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Society, identity and belonging

18 may 2022

Safer as a man
A 57 year-old Indian woman who lived as a man for 39 years so she could raise her daughter without fear of sexual harassment is considering going back to living as a woman. Identified only as S. Petchiammal, she says she was married, widowed and left with a young daughter by the age of 20. Instead of remarrying as her family wanted, she left her village in Tamil Nadu, moved to a town where no one knew her, cut her hair short and changed her name to “Muthu” – not just at her various workplaces but on her voter ID and bank account. “I did all kinds of jobs,” she says. “I saved every penny to ensure a safe and secure life for my daughter” – who has now grown up and left home. She’s given an interview to the New Indian Express that has been widely picked up in India as well as by the Times. The film version will presumably be along soon. 

17 may 2022

Burkina Faso jihadist raids
Around 40 people have been killed in suspected jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso. Many of the victims were civilian volunteers fighting alongside the army. The attacks occurred at the weekend near Kompienga on Burkina Faso’s southeastern border. The country, one of the world’s poorest, has been destabilised by jihadist raids since 2015, when insurgents began mounting cross-border raids from Mali. An estimated 2,000 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes, many of them then beginning arduous journeys north in hopes of reaching Europe.

16 may 2022

Johnson goes to Belfast
The UK’s prime minister is in Belfast today trying to restart power-sharing. Before heading there he wrote a 2,000-word article for the Belfast Telegraph setting out why he thinks the EU should be more flexible about the Northern Ireland Protocol, which unionists are using as a reason not to share power with republicans. He says a lot has changed since the protocol was signed. There’s been a pandemic. War has broken out in Europe. And the protocol “was designed in the absence of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement and when it was unclear one would be agreed”. It’s true about Covid and the war, albeit largely irrelevant. As for the TCA, the whole point of the protocol was to make a TCA possible. It was unclear whether one would be agreed when the protocol was signed a) because it hadn’t been signed yet and b) because Johnson’s government had been negotiating in bad faith since taking office. He claims now to have negotiated the protocol in good faith, but his preparations to rewrite it unilaterally on the basis of problems that were entirely foreseeable when he signed it suggest the opposite.

13 may 2022

Tattered treaty
There was a phone call yesterday between Liz Truss, the UK’s foreign secretary, and Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s senior Brexit negotiator. It did not go well. Truss said she might be forced to act on (ie ditch) the Northern Ireland Protocol if the EU didn’t show more flexibility. The protocol provides for EU customs checks on goods moving from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland, so they aren’t needed on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Sefcovic reminded Truss the EU had already – last October – offered to scrap 80 per cent of food checks required by the protocol, and was still waiting for a response to more EU proposals made in February. Truss claims peace is at stake because unionists in the province won’t restart power-sharing until the protocol is torn up, but Brussels is in no mood to have its single market held to ransom by a minority regional party in a country that’s not even an EU member. Washington is running out of patience, too. Something will have to give, and so stubborn is the current UK government about Brexit that it may yet be the British union. To note: Macron’s holding out for a European political confederation that could include countries like Ukraine and the UK, and some people at the Telegraph quite like the sound of it. “The gesture is an olive branch from Paris and should be taken as such,” writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Brexit bible.

12 may 2022

Finland and Nato
Finland plans to join Nato “without delay”, ending decades of neutrality and extending the alliance’s border with Russia by 810 miles. Sweden is expected to make a similar announcement imminently. Neither development is unexpected but between them, they transform Europe’s security landscape and deliver the reverse of what Putin wants, namely a non-Nato buffer like the one Eastern Europe gave the Soviet Union. The invasion of Ukraine is what has shifted public opinion in both countries to a critical mass in favour or Nato membership, but Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, made clear today that it was Russia’s attempt last year to veto Finish membership that changed his mind.” This is a huge change,” he said. “You caused this. Look in the mirror.” Boris Johnson had already said if Finland was attacked the UK would come to its defence

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