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.


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My Body is My Own.

Roxane Gay has fast become one of the most influential writers of her generation through her honest, poignant and at times utterly devastating writing style which focuses on the raw emotion and struggles of her past and present. What drew me to her writing was the inhibition in which she yields when identifying herself as a flawed being; just as we all are. There is no element of a pedestal placing perfection with which she depicts herself and her past experiences.

After a recently published Mamamia article which abhorrently played up her supposed ‘victimisation’ of being a ‘fat lady’ who is challenged by everyday tasks she has come out with unheralded grace and honesty in her response.  She reminds us all that yes she struggles with her image, as we all do, but that no one is perfect. Most importantly she highlights that in spite of any circumstance, no other person has the right to comment on her body, as it is entirely her own.

I was reminded of this recently on a personal level within my own life. It’s no secret that I have struggled with self image issues and fluctuating weight for years now. I admit, just as Gay does, that my own self image and my confidence which are linked to my body are works in progress. My issues with anxiety and control mean that I go through periods in which I am debilitated by the act of attempting to have entire power over what I consume and when I do it. I’ve learnt techniques to assist me in easing these reigns and exercise has become one mechanism to thwart my spiralling. I am all too aware of these things on a consistent basis. However when someone decides to go ahead and make an uninvited sweeping judgment statement on whether I am or not eating enough solely based on the way my body looks right now, I am kind of bothered…

The idea of snap judgment and the mere ability to comment on something so personal as someone else’s body seems absurd and completely off limits to me. I’m thoroughly taken aback that someone could obtain a mere glimpse into my existence, mainly terms of what my body looks like to them and then somehow come to the conclusion that my entire lifestyle is off (and that they have the right to comment on it). I just don’t get it.

I know my annoyance in this circumstance does not hold a candle to what Roxane Gay has gone through for her entire life. But the parallels of these comments indicate that society feels it is completely okay to comment on women’s bodies as if they are some public entity that is up for unwarranted and unwelcome criticism and unsolicited advice at any time. Do we really need a reminder that it is not okay to tell a woman to eat more or less because of our own preconceptions and judgments based simply on the way they look to us?

The truth is women are judged against unfair standards to do with their appearances at substantially higher rates than men are. We are subjected to people commenting on our looks all day long in situations which do not warrant this in any occurrence. Just a simple reminder, to which I find it absurd that I have to even reiterate anyway, that our bodies are entirely our own, no one else (and I mean no one) has the right to tell us what and what not to do with them. As best expressed so vehemently by Roxane Gay ‘only she lives in her body and only I live in my body and only you live in your body’, so let us live.

Sx


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Speak Up, Speak Out.

I’ve been in the international development sphere for the past 10 years now having worked with people living in poverty in developing countries to empower themselves to rise out of poverty. I’ve always known that this endeavour is far beyond a day to day vocation for me, it’s a calling and one which I take very seriously. I’ve spoken in the past about my lifestyle choice being to live this existence attempting to empower and after 10+ years of this work I’ve grown anything but tired of it. As time has gone on, I’ve increased my commitment past that of simply applying my time to the cause of eradicating poverty. Working in the disability sector, with a heightened focus on marginalised women I’ve come to understand that the power of raising my voice is much more potent than I ever could have imagined.

The HerStory campaign is the complete embodiment of this ideal. In a world in which silence or tacit complicity are the usual response to injustice, I more than ever understand the importance of doing the exact opposite. Working in this field I see so many hideous things and lately I’ve been more open and honest about the trauma in which I’ve absorbed subconsciously through my field visits. Seeing the evidence of so much discrimination and indignity in which so many women around the world are subjected to has not been lost on me. I’ve heard so many tales of loss, pain and hardship that comes with deeply entrenched poverty that sometimes it’s easy to forget how much of an impact it has had on my psyche. What I have learnt however is that far from letting this push me into a state of helplessness or endemic sadness, I use it as the inspiration in which I set about changing this world.

In truth 2017 has not been a good year for women, women’s rights or the struggle for gender equality as a whole. The never ending metaphorical beat down of the pursuit for justice is one which is easy to give into, lay down and stay silent on due to sheer helplessness and frustration. But my voice is a powerful one, just as others are and particularly of those of you who are reading this article. I don’t promote the saying that we need to speak for those who are voiceless. This is a pointless and utterly denigrating statement which identifies those who are vulnerable and marginalised as defenceless victims who have nothing to offer. People living in power and especially those who are women are not voiceless, instead they simply lack the platform to raise their voices and be heard on a large scale. This is where you and I, and others like us have the ability to speak with them (again not for them) and leverage the platform we have as educated young people in developed countries trying to make a difference in this world.

So every time you feel demoralised by the events of this tumultuous and increasingly discriminative world remember to speak up, speak out and continue to commit to the fight of seeking justice and promoting equality. The battle cry of the HerStory campaign lives within this exact ideal and in which we continue to draw light on the particular injustice of denial of sexual and reproductive rights which is costing women their lives. It centres around the paradigm that if we continue to speak about the abhorrent nature of this repeal of women’s rights that the conversation keeps going and the women who are facing the bulk of this discrimination know that they are not alone in this fight. These women understand that we will not ignore their plight and simply go on with our lives in spite of their peril. We stand beside them and demand the commitment to basic human rights in which women the world over are allowed to make choices about what happens to their own bodies, which has scarily become far from a foregone conclusion.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Towards Inclusive Education.

Nongpoh

On a chilly, windy day in February I entered the premises of Ferrando Speech and Hearing Centre in Barapani which is approximately 45 mins away from Shillong, a hill station in India’s remote North East. The centre was initially set up as a school for children with hearing and speech impairments but in recent times has worked towards enrolling children without disabilities to promote holistic inclusion and equal education for all. Through the CBM Australia funded Regional Action for Inclusive Education in the North East (RAISE) project, Ferrando is one of 16 partners working towards enrolment, retention and mainstreaming of children with disabilities into educational facilities and local government schools and improving the quality of education for all children across 5 states in the North East.

The core tenet of this project is to skill up 28 key teachers with the techniques required to provide inclusive education to children of differing learning abilities. A main activity revolves around developing relevant Teacher Learning Materials (TLMs) allowing for adapted learning approaches and models where children with disabilities are enabled to learn alongside their peers.

During the visit I met with Jacinta and Joyshree who are the 2 key teachers appointed by Ferrando to take part in the RAISE Project. I was instantly taken aback by the enthusiasm of both these young women as they recounted their motivation and willingness to take part in the project. Both women explained that through the key teachers training they were learning about a multi disciplinary approach towards disability inclusion in the education context. They will then be responsible for sharing this knowledge with other teachers within their institution, developing adapted teaching & learning modules and approaching SSA (local government) teachers to promote the usage of these.

My appreciation of these key teachers was compounded as Joyshree herself is speech and hearing impaired and explained that she was once a student at Ferrando. After growing up in Imphal, the capital of Manipur within the North East region, Joyshree attended the institute who at the time was one of the only schools offering educational opportunities for children with speech and hearing impairments. She cited her experience within the institute during her education and the lack of services available for children with disabilities within the sector as being her source of inspiration for becoming a teacher. According to Joyshree, she feels ‘an obligation’ to educate others who may have missed out on educational opportunities solely due to their impairments.

When I asked Joyshree of what her end goal was for participation within the project she replied that she hopes not only for all children with disabilities to access to quality education, but also that all mainstream teachers are equipped with the skills to teach these children in an inclusive setting.

Sx

**Content © CBM Australia


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#StayWoke

HMtale

I’ve recently started watching the tv series adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and found myself wondering whether the events within the show are in fact a dystopian element of fiction or an eerily similar commentary on the modern day far-right populism that is infecting our world today. Coming into the series I was warned of the graphic nature of depictions toward rape and body mutilation which is inherently at play during viewing. However what is perhaps more shocking is the portrayal of a slow onset repeal of human rights, more specifically women’s rights that snowballs into women being stripped of basic civil and universal liberties around determining what happens to their own bodies and the direction of their lives.

As ‘Offred’ the main protagonist explains the changes occurred slowly while they were all metaphorically asleep in a far right response to growing terrorism. The first effects of which began with people on the streets openly spurting hate filled rhetoric and abuse at her character while she was wearing work out gear (including shock horror, shorts) and jogging in public without the presence of a male chaperone. She was slut-shamed and refused service as a café but laughed it off as a once off. This scene is then juxtapositioned against a spiralling effect where the bank accounts of all women are frozen and they are ‘let go’ from their workplaces.

To be honest if this series had come out a few years ago I would have identified the parallels with the ongoing struggle of the feminist movement and entrenched patriarchy of our world but been able to end an episode and go on with my daily life. However, in the age that we are living in today my response, the further I get into this series, is one of utter fear. The parallels to our modern day, Trump era existence are frightening real. As in the Handmaid’s Tale, women and minorities are slowly losing their rights with every blinking of an eyelid. We are being sold the idea that this is necessary in a fear mongering campaign that works to capture the worst of our apprehensions about safety and security.

Day by day we are seeing decisions, actions and executive orders taken by those in the high echelons of power that should surprise us and shock us into action. But we’ve been so highly desensitised to the never ending absurdities that we seem to have accepted that this stupidity might just be our inherent fate. Now let’s be clear I am not saying that the next stage of the human condition will be plucking fertile young women out of their lives, placing them in homes of those who are wealthy but reproductively challenged and renaming them ‘of-whatever their masters name is’. However, I am attempting to highlight that what seemed completely unacceptable yesterday has crept into existence today in the most shocking of ways. The reimposition of the global gag rule, the repeal of planned parenthood services and the gutting of UN funding to marginalised women worldwide is an outright assault on our pursuit of justice and equality as members of the human race.

So I urge you today to not accept the next hideous thing that comes our way without a fight. I beg you to not ‘fall asleep at the wheel’ as June (I refuse to continue calling her Offred) and her friends did. Do not be desensitised by the continuance of these abhorrent violations of our basic human rights and please continue to resist.

#staywoke

Sx


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I am a Woman who unreservedly deserves your respect.

As I stood in the city waiting to meet a friend for some Friday night drinks I couldn’t help but think about the connotations of what a young woman standing on a street corner would signify to passers by. It seems like an absurd thing to ponder over or even be anxious about but being in this situation in the past for me has been associated with a whole load of negative memories. When I was younger and living in Colombo I used to have to wait outside my workplace to get a lift home from my cousin. Due to colossal after work traffic jams, this often meant that I had to wait around on the street dawdling until my lift arrived. On almost every occasion that this occurred, mind you this was each and every day for a good 3 months, I would either be propositioned, mistaken for a prostitute or catcalled. Not because I was eliciting this type of behaviour but quite simply because I happened to be a woman standing on the side of the road. In this existence that we live in today this one act somehow justified fair game to any man who passed thus inviting their foul mouthed commentary.

The reason I bring this up is that it happened again on Friday night when a group of passing men felt it appropriate to quite loudly and deliberately jeer in my direction. Considering that they were in a pack and were less than a foot away from me it made me feel quite vulnerable. I often have conversations with male friends where I’ve attempted to explain what these actions invoke in women to limited success. I’m often met by the response of ‘as if you didn’t get a kick out of that’ and the equally as misunderstood implication referring to how it would stroke my ego or was meant as a compliment. To be honest for myself and I am sure for most women, the feelings invoked are anything but that. It left me feeling somehow dirty or tainted and had me subconsciously questioning if I had somehow warranted that behaviour. Until I realised that no, I had not, I just simply happened to be a woman, wearing my Friday night best standing on my own outside of a bar.

This behaviour is unfortunately far from uncommon and represents the ideal that if a woman is seen outside of those ‘purest, demure, housewife-like’ settings then it’s absolutely fair game to comment on her body, her appearance and verbally harass her in the middle of the street. Well it really IS NOT OK. I do not consider this type of behaviour a compliment. Instead every time this type of incident happens it makes me feel beyond vulnerable, defenceless and susceptible to unwarranted harassment. Because let’s be honest, catcalling and inappropriate advances are a type of harassment. I and no other woman like me deserves to be violated in this way just simply because someone else deems it appropriate to speak to us in such a vile and degrading manner. I deserve your respect even if in your warped mind my appearance makes you question my ‘purity’. I am not asking for it, I do not ‘get off’ on your comments and I am not a piece of meat which is up for the taking.

I am a human being who just like you, wants to enjoy a catch up with some friends on a Friday night without the fear of being verbally harassed on my way there.

Sx


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Draw on Hope.

It feels like the past 10-12 months have been dominated by unfair, biased and inhumane policies, decisions and reforms on the global stage. It’s been one blow after another and I myself have found that the continuity of these choices have impacted how I view the world around me. I’ve felt so disheartened at the state of where we are today and the fact that such discriminatory and bigoted discourse has become the norm.

In recent times the never ending cuts to global aid and development have left myself and many others around me questioning the underlying element of humanity itself. Reductions to UN peacekeeping missions, cuts to assistance to alleviate famine conditions in Yemen and Somalia and declining commitments to women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare worldwide have devastated the development sector and continue to put millions of lives at risk.

The dominant discourse of the Western world since before the time of colonialism has been that our version of democratic society makes us the prevailing force of justice on this planet. Our governments tend to criticise corruption, discrimination and a general lack of accountability by their developing counterparts and yet consistently back peddle when needing to then take responsibility for the morally superior role they have attributed themselves. So called ‘first world’ nations have consistently claimed to be forces of good but continue to fail to meet basic commitments to development spending set by universal bodies and committed to by all member nations, themselves included.

Adding to the lack of commitment to poverty reduction is the now normalised method of fear mongering and racism which far right parties worldwide openly brand as ‘necessary’ in the global fight on ‘Islamic terrorism’ or on the US’ part ‘the incursion of Mexican criminals and gangbangers’. As if blaming an entire religion, nationality or ethnicity for the actions of a minute segment of their population is justified, and rationalised even if this incites violence, harassment and hate crime.

It’s easy to continue to feel demoralised in this era where normalcy of hate filled xenophobic discourse has fuelled bigotry and a general sense of apathy. But now is exactly the time to mobilise, to come together and focus on the element that binds us, not that hate or fear, but of love, tolerance and understanding. Let’s take a collective deep breath, acknowledge that something is grievously wrong but then refocus to take up the fight.

I urge you to not be desensitised to the abhorrent and rising levels of hate which are being spurted by many far right political candidates across the world. And no, this isn’t about protection against terror, it’s a repulsive sense of institutionalised racism. Remain clear minded, drawing on hope, diversity and inclusivity in the face of detestable mud-slinging and goat scaping. Continue to stand together to hold our leaders to account in promoting justice. In investing in poverty reduction mechanisms for the world’s most marginalised and for raising the standard on eradicating intolerant, narrow minded and prejudiced dialogue around diversity.

Let’s brand this line of messaging for what it is unacceptable; and more so, let us all go one step further to stand up against this divisive line, in the hope that we can claw back what is left of our devastated and ravaged sense of humanity. I beg of you, to draw on Hope.

Sx


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Identity, Intersectionality & Oppression.

I’ve penned a few pieces before about feminism and what it means to me but I was encouraged to think more about this element when attempting to explain intersectionality and the need for it within this movement and many others. Whenever we think about a marginalised group we tend to wrongly associate homogeny with this entire collection of people. Somehow affirming the idea that everyone’s level of suffering and oppression is not only felt in the same way, but that the method to dispel this subjugation is one size fits all in its nature.

Well, I’m here today to tell you that this just is not the case. We in the development sphere will often refer to multiple burdens or compounding oppressions. Basically meaning that belonging to more than one subjugated group will equate to a compounded level of discrimination. The best way I can explain this is to point to the circumstance of a white able bodied woman in her fight for equality. Yes she is marginalised based on her gender however her experience of discrimination is not the same as say a woman of colour who has also happens to have a disability. For this particular woman her experience of discrimination is threefold: based on her gender, her ethnicity and her disability.

Drawing from the parallel experience of the Black Lives Matter movement and the criticism it has drawn from those who do not ‘belong’ to this category of people it’s easy to see how one can justify a sense of tunnel vision. It is blatantly obvious that the lens we draw on in which to view subjugation is often skewed to whatever identity it is that we as individuals choose to ascribe to. We are often blind to the elements that contribute to an entrenched and systematic oppression if we are not being personally subjected to that element. The example of Kate Upton berating Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the American National Anthem last year is the ultimate example of this. She criticised his ‘horrific’ behaviour and proclaimed that ‘everyone is blessed’ to be an American citizen. Thus demonstrating an inherent inability to see that the America in which she can exercise her citizenship rights in is the exact opposite to the one Kaepernick and many African Americans live in every day. Their experience of this so called ‘American identity’ is instead based on a backdrop of fear, racial profiling and police brutality. A concept that Upton will never understand as she will never have to experience this simply based on the virtue of her skin colour.

What I am attempting to showcase here is that as human beings we naturally tend to assimilate into groups, whether that be of a nation, of an ideology or of a movement. However, the very nature of our humanness means that diversity is inherent. How one person experiences being a member of a group, whether that be of feminists, of Americans or anything else will be fundamentally different than that of another. Thus meaning that we cannot push out the intersectional elements that form the core of outlying voices; these are imperative to understanding the human condition. More so, they are the key to finding a way towards a society that is truly inclusive, free and that promotes access, opportunities and justice in an equal and indiscriminate way.

Sx