Tag Archives: women

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?

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. 

The “F” Word

21 Jun

I have many friends, acquaintances and even family members (I’m looking at my brothers) that will say “I believe in equality for men and women… but I’m not a feminist!”

So why has the word feminist become dirty? Why are people scared to call themselves feminists?

The first reason could be that the root of the word applies to females, and so males have trouble identifying with it. When we look back in history, the feminist movement was primarily women – because it had to be. Men weren’t going to just give women equal pay or the vote, so women had to stand up. But now the feminist movement has shifted, and it’s important to have male allies as part of it. Indeed, most feminists I know also realize that gender stereotypes adversely affect boys and men (“Be a man,” “Grow some balls,” “Boys don’t cry,” etc.) – males need feminism and can be feminists too.

The second, and probably most common, reason is that we are often shown a negative portrayal or representation of feminist. Many still see “feminist” as synonymous with “man-hater, angry and radical” – because that’s what people who keep females down WANT you to think. I typed “feminism meme” into Google Images, and these are some of the wonderful things that popped up (for more, just try it yourself):

anti-feminist1 anti-feminist2 anti-feminist3 anti-feminist4 anti-feminist5 anti-feminist6 anti-feminist7

Believe it or not, I chose some of the least-offensive.

 

But in reality, feminism is simply the ideology that advocates for the social, economic and political equality of the genders.

So do you think that men and women deserve the same rights? Congratulations, you are a feminist. Standing up for women’s rights is standing up for human rights, so be proud to be a feminist! The more people that proudly claim to be feminist, the more we can rid the word of negative connotations and actually work towards equality.

And for all of you who tell me that there is no need for feminism in our society (and for everyone interested), please check out Who Needs Feminism?  It is a great blog that shows the everyday realities of being a girl or woman.

 

Arrival and First Field Visit

14 Jun

Hello all! I am safe and sound in Addis Ababa. Firstly, all the rumours you have heard about Ethiopia – the friendly and beautiful people, the good food, the amazing coffee – they are all completely true. I am settling in with the city, although work is starting out slowly.

However, I did get to visit one of World Vision’s ADPs (Area Development Program). Jeju is east of Addis Ababa and is one of the ADPs in Ethiopia sponsored by World Vision Canada. World Vision Ethiopia has 5 main projects in this area: livelihood development, water projects (such as irrigation), education (such as building schools), health (like building primary care clinics) and savings accounts for children.

Wisdom Microfinance is World Vision Ethiopia’s partner for livelihood development projects, and it is these projects that I am working on. In Jeju, Wisdom Microfinance has over 2,000 active borrowers, making it the organization’s largest branch. The loans given out are in 4 different categories: personal, family, agriculture and business. The borrowers are over 75% women and this area has less than 1% of borrowers default – an impressive number, even in microfinance! The average loan is approximately 3,700 Ethiopian birr (about $200) and are paid back in anywhere from 3 to 15 months. The impact of this project reaches approximately 10,000 children, and all of the borrowers I had the opportunity to meet were sending all school-aged children to school.

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Three borrowers at the Wisdom office to receive their loan.

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Some of the borrowers we visited and their families. One of the borrowers I met told me (but keep in mind that it was translated from Oromifa to Amharic to English): “This is a great project. Before this, we had no opportunity and no access to financial services. But now we have this opportunity and can farm and send our children to school.”

So, if you are a World Vision sponsor, this could be the type of project that your money is going to support!

All in all, it was a successful first visit, and I am very excited to dive into work and to visit the ADPs my project is focused on.

Stigmas Against Breastfeeding in Public

17 May

Throughout my time in Botswana, I saw and experienced many stigmas, including surrounding breastfeeding. It was expected that all new mothers should breastfeed and that if she did not breastfeed it was assumed that she was HIV-positive. Therefore, mothers would proudly breastfeed wherever she was – at a shop, on the bus, or at a restaurant. 

In Canada, we still have the expectation that all mothers should breastfeed. However, it is stigmatized whenever a woman does it in public. I worked as a lifeguard at a public pool and since it is legal in Ontario for a woman to be topless (regardless of if she is breastfeeding), we could not ask a woman to not breastfeed. But, if another customer complains about it, then we were instructed to tell the breastfeeding mother that she was making others uncomfortable. I have heard similar stories of this happening in many public areas.

So while society expects women to breastfeed, women are shamed for doing it publicly. They are expected to breastfeed – but only in private or with a scarf or blanket covering their breast.

Why does this stigma exist?

Please read the rest of this post, originally published on the International Women’s Initiative Survivors’ Blog

Video

The Impossible Dream?

16 May

At training for my new job, we spent an afternoon exploring gender issues and gender analysis strategies. This animated video from 1983 by the United Nations was played for us to generate some discussion.

I think that it highlights the double work-load that many women face, and how some women may feel like they are stuck with an impossible dream. It also made me realize two things:
1) How far some families have moved from her reality, and;
2) How many families’ reality is still the same as the video.

What do you think? Can we achieve the impossible dream in our lifetime?

Bride Price in Botswana

22 Mar

This is an excerpt from my original post for the International Women’s Initiative’s Survivor’s Blog. To read the full blog, please follow this link

“At the most basic understanding of lebola, paying a bride price turns a woman into a commodity that can be bought and sold. The meaning and the implementation of the lebola has changed and been molded over time and current practices do not necessarily represent the tradition of a lebola in Botswana. In theory, the lebola is supposed to be a man’s way of showing appreciation and recognition of the woman’s value to her parents. However in practice, the lebola often limits a woman’s control and decision-making power in her marriage.”