Bianca Jagger: ‘Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, and the Culture of Impunity: achieving the missing Millennium Development Goal target’
Once again The Longford Trust, the charity founded in memory of Frank Pakenham (Lord Longford) held its annual Longford lecture on Thursday 21st November in the splendid surroundings of Church House, Westminster.
The Longford Trust organizes an annual Longford Lecture on questions of social and penal reform. Past speakers have included President Mary McAleese of Ireland, Clive Stafford Smith, Sir Hugh Orde, Lady (Brenda) Hale, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Lord (Ian) Blair, Cherie Booth QC, Archbishop John Sentamu and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It also awards an annual Longford Prize to an outstanding individual or organization working in the field of prison and social reform. It funds Longford Scholarships for ex-prisoners who want to rebuild their lives through education. And it offers financial support to Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners.
This year’s lecture was delivered by the international Human Rights activist and campaigner Bianca Jagger who demonstrated she has what it takes to be a Street Fightin’ Women. Her long credentials as a civil rights activist were emphasised by the journalist Jon Snow who pointed out he first met her in the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua, the capital of her home country of Nicaragua in 1983 in the uneasy days after the fall of Somoza and the Sandinista Revolution. Since then she has been a fearless and active campaigner against abuse of Human Rights and is the founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation. She is a Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador, a member of the Executive Director’s Leadership Council of Amnesty International, USA, a IUCN Plant A Pledge Ambassador, a member of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, and a trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust.
For over three decades she has been a voice for the most vulnerable members of society, campaigning for human rights, civil liberties, peace, social justice and environmental protection throughout the world. Her work has been recognised by the 2004 Right Livelihood Award, the 1998 American Civil Liberties Union Award, the 1997 Amnesty International USA Media Spotlight Award for Leadership, and the 1994 United Nations Earth Day International Award. She has been willing to go to trouble spots. She has faced down Serb soldiers in Kosovo and a death squad in Honduras. She visited Iraq as part of a fact-finding mission during the row over WMDs.
She was born Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias in 1950, in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. After her parents’ divorce, she was raised by her mother. Witnessing the discrimination of a patriarchal society against a single working woman inspired the young Bianca to become an instrument of change in the world. She was determined never to be regarded as a second-class citizen because of her gender. As a girl of 10, Bianca Jagger noticed how differently family friends in her native Nicaragua treated her mother to her father, Carlos Perez-Mora. He, a successful businessman, enjoyed deference and respect. Not so his ex-wife.
After their divorce Dora Macias Somarriba, a beautiful thirty-something, was forced to support her three young children by going out to work. It was not something middle-class ladies did in 1950s Managua. But Dora ignored the snide comments; she opened a health-food restaurant – conveniently located near La Imaculata convent school, where Bianca studied. But her daughter never forgot her mother’s hardship. “I promised myself I was never going to suffer that fate.”
As a teenager, she participated in student demonstrations against the terrors inflicted by President Anastasio Somoza’s National Guard. This inspired her to pursue her interest in politics. She received a scholarship to study political science in France at the Paris Institute of Political Science. It was there that she discovered the value of freedom and democracy, the rule of law, judicial review, habeas corpus and respect for human rights – concepts she had only dreamt about in Nicaragua.
Best known in the popular imagination for her 9 year marriage to Mick Jagger she was 4 months pregnant with Jade Jagger when they wed in a Catholic ceremony in St. Tropez, France in 1971. Now her daughter Jade has two grown-up daughters, Assisi and Amba. Assisi, 21, is about to make Bianca Jagger a great grandmother. She was also a close friend of Andy Warhol and she added to the New Year’s festivities at the famous Club 54 by riding into the party on a horse. The horse’s thoughts have not been preserved for posterity.
She outlined with dismal certainty and forcefulness the extent of this violence and how deeply it was ingrained and how pervasive was the impunity for those who conduct it. She singled out Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia who maintain capital punishment against women who commit “adultery.” There are over 8,300 recorded bride burnings in India, a horrible cruel death and no doubt a figure which does not fully reflect the reality. For the reality in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China is that women are regarded as a burden and there is widespread violence and murder, a mass infanticide. In India the figures are dramatic for the cumulative effect of this on population with an estimated 50 million women “missing” in the population due to the cumulative effects of abortion on the grounds of sex, infanticide and neglect. India now has 914 females for every 1,000 males.
Tonight though, we saw the steel of a women who inspired by her mother’s example has been fighting the good fight for many years for the oppressed and downtrodden Trenchantly and systematically she set out the climate of violence against women throughout the world and the toleration and acceptance which allows this to continue with impunity. She was a passionate advocate for a better more respectful world free from gender based violence. She saw this campaign to end violence against women and girls as part of the march of Human Rights, the struggle in the 19th century was against slavery, in the 20th century against Totalitarianism and in the 21st century devoted to eradicating violence against women.
She outlined her experience in war zones where rape was used as a weapon of war. This point was graphically emphasised in the Q & A session afterwards by a Syrian journalist emphasising the effect of 41 years of totalitarianism on her country and the murder and sexual abuse of females in the conflict over the past three years. Bianca Jagger’s Longford Lecture was a sobering reminder of how much needs to be done to make equality and the realising of women’s potential a reality. It was also a reminder of what a powerful advocate she is for decency and respect in a world where women are too often the victims of systemic violence.
Ms Jagger argued that “embedded deep in our cultures still lurks an institutional belief that women are inferior”. She appealed to the world leaders to adopt what she called “the missing Millennium Development Goal” of eliminating violence against women and described ending violence against women and achieving gender equality as “the paramount moral challenge of our century”.
She highlighted shocking statistics that revealed 60,000 women were raped and 400,000 women were sexually assaulted in the UK last year, while a massive 1.2million suffered some form of domestic abuse. In contrast there were just 5,651 rape prosecutions and only 111,891 for domestic violence. She said “It’s common misconception that sexual violence on this scale happens only in the developing world. I’m afraid to say that sexual violence against women is a global crisis and the developed world is not exempt. There is a culture of silence and shame surrounding sexual assault – only one in 10 is reported in the UK.”
Look on her trust’s website to see (and admire) the full extent of her advocacy and campaigning:
The Longford Trust takes seriously its mission to continue Frank Pakenham’s work and to encourage organisations to persevere with the often unpopular cause of penal reform. One of the ways it does this is through the annual Longford Prize for work in this area. This year it was presented to The Prison Radio Association (PRA) and collected by its co-founder Roma Hooper.
The Prison Radio Association (PRA) aims to change the lives of serving prisoners through the power of radio. An award-winning education charity, the PRA runs National Prison Radio (NPR) in partnership with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). The service is available to prisoners across England and Wales directly in their cells. The PRA also provides support, guidance and expertise to existing prison radio projects and advises prisons interested in setting up radio projects and radio training facilities. The PRA was established as a charity in 2006 in response to a growing demand from prisons to engage in prison radio.
The Longford Trust was established in 2002 by friends, family and admirers of Lord Longford (1905-2001) to celebrate his achievements and to further the goals he pursued in the fields of social and prison reform
Founded in Frank Pakenham’s memory and run by writer Peter Stanford, the Longford Trust has three aims. Firstly, the annual lecture; secondly, a programme of scholarships for ex-prisoners who are taking on further education and thirdly, awards for an individual or organisation that has done outstanding work in penal or social areas. Generous tribute was rightly paid by Jon Snow to the writer and former editor of the Catholic Herald Peter Stanford who has headed up the Trust since its inception and been responsible for Trojan work in expanding its scope and its fundraising. His biography of Lord Longford was the basis for Channel 4’s 2006 multi-award winning drama, Longford.
For once the needs of Justice have been served by Trial and sentencing then the needs of Society are only served afterwards by stopping re-offending and that is the area where the UK’s Prison System is an expensive failure. Is a prison sentence the only way to tackle criminality or do we need to change the emphasis to rehabilitation? As Peter Stanford points out on the Longford Trust’s site;
“The benefit of such a dual approach (punishment and rehabilitation) is that it delivers what society really wants – released in-mates who do not offend against the rest of us again. Instead what the present overcrowded, punishment-obsessed prison system turns out is 80 per cent of under-21 years who reoffend within two years of release and nigh on 70 per cent of over 21s. It is a pitiful result that costs us all a fortune. We spend around £40,000 a year on each prison place.”
To learn more about the work of the Longford Trust and how to support it see the website;
Frank Longford said often during his life that he would like his epitaph to be ‘the outcasts’ outcast’. It summed up a long career as a politician, writer and campaigner on social and prison policy which was all about standing up for the unpopular, the unloved, the underdog and those on the margins of society. He was first a minister in Clement Attlee’s post Second World War Labour government, where as Deputy Foreign Secretary he played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of West Germany. From 1964 to 1968, he was a member of Harold Wilson’s Cabinet.
He started visiting prisoners in 1930 and continued until his death. He was assistant to Sir William Beveridge on his landmark report of 1942 which laid the basis for the Welfare State. In 1956 he founded New Bridge, one of the first organisations in Britain seeking to create links between prisoners and the community, and in 1963 chaired the committee on crime whose recommendations led to the establishment of the parole system. On leaving the government, he launched New Horizon, a charity for young people in need.
The Pakenham Family have roots in both Ireland and England and have influenced both countries over the years. In Dublin they are commemorated in Longford and Aungier Streets and the former Pakenham Hall near Castlepollard in Co. Meath was renamed Tullynally (The Gaelic name) by Tom Pakenham (The current Lord Longford, although he does not use his titles) when he took it over in 1961. Tom Pakenham is himself an author and historian of note as are his sisters, Lady Antonia Fraser, Rachel Billington and Judith Kazantzis.
As Jon Snow remarked somewhat wryly it was Frank Pakenham’s genius that so many people assembled in Church House tonight were still working for him and his causes so many years after his death.