#MeToo

Artwork: Januz Miralles at Berlin Artparasites

Artwork: Januz Miralles at Berlin Artparasites

Me too.

In a week, those two little words have gained immense meaning. Since The New York Times reported the serial sexual abuse perpetrated by film mogul Harvey Weinstein, women all over the world have taken to social media using the hashtag #MeToo to share their own stories of sexual assault, abuse or harassment.

It has been heartbreaking to read harrowing encounters that women from all walks of life have experienced, and I for one have been inspired by their courage.

I’m a passionate advocate for women’s rights, and for years I’ve fought against gender inequality. I’ve long discussed issues of harassment and assault in depth, and yet I always relied on statistics and other women’s stories to back up my arguments. I’ve never shared my own stories because I have been ashamed and afraid of what people would think.

And yet I do have a story – most women do, as we’ve found this week.

“I’ve never shared my own stories because I have been ashamed and afraid of what people would think. And yet I do have a story – most women do, as we’ve found this week”

Artwork: Patryk Mogilnicki at Berlin Artparasites

I can’t bring myself to share #MeToo on social media as I’m scared of what will happen. So for now, I let the braver women of this world share their stories openly. And I make my stand, by writing mine anonymously, here.

When I was 12, I was on the London Underground and a man exposed himself to me, stood in a corner and masturbated staring straight at me. It was a quiet train and no one else noticed as I was the only one looking towards him. I got off at the next stop. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 16, a boy who I had never met, told his school that I had performed oral sex on him. Everyone heard about it and people called me a slut. I had never even met him, but I felt that it was my fault. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 18, a boyfriend – who I thought I loved – forced himself on me during an argument while I begged him to stop. I didn’t understand that it was rape because it wasn’t a stranger outside of my comfort zone. It was in my house. The next day he apologised and I quietly broke up with him, never admitting why to my friends. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 20, I got locked out of my house for a night and stayed over at a colleague’s. I woke up halfway through the night with him touching me. I screamed and pushed him off but he yelled back, saying I had been begging for it. I worked with him for another three months and never told anyone. I stayed silent and ashamed.

When I was 25, I was out walking late one night and three drunk men grabbed me. They pulled my skirt and touched my breasts. Luckily, their drink slowed them down and before they were able to hold me down I ran away.  It was dark. I shouldn’t have been walking that way. I stayed silent and ashamed.

Last night, on a main street, a man walked up to me and said “Hey baby.” It was dark and I silently sped up, keeping my head down. “Fucking bitch!”, he yelled as I ran away. I stayed silent, scared that he would do something worse.

Artwork: Loui Jover at Berlin Artparasites

These are a few snapshots of times in my life when I have felt ashamed to be a woman. For years I’ve been angry at myself for bringing these incidents on. So many incidents happening to one person, it must be something I’ve done.

This week has been triggering for me – it’s brought back memories that I have spent years trying to forget. But it’s also been liberating and hopeful. It has made me realise that the force of this movement around those two little words shows the sheer scale of the issue.

Now, more than ever, we need to bring a stop to it. To make it very clear that this is not acceptable. That as a woman you are not asking for anything, and deserve respect for being a human being.

I have to keep coming back to this when these memories swarm back to me. It is not my fault. I will not stay silent. I will not be ashamed.

I have been attacked but I will never be defeated.

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‘For my black girl’

By Jennifer Robinson

Photographer: Khadija Saye
Website: http://www.sayephotography.co.uk

Foreword by the author, Jennifer: I was inspired to write this poem after looking at the photography of Khadija Saye. Her portraits of African hairstyles – Crowned, reminded me of a discussion I’d had some time previously with a few Ugandan colleagues about the time, effort and pain that goes into crafting the intricate but necessary hairstyles which keep African hair in check.

My children are mixed race, and it’s something which weighs on my mind because I recognise that for too many people, this is still a negative. I have no idea what it is to be black, or African. So raising in particular African children, and getting it right, is something which I worry about.

This came from an emotional reaction to Khadija Saye’s photographs, but ultimately because this young woman, who fought visible and invisible prejudice from all sides, died alone in a dark stairwell in Grenfell Tower, a harsh reminder that her community were still, in 2017, not important enough.


Hair curls
Won’t be tamed
Full lips melanin DNA
“What a beautiful colour she is” they say
Not too dark, not too light the meaning inferred
“Her hair is not like theirs”
Her hair is hers
She can choose how to wear it
“Her nose is like yours”
Pointed?
Like the comment you made, believe me I caught it
Because what you went for first was her nose and her hair
How lucky you are not seeing prejudice there

Where’s her dad from?
Must be hot and oppressed
Replying Uganda
“Africa right? South, East or West?”

And that’s not who I am
Who am I to tell her how her struggle began?
Disrespect automatic, but never for me
Will I know how to help her
Will I even see
When the world turns its back
On her
Or asks more of her
Than I had to produce
When mediocre was enough to get through exams
Knowing she’ll fight harder than I ever can
Just to get less
To be less
In the eyes of some

My baby is beautiful inside and out
But the out is what matters,
To tabloids and fascists
And the poison that fills our day to day
Is enough to question how she’ll make her way
British but always “where’s she from, really?”
Half and half, half-caste, half white, half black,
Half empty, half full? Half each of two, making three
And to me she’s the world
But the world still disagrees

Photographer: Christopher Rivera
Website: http://www.christopherj.org

As a gratuity for featuring the work of Khadija Saye on this blog, Attacked Not Defeated has made a donation to the fund supporting survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. 

An Ode to the Trigger Warning

 


Founder of Attacked Not Defeated, Phoebe Tansley, is a sexual health practitioner, gender-based violence prevention advocate and survivor. Here she revisits a previous blog and reflects on her experiences over the last five years.


 

By Phoebe Tansley

Unbelievably, it’s been over two years since I last wrote about my personal experience of surviving rape. I suppose as time goes by and workload mounts, self-reflection gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list too often.

16298695_575633395979470_3817207482471222057_n

I decided to write this as I recently reached the five year milestone since I was attacked; and in particular wanted to focus on something which has cropped up for me recently; triggers.

In the five years I have been doing this, many survivors have approached me and asked me for advice on how to cope; some reassurance that it gets easier. I know that when survivors who are further along in their journeys than me describe where they are at with it, it has at times comforted me.

In particular I remember reading an account written by a woman who – like me – was strangled, but around 20 years ago. She talked about how she couldn’t wear anything too restrictive around her neck for years because it reminded her of the attack, but that over time she started to wear scarves again and now she can do so without even thinking about it.

To me, in the early days of recovery, that was probably the most comforting thing I read. So next time you see me rocking a turtleneck and looking pretty smug about it, you’ll know why.

turtleneck

source: rifemagazine.co.uk

 

***

The word ‘trigger’ suddenly becomes really present in your life after you’ve experienced sexual violence.

I remember in the immediate aftermath, various professionals kept asking me what ‘triggers’ me or if I had been ‘triggered’, and not really knowing what they meant.

As I wrote in a previous blog, my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arrived with delayed onset so for about six months after I was raped I felt relatively ‘okay’. It was my first trigger which actually then led to the first signs of PTSD; and that trigger was a pretty catastrophic one as it involved me being mugged by two men carrying machetes.

The sight of two violent men, the feeling of vulnerability, and the very real threat to my life took me right back to the night of the rape, and culminated in a total shut down of logic; I remember a feeling of overwhelming fear, and of utter devastation. It was from that moment on that my hyper-arousal kicked in.

There are plenty of definitions of hyper-arousal online; all I can really say with any authority is my own experience of it, which was a feeling of being constantly under threat.

Every situation was a risk, every day was a mission to avoid being raped or attacked. Every unknown person, and some known people, felt threatening. I had adrenaline constantly pumping through my body which translated into night-terrors as I slept; and so it was rare to have a restful and uninterrupted night’s sleep – even with the addition of a hammer that I kept by my bed.

I remained in this exhausting state of existence for around 18 months; but now, I am pleased to report, it has eased off substantially.

These days I walk home from the tube at night with the regular amount of anxiety that any woman experiences (that in itself is still frustrating but I’ll take putting keys between my fingers over screaming ‘HEELLPPPPP’ and running in the opposite direction when a man smiles at me on the street – this actually happened).

I am also, I think, a better friend and family member than I was back then. I’d put this mostly down to the fact that I don’t conduct an impossible-to-pass risk assessment of every social engagement before I attend in the same way I used to; I’m generally more trusting and can devote more brain space to enjoying people’s company now that it’s not being taken up by holding my bladder for hours on end because I’m convinced an attacker is waiting for me in the toilet.

All joking aside – hyper-arousal is totally debilitating and so if you are currently experiencing it, be gentle with yourself. You’re allowed to drop the ball a bit in other areas of your life while you navigate this horrible, relentless sense of impending doom. If a loved one is experiencing this, let them off the hook if they flake on a few meetups or don’t reply to your messages. They will come back to you and they will be so thankful that you continued to love them and gave them time to find their footing again.

So, remember a few paragraphs ago when I said everything was much better? It is – however, as with most difficult things in life, recovering from trauma is not a smooth ride. Rewind to four months ago, there I was living my life, feeling good about not having to barricade myself into rooms anymore, when the mother of all triggers decided to descend.

It had been so long that I had forgotten how it felt. And yet; the length of time I had felt better for, and the confidence I had developed, somehow made it worse: I wasn’t protected by shock like I was back then; the memories were flooding in with ease and clarity, and I was no longer dissociating with the event like I used to.

This wasn’t a scary movie anymore, it was me. It happened to me. It really happened.

I was watching the TV programme Broadchurch, which came with very clear and robust trigger warnings. Confession: I basically ignore trigger warnings. This is because between working in sexual health, studying sexual violence advocacy, and running AND, I have developed the ability to almost completely separate my personal experience and my professional experience. This ability is what has enabled me to do the job I love for the last five years.

I watch documentaries, films and TV programmes as well as read academic texts, personal accounts and fictional descriptions involving sexual violence all the time. Of course – I am human – it still affects me, but what I rarely do is relate it to my own experience.

I think one of the main reasons I have been able to do this is because what happened to me is a less common form of sexual violence – stranger rape. So, when I tuned into Broadchurch, the only thing going through my mind was that it would be interesting to see sexual violence support services depicted in a drama starring Olivia Coleman and David Tennant. It didn’t even occur to me that it might impact me personally.

And then suddenly, a frightened, injured woman was being taken into a clinical room for examinations – and it was me.

She had bruising on her arms and neck and cuts on her legs – just like me. She even had a cut on the back of her head where it hit the ground when she lost consciousness – just like me. And as the timid remains of her voice attempted to answer the policewoman’s questions while tears involuntarily fell out of her eyes, I remembered: that’s me.

This totally blindsided me and it took some time to feel like myself again. My nearest and dearest will tell you I am pretty in touch with my emotions – I regularly cry watching DIY SOS – but before experiencing this trigger, I can count on one hand the number of times that I remember crying about what happened to me. But this trigger acted like a faucet, and the tears were unyielding for a good five days.

***

I am very lucky in that I am currently being supported by a therapist, so I was able to take this into the therapy room within a week of it happening and do some very intense, challenging, but ultimately hugely restorative work around it. My therapist also gave me a talking to around my wilful ignorance of trigger warnings, and encouraged me to take a bit of a time out from anything which could be upsetting to watch.

But the most profound realisation to come out of this trigger has been this: maybe I don’t have to carry around my experience like a heavy burden whilst simultaneously trying to conceal it. Maybe I don’t need to be so anxious that others might view it as an impediment to my work and other areas of my life.

After watching Broadchurch I got into such a state that I felt an overwhelming urge to run away, because I genuinely didn’t know how I would ever be able to act normal and carry on with the life I had created for myself.

Partially due to aforementioned hyper-arousal, and partially due to my tireless indulgence in self-serve guilt, I decided not to do a runner and instead to bite the bullet and talk to a couple of people in my life about what I was going through.

The response I got wasn’t the one I was expecting. The people I chose to share with were my brother (for the comforting honesty that a sibling will reliably deliver) and two co-workers (because I was demonstrably not coping at work).

Both of these conversations resulted in these people fundamentally (and much more sensitively than this) asking me what on earth would possess me to stifle my human feelings and reactions to something which was not my fault in the first place, when those very feelings and reactions grant me an empathic knowledge which could actually be invaluable to my work?

Oops.

I had been so utterly convinced that my experience of sexual violence and the impact it had on my mental health would be at odds with my professional practice that I had neglected it and starved it of oxygen until it eventually clambered up into my consciousness, gasping for air and begging me to accept it as a part of me.

I am coming to realise that the most important thing I can do to aid my work is to take care of myself – and that means all of myself, not just the parts that are convenient.

Sometimes, admitting that something is hard and asking for help is the hardest part.

These blogs are not easy to write; and they’re even harder to share. But I do so in the hope that – just as that article comforted me five years ago – someone might read it and feel a little bit less alone. So to anybody who can relate to some of the things I have described in this blog, consider that sometimes it takes another person to point out the truth that has been glaringly obvious to everyone else the whole time; that the darkest part of yourself that you have demonised and shamed for so long could actually be cultivated into something wonderful, if you’d only shed a little bit of light onto it.

afterlife

“Afterlife” by Chana Bloch

In an Alley, At Night-time

by Robert Lutz

A woman alobne

Illustration for the poem “In an Alley, At Night-time” by Robert Lutz

Imagine
At
Night-time
you are walking through an empty
Alley
when all of a sudden you hear someone
Cough
and you shudder for just a single
Second
And then you abandon the scary
Thought
that something might happen to
You
Tonight
Here

Imagine
At
Night-time
you all of a sudden hear another
Cough
and stop and turn around and see
Someone
walking through the alley behind
You
and the person coughs and coughs
Ceaselessly
and the cough reverberates through
You
Tonight
Here

Imagine
At
Night-time
the coughing stops and you breathe
Quickly
and your body becomes tense with
Fear
and you move no more because you
Cry
and your tears fall freely because you
Thought
that this could never ever happen to
You
Tonight
Here

Identity politics: why have yours when you could have “ours”?

by Joshua Piercey

Image source: newstatesman.com

It’s time for the left to abandon identity politics.

That’s what the right say, at least. They also use some cool, 1984-inspired buzzwords like “thought police” and “liberal elites”. Identity politics is the domain of the illiberal, the controlling, the feminazi. Many on the left are starting to adopt similar discourse: identity politics are counter-productive, divisive.

DOES IDENTITY POLITICS LOSE CANDIDATES VOTES?

In a New York Times article that generated much debate, Mark Lilla intoned:

In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

Identity politics supposedly cost Clinton the election. By focusing on LGBTQ people, black people and women, Clinton lost the votes of rural white people. In the UK, Brexit was apparently not a rejection of diversity and immigration but rather a push for sovereignty and national control. Now Theresa May describes a national unity that does not exist, repeating her mantra of “strength and stability” to present a picture of united government that a fragmented Labour cannot match.

Image source: squarespace.com

All right. Let’s assume that successful politics is a play for the middle ground, and that identity politics are counter-productive. What should we do instead? According to Lilla:

LIBERALISM SHOULD BE ‘QUIET, SENSITIVE WITH A SENSE OF SCALE’

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base … by emphasizing the issues that affect (the) vast majority.

As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale.

Riiiight. Unfortunately, “scale” is rarely dictated by those pushing against the status quo. If every social change went through without a hitch there’d be nothing to complain about. If you don’t really care about transgender bathrooms, their adoption is a non-story. If you’re hugely against them you shout it from the rooftops.

“Quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale”? When I look at the great civil rights successes of the 20th and 21st century I cannot find many that succeeded using this strategy.

WOMEN AND IDENTITY POLITICS

Leaves women in a tricky spot, doesn’t it? If you ARE a woman, and you care about issues that face you personally AS a woman (and it’s undeniable that there are many), what exactly are you supposed to do?

(That fact that “female” is included in discussion of identity politics at all is important to note. More than half of us are female. That’s not the politics of the minority, it literally can’t be. But to try and speak to women about the things that specifically concern them is pushed as political suicide. To bring up issues that affect the majority of people in the entire world is seen as somehow shutting out another majority that doesn’t exist.)

WHAT IF IDENTITY-DRIVEN POLITICS IS INTEGRAL TO WHO YOU ARE?

What if you are a woman of colour? Or gay? Or all three? What if the issues that affect the many make less difference to the quality of your life than the issues that affect the very few? What if the issues that affect the many are, for you, inextricably linked to your identity?

The answer is, as perhaps is to be expected, “shut up about it and concentrate on something more important”.

In the UK that “more important thing” has been and is Brexit. The media and political establishment are setting up the snap election to be one-issue affair, leaving other identities behind, even as the terms “leaver” and “remainer” become firmly entrenched in the discourse.

But identity politics are at work in the UK, even within a so-called “single issue” debate. If you identify more as English than British, you are more likely to have voted for Brexit. The more English you see yourself to be, the more likely you are to vote Conservative or UKIP. Outside of England, Welsh and Scottish identities become more and more important. Part of Labour’s apparent collapse is its changing (and challenging) relationship with the working class.

Image source: Illinois Family Institute

DOES CENTRALISM PERMEATE THE IDEA SOME IDENTITIES ARE WORTH MORE?

So the backlash against identity politics masquerades as one of moderation and centralism to obscure a key fact: some identities are worth more than others. You don’t want to make white men feel left out, because they dominate the voting and the discourse. The working class are important not because of what you can do for them, but because they might vote for you. No one is asking “English” people to leave their English-ness aside.

This is pragmatic, of course. But to pretend it’s anything other than pragmatic is disingenuous. ALL politics is identity politics. And while it won’t change the economic status quo, it is what wins (or loses) elections. When we elevate single issues to the forefront we are deliberately ignoring the patchwork of identities that create and care about those issues.

When it comes to how you vote, your identity is as important as anyone else’s. Beware those who would supply another for you and tell you it’s all that matters. If you vote only as a Leaver or a Remainer, what will the consequences be for you when those labels become worthless? In short: anyone asking you to abandon your identity because it’s inconvenient is not your ally.

The stifling of women’s reproductive rights

by Laura Mundy 

On his first full day in the White House, Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy – or to be more apt – the Global Gag Rule, named to reflect the silencing of women’s right to healthcare in one fell swoop of a patriarchal signature.

You might recall the image below of eight men behind a desk, signing into law the withdrawal of US funding for health organisations operating outside of the US that provide abortions – or even offer information about abortions.

Source: The Independent

In summary, the Global Gag Rule blocks US funds to any organisation involved in abortion advice and care, overseas. This is expected to have a huge impact on family planning services and women’s health programmes in less developed countries.

Not only will this rule strip funding from any organisation that “performs or actively promotes abortion as a method of family planning”, but goes even further, slashing finance to any organisation supported by US aid not just those involved in reproductive health – if they choose to continue offering abortion services.

This denial of women’s access to vital sexual reproductive health services is actually the product of years of deliberation and U-turns at the hands of the US government.

When Ronald Reagan led the Republicans to victory in 1984, he devised the policy we see today, albeit far worse now under Trump’s conditions. Then came Clinton’s Democrat presidency in 1993 which saw the policy rescinded, only for George W. Bush to reinstate it in 2001. Barack Obama again denounced the policy in 2009, and in recent times, the now President Trump once again reinstated it.

To give some context of how this has stifled developing nations in the past, US-based charity EngenderHeath reported that: ‘From 2001 to 2009, 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East lost US-donated contraceptives, and many organisations and clinics were forced to reduce services, lay off staff or shut down entirely.’

They added that: ‘…the Global Gag Rule affected family planning, HIV services, maternal and child health, and even malaria services. And in no place did the policy reduce abortions. In fact, the irony is that this policy led to more unwanted pregnancies.’

HOW DOES THE GLOBAL GAG RULE MANIFEST IN REAL LIFE? 

Source: ODI and WHO

The consequences of Trump’s Gag Rule are set to cause a lot more restrictions than cuts to abortion-related services; this in part is down to the fact that ‘abortion-only’ clinics are few and far between. Abortions most often take place in clinics or health centres that offer vital reproductive health services too. Cutting funding for abortion means cutting funding for them all.

This partnered with the fact that the US is the largest provider of overseas global healthcare aid, signals even further chaos.

It is important to evaluate what other services will be impacted by the Global Gag Rule.

1. Contraception and family planning

Millions of women worldwide rely on contraception to safely control the timing and prevention of pregnancies. Being in control of fertility has been proven to directly contribute to women’s economic empowerment and the increased ability to keep the cyclical poverty trap at bay.

Access to contraception for young women has been proven to decrease numbers of teenage pregnancies, which in turn improves young people’s opportunity to gain education, life skills and employment. The Global Gag Rule directly prevents US-funded international organisations offering contraception and abortion, from providing either service.

2. HIV and AIDS

HIV is commonly diagnosed at family planning clinics, when women come in for their first antenatal appointment. In some rural and poor parts of less developed countries, this can be mothers’ first contact with healthcare providers. By cutting funds to family planning clinics, Trump is denying women access to routine HIV testing during pregnancy, and the result will be a direct and damaging rise in HIV prevalence as current infections go undiagnosed.

The success of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV has accelerated in the last few years, thanks to routine HIV testing. The testing procedure has enabled the provision of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive expectant mothers, which in turn vastly reduces the chance of passing the virus to their unborn child. The Global Gag funding cut will directly undermine the progress that has been made in reducing HIV transmissions from mother to child.

3. Sexual abuse and rape support services

Attacked Not Defeated was founded upon the trauma that too many women experience as a result of inadequate support after rape or sexual abuse. It is integral that crisis services provide information about abortion. Yet Trump has just denied that to millions of women. The result is a catastrophic violation of women’s rights to make a decision over their body following abuse.

But it’s not only abortion services at rape crisis centres that will be affected by the cut in funding. All crisis centres reliant on US funding – providing services such as emergency contraception, STI testing, HIV testing, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, counselling, hospital referrals, face the real possibility of closure if they choose to continue providing abortion services.

4. Abortion itself

Consider additionally that restricting abortion services does not decrease the demand for abortions; it only serves to increase the need for unsafe or illegal abortion, which results in higher rates of maternal death. Preventing access to safe abortions will force women to seek unregulated or ‘backstreet’ procedures that endanger their health in many different ways. The World Health Organization estimates that 13% of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions.

By taking away funding for all other family planning services it is undeniable that this will lead to more unwanted pregnancies; HIV infections and STIs; and abortions.

In response to the Global Gag Rule, the Dutch government has set up She Decides, an international funding initiative to plug the ‘gap’ many organisation will be left facing by the cuts. Many other governments have pledged support already, and anyone can donate to the fund.

We must not stand by and let huge organisations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International or PAI lose funding for the work they do all over the world, let alone the hundreds and thousands of smaller organisations that stand to lose service-threatening sums of money for all the work mentioned above.

We must work together to fight for women’s access to sexual and reproductive health, family planning and abortion the world over, for it is a fundamental human right regardless of government-bound legislation.

Lessons from a Nobel Peace Prize winner

by Sara Belhay

Image source: Pinterest.com Pictured: Activist and Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee

Challenging the status quo in Liberia

Leymah Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, for leading a non-violent women’s movement to end the second civil war in Liberia. At the time of the outbreak, Leymah Gbowee was a social worker at the ‘Trauma Healing’ project, which was initiated in response to the damage left from the first civil war. Women largely saw peacebuilding as the work of men, and so Gbowee sought to redefine the role of women and ensure women’s voices were heard. Gbowee recruited women from different spheres of civil society, targeting the mosques on Friday, markets on Saturday and churches on Sunday. Flyers were handed out that read ‘We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up- you have a voice in the peace process!’ In order to create an inclusive movement, religion, class and social differences were side-lined in favour of their shared identity as women.

The Liberian Women’s Mass Action for Peace wearing white to symbolise peace. To ensure inclusivity and solidify their shared identity as women, Gbowee asked the women not to wear makeup or jewellery.

Although Gbowee encouraged the women to see beyond their identity as wives and mothers, Gbowee strategically adopted techniques that played to the gender conventions in Liberia to support her cause. The women appealed to President Charles Taylor as mothers, in Gbowee’s address to him, she stated ‘we believe as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, ‘Mama, what was your role during the crisis?’

In addition to this, the women abstained from sex to persuade the men to end the violence. Although Gbowee reflects that this had little practical effect, it did successfully garner international media coverage which further propelled the women’s movement. When the peace talks were at risk of breaking down yet again, Gbowee instructed two hundred women to link arms and sit outside the room in which the talks were taking place. When leaders of the rebel groups tried to leave, Gbowee threatened to strip naked, which traditionally in Africa, is considered a curse if an elderly or married woman deliberately exposes herself, as it symbolises taking back the life given to men. After peace was brokered, attitudes towards women changed, paving the way for the election of Liberia’s first female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee addressing over two hundred young people at the PeaceJam conference at the University of Winchester 11/03/17.

At present, Gbowee is the founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation, which provides educational and leadership opportunities to girls and women in West Africa. Gbowee is also is a member of the African Women Leaders Network for Reproductive Health and Family Planning and serves on the Board of Directors of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the PeaceJam Foundation.

‘Are you a bystander?’

Earlier this month, I attended the annual PeaceJam conference at the University of Winchester, where Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee addressed over two hundred attentive youth, asking: ‘What are the things that keep you up at night, that disgust you?’ From discussing bullies to racism, Gbowee referred to the concerns that young people often approach her with: ‘You may be against all these things, but unless you take action, you are just a bystander.’ As a human rights and women’s rights activist, Gbowee is committed to taking action when she witnesses injustice.

Gbowee recalled an incident whereby she witnessed a 14-year-old boy harassing a young girl stood in a group. The other girls were howling with laughter and as the boy left, he took the sunglasses off this girl, snapped them and threw them in to the trash, and said take it from there because you are trash. Gbowee walked over and confronted the girls, asking who the best friend was. When the girl who had laughed the hardest raised her hand, Gbowee replied ‘who needs enemies when this girl has got a friend like you’. Gbowee talked to the girls about feminism and sisterhood, with the message that there will always be people there to stand up for you, and there will always be women who will be your sisters in the face of patriarchy.

Image source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/Scanpix Pictured: obel Peace Prize winner, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, poses with her award at the award ceremony in Oslo, December 10, 2011.

Leymah Gbowee, poses with her award at the award ceremony in Oslo, December 10, 2011. Image source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/Scanpix

Determined to confront the boy, Gbowee sought him out and challenged his behaviour towards the girl. When asked if he had any sisters, the boy replied yes. Gbowee instructed the boy to question his actions and ask himself, ‘would this upset me if someone did this to my sister?’ The lesson Gbowee taught the boy was that making others feel bad for your own inadequacies, would not be tolerated by people.

Gbowee recruited women from different spheres of civil society, targeting the mosques on Friday, markets on Saturday and churches on Sunday. Flyers were handed out that read ‘We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up- you have a voice in the peace process!’

‘Don’t hide in the shadows of low self- esteem’

Gbowee declared to the audience, if you want to live and enjoy life, you have to at some point make a stand. Gbowee divulged to the youth that after leaving an abusive relationship, Gbowee returned to education but had such low self-esteem, she never participated in class, despite knowing the answers. When Gbowee received a grade F for a piece of work she knew deserved a grade A, she challenged the teacher that marked the paper. The teacher apologised and revealed that because Gbowee never participated in class, the teacher assumed Gbowee did not know the answers and therefore automatically graded the paper badly. Gbowee highlights this event as the start of a journey in which she would use her voice to speak truth to power. Addressing the audience, Gbowee said to the audience that if you want to taste freedom, keep walking as life with all its complexities will never offer you what you want unless you step up and take it.

A student group presenting their project to Leymah Gbowee at the PeaceJam conference at the University of Winchester 11/03/17.

‘I challenge you to take the open mind challenge’

Gbowee spoke of the divisions that exist in society and the prevailing ‘us v them’ narrative. Quentions around racism and identity kept re-occurring at the conference. One school student originally from the Philippines asked Gbowee how to respond to bullies without resorting to violence. Gbowee probed what the boy’s aspirations were in life and instructed him ‘respond to what you are and not what you are called’. Gbowee’s parting message to the young people was to take the open mind challenge. Gbowee urged the young people to break down the barriers that exist in society, and talk to people you wouldn’t ordinarily talk to.

Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee discussing nonviolent solutions towards bullies.

‘One Billion Acts of Peace Movement’

PeaceJam’s ‘One Billion Acts of Peace’ campaign is an international movement that encourages people around the world to take action and provide solutions to the planet’s most pressing issues, as identified by Nobel Peace Laureates. Students at the PeaceJam conference were invited to present their projects to Leymah Gbowee. It was not only inspirational to see the fantastic projects delivered by young people, but also inspirational to see their reactions to other student projects, and further cemented the idea that anyone can make change. The lessons learnt at the PeaceJam conference were evident in the enthused faces of two hundred students. The students had accepted Gbowee’s open mind challenge and they were no longer going to be bystanders, but instead active agents of change, committed to standing up against injustice.

Eye on the ball: Why making sport accessible to women is so important

by Emilia Passaro

Image source: This Girl Can. The campaign , funded by The National Lottery and developed by Sport England, celebrates being active and aims to help women overcome the fear of judgement stopping women and girls from joining in.

In the past few weeks The Guardian has put out two articles about netball. Two! This is exciting news right?

A predominantly female sport is finally getting some recognition in the infinite ocean of male-dominated sports. Unfortunately, they’re not the greatest write ups we could have hoped for.

The first, by Morwenna Ferrier, states that netball is “uncool” even though  £16.9m is being invested in to the sport, with a solid £10.5m of that going towards encouraging adult women back into the sport.

Image source: This Girl Can

She claims the reasons for the game’s uncool rating are “it’s reputation at school, it’s complex rules and it’s tremendous restrictions on movement, not to mention the fact that marking an opponent requires a player to do a modified Nazi salute”.

Disregarding the Nazi salute comment because that’s obviously an unsavoury (and frankly lazy) joke, let’s look at the breakdown…

School reputation

I understand this statement. PE was the bane of my life and is the reason I still hate field hockey (although my perceptions of the sport notably improved during the 2016 Olympics. That was class).

I can see how the flashbacks of standing outside in a tiny skirt, probably wearing a t-shirt foraged from lost property while the wind howls and rain falls in horizontal sheets stinging your bare legs could be traumatic, but surely women’s relationship with sport has moved on since these dark times?

Complex Rules

Netball is a competitive sport and as such it has rules. Complexity is a subjective concept so I won’t comment on that but I know many people who are able to understand and execute the rules of netball. Plus, with two umpires barking out any offenses you make during the match it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick out where you’re going wrong.

Taking part

The rest of the article goes on to quote the head of Media at Sport England, Andrew St Ledger, who awarded the grant. He says “It’s all about getting people who are typically not represented in sports and physical activity to take part.” I think this is the most important aspect of netball and Mr St Ledger sums it up beautifully. He goes on to say “Netball is a great one for targeting women because about 98% of people who play netball are women, as you might expect.” He’s right. The vast majority of netball players are women and it is good to see an investment into women’s sports.

Image source: This Girl Can

The problem comes when we look into why women’s sports are so underfunded and frankly under appreciated. Billions of pounds have been pumped into men’s sports, premier league footballers are some of the highest paid individuals on the planet, it’s almost impossible to get away from the men’s rugby Six Nations and there’s nothing wrong with that (except maybe those wages – that’s ridiculous) but wouldn’t it be nice for the other half of the population to be represented in sport?

At this important juncture in their life, teenage girls become more self-conscious. Not only physically, but also how they are perceived by their peers, effectively how “cool” they are… and this is exactly why articles such as Miss Ferrier’s are so damaging.

Why are women abandoning sports after school?

The other article, in response to the first; shed a slightly more helpful light on the situation. Emma John delivers a response to Ferrier’s article from the netball community and even though the piece was undoubtedly meant as light-hearted commentary it seems to have missed the point. She states how the popularity of netball is on the rise and with recent international and league matches being broadcast live on television (BBC2 and Sky Sports 2 respectively) more and more eyes are turning towards the sport and hopefully women’s sport in general. I for one am very excited to see where the increase in funding and attention will take the game and, I’m sure the rest of my team, the Wendover Sparrowhawks Netball Club are too. However, the fact remains that a significant proportion of young women are abandoning group sports after leaving school.

Academic achievement vs sporting achievement

Is it a coincidence that this departure from group sports tends to correlate with hitting puberty? The reasons for this are not entirely clear but there are a few theories. Is it possible that young women are discouraged from pursuing sporting achievement in favour of academic achievement? Girls often out perform boys in academia at this age while boys surge ahead on the sporting field. Could it be that this supposed competition between sexes is turning our young women away from finding accomplishment in sporting endeavours?

Self-conscious

Another theory is that at this important juncture in their life, teenage girls become more self-conscious. Not only physically but also how they are perceived by their peers, effectively how “cool” they are. I see more truth in this latter theory and this is exactly why articles such as Miss Ferrier’s are so damaging. Young people are highly impressionable and therefore there is just no room for any kind of negative press in regards to women’s sports. We need to be promoting it as much as possible. The health benefits of sport, not only physical but also mental are well documented – this is something we should be ushering our young people towards.

Motherhood feels like lying on your CV

by Jennifer Robinson

Image source: Mia Nolting at berlinartparasites

Jennifer is 29 and splits her time between the UK and Uganda where she lives with her partner and their two children.

When you start telling people you’re pregnant the questions just keep coming. I thought it was bad with my first (unplanned) pregnancy:

“Oh. What are you going to do?” I am going to have a baby.
“Oh. Are you with the father?”  Right now I’m here inwardly rolling my eyes at you. He’s at home.
“Oh. Do you need some leaflets about terminating unwanted pregnancies?” No thank you. Just a referral to a midwife please, Doctor.
“Well, don’t worry, it will all turn out all right” Ah man, I was so worried. Phew. You’ve alleviated all my fears about my own inadequacies.

Distinctions between first pregnancy and second pregnancy are vast – I felt much more relaxed. My doctor also initially thought the second pregnancy was ovarian cancer, so in a choice between that and a baby, obviously I’ll take the baby.

Nothing prepares you for the sickness, but like the waves of nausea whenever you open the fridge, the questions just keep coming.

This time, by the nature of having already had a baby and managed quite well actually, there were less “your life is ruined” undertones and more “hope you love being tired” undertones.

My first kid barely slept for three years. I am the Queen, no, the KHALEESI of tired. I laugh in the face of tired. Slightly hysterically and at 2am, but I do laugh. Right before leaning into the cot to ask my baby what her damn problem is and right before I accidentally-on-purpose elbow her sleeping father in the face. AT WHICH HE DOES NOT WAKE.

Image source: Keely Montoya at berlinartparasites

The biggest mistake made by non-parents is to suppose that tiredness and dirty nappies are the worst of it. Those are easy, they have solutions; sleep works itself out. The hard part is having your child ask why the other kids were calling him a brown boy, why they were throwing things at him, or why they didn’t want to play. I have noticed an undertone of casual racism to many of my sons’ encounters with children in the UK and let me tell you – they get it from the parents. The hard part is having to watch as the world begins teaching them that nobody but your parents is going to do shit for you. With a boy, that means he has to work hard, but with a girl; life will find ways to stack itself against her just as it always has.

Let me go back to the inference that pregnancy ruins your life (if you’re not married, and especially for single mothers). This goes back to when women were to be preserved for marriage, from the same place as such enlightened schools of thought as ‘if a woman has an abortion she no longer deserves love and compassion’, or as is still an important part of some cultures, particularly in Northern Africa and the Middle East, ‘if she’s ever going to get married then any visible traces of genitalia must be removed lest she be rendered unclean.’

FGM is the extreme end of a sliding scale of inequality, a scale which has us applying layers of makeup, dieting for literal decades, using language differently; ‘treating’ ourselves to things men just buy themselves because they want them; or to food we want but don’t feel we should have; shrinking out of the way when a man is taking up our personal space. All of these things are interlinked within an idea about the value of women and our own self-worth. I saw a thought-provoking graphic the other day which said: If I asked you to name something you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?

How are women supposed to learn to love themselves when society applies conditions to the love it offers them?

It is not far from living memory in the UK that women were little more than property and still ongoing in many other places. But these attitudes have no place in modern life. People no longer meet at village dances and take years to get to know each other before marrying in church, they swipe right. If you don’t get a match, no problem, there’s someone else.

What HAS happened, in the face of all the terrible things that the internet has brought us (I’m looking at you, Tinder), is an upsurge in acceptance for even the most unorthodox lifestyle. But why has this trend of acceptance not yet made its way to single mothers?

It’s not AS taboo – children no longer grow up to discover their sister is fact their mother and their mother is their grandmother as a way to avoid the stigma, judgment and persecution young mum’s faced if they had children out of wedlock.

But if one of the first questions I’m asked is ‘are you with the father?’ then is that a sign that society is ready for a woman who says “Actually, no I’m not”? In fact, with my second baby, the FIRST QUESTION I was asked by people I know relatively well was “Do they have the same father?” so – under the assumption that – as I might not have been able to hang onto the first guy (should have dieted harder post-baby?), at least I may have a chance of the second guy sticking around! Life jackpot!

Sorry to disappoint, but it’s the same father. Yes, we’re together. So damn traditional.

And while it may not disappoint overtly, it’s a much juicier piece of information to pass on when the father is not around, because people love to see women fail. This is why Ulrika Jonsson was named the shockingly derogatory 4×4 (four kids by four fathers) by the British media when men have been having kids left, right and centre for millennia and nobody says a bloody word other than ‘you go, Rod Stewart’, or ‘great work, Donald Trump’.

The guilt that comes with being a Mum

Image source: Personal-Art Pop Art Yourself Pinterest

By whatever circumstances brought her there, she is not considered to have simply ended relationships that were not working but has instead failed to hang onto a man. I have friends who have chosen to go it ‘alone’, a misleading phrase because when you have friends who are parents too, you’re never alone. ‘Going it alone’ just means there’s no man around. I have nothing but respect for them, and I will do anything that they need me to do to help, because this is hard. It’s hard when you have a traditional support network – the mythical village it takes to raise a child. I have resolved to be part of my friends’ villages, even if it’s on the outskirts.

I maintain that parenting, for all women – with or without a partner – is like lying on your CV that you have certain skills so that you get hired, then realising that not only do you not have those skills, you don’t have any skills at all and then you end up crying in the bathroom because you can’t remember how to make a table on Excel and your boss is waiting for the report. Just as they can’t imagine you feeling out of your depth, your child won’t know you’re crying in the bathroom, all they’ll see is you opening the door and smiling at them.

10 inspirational women that would make better UN ambassadors than Wonder Woman

by Sara Belhay

Wonder Woman UN Ambassador

When the UN decided to appoint the fictional character Wonder Woman as the honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, I had a few issues with this, and I wasn’t the only one…

Women protest outside UN

Protests ensued after the appointment of Wonder Woman as the UN’s Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.

Sponsored by Warner Bros and DC Entertainment, the campaign was part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5; set to achieve gender equality for women and girls by 2030. The appointment of Wonder Woman sought to highlight women and girls around the world that are ‘wonder women in their own right’ who overcome barriers to achieve their goals.

The appointment was not received well with roughly fifty UN workers turning their back in protest. A petition signed by just over 45,000 people called out the character’s ‘overtly sexualised image’ which is ‘not culturally encompassing or sensitive’ and that the position was ‘too important to be championed by a mascot’. This begs the question – how is it the UN could not find a real life woman to advocate the rights of all women and girls?

The campaign was set to run over the course of a year but ended after just two months. It is unclear whether the UN plan to relaunch the campaign with someone new.

This inspired me to create a list of ten women, I believe are far more suitable for the role.

Malala Yousafzai

Image source: parade.com

1. Malala Yousafzai: Shot by the Taliban for her activism and determination in giving girls in Pakistan access to a free quality education, she is the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The Malala Fund, an organisation she co- founded in 2014 with her father, has funded education projects in six countries, empowering girls to achieve their potential through education. Malala advocates globally for education as a fundamental social and economic right.

Image source: Al Jazeera English YouTube

Image source: Al Jazeera English YouTube

2.  Obiageli Ezekwesili: Founder of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency Internnational, Ezekwesili has also held the position of Nigeria’s Minister of Education in 2006, and was the Vice President of the World Bank’s Africa Division from 2007-2012. Ezekwesili organised a global campaign #BringOurGirlsBack after more than 200 girls were kidnapped from a Chibok school by Boko Haram’s militant group in 2014. Twenty-one girls were recently freed, but the campaign continues for the release of the others.

Shirin Ebadi

Image source: Radio Free Europe

3. Shirin Ebadi: Served as the first Iranian judge before being removed from her post after the 1979 Iranian Revolution because she was a woman. Outraged, Ebadi claimed early retirement but in 1992, acquired a lawyer’s licence and established her own practice. Ebadi prioritised cases concerning the unfair treatment of women and children and in 2003 was the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Now living in exile, Ebadi is the co- founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and continues advocating for human rights globally.

Li Tingting activist

Image source: BBC News

 4. Li Tingting: Was detained and tortured for thirty seven days in 2015 by the Chinese government for her plans to campaign about sexual harassment. The detention of Tingting and four other feminist activists gained international attention and triggered a global campaign #FreeTheFive. One year on, Tingting continues advocating for gender equality and is campaigning against forced marriages.

Leymah Gbowee

Photo by Michael Angelo

5. Leymah Gbowee: Received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for leading a women’s peace movement to end Liberia’s second civil war. Gbowee is a founding member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and in 2012, established a non-profit organisation – Gbowee Peace Foundation which provides educational and leadership opportunities for women and girls in Liberia. Gbowee actively speaks out internationally about the vulnerability women and children experience in war torn areas and gender based violence.

Jody Williams campaigner

Image source: SABC News

 6. Jody Williams: Is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which within five years, succeeded in advocating for an international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines; which Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize for in 1997. Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Williams’ advocacy is focused on issues surrounding peace, human security, women’s rights and is currently working on a campaign to ban killer robots.

Yusra Mardini

Image source: Al Bawaba Sports

7. Yusra Mardini: A true symbol of hope, strength and empowerment, Mardini is an eighteen-year-old Syrian refugee that made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy. After the motor failed, Mardini and three others that could swim, jumped in to the water to push the boat to shore, swimming for over three hours. Under the Olympic Refugee team, Mardini competed in the 100 metre freestyle and 100 metre butterfly race at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Mardini continues to swim and support other refugees.

Tawakkol Karman

Image source: Aquila style

8. Tawakkol Karman: Is a journalist, human rights activist, member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and known as the ‘Mother of the Revolution’. Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, for her non-violent efforts in promoting human rights and women’s participation in peace building in the Yemen. Karman has continued to support female journalists and galvanize Yeminis against the government’s corruption and injustice.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Image source: Alchetron

9. Rigoberta Menchu Tum: Has actively campaigned for the rights of indigenous people and women, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. The Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation was soon after established to help Mayans that had been impacted by genocide under the military dictatorship. Rigoberta ran for President in Guatemala in 2007 and 2011 under the first indigenous led political party that she founded. Rigoberta has continued campaigning for Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation worldwide, and is also a member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Zahra Nemati

Photo by Harry Engels

10. Zahra Nemati: Eager to break stereotypes in her home country Iran, Nemati is a Paralympic gold medalist that promotes sport as a source of empowerment to women and people with disabilities. In 2005, Nemati founded the Spinal Cord Injury Dynamic association and advocates around road safety, autism awareness and an international non-profit- Special Olympics, which provides sporting opportunities to disabled people.

These are just a selection of inspirational women that have advanced gender equality and created positive change in adverse conditions; but if the UN is serious about empowering all women and girls by 2030, what better way than to hold states accountable to their duty to uphold human rights?

Here’s in hope that one day we won’t need an honorary ambassador to advocate the right to equality.