Tag Archives: poverty

Sex ‘education’ in Barking and Dagenham and the demonization of young women

10 Jun

(correction to original post – I mistakenly thought that the second sex ed poster was an initiative of Barking and Dagenham council. It turns out that the theatre company ‘Chain Reaction‘ is responsible for the offending poster. ‘Chain Reaction’ receives its funding from the council and so I suspect that the council commissioned these posters and let Chain Reaction take the ‘credit’.)

Walking along a main road I looked up to see banners with flamingos on them hanging from a line of lampposts. On closer inspection it turned out these were mating flamingos with the text below it informing us

‘female flamingos stick their heads under water whilst mating. Whatever way you like doing it, make sure you use a condom’.

I’m no prude, I was just surprised at the sheer number of these posters – the street was pretty much filled with mating flamingos. But these feathery friends were delivering a fair enough point.

However, another poster around the corner on the high street was a lot more sinister. It depicted a young pregnant woman sitting on a bench looking very fed up with an estate in the background. Underneath the bench there were heaps of nappies and children’s toys and above the text informed us ‘condoms are free, babies aren’t’. There was just so much wrong with this. From playing on negative stereotypes of teenage mothers (see below for further discussion), to placing the responsibility of contraception wholly on young women, to determining the right to have children on wealth.

The poster wasn’t about informing young women about safe sex, it was encouraging the entire high street of Barking to judge this young woman for having a baby whilst being poor. It was about social control – young poor women shouldn’t have babies. It was hateful on young working class women.

I was absolutely horrified at the poster. I kept on staring at it in disbelief that such a thing existed. How is the council getting away with this? Rather than putting up posters demonising young women, they should be dealing with the real issues that the poster portrayed in a warped sort of way – such as poverty and the status of women.

Maybe she was sitting on the bench looking fed up because there are no parent and children services left in her borough from which she can receive support, because the grants for pregnant mothers were scrapped by David Cameron, and because the government will force her into low-paid work when her child is five rather than recognising her work as a mother. The local government is hacking away at services and is hoping to replace these with fostering judgement and hatred in the community. Young women are being failed and demonised.

You can make a complaint to the council about this advert here


Nina Power’s book One Dimensional Woman reproduces an extract from an interview with Toni Morrison in Time magazine from twenty years ago. She offers a fantastic rebuttal to stereotypes of ‘unwed’ and teenage mothers and argues that rather than seeing them as the problem, it is the way in which we organise society. Here’s a short extract:

Q. You don’t feel that these girls will never know whether they could have been teachers or whatever?

A. They can be teachers. They can be brain surgeons. We have to help them become brain surgeons. That’s my job. I want to take them all in my arms and say, ‘your baby is beautiful and so are you and, honey, you can do it. And when you want to be a brain surgeon, call me – I will take care of your baby.’ That’s the attitude you have to have about human life. But we don’t want to pay for it.

I don’t think anybody cares about unwed mothers unless they’re black – or poor. The question is not morality, the question is money. That’s what we’re upset about. We don’t care whether they have babies or not.

Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts First Meeting

10 Jun

I headed out to Barking yesterday afternoon to attend the first meeting of Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts, which awesomely shortens down to BAD Cuts, to give a short talk about Boycott Workfare. They had organised an afternoon conference with talks from groups such as Keep Our NHS Public, Defend Council Housing, and the Coalition of Resistance. We then broke down into smaller groups in order to discuss jobs, benefits, pensions, health, housing, and multiculturalism in more depth and to generate ideas for local action.

I attended the session on housing and jobs, benefits, and pensions where we had some lively and inspiring discussions. It was a great opportunity to listen to people’s stories about the local area and the difficulties they are facing but also to come up with ideas together of how to resist the cuts. One woman described how it was becoming common for her to see families outside their homes with all their possessions having been evicted and that other families were living crammed into one room. Listening to stories like these really brings home the reality and horror of the cuts.

After both sessions we had generated a list of action points for local action. People seemed  genuinely interested in taking action against workfare in the local area – with workfare sleuthing and workfare walks of shame – which was great to hear. And it was empowering to have generated this list of things that we can do. Expect some activities in Barking and Dagenham soon and if you live there – get involved!

One man in particular had a moving story of how the cuts are personally affecting him – I won’t detail it all here as I didn’t get the chance to ask him if he’d mind me writing about him. He works at the local Remploy factory but his job is now under threat. He spoke of his fears of being unable to pay his rent and what he would do without his job. ‘There are no jobs out there, we’re being put on the scrap heap’. Our group came up with plans on how we can organise resistance to the closure. Keep checking BAD Cuts website and if you’re in London, get ready to hop on a train at Fenchurch street to Barking to help defend their factory!

Although the number attending the conference wasn’t too large, it’s exciting to see a new anti-cuts group form and come up with lots of action plans. No doubt, as the group hit the streets with various actions – the numbers will grow.