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Pandemic of violence against women not down to Covid-19

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Moments of crisis, such as this pandemic, are often viewed as periodic interruptions to an otherwise normal landscape. And what occurs during these supposed blips are often attributed a status specific to these disruptive events.

Except we know from other crises that this is not reflective of reality. I have spent many years working in global crises caused by armed conflicts, often viewed as momentary, albeit violently devastating events, after which societies are expected to “go back to normal”.

I have seen first hand that while women experience increased levels of gendered violence as a result of such crises, that violence only appears and has meaningful effect because of the normalised ways women were subjected to violence and discrimination prior to that crisis.

It is becoming more and more clear how our pre-crisis normal endures as well as influences the current crisis we are in, starkly evident when viewed through the lens of gender, racial and wider inequalities: an Ipsos survey found that women are suffering more anxiety and insomnia than men due to increased pressures of work, family and care; in the UK, black women are 4.3 times more likely than white women to die with Covid-19; Sarah Everard is murdered as she makes her way home; murders of women in Northern Ireland and Scotland are reported within days of each other last week; Women’s Aid experiences a 41 per cent increase in calls since lockdown, while their recent research shows that young women are experiencing a surge in image-based and online sexual abuse since March last year.

A virus in and of itself does not discriminate. People, systems and institutions do. The disparities reflect what happens when a contagious virus arrives on to political, economic, social, religious and cultural systems that are built on, infused by and reliant for their sustenance and profit on gender, racial, economic and broader structural inequalities. These inequalities determine how this crisis plays out in the same way that they determine women’s particular susceptibility to men’s violence.

‘Rare’ events?

I have a growing concern that the current heightened visibility of inequalities and of violence towards women, which the UN estimates to have increased globally, will be put down to the “exceptional” circumstances of this pandemic. There has been a common thread among the reporting of the murder of women over the past few weeks: that these events are rare and exceptional. Indeed, this is an important observation. Women’s organisations have worked hard for decades to bring into view a clear-eyed understanding that women most commonly experience violence from men known to them.

However, attribution of exceptionalism here is not just erroneous, but also serves to occlude that which we do not wish to see, admit or do anything about. Putting such events into context matters.

In Ireland, we all know the names of women such as Josephine Dollard, Deirdre Jacobs and many others who have disappeared. We know of Kate Mulhern, who in 2019, aged 17, fought off would-be abductors in Meath. We have also recently read the deluge of social media posts in response to Sarah Everard’s murder, where women have described the multitudes of narrow escapes when followed, harassed on the street or public transport, or locked into taxis. Those incidents don’t get counted in the exceptional “kidnapped and murdered” box, or indeed any other box. Coercive control is increasingly evident as a feature in many women’s relationships, as they are isolated from family members, some locked into their homes all day – held by their captor. We have listened, aghast, to the podcast Where Is George Gibney?, where many girls were held in locker rooms and bathrooms, taken to hotel rooms and driven in cars, for the purposes of sexual abuse. The UN estimates that 137 women are killed by a partner or family member every day.

Taken all together, it paints quite the picture. To present it in any other way, or to frame specific incidents or what we are seeing in this pandemic as existing outside of this very real context, takes away from the reality of the continuum of violence in women’s lives in the home, on the streets, in work and in social places and the spaces in between, such as when simply moving from one place to the next, as Sarah Everard was.

Feeling unsafe

Research by Transport Infrastructure Ireland shows that large numbers of women feel unsafe using public transport, cycling or walking alone, and 55 per cent say they would not use public transport after dark. The research tellingly finds that women themselves feel “heavily responsible” for their own safety.

If before the pandemic this was the context of women’s lives – and according to the UN, one in three women globally experience violence in their relationships – what do we expect to see other than continuing, if not increased levels, of that violence, particularly when response measures do not place the omnipresent violence in women’s lives at their core? And if we are seeing increased reporting of gendered violence during this pandemic, what do we think is going to happen after we emerge from it? That it will simply go away?

In the aftermath of the armed conflicts that I have worked in, many women’s rights activists expose the fallacy that a return to normal post-crisis brings us back to a place of peace. That place that we return to is not after all a peaceful one for women. How can it be, when it will not only reflect the realities of pre-crisis violence outlined but will also now be influenced by the increases in violence that result from the crisis.

Do I want to “go back to normal” – to return to that place before the pandemic? No. In that normal place we live, as women, with an everyday in which we have to think, plan, do the emotional, practical and psychological work of reducing our risk of exposure to men’s violence. I want to move forward to a place where it’s not women’s responsibility to do that.

The real question for us as we sit out the lockdown is how can we recalibrate our normal so that it is transformed to embrace the possibility of real change to the gender, racial and broad-ranging inequalities that create and exacerbate very normalised harms in all of our lives and in some people’s lives in particular ways.

Aisling Swaine is professor of gender studies at University College Dublin. She was named by A-Political as one the world’s 100 most influential people in gender policy 2021


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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Ryanair reports €273m loss as passenger traffic rebounds

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Ryanair has reported a €273 million loss for its first quarter even as traffic rebounded during the period.

The carrier said it carried 8.1 million passengers in the three month period, which cover April to June. This compares to just 500,000 in the same period a year earlier.

Revenues increased 196 per cent from €125 million in the first quarter of 2020 to €371 million for the same quarter this year. Operation costs also rose however, jumping from €313 million to €675 million.

Net debt reduced by 27 per cent on the back of strong operating of €590 million.

“Covid-19 continued to wreak havoc on our business during the first quarter with most Easter flights cancelled and a slower than expected easing of EU travel restrictions into May and June,” said group chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“Based on current bookings, we expect traffic to rise from over five million in June to almost nine million in July, and over 10 million in August, as long as there are no further Covid setbacks in Europe,” he added.

Ryanair said the rollout of EU digital Covid certificates and the scrapping of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals to Britain from mid-July has led to a surge in bookings in recent week.

First quarter scheduled revenues increased 91 per cent to €192 million on the back of the rise in passenger traffic although this was offset by the cancellation of Easter traffic and a delay in the relaxation of travel restrictions.

Ancillary revenue generated approximately €22 per passenger the company said.

Mr O’Leary foresaw growth opportunities for the airline due to the collapse of many European airlines during the Covid crisis, and widespread capacity cuts at other carriers.

“We are encouraged by the high rate of vaccinations across Europe. If, as is presently predicted, most of Europe’s adult population is fully vaccinated by September., then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel for the second half of the fiscal year and well into 2022 – as is presently the case in domestic US air travel,” he said.

However, the airline warned the future remains challenging due to continued Covid restrictions and a lack of bookings and that this meant it was impossible to provided “meaningful” guidance at the time.

“We believe that full0year 2022 traffic has improved to a range of 90 million to 100 million (previously guided at the lower end of an 80 million to 120 million passenger range) and (cautiously) expect that the likely outcome for the year is somewhere between a small loss and breakeven. This is dependent on the continued rollout of vaccines this summer, and no adverse Covid variant developments,” said Mr O’Leary.

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Switzerland’s Credit Suisse settles with star banker over spying scandal

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CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign in February 2020 after admitting the bank had hired investigators to follow Khan, head of international wealth management, because he had opted to move to arch-rival, UBS.

As well as sending shockwaves through banking circles, the case sparked a criminal probe in Switzerland.

“All parties involved have agreed to end the case,” Credit Suisse spokeswoman Simone Meier told NZZ am Sonntag, which revealed the agreement.

Meier declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.

The public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich has also ended his investigation, as the complaints have been withdrawn, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Thiam’s resignation followed a torrid six-month scandal that began with revelations in the Swiss press that Khan had been shadowed by agents from a private detective company hired after he joined UBS. 

At one point, Khan physically confronted the people following him.

In October, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned, acknowledging at the end of an internal investigation that he “alone” had ordered the tailing without informing his superiors.

He had wanted to ensure that Khan was not trying to poach other employees, according to the internal investigation.

The case was reopened in December 2019 when the bank admitted to a second case of espionage, this time involving the former head of human resources, and then in February after media reports that the surveillance had also targeted the environmental organisation Greenpeace.



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