I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge. Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Towards Sustainable Change in Jharkhand

As I prepare to embark on my 3rd monitoring trip to India this year for work, I wanted to set aside some time to mentally prepare for all that this will entail. Travelling to developing countries and experiencing the lives of those living in poverty has become almost second nature for me. If I look back on my 6+ years of working in the development sector I have made between 20-25 international visits to locations across South Asia and the Pacific. Because of this reason, it’s easy to slip into the mentality of thinking and speaking about work trips purely as that. However, unlike those who travel for their jobs in other sectors, this is about more for me than ticking that box of: visited the local office. These undertakings for me are personal..

This trip I am lucky enough to visit one of our projects in Jharkhand, which is a state in the Eastern part of India. The demographics of the region alone are enough to set the scene for an area which is struggling to develop through a mostly agrarian economy, whereby the majority of its citizens are trapped in an endemic cycle of poverty. Although the area contains approximately 40% of India’s mineral reserves, it remains one of the poorest in the country. Added to this are variations in the sex ratio for the state which lists 947 females to every 1000 males.

Heading into the visit I have been reminded about what these female to male figures actually mean. The results point to a segment of the population which Amartya Sen has referred to as India’s ‘missing women’ which is a direct result of the practice of son preference and daughter deterrence in which boys are favoured at birth. The implications for girls born within this scenario most often results in the abhorrent practice of female infanticide.

I’m frequently confronted by questions about why this occurs at such an alarming rate in the developing world and while the prestige associated with birthing a son is prevalent, it isn’t the only reason at play.

Consider if you will a girl being born into a poor family living in a remote area. It would be easy to map out her life opportunities quite quickly. She would most likely start assisting the female members of her household once she was just out of infancy. She would be relied on to conduct the household tasks of cooking, cleaning and collecting water. It would be expected that she would probably be held back from school for these reasons especially if she had brothers whose education would be prioritised over her own. There would also be perceived safety implications of sending her to school each day in which perhaps her learning institutions didn’t have adequate toilet facilities, let alone considering how she would make her way to school at all. Once she reached puberty, her family might consider it more economically sound to arrange her marriage, however they would then need to find the economic resources to pay a dowry to her husband’s family. Added to all of this, the type of work that she could engage in with a primary school education would be of meagre nominal returns.

To put it quite simply, for families in this context, having a daughter in this scenario just doesn’t provide the economic returns that would be needed to raise her. I guess the question to then consider is, how can we contribute to bettering this situation?

The answer forms the motivation for the reason development practitioners, such as myself, exist. Through working in partnership with local communities we aim to create inclusive societies whereby women are empowered to achieve their full potential. In addition to this we attempt to facilitate mechanisms within communities that support frameworks so that girls can access education. This then leads to better employment opportunities and in turn economic empowerment. Increased rights based awareness raising initiatives also lend to promoting equal access and control of resources for women and those most marginalised.

So as I ready myself to embark upon this visit, I hope to see evidence of positive and lasting change towards inclusive, participatory and resilient communities who are drivers of their own sustainable development.

Sx

 

*Image courtesy of CBM Australia

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Gender Equality & the Role of Men.

I’ve been involved in a lot of talk lately around the theme of feminism and there seems to be a fair amount of conjecture regarding what men’s roles are within all of this. There’s no doubt that the predominant form of patriarchy in which society currently rests on is an inherent blockage point to the promotion of women’s rights. But what doesn’t get spoken about enough, is that it’s also a huge obstacle to gender equality as a whole.

When I speak of the term gender, I refer to both genders which are social constructs on the differences between men and women as opposed to biological elements which determine the sexes. The predominant culture which has entrenched harmful forms of masculinity is an inhibiting factor for both sexes. Society as it is today ingrains ideas of strength, machismo and dominance onto men and boys and asserts traits of purity, demureness and over emotion with women and girls. Catchcry’s such as ‘man up’, ‘don’t be a pussy’ and ‘throws like a girl’ play into rigid gender roles which inhibit the lives of all genders, and I refer to transgender people here also.

We seem to live in a world in which we tell young boys that they cannot express emotion or show any signs of perceived weakness because that is not what a man does. Through this misconceived discernment we have also asserted that for a man to play into his prescribed gender role, he needs to physically assert his dominance and in most instances, the use of violence is okay if it is wielded in defence of his manhood. The whole idea of a ‘pack mentality’ reaffirms the need for conformist and aggressive behaviour around gendered masculine roles which have become the social norm.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not under representing the fight for women’s rights, on the contrary I am attempting to highlight that this fight isn’t just a woman’s alone. There is a vital role for men around the world to play to banish harmful forms of masculinity and entrenched structures of patriarchy. Of which dually deny women of their rights and also inhibit men from achieving their own full potential. We as a society on the whole need to change and re-write the definitions of what masculinity and femininity entail and work towards a world in which ones life opportunities are not determinant around rigid and destructive concepts of gendered experience.

Sx


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Feminist Killjoy.. What of it?!

The circus that has recently been the US Presidential elections have served as a reminder of a fair few things, the majority of them being representative of the darkest and most putrefying elements of the character of the human race. The Republican candidate has touted an appearance of rebelling against the system and ‘not being afraid’ of complying with political correctness. When the recent scandal broke in which sexually vilifying and assaulting women was referred to as ‘locker room talk’ the conversation seemed to revolve around a blatant disregard for common decency. But is this what the issue actually represents? Is it about decency or is it more pertinently about the deeply entrenched institutionalisation of patriarchy in which our society seems to rest on?

For those who have defended the candidate in light of these comments the most frequent explanations have been that this was just ‘locker room’ talk and that ‘boys will be boys’. My favourite of these, and the absolute kicker was the ‘it was just talk, they were just words’ defence. To begin with, labelling these vile and repulsive comments as locker room talk is offensive not only to women, but to anyone who frequents locker rooms regardless of their gender. In addition to this, referring to the whole episode with a sweeping ‘boys will be boys’ mentality is highly insulting to the inherent nature of men.

These ‘words’ which have been played down to this extent are the starting point of the discourse which feeds into rape culture. By ‘apologising’ for ‘offending’ anyone and yet standing by the utterance of the statements themselves we have a political candidate running for office of one of the most influential nations in the world essentially reiterating that women, at the end of the day, are creatures primarily to be ogled and objectified. To take that one step further, Trump, and seemingly any ‘successful/powerful’ man is entitled to, in essence, ‘get his piece’ because that is just the natural order of the world. The truth is what was described in that recording is representational of the second class citizenship that women seem to be attributed within all elements of the human condition today, albeit if much less subtlety in their everyday occurrence.

Another horrific example of gender based discrimination that was on show during the most recent debate was holding Hillary Clinton accountable for her husband’s infidelity. I mean, should we just come out and say what Trump was so trying to get at: that she was incompetent even in her role as wife, and if only she could have satisfied her husband better he would not have strayed… I mean why is it that this woman’s ability to lead a country is determinant on her presumed ‘failings’ in measurement of traditional ‘wifely attributes’ and how ‘well’ she has or hasn’t played that role.

The truth is, the sense of purity of character, morals and standards that Clinton has been held to is in the complete opposite to that of the man she is running against. Surely in a truly equal world, both candidates would be held accountable to the same standards irrespective of their gender. And more importantly than all of this, no those were not just words. Those utterances were the foundation of male entitlement, entrenched patriarchy and harmful concepts of masculinity and gender norms. Honestly, have we not in 2016, come further than this?

Sx


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Lost love.

I wanted to write today about the notion of lost love. In our lives it’s well known that people come and go and our emotions and feelings about these human beings are technically supposed to waver depending on their physical presence. In most instances this is rarely ever the case, relationship break ups do not neatly coincide with how we feel about those people that we once loved. Feelings usually linger for long after liaisons cease. So the question that I have always wondered is what happens to those feelings? Do they just dissolve because our mind tells them to? Or is it more the case, that over time we just forget those feelings of love and adoration and instead become increasingly numb to them?

I find it interesting how the human mind operates when it comes to loss. As intelligent beings our consciousness is well aware of what separation entails and our coping mechanisms naturally kick in when we are faced with a shock or loss. The first instinct we have is dependent on the fight or flight theory in which we either, get angry or sad, and cling to something or, in this case someone; or we give up and remove ourselves altogether from the scenario at play. I am almost always guilty of the latter in which I hide my feelings away and desperately attempt to convince myself that I never really loved that person in the first place. Whilst being completely untrue, this is also a terrible long term coping strategy!

As is consistently the case, those feelings which I failed to deal with then I should have then find their way to the surface at some point or another down the line. And I mean, what am I supposed to do with them then? How do I deal with an unresolved feeling of love for someone who is long gone? Am I allowed to still love them or is it mandatory to let go of that love in order to move on?

I suppose in this instance the quote ‘I’ll always have love for them’ rings forever true. I mean you might loathe someone for how they made you feel in the end but do you ever really forget the love you had for them in the time before that? Does lost love ever really dissipate? Or is it more the case that we get to a point where we have to acknowledge that it will always exist and that it’s okay?

For my purposes, I have to make peace with the latter because at the end of the day love is never a choice, but what is, is choosing to acknowledge its presence and move on in spite of it.

Sx