Dr. Denis Mukwege

I want to tell you a story about Dr. Denis Mukwege; a man I consider to be incredibly inspiring and courageous.

When war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Dr. Mukwege had 35 patients killed in his hospital in Lemera. He fled to Bukavu where he opened a hospital with what he had available (made from tents) and eventually built a maternity ward with an operating theatre. In 1998 this was also destroyed, so he started again in 1999.

In 1999, he had a patient come into his hospital who had been a victim of extremely brutal sexual violence – bent on destruction – and he treated her, assuming this was an anomaly. Within three months, 45 more women came to seek his services each with an equally brutal story. He saw a pattern and realized this was not just sexual violence, but that rape was being used to destroy communities.

Dr. Mukwege instigated several stages of care beginning with a psychological examination to determine whether the women have the resiliency to undergo surgery and recovery. The next stage involves whatever medical care is necessary; this is dependent on the type of violence and can range from basic medical care to reconstructive surgery. He then connects patients with socio-economic care as many patients arrive with nothing (not even clothing). Patients require the ability to be able to care for themselves after they leave the hospital, so they undergo skills and jobs training while in recovery, they can access education, and they build strong support systems with those who protect their dignity. Lastly, patients are connected with legal services as in most cases they are aware of who their assailants were but might not be aware of their legal rights.

Dr. Mukwege’s work is integral to the safety, dignity, and well-being of women within the DRC, yet as sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war Dr. Mukwege became a target because he was helping women live. Because he fought for these women’s rights to live, because he provides them with the tools to live with dignity he was targeted. Dr. Mukwege and his family were targeted and very nearly killed. Following the attack he brought his family to Brussels, however he could not leave his work. He came back to the DRC. In his words,

I was inspired to return by the determination of Congolese women to fight these atrocities. These women have taken the courage to protest about my attack to the authorities. They even grouped together to pay for my ticket home – these are women who do not have anything, they live on less than a dollar a day.

These women formed groups of 20 and stand guard at the hospital day and night to ensure that those seeking and providing care are safe. To date, he has treated over 30,000 women for injuries related to extreme sexual violence and currently sees roughly 10 patients per day.

This week he was recognized for his extraordinary work with the Sakharov prize – Europe’s top human rights prize. It’s this man’s extraordinary work, it’s the dedication and resilience of the women who stand by him and seek his services that inspire me to pursue the research I’m interested in. It’s people like this and the people that he sees every single day that remind me of the importance of this.

Learn more and look up his incredible work at the Panzi Hospital (most of it’s in French so you can also message me and I’ll explain it in English).

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.

Vietnam considering paying cash to families with daughters

It seems that the Vietnamese government is contemplating paying cash to families with daughters in an effort improve the ratio of births by gender. They believe that providing economic incentives to families will reduce the abortion rates of female fetuses.

I personally believe that while economic incentives can have a role in developing gender equality, this is not the way to do it. Instead provide equal opportunities to girls through scholarships, free primary school, provide job opportunities for girls, provide pension plans so that parents are not reliant on their children to provide for them, fund educational programs on gender equality, safe sex, and reproductive health.

Do not give money to families that have girls – that division and distinction plays into the belief that girls are worth less than boys, that the funding is a consolation prize for having a daughter. Work to develop a society that values the inputs of its daughters and women as more than wives and mothers; value women as equal contributing members of society because they are. Raise women to be more than just someone’s wife and value them for their work both inside and outside of the home; value them for their ideas, minds, and the potential that they have.

Work to create a society where each child is valued.

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.

One in Seven

Originally written for the International Women’s Initiative. See the original post here.

In light of the recent media regarding sexual assault and rape in India as well as the information presented via social media in the past month, I would like to remind everyone that sexual assault is not only a problem in developing nations. In fact, sexual assault occurs in every country in the world and globally between 15-71% of women ages 15-49 have experience sexual assault (the statistic shows the range of national averages). Yet despite the remarkably high number of women affected by sexual assault there is still a stigma associated with it, a stigma that exists in every culture and society I have ever been, seen, experienced, read of or heard of.

Women around the world are raised and told to protect themselves; don’t show too much skin, don’t walk around alone at night, don’t walk around alone, cover your drink at a bar, and the list goes on and on. Women are taught these things from childhood and it seems normal; I remember being thirteen years old going to my first school dance and reminded to cover my water or pop, never put my drink down, and to be careful. It may seem insignificant because actions like that were probably normalized for you as well. Like many people I grew up in a society where I had to constantly be on guard, there exists a fear of being drugged, or raped, or beaten; women receive information every single day about how to avoid a sexual assault, how to escape a dangerous situation, and what life changes should be made to be safer. Does it still seem normal? Does it seem normal to have to change aspects of every single day of your life to be safe, to be able to life out the same rights and freedoms as the male half of the population?

Canada, like all but six countries, (United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga) has signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women yet, like most countries, these policies have failed to result in significant societal change at this point in time. In Canada only 0.33% of sexual assaults result in convictions and many factors play into this; only 9% of sexual assaults are reported, only 33% of reported sexual assaults result in charges, and only 11% of charges result in convictions. Why is this? Canada, like many nations, places the responsibility and blame for a woman’s protection on the woman herself; why else would we be telling women to cover up and dress more ‘appropriately’? Women are regularly questioned regarding their conduct prior to the sexual assault and encouraged to not press charges, in many cases by the authorities tasked with upholding justice and the rule of law. Sound familiar? It should be, as this is the case in almost every country in the world.

When you read about sexual assault and rape do not ignore it, do not pass the information by, instead take it to heart and know that statistically a minimum of one in seven of your female friends have experienced sexual assault, although that number is likely much higher. So do not let this become a statistic, do not wave it off as something that will affect you because likely it already affects you and at least one person who is close to you. Make it personal and do something about it: you can be an advocate for women and victims of sexual assault, you can denormalize victim blaming, and you can do something.

Verbal Abuse

Have you ever had someone insult you?

Maybe you were called a bitch, a slut, a whore? Perhaps it was a one-time thing uttered by a stranger and the words stung a little bit but you never heard it again.

But maybe it wasn’t said by a stranger, maybe it was said by someone close to you, someone you believe. Perhaps you were called a bitch, a slut, a whore. Perhaps you were told you were worth less than other people? Maybe you were belittled and made to feel as though you were constantly doing something wrong?

Many people don’t realize that verbal abuse is still abuse; that words are not meaningless. Each word, each syllable has meaning and has the power and ability to affect another human being, another person’s life. Words are used as weapons, as tools to inflict pain, to harm others. Words are used to reduce people to less than they are. Words are used to convince people that their lives will never be better. Words are used to convince people to stay with people in situations or places that they have a right to life free of, this is done by either convincing them that everything they believe is wrong (no person will love you, take care of you, believe you) or that they don’t deserve better.

KAFA, a Lebanese organization, discovered that 50% of Lebanese women are victims of verbal abuse (statistically are not-surprisingly lacking for most nations) and they sought to show that words hurt and that verbal abuse is a devastating and harmful form of abuse.

The photos are extremely powerful and extremely triggering, so if you feel safe enough to check them out, please do so here; this also links to a Lebanese helpline for victims of abuse.

To find an agency in your country and/or language of choice offering support for victims of domestic abuse and verbal abuse click here.

Female Police Officers

Some officials of traffic police teams said that traffic policewoman regulating traffic during peak hours in the morning and afternoon at the major intersection would “create beauty and make the people more comfortable.” 

After the peak hours, these female police officers will return to the office.

A representative of the Road and Railway Traffic Police Agency said that the traffic policewomen standing on the podium to regulate traffic in rain or shine are beautiful images and some cities have used traffic policewomen to regulate traffic for years.

Why not have the female police officers act in full capacity like all police officers? Reward them for their ability and work, not physical appearance..

We should not be scared of going out…

“We should not be scared of going out and we shouldn’t have to protect ourselves with cooking ingredients.”

-Kajol Batra, a 28 year old student in Delhi responding to a senior Indian police officer who told women to avoid rape by not going out at dark and carrying chili powder to throw at offenders.

Gender-swapped Children’s Toy Catalogue in Sweden

So happy some companies are doing this! I actually remember the day I realized that I didn’t have to like the colour pink just because I was a girl. It was eye-opening and toy catalogues and stores did nothing to support that.

Women and Leadership

Image

The latest holiday catalogue released by Sweden’s toy retail chain Top Toy is making some buzz for breaking the gender-role stereotypes in its product pages, which features girls with Nerf guns and boys with doll houses and Hello Kitty. According to Jezebel, Top Toy’s gender-swapped catalogue may have been inspired in part by the widespread debate over the issue of gender equality that has been ongoing for the past few years in the Scandinavian nation.

here is a link to the entire article: [x]

I think it’s a great way to change social ideologies: start teaching the kiddies that it’s okay for a girl to use the nerf gun and the boy to use the vacuum!

What do you guys think?

*note* — I know that this doesn’t show women in leadership but it’s a start to changing what we see as typical gender roles, reminded me of…

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2012 USA Election

I’ve noticed an increased number of blog hits in the past while from people searching such things as ‘romney parental leave’ (or other variations of that) and ‘romney’s views on women.’ All I can say is that if you are taking the time to do your research, I commend you. Congratulations, an informed voter is my favourite kind.

Now all that being said, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have political representation that fights for basic human rights, and in my opinion, Romney is the farthest from that. Now, I’m not American, I am Canadian and living in Vietnam of all places. But I have seen first hand how American politics have the ability to influence politics and development around the world. No politician will be perfect, no one person or political party will meet all of your needs, but look beyond yourself and look at what is better for humankind in general. Do we want political representation that will force the world to take gargantuan steps BACKWARDS for womenkind? Do we want to regress (even more) on maternal health and gender equality? Do we want to spend money on ‘national defence’ that could be better used on health care and education? Not at all.

So I urge you, make the decision that is best for humankind, for people around the world, for the majority. Protect the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Protect existing human rights and women’s rights. Do not make the world move backward. We just can’t handle it anymore.

. . . seen and not heard

A few years ago, I had a professor explain the history of women’s inhabitations of space. We weren’t talking about outer space; stars, galaxies, and whatnot. We were talking about physical and intellectual space.

Historically, women’s outfits were designed to physically inhabit large spaces (think Victorian era ballgowns) and to draw attention to a woman’s appearance. These outfits took hours to put on and prepare and while they physically took up space (drawing attention to women), women were still restricted by them. These outfits physically restricted women and limited them to inhabiting physical space as opposed to intellectual space.

Sound confusing? It kind of is.. Instead think of it as that saying people used to (and sometimes still) say about kids; “children are meant to be seen and not heard’ and simply replace the word ‘children’ with the word ‘women’. Better?

I struggle with this idea because I find that these ideologies are still far too common in every day society. Women are expected to dress up, look pretty, look cute, wear this, wear that, talk, but don’t talk too much, speak up, but not too loud. We’re supposed to blend in, become a part of society, compliment those around us and not stand out too much; unless of course we stand out for being so beautiful, but even that can only occur in small doses.

I think it’s time for all people to feel comfortable inhabiting more space; we should all be comfortable and content in voicing our opinions and encouraging others to do the same, there should be no societal restrictions on my voice (or trust me, it will just get louder), and I should be able to define and inhabit whatever space I choose.

I will be seen AND heard.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Alright, by this point you should all know my stance on gender equality, women’s rights, human rights, etc. I’d say I’ve been pretty vocal. I have also been fairly polite about it (according to others).

This is going to change. I’m livid.

Women’s rights are human rights. Women do not spontaneously become pregnant, it’s really not a solo act. A man’s presence is involved in some way or another.

Do you believe in human rights? Do you believe that women are capable? Do you respect your mother, sisters, female friends? Do you enjoy making decisions about your life (i.e. what will I have for breakfast, do I want to read a book, should I wear a red shirt today, etc.)? Do you doubt the intelligence of the women you know?

If you say you respect women and if you understand what respect actually means, how can you promote actions or people who subsequently disrespect their autonomy, independence, decision-making abilities, and equality?

How is it that women are responsible for making sure they don’t get raped (don’t go out at dark, oh that skirt is too short, are you sure you should show that much cleavage) because ‘men can’t help themselves if you look available’ and yet our ability to make decisions about our bodies is threatened? Why is that we are held with the responsibility to make sure ‘men don’t stray or misbehave’ yet we are not responsible to make any decisions about ourselves? Why is it that regardless of how smart I am, how much I prove myself, how well I distinguish myself in my field I will still make 70-80 cents on the dollar in comparison to my male counterparts?

Why is this still so hard to wrap your mind around? Its been a matter of discussion for decades, centuries even. Why is it so hard to understand? Women are human, in fact ALL people are human. All people deserve equal rights under the law. Women and men have slightly different body parts, that does not mean they deserve unequal rights. Birth control is a human right – you sell condoms (mainly male condoms as female condoms are not common practice) over the counter, allowing men to control what goes on their penis, yet birth control pills/IUDs/NuvaRing/injections/implants/patch/etc. (the more effective forms of birth control) are still prescription only and significantly more expensive (and in the USA 18 states allow pharmacists permission to refuse to dispense medication that they don’t morally agree with). This removes control, independence, autonomy, it makes it incredibly difficult for women to have the same freedom of control over their fertility that men have. *Note, I’m not saying condoms (male/female condoms) are not effective, they are still the only way to protect yourself and your partner against STDs, they are just less effective (when used alone) at preventing pregnancies than other hormonal forms of birth control. When in doubt ask your doctor or google the success rates of different forms, and always be sure to get tested. 

Also, why is abortion a heated discussion in politics, aren’t we supposed to have separation of state and religion? Isn’t it religion that dictates that life begins at conception? Why does this have a place in politics? Nations are not assimilated cultures, nations are made up of inherently different people with different beliefs and different religions, even if there is no separation of state and religion there should be equal place for ALL religions to share their views instead of only the view of the loudest religion. In saying this, religion probably isn’t even the best word – how about beliefs? This allows for those without a ‘formalized institutional view of religion’ to be included. I don’t go to church (at this present time), does that make my views on politics any more or less valid? Nope.

If you are going to represent me in politics, I do not want to know about your religious beliefs, I don’t care what (if any) god you believe in. I don’t care if you grew up going to church, or mosque, or temple, or something else, or nothing. It shouldn’t matter. What matters to me are your political beliefs and how well you will represent me and my political beliefs, if you cannot justify your stance without using religion, you have no place in politics. Saying things like ‘if a women gets pregnant from rape, god intended it to happen’ should never come out of your mouth. Maybe a better thing to say would be “if a women gets pregnant from rape, the state will do everything in their power to support her in whatever decision she makes and to give her access to the things she needs to heal emotionally and physically from such a horrible trauma. We will also do everything in our power to ensure that the rapist is brought to court and tried for these crimes.” You are in politics, you do not judge, you do not demean people, and you do not treat anyone as less than human. You support the population you represent, you support equal rights, and you do what is in the best interests for everyone even if it goes outside of your religious beliefs (which you do not try to enforce on others).

I have never been in a situation where I have had to make a decision regarding abortion and I sincerely hope I’m never in a place where I have to. I hope that if and when I get pregnant (if ever), it’s by choice. I hope that until (and if ever) that happens/during that time/after that time, I’m granted  the right and ability to maintain 100% of my own authority over my body. This means never being in a position where sexual activity occurs without my express prior consent and if it were to ever occur without my consent, having the freedom and ability to pursue legal action in court without being judged, demeaned, or having my actions put on trial. This means having 100% access to whatever means of family planning I choose to use and having it covered by my health insurance (just like viagra is covered) without having to justify my actions/choices or having them refused. This means being able to access abortions without being judged or forced to justify my decision and having access to supportive counselling throughout the process if I’m ever in a position where I choose to have an abortion. This means being treated like a human being.

I can respect your decision if you are not a feminist, and if you are pro-life, believe religion has a place in politics, etc. I can respect that. I cannot respect when those beliefs infringe on the rights of the rest of the population. In saying I’m pro-choice, believe in access to contraception, believe in equal pay; I am not infringing on your right to never have an abortion, never use contraception or get paid less if thats what you want. If you are against family planning – great don’t do it. But don’t tell me I can’t.

I am human, nothing more, nothing less. 

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.

Entitlement and one bad xe om experience

Today I experienced something a little bit startling; it caught me off guard; it made me angry.

On my usual bus ride/walk to work I experience anywhere from 5-10 offers to use a ‘xe om’ or ‘motorcyle taxi’ and have perfected the response: smile, shake my head, say ‘khong’ or ‘no’, and wave my hands in the ‘enough’ motion. Today, in the last portion of my walk – and usually the portion with the least xe om offers – a man said xe om and gestured in the general direction of a motorbike. I responded in my usual manner and continued to walk by.

However it did not stop there. As I passed him – and stopped paying attention to what he was doing – he grabbed my arm, swinging me back and proceeded to try to drag me to his motorbike. Apparently saying ‘no’ politely did not suffice. After a few shouts that caught the attention of people around me (and there were many as it was rush hour) he let go and said a few things in Vietnamese to his friends that garnered a laugh.

Some people feel as though they are entitled to take or do what they want even if it requires the use of force, some people feel entitled to coerce others into following their will, often without guilt.

All I could think of was how frequently these things happen in pretty much every country around the world. Saying no is not enough, people are left with no choice but to fight for autonomy, independence, and rights – all of which should be guaranteed and in many cases are already granted through the law. Do not take your rights for granted, do not allow legislative changes or self-entitlement to take away your rights, do not become self-entitled and do anything to compromise the rights of others. Be respectful.

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. 

How important is contraception?

Very.

Today marked World Population Day and the focus was family planning! There was a conference in the UK today discussing the importance and benefits of family planning (aka reproductive health, contraception, information, and access). At this conference, they pledged 3.6 billion dollars a year towards family planning that could drastically improve the state of maternal and women’s health.

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.

Gender Gap of Women Voices in Broadcast TV, Radio & Print | 4thEstate.net

Gender Gap of Women Voices in Broadcast TV, Radio & Print | 4thEstate.net.

Check out this awesome infographic. It really highlights some of the issues in the USA, and I can’t help but wonder if it spills over into other nations as well.

Vagina

Vagina.

Linking to the above post from my classmate and friend Kyla at A Day in the Life. I felt as though my best response is a quote from Eve Ensler, activist, playwright, and creator of The Vagina Monologues;  “If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion … was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men‘s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here.”

I believe that the fear and stigma associated with using words like vagina come from a deep rooted belief that if people talk about it, they run the risk of losing their honour and self-worth, which is in itself a dangerous concept. But I also feel it important to note that the same people who are waging this war against vaginas are also those who are ‘against comprehensive sexual education that would teach young people age-appropriate information about their sexual and reproductive anatomy, including the correct medical and anatomical terms for body parts. Information on sexually-transmitted infections that would preserve and protect these body parts are also taboo.’

If we move past the fear and stigma associated with simply using a word then there wouldn’t be a need for invasive and demeaning discussions on the rights that a woman has over her own body: she would simply have rights.

For more information, I recommend checking out Vagina is not a dirty word.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Let’s Talk About Sex.

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

Sexual Assault in Canada

This is an essay I wrote for Women and Law, I chose to put it up because it shows that sexual assault law in Canada is relatively new and still has a long way to come. It also shows the terrifyingly low statistics of sexual assault convictions. Only 9% of sexual assaults are reported, only 33% of those result in charges, and only 11% of those result in convictions.

That means that only 0.33% of sexual assaults in Canada result in convictions.

So read on and tell me what you think.

Sexual assault law in Canada has come a long way but still has many gaps (Tang, 1998), which become apparent when looking at the case of R. v. O’Connor, case law surrounding sexual assault and the production of records, and victimization statistics from Canada. With the introduction of additional reforms to increase the involvement of women and minorities in the Canadian legal system and to decrease the instances of sexual violence against women, hopefully the legal system can become a symbol of equality and women’s rights. In analyzing at the Canadian legal system, it is also important to understand that it is inherently gendered and has traditionally be developed, interpreted, and implemented by men, making it difficult for women-centered reform and equality to be included (Davidson, 2011).

The case of R. v. O’Connor provides one of the clearest examples of the ‘discriminatory use of personal records in sexual violence cases’ (Busby, 2009, p. 519). In this instance, four Aboriginal women brought their former principal, priest, and employer to court for sexual assault that had occurred while he was in a position of authority over them. These women had grown up from the age of six in a residential school under O’Connor’s direct supervision and had become victims of sexual assault from O’Connor when they were in their 20’s and working under his supervision (Busby, 2009, p. 520). When in court, this discrimination was continued when O’Connor’s defense was able to acquire and utilize the women’s records from residential school—many of which would have been in part created by O’Connor. The women were also forced to release any additional records from therapy, counseling, or other services they may have acquired. During this case, it was argued that O’Connor’s right to a fair trial required accessing the personal records of the complainants in order to make a full defense and argument (Busby, 2009, p. 520). This case truly set the standard in allowing the accused to access the complainant’s personal files and records and cause further discrimination against and emotional distress to the complainant.

Following R. v. O’Connor’s ruling in allowing production, reporting of sexual assault decreased dramatically as did the numbers of women seeking counseling following sexual assault (Busby, 2009, p. 526). Therapists were forced to inform women seeking their services that any notes or proceedings of their meetings could be subpoenaed in the event that charges were brought to court. Group therapy sessions could exclude women who had experienced sexual assault as any group member could be subpoenaed and forced to attend trial if the case went to court (Busby, 2009, p. 526). Many women were left with little options and felt forced to choose between therapy and justice (Dawson, 2009, p. 528).

Bill C-46 amended the Criminal Code and applied some limitations to the production of the complainant’s personal records to try to apply a degree of protection to the complainant’s right to life, liberty, and security of person (Dawson, 2009, p. 528). These amendments were also made as the Supreme Court came to recognize that the production of personal records was requested almost exclusively in cases of sexual assault (Busby, 2009, p. 525) and are used to try to cause disrepute to a complainant’s credibility, actions, and character (Busby, 2009, p. 520; Dawson, 2009, p. 528).  As production occurs primarily in cases of sexual assault and as women are the primary victims of sexual assault the production of records was discriminating against the privacy and rights of women and children as well as further discriminating and perpetrate stereotypes (Busby, 2009, p. 525; Belzil, 2009, p. 535). Bill C-46 was fought against in the case of R. v. Mills as the accused argued that in balancing constitutional rights he was being denied the right to a fair trial. In discussing the case Belzil (2009, p. 533) also stated that in sexual assault cases, the accused in on trial however, in utilizing personal records the complainant and their credibility is essentially put on trial. While Bill C-46 does provide some additional protection to women and victims of sexual assault, it also leaves the definition of relevance and its ability to further discrimination to be defined and interpreted by the judge (Department of Justice, Canada, 2011; Tang, 1998, p. 267), which allows for some elements of inequality to still be present.

As stated by Busby (2009, p. 523), when rapists select a victim, a trend is to look for vulnerability and availability and this has little to do with the actions of women themselves. Vulnerability becomes a key factor in the case of minority women as visible minorities in Canada face a higher instance of sexual assault and violent crime and tend to view the court poorly in terms of delivering justice (only twenty-two percent view it positively) and helping the victim (only twenty-nine percent believe the victim is helped) (Statistics Canada, 2008). As a result of this, visible minorities are less likely to report instances of crime and to instill their trust into the Canadian justice system. This idea of vulnerability rings true when analyzing the statistics surrounding victimization with 211 incidents per 1000 persons who are visible minorities and only 107 instances for non-visible minorities (Statistics Canada, 2008).

The lack of faith in the criminal justice system seems understandable when only nine percent of sexual assaults are reported, and of that only 33 percent result in charges, and of that only eleven percent result in convictions, meaning that only 0.32 percent of sexual assaults result in convictions (Davidson, 2011; Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2008, p. 6). This leaves a staggering number of criminals walking free and leaves women and victims with a declining sense of trust in the Canadian legal system. The lack of trust in reporting sexual assault also makes it harder for women and victims to seek reparation and help for the acts committed against them; this cycle of thought leads not only to rape myths, but also to a stigma against the victim (Busby, 2009, p. 526). These beliefs further victimize the woman or victim in everyday life, and cause additional victimization regardless of whether the assault is brought to trial or not.

While the Canadian legal system has made substantial changes towards improving victim and complainant rights during sexual assault cases, additional reforms are necessary. Without changes occurring outside of the legal system, it is highly unlikely that legal reform will be realized to its full potential (Tang, 1998, pp. 266-268). Legal reform should be matched with education reform for all (potential victims and offenders) and additional support networks for victims should be developed—through sexual assault centres, health clinics, or support groups (Tang, 1998, p. 268) that would be developed outside of the reach of the court. Increased education would also increase the likelihood that women report all instances of sexual assault to authorities, as currently women are more likely to only report instances of sexual assault that they deem to be violent or have caused physical harm to them. Educational components would help to reduce the stigma associated with sexual assault and rape myths and these components should be developed with the support of groups catering to ethnic and religious minorities to help further the sense of community support (Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada, 2009; Tang, 1998, p. 268).

Sources

Belzil, J. (2009). R. v. Mills (Alta. Q.B.). In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., pp. 532-538). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Busby, K. (2009). Discriminatory Uses of Personal Records in Sexual Violence Cases. In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., pp. 519-528). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. (2008). Sexual Assault in Canada, 2004. Statistics Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Industry.

Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada. (2009). No Stigma for Rape Victims in Islam. In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., p. 548). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Davidson, T. (2011). Women and the Law.

Dawson, T. B. (2009). Bill C-46, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (production of records in sexual offence proceedings). In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., pp. 528-532). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Department of Justice, Canada. (2011, 11 22). Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46) Sections 271-278.91. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Statistics Canada. (2008, 11 17). Visible Minorities and Victimization: Findings. Retrieved 11 25, 2011, from Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85f0033m/2008015/5002072-eng.htm

Tang, K.-l. (1998). Rape Law Reform in Canada: The Success and Limits of Legislation. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology , 42 (3), 258-270.