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).

Abstract: Women’s Experiences of Urban Food Insecurity

In keeping with my earlier commitment to maintain this space better, I wanted to share an abstract from a paper I wrote in 2011. It was my first time approaching a topic using gender analysis and was the first time I realized how different the ways  we approach development could be as a result.

Abstract:

 ‘Women are both vulnerable and powerful – victimized and empowered – through food.’ –Van Esterik

Globally, urban regions are experiencing unprecedented levels of growth, which has caused urban food security to move to the forefront of international agendas, however a gendered analysis is often lacking. This paper will examine the ways in which women are affected by urban food insecurity and the ways in which they respond to the crisis. Through analysis of secondary sources and of the unique experiences of women in a community in Harare, Zimbabwe, this paper will demonstrate that women are affected by urban food insecurity much more severely than men. However, women are also in a better position to change their situation and the situation of their community into one that is more food secure.

Research struggles

There are a lot of aspects of research that I struggle with, mainly because of my research interests. I’m interested in sexual violence in Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC, I want to know if the horrific history and legacy of Belgian colonial rule have had an impact in domestic sexual relations and if so, how, and why, I want to know where development funding is going and what kind of impact it’s having, I want to know if development funding could be better directed (most always it can be, but how and under what kind of program), I want to know women and men’s experiences of sexual assault either through conflict or not. But I struggle with this because I’m not part of the culture. While my research isn’t aiming to tell anyone to change anything (apart from maybe development agendas) and is instead aiming to understand what is happening and why, I worry that this could be misconstrued, that I will be perceived as doing what so many people have done before and just contribute to the continued violence of colonialism. So I’m stuck in this bubble, struggling with myself on whether this kind of research would be a good contribution to knowledge, or whether it’s ideological and would be better done by someone else. 

“There are many maps of one place, and many histories of one time.”

-Julie Freriekse

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.

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..

Grad School

I have finally submitted (and paid for) my graduate school applications after spending weeks reviewing and re-reading my applications. I came close to submitting them several times before but kept getting intense feelings of nervousness before I could hit ‘send’.

I believe that I am making the right decisions, that I will enjoy my Masters experience, and that I will contribute something new to my field with my thesis. But now it means I have to wait months until I hear back to determine if I will be one of the select few allowed in.

Now, I have to finalize my thesis proposal, proving that my research will be something new; this also pretty much determines what kind of work I will be doing for the remainder of my academic career and what I will be an ‘expert’ in.

Any words of wisdom from the wordpress world?

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.

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. 

Something I promised I would never do

You heard it. I’m going to do something I promised would never happen (but at this current time do not understand why I was so against it).

I’m going to go for a research degree. When thinking of grad school while still in school, it makes sense to avoid writing papers when all you do in your spare time is write papers that you may or may not be interested in. But in the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to choose the topics of more of my research papers and this enabled me to understand my research interests. I’ve also found that during this internship I miss doing research, I miss writing, I miss essays and papers and research papers. Enough so that I’m applying to research degrees for grad school.

I’m looking at programs that allow me to overlay studies in differing geographical regions with issues pertaining to women’s experiences. This is proving to be quite difficult. But I believe I have found two Geography programs that either have specializations in gender or have supervisors with extensive experience in gender.

This also means that I have to develop my research interests. This summer I had the opportunity to write a paper on how sexual assault constitutes an act of genocide using the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m still interested in this, and would like to explore it further, but may look at other case studies and situations that have had internationally recognized genocides or instances where genocide is not ‘officially occuring’ but sexual violence/assaults against members of the population is rampant (sexual assault against women and men). I’m also interested in the ways in which the forced transmission of HIV is used as a weapon of war.

Any ideas or suggested reading material would be great. Tell me what you think, is this a good program idea? What were your experiences with doing a research degree (or why did you choose not to do one)? Any suggestions for choosing a research area?

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. 

Sincere apologies

A small update for everyone!

I’m currently writing the last academic papers of my undergraduate degree titled “Genocide: Perpetrated through Sexual Violence” and “Gender Mainstreaming in Structural Adjustment: The Forgotten Element”. I’ll share more on these later.

Once those are submitted I’ll be back in full force and excited to share some of what I learnt while writing them (particularly the one about genocide).

What’s interesting about my degree is that while this is my last academic term (which will officially end tonight at midnight), I still have eight months left of my degree. However those eight months will be spent in Vietnam working for the Center for Sustainable Rural Development.

I will be leaving Canada September 9th around noon, but I will be leaving home (aka Northern Ontario) near the end of August, so in the mean time if there is anything you’re interested in regarding gender issues, my placement, or anything that you think I’d find interesting, please share it with me and I’d be happy to read/write about it.

Protest the Police: Have Safe Sex. . .

Who knew that simply HAVING some of those items in the image to the left could be grounds for being arrested? I sure didn’t, but it seems that authorities in several cities in the USA disagree with me.

When I saw in the news that aid and health agencies were handing out condoms to sex workers to help minimize the risk of HIV and STI transmission (as well as the risk of pregnancy) I thought; “that’s amazing! Finally moving past stigmas and making decisions based on basic human health needs.” Then I saw that police and public authorities were confiscating those condoms essentially giving women the option to hand the condoms over or go to jail and I was enraged. I was even more enraged when I found out that this was happening in the USA – which in my opinion is a country that is quickly and systematically removing basic health and rights from women. What is most sad about this, is that I wasn’t even surprised to hear about it.

What I find worst about this scenario is that possession of condoms isn’t illegal, yet authorities are making women scared to have condoms, scared to use them, scared to have safe sex. Instead of protecting women and allowing safe sex options and transitional methods to give women alternatives to sex work, authorities are making sex work even less safe and even harder to get out of.

People should be praising women around the world who make the effort and insist on condom use, yet women are being punished for trying to protect themselves. So everyone who has access and ability, use condoms, be safe. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you’ll be sending a message to authorities worldwide who seem to want to limit women’s access to safe and affordable contraception.

The irony of this situation is that Washington D.C. – one of the cities where Human Rights Watch has documented this ridiculous condom possession and jail scenario – is actually hosting the 19th Annual International AIDS Conference.

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!

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?

 

Observations from Toronto

I spent this past weekend in Toronto and I had a few observations that I thought might be interesting to share..

Observation 1

One of the first places I went to was the World’s Biggest Bookstore; I love it there, I would go there everyday if it was feasible and wouldn’t destroy my bank account. I’ve been going there at least once a year for a pretty long time, at least 5 years now and my favourite section has undergone a few changes. If you go upstairs and head to the side wall there used to be a tiny section on international politics and international relations. You used to be able to hunt through a few books to try to find one that you hopefully hadn’t already read. Everything in that section used to be fairly similar, my bookcase at home can attest to that.. There would mainly be some books on HIV/AIDS, a few on democracy, maybe one or two on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now when you walk up those stairs and head to the side of the room there is an entire wall dedicated to international politics, the books fall into a wide range of topics, and new books are brought in weekly. I find it incredible how much interest and expertise has expanded on these topics, but I also find it disheartening how so many of the books are written too quickly to include the necessary background research to get a full grasp and thorough perspective on the topic of choice. What is also interesting is how the topics have expanded, the books have moved beyond looking at the western world as the ‘ideal model of development’ and have started to look for a wide variety of definitions of development and methods of achieving it. It’s moved past what we used to view development as and has almost made it undefinable. It’s looking at food politics, international governance, equality, access, education, health, and assessing each topic as an equal aspect. It’s brought ‘development’ into a multi-disciplinary, interwoven topic, which is where I think it should have been from the beginning..

Observation 2

In the past few years I’ve started to frequent the cultural studies section on the upper floor of the World’s Biggest Bookstore as well. This section includes anthropology, gender issues, aboriginal authors, and numerous other interesting topics, just last year each of these topics had their own mini section in the larger cultural studies section. This year gender studies had somehow disappeared from its home in cultural studies and has moved into a new section on ‘controversial knowledge’. What does that even mean? I view it as a smaller statement that gender issues isn’t considered common knowledge or always appropriate for ‘polite conversation’ as people have told me.. This scares me. It scares me that ideas that over half our population are influenced by, or experience can be considered controversial. Is it controversial that women have different experiences than men? No. Is it controversial that female authors share those experiences? Maybe, but it depends on who you ask.

Observation 3

For supper on Saturday night we decided to go to O’Noir, a restaurant where you eat in the dark. This experience is meant to demonstrate a very small part of how life is different for the blind. I simultaneously loved and was terrified by the experience. As most of you know, I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to control every aspect of my own life and know everything I’m doing well in advance. So this was difficult for me. It was hard to be in a room where I don’t know where I am, who else is in the room, where I’m sitting relative to others, or to guess that I’ve successfully put food on my fork. And to be honest, I probably had at least 20 forkfuls of air.

But, this really made me think about how much I take being able to see for granted. Everything that I experience is based on a combination of my sense and without access to one, everything changes. Many people in the room were talking much louder than normal to overcompensate for not being able to see (which scared me too). But I could smell my food more, smaller portions felt larger, it was delicious.

It was also a great experience to put myself out of my comfort zone again, like a test run for next year, and it was interesting to see how I adapted. As a people watcher, I couldn’t observe those around me, but instead I could listen and focus on the meaning of their words, I could imagine what people were doing. As someone who loves to cook, I couldn’t focus on the presentation or look at what I was eating, but I could really taste it and experience it in a different way.

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.

100% true.

A Day in the Life

So far I have been failing at maintaining this blog, and have been dedicating my time to other things (school, guard team, Zikomo Bags, you know the drill). But today I have an incredible sense of accomplishment from FINALLY publishing the new Zikomo Bags website that I have put countless hours into and am inspired to blog.

Today I was browsing the Globe and Mail website (okay, I admit it, I was watching the Kony video now that I have Internet again), and came across an article about women and entrepreneurship. Since getting involved with Zikomo Bags, I have been drawn to the business side of development, so the article piqued by interest. In the article, “For women in business, modesty is not the best policy” Carolyn Lawrence argues that women’s modesty is the reason many entrepreneurs have limited success.

Most interesting though, were the comments from readers. Some readers…

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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.