What is Structural Racism?

Amidst, homogenous and culturally diverse societies alike, ethnic minorities are frequently the target of discriminatory policies or attitudes which can lead to a reduced or complete lack of access to opportunities for social and economic inclusion.

In ‘melting pot’ of the US, 84% of black adults and 63% of white adults agree that black people are treated unjustly when dealing with the police.[1] In Myanmar, an ethnically diverse country recognising more than 135 ethnicities, discrimination against Rohingya people led to the existence of over 900,000 Rohingya refugees around the world.[2]  In Germany, where less than  10% of the population has foreign origins, people of African descent’s income is 25% below the national mean monthly net income.[3]  And, Mauritania, a country where slavery was only outlawed in 1981, still has a recorded 90.0000 enslaved people, mostly black people at the hands of Arab enslavers.[4]

Given, the scope of the issue, various terms such as ‘structural racism’ ‘white privilege’, ‘biological racism’ ‘cultural racism’ and ‘implicit bias’ have been coined to categorise how racism manifest itself.

But what is structural racism? And how does structural racism manifest itself in societies?


Structural racism is two-pronged – a belief system which considers race or ethnicity as the key determinant of human capacities first, followed by the creation of structures and systems in society that replicate the core belief system.

Structural racism manifests itself in all facets of life in society including in public policies, institutional practices and general norms and attitudes. It propagates the idea that ‘whiteness’ is linked to positive qualities and colour to negative qualities. Structural racism basis itself on the ideology of biological racism (the belief that some races or ethnicities are biologically inferior) or cultural racism (the belief that one’s culture can be superior to others). An example of cultural and biological racism is the European settler colonialization of Africa, South America and other ‘savage’s lands’ from the 15th to early 20th century.  It is from the notion of structural racism that we can extract the meaning of ‘white privilege’ which denotes the societal privilege of white people over people of ethnic minorities in western societies. Within western societies, white privilege manifests itself also as the privilege that white people have of having positive relations with the police and greater access to the highly -skill job market. In countries where the majority population is not white, the majority can also be privileged in relations to institutional bodies and access to justice. For example, in Iraq, Roma people, particularly women who are often the target of sexual harassment by the majority Arab population, are less likely to report crimes to the police due to generalized disdain and discrimination against them.

Another important aspect in understanding the notion of Structural racism is also its intersectionality which denotes how factors such as gender, age, ethnicity and sexual orientation may overlap and create a hierarchy of social privilege. The intersectionality of racism translates into providing cisgender heterosexual men of the majority population with privileges that are not provided to all other groups. It also pushes people, particularly, women and non-binary individuals to the bottom of social hierarchy.

Structural racism can be glaring or hidden, state-mandated or people led.

A glaring example of people- led structural racism can be found in private sector redlining practices (systematic denial of services either directly or through the selective raising of prices) which impacts ethnic minorities access to financial offers (credit, mortgages, loans) and second sector services (nightclubs, stores etc) in various countries around the world. A glaring example of state-mandated structural racism can be found in China where the Communist political party has been carrying out for years systematic oppression of Uighur, Kazakhs and other ethnic Muslim minorities by forcing thousands to attend re-education camps intending to strip them of their culture and religious beliefs in favour of those of the majority Han Population.[5]

Structural racism can also manifest itself in subtlety. An example of subtle structural racism is often found in hiring practices. When hiring teams interview candidates and assess who they think will best get along with the team, it’s often because that person shares similar interests, experiences and backgrounds; which is detrimental for the cultural diversity of the teams. This rings true for high earning jobs but also low earning jobs. Data from European Network Against Racism (ENAR) shows that people of African descent living in Portugal are overrepresented in the secondary sector of the labour market, consisting of low skilled jobs, low salaries, few promotion opportunities, and job insecurity.[6] In this case, racist stereotypes propel people of African descent into low-pay jobs. Moreover, while Denmark, Spain and the United Kingdom have high rates of overqualified ethnic minorities they are underrepresented in management positions.

While racist systems come from racist beliefs, intentionality is inconsequential in the construction of structural racism. In fact, structural racism can be unintentionally enacted by individuals and non-discriminatory infrastructures can also produce racist outcomes.

A clear example of an infrastructure producing produces unintentionally racist outcomes can be found in predictive policing systems, such as Northpointe in the USA. Northpointe is a software used to automatically calculate the risk of arrested people to re-offend. The scoring system ranging from 1-low risk to 10-high risk is used in considerations with regards to the provisional release of arrested people awaiting trial, amount of bail and even given to judges during criminal sentencing. While Northpointe was not created to take into consideration any factors concerning race it began to produce very biased results based on that very factor. One proposed theory is that since black people in the US are arrested more often than white people even though the incidence of crime is similar between both groups, the machine started to attribute higher rates of reoffending to black people even if they had no criminal record previous to their arrest.

In sum, structural racism refers to systems and structures that perpetuate racist beliefs and limit the socio-economic opportunities of ethnic minorities.  Structural racism can happen intentionally or absent-mindedly but whether ‘seen’ or not it impacts gravely the most vulnerable, driving up racial inequalities and discrimination.


  1. Pew Research Center: Race in America (2019)
  2. UNICEF Child Alert: Futures in the balance: Building hope for a generation of Rohingya children (2018)
  3. European Network Against Racism: Shadow Report (2013-2017)
  4. Human Rights Watch: Mauritania (2018)
  5. Amnesty International Up to One Million Detained in China’s Mass “Re-Education” Drive (2020)
  6. European Network Against Racism: Shadow Report (2013-2017)

The Intersection of Two Pandemics: Covid19 and Domestic Violence  

In the UN’s Secretary-General words “Violence against women is a global pandemic” well, so is Corona virus…

Since the beginning of the year over 5 million people have contracted the virus and at least 360 000 people have died from its associated health complications. However, these official numbers do not account for those who suffer from grave physical and emotional harm due to  restrictive quarantine measures, most notably the victims of domestic violence.

The intersection of the two pandemics is easy to rationalize but data is scarce: Data accurately reflecting the rate of domestic violence is hard to obtain as the UN estimates that less than 40% of victims of domestic violence actually seek help. However, without the freedom of movement and assembly, many perpetrators of domestic violence may choose to increasingly unload their frustrations on their household victims most typically wife or girlfriend and children. Correspondingly, these restrictions on movement also force millions of victims of domestic violence to live without refuge from their aggressors.

COVID19 disproportionately affects the quality of life of millions of women, girls and boys suffering from domestic violence worldwide. Thus, countries and civil society organisations have been developing innovative strategies to address the intersection of the two pandemics.


Correlation and causation in the case of COVID19 and GBV

Gender Based Violence crimes (crimes of physical, sexual and psychological violence committed primarily against women and girls) are thought to be amidst the most under-reported crimes worldwide.

It is known that the rate of GBV is positively correlated with the onset of crisis situations. Yet, the particular circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic response exacerbate domestic violence gravely.

The risk of experiencing intra-familial violence is increased by the conditions forced upon people due to the COVID19 pandemic response: loss of income and food insecurity for those unable to work from home; work related stress experienced by those able to work from home; health related anxieties or ailment and shifting responsibility roles within families.

Most glaringly, state mandated quarantines and curfews unintentionally aid perpetrators to achieve a higher control over their victims. Victims, under quarantine or curfew, also experience increased difficulties in accessing hygiene materials, life-saving information, shelters and other victim support organisations.

Thus, it is clear that instances of domestic violence are not only correlated but also exacerbated by COVID19 pandemic response.


Domestic violence crimes rates are going up as other crimes are going down

In the US, confinement measures have propelled a sharp decline in the crime rate of many big cities including a small decline domestic violence calls for help. Conversely, most European countries report a sharp increase in domestic violence calls for help.

It is thought that the reason why domestic calls for help have declined in some places is due to the victim’s inability to get ‘alone time’ in order to make those calls. A decrease in the calls for help also does not signify domestic crime is decreasing. In fact, intra-household murder rates seem to be increasing even in the US cities that reported a decrease in domestic violence calls for help.

Domestic violence campaign in Uganda. Picture By Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22178126

Some European countries such as Denmark denote a two and a half time increase in the number of calls for help during the set quarantine period in comparison with the first two months of the year. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has also been troubled by reports from many European countries including but not exclusive to Belgium, Spain, the UK about increases in domestic violence.

Innovative responses to tackle GBV during the Covid19 pandemic

Despite the grave impact of the COVID19 related restrictions on victims there is a shortage of GBV response methods that do well given this new context. Furthermore, many traditional GBV responses (inluding centres, shelters and healthcare) are being defunded as resources are mobilised towards coronavirus response and prevention.

As many countries grapple to curb the increase of COVID19 infections, several states and non-state actors strive to minimize the effects of COVID19 response on domestic violence.

Portugal has launched a free domestic violence text service to combat the difficulties of victims in accessing help due to lack of ‘alone time’. Human Rights Defenders in Uganda have now set up a toll-free line to respond to domestic violence cases. Chinese activists, who have seen a doubling of GBV rate in some provinces have launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringtheEpidemic.

The GBV AOR (an organisation comprised of NGOs, UN agencies and academia professionals) is also offering one-to-one meetings with other professionals who are integrating GBV response in their humanitarian aid and development projects.

How you can help victims of domestic violence during the quarantine

  • Contribute towards local GBV related shelters and NGOs by volunteering and/or making a donation.
  • Share information with regards to the prevention and response of GBV by phone and through your social media.
  • If you think someone you know might be suffering from domestic violence please check in with potential victims through email, text message or phone. Also, contact your country’s GBV hotline/helpline for further advice (directory in Europe: https://ec.europa.eu/justice/saynostopvaw/helpline.html; GBV hotlines in various countries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_domestic_violence_hotlines)
  • If you believe the victim is in current danger of grave physical harm or death,  immediately contact local authorities.

What is Feminism (and should men have a voice in the feminist movement) ?


The terms feminism and gender equality raise confusion in men and women alike.

At some point in history (most likely between the mythical bra burning incidents of 1968 and Pussy Riot’s performance on the Cathedral of Christ Savior in 2012) the general public became mistakenly suspicious that Feminism was a radical man-hating theory.

While ‘Me too’ and other anti-sexual harassment activities are a part of the feminist movement many modern feminists refuse that identification while claiming to be supporters of ‘gender equality’.

 But what is feminism? What is the difference between feminism and gender equality? And, should or can men be feminists and strong leaders of the feminist movement?


“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people’.

Marie Shear


Feminism is theory that promotes and defends women’s rights on the basis of gender equality. Gender equality is the idea that the wants and needs of women and men should be equally considered and favored without prejudice based on gender. Hence, feminism also advocates for gender equality and gender equality too defends feminist principles.


One misunderstanding is the notion that feminism is not comparable to gender equality because the root of the word stems from ‘female’.

Controversies surrounding the naming of social justice issues is transversal to other movements such as Gay Rights and Black Lives Matters.  Many opponents of the latter feel uncomfortable with this naming because it should be obvious that all lives matter. However, if one of the current key issues of social justice in the US is that black people are disproportionally victimized by police brutality, we must push awareness that indeed ‘Black Lives Matter’.

Indeed, the naming of Feminism stems from the word female. It is so because the movement addresses the issues of a highly disenfranchised group in most of the worlds’ societies: women.

Currently, 35% percent of women worldwide have experienced violence by a non-partner; 71% of human trafficking victims are women and girls and the gender pay gap ranges between 4% and 20% in the Western World alone.  In the pursuit of gender equality, it’s important to highlight that ‘women’ are across the board the most disenfranchised group in the gender binary. (Please consult this article if you are looking to understand what the meaning of gender binary) 

This front cover illustration depicts Patricia Woodlock ,a British suffragist, who was imprisoned seven times during her political activism for women’s voting rights.


Why is the feminism movement praised while the men’s rights movement is controversial?

Feminists want women to enjoy the same rights and privileges afforded to men hence they have no interest in putting men in a more disadvantaged situation. Conversely, men’s rights groups emerged as a countermovement to women’s emancipation.

The first ‘men’s rights’ group was created in Austria in 1927, a mere seven years after women received the right to vote and at a time when most major western powers were extending voting rights to women. At its inception and in various current manifestations men’s rights movements are anti-feminist and aim to “combat all excesses of women’s emancipation”.

Nowadays, there are a few noble manifestations of men’s rights movements which seek to address discrimination against men and boys while equally valuing feminist pursuits. Activists of pro-feminist men’s rights movements contest are concerned with how the perception of masculinity negatively impacts the treatment of men and boys in accessing justice (particularly in cases of family law and child custody) and in accessing mental health support and services.


Can men be feminists, and should they have a voice in the feminist movement?

All men and women can be feminists if they agree with the concept of gender equality and support the toppling of institutions and social and legal barriers that impede women’s abilities to get the same legal rights and social privileges afforded to men. Men should be feminist in their domestic, social and political live and their support in furthering the causes protected by Feminism.

However, doubts arise about the ability of men to be at the forefront of feminist discussion: The advocacy of women’s rights depends on the ability of women’s voices being heard!  It would not be appropriate for any man to lead the feminism movement because men do not suffer this discrimination at a personal level and are therefore incapable of finding suitable solutions. 

However, men do have an important supportive role in the Feminist movement: Men should use the privilege and power they are given in society to galvanize the feminist and gender equality agenda.

“Go back to Africa!” And the stories of those who did (part 2)

“Tunuka, we’ve left, we’ve returned

and we’ve stayed here”

Tunuka by Orlando Pantera


“Go back to Africa!” and “Go back to your land” are phrases with racist undertones that are often used to ostracise and silence people of African ancestry.  They are permeated with the assumption that Africa is inherently inferior and that to go back to Africa would be some sort of punishment. But is it? And how do the people who returned to Africa assess their experience?

In part 1 of this article we explored the issue of racism in the western world, specifically in Portugal against people of PALOP (Portuguese speaking African country) ancestry.

We will now take a look at the immigration experiences of Francisco, Helena and Edson. They are three young people of PALOP ancestry who decided to move to Africa after spending a great part of their lives in Europe.

These are their stories.


Helena overlooks the Marginal de Luanda, Angola (2017)

1. Where were you born and why did you decide to move?

Francisco: I was born in Cape Verde and moved to Portugal to further my studies.  I  have a degree in Philosophy, a master degree in Political Science and will soon obtain a PhD in Political Science from the University of Lisbon.  In order to support my studies, I worked for a long time in Burger King. I have returned to Cape Verde in 2017 to find a job.

Helena: I was born and raised in Portugal, my parents are from Guine- Bissau and have also lived in Portugal for most of their lives. I was a volunteer firefighter and I got my nursing degree from Lisbon Superior School of Nursing. As I couldn’t find a job after the completion of my degree I moved to London and worked for 3 years for the NHS (National Healthcare Service). In 2015, I moved to Angola with my partner as he was offered a great job opportunity in Luanda.

Edson:  I originally moved to Portugal when I was 13 years old to be closer to my mother and brother who live there. I studied in Lisbon and got an African Studies degree from the University of Lisbon. After graduating, I moved back to Guine- Bissau to work as a Project Coordinator in a Portuguese NGO.


2. What were your expectations versus what you encountered?

Francisco: I found Cape Verde a bit more expensive than Portugal (as the purchasing power is lower) and it is far harder to find certain consumer items. I also benefitted from better access to healthcare and communications in Portugal.

Helena: Before moving to Angola I never lived outside the EU so I had a bit of a culture shock initially.  Everyone greets everyone. I know my neighbours by name. I feel completely welcomed. However, I was also shocked and saddened by the quantity of slums and poverty in Luanda (the capital of Angola). There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of health care  and education. The whole city is not like the Marginal de Luanda…

Edson:  When I moved back to Guine-Bissau, I was slightly disappointed with the development of the country. I feel that while I was abroad there were serious setbacks in the country, especially in terms of infrastructures and opportunities for the youth.



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Francisco giving a training about Ubunto and leadership in Bubaque, Guine Bissau (2018)

3. What were the benefits of  moving?

Francisco: It was easier to find a job in Cape Verde that matched my educational level.  In Portugal, I feel that people trusted me less than in my home country. So while it was easy to find work in restaurants,  I wasn’t able to secure work in the field of my studies.

Helena:  Finding a job was easy and I was able to grow immensely in my professional field.  I am now able to expand my professional knowledge (as a nurse) of tropical diseases.

Edson:  I was hired in Portugal to work in Guine- Bissau as an NGO Project Coordinator. In my work field, I clearly have more employment opportunities in Guine Bissau.


 4. Do you regret your decision to move?

Francisco:  No, I don’t regret coming back to Cape Verde. As the saying goes “If you are good in an other man’s land you can be better in yours”. I am home.

Helena:  No, I don’t regret moving here. It has bettered me as a person and a professional. Although, I am not Angolan no one as ever told me I didn’t belong. I feel at home.  Also, as a nurse, I feel a higher sense of purpose working in a country with more room for healthcare improvement.

Edson: Absolutely not. I’ve always wanted to return to Guine-Bissau and to contribute towards the development of my country. Returning was always the end goal for me.


5. Do you plan on migrating again? Why?

Francisco: Maybe. I now have a good job in Public Administration in Cape Verde.  However, if I find better opportunities abroad in the future, I will move. I like new challenges.

Helena: Yes. Unfortunately, I must eventually leave Angola. Although I  love living in Angola, I have small children who will start school in the next few years,  I would like them to go to a very good school and in Luanda those are extremely expensive.

Edson: No. I have no reasons to want to leave again. Guine- Bissau is my home.

“Go back to Africa!” and the stories of those who did. (part 1)                              


“Tunuka, we’ve left, we’ve returned

and we’ve stayed here”

Tunuka by Orlando Pantera


Hearing the phrase ‘Go back to (insert name of region or country)!” is enough to make any POC cringe. However, it is not uncommon.

“Go back to Africa!”; “Go back to your land” or all other variations of this hateful sentence are used as a way to ostracise a group of its own population that has foreign origins. The phrase can be used to silence foreigners and ethnic minorities in a country. It translates the sentiment “Either agree with the way we do things here or go back to your land”. As if dissonant voices were not an essential part of western democracy.  However, the phrase is also said as “Go back to Africa/ Go back to your land” as if that said land of real or imagined provenience is inherently inferior than western land. Almost as if going back to Africa is some sort of punishment for dissonance. But is it? And what do the people that “went back to Africa” actually have to say about it?  Humane Reflections has spoken to three young people with African ancestry who decided to return to Africa in order to collect their thoughts on the experience.

Modern migration between the PALOPS and Portugal is only natural.

During the last stretches of western colonisation of Africa, Portugal justified its colonial attitude by arguing that it was a multicontinental and multiracial country with legs in Europe and Africa. Under this optic PALOP (Portuguese speaking African Countries)- Portugal emigration and immigration was merely justified as migration between

Francisco, one of the interviwees, in a debate in the Summer University in Castelo de Vide, Portugal (2015)

Portuguese provinces (whether that was the province of Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Cape-Verde, etc…).  Interracial marriages were also allowed, which led to the general belief that Portuguese colonialism in Africa was far more benevolent that the English, Spanish or Dutch. Nowadays, Portugal has some of the best immigration policies in Europe and extensive anti-discrimination laws. Discriminatory practices based on ethnicity, race and gender are all illegal. And, it is even unconstitutional to collect data with regards to ethnicity or race.

All of these facts, without proper interpretation could lead to the assumption there is virtually no racism in Portugal, which is wrong.

Racism in Portugal seems be of the “most subtle variety”. There are not as many  mediates cases of institutional racism has in the US or France, however the UN has reported that Portugal’s people of African origins are underrepresented in politics and decision-making processes, Furthermore, they do not have equality of access to education, public services and employment.[1]

Moreover, in 2017 the European Data Service has conducted a survey that demonstrated that amongst 20 EU countries Portugal ranks the highest in biological racism (the belief that there are races/ethnicities that are biologically less intelligent or hardworking) and the fifth highest in cultural racism (the belief that there are better cultures than others).

In Portugal the expression “Go back to your land” is more common than the expression “go back to Africa”, this, likely due to the country’s colonial history.  Also, worth mention hearing the expression “go back to your land” is frankly common. As most  people of African ancestry in Portugal hail from the PALOPs, it is understood that “go back to your land” when directed at them is referring to either Angola, Cape Verde, Guine Bissau, Guine Conacri Mozambique or St. Tomas and Prince.

But, how is to ‘go back to the land’? Humane Reflections asked five questions to three young people of  PALOP ancestry who have recently moved to Africa to understand their experiences.

Francisco is a Cape Verdean PHD student who immigrated to Portugal, lived there for 11 years and returned to Cape Verde in 2017.  Helena is a nurse with Guinean roots, who was born and raised in Portugal and immigrated to Angola in 2015. Edson is a Guinean Project Coordinator in an  NGO who has studied in Portugal but has returned to Guine Bissau in 2017. In Part 2 of this article we will take a look at their answers.





Movie Recommendation: The Magdalene Sisters (2002)


Margareth: Where have you been these four years? (being led away from the asylum by her younger brother who requested her release)

Brother: What are you talking about?!  I was growing up!

Margareth: Well, you didn’t grow up fast enough, did you?


Topics explored: #genderviolence, #forcedlabour, #religion #sexualpromiscuity

Inspired by real life events, The Magdalene Sisters (2002) provide an accurate, yet saddening, portrayal of the Magdalene Asylums.

The Magdalene Asylums were a catholic ran and state supported institution, which operated in Ireland in the 18th and 20th century.

These institutions, also known as the Magdalene Laundries, held thousands of young women captive for a life of unpaid manual labour and religious devotion.

They first came under scrutiny in 1993 when a mass grave of 150 corpses were discovered in one of the asylums. Private investigations led by the media resulted in the uncovering of serious human rights violations. Ireland has susbsequentially paid 50 million pounds in compensation to the victims.

This British drama film directed by Peter Manon revolves around the lives of three

Promotional Poster, The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

fictional characters: Rose, who birthed a child out of wedlock; Margareth who was raped at a family celebration and Bernadette, a flirty orphan, raised in a children’s home.

True to victim testimony, young women were usually sent by their male family members to these institutions to redeem themselves for moral transgressions of a sexual nature. They were referred to as ‘fallen women’. Their “crimes”? ‘Sexual promiscuity’. In the begining the Magdalene Asylums mostly targeted prostitutes. But, overtime the term ‘fallen women’ was expanded to include unwed mothers, lesbians, rape victims, ‘flirty’ women or any woman who did not abide by the strict Irish moral code. And so did the asylums expand the scope of their victims.

The Catholic nuns, who ran the covents, ran them on a strict terror regime. They physically assaulted, degraded and forced the women to do unpaid heavy manual labour. Away from prying eyes and within the confinement of the asylums, they reigned supreme and subjected the young women, under their care, to inhumane treatment and slavery.

This movie is a great starting point for those interested in understanding the effects of patriarchy in the dehumanisation of women. The movie also portrays issues concerning  religious guardianship of vulnerable people, the double victimisation of sexual abuse survivors and the unfair burden of sexuality in women.

This movie is available to watch in streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Youtube Movies.


What is gender? (Pt2) The otherness of women and patriarchy

The word gender has never been more popular.

Yet, many people struggle to understand the concept of gender within the field of social justice. No, gender is not just about women. But yes, understanding the plight of women is essential for anyone looking to understand the concept of gender.

The “What is gender?” article series come as an attempt to demystify gender and all associated jargon for humanereflections.com readers.

In the first article of the “What is gender?” series we explored the concept of Gender Binary and the Social Construction of Gender. In this second article we will explore the theory of the “otherness of women” and patriarchy.




The thought that women are and exist in comparison to men permeates many religious and philosophical writings.

The Bible, in the Genesis, states that the creation of  Woman, from one of  Man’s bones, was fashioned by the necessity of keeping him company. Aristoteles famously states “For females are weaker & colder in nature, and we must look upon the female character as being a sort of natural deficiency” therefore characterizing women as deformed men. Confucius believed that law of nature established that women should be held under the dominance of men.

In social imagination, women are commonly categorized as being less rational, aggressive, ambitious and intelligent than men. Thus,  leading women to be more emotional, docile, dependent and subservient in comparison with men. These gender expectations carry the assumption that women have a higher ethics of care and are therefore better inclined to uphold caretaking roles within family and professional life.

Undoubtedly,  comparison is a valuable tool in remarking the particularities of an object or subject. Part of the definition of ‘that’ is actually ‘that in contrast to the other’. But, the qualities that define women must surely be more than the lack of male qualities or the opposite qualities to those of a man.  So what are women?


The otherness of women

Beauvoir’s work regarding the theory of the other seems unescapable when proposing to define what are woman. The theory of the other suggests that women are placed in a position of inferiority as they are defined as the otherness that we can extract from the subject men. “He is the Subject, he is the Absolute- she is the Other”.

 The  theory of the other, also known as the otherness of women translates the sentiment of definition by opposition. Meaning that the concept of women, as women themselves,  are only understood when juxtaposed against our understanding of men

Accepting, the notion that a woman is by force of not being man undoubtedly places men in a position of dominance relegating women to a place of submission and obedience.

In fact, the consolidation of gender norms, within most societies, entails the establishment of a power relation of men over women.  This power relation is reproduced and maintained by various societal institutions including in marriage.

 Some authors such as Stuart Mill, hold controversial and provocative views on the matter of marriage. Mill argues that the power of a man over his wife in marriage is comparable and somehow worse than the relation between a master and its slave. While a slave is only a slave in the hours he is working for his master  through the bond of marriage the woman is a slave to her husband at all hours.

Women’s entire past and affiliations, whether geographical, cultural, social, and religious are intimately intertwined with the oppressor with whom she shares the bed at night. Perhaps that is the reason, that unlike other oppressed/oppressor relations women have not rebelled against men. The history of women is intertwined with the history of men.

Beauvoir  wrote “Proletariat says WE. Negroes also… But women do not say we except at some congress of feminist or similar demonstration” So why don’t women say WE?

Well, women are not a homogenous group.

Women are not a homogenous group with factors like race, economic class, sexual orientation, cultural and educational background varying greatly amongst each other.

However, all women share the commonality of oppression by men. Likewise, men also do not share a commonality amongst the entire gender, except for the fact they hold a position of dominance upon the women of their cast. Without further commonalities women and men don’t have a “We” beyond the role they play the power dynamics.


Frontispiece and Title Page of The Compleat Housewife or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith. 14th Edition, 1750. (First published 1727)

Patriarchy and the disenfranchisement of women

As we saw in the previous “What is gender?” article: Gender is performative.  However, there are also a variety of processes that are established to maintain the status quo of women’s disenfranchisement.

The patriarchal culture is a direct consequence of the binary gender and women’s otherness. Patriarchism encompasses and defines other phenomena such as the male model of politics and male corporate model. These processes co-exist, inter-shape and solidify each other.

The notion of patriarchy which etymologically emanates from the expression “head of the tribe” denotes the power play that is so characteristic of gender relations. The affirmation of patriarchy entails the vision of women as the nurturers, the sex objects and the help.  Men are in the first instance the entity, which must be nurtured, sexually attended and aided in its pursuits.

Patriarchy in family is evident by the disparaging comparison between women and man’s unpaid labour in the household. Women tend to assume the role of primary care giver to infants, and assume most of the domestic labour.


Household labour is often considered to be women’s primary labour, because it is the one that seems immutable to their condition. Women’s second labour, the one they perform in their places of employment, where they are underpaid in contrast to their male comrades, undoubtedly suffers from the dual burden. The vertical move in employment is also further complicated by societal expectation of women as the helpers which may be also one of the reasons why women are so often stuck in secretarial and administrative jobs.

Since societal gender expectations also entail a collective societal imagination women are relegated to the backburner causing the political and corporate fields to be men’s playground.

Traditional social expectations and imagination do not encompass the vision of women leaders; what men do in the political and corporate field herald as good and women’s way of doing as wrong, this situation creates a male model of politics and business and contributes to the marginalization of women.


What is Evil? Genocide and the Banality of Evil

Banality and evil seem to be two contrasting words.

However,  the proposition that evildoers are indeed banal is transversal to various important  20th century world events and political writings. Who gets to define what is evil? George W Bush, famously described Iran, Iraq and North Korea,  as an Axis of Evil. Hitler is often described as an evil monster while Mein Kampf describes his thought of  Jews has the “symbol of all evil”. Pro-lifers circulate  the ‘10 reasons why abortion is evil…” article while pro-choice advocates state they are merely for a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions. Tony Blair described Saddam Hussein as “But, the man is uniquely evil, isn’t he?” while the shorfalls of western world are often  described as the evils of modern society. Evil, is a mystifying concept only because it is very personal in its use.

So, what is evil within the context of human rights? And, should we even use the concept of evil in political or philosophical discourse?


What is evil? 

Evil is a profoundly immoral action.

Crime, wrongdoing and evil are all malicious intents against the public welfare. In traditional philosophical views these are closely related terms belonging to the spectrum of morality. In a law abiding society, it is imperative to distinguish evil from other concepts describing dishonourable conduct. So what is the difference between crime, wrongdoing and evil?

  • Crime is a legally punishable offence. This type of offence, which might be by action or omission, is always unlawful. Burglary, assault and fraud are examples of crimes in most jurisdictions.
  • Wrongdoing is an offence to moral righteousness. Wrongdoings might be criminal or not. For example, although lying and cheating may be morally reprehensible, they are not criminal offences in most jurisdictions. While a crime is clearly defined in legal codes, wrongdoing is intrinsic to personal judgment.
  • Evil is an action of “destructive, unmerciful and corrosive nature”. Just like wrongdoings, evil is not always a legally punishable offence. Within the field of human rights evil is generally ascribed to the worst crimes of human cruelty such as genocide, torture and murder.

Crime and wrongdoing fit the spectrum of morality. However,  certain aspects of human cruelty deviate so greatly from the norm that they can only be understood under the paradigm of evil. 

Genocide, cannot just be considered a moral wrong. Genocide cannot be only described as an injustice.  Therefore, philosophers such as Maria Pia Lara and Hannah Arendt, defended that certain aspects of human cruelty need an autonomous sphere of morality.

According to these two authors, evil is a necessary postmethaphysical concept in political theory.  It is postmethaphysical as cruelty and suffering  are concepts which are hard to describe with the use of conceptual tools:

Hannah_arendt-150x150“We don’t need to focus on the concept of intentionality of the subject in order to understand the role of the perpetrator, nor we need to measure the amount of pain inflicted upon the victim to understand what is morally at stake.”


Lara’s theory of evil expands its understanding by recognising that evil also differs from plain cruelty, since animals can be cruel to each other. Evil intends on stripping a person of its humanity. Evil robs people of certain human characteristics such as spontaneity, freedom, plurality and dignity.

Given the seriousness of Evil, it is hard to imagine it could ever be banal or that its perpectrators could even be thoughtless. However, that is exactly what the theory of the banality of evil proposes.


What is the banality of evil?

The theory of the banality of evil defends that perpetrators of human cruelty are often rather normal individuals. These evildoers are not sadistic monsters but rather thoughtless conformists and, the normality of the evildoers is utterly terrifying.

This theory was coined by HannahArendt in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem. A report on the banality of Evil. The book was largely based on a series of articles that Hannah Arendt wrote for the New York in 1961 while covering the trial of Eichmann, a high ranking SS officer, in Jerusalem.


Eichmann in Trial By Israel Government Press Office – Israel National Photo Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17872972

Eichmann was a Transportation Administrator for the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Problem’. He personally authorised the deportation of six millions Jews into concentration camps during the Nazi Regime. Hannah Arendt describes her first impressions of Eichmann as not at all horrible, and states “Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a monster, but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was aclown”.

Throughout the trial, Eichmann seemed to be unable to think critically, speaking largely in  stock phrases and Nazi cliches. Eichmann did not hold any personal  hatred against Jews. He justifies his role in the genocide by stating he was merely doing his job.  He claimed to be not guilty of crimes against humanity as he had never directly killed anyone Jewish or otherwise. By all accounts, Eichmann was an obedient employee and law abiding citizen of the Nazi regime. His willingness to conform, desire to obey and lack of critical thought are all banal traits in human beings.  Arendt considered that while the evil-doer was banal, the actions were monstruous and not at all common.

The theory of the banality of evil has also been explored in scientific studies such as the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Stanley Miligram experiment. Both studies, concluded that under the right circumstances ordinary people could be influenced  to commit atrocious acts such as torture and murder.

The theory of  the banality of evil denotes  that imagining  evildoers as sadistical monsters is a convenient escapism.  It allows us escape the confrontation with our own morality,  the morality of our elected leaders and the morality of our political systems. In the context of politics, obedience is support and,  as citizens,  each of us,  has the ability to do good, bad or even evil.


Reccomended readings:

Arendt, H. 1963,  Eichmann in Jerusalem. A report on the banality of Evil.

Lara, P.M. 2007, Narrating Evil. A Post Metaphysical theory of Reflective Judgment.



Is it possible to combine good and greed? A look at Social Enterprises through its legal definitions and moral dilemmas

Social Enterprises are of special significance to the legal theory of business and human rights. As enterprises which pursue the common good under a commercial strategy, they create an insurmountable bond between business and human rights. 

However, social enterprises remain largely legally undefined and this vacuum creates an interesting opportunity for legal and moral speculation: Is it possible that SEs hold greater human rights responsibilities than other types of enterprises? How do SEs contribute towards the betterment of society? And most importantly:  Can SEs combine good and greed?



Two opposing views

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

Gordon Gekko , Wall Street: Money never sleeps

“Greed is the inventor of injustice as well as the current enforcer.”

                                                                                        Julian Casablancas


Legal definitions and regional understandings

There is no global legal consensus on the definition of a social enterprise (SE). There are however two dominant conceptions of SEs (the European perspective and the North American perspective), and a definition provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The OECD has made efforts to clarify the term SE and associated notions such as social entrepreneurship, social entrepreneur and social innovation. It classifies social entrepreneurship as a movement that responds to social challenges with innovative commercial solutions. SEs reject the traditional exploitation of the market opportunities for financial profit. But, rather capitalize it for the improvement of social conditions and local communities.

Professor_Muhammad_Yunus-_Building_Social_Business_Summit_(8758300102)Social Entrepreneur, Nobel Prize Winner and Founder of the Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus. By University of Salford Press Office https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38983058


According to the OECD, the social entrepreneur, aims for the creation of social currency rather than financial currency. However, it states that social entrepreneurship attitudes can be found in the for-profit and public sector under corporate philanthropy and governmental social projects. The difference between a social entrepreneur and a commercial entrepreneur is that “social entrepreneurs create social value, but are not motivated by the appropriation of this value”.

The European consensus on SEs is set out by the European Commission in both the Social Business Initiative and Guide to Social Innovation reports. While the documents do not provide a legally binding definition of SEs they are a good summary of European understandings.

Within Europe, SEs are enterprises created to eliminate or reduce a social problem. This concept excludes for-profits whose economic activities unintentionally benefit local communities. The European Comission states that “The common good is the reason for the commercial activity”. Social impact is the primary goal, therefore SEs are expected to remain non-profit by reinvesting their financial gains in the project or in the community.

The American conception of SE disregards whether social impact is the primary goal. Additionally, it is irrelevant whether the profits are reinvested in the social goal. Its bottom-line is the assertion that the commercial activity improves a social issue. In practice, most SEs in the US come in the form of nonprofits with income generating commercial activity. As nonprofits are exempt from federal tax, the US has a rigorous 5 part test to ascertain whether an organization is nonprofit. Insubstantial commercial activity is allowed as long as it enhances the primary social goal of the nonprofit.  However, what constitutes an insubstantial or substantial commercial activity is not legally defined.

In both regional understandings, the social impact goal, remains the defining characteristic of an SE. One might even advocate that SEs contribute towards the advancement of human rights by facilitating their full realization.



Distrust of the morality of SEs

It might be difficult for SEs to combine the greed of a commercial/capitalist approach with the good of charitable organizations. Critics of SEs, cite three main reasons for the distrusting their morality:


  1. Altruism or branding?

Public reputation weighs heavily on enterprises’ profitability. Nowadays, enterprises profit from being perceived as  being socially responsible or even socially innovative. Having a good reputation is crucial for customer acquisition and retention. As such, there is the danger that some enterprises seek the SE label with the sole intent of increasing their social branding and consequentially their earnings. This concern seems especially relevant in the American context where social enterprises might be for profit organisations.


  1. The Financial growth of non-profits inciting the abandonment of the social strategy

There are cases in which a non-profit SE’s success seems to propel it to  change its legal status to for profit enterprise. Even the Grameen Bank, which popularized the use of microcredit, as shifted from being a non-profit to a for-profit bank. Other community development banks, such as the SKS Microfinance have also made this switch. This trend is worrying for a couple of reasons. Firstly,  using the notoriety gained as a nonprofit, including connections and public support, to benefit a later on for-profit enterprise seems morally questionable. Secondly, this switch implies the assumption that for-profit SEs work more efficiently than non-profit SEs, which is incorrect.


  1. The correct administration of public goods or services by SEs

The State is the only entity that holds the responsibility to ensure the welfare of all its members within a specific territory. Therefore, there can be dangerous consequences of allowing  the administration of public goods by private entities. Private Prisons are a prime example of a current hot topic in the realm of business and human rights. On one hand, many private prisons offer better housing conditions to prisoners than governmental prisons, due to their customer service logic. On the other hand, the fact that prison guards are enterprise employees rather than governmental employees leads to various concerns with regards to prisoner safety. Furthermore, the legality of prison labour becomes blurry within private prisons as in this case, the prisoners minimal wages would benefit a private entity.


Should we trust the morality of SEs? How can we trust them more?


Ziqitza ZHLs is an indian  social enterprise which dispatches a string of private ambulances. It introduced a an emergency number in thecountry, has a high poverty outreach and only charges patients who can afford to pay for the service. Photo credits to https://www.businesscalltoaction.org/news/zhl-provides-ambulance-access-all-part-new-bcta-initiative-india


It is inadvisable to trust blindly the morality of any entity. In fact, this is what propels the creation of laws. However, there have been hundreds of excellent examples of how SEs can contribute for the improvement of social conditions and the advancement of human rights.

The first step to reduce the danger of the corruption of SEs’ social impact is to create tighter legal parameters. There must be a clearer judicial definition of SEs and prescribed legal remedies.

One great avenue for the regulation of SEs behaviour is through the mandatory upkeep of the voluntary commitments they  assumed. Codes of conduct and due diligence processes, which are voluntary commitments about an enterprise’s social impact, may become judicially enforceable within the scope of contractual law and advertisement law.

Extending these voluntary commitments into judicially remedied obligations would sets off a more powerful legal doctrine of business and human rights and increase trust in SEs.


Reccomended readings

  • Doeringer, M.F. (2010) Fostering social enterprises: A historical and International analysis In Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1581525
  • European Commission (2011) Social Business Initiative. Creating a favourable climate for social enterprises, key stakeholders in the social economy and innovation. COM(2011) 682 final.

If you are interested in this topic I also recommend watching the documentary The Corporation by https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jheIz0gl5Zs by Jennifer Abbott et Mark Achbar. Additionally,I would also recommend getting acquainted with the work of some phenomenal social enterprises such ZHL Ziquitza and +Acumen.


The Art Center & Craftsmen’s Market: Angolan History through Its Art


“What about this one? I did this one. It represents some of the different traditional day-to-day instruments of Angola, including the ‘cabaça’ and the ‘moringa de barro’ which you also saw in the plastics art area…Do you like it? It is made using that glue technique…”
Pedro,  2018


The Art Center & Craftmen’s Market (Art Market) is located in Morro da Cruz. It sits on the right bank of the Estrada Nacional 1, on the Luanda-Lobito corridor. It is a windy road, which overlooks the ocean and the island of Mussulo on the right. This road also connects to the Kissama Safari Park and a collection of beach side resorts in Cabo Ledo. On both sides of the road leading up to the Art Market there are small neighbourhoods, many very poor, decreasing in frequency and size the further one drives away from the capital, Luanda. The Art Market is relatively isolated from any big neighbourhoods. It sits on a fairly large bit of terrain which it shares with the Slavery Museum and a collection of opportunistic small shack restaurants. From the entrance, one can spot the Art Market on the left, the Slavery Museum at the far back and the restaurants on the right.

At the back, almost touching the ocean, the Slavery Museum rises from a steep hill. In the 16th century, the Chapel, which the Museum adjoins, was used as a batism pitstop for enslaved africans about to board ships abroad. photo slavery museum

The location is heavily visited by Angolans and tourists alike. One could assume, visits to the the Museum are valuable lessons on the history of Angola and, that visits to the Art Market are valuable lessons on the culture of Angola. The thruth is each of the venues covers an important part of Angolan History. One covers the history of slave trade in Angola. The other covers part of the Angolan History which is often ignored internationally, including the history of the Ngolas (kings and queens).


The Paintings

Pedro is one of the market’s 3oo artists who exhibit and sell their work. He pays 350 kwanzas (roughly 1.37€ or £1.20) daily, for a small allotment in the market’s outdoors area. There he sells paintings authored either by him or a family member. He excitedly talks about the art, switching his gaze from one painting to another. He is walking across and between the rows of painting. Stopping, analysing and offering explanations about the themes and techniques used.

This painting was made by my younger brother, he used a glue technique with coloured ‘sands’. Yes, I taught my brother how to paint and I still teach other young people how to paint at the workshop in Kalemba 2” Pedro makes it clear that art is taught and reproduced amongst families and friends. “My grandfather, Singintima(?), taught me to paint. My aunt is a plastic artist; I started learning how to do wood sculptures but I prefered the paintings, so I went to my grandfather’s workshop to learn.” And who taught his grandfather? “My grandfather learned to paint in Congo. He learned some techniques there and brought them here. But Angolan art is better. We are more innovative. There, in Congo, there are also good artists but we have better art supplies.”

As Pedro discusses the paintings it becomes evident that the majority portray traditional scenes of everyday life in Angola.

Various paintings portray the utensils used by Angolans in the past to keep food fresh. Some of the other paintings are representations of traditional labour scenes including beautiful depictions of the silhouettes of the ‘Zungueiras’. The Zungueiras are the women street vendors who sell food and small items carried on top of their head. There are also portraits of traditional Angolan villages and also present day markets full of people and minibuses.


“This painting right here depicts a working man, he is a baggage carrier. That other one is of the “zungueiras”. The ones with the nature scenes represent our villages of the past where our grandfathers lived and the tools that they used for food storage”.

The back row of paintings leans against a modern white building. It is the building of the Art Center & Craftsmen’s market. The building holds a meeting room for artists and a vistors’ office. According to Pedro, all of the artists relocated from their old market which was located in the neighbourhood of Belas in Luanda in 2016.

On the sides of the building, there are two entrances that lead to the same hallway. That  hallway has small rooms which serve as storage units for the artists. Pedro eagerly showed off some of his new paintings and some painting utensils and supplies including the coloured sand.


The Sculptures

At the front of the white building there is the plastic art section of the market. This area displays an impressive number of wood, stone and iron sculptures.

As he has nothing to sell in this part of the market, Pedro, quickly assumes the role of tourist guide and personal guardian. Simultaneously, encouraging picture taking while shunning those artists who were more eager to pitch a sale. However, he is not in a rush. He greets most vendors by their first name and walks slowly, stopping often to explain the significance of each piece and sculpting technique.

There seems to be a subtle duality between the themes represented in the two different Art Market sections. The paintings focused on the representation of traditional Angolan life. On the other hand, the sculptures are focused on the history of Angola’s territory, kings, queens, villagers and warriors.statues

The artwork, in the plastic art section, represents traditional Angolan symbols. Angolan national symbols include the Embondeiro (known as the Baoba tree), “O pensador” a statue representing a thinking man, and the Palanca negra (an endangered yet beautiful giant antilope that only lives in a region of Angola).

“The Embundeiro and the Pensador are representations of Angolan History. In the past, kings and old men (who are thought of as wisemen) sat down beneath this tree to think and to talk to the people.” Pedro said while pointing at different statues.

It is virtually impossible not to see at least one depiction of Ngola (Queen) Zhinga or Ngola (King) A Kiluanji at any direction one looks at the market.

Ngola A Kiluanji (1515 – 1556) was responsible for the unification of  the territories which roughly correspond to modern day Angola. He also proclaimed Ndongo as an independent kingdom, whereas before Ndongo paid vassalage to the Kingdom of Congo. In fact, the only reason why Angola is not known as Ndongo today, was due to a misunderstanding by the Portuguese in the 15th century. The term ‘Ngola’ was a royal title akin to king in the language of Kimbundo, which is widely spoken in Angola. All queens and kings of Ndongo used the prefix Ngola: Ngola Kiluani, Ngola Mbadi, Ngola Zhinga, etc. However, when the Portuguese arrived to Angola they misunderstood this royal title for the name of the territory and proceeded to refer to Ndongo as both Ngola and Angola until it became commonplace.

Ngola Zhinga (1624-1663), known as Rainha Ginga in portuguese, is undoubtedly the most well known female political leader in Angolan History. A true feminist icon, she gained prominence by being a great military strategist and a phenomenal diplomatic leader. Her most celebrated life accomplishment was the achievement of an equal terms treaty with the Portuguese. This was after the defeat of her brother King Mbandi in a battle against the Portuguese in Ndongo’s capital. This treaty, a product of Ngola Zhinga’s diplomatic confidence and ability guaranteed that Ndongo was not to be considered a vassalage state to subordinate to Portugal. Ngola Zhinga also used her diplomatic abilities to form alliances with both the Portuguese and the Dutch, later using her military strategy to wage battles against them for the benefit and strengthening of Ndongo.

Granted, Pedro did not explain many of the details surrounding the lives of King Ngola A Kiluanji or Ngola Zhinga. He didn’t mention any dates or centuries, the outcomes of the diplomatic agreements, nor the reason behind Ngola Zhinga’s aptitude in political and military affairs. But, he said enough to educate and prompt listeners to research more about Angolan History. After passing a stand with bracelets made out of copper and green malachite, a type of stone which traditionally must be blessed by traditional tribal leaders, we completed the tour of the Art Market. We then returned to the starting point in front of his family’s allotment.

I asked some final questions, mainly concerning the family business.

Pedro proudly states that most of his clients are Angolans who appreciate the art and culture of Angola and not international visitors looking for a souvenir. He says while picking up one of the paintings “What about this one? I did this one, it represents some of the different traditional day-to-day instruments of Angola, including the ‘cabaça’ and the ‘moringa de barro’ which you also saw in the plastic art area… Do you like it? It is made using that glue technique” And, before I could answer “ Oh and it is fully washable”. Which pleseantly reminded me that Pedro, like any of the other 300 artists of the market, is as much of an artist, as he is a historian and a salesman.

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