Spain, women, and reproductive rights: a battleground, again

alberto-ruiz-gallardonIf we needed proof of how fragile and reversible our rights, women’s rights, are today, even in the West, we had it last Friday, when Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón put forth a draft law to set back abortion legislation by 25 years. You can read the details here, but if the law passes, you will only be able to get an abortion in Spain if you have been raped, or if your physical or mental health is at risk.

I am angry to see women’s rights as a political battleground, again; angry that governments seek consensus by legislating women’s bodies; angry that politicians think it is their God-given right to mandate that any woman should be forced to live through the confusion, pain and anger of an unwanted pregnancy, and not be able to choose the lesser pain, if not illegally.

Legislatures where women’s choices are so harshly limited should start introducing some restrictions on what men can do with their bodies, too. See the initiative by Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, who introduced a bill to require men who seek erectile dysfunction drug prescriptions to see a sex therapist, undergo cardiological tests, and receive counseling on the viability of celibacy as a lifestyle option (read more here and here). Says Sen. Turner:

The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues—the least we can do is return the favor. It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs. When a man makes a crucial decision about his health and his body, he should be fully aware of the alternative options and the lifetime repercussions of that decision.

This is not irony, this is not tongue-in cheek: this is anger, fighting back through all available means. So let’s remember that we can take to the streets in protest, but we can also use Parliaments and bills and all the legislative apparatus to get lawmakers to understand why we’re so angry.

Freedom badgeAs Jane Smiley wrote after reading a hundred novels, “I saw that the world I thought was established and secure, at least in the West, is more fragile than I thought, because it is newer than I realized.”

We are not established and secure. Keep your guard up. Fight back.

FT Innovative Lawyers 2013: Claudia Parzani

Claudia ParzaniOne of the ten winners in this year’s FT Innovative Lawyers survey, among over 600 participants, is Claudia Parzani of Linklaters, chair of corporate association Valore D and co-creator of In the Boardroom, an initiative she developed with GE Capital and Egon Zehnder to provide training and skills to prepare women for boardroom positions. Claudia also created the Breakfast@Linklaters network, featured in this year’s Client Service category.

Kudos to Claudia! I am proud to be participating in her boardroom program and honored to be in her circle.

Update & Correction (Oct. 17, 2013): post corrected to clarify that In The Boardroom was developed through collaboration among Linklaters, GE Capital and Egon Zehnder. The supporting member companies of Valore D can be found on this page.

Amendments to Terms and Conditions

Among the revised Terms and Conditions I just received from a retail bank I do business with:

On the basis of special market conditions, the Bank may be compelled to introduce negative interest rates. A new provision has been added to reflect this option.

Any interest shall be credited to or debited from the account on an annual basis.

Obamacare and the Supreme Court

That the health insurance mandate – something that works from Switzerland to Massachusetts – should rely on Constiturional provisions about interstate commerce seems to me as contorted as the fact that abortion – something that happens whether you allow it or not – hinges on a woman’s right to privacy.

Yet, stranger things have happened under the U.S. Constitution. I do hope the health care law is upheld.

Google Video’s Italian judge speaks out

Dear international readers, you’ve probably heard that Google has been found guilty of violating privacy laws in Italy. The full text of the ruling was published a few days ago. Want to get to know judge Oscar Magi a little bit better? Here is an interview he gave to reporter Daniele Lepido – who contacted him through Facebook. Enjoy!

Italy tries to outlaw anonymity on the Internet

gabriella-carlucciThe latest bill introduced by Representative Gabriella Carlucci would ban uploading any type of content on the Internet anonymously (text, video, sound, etc.) and enabling such use.

More info in Quintarelli’s blog (sorry, for now in Italian only).

Italian law turns increasingly illiberal. For bloggers too

The Italian Senate has passed a law-and-order bill that, pandering to fears about immigration-related crime, would severely restrict human and civil rights for immigrants, for the homeless, and possibly for Internet users. (The bill, sponsored by the Northern League,  now goes to the House).

If the bill becomes law in its current form:

  • Doctors will be allowed to breach professional secrecy and may report to the authorities any foreigners who seek treatment and do not appear to be legally in the country. Both doctor’s groups and the Catholic church have spoken out against the measure.
  • Vigilante groups will be allowed to start street patrols to monitor and report “events that can cause harm to public security, or situations of environmental distress”.
  • Foreigners who marry an Italian citizen will have to wait two years before obtaining Italian citizenship.
  • Homeless people will have to be registered as such in a database to be maintained by the Interior Ministry.

Finally, in a move that caused much outcry in the Internet community, the Christian Democrats’ UDC centrist party introduced an amendment that shows how little our politicians understand the Internet – not merely how online social dynamics work, but even what is technically feasible and what isn’t. If the bill becomes law, any time someone is suspected of instigating criminal behavior via the Internet, the Interior Ministry may request ISPs to put in place “filtering tools” so that the offending content is blocked from public view; ISPs who do not comply within 24 hours would be fined by €50-250,000. The amendment has apparently been introduced in response to the senseless noise created by some Facebook groups celebrating rapists and the Mafia. Yet, internet experts point out that there is no way to block a single offending piece of content: Italy’s government would then require ISPs to block entire domains. Star blogger Beppe Grillo has called for civil disobedience.

Brandeis and the Rose Art Museum: should a university not sell its collection?

The art world is loudly complaining about the decision of the trustees of Brandeis University to face the financial crisis by, among other measures, selling the modern and contemporary art collection housed in the university’s Rose Art Museum. Reactions so far call the decision “astonishing”, “a shame”, “unprincipled”, “a complete wrong message to donors“, and “bad economics” (because art, like other asset classes, is likely to fetch less now than it would have in the good times). The Association of Art Museum Directors said it is “shocked and dismayed” by plans to close the Rose.

It doesn’t end here. The Massachussetts Attorney General is to conduct a detailed review of the decision. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said: “They are saying that civilization doesn’t matter in the name of some kind of bottom line.”

Readers, you know how much I love modern and contemporary art. You know how passionate I am about it. Yet, I have to wonder: have all these people been living with their heads under the sand for the last year or so? I told you months ago that there was going to be less money for art. The writing was on the wall. It is not that civilization doesn’t matter – it matters enourmously, indeed. But in a crisis, you do what you gotta do.

So, let me come out and say it. I think the Brandeis trustees made the right decision. It is indeed a pity that the Rose has become a luxury that the university can no longer afford to keep, but if the alternatives are worse (freezing faculty hiring, cutting back on financial aid for students), then it is the right decision. If Stanford President John Hennessy wrote me another letter, saying this time that the trustees have decided to sell off the university’s art holdings, I would be saddened, but I would not complain. Let alone call the decision “unprincipled”.

The Attorney General’s spokeswoman also said: “It’s essential that students have access to real works of art [...] By subtracting the works of art from a college environment, you are betraying an enormous trust.” With all due respect, this is ridiculous. College fees are high, but do not include the permanent guarantee that you will have an art museum in your backyard, for your convenience. (Annual visitor numbers at the Rose were 13,000-15,000: a tiny number. The archeological digs at Venosa, near Potenza in Southern Italy, pull in more than that, according to 2007 data from the Italian Culture Ministry). For centuries, art students have been used to traveling, to go and study art where the art is. That’s how one becomes an artist (or a curator, or a critic, or whatever). Do we really want a generation of couch potato art students?

Collections are built and dispersed; at the end of February, the collection built up by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé will be auctioned off by Christie’s, in what is likely to be the largest sale of a private collection ever. Sure, those pieces were bought and not donated. But how many donor’s grants to the Rose stipulated that the works could never be sold under any circumstances, including a global financial crisis that shrinks the university endowment at unprecedented speeds? and what does “never” mean? until the donor’s last descendant has died? until the artist’s work has gone out of fashion – and lost value? until the end of the universe? And if you were a donor, would you make such a draconian stipulation? If you were a museum, would you accept it?

Sure, the university could have sought students’ opinions before the trustees had to decide. Yet the students’ protest sounds disingenuous, as they know perfectly well that they would have protested a lot more if the university had decided to save the Rose but cut back on, say, student dorms and have students sleep in tents out there in the snow. The decision-making process could, and probably should, have been more participative. But at the end of the day, students are there to study, and administrators are there to administer: somebody has to make decisions. And Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz and the trustees, in this case, made the right one.

The tragedy of war rapes in Sudan: what can be done?

Sometimes your heart breaks. Your heart breaks from the pain and suffering in the world around you that seems close to ineradicable.

Consider this. The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague recommended last July that a warrant be issued for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. He would be accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Torching and looting of towns and villages continue; five million Darfuris are either living in refugee camps or fully dependent on aid. Eleven humanitarian workers have been killed this year and 179 kidnapped (source: The Economist).

And this is where your heart breaks:

Already, NGOs on the ground in Darfur are suffering from a government backlash prompted by the ICC charges against Mr Bashir. Harassment by security officials has got much worse. The goons have spent days in NGO offices haranguing staff to hand over sensitive documents and computer files which, they suspect, could have been used as evidence against Mr Bashir. In particular, officials have been targeting projects that help women recover from sexual violence. The massive use of rape as a weapon in the army’s counter-insurgency war is a critical part of the ICC case. If a warrant is issued, the harassment will surely worsen to the point where many counselling projects will be shut down, as at least one has been already.

Rape is an act of war, and the Court seeks justice; but the act of seeking justice may leave rape victims even more helpless than they are now.

What can be done? What in the world can be done?

Italy and the 2008 Gender Gap Report: real or apparent progress?

Last year I commented on Italy’s deservedly low position in the rankings of relative gender equality produced by the World Economic Forum. This year, the 2008 Gender Gap Report tells us that we are no longer in position number 84: we have jumped up to number 67. We are still quite far from other European and mostly Catholic countries such as Poland (49), Spain (17), France (15) and Ireland (8).

This year’s data on Italy, states the report,

show very significant improvement in the percentage of women among legislators, senior officials and managers, members of parliament and in ministerial level positions.

One would have to look beyond the raw numbers to get a sense of the real impact of those ministerial level positions, I would guess; but we’ll leave that to the next refinement of the ranking metodology.

It is also true that we have more businesswomen in position of power this year; yet, we have no way to know where Marina Berlusconi (who recently joined the board of Mediobanca) and Emma Marcegaglia (who became head of Confindustria, and is the only Italian in the Wall Street Journal’s “50 Women to Watch“) would be today if it weren’t for their fathers’ success.

And hopefully those women legislators and members of parliament will think about crafting and passing some of those laws that the rest of us need before we can feel that Italy offers true equality of opportunity, regardless of gender.