I took the photographs myself, the artwork which is depicted in the photograph would have a separate copyright, and thus publishing that photo without a licence for the street art work would be a violation of copyright.

[14] Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, s 43(1).

[15] Environmental Offences (Fixed Penalties) (England) Regulations 2017, Reg 7.

[16] Prolific tagger Tox, whose tags are visible on trains, buses, walls, bridges, from London to Paris, was sentenced to 27 months in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of criminal damage in 2011. Paul Cheston, ‘Prolific Graffiti vandal jailed for 27 months’ London Evening Standard (18 July 2011) <https://web.archive.org/web/20111217055429/http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23970702-prolific-graffiti-vandal-jailed-for-27-months.do> accessed 25 June 2018.

[17] Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, s 43.

[18] ibid, s 47.

[19] See, for example, Cameron McAuliffe and Kurt Iveson, ‘Art and Crime (and Other Things Besides … ):

Conceptualising Graffiti in the City’ (2011) 5(3) Geography Compass 128

[20] For example, Jeff Ferrell, ‘Urban Graffiti: Crime, Control and Resistance’ (1995) 27(1) Youth and Society 73; Rob White, ‘Graffiti, Crime Prevention and Cultural Space’ (2001) 12(3) Current Issues in Criminal Justice 253

[21] For a fascinating look at feminism in American hip hop and graffiti cultures, see Jessica Nydia Pabón-Cohón, Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in Hip-Hop Urban Diaspora (2011, NYU Press).

[22] That is not to say that there is no discussion. See, for example, Enrico Bonadio, ‘Copyright protection of street art and graffiti under UK law’ (2017) 2 Intellectual Property Quarterly 187; Marta Iljadica, Copyright Beyond Law: Regulating Creativity in the Graffiti Subculture (2016, Hart).

[23] Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, s4.

[24] ibid, s16.

[25] ibid, s4.

[26] Infopaq International A/S v Danske Dagblades Forening (2009) C-5/08. This case concerned whether short summaries of news articles attracted copyright protection as creative works in their own right, or whether they could be freely copied on the basis that they did not meet the minimum standard for copyright protection. The court found that they were sufficiently creative, and were subject to protection.

[27] Infopaq at paras 1, 6, 7, 11, 33, 35, 37, 44, 48.

[28] For more information see Criminal Prosecution Service, ‘Proceeds of Crime’ (undated) <https://www.cps.gov.uk/proceeds-crime> accessed 25 June 2018.

[29] Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, s 77.

[30] Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, s 80.

[31] Tierney v Moschino et al, Central California District Court, 2:15-cv-05900-SVW (PJWx).

[32] Jason Williams, et al v Roberto Cavalli SpA, et al, Central California District Court, CV 14-06659-AB.

[33] Berreau v McDonalds Corp, Central California District Court, 2:16-cv-07394.

[34] Anasagasti v. American Eagle Outfitters, Inc, New York Southern District Court, 1:14-cv-05618.

[35] Maev Kennedy, ‘Sotheby’s cleans up on Banksy at £500k a time’ (6 June 2014, The Guardian) <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jun/06/sothebys-banksy-artist-exhibition-street-art> accessed 25 June 2018.

[36] The Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006, s 3.

[37] Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), 17 USC § 106A.

[38] Aislinn O’Connell, ‘The 5Pointz Case: Damages awarded against property owner for whitewashing street art’ (2018) 7(1) Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice 529.

[39] Creative Foundation v Dreamland Leisure Ltd, [2015] EWHC 2556 (Ch).

[40] Creative Foundation v Dreamland Leisure Ltd, [2015] EWHC 2556 (Ch) 2.

How I Changed from Science to Technology

by Azahara Fernández Guizán

AF4

How I changed from Science to Technology

I was never a kid that was sure about what professional career I wanted when I grew up. And this has been a good thing for me, because it has let me experience many different fields, and led me to where I am today.

I was born in the north of Spain, in a mining zone of Asturias. My father was a coal miner and my mother a housewife. I attended a local school and a local high school. My grandmother says I was an unusual kid, preferring to be bought a book rather than a box of sweets. I also started learning English when I was 6 years old, and spent my free time reading historical novels and biographies.

I enjoyed visiting museums and monuments, and I used to search for information in my town’s library before going on an excursion. I loved to write stories and tales, and had always obtained high marks in school, which led my teachers to suggest that I study medicine. But I always changed my mind –  from architecture, to journalism or even dentistry, depending on the book I was reading or the museum I’d just visited.

At that age, only one thing was clear: I wanted to be an independent and strong woman like the ones that inspired me. I hadn’t seen many role models during my primary education, but one teacher told us about Marie Curie. At the library, I discovered Rita Levi-Montalcini and the Brontë sisters.

 

SECONDARY STUDIES

During the last year of high-school I was a mess, and the pressure was high because I had to make a decision. All I had were doubts

In Spain at that time, after finishing your last secondary education course, the students that want to continue to a degree have to take a general exam, the PAU. You could choose the subjects you want to be tested on and, after the exams took place, you were given a mark calculated to take account of your secondary school marks and the results of PAU exams. According to this mark, you could register for certain degrees.

At that point, I decided to take more exams than necessary on the PAU in order to have more options in different types of degree, for example, science, engineering, or languages… But the worst moment of my student life came, and I had to decide.

I had two options on my mind: a Software Engineering degree, and a Biology degree. I must admit it, but at that time I only knew engineering stereotypes and I never liked video games or anything related with hardware, so I decided that a Biology degree would suit me better.

BIOLOGY DEGREE AND NEUROSCIENCE MASTERS

During my degree, I decided that plants and animals were not my passion, but I loved Microbiology, Genetics, Immunology and Neuroscience. I discovered more female role models, researchers who really inspired me, whose lives were incredible to me. I worked hard during my degree and travelled a lot during the summers, thanks to some scholarships that I was awarded (I spent one month in Lowestoft, another in Dublin, and another one in Toronto), and started learning German.

AF2

Azahara in the lab

During the second year of my biology degree, I decided that I would become a scientist, and started to look for a professor who would let me gain some experience in their laboratory.

During my penultimate year, I started working in a Neuroscience laboratory, studying the 3D eye degenerating pattern on C3H/He rd/rd mice. After finishing my degree, I decided to enrol in a Masters of Neuroscience and Behavioural Biology in Seville. During this masters, I worked in another Neuroscience laboratory doing electrophysiological studies, trying to understand how information is transformed in the cerebellar hippocampus circuit and how this mechanism could allow us to learn and memorise.

This was a period of my life where I worked a lot of hours, the experiments were very intense, and I had the opportunity to meet important scientist from all the world. I also had a physics peer that analysed all our data, and developed specific programmes in Matlab, which impressed me profoundly.

IMMUNOLOGY PHD

After this period, I continued working in Science, but I decided to start my PhD on Immunology, back in Asturias.

I worked in a laboratory in which, due to my friends in the lab, every day was special. We worked hard studying different types of tumours and testing different molecules, but also had the time to share confidences and laughs. After three years, I became a PhD in Immunology, and as it was the normal thing to do, I started looking for a post-doc position.

Rather than feeling happy or enthusiastic about the future, I discovered myself being upset and demotivated. I really didn’t want to carry on being a scientist. A huge sensation of failure invaded me, but as J.K. Rowling said “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not lived at all. In which case, you’ve failed by default”.

I want to specify that I don’t consider my PhD a waste of time – it has given me, apart from scientific publications, many important aptitudes and abilities, such as team work, analysis, problem solving, leadership, organisation skills, effective work habits, and better written and oral communication.

BECOMING A SOFTWARE DEVELOPER

As you might imagine, this was a hard moment of my life. I was unemployed, and doubtful about my professional career – just as I had been after high school.

Thanks to my husband, who supported me while converting my career, I decided to give software development a try.  As I didn’t have the necessary money or time to start a new degree, I signed up for a professional course in applications software development. The first days were difficult since all the other students were young and I didn’t feel at ease.

But as I learned software languages as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Java, I also participated with good results in some software competitions which allowed me to gain confidence.

AF3

In 2015 I started working as software developer in .Net MVC, a language that I hadn’t studied during my course, but I had the necessary basics to learn it quickly and become part of a team. For me, one of the most marvellous things about software development is that it consists of team-work.

I also discovered that there are a lot of people working in this field that love to exchange knowledge, and I regularly go to events and meetups. I have also started recently giving talks, and workshops, some of them technological, with the aim of promoting the presence of women in technology.

AF4

Women and girls need to be encouraged to discover what software development really is. The software industry needs them. Software can be better, but only if it is developed by diverse teams with different opinions, backgrounds, and knowledge.

Eating Disorders in the Workplace

by Jaclyn Siegel, University of Western Ontario.

ED1

Eating disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in women (Hudson, Hirpi, Pope, & Kessler, 2012; Mangweth-Matzek & Hoek, 2017) and have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011). There are three primary eating disorders outlined in the current version of the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-5). First, anorexia nervosa is characterised by preoccupation with food, weight, and body shape, as well as caloric restriction. Due to chronic low energy intake, those with anorexia can sometimes have noticeably thin bodies, but this is not always the case. Second, bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, is also associated with the same cognitive obsessions but is hallmarked by binge eating and purging. Purging includes any behaviours performed as compensatory mechanisms for perceived over-consumption, such as vomiting, laxative abuse, or exercise. Bingeing refers to feeling out of control while eating large quantities of food, usually in a short amount of time. Third, binge eating disorder is a condition comprised of binge eating, but not compensatory behaviors. Those with binge eating disorder, however, often experience extremely high levels of shame and guilt and can sometimes, but not always, have a higher weight status as the result of increased caloric intake (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Women with eating disorders endure cognitive, physical, and psychosocial impairment as a result of the conditions (Bohn, 2008; Mehler, Birmingham, Crow, & Jahraus, 2010; Polivy, 1996). For many, these symptoms begin during adolescence, and some receive treatment during the teen and early adult years (Favaro, Caregaro, Tenconi, Bosello, & Santonastaso, 2009). However, eating disorders are notoriously difficult to treat. Even the most effective and efficacious interventions have high relapse rates, and the number of women who achieve a state of permanent recovery is very low. As such, some researchers consider eating disorders to be chronic conditions whereby afflicted individuals vacillate between periods of symptom relapse and remission throughout their lives (Fairburn, Cooper & Cooper, 1986; Herzog et al., 1999; Russell, Szumkler, Dare, & Eisler, 1991). Additionally, the financial burden of both initial psychological intervention, as well as prolonged maintenance and monitoring, can serve as a barrier to full recovery for women with these conditions (Samnaliev, Noh, Sonneville, & Austin, 2014). However, while women with eating disorders are severely impacted by their conditions, they often are still able to engage in social relationships, schooling, and, notably, work.

In the United States, individuals with diagnosed eating disorders are protected from workplace discrimination and are entitled to reasonable accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990). Research suggests that employment can have myriad benefits for individuals with disabilities, (Fleming, Fairweather, & Leahy, 2013; Rubin, Chan, & Thomas, 2003), but the nature of workplace life may complicate the relation between work and well-being for women with eating disorders. Specifically, stress and stigma are frequently experienced and difficult to avoid at work, and both the experience of stress and perceiving stigma have been shown to exacerbate eating disorder symptomology and even predict relapse (Griffiths, Mond, Murray & Touyz, 2015; Grilo et al., 2012). Given that a large portion of adult life is spent at work (Waldo, 1999) and the relatively high prevalence of eating disorders in adult women, the intersection of working life and symptom management is of great importance. However, there is extremely little work done that examines the repercussions of managing an eating disorder (or any other clinical mental health condition, for that matter) in the workplace.

‘…there is extremely little work done that examines the repercussions of managing an eating disorder (or any other clinical mental health condition, for that matter) in the workplace.’

In order to examine this critical gap, it was necessary to let women tell their own stories of the ways in which their eating disorders had interacted and interfered with workplace life. I interviewed seventy women who had been diagnosed with either anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder and had managed their conditions at work. Participants were encouraged to share as much as they felt comfortable and were free to discuss stories from different jobs and various periods in their recovery journeys. My co-author, Katina Sawyer, and I developed a theoretical model of the way in which individual characteristics of our participants uniquely predicted different stigma, stress, and identity management strategies for the complex navigations and negotiations of workplace life. We additionally identified the specific organisational and interpersonal stressors faced by women at work, which served a moderating role in women’s selection of specific management strategies. We then examined the organisational and personal outcomes of engaging in these various techniques. This work was presented at both the annual conference for the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists in Orlando, FL in April of 2017 as well as the International Conference on Eating Disorders in April of 2018. This work is still being finalised, but, broadly, these were the findings:

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Certain demographic characteristics of the women in our sample appeared to predict the types of management strategies in which they engaged at work. Specifically, disease type, recovery progress, perceived visibility of the disease, and attitudes toward stigma all had a unique influence on the ways women engaged in the workplace. However, regardless of individual characteristics, workplace stressors were largely the same for all of the women in our sample.

ED3

 

 

 

 

 

Some were labeled as organisational stressors, or global aspects of work life that contributed to the stress and stigma experienced by participants. Notably, food-centric work events such as the lunch hour, office parties in which food was present, happy hours and events outside of work, and business meetings over meals presented unique challenges for women with eating disorders.

Additionally, health-focused workplaces that featured wellness competitions that prioritised weight loss or dieting, or had health propaganda in the office such as scales and posters, also proved problematic. Scheduling conflicts were also challenging for these women, and some specific occupations appeared to be more stressful for participants than others. Interpersonal stressors included coworker insensitivity, specifically diet talk and general trivialization of mental health at work, as well as leader intolerance with the condition.

Individual characteristics seemed to be influenced by these workplace stressors, and the combination of these two factors affected how women with eating disorders managed stigma, stress, and their identities in the workplace. Participants in our study often felt torn with regard to whether or not, when, how, and with whom to disclose aspects of their condition at work. As such, they disclosed differentially, often only doing so when their once-invisible identity took on visible characteristics. Additionally, many chose to avoid workplace stressors (organisational and interpersonal) entirely or engage in mindfulness strategies to manage them. Many chose to engage in recovery-centric behaviours, but others chose to prioritise professionalism over recovery. These strategies appeared to be differentially selected depending on individual characteristics.

Techniques varied in effectiveness for these women and resulted in differential organisational and personal outcomes. The affected organisational outcomes included work performance, job attitudes, and organisational commitment. Impacted personal outcomes included eating disorder symptoms, social connectedness, and emotional distress. Specifically, women who were able to effectively balance the stress of work as well as their recoveries felt incentivised to maintain their recovery efforts for the sake of enjoying the benefits of their careers, as well as the authentic social relationships they were able to establish at work.

ED4

 

 

 

 

 

Conversely, those who felt overwhelmed by the stressors of work life sometimes returned to disordered eating symptoms as coping mechanisms. These personal outcomes seemed to predict a prolonged course of the condition and sometimes even relapse for these women. For some, the general work environment of diet culture, deadlines, and emotional sterility was too triggering, and a few of the participants in the study revealed that they had left the workforce entirely for the sake of their health. Others, however, found ways to navigate work life that were conducive to both occupational success and recovery.

Overall, our research suggests that women with eating disorders are willing and able to make important contributions to and flourish within the workforce, but only when stress and stigma are well-managed. In order to make employment more enjoyable and healthy for women with eating disorders, workplaces must be conscious of the ways in which the culture of the organisation is may hinder proper eating disorder maintenance and recovery, specifically by reconsidering organisational health incentives and monitoring the way that diet culture, weight stigma, and mental health trivialisation are perpetuated in the workplace. Women recovering from eating disorders are engaged in a prolonged healing process and must feel safe, comfortable, and supported in order to properly manage the symptoms of their conditions. Leaders can help women with eating disorders by being tolerant of lingering symptomology and generously granting accommodations to women with these diagnoses. Offices in general can work with individuals with eating disorders to ensure that food-centric work events are comfortable and enjoyable for them, perhaps by ensuring that there is at least one “safe food” for them at the event. Coworkers can best support women in the office with eating disorders by monitoring and minimising their language surrounding food, bodies, and eating and by making the person with the condition feel welcome by inviting her to social events, even if she rejects these invitations initially.

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Women with eating disorders should consider working with therapists  to specifically learn how to successfully navigate workplace stressors. Though our work identified disclosure, recovery-centric behaviours, and mindfulness as particularly effective stress, stigma, and identity management strategies, we understand that what works for some may not work for others, depending on their level of comfort. Additionally, we encourage women with eating disorders to familiarise themselves with their rights as per the Americans with Disabilities Act. A list of reasonable accommodations can be found at: https://askjan.org/media/downloads/EatingDisACSeries.pdf. We are hopeful that this study will lay the framework for future research on managing mental health conditions in the workplace and help organisations, clinicians, and women with eating disorders find effective ways to flourish in both their recoveries and their careers.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328 (1990)

Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. A meta-analysis of 36 studies. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68, 724-731. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74

Bohn, K., Doll, H. A., Cooper, Z., O’Connor, M., Palmer, R. L., & Fairburn, C. G. (2008). The measurement of impairment due to eating disorder pathology. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46, 1105-1100. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2008.06.012.

Fairburn, C., Cooper, Z., & Cooper, P. (1986). The clinical features and maintenance of bulimia nervosa. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 238-246. doi:10.1002/oby.20301

Fleming, A. R., Fairweather, J. S., & Leahy, M. J. (2013). Quality of life as a potential rehabilitation service outcome. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 57, 9-22. doi:10.1177/0034355213485992

Favaro, A., Caregaro, L., Tenconi, E., Bosello, R., & Santonastaso, P. (2009). Time trends in age at onset of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 70, 1715-1721. doi:10.4088/JCP.09m05176blu

Griffiths, S. B., Mond, J. M., Murray, S. B., & Touyz, S. (2015). The prevalence and adverse associations of stigmatization in people with eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 48, 767-774. doi:10.1002/eat.22353

Grilo, C., Pagano, M., Robert, S., Markowitz, J., Ansell, E… Skodol, A. (2012). Stressful life events predict eating disorder relapse following remission: Six-year prospective outcomes. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45, 185-192.

Herzog, D., Dorer, J., Keel, P., Selwyn, S., Ekeblad, E., Flores, A., … Keller, M. (1999). Recovery and relapse in anorexia and bulimia nervosa: A 7.5-year follow-up study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 829-837. doi:10.1080/21662630.2016.1202125

Hudson, J., Hirpi, E., Pope, H., & Kessler, R. (2012). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 72, 164. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040

Mangweth-Matzek, B. & Hoek, H. W. (2017). Epidemiology and treatment of eating disorders in men and women of middle and older age. Current Opinions in Psychiatry, 30, 446-451. doi:10.1097/YCO.0000000000000356

Mehler, P. S., Birmingham, L. C., Crow, S. J., & Jahraus, J. P. (2010). Medical complications of eating disorders. In C. M. Grilo & J. E. Mitchell (Eds.), The treatment of eating disorders: A clinical handbook (pp. 66-80). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

Polivy, J. (1996). Psychological consequences of food restriction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 96, 589-592. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(96)00161-7.

Russell, G., Szmukler, G., Dare, C., & Eisler, I. (1991). An evaluation of family therapy in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Archives of General Psychiatry, 44, 1047-1056. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1987.01800240021004

Samnaliev, M., Noh, H. L., Sonneville, K. R., & Austin, S. B. (2015). The economic burden of eating disorders and related mental health comorbidities: An exploratory analysis using the U.S. Medical Expenditures Panel Survey. Preventative Medicine Reports, 2, 32-34.

Waldo, C. R. (1999). Working in a majority context: A structural model of heterosexism as minority stress in the workplace. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46, 218-232. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.46.2.218

 

Social Egg Freezing, the Law and Women’s Autonomy: Are We Putting All Our Eggs into One Frozen Basket?

eggf

Image from someecards.

by Virginia Novaes Procópio de Araujo, Dublin City University

Lisa is 37 years old and she has just broken up with her long-term boyfriend. She always imagined that this relationship would lead to marriage and children. Lisa is stable and happy in her career. However, she is now worried that if she does not meet someone new, and soon, her biological clock will be merciless with her and she will be left childless. After a visit to a fertility clinic she decides to freeze her eggs, in order to remove the pressure of having to rush into a new relationship. She wants time and is not ready to date again. She wants to raise a child with a committed partner and believes that freezing her eggs will offer her the best chance of ensuring this.

The story of Lisa is fictional, but reflects the current experience of many women who are availing of social egg freezing.

SPERM, EMBRYOS, EGGS AND THE BIRTH OF SOCIAL EGG FREEZING

Sperm has been successfully frozen since the 1950s using a technique called slow-freezing, and embryo freezing has been an established technique since 1992.[1] On the other hand, egg freezing has been considered experimental until very recently. This was mainly due to the fact that eggs contain a higher amount of water than embryos.[2] The slow freezing of eggs results in the formation of ice crystals, which damage the cell and result in lower success rates.[3] Therefore, historically, egg freezing was only accessible to women with cancer or genetic diseases which cause premature infertility, as a small chance to conceive in the future was better than none at all.[4]

The experimental status of egg freezing was lifted in 2012 in Europe[5] and 2013 in the USA[6] due to advances in freezing methods, particularly a process known as vitrification, which involves rapid cooling of the eggs in liquid nitrogen without the formation of ice crystals. This is highly effective for egg freezing. Therefore, egg freezing began to be offered to healthy, fertile women and social egg freezing was born. This is the idea that women freeze their eggs due to lifestyle reasons, which include: to prevent age-related infertility, to postpone motherhood due to their career, to find a suitable partner, to be financially stable, to be psychologically and emotionally ready to become a mother, and to expand their reproductive autonomy.[7]

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Eggs cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen. Image from Kinderwunsch & Hormonzentrum Frankfurt 

 

LAW, AUTONOMY AND FEMINIST BIOETHICS

My research looks at social egg freezing in Europe from a legal and feminist bioethical perspective. I am assessing the impact of the law on social egg freezing in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland to determine if the law enhances or diminishes women’s reproductive options. For instance, my research has identified that Austria, France and Malta have specific law prohibiting egg freezing for non-medical reasons,[8] diminishing women’s options in those countries.

In the context of autonomy, traditional liberal Bioethics tends to have an individualistic and self-sufficient approach, disregarding the influence power relations (“competing social forces”) can have on someone’s autonomy.[9] In a liberal society, freedom is given to the individual to do as they please with their body, as long as they do not cause harm to others.[10] This highlights the rights of an individual and removes the focus on the responsibilities that may arise from that choice, for example, a child and its well-being.[11]

However, the literature demonstrates that women take their relationships and the power structures that surround them into account when making decisions.[12] For instance, a woman that decides to freeze her eggs is not only thinking about herself, but also about her parents (the future grandparents), her future partner or husband, the health of her future baby (as younger eggs are preferable to avoid chromosomal abnormalities), her finances, her maturity, her employment situation and even society (to increase birth rates in an ageing population). Considering the numerous competing social forces, a woman may feel empowered or oppressed by social egg freezing, and that is why my research adopts a relational autonomy approach from Feminist Bioethics, particularly the theory of self-trust developed by Carolyn McLeod.

Trust is a relational aspect of life involving two people: a patient trusts their doctor on the grounds of an established moral relationship (doctor-patient). Self-trust lacks the two entities, as when one trusts oneself, they are optimistic they will act in a competent manner and within their moral commitment.[13] It is relational in the sense that it is moulded by the responses of others and societal norms, as the other gives a truthful and respectful feedback about yourself.[14] Therefore, if a doctor does not inform realistically of potential risks and future outcomes of egg freezing, a woman may make poor choices.

Research shows that women of reproductive age are misinformed regarding cost, process and effectiveness of egg freezing, and that they want to be accurately informed about it.[15] Further, studies[16] demonstrate that residents and health professionals in the area of Obstetrics and Gynaecology lack accurate information about fertility decline due to age, they have conservative opinions, and are reticent to inform healthy patients about social egg freezing.[17] Medical paternalism could explain this behaviour and it needs to be remedied urgently.

 

EGG FREEZING – HOW IT WORKS

Women need to be aware that in order to freeze eggs, they are collected in the same way as is done for IVF. Women self-inject hormones for approximately 10-14 days to stimulate ovulation and when the eggs are mature, they are collected surgically under sedation, with small risks of infection and bleeding.[18] Hormone injections are not completely risk-free, and although rare, some women may develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)[19], characterised by swollen ovaries, a bloated abdomen, pain, nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, liver dysfunction and respiratory distress syndrome.[20]

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Egg collection and freezing. Image from Clínica Eugin, Barcelona.

Although IVF using thawed eggs is just as successful as using fresh eggs[21], there are no guarantees that if a woman freezes her eggs, she will definitely have a baby – it just increases her chances.[22] That is simply the reality of fertility treatments, and doctors need to be forthcoming with information. Ideally, women will conceive naturally, having frozen their eggs merely as an ‘insurance policy’ and for peace of mind. [23] The age of the woman impacts the quality of the eggs and doctors recommend that egg freezing occurs prior to the late-thirties.[24] There is considerable emphasis on educating young women on how not to get pregnant. Women also need to be educated about their biological ‘clocks’ and the possibilities and limitations of egg freezing.

CAREER AND THE PURSUIT OF ‘MR. RIGHT’ INSTEAD OF ‘MR. RIGHT NOW’

The reasons why women are freezing their eggs also need to be demystified. Baldwin interviewed women who availed of social egg freezing in the UK, the USA and Norway and discovered that they believe that there is a ‘right time’ to become a mother.[25]  This is when, ideally, they are financially secure and in a stable relationship with a man who wishes to raise a child.[26] There has been considerable backlash from the media about social egg freezing, particularly since 2014, when Apple and Facebook offered egg freezing as a benefit for their female employees.[27] It raised concerns that women would be forced into it in order to be considered a ‘team player’ and ascend in their careers, treating motherhood as an inconvenience. However, the main reason why women are freezing their eggs has nothing to do with career advancement, it is actually due to the lack of a suitable partner and to avoid future regret.[28] In fact, one of the women interviewed by Baldwin stated: “I think the media really misrepresent women who have children later. I don’t know a single woman who has put off having babies because of her career, not a single woman I have ever met has that been true for.”[29]

Further, Baldwin and her team coined the term “panic-partnering” to express what future regret meant for the women in the study.[30] This is the fear that they might run out of time and settle for any man, rush into having a child purely to avoid childlessness, and regret this later once the relationship fails.[31] These women also rejected the idea of using a donated egg or having a baby alone with donated sperm, as they wanted the ‘whole package’ – a committed relationship and a father to their genetically-related child.[32] Social egg freezing allows women to ‘buy time’ to find this right partner.

There is ongoing research at the London Women’s Clinic to assess why women are freezing their eggs.[33] Zeynep Gurtin from the University of Cambridge chairs open seminars for single women at the clinic and has identified similar women to those from Baldwin’s research: they are highly educated, in their late thirties and early forties and are “frustrated by their limited partnering options.”[34] These women want to find ‘Mr. Right’, not ‘Mr. Right Now’. Gurtin affirms: “as women become more and more successful in educational and career terms, they have begun to outnumber similarly qualified men, and will need to adjust their partner expectations, embark on single parenting, embrace childlessness, or put some eggs in a very cold basket.”[35]

I recently attended one of these seminars and found the London Women’s Clinic to be a highly positive environment, with counselling and support groups available for their clients. The open seminars are a good opportunity for women to obtain realistic information in clear terms, without it being a sales pitch. Research from the USA[36] affirms that a considerable number of women regret freezing their eggs, particularly if a low number of eggs are obtained. They also complained about a lack of emotional support and counselling.[37] Therefore, it is crucial that clinics offer counselling both during and after egg freezing to ensure that women have realistic expectations as to what the technology can and cannot do.

 

COSTS

Social egg freezing is not covered by health insurance[38] and is therefore a private procedure, costing between £3000 – £3500 in the UK[39] and approximately €3000 in Ireland.[40] This raises questions of social justice and fairness, as only women with greater financial means can access egg freezing for non-medical reasons. Further research focusing on this issue is necessary.

 

FREEDOM FROM EMBRYO FREEZING AND LEGAL DISPUTES

The success of egg freezing expands women’s reproductive autonomy as it frees them from having to freeze embryos with a partner. In 2007, a British case reached the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In Evans v. United Kingdom, the applicant, Natallie Evans, had ovarian cancer and underwent IVF with her partner to create six embryos to be frozen. When the relationship ended, the ex-partner removed his consent for the embryos to be used. The applicant could no longer extract eggs and the six embryos were her last opportunity to have a genetic child. The ECtHR discussed whether there was a violation of article 2 (right to life) and article 8 (right to respect for privacy and family life). It was decided that since embryos do not have a right to life in the UK that there was no violation of article 2.[41] The Court also found that overruling someone’s withdrawal of consent, even in this exceptional case, would not violate article 8 or exceed the margin of appreciation.[42]

In other words, the ECtHR decided that the ‘right not to procreate’ of the ex-partner overruled the ‘right to procreate’ of the applicant and the embryos had to be discarded. Ms. Evans could have created embryos with a donor sperm, avoiding legal disputes. However, as has been demonstrated, women wish to have a partner to raise a child with. The options for women have expanded and if they freeze their eggs it is their sole decision to use them for IVF with a partner or sperm donor, to donate them to another woman, or for research.

 

GAMETE STORAGE AND A CALL TO ACTION

Current technology allows eggs to be frozen indefinitely. In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act determines that gametes can be stored for up to 10 years for non-medical reasons and up to 55 years for medical reasons.[43] This reduces the benefits of social egg freezing. For instance, if a woman freezes her eggs at age 27 to ensure she has the best possible eggs, she will have to use them prior to her 37th birthday. There is no time extension, which could cause a considerable amount of pressure for this woman, who believed she was buying herself extra time.

Kylie Baldwin, one of the most prominent researchers of social egg freezing in the UK, has created a petition to convince the UK Government and Parliament that the law needs to change.[44] Signatures from UK citizens and residents are requested at this moment, prior to the 27th of October 2018, in order to be reviewed by the UK Government. This movement is highly important, and I advise all UK citizens and residents to sign it.

In Ireland, the General Scheme of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill 2017 also adopts this 10-year time limit for non-medical gamete freezing.[45] If the bill remains unaltered when passed as a law it will raise the same issues that are currently being debated in the UK. Perhaps, there is still time for an amendment in the Irish bill.

 

CONCLUSION

 Social egg freezing is quite a recent development and further interdisciplinary research is required to examine the legal, sociological, feminist and economic implications of it. This is needed in order to gain a complete picture of the technology and the impact it has on women’s lives, relationships and society as a whole. There is a risk that women are gambling with their fertility by ‘putting all their eggs in one basket’. That is why social egg freezing must be approached with caution and with realistic expectations by women in order to avoid potential disappointment. However, it is an exciting opportunity, and it is quite clear that the rights and freedoms available to women in relation to their reproductive autonomy have expanded significantly in the last century. This is further evidenced by the very recent successful result in Ireland’s referendum to repeal the 8th amendment (a constitutional ban on abortion which was introduced in 1983 and which allowed for abortion only where a woman’s life was at risk).

 

I would like to dedicate this post in memory of Grace McDermott, co-founder of Women Are Boring, who I met at the induction of our PhD programme in 2014 and became friends with. She was a wonderful person and I am happy to have had her in my life. I am sure she would have strong opinions about social egg freezing and we would have had some lively discussions about the current state of it.

[1] Valerie L. Peddie and Siladitya, ´Request for “social egg freezing” in Khaldoun Sharif and Arri Coomarasamy, Assisted Reproduction Techniques: Challenges and management options (Wiley-Blackwell 2012) 160 – 161

[2] Peddie and Bhattacharya supra n1, 161

[3] ibid 161

[4] Eleonora Porcu, Patrizia Maria Ciotti and Stefano Venturoli, Handbook of Human Oocyte Cryopreservation (Cambridge University Press 2013) 26

[5] ESHRE Task Force on Ethics and Law, Wybo Dondorp et al, ‘Oocyte cryopreservation for age-related fertility loss’ (2012) 27 Human Reproduction 1231

[6] The Practice Committees of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted

Reproductive Technology, ´Mature Oocyte Cryopreservation: A Guideline`, (2013) 99 Fertility and Sterility 37

[7] Imogen Goold and Julian Savulescu, ´In favour of freezing eggs for non-medical reasons` (2009) 23 Bioethics 47, 47

[8] The ESHRE Working Group on Oocyte Cryopreservation in Europe, Françoise Shenfield et al, ‘Oocyte and Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation in European Countries: Statutory Background, Practice, Storage and Use’ (2017) Human Reproduction Open 1, 4

[9] Carolyn McLeod, Self-Trust and Reproductive Autonomy (The MIT Press 2002) 105

[10] Catriona Mackenzie, ‘Conceptions of Autonomy and Conceptions of the Body in Bioethics’ in Jackie Leach Scully, Laurel E. Baldwin-Ragaven and Petya Fitzpatrick (eds), Feminist Bioethics: At the Center, on the Margins (The John Hopkins University Press 2010) 72-73

[11] Mackenzie supra n10, 83

[12] Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Harvard University Press 1993) 71; Susan Sherwin, No Longer Patient: Feminist Ethics and Health Care (Temple University Press 1992) 46

[13] McLeod supra n9 103

[14] ibid 37

[15] J.C. Daniluk and E. Koert, ‘Childless Women’s Beliefs and Knowledge About Oocyte Freezing for Social and Medical Reasons’ (2016) 31 Human Reproduction 2313, 2319

[16] L. Yu et al, ‘Knowledge, Attitudes, and Intentions Toward Fertility Awareness and Oocyte Cryopreservation Among Obstetrics and Gynecology Resident Physicians’ (2016) 31 Human Reproduction 403; Désirée García et al, ‘Poor Knowledge of Age-Related Fertility Decline and Assisted Reproduction Among Healthcare Professionals’ (2017) 34 Reproductive BioMedicine Online 32

[17] Yu et al supra n16, 403; García et al supra n16, 35

[18] ESHRE supra n5, 1233

[19] ibid 1233

[20] Michael M Alper and Bart C Fauser, ‘Ovarian Stimulation Protocols for IVF: is More Better than Less?’ (2017) 34 Reproductive Biomedicine Online 345, 348

[21] Joseph O. Doyle et al, ‘Successful Elective and Medically Indicated Oocyte Vitrification and Warming for Autologous In Vitro Fertilization, with Predicted Birth Probabilities for Fertility Preservation According to Number of Cryopreserved Oocytes and Age at Retrieval’ (2016) 105 Fertility and Sterility 459, 459

[22] Ana Cobo and Juan Antonio García-Velasco, ‘Why All Women Should Freeze their Eggs’ (2016) 28 Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology 206, 206

[23] Zeynep Gurtin, ‘Why are Women Freezing their Eggs? Because of the Lack of Eligible Men’ (7 July 2017) The Guardian <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/07/egg-freezing-women-30s-40s-lack-of-eligible-men-knights-shining-armour> accessed 26 May 2018

[24] Susie Jacob and Adam Balen, ‘Oocyte Freezing: Reproductive Panacea or False Hope of Family?’ (2018) 79 British Journal of Hospital Medicine 200, 200

[25] Kylie Baldwin, ‘’I Suppose I Think to Myself, That’s the Best Way to Be a Mother’: How Ideologies of Parenthood Shape Women’s Use for Social Egg Freezing Technology’ (2017) 22 Sociological Research Online 1, 5

[26] Baldwin supra n25, 5

[27] Mark Tran, ‘Apple and Facebook offer to freeze eggs for female employees’ The Guardian (15 October 2014) <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/15/apple-facebook-offer-freeze-eggs-female-employees> accessed 24 May 2018

[28] Kylie Baldwin et al, ‘Running Out of Time: Exploring Women’s Motivations for Social Egg Freezing’ (2018) Journal pf Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 1, 3

[29] Baldwin et al supra n28, 4

[30] ibid 4

[31] Baldwin et al supra n28, 4

[32] ibid 4

[33] Gurtin supra n23

[34] ibid

[35] ibid

[36] Eleni A. Greenwood et al, ‘To Freeze or Not to Freeze: Decision Regret and Satisfaction Following Elective Oocyte Cryopreservation’ (2018) Fertility and Sterility in Press

[37] Ariana Eunjung Cha, ‘Egg-Freezing Regrets: Half of Women who Undergo the Procedure Have Some Remorse’ (18 May 2018) The Washington Post <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/18/egg-freezing-regrets-half-of-women-who-undergo-the-procedure-have-some-remorse/?utm_term=.46f0ecc0afcf> accessed 27 May 2018

[38] ESHRE supra n8, 4

[39] See, for example, current prices at the London Women’s Clinic in London: https://www.londonwomensclinic.com/about/prices/

[40] See, for example, current prices at Sims IVF in Dublin: http://www.sims.ie/treatments-and-services/prices.883.html

[41] Evans v United Kingdom (2007) 43 EHRR 21, para. 54

[42] Evans v United Kingdom (2007) 43 EHRR 21, para. 60

[43] Benjamin P. Jones et al, ‘The Dawn of a New Ice Age: Social Egg Freezing’ (2018) 97 Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 641, 644

[44] Petition to extend the 10-year storage limit on egg freezing <https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/218313> accessed 27 May 2018

[45] General Scheme of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill 2017, Head 22, 8 (a)(i)

 

Working with the people whose lives you research

Making co-production a reality: ExpertAge

 

peer facilitators

Two of Age NI’s peer facilitators

by Annie Melaugh McAteer and Marian Cinnamond

Background

In recent years there has been a strong emphasis on ‘service user involvement’ and co-production in research. There are many possible benefits: better quality research, innovation and broad dissemination channels to name a few. Having experience of co-production, through working with volunteer peer facilitators, I have experienced these benefits. In addition, the approach has helped me grow as a researcher and changed my approach to identifying questions and interpreting findings through the inclusion of older people in the research.

At Age NI we strive to put older people at the heart of everything we do, and as a result, we feel our approach to research should be no different. Different levels of co-production exist and we have found that involvement of older people, from conceptualisation to dissemination, is key in producing high quality, informed work.

This article outlines a model of co-production that we know works well for us (and of which we are very proud). We use this model to help shape and develop services and policy and it ensures the views of older people are heard. As a researcher I get a lot out of this approach, not least the opportunity to find out what really matters to older people.  Our peer facilitators also get a lot out of this experience,

‘As a peer facilitator I had the privilege of people telling me about experiences that had sometimes been very difficult for them and may have had a negative impact on their confidence and self esteem. I had known some people I interviewed for a long time and others not at all, but I was given insight into their lives which I would not have otherwise have had. This was an enriching and humbling experience for me. (peer facilitator feedback)

 

Older people are experts by experience

We are all getting older. Individually of course, but also as a population.1 And I think we should celebrate this and all doors it opens to new opportunities in later life. An important part of this is that people are given the opportunity to age well and enjoy later life. Older people face a range of barriers which can impact on ageing well including access to quality health and social care, access to information about the help they are entitled to, ageist attitudes and discrimination. It is these areas we most want to understand through our research. More recently we have been working to understand what makes a ‘good life’ for older people and how they understand the term ‘frailty’. Older people are their own experts, with lived experiences of what works and what does not and, as all researchers know, experts are the best place to start.

 

ExpertAge

The older people involved in developing our research are enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. Their passion and insight helps us ensure our research is accurate and reflective of older people in Northern Ireland.

Co-production takes place through our ExpertAge team; a group of peer facilitators, supported by an Engagement Manager, who support our research in various ways. Those involved receive bespoke training around facilitation and data collection. The model is based on the understanding that people are more comfortable talking to peers than to professionals,

‘Many of us have a tendency to feel less judged or dismissed by people to whom we feel similar, or perhaps be better understood.’ (Feedback from peer facilitation)

Peer facilitators provide feedback on research approaches in terms of understanding and relevance. This helps us ensure we are getting to the core of the issue and doing it in a way that is accessible for older people. They provide insight into developing research within an ethical framework – for example, will asking this question cause distress, and if so, is it necessary or what would mitigate distress? They help us recruit participants, ensuring older people from a range of backgrounds are included, especially those who might belong to lesser heard groups; those who are isolated for example.

One of the most valuable aspects of peer facilitator involvement is their role in data collection. They support older people to complete questionnaires, and carry out one-to-one interviews. These peer to peer conversations allow for a more in-depth exploration of the areas being addressed, and our peer facilitators are able to take the time to spend with people, to do this at their own pace,

‘the interview was quite long, so we stopped for tea and cake in the middle, to give the person a rest’ (peer facilitator feedback)

We know that older people want to be heard, and that being listened to is an essential part of feeling involved and valued. Using co-production and supporting co-researchers, allows us to do this in a meaningful way.

Finally, our peer facilitators support dissemination of results. They provide feedback from their perspective about the data collection, they provide input into preliminary discussions around results and they participate as co-presenters in events to launch findings. Marian, a peer facilitator, co-wrote this post with me.

For me, co-production starts before the project and continues on afterwards. Co-researchers are part of the research team and the project benefits from their inclusion.  As a researcher I should support them, ensure they receive adequate training, brief and debrief them and build relationships. This all takes time, but in seeing the quality of the work delivered, I know it is worth it. And it isn’t just my view; over the last year we have worked with a local council and Public Health Agency using this model. To end, I would encourage others to adopt such an approach and put those impacted by research at its heart.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/july2017

2 For an example of work the peer facilitators have been involved in see here

About Annie, Marian and Age NI:

Annie has a psychology background, graduating from her PhD at Queen’s University, Belfast in 2017. She currently works in the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland as Impact and Evaluation Manager at Age NI. Her research interests are in wellbeing, understanding the needs of older people and service evaluation. She is an advocate of co-production and includes older people in the development of her current work.

Marian Cinnamond: Marian is an Age NI peer facilitator and has been involved in several projects, supporting older people in Northern Ireland to share their views.

Age NI’s vision is a world where everyone can love later life. We provide a range of services to help support older people across Northern Ireland; Advice and Advocacy service provides support and information for older people; Wellbeing Services seek to improve the lives of older people, empowering them to live the lives they want and our Care Services provide care for those who need it. Our policy and influencing activities ensure that policy decisions made today support more older people in Northern Ireland to love later life. We also support sub regional older people’s networks and offer a wide range of volunteer roles. To find out more about Age NI you can see our website: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/northern-ireland

Searching for weather patterns on free-floating worlds

by Johanna Vos, University of Edinburgh

Planet 1

Artist’s conception of a free-floating planet. Image: NASA

At the start of 1995, we knew of only 9 planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Although we have since lost Pluto, we have now confirmed over 3,700 exoplanets — planets orbiting a star other than our sun. These exoplanets have been discovered by various methods, but the vast majority have been detected via indirect methods — measuring the influence of an exoplanet on its host star. We have also managed to directly image a number of exoplanets. This is the most difficult technique since most planets are lost in the bright glare of their host star. In recent years, we have discovered that in addition to the exoplanet companions — exoplanets orbiting a host star, there have been a number of discoveries of so-called rogue, or free-floating planets. These are planetary-mass objects (less than about 13 times the mass of Jupiter) with no host star, wandering the Milky Way alone!

There are currently two theories about the formation of these isolated planets. The first theory suggests that they form similar to a star like our Sun — through the collapse of a massive interstellar cloud composed of molecular gas and dust. Once enough material is compressed at the centre of the cloud, nuclear fusion is ignited in the core, and a star is born. Once nuclear fusion is established, a star will continue to shine for about 10 billion years. However, in the case of our free-floating planets, we think that the core did not accrete enough material to trigger nuclear fusion. These objects can be thought of as ‘failed stars’, and spend their entire lifetimes cooling down. The other theory proposes that the free-floating planets were ejected from a planetary system. This can happen due to gravitational interactions with other planets within the system or a close encounter with another star. These interactions could fling a planet out of its orbit and leave it free to travel through interstellar space. Most likely, the free-floating planets that we have discovered to date formed through both of the theories discussed here, but we have not yet found a way to distinguish them from each other.

Free-floating planets pose a huge advantage to astronomers studying exoplanets. The population of free-floating planets share a remarkable resemblance with the small population of directly-imaged planets that we have discovered. The free-floating and companion exoplanets share similar masses, temperatures, ages and sizes, but while the companion exoplanets are extremely hard to image, the isolated planets are much easier since they do not have a bright host star nearby. New instruments and technologies are currently being developed so that we may study companion exoplanets in detail in the future. In the meantime, the free-floating objects can be studied in exquisite detail and act as useful analogues for the directly-imaged companions, providing clues on what we might expect.

Brightness Modulations Signal Atmospheric Features

While it can take several hours to obtain an image of an exoplanet orbiting its host star, a medium-sized telescope can capture images of a free-floating planet on ~5 minute timescales. We cannot resolve the surface of a planet since it is too far away, but we can make use of the fact that they rotate to try to identify the presence of weather patterns in the planet’s atmosphere. This is done through a technique called ‘photometric variability monitoring’, which basically means measuring the brightness of an object over time. By monitoring the brightness over many hours we can approximate what the upper atmosphere of such an object looks like. The video below shows an artist’s concept of a brown dwarf with atmospheric bands of clouds, thought to resemble the clouds seen on Neptune and the other outer planets in the solar system. The dots on the bottom show the measured brightness of the planet over time, called the lightcurve of the planet.

Star2

Artist’s conception of a rotating free-floating planet with bands of clouds resembling those seen on Neptune. The dots on the bottom show the measured brightness of the object over time.

PSO-318.5-22: A Cloudy Free-floating Planet

In 2015 I used the New Technology Telescope in La Silla, Chile to observe the free-floating planet PSO J318.5-22. PSO 318.5-22 is a free-floating planet situated 80 light-years from earth, with a temperature of 800°C and a mass 7 times that of Jupiter. This object is unusually red compared to other objects with similar temperatures, and this is thought to be due to the presence of very thick clouds in its atmosphere. Using the images, we could measure the brightness of this object in each frame, and found that the brightness of this isolated planet changed by up to 10% over the course of 5 hours. Follow-up observations showed that the lightcurve is periodic, repeating itself every ~8.6 hours, indicating that this was the rotational period of the planet. Every 8.6 hours an atmospheric feature, most likely silicate clouds and iron droplets, would rotate in and out of view. This was the first detection of weather on an planetary-mass object, and hinted that these atmospheric features may be common on extrasolar planets.

We then went on to observe PSO J318.5-22 simultaneously using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, which allowed us to track the brightness of our target in a variety of different wavelengths with unprecedented accuracy. The new lightcurves revealed that although all lightcurves showed brightness modulations in agreement with a 8.6 hour rotational period, the lightcurves obtained from the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes appeared ‘out of phase’. This means that when the planet appeared at its brightest in the Hubble images, it appeared very faint with the Spitzer Space Telescope, and vice versa. The Hubble and Spitzer Telescopes differ in the wavelengths they use — Hubble observations are in the near-infrared while Spitzer probes longer wavelengths in the mid-infrared. Different wavelengths are sensitive to different heights in the atmosphere of the planet — the Hubble telescope sees deep into the planet’s atmosphere while the Spitzer wavelengths only see the highest altitudes. The observed shifts between lightcurves suggest that we are observing different layers of clouds located at different vertical positions in the atmosphere. These types of observations have thus allowed us to explore both the horizontal and vertical cloud structure of PSO 318.5-22, a rogue planet lying 80 light-years away.

 

Future Exoplanet Companion Studies with JWST

Now that we have developed the technique of photometric variability monitoring, we hope to extend these studies to the directly-imaged exoplanet companions once the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launches. Due to be launched in 2020, JWST will revolutionise all fields of astronomy by providing unparalleled sensitivity to astrophysical signals at a wide range of wavelengths. JWST will allow us to extend the variability monitoring discussed above to exoplanet companions, such as the HR8799bcde planets shown below. This system of four planets, called HR8799bcde is so far the only multi-planet system that has been imaged. By re-observing the HR8799bcde system over a number of years, astronomers could track their movement around their host star. The four planets shown here share very similar properties to free-floating planets such as PSO J318.5-22, and so we expect that they will show similar brightness changes over time. Current telescopes cannot obtain images of these planets at the sensitivity and cadence needed to measure photometric variability, but JWST will allow us to carry out these measurements for the first time. 

HR8799_planets

Video showing four exoplanets orbiting their host star. The host star HR8799 harbours four super-Jupiters with periods that range from decades to centuries. Astronomers re-observed this system over a number of years to map out the orbits of these four exoplanets. Video: Jason Wang and Christian Marois.

Don’t go changing – Syria and the international law on the use of force

by Katie Johnston, University of Oxford.

 

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‘Don’t Bomb Syria’ rally outside the House of Commons, London, April 16th 2018. Photo by Steve Eason.

In which situations may a State lawfully use force against another State? Is it possible that the law may change over time, so that what would previously be considered an unlawful use of force will come to be seen as lawful?

These questions were at the centre of the debate about the legality of the airstrikes against the Assad government in Syria, carried out by the US, UK and France on 13 April 2018.[1] Yet they also go to the heart of the modern jus ad bellum, the rules of international law that govern the use of force by States in their international relations. My research looks at how the law in this area is structured and aims to identify the processes by which the jus ad bellum can change.

International law, as a decentralised system of States, has no central legislative body that enacts binding laws for the international community. States become subject to international legal obligations primarily by entering into treaties and through the emergence of rules of customary law as a result of the practice of States.

The adoption of the United Nations Charter in 1945 brought about a paradigm shift in how international law regulated war. From a sovereign right and a legitimate policy choice, albeit subject to increasing restriction over the first half of the twentieth century, the use of force by States became subject to a comprehensive prohibition, set out in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.[2] There are only two narrow exceptions to this prohibition, when force may lawfully be used: collective measures authorised by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter, and the right of States to use necessary and proportionate force unilaterally in self-defence, if an armed attack occurs.

In addition to this treaty law rule in Article 2(4) which binds all UN member States, the prohibition on force also developed into a parallel rule of customary international law, binding on all States.[3] It is also widely accepted that the prohibition on the use of force has the status of a “jus cogens” norm of international law, from which no derogation is permitted. Although the existence, definition and content of this category of international legal rules remains contested, typically jus cogens norms protect the fundamental values of the international community and include, for example the prohibitions on genocide and torture.

Thus, the prohibition on the use of force is expressed in three forms: the treaty provision in Article 2(4) of the Charter, a parallel rule of customary international law, and a jus cogens norm. To draw an imperfect analogy with domestic law, imagine the same prohibition of murder existing in a criminal statute, as a common law rule developed by the courts, and as a provision in the Constitution.

This account is necessarily a simplified one that skips over the many debates surrounding the definition of force, self-defence, and the functioning of the collective security system that have arisen since the Charter’s adoption, and some of which remain unresolved. However, fundamentally, this is the international legal framework that regulates the use of force by States today: a comprehensive prohibition on the use of force, with two narrow exceptions.

It is against this backdrop that the UK government’s claimed legal basis for the airstrikes on 13 April 2018 must be assessed. In a legal position published on 14 April, the UK government asserted that “the UK is permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering.”[4] This is almost certainly not correct under international law as it stands – as noted above, there are only two exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force, neither of which applies in this case. The UK  position is inconsistent with the text of the Charter and very few States take the view that a legal right of humanitarian intervention currently exists, while many more have explicitly stated that they do not recognise the existence of any such doctrine.

Indeed, for the UK position to be correct, it would need to be shown that the legal framework set out above had evolved since 1945 so that a new legal basis for the unilateral use of force by states had come into existence. This could be, for example, through a change to the prohibition so that it no longer banned force used for humanitarian purposes, or creation of a third exception of humanitarian intervention. However, given the complex structure of the law in this area, any argument that the jus ad bellum has changed faces a number of obstacles.[5]

First, as described above, the prohibition on the use of force exists in multiple legal rules. Therefore, even if a State could show that a new customary international law rule permitting humanitarian intervention had come into existence, any State claiming to rely on that right would still be in violation of its treaty obligation as a UN member not to breach the prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the Charter. This situation is further complicated by Article 103 of the UN Charter, which provides that the obligations of UN members under the Charter take precedence over their other obligations. Any State wishing to rely on a right of humanitarian intervention would therefore need to show not only that a new rule of customary law had emerged – which requires widespread and consistent practice by States accompanied by their belief that such a legal rule exists – but also that the UN Charter had been reinterpreted to allow for humanitarian intervention. Demonstrating such a reinterpretation, although possible in principle, is a difficult standard to meet: practice would need to establish the agreement of all UN members that the Charter should now be interpreted in this way.[6]

A second, more difficult, obstacle is presented by the jus cogens status of the prohibition on the use of force. Jus cogens norms can only be modified by another norm of the same character, so it seems that any new legal basis permitting humanitarian intervention would also need to show that it had fulfilled the test for emergence of a new jus cogens norm: acceptance and recognition by the “international community as a whole” that the norm has such a status.[7] This threshold is lower than that required to demonstrate reinterpretation of the UN Charter through subsequent practice, described above, but there are other characteristics of jus cogens norms that may complicate the process of change. Jus cogens norms invalidate contrary practice, depriving it of any legal effect it may have to bring about an evolution in customary law.[8] The presence of the jus cogens norm therefore seems to put those arguing for a change to the prohibition of the use of force in an all-or-nothing position: either they show that the stringent requirements for changing a jus cogens norm have been met, or any practice short of that threshold will not only be in violation of the jus cogens prohibition, but also ineffective to bring about a change in the customary or treaty norms.

In sum, the existence of multiple legal rules prohibiting the use of force, and the characteristics of the Charter and the jus cogens norm that cause them to prevail over conflicting rules, mean that changing the prohibition on the use of force appears to be very difficult indeed. The UK legal position does not explain whether the purported new right of humanitarian intervention on which it relies is understood as a new rule of custom, a reinterpretation of the Charter, or a new jus cogens norm. As shown above, it appears that a plausible claim may need to demonstrate that it is all three, simultaneously.

 

There are good reasons why it should be difficult to change the prohibition on the use of force. Conceptual and methodological arguments about legal rules gloss over the death, suffering and displacement that is caused by armed conflict; historically, the impact on women has been particularly overlooked.[9] The drafters of the Charter wanted to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”[10] by creating a new international legal order where unilateral use of force by individual States became the rare exception and not the rule. Even if the prohibition on the use of force is not universally complied with (what law is?), the current legal framework requires States to justify any use of force in terms of its requirements or face international condemnation, which in itself has a restraining effect. Creating a new legal basis for States to use force – without collective authorisation – would upset the current balance, tilting it in favour of greater unilateralism. In addition, in the specific context of humanitarian intervention, any increased permissiveness is unlikely to benefit all States equally. States that already enjoy greater military and political power will be more able to take advantage of a new right to use force unilaterally. Less powerful States, on the other hand, will see their protection from foreign intervention diminished.[11]

Nevertheless, the arguments remain finely balanced. While a legal right of humanitarian intervention does not exist in international law today, with the Security Council sliding back into gridlock and unable to address threats to peace and humanitarian disasters, international consensus may well shift to accept that intervention without Security Council authorisation is permissible in some circumstances. In such a case, it may be preferable for the international legal framework to be able to evolve to accommodate a new legal basis for the use of force, either within or in addition to the existing exceptions, rather than risk the prohibition being repeatedly violated or ignored, as appears to have been the case with the US, UK and French strikes last month. Developments such as the provision in the Constitutive Act of the African Union for a collective, regional, treaty-based right of humanitarian intervention could provide a less disruptive alternative to increased unilateral uses of force.[12] Yet, as the law stands, this provision appears to be unlawful.

Clarifying the processes by which the rules of the jus ad bellum can change could help provide a shared basis for States and international lawyers to evaluate claims that the rules governing the law on the use of force have changed, and avoid a more unstable situation where States instead abandon or undermine the authority of the prohibition on the use of force or the Charter system. It is this question, of how the prohibition on the use of force and its exceptions can change, that my research will  address.

 

 

[1] See, for example, Milena Sterio, Syria and the Limits of International Law, IntLawGrrls, 12 April 2018: https://ilg2.org/2018/04/12/syria-and-the-limits-of-international-law/

[2] Charter of the United Nations (1945): https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/index.html

[3] As later confirmed by the International Court of Justice, Militarv and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America). Merits, Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1986, p. 14, at para. 190.

[4] Syria action – UK government legal position, 14 April 2018: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/syria-action-uk-government-legal-position/syria-action-uk-government-legal-position

[5] As noted by Professor Dapo Akande in his legal opinion of 16 April: Akande, The Legality of the UK’s Air Strikes on the Assad Government in Syria, 16 April 2018: https://www.scribd.com/document/376483861/Akande-Opinion-UK-Government-s-Legal-Position-on-Syria-Strike-April-2018

[6] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), Article 31(3)(b): http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/1_1_1969.pdf

[7] VCLT, Article 53.

[8] Orakhelashvili, Changing Jus Cogens Through State Practice? The Case of the Prohibition of the Use of Force and its Exceptions, in Weller (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Use of Force in International Law (OUP 2015).

[9] Hilary Charlesworth, Christine Chinkin, Shelley Wright, Feminist Approaches to International Law, 85 American Journal of International Law, 613, 645 (1991); Christine Chinkin, A Gendered Perspective to the International Use of Force, 12 Australian Yearbook of International Law 279, 293 (1988-1989).

[10] Charter of the United Nations, Preamble.

[11] See Anne-Charlotte Martineau, Concerning Violence: A Post-Colonial Reading of the Debate on the Use of Force, Leiden Journal of International Law (2016), 29, pp. 95–112.

[12] Constitutive Act of the African Union (2000), Article 4(h): https://au.int/sites/default/files/treaties/7758-treaty-0021_-_constitutive_act_of_the_african_union_e.pdf

The unfinished gender politics of the Good Friday Agreement… and its 20th anniversary celebrations.

by Dr. Maria-Adriana Deiana, Assistant Professor, Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction (IICRR) , School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.

With the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), April 2018 was a milestone, filled with numerous events and discussions about the legacy of the peace settlement and its future prospects, both on the island of Ireland and internationally. Given my research on gender and post-conflict transformation, I was invited to the U.S. to speak at an academic event to mark two decades since the signing of agreement. As speakers, we were asked to reflect on the GFA’s legacy in bringing an end to decades of political violence and building peace for Northern Ireland. My aim was to discuss the implications for women’s citizenship that emerged throughout the peace process, drawing upon my research and over a decade spent in Belfast.

GFA

Cover of the Sunday Business Post’s magazine commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The newspaper has been criticised for ‘airbrushing’ women, in particular Dr. Mo Mowlam, from the peace process.

I began my contribution by acknowledging and discussing the role of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) as co-architects of the agreement. At the same time, I pointed out that the peace process has been ambivalent in addressing women’s demands for inclusion, equality and social justice, remaining therefore incomplete. My talk was abruptly interrupted by another participant who rebuked my assessment for “being ungrateful”. He then took his turn and offered what, he felt, was the proper account of the conflict and of the peace negotiations’ complexities. The gist of his intervention suggested that gender is not relevant to understanding the conflict in Northern Ireland. This is because more men than women died during decades of political violence. While acknowledging that women have suffered in the conflict, it was implied that the extent of this suffering was mostly confined to losing or caring for family members caught-up in the conflict.

GFA2

Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition speaking outside Stormont following talks. Photo: Derek Speirs

 

I wish to dwell on this short-lived, yet telling, exchange to develop a reflection on the gender politics underpinning narratives of the Good Friday Agreement, as well as its 20th anniversary celebrations. Starting from the use of the word “ungrateful” to dismiss research that foregrounds women’s experiences and claims (how dare we critique the legacy of the peace process?), the arguments raised in response to my points offer a glaring example of a deep-seated reluctance to acknowledge that women and gender matter greatly in the politics of conflict and peace-making. To begin with, I was struck by the failure to even acknowledge evidence and research documenting the varied impact of conflict in women’s lives, such as the unequal economic and social hardship experienced by women in working-class and rural areas; women’s safety and gender based violence in relation to forms of paramilitary activity and sectarianism; the long-term effects of violence on health and well-being, and increasing caring responsibilities for women as a direct result of the conflict – for example, when family members were injured. Women’s (unequal) care and emotional labour, mentioned by my co-speaker, is  indeed a poignant example of the gendered legacy of the conflict!

What is more, obscured in such gender-blind narratives are the complex ways in which women, in their diversity, participated in the conflict and peace process. It has been documented that some women were actively involved in protests, marches and more overt forms of political activism. Others explicitly engaged in the conflict as combatants in republican/nationalist paramilitary groups, and through supportive/less visible roles in loyalist groups. Some women were involved in community groups and grass-roots organisations that emerged predominantly in working-class areas, as a response to the deficiencies of direct-rule government in dealing with the social and economic needs of communities fractured by conflict and deprivation. In some instances, these kinds of supporting networks would also extend across divided communities. Although conflicting views on the constitutional issues and on the identification with feminism remained, civic activism provided a crucial platform for women’s active engagement during the conflict.  When prospects for the peace settlement emerged in the late 90s, it offered a springboard for a more cohesive, and collective, albeit short-termed, mobilisation which led to the formation of the NIWC.

Not only do the arguments on gender’s irrelevance to understanding the complexities of the conflict suggest a partial view of its history, but this logic also sustains the tendency to dismiss women as full-fledged agents in the politics of the peace process. Beside my own experience at the international conference that prompted this reflection, this attitude has been on display during the GFA’s celebrations on occasions where women’s stake as co-architects in dealing with the legacy of conflict and building peace has been omitted or downplayed.

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Dr. Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, talking to the press after a visit to the Maze prison to speak with loyalist and republican prisoners in 1998, in a move described as ‘mad’ and ‘brave’. RTÉ News archives, www.rte.ie/archives/2018/0108/931726-m0-mowlam-visits-maze/

We should remember that when the Agreement was negotiated, women were unusually visible. Dr. Mo Mowlam, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, played a tremendous role both in her personal and institutional capacity.  Liz O’Donnell, as junior Minister of Foreign Affairs, also contributed to the talks as a member of the Irish government delegation. Martha Pope, Senator George Mitchell’s chief of staff, coordinated the involvement of the US delegation, playing an important formal and informal role during the negotiations.

Crucially, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) participated in the multiparty negotiations through their elected representatives, Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar. As a cross-community party, the NIWC put an emphasis on maintaining the inclusive character of the negotiations process and in keeping open the lines of communication with civil society and political groups excluded from the talks. Particularly important was the Coalition’s achievement of a separate clause in the Agreement affirming the right of full and equal political participation for women. While we agree that the NIWC was not perfect and that not all women felt represented in their political stance, their contribution was remarkable on many levels. As Danielle Roberts has written, the coalition introduced the principles of inclusion, human rights and equality through their engagement in the negotiations. In the process they also had to find creative ways to navigate the hostile terrain of the male-dominated peace talks and establish working relationships with a wide array of actors. That women’s presence and contribution to the making of the GFA are dismissed in narratives of the peace agreement’s legacy is simply unacceptable.

What a reflection on the GFA’s 20th anniversary should also not downplay is that the aspirations for inclusion and equality included in the agreement have remained peripheral in the subsequent implementation and negotiation of the settlement. As I have argued elsewhere, the divisive nature of ethno-national politics has taken centre stage, also as a result of the power-sharing consociational formula deployed in the agreement.  Gender concerns have been relegated to the margins of the dominant political agenda and often left unaddressed. Numerous reports highlight the continued economic and social hardship experienced by women living in divided and interface communities, and the lack of social services and education for young people in these areas. Women have continued to express concerns around issues of safety, violence and ‘new’ forms of paramilitary activity. Community activists report a lack of attention to the persistence of entrenched gendered violence and discrimination. The fight for reproductive justice and bodily autonomy, challenged by conservative attitudes of major political parties,  also continues thanks to huge efforts by individual activists and groups such as Alliance for Choice. As both Claire Pierson and Kellie Turtle point out, while there have been some gains in the field of political representation and in the leadership of major NI parties, women have had limited access to key institutions and processes that focus on unresolved legacies of conflict and crucial contested issues, such as the parade commission and more recently the ‘Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition’ Commission.

Generally, women’s and feminist groups have expressed dissatisfaction with a peace process wherein women and women’s claims are too often side-lined in favour of matters that are deemed of more immediate interest, such as ‘community relations’, ethnonational identity and stability/re-establishment of institutions.  This marginalisation has been intensified in the recent political deadlock that led to the suspension of NI devolved institutions, as well as in discussion around the uncertainties over  Brexit. In October 2017, I attended a consultation to discuss the implications for women, peace and security in the current moment of political crisis and uncertainty. Organised by Yvonne Galligan and Fiona Buckley, as chairs of the Gender Politics specialist group of the Political Studies Association of Ireland (PSAI), the meeting included NI activists, community development experts and interested academics. Participants expressed concerns over the unfinished gender equality politics of the peace process, as well as over the return of zero-sum positions spurred by controversies in NI local politics and  Brexit negotiations. Our discussion brought to the fore a sense that, yet again, a gender perspective and an attention to wider women’s concerns about the equality and rights agenda have been absent from political discussions over the future of the Agreement.

As fellow researchers and activists have argued, it is time that women’s contribution to building peace and their demands for social justice, equality and inclusion are fully acknowledged and taken seriously.  That 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement these complexities continue to be dismissed in discussions on the legacy and future of the peace process is why we insist that women’s and feminist critiques, in their diversity, are not only heard but amplified at every opportunity.

 

 

If you’d like to learn more about gender politics in Northern Ireland, take a look at Michelle Rouse’s piece here. For more pieces on the role of women and gender in conflict around the world, including such issues as sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, women in conflict mediation, how women terrorists are portrayed by the media, and more,  see here.