In the vacuum of discussions connecting women to this month’s ferocious riots in England, a group called “Rotis not Riots” launched on Facebook this week “to make sense of this unprecedented violence from a feminist perspective.”
The group emerged from a casual conversation between three women dealing with the helplessness they felt in the aftermath of unrest across the country. Roti is a type of unleavened bread that many Indian women, who have traditionally been the cooks in the family, are skilled at preparing. It also plays on the word riot, scrambling the letters into something with warm and nurturing connotations. Organizers say they chose it to touch on the “unique role that women play in providing both physical and emotional support for their families.”
With 282 members as of yesterday, the group is confronting the government’s championing of harsh punishment for rioters. Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party have pushed for water canons and rubber bullets, curfews and blacking out social media. Local borough councils have responded by handing out eviction notices and local courts are being pressured to dispense extraordinarily harsh prison sentences for those accused of participating in the riots.
Rotis not Riots has given themselves the task of “thinking about more meaningful and effective ways to reprimand rioters than prison sentences and evictions of entire families,” seeking instead community service and meeting victims to create a productive route out of the riots.
It is hard to predict the outcome of the group, existing currently as a closed online network, but it provides a welcome move into more progressive conversations that include a feminist perspective.
Rotis not Riots has already taken a stance by championing a petition on Change.org (see below) in response to a London borough’s decision to evict a mother and her 8-year-old daughter from their council house because her son was involved in rioting. Single mothers will be at the front lines of the suffering that is bound to be caused by the government’s threat to evict from council housing anyone caught looting.
Like many other British people now living outside of the U.K., I spent the first and second nights of the fierce rioting glued to my computer screen, following updates of the movement of violently exuberant youth through London and watching news sources like the BBC and the Guardian live-blogging every second of a bloody revolution.
The riots did spur some talk of disenfranchisement and unemployment, as in an op-ed in The Independent by Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of U.K. charities The Place to Be and Kids Company. Even Prince Charles spoke of gang culture as a cry for help for those who don’t feel like they belong at a short stop in Hackney, one of the affected boroughs of London.
But England’s Parliament–made up of 506 men and 144 women, only 27 of whom are from ethnic minorities–lined up to condemn the “sheer criminality” of the riots and looting.
Cameron put “children without fathers” in his list of causes in the “slow motion moral collapse” of Britain, a sideways swipe at single-mother households.
The lefty magazine the New Statesman is dedicating this week’s addition to the subject of single mothers, inviting “10 left-wing thinkers to break the family values taboo and asks if dads are the answer to the riots.”
Here’s one answer:
And if we had more women in the Parliament we might see these conversations take place in the House of Commons. We might even have reason to hope for an examination of how women are faring in some of the country’s communities hardest hit by the recession and government cuts.