Democracy, freedom, apologies and rights

‘Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.’

What kind of image does that bring up for you? One where citizens have the right to choose what happens in their country, with themselves? That’s what I picture. It’s not one where other nations determine the rule of law, rights, freedoms; it’s not one governed with weapons, fear, or oppression.

It is also not grant one nation the right or ability to impose views or beliefs onto another person or nation; it does not reign superior over any other thoughts, actions, or systems of beliefs. It simply one option.

I believe that it is inherently un-democratic to enforce ‘democratic’ beliefs on other nations by force, economic sanctions, tied aid, or any other means. I believe it is inherently un-democratic to invade other nations for the ‘sake of democracy.’

Now, I understand that ‘military interventions’ have the unique ability to stimulate the economy; particularly the economy of such nations that have large investments in weaponry; but it halts and harms the economies of the nations that are invaded, devastated, and destroyed.

Now, does having these beliefs make me un-democratic? No. Does believing this make me anti-USA? No. Even if I chose to protest or partake in a protest? No, still in the clear.

Then why must singers, performers, actors, etc. apologize for doing this very thing and/or risk being banned from the country?? Isn’t it democratic for them to be able to voice their opinions and act on those opinions? Particularly if those voices and actions are causing no harm. Why must all ‘leaders’ and ‘role-models’ dissent to popular opinion? Aren’t they simply doing what the definition of ‘democracy’ encourages them to do: have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives?

Advertisements

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.

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.

Transparency: critical for politics, critical for development

In my usual manner of procrastination, I was searching through news sites and I came across an article that I found particularly alarming.

How would you feel if you found out that the availability of content online was being censored? Not only by a select few nations, but by the vast majority of nations and governments.

I was pretty shocked.

The internet is intended to be one of those areas for open communication, creativity, curiosity, and everything in between. It’s that safe space where you feel as though with enough research and time you can eventually find out the truth and learn both sides to the same story. Instead, its become this space of warfare between service providers and governments to determine what should and shouldn’t be available to the public.

The past six months have had over 1000 requests for content removal already.

To me, the internet exists almost as a global watchdog, its a tool or a mechanism for supervising the transparency of other parties. The internet is a way to monitor the transparency of other organizations (if we care enough to find out).

Who should determine what is offensive and what is appropriate? Is it the role of my government to determine what news I should and should not learn of? It scares me that learning about public issues and events is out of the hands of the public. It terrifies me that global events have happened without public awareness of it. Remember the Rwandan genocide?

 

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.

Millennium Development Goals (again)

 Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty

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