Joan Smith

Known for her human rights activism and writing on subjects such as atheism and feminism, Joan Smith is a columnist, critic and novelist. An Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and a regular contributor to BBC radio, she has written five detective novels, two of which have been filmed by the BBC.

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Garment workers matter more than burgers

Eating a bit of horse won't kill you. You're unlikely to become even mildly ill from eating burgers laced with horsemeat, despite a media storm of massive proportions. Buying clothes manufactured in sweatshops in Bangladesh won't hurt you either, but it's a different story for the people who work in the industry. Yesterday, survivors were still being pulled from the ruins of an eight-storey building in the capital, Dhaka, which collapsed on Wednesday morning, killing hundreds. Rana Plaza housed four clothing firms which have in the past supplied Western chains, including, in Britain, Primark and Matalan.

Warning: Bad science can damage your health

In the intensive care ward of a hospital in Sierra Leone, I once heard a young man moaning in agony. His body was going into spasms and I was shocked to discover that he was suffering from tetanus. On the same trip to West Africa, I met more than a dozen men with hugely developed shoulders and withered legs – polio survivors, who propelled themselves on hand-driven wooden carts. It made me realise how lucky I am to live in a country where successful vaccination programmes have all but eradicated such diseases.

Top of the form: Margaret Thatcher ‘was like a matron in a boys’ school

Margaret Thatcher - the dogged climber who pulled the ladder up

Baroness Thatcher did little to help less privileged women, believing the battle for women's rights had been won. She was talking about herself

Sexual predator seeks needy young woman

Just over two years ago, nine men from Derby were jailed in three separate trials for preying on teenage girls. The victims were aged between 12 and 18 and had been groomed by a gang led by 28-year-old Mohammed Liaqat and Abid Saddique, who was 27. Because all but one of the convicted men were Asian, the Derby trials were quickly subsumed in a controversial narrative about the role of ethnicity and culture in cases of systematic abuse of girls. But in the very same town, another man had been targeting vulnerable teenagers for decades.

The Vogue Factor: Fashion really isn’t worth dying for

The damage the industry inflicts on young women is paraded on the catwalk

The actor Richard Griffiths has died, aged 65

Death – still with us, but further away than ever

It's as if the Queen's demise is so awful to contemplate that it can't be mentioned

Street prostitution

Why the game’s up for Sweden's sex trade

Sweden's innovative sex-trade laws criminalise clients, not prostitutes. The result: a 70 per cent drop in business. Joan Smith jumps in a squad car with local police to find out how it works – and whether Britain could follow suit

Where's the point in fretting about gay sex?

It's a giveaway that senior clerics aren't much interested in lesbians, while presiding over institutions that struggle with the notion of treating women as equals

MPs, ignore David Cameron and vote for a free press

We all believe in a free press, don't we? But if I've learnt anything over the course of the Leveson inquiry, it's that it means different things to different people. Take the former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, who boasted that it meant doing what he liked and not checking sources. He used his freedom to produce an untrue front-page story which claimed that Liverpool fans urinated on police officers and picked the pockets of dying fellow supporters during the Hillsborough disaster. "The Truth", MacKenzie called it in a brazen headline.

Now it's official: child-rearing is women's work

On Sundays, dads up and down the land look forward to football with their kids and a lazy family lunch. It's an idyllic picture of life in 21st-century Britain, but for once I want to talk about all the men who don't have children. What's wrong with the one in five who don't become fathers?

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