It is entirely a scourge on global society that there are lives being extinguished without being given a chance of survival beyond a month. Why should it matter where in the world a woman has her baby but that is the reality of our world because there is a huge discrepancy between countries in the way maternity care is crafted and dispensed. A pregnant woman in less developed countries, in general, has a reduced chance of celebrating the birth of her baby in the way that a woman in the Global North can, in the main, be assured of.

According to the report, ‘Surviving the First Day: State of the World’s Mothers 2013′ , by Save the Children nearly 3 million babies die within the first month of life. The 3 million deaths represent 43% of the world’s under-5’s deaths. Staggeringly, the future generations of many countries are being literally wiped out through deaths caused by preventable causes. In some cases, all it takes is simple measures such as using a basic antiseptic for cleansing the umbilical cord to prevent a deadly infection or using antenatal steroids to help premature babies breathe.

The indicators which are assessed for collating data that makes up the annual ‘Mother’s Index’ is a valuable source in itself to signpost policy makers, governments and healthcare agencies as to where investment needs to be made: women’s health, children’s health, educational attainment, economic well-being and female political participation. What stands out is the fact that an investment in mothers produces a consequent return through their children. This investment needs to take the form of money, equipment, awareness, skilled staff and compassion (the human cost of suffering and grieving is never factored into investment decisions).

Being Asian myself I am saddened that an estimated 423,000 babies die each year in South Asia on the day they are born. South Asia accounts for 24% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s first-day deaths. In India, specifically, 309,000 babies die each year on the day they are born. India also has more maternal deaths, 56,000, than any other country in the world. The Asian countries exhibit some of the largest economic inequalities intra-country. The report states that babies born to mothers living in the greatest poverty face the greatest challenges to survival. As an example, if all newborns in India experienced the same survival rates as newborns from the richest Indian families, nearly 360,000 more babies would survive each year.

While pregnant women in developed countries have expectations underpinned by advanced medical care systems of safe births, pregnant mothers in less developed and struggling countries live in fear of what lies at the end of their pregnancy. There is a huge chasm between the two situations that, frankly, should make people sit up and think.

During my lunch break recently I walked past a group of people who were staging a protest in Central London against the detention and care of a Palestinian woman called Lena Jarboni who is being held at the HaSharon Prison. I picked up a leaflet out of interest and have since done some research into the prison and Lena’s cause. My conclusion – why has the world not heard of her before?

Lena Jarboni is now 40 years old (only) and has been in prison for the past 11 years. Her crime – according to the Israelis – was ‘collaborating with the enemy’. After being arrested she was tortured for 30 days. She has suffered from severe health problems as a result of her incarceration. Lena can no longer walk, suffers from extreme pain in her stomach and has constant migraines. She needed an essential stomach operation but the prison refused to transfer her to hospital. After the other women prisoners went on strike to support Lena’s case she was taken to hospital but her condition is going downhill.

The conditions in HaSharon prison are, from the reports I have read, despicable. The cells are overcrowded,  dark, airless, dirty and overrun with rats and cockroaches. Women are denied adequate and clean food, sanitary pads and suffer from sexual harrassment and sexual violence. If the women so much as spill water they are beaten and left tied to their bed for a day and half.

How can this be happening in this day and age?

The Spectator magazine on 1 February 2014 published an article titled ‘Israel’s A-bomb’ which states that Britain and America are of the opinion that Israel will ‘face international isolation as a pariah state that denies rights to up to 2.5 million Arabs’ if it does not agree to an independent Palestinian State. This ‘A-bomb’ is the word apartheid. The US would like to see an independent Palestine state and the deadline for talks to come up with a legitimate outcome is April 2014. The world will be watching.

I thought I knew everything there was to know about the injustices suffered by females. As a left-leaning enthusiastic Feminist woman I abhor rape, domestic violence, discrimination in the workplace etc but I must confess to being ignorant of the injustices suffered by females who are detained in the UK. The word ‘detention’ has become so much a part of this country’s anti-immigration rhetoric that no one stops to think about the daily grinding process of ‘detention’ and what it actually means. I am now the wiser for having read ‘Detained:Women Asylum Seekers Locked up in the UK’.  

The lived experiences of female asylum seekers, as set out in the report, makes for harrowing reading and is a wake up call to feminists to factor the treatment of these female detainees in our activism. Feminism favours an integrated approach and through history feminism has expanded its’ concepts to include modern day battles such as protests against the austerity cuts against a broader struggle for justice and fair treatment. Thus, the report contributes to a wider understanding of the diverse relationship between feminism and the lived experiences of the myriad of women who undergo unfair treatment on our shores everyday.

Professor Philippe Sands, QC, write in the report that: “In the United Kingdom today, the right to liberty is recognised for all British Citizens…The one group that can routinely be detained indefinitely without charge or trial are migrants”. There seems something inherently wrong that a group of people can be locked up indefinitely without having done anything illegal. Why is the Rule of Law absent in the detention of asylum seekers?

The women who seek asylum in the UK have often undergone brutal treatment in their home country. Many were raped and tortured. Having escaped to the UK it seems that they exchange tyranny for further persecution in a country where they believed some sort of fair system would prevail. The statistics are staggering: In 2012, 6,071 women sought asylum in the UK and 1,902 were detained. They speak of being harassed, developing suicidal thoughts, being verbally abused and experiencing severed depression while living the living of a detainee. In one woman’s words, “living is not worthwhile anymore. Being dead would be much better”.
Is it not time to take up these women’s cause on their behalf?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is something that I first heard about 30 years ago from an African female friend who had been cut. She was in her 20s when we became friends but was still suffering from physical and mental harm from what was done to her when she was young. She explained about the pain she still had to endure and the memory she carried of the incident which threw her into bouts of depression still. There was no awareness of FGM being a repressive cultural act and, looking back now, I am saddened by how she and I accepted that this was something girls had to undergo in certain cultures despite the devastation that accompanied it.

It is only since the campaigns and debates about FGM have surfaced that I have come to realise that this is a feminist issue that involves cruelty, maiming and mutilation in modern times. Taking this train of thought further it is also a feminist mothering issue because it is often mothers who hold their daughters down while the girl child is cut. The picture below featured in today’s Guardian shows a mother holding her four-year old daughter down for an FGM procedure in Indonesia where it is not considered to be mutilation.

 The sight of this little girl crying and holding on to her mother while the mother, herself, is an active perpetrator in this utterly reprehensible practice has haunted me all day and will continue to do so. What possesses this mother to think that what she is doing is for the emotional and physical betterment of her daughter’s future? The cultural excuses given to justify FGM are simply smokescreens,  barriers put up to frighten others off from questioning it. Being Asian myself I am used to hearing the language of ‘culture’ being used as a tool of repression and the sooner we all wake up to this hollowed out argument the better.

My daughter goes to a private school. I bought into the ‘private education is better than state’ narrative quite early on when she was little. Lucky for us, her school is a good one and she has thrived. I use the word ‘lucky’ because I know of private schools that are being run purely for profit motive where the child’s emotional and academic wellbeing is not prioritised. Another thing I have learnt is that the British class system stratifies everything which translates into some private schools e.g Eton, Harrow sitting at the top of the private school pyramid. The ‘middling’ private schools will produce children who still stand a good chance of doing well but without the assured connections that will automatically open doors into well paid jobs. There is more meritocracy inherent in the latter type of private school than the former type.

Also, children at the top level of private schools do exceedingly well because they are selected on the basis of what they are achieving already i.e top grades. Children in middling private schools are selected on the basis of promise but have to be able to demonstrate some capability in the entrance exams before they are taken on. Most state schools, as I understand it, select children based on postcodes. Isn’t that why parents rent or buy or pretend to do both in attractive catchment areas?

My point is that there is NOT a level playing field among private schools. More is the mystery to me then when Michael Gove announced that he wanted state schools to level themselves up to being as good as private schools. What about the state schools in places like Hampstead and parts of Kent which boast such excellent results that parents spend a huge amount on tutoring hoping to get their children into one of these schools?

We live in a diverse country and diversity, unlike what most people think, is not confined to including black people in things that white people do. Diversity is also a reflection of different systems and different methods of achieving common outcomes. Mr Gove asked the question: ‘Why shouldn’t our state schools be the best state schools in the world?” Indeed, why not? But what I don’t understand is why the private arena of education has to be the benchmark. Can a high standard not be achieved by state standards?