Our Breasts Are Deadlier Than Your Stones

I want to bring attention to a particular line from this: “Her act could bring about an epidemic. It could be contagious and give ideas to other women.” If a woman’s actions and ideas are so radical that they could give other women ideas and encourage new thinking, then there is a larger problem. If we are going to be so afraid of having women think and act independently then we need to have change.

There is nothing radical about a woman’s breasts when she’s in porn or performing for men, but yet men feel so threatened by breasts when they aren’t being sexualized.

Lysistrata's Daughter

Apparently.

Because while the threat of stoning is just that-a threat-breasts are on display throughout the world today in support of Amina Tyler, the nineteen year old Tunisian woman who posted pictures last month of her bare chest and the words “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honor” in Arabic. A second photo, declaring “Fuck your morals” in English, was also posted.

Almi Adel,  who heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, now known (ironically) as the Moderate Association for Awareness and Reform is quoted as saying: “The young lady should be punished according to sharia, with 80 to 100  lashes, but (because of) the severity of the act she has committed, she deserves to be stoned to death,” he said. “Her act could bring about an epidemic. It could be contagious and give ideas to other women. It is therefore necessary…

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I can’t believe I still have to say these things

There are days when gender issues infuriate me and when people/problems just seem absolutely ridiculous. There are things/opinions that I actually cannot believe I have to voice or express. There are so many things that you would think would be common sense by now.

I can’t believe that I have to say I believe in gender equality.

I can’t believe that I have to say that I believe men and women should have equal rights, opportunities, responsibilities and receive equal respect.

I can’t believe that I have to say that I think that girls and boys should be able to go to school.

I can’t believe that I have to say that I think that every person should have access to family planning education, counselling, and support (through contraception, abortion, help with fertility, STD/HIV testing, treatment, prenatal and postnatal care, etc.).

I can’t believe that I have to say that I think men and women have the right to live free from fear of being assaulted (physically, sexually, emotionally), free from fear of rape, free from fear of being drugged, etc.

I can’t believe that I have to say that I think that all genders and people within genders, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, identity, religion, age, political beliefs, size, physical/mental ability or disability etc. are equal and should be treated equally.

Worst of all, I can’t believe that people think I’m radical for believing these things. Is it so radical to believe that all people (without conditions, no ifs, ands, or buts) are equal.

Period. All people are equal.

On Entitlement and Respect

I’ve experienced a fair share of battles here regarding how men treat women, and today was no different.

While on the bus, the bus attendant announced to someone that he thought I was beautiful; someone disagreed and said I was ugly. This was followed by a fair amount of debate while pointed at various parts of my body and garnering a small attentive crowd. I turned around and announced that I understand Vietnamese and was met with silence.

People felt as though they had the right, ability, and freedom to openly discuss what they did and did not like about my body, while pointing to the body parts in question and when it became obvious that I knew and understood what was going on there wasn’t even an apology. Then on the rest of my trek home I had several men try to get me to sit and eat with them; what is it a joke or game to try to get the girl to sit down and eat or drink with you? Do people really expect that someone they have never met or spoken with is really going to want to sit down right at that moment to enjoy a meal with a stranger? I sure wouldn’t. But when I say no I’m met with someone who is shocked and offended that I don’t want to sit down with a strange man and eat whatever he offers just because he asked.

Just because I’m female does not mean I’m your property. Just because I’m different than you does not mean you have the right to discuss or debate my body. Just because you ask me to do something does not mean I have to say yes. I am human, I am not your property, I do not exist as a source of entertainment for you, and I deserve the same level of respect you want to receive.

You should never apologize for believing that humanity can be better

Lately I’ve seen some things online which have bothered me, but I have been guilty of them in the past as well.

I find that people are often apologetic when posting opinions online – particularly opinions supporting gender equality. Why should I apologize if my words offend you when your unapologetic actions offend me on a daily basis?

We have nothing to apologize about – there is nothing wrong or shameful about being opinionated and sharing that opinion. There is no need or reason to apologize when asking for equal rights, freedoms, and opportunities. If those actions should happen to offend someone, let it happen. If they are so easily offended that the notion of treating both men and women with a high level of respect and dignity offends them, then perhaps it may also educate them.

You should never apologize for believing that humanity can be better.

A woman is human

“A woman is human. She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man. Likewise, she is never less. Equality is a given.
A woman is human.”

Vera Nazarian

Wake-up call to Canada

I’m certain that a lot of my readers know this, but some probably don’t. I am Aboriginal, Metis to be specific and while I was not solely raised according to this heritage, it is a part of who I am, it is part of my identity, my culture, and my family. It pains me to see that discrimination based on heritage, culture, ethnicity still happens every day in Canada (and many parts of the world) and that it is happening by our governments, the groups of people who are elected to protect and guarantee basic rights.

People have been talking about the failures of the Canadian government with regards to the Aboriginal population for longer than I have been alive. We have the extensive crisis in Attawapiskat regarding education, housing, water, and so much more. There is also Kashechewan where there have been numerous evacuations, boil water advisories for years (this is one of 100 First Nations communities with extensive long-term water problems), a housing crisis, and in one month alone this community of 1700 people lost 21 to suicide. In Manitoba, rather than send the appropriate tools to deal with flu outbreaks (i.e. hand sanitizer) a community was sent body bags. Let me guess, you probably haven’t heard of most of this? It has been a fairly invisible crisis to the rest of Canada and the rest of the world, remarkably hidden and that received extremely limited news coverage. Why? Because these things happen so frequently within Aboriginal communities, human rights transgressions (at the fault of the government) are so commonplace that they have become normalized.

And that’s just the beginning.

So is it really any surprise that Canada received a failing grade for human rights by Amnesty International? As said in the report “By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis.”

What are we going to do about it? What commitment do you make as a Canadian to improve the status of human rights in Canada? If you are not Canadian, what will you do to protect and improve human rights in your nation (or abroad)? As Canadians who do we think we are? Why do we erroneously believe that we can push for, represent, and speak on behalf of human rights around the world when we haven’t the common sense or decency to guarantee those same rights within our own borders?

Those of us who have had free, equal, unlimited and fully realized human rights for years cannot become complacent in the misplaced belief that this does not affect us. Because it does. When we become complacent or apathetic about the human rights of others, we are complacent about our own rights and freedoms. My rights, my education, my freedoms mean nothing to me if I am exercising them at the sacrifice of other’s rights.

And just because I’m a decent human being.

International Human Rights Day 2012

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a seminar in Hanoi for International Human Rights Day and I must say it was interesting. I will not be posting very much about it for now, but in the meantime here are some select quotes and upcoming events that I thought were interesting as they apply to citizens of Vietnam, Canada, and the world. This was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate human rights achievements in Canada, Vietnam and the world from 1948 to the present.

Continue reading

Contraception is a Human Right

We have found that there are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. There are other interesting findings: even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.

That is a quote from the researchers who are two years in to a five year study abortion – specifically the first scientific study which looks at what happens to women who have been denied abortions. This study has been following 956 women who sought abortions, 182 of which were denied. This study takes place in the USA but I believe much of the information can be extrapolated to other nations.

I find it fascinating that less than halfway into the study researchers are already able to debunk many of the common reasons why women are denied abortions and protestors push for pro-life national agendas. Firstly, abortion does not cause mental illness. Secondly, abortion does not cause drug use. Particularly when combined with the emotional distress of carrying an unwanted child to term. In fact, the study found that giving birth to an unwanted child caused more physical damage than an abortion: “There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage. We find no differences in chronic health conditions at 1 week or one year after seeking abortion.”

What I also found interesting was that only 11% of those who were denied abortions put the child up for adoption and that there are higher rates of putting children up for adoption among those with a history of drug abuse. While there are plenty of people who desperately want to adopt children, particularly from within their home country, adoption is still looked down upon. Many people are discriminated against if they put their child up for adoption, there is a stigma associated with this that makes many people choose to keep the child.

Also notable is that this week the United Nations declared contraception to be a human right. About time, right? Family Planning is universally acknowledged to be critical for development; spacing children apart by a minimum of 2 years improves their health, developmental capacity, brain function, in-utero nutrition, and improves the health of the mother and ease of her delivery. Additionally, 82% of unwanted pregnancies could be avoided simply by increasing access to information and services regarding contraception. Who needs access? Women and adolescents as

Thai Minority Women in Dien Bien, Vietnam discussing the importance of family planning and maternal health (November 8-9, 2012)

those are the target groups and the people who need to be able to have control and power over decisions regarding their own bodies. This is a huge step forward for international development and a wake-up call for so called ‘developed’ nations to improve the dissemination of information and services regarding contraception. It also should indicate a need to not discriminate against such services on the basis of religion, funding, or personal beliefs.

Take a step forward with the United Nations and protect the rights and freedoms of people around the world by supporting family planning, improving access to contraception information and services, reducing the stigma surrounding adoption and abortion, and ensuring that women people are never denied the ability to live out their basic rights.

Why I will not be ‘put in a binder’ and other rants

I may not be American, but I recognize that American politics and issues have (and will continue to have) fairly significant impacts on Canadian politics (which still infuriates me to no end). I apologize as you read this, in fact maybe stop now. I seem to get progressively more and more angry as I think about this more..

I fail to understand why and how someone like Mitt Romney can be chosen to represent an entire political party and given the opportunity to speak in front of large crowds (for anything other than entertainment) when he so clearly fails to represent a significant portion of the population – women. When someone can make such horrendous comments as were made during the second debate, I can only hope that his representation ceases.

Women – 50.8% of the population of the United States  – should not be ignored. Women are not some obscure painting to be taken out of storage only for show, women are an equal, qualified, educated, MAJORITY of the population. Having equal female representation should not be a task or a chore, it should be a given that women have a fair share of positions in all levels of all employment sectors. You shouldn’t need a “binder full of women” to find qualified women, you should be working with women and working for women on a regular basis.

On top of that, you should learn how to cook, because if you think that women need flexible work schedules to take care of their family and get dinner on the table, you are part of the problem. You are part of the reason that women work a double day: the solution to women’s double work day is not to give them more job flexibility to do more housework; it’s to give ALL employees EQUAL job flexibility to have an EQUAL share of housework. You should be supporting men in taking parental leave and in taking time off work when their kids are sick.

In addition to that, single parents are NOT the reason that people walk around with weapons, the lax gun laws are the reason people walk around with weapons. We have plenty of single parents in Canada (I was even raised by divorced parents) and yet our gun violence is infinitely less of a problem here: why? Because we don’t walk around with handguns for ‘personal protection’. Maybe if you associated with single parents or really anyone other than white, upper-class Americans you would know that. Or, if you really want to have less households with single parents, increase sexual education, maintain access to abortions, and allow same-sex marriages! Why is that so hard to understand? I mean, I get it, and I was raised by divorced parents (which apparently means I should be violent and be carrying AK-47s around), I don’t have a university degree (yet), oh and I’m a woman..

International Women’s Initiative

Hello everyone!

Well if you didn’t know I’ve been quite busy, but I wanted to draw some attention to this wonderful organization called the International Women’s Initiative. If you want to learn about them you should check out their webpage or their blog. Myself and one of my classmates, Kyla, have been blogging for them and my first post is up – Development as Choice; Equality as Voice.

For a lot of people successful development can be summarized by saying ‘development is choice’. For people who work in the field of development, a lot of work is based on increasing the choices that people have and increasing their opportunities, which therefore results in decreasing their vulnerability. In many cases, this work is focused around women, as they are often the most vulnerable members of society. Having choices increase the options that a person has, changes in their life, be they personal, environmental, economic, or social. The most vulnerable members of society are those most reliant on the protection and advocacy of those who represent them.

This brings us to Canada. . . 

Click here to read the rest.

Abstract – Genocide: Perpetrated through Sexual Violence

I’ve recently finished a paper which examined the ways in which sexual violence can constitute acts of genocide and it’s a paper I’d like to continue to develop with additional research and additional case studies to better represent a variety of geographical locations. For the meantime, I thought I would share my abstract and once the mark from class becomes official I will share the rest of the paper as well.

Genocide and sexual violence are relatively new topics in the realm of international humanitarian law, yet their interconnectivity has caused some of the worst humanitarian crisis from the twentieth century into the present time. In understanding the ways in which specific instances of sexual violence have contributed to and constituted acts of genocide it can be argued that, in context, sexual violence can be a means and act of genocide. Through analysis of secondary sources and government reports this paper will examine the experiences of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to demonstrate the ways in which sexual violence has been used as a tool of genocide. 

Where should women live?

I’ve recently made a twitter account and I have to say I’m learning to love the way information is shared on it. I find that I’m able to scan and see way more data than I ever would have otherwise. Knowing my passion for gender equality and rights, I’m sure its not surprising that I focused on these topics. I came across this infographic and I have to say that I was a little bit startled to see some of the ratios and data regarding gender equality. Canada is currently ranked 17th among the best/worst places to be a woman, and that indicates a fall of 3 places from the last time these indicators were compared. What is most interesting, is that much of Canada’s failures regarding women’s rights and gender equality can be directly correlated to their relations with the Aboriginal population. Check it out, and tell me what you think.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Let’s Talk About Sex.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Check it out!

Rio+20: Suspicion or Sustainability?

After my earlier blog post, I realized that a lot of people might not really know exactly what Rio+20 is and the significance it can play for the world of international development. As you read on, think about what Rio+20 can and will bring us, think about international development and can bring about solutions, think about your opinion and if this conference shares that or contradicts it. Just think.

Rio+20 is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that is currently underway (June 20-22 2012) and it is taking place exactly twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. The Earth Summit in 1992 was where Agenda 21 was signed and ratified, making commitments to changing the ways that economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection are approached. The Earth Summit was essentially a landmark conference in raising awareness and making commitments for sustainability, environmentalism, and equality.

This year, Rio+20 is reviewing some of those former commitments and seeing where nations need to be headed for a sustainable future without poverty. This conference has thousands of participants from governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector representatives, and even concerned citizens.

Rio+20 has two focus areas: ‘a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication’ and the ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’. The first area – green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication – works towards having a holistic, sustainable approach to all business, government, and other decision-making. To do this, it means taking social, economic, and environmental concerns, and the ways in which they interact, into account prior to making any decision and using the most beneficial decision to those concerns. The second concern – institutional framework for sustainable development – means taking the same decision making process and ingraining into to all levels of government and governance. It recognizes that current governmental decision-making often neglects sustainability and that through ingraining sustainability into their frameworks they can have longer lasting decisions, policies, and, ideally, a more equal world.

In addition to the themes for the conference, Rio+20 has also identified seven priority areas to focus on for the conference; which include ‘decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness’. These priorities highlight some of the biggest concerns for sustainability now and in the future and with significant progress and international cooperation on these topics the outlook for the future would be greatly improved.

Wednesday, June 20th marked the start of Rio+20 despite protests and nations have agreed on a draft discussion. Understandably, many people and organizations are skeptical on what results Rio+20 will actually bring, but there has still been progress. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, acknowledges that in the past sustainable development has not the attention or effort dedicated towards it that it deserves and needs and that they have not met their commitments or goals. While a draft document has been made and agreed upon, titled “The Future We Want,” this draft document is still vague. It holds no requirements or commitments for nations, no real forms of measurement, or targets, and fails to meet the needs or hopes of many international non-governmental organizations. While many nations agreed that between 30 and 100 billion dollars would be required for sustainability initiatives, only 30 billion dollars are drafted and required in the text, which also does not include where the funds will come from.

What was hoped for and what may still transpire are the creation of Sustainable Development Goals, which would replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 when they expire. Another hoped outcome of Rio+20 would be the creation of a new index to measure human development. The current model is the Human Development Index, which ranks nations with regards to the quality of life; it takes life expectancy, literacy, and GNI/GDP into account. The proposed model would be the Sustainable Human Development Index that would use the pre-existing Human Development Index but add a measure of sustainability that would have to be determined and quantified at Rio+20.

Personally, I find it most interesting that even nothing transpires directly out of Rio+20, there have still been major commitments in the public and private sector outside of government. As of 12 noon on Thursday June 21st, there were 517 voluntary commitments to sustainability from the private and public sector, these commitments must be concrete goals, with detailed timelines, and will be subject to periodic reporting. This gives us clear goals, with measurable impacts that we can see and watch grow.

A second positive impact is the Rio for People conference that culminated on June 20th at the same time as Rio+20 began. This conference focused on ‘strengthening people’s capacity for genuine sustainable development’ and featured 200 groups from civil society, including environmental non-governmental organizations, unions, religious parties, and representatives from indigenous populations. This conference chose to go beyond the set agenda for Rio+20 and look for sustainable, alternative options for biodiversity, poverty elimination, and climate protection. This conference was an opportunity for grassroots workers on sustainability to meet and share ideas and models, as well as to critique the larger top-down models and ideologies.

Rio for People, resulted in distrust towards the larger Rio+20 conference which can be summarized with the words of one Vietnamese activist, “We are suspicious of this talk of a green economy. It seems like another attempt by the rich powers to impose a model on poor countries.”

Which brings us back to the original questions, what will Rio+20 bring the world? Is there hope for international development? Are these conferences the answer? Or do they promote the top-down model of development? Can policy create sustainability?

Rio 20+ Progress after 20 years, or still moving in circles?

As the Rio 20+ conference is set to begin, it will be interesting to see how it progresses and how sustainability has developed as a key item on the global agenda. The two main focus areas for Rio 20+ are a ‘green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.”

While these are great focal areas, the conference seems to lack the force necessary to guarantee and police commitments. Developed nations have been notorious for regressing and failing to meet the commitments, promises, and goals set out and there is little to show that this conference will be any different. Prior to the beginning of the discussions, only 37% of the draft agreement had been agreed to, with the refusals and changes made primarily by developed nations.

Nations are still wrapped up in the debate as to whether food, water, and sanitation should be considered universal rights (despite their inclusion in the millennium development goals). Come on Canada! Water is necessary for survival, so as a basic need, shouldn’t it be protected?

What is also fascinating is that all nations participating recognize that 30-100 billion dollars are needed to meet the current and prior commitments to sustainability, but none can agree as to where these funds should come from. So, everyone knows that something needs to be done, but none are willing to contribute in order to make it happen.

Talks begin on Wednesday, I’m curious to see what happens. But in the mean time, what do you think? How will the conference turn out? Will commitments be made or reaffirmed? Will we leave feeling hopeful?

The rules for going into space (for women) according to The People’s Republic of China

I know that most of you are aware of my feminist roots and my own personal beliefs and because of that I hope that you find this as shocking as I did. 
I came across this article today that highlighted some of the rules that China has put in place for their female astronauts (also known as taikonauts) and I was appalled at the blatant discrimination!

Rule #1 Female Taikonauts must be married

Rule #2 Female Taikonauts must have given birth naturally

These first two rules are intended to ensure that female taikonauts have experienced enough that would guarantee them the heightened level of maturity necessary for going into space. Are immature men allowed to go into space, or are they deemed to have a naturally higher level of maturity without any comparable test required?

Rule #3 Female Taikonauts must not have any scars (or must have perfect skin)

Rule #4 Female Taikonauts must not have any decayed or imperfect teeth

Rule #5 Female Taikonauts must not have any body odour

Rule 3 exists under the belief any scars or skin blemishes could open up while in space and bleed. Rule 4 just seems to speak to the photogenic quality of female taikonauts and perhaps may contribute to Rule 5, which has no basis other than to ensure a more comfortable journey for the male taikonauts (who have no requirements on odour or lack thereof).

Women were also given only 3 years of training, compared to the standard 14 – perhaps because they couldn’t have possible gotten married and had children during the same time frame if expected to go into space in their early to mid 30s. 

It seems to me that women are being chosen for the ways in which they represent the ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ Chinese woman and how they will appear while doing so instead of on their actual ability. Why not choose to represent the nation with the most capable and talented taikonaut? Since when does childbirth, perfect skin and teeth, and an unnatural lack of body odour contribute to one’s technical ability?

 

Millennium Development Goals (again)

 Water

There are news articles everywhere saying we’ve met the MDG target for access to clean, drinkable water and technically we have. We have halved the percent of population without access to clean water, with 2 billion additional people having access. But are we done yet?

While it is incredible that 89% of the population has access to clean, drinkable water (comparable to 76% in 1990), that means that 11% of the population is still forced to drink unsafe, unclean water every single day, 40% of which is in Sub-Saharan Africa. So are we done yet? Absolutely not, but at least progress is being made.

On another note, lets take a peak at the goal for maternal mortality.

Under this goal the UN is hoping to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters and ensure universal access to reproductive health. Now it is often said that these two indicators are often the best clue into the status of women’s rights and gender equality in a particular country. Some progress has been made, but this goal has seen the least progress and in many cases the least effort.

While nations around the world are making significant efforts to improve women’s rights, access to reproductive health (contraception, information, and abortion), increasing access to trained professionals prior to, during, and after birth, and increasing education and knowledge in general, we have countries closer to home where access to reproductive health (contraception, information, and abortion) is still considered fair game for public debate.

From 1998-2010 the USA actually regressed in terms of their maternal mortality rate showing an increase of twenty-five percent in a twelve-year period. Its appalling that such a thing can happen in a nation with health care readily available, and it demonstrates that gender equality and women’s health was not at the forefront of the nation’s agenda.

In Canada, we have the pesky little issue of abortion. Abortion is legal (huge win for women’s rights), but not available throughout the entire nation where some provinces and regions do not have the tools or facilities to perform abortions forcing Canadians to travel huge distances to seek out medical care. This drastically increases the cost, and decreases the availability of such reproductive health to girls and women who may not be able to travel and/or live in rural regions. Even more appalling is that we still have elected officials who are trying to make abortion illegal-may I add that I have yet to ever hear or see a female MP in Canada try to overturn our current abortion law? An MP from Kitchener has been trying to bring the abortion debate back into parliament since Christmas of 2011.

Does that mean that women’s rights are regressing? Maybe, but with absolute certainty it means that every nations must make a firm commitment to improve women’s rights, health, and access.

To check out international progress on the MDG’s go here.

Liberty

“Liberty in a free and democratic society does not require the state to approve the personal decisions made by its citizens; it does, however, require the state to respect them.”