Archive | July, 2013

How to be an Ally

31 Jul

I am a female feminist. I am also white, heterosexual and cis (my gender matches the sex I was assigned at birth), and I recognize the privileges that come with those attributes – not to mention being from a middle-class Canadian family. I strive to be an ally for people of the LQBTQQ community and for people of colour, and navigating the best way to do that can at times be difficult. Michael Urbina wrote a fantastic article titled 101 Everyday Ways for Men to be Allies to Women. I recommend reading the article in its entirety, especially for my male readers, but I am going to highlight some of my favourite points that I think are applicable to anyone who wants to be an ally to women, people of colour, and the LGBTQQ community. I added some personal comments in italics.

  • Recognize your privileges, especially your male privilege (and white privilege if applicable).
  • Make a daily effort to acknowledge and then challenge your privilege.
  • Recognize that your male privilege (among other privileges) may in fact blind you to others’ experiences.
  • Stop catcalling. Seriously, just stop! 
  • If you’re going to be chivalrous (on dates) or in everyday life, do it for everyone out of kindness, not just for women or people you think are not capable of doing things themselves. Also known as: be a kind and respectful person.
  • Monitor your use of words.
  • Never force your opinions on other people.
  • Be conscious of your words and the effects it could have on others.
  • Be pro-choice.
  • Acknowledge the lived experiences of women and LGBT-identified people. (And I will add people of colour to this).
  • Support same-sex marriage. Given.
  • Challenge everyday sexism in your life.
  • Call out your friends on oppressive behaviors, jokes, or comments. This can be difficult; I cannot count the amount of times I have argued with my brothers over their usage of “That’s so gay.” This can especially be difficult if safety is at risk. Last weekend a white male called my black friend a n*gger at the club very quietly and I called him out not at all quietly – it nearly ended in a brawl. 
  • Support musicians and artists that do not degrade women (or others) in their music and lyrics. – Have you read the lyrics or seen the video for Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines?! 
  • Claim the feminist label. Read my post about why this is important here
  • Don’t be the hero, savior, or knight in shining armor. Allyship isn’t about rescuing people from their oppressors, as if they couldn’t do it on their own. Allyship is about standing in solidarity and working together to collectively tackle a social problem.
  • Support other people who advocate for gender equality (and all forms of equality).
  • Be willing to listen and know when to refer people to other resources.
  • Be an active bystander. If you witness harassment, do something about it.
  • Learn and use appropriate vocabulary.
  • Advocate for more inclusive policies, rules, or procedures in your school or workplace.
  • Be proud to be an ally.
  • Seek out children’s books for your kids that challenge traditional gender roles. (My amazing mother read The Paper Bag Princess to me soooo many times, and my wonderful self-identified feminist father was always there to act it out with me! For other titles, go here.)
  • Challenge entitlement (read my previous blog post and personal experience about this here.)
  • This might go without saying, but be conscious of other social problems and issues! All oppression is connected.
  • Support and vote for political candidates who advocate policies beneficial to women, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups of people.
  • Travel to unfamiliar places.
  • Ask questions (but not too many)!

What are your thoughts on being an ally? What other ways can someone be an ally?

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Best Ad EVER

30 Jul

Please go watch this. It is wonderful.

The only thing I would add: could it please also come with cheesy romantic comedies?

Reducing HIV infection rates through non-surgical circumcision

29 Jul

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 34 million people are currently infected with HIV/AIDS. More than two-thirds of all people living with HIV are in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are many initiatives working to reduce infection rates in Sub-Saharan African countries, and one of the new exciting innovations is a device for non-surgical male circumcision.

Male circumcision reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission by approximately 60% when engaging in vaginal sex (WHO, 2013). However, the surgical procedure is painful and uncomfortable for men, and is said to reduce sexual pleasure. To increase the amount of voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), the WHO has prequalified PrePex, a device for non-surgical male circumcision in May of this year.

For the procedure, an inner ring and an elastic ring are placed on the penis by a PrePex operator. The inner ring keeps the foreskin from retracting, and the elastic ring gently compresses the foreskin to stop the flow of blood so that it loses sensation and dries out. This is a usually painless procedure, and the man returns seven days later to have the dead foreskin and the device removed.

PrePex does not require anesthesia or stitches, which means that medical workers other than doctors (i.e. nurses or traditional health workers) can be trained to do the procedure. Anyone who completes a three-day PrePex certification programme can be a PrePex operator. Although it is up to each country to develop their own policies on who can become a PrePex operator, technically it does not have to be a medical practitioner. This means that traditional circumcisers (who rarely have formal medical training) could potentially be taught to be PrePex operators. This has the potential to reduce the amount of deaths and complications due to infections from improper surgical circumcisions. PrePex is also safer and faster than the traditional surgical method and significantly reduces pain and discomfort, which means that men are more likely to voluntarily undergo the procedure.

There are also some downsides to PrePex. The device needs to be worn for a week and requires two visits to a Prepex operator (one for placement and a second for the removal). The healing time from the procedure is 8 weeks (2 weeks longer than surgical circumcision) during which the man cannot have sex. Additionally, the device has only been prequalified for men over 18 years or older (although trials for boys ages 10 to 17 are in progress).

The biggest downfall of circumcision is that it can sometimes give a false sense of security, reducing the usage of condoms. It is vital that any male circumcision be just part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package, which includes education about safer sex procedures, the distribution and education of condoms and HIV testing and counseling.

If devices such as PrePex become popular and easily accessible, there is great potential to increase the amount of VMMC and hopefully reducing HIV infection rates.

The Kissing Sailor, or “The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture”

22 Jul

“The fact that this much-loved photo is a depiction of sexual assault, rather than passion, is an uncomfortable truth.”

Crates and Ribbons

The kissing sailor, Greta Zimmer Friedman, George Mendonsa

Most of us are familiar with this picture. Captured in Times Square on V-J Day, 1945, it has become one of the most iconic photographs of American history, symbolizing the jubilation and exuberance felt throughout the country at the end of World War II.

For a long time, the identity of the pair remained a mystery. It certainly looks passionate and romantic enough, with many speculating that they were a couple – a sailor and a nurse, celebrating and sharing their joy. This year, however, historians have finally confirmed that the woman is Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental nurse at the time, and George Mendonsa, a sailor.

Have a look at some articles about it. Do you get the feeling that something is not quite right?

Huffington Post

Daily Mail

CBS News

A few facts have come to light. Far from being a kiss between a loving couple, we learn…

View original post 508 more words

A Day in My Ethiopian Life

19 Jul

Now that I’ve had a chance to settle in, let me write a post about an average day in my life here (Addis Ababa version). I’m living in  a one-bedroom apartment in a huge apartment building complex, which is actually pretty awesome. I have met a few of my neighbours which have all been very friendly, there are always kids laughing and playing outside, and there are even a few tuck shops (small family-run shops with the basics) so I don’t even need to leave the compound for things like a phone card, a bottle of water or cooking oil. My neighbourhood is mostly a residential area, which is nice and means that there are lots of restaurants, shops and Internet cafes nearby. My apartment is about a 20 minute walk from the office.

The World Vision Ethiopia office is 4 stories tall and provides a work space for a several hundred employees. I share an office with about 8 other people (people are always in and out of the field and international staff also come and go, so the exact number really depends on the day). The atmosphere at the office is really great: everyone is super friendly, foreigners are not an oddity, and we get coffee or tea every morning and afternoon. There is also a really great cafeteria onsite which usually offers 2-3 “international” options and 2-3 local options. I usually share a few local dishes and injera with my coworkers. The best part: you can’t really spend more than $1 per meal at the cafeteria! The work itself has been slow to pick up, but now that it has, I am learning a ton, particularly about value chains, which is great. I am hoping to spend more time in the field in the coming months.

As for my social life: I actually have one, yay! A lot of you know I struggled with this in Botswana since there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Ghanzi (read: one restaurant). I have made friends with a really great group of people. It is a mix of Ethiopians and foreigners which is perfect for me. I have gotten to go to a lot of wonderful restaurants (I truly cannot rave enough about Ethiopian cuisine) and danced at a lot of clubs. The music is always a fun mix of American top 40, Ethiopian music and African top 40. Oh, and one of the best parts of going out here: the night eats. Back in Canada pizza and poutine tend to be popular post-club snacks, but here it’s tibs (fried meat with spices and chili) and injera which is pretty awesome. I now crave it on a regular basis haha.

So all in all, I am loving Ethiopia and my Ethiopian life. So far it has been a rewarding work and personal experience.

Sexism, Power and Entitlement

15 Jul

This post is about an incident that happened to me Friday night that absolutely infuriated me and that I cannot stop thinking about. 

Friday night, I went out to a club with some friends. While there, one of my friends (let us call him J) introduced me to someone he knew (let us call him M). J is from Senegal, we had a few mutual friends, and we bonded over my ability to communicate with him in his first language – and I also liked hanging out with him. M is from Sudan, loved to show off his wealth and was very physically imposing (if I had to guess his height I would say 6″8, and a BIG man too). 

All night M was flashing his money around (literally opening his wallet and showing it to people), annoyed every single one of my friends and was progressively getting belligerently drunk – I saw him get into at least 2 arguments with mild physical contact before my incident with him. 

We eventually left to another club, but unfortunately M was there too. I was talking to J when M came over and starting hitting on me – very, very persistently. I kept saying no, I wasn’t interested, and J also told him to back off and leave me alone. Then, M says to me “Look, I am a very wealthy man and I want you tonight. How much do I have to pay you to have you for the night?” 

I was so taken aback. I didn’t even know what to say. If I wasn’t genuinely concerned that he might hurt me (and was somewhere where I knew 100% that security would back me up), I would have slapped him across the face. I just walked away, stunned, to my other friends. 

The more I think about it, the more infuriated I get. This man felt so entitled that he thought he deserved my body. I was not a person with feelings, rights, and power over myself to him. I was just another object that he wanted and assumed that he could buy for the right price. I have never felt so objectified in my life. And while this behaviour is the most extreme sexual entitlement I have ever encountered, it is by no means the only. I have had my butt grabbed by strangers in Canadian clubs. I had a man call me a bitch for saying I wasn’t interested in Botswana. When my friend and I ignored two men’s catcalls from their car in Ethiopia one of them called me a fat slut. An American man with a high status put his hand down my friend’s pants against her will and I was the only one outraged with her. When I called him out for being disrespectful he laughed and said “I like power, but don’t worry I’m harmless.” 

This male sexual empowerment is one part of the rape culture we live in all around the world. Male sexuality is valued and is seen as inevitable and sometimes uncontrollable, while female sexuality is seen to exist for male pleasure. 

I am still worked up about this incident and don’t know how to put my thoughts into proper sentences, but I recommend reading a few other posts about sexual entitlement here, here and it’s follow up here

To put everyone at ease though (Mom, I know you won’t be happy when you read this!) I do have some wonderful friends here that would never put me in those situations, and indeed would help me out of them. For the record, my friend J was also visibly very upset and I saw him yelling at M for a solid 20 minutes before forcing him out the door to go home. 

I do not intend this post to be a criticism of all men. It is a criticism of the culture we live in that allows some men to think and behave in this way and for the majority of people to accept it as normal. 

More than a Woman’s Issue

1 Jul

I read a great article about a woman’s experience talking with rape and genocide survivors in Rwanda, highlighting why rape is more than a woman’s issue.

“In Rwanda, a majority of Rwandans still say “a man’s tears run within his stomach,” which suggests that emotions should be encased. In the United States, it’s the same. Emotion is weak and feminine and not a legitimate source for proof or argumentation. In Rwanda, rape survivors are marginalized. In the U.S., rape survivors are marginalized.

In both countries, rape is “a woman’s issue.”

Read the full article here