Recently I was part of a field trip visiting World Vision projects in communities in North West Delhi, India. Led by World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello, it was an amazing time, seeing the real difference World Vision was making in the lives of the vulnerable and marginalised, through infant nutrition programs, improving the lives of children with disabilities, to micro-credit projects, and child rescue and rehabilitation. It was my third visit to India, my first as a World Vision Ambassador. I had so many deeply moving and inspiring experiences.
Vandana and me at World Vision’s centre for disabled children in a North West Delhi community
Among them was meeting a young woman leader, Vandana. At only 23, she is a powerhouse for change in her community, inspiring other young women to stand up for themselves, speaking out about harassment and violence and encouraging them to be politically active. She is respected and has the attention of local leaders and politicians. If she asks them to support her projects, they do. She was recently subjected to ongoing harassment by a man sending offensive messages to her phone. She arranged to meet him. However when he turned up he was greeted not by her but by police, who she had notified. He stopped harassing her after that. This is the kind of bravery that inspires other girls in India – and women and girls everywhere. She is finding her voice and using it (Lesson one in another article which appears below). I interviewed Vandana for International Women’s Day today.
What got you interested in trying to help other girls? Please describe some of your personal experiences that led you to this, for example, being involved in self defence classes.
Its a long story but just to get it short, I have had some bad experience when I was just around 12 years with a neighbour which led me to fight for my own safety. This has led me to understand what other girls go through and therefore I help them. I had learnt self defence to gain confidence and be equipped. This has helped me to be more bold and so I ensured that the other girls in my community also go through self defence classes.
How long have you been volunteering/working at the disability centre? Why do you think this is important?
I have been volunteering at the centre for the last six months. Many of the disabled children are neglected at home and do not go anywhere hence I feel it is important for them to come out of their homes, play with their friends, learn something and feel they are also important.
How have you tried to inspire other young people to be active in their communities and also to apply political pressure? Do you have your family’s support?
I am lucky to have a family that trusts me and supports me. The political system is for us but very often we do not make use of it but from my experience I know we can get a lot of benefits from them so I encourage the young girls to approach the police or any other officer to ensure that justice is given to them. Many parents think it would be shameful to be seen at the police station so they need to understand that we have to fight for our rights and get justice through the system. Now since we have formed youth groups as a group we go the police and local leader to get their support. We have helped many girls and so the moment we enter the police station as a group they cannot send us away and have to help.
What would you like to see India’s political leaders do to improve the situation for women and girls? Do you think there is more of a desire and determination to fight back?
More awareness is needed and also the police should immediately note down complaints and act upon it. Women police should be present at all the police stations and they should be sensitive to our needs. We also need parks in our areas for the girls so that we can also come out of our homes to play and interact with each other. Now are parks have men playing cards and drinking so unsafe for us. Young girls like me are now sensitized and therefore we are not fearful and want to fight back however there are many girls who probably are scared. Therefore it’s very important to get more girls into our youth groups so that we are united.
Vanada and young people with our WV team after a demonstration by the young women of their self-defence skills
What are your hopes for the future?
I want to see a change in our country especially regarding the safety of women and girls. We want to be safe here in our country.
A few other offerings for International Women’s Day
After a meeting of 30,000 suffragettes in 1906, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence said she had “never met anyone so fearless as were these young girls. I never saw a suffragette, under menace of violence, otherwise than cool and collected.”
• Accept that those haters will include other women
• Fortune favours the brave
• Publicity is power
• Strength through solidarity
• Never give up
• Accept victory – nothing else
There are often arguments today about who should represent feminism, but the suffrage fight suggests we need the whole spectrum: the rabble-rousers, theorists, dogged campaigners, sympathetic politicians, those whose wit draws women to the cause, those whose anger keeps them motivated, and those who quietly, conscientiously chip away at issues that make others give up in despair. We need those who refuse to see any conceivable option but victory. Women like the one who wrote to the Daily Telegraph in 1913. “Sir, Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual. 1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom. 2. Give women the vote. Yours truly, Bertha Brewster.”
Their rebellion will go on…
Listen to Emily Blunt reading Emmeline Pankhurst’s electrifying speech from 14 July 1913: ‘Kill Me Or Give Me My Freedom’ at The People Speak event, London, September 2012.
And this personal communication from my friend, colleague and co-editor (Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry, Spinifex Press) Abigail Bray:
The other day i was thinking about how the suffragettes were so militant, even though they mostly dressed like ‘ladies’, damaged public property, annoyed the aristocracy, died sometimes, when on hunger strikes and recognised that they were involved in a civil war against the patriarchal state, how this recognition has been largely lost.
‘What I’ve learned from Twitter is that it doesn’t matter what I do. It didn’t matter what I’ve done, what I’ve said, what I’ve written. My body of work doesn’t matter and my actual thoughts don’t matter. Not to those who have decided to hate me’
I’ve got a problem with Meghan Murphy and her Feminist Current blog. Every time I go there I want to re-print pretty much everything she writes. Here’s her latest. And yes, if you’re wondering, this piece resonated. A lot. Especially a week into the twitter response to my piece in Fairfax papers on the need for Australia to follow France’s lead in adopting the Nordic approach to prostitution last week (no, I’m not ‘whorephobic’ and no, I don’t want all sex workers to die).
I love the internet. I really do. And I can’t stand the luddites who romanticize the days where people talked. Face to face. Or called each other. The phone? Really? Please. Fuck the phone. The internet is magic.
I have found dozens — I’d even be so bold as to say hundreds — of brothers and sisters across the globe who I would have otherwise never found, if not for the ability to connect online.
So I have no interest in blaming technology or social media for people’s behaviour or arguing that Twitter is unequivocally “bad” (or “good,” for that matter). Things are never quite that simple. But what I will say is this: Most days I hate Twitter. And many days I think Twitter is a horrible place for feminism.
While I would never argue that feminists stay off of Twitter and do tend to believe it’s a necessary evil, of sorts, if you are in media/writing/journalism, I don’t think it’s a place for productive discourse or movement-building. I think it’s a place where intellectual laziness is encouraged, oversimplification is mandatory, posturing is de rigueur, and bullying is rewarded. I think it’s a place hateful people are drawn towards to gleefully spread their hate, mostly without repercussion. And more than half the time I feel as though I’m trapped in a shitty, American, movie-version of high school that looks more like a popularity contest than a movement to end oppression and violence against women. Read full article here.
‘Feminism is not supposed to be a synonym for sexism’
By Aphrodite Kocieda
I’m writing this post, not necessarily to change your mind about whatever positions you hold about feminism, but to act in solidarity with other feminists — especially feminists of colour — who find it problematic that so many feminist sites are hailing Beyoncé as a feminist queen. Several articles and blog posts have been published with the intention of silencing the “haters” who do not like Beyoncé. I suppose that being an actual feminist and understanding how feminism has become a commercialized product means that you’re a “hater?”
I wish feminism could take some clues here. We don’t always bring our A-game, since we spend a whole lot of time trying to figure who’s in and who’s out as if that is going to get us anywhere. Time’s out for the WOC feminist meangirls shit. Sometimes folks just be hating. Real talk. Cuz if you ain’t critiquing Katy Perry and Pink and alla dem for being pro-capitalist and in league with the establishment, then back up off Bey.
Over the years, Beyoncé has been soundly criticized for not being feminist enough…So, what exactly is she doing that isn’t feminist? …She’s pro-woman without being anti-man, and she wants the world to know that you can be feminist on a personal level without sacrificing emotions, friendships or fun. Is it a message that will appeal to everyone? No. But then, no one expects any other feminist message to be unilaterally accepted, do they?
Does anyone else see a huge problem here? Contrary to popular belief, I would argue that this debate isn’t actually about Beyoncé at all, but a larger question: What the hell does feminism even mean anymore? Read entire post here.
And also this morning, I had to explain to someone why stripping and nudity aren’t actually acts of feminist defiance, but the same old male appeasement in a shiny new package. There’s always some group of so-called feminists trying to get away with this. It doesn’t work, because getting naked is what men want women to do.
Doing what men want is appeasement. Feminism is resistance. Appeasement and resistance are opposing forces; the more you do of one, the less you can do of the other. That’s why these groups are insidious; they divert feminist energy into meaningless acts that only serve male interests.
Men don’t care if you write incendiary messages of revolt all over your naked body, as long as they get to see that body. When they hear you call yourself a slut, they won’t know that you’re being ironic and that you’ve reclaimed the word. And they won’t care, because irony is just another flavor of appeasement. They’ll call you a slut in a totally non-ironic, non-reclaimed way. And they’ll insist that insulting you is okay because you’re doing it to yourself. Read full post here.
Girls’ anxieties turn to healthy anger when they see they are part of a wider cause, writes Steve Biddulph.
This year, on a multi-country speaking tour for my new book Raising Girls, I talked to thousands of parents of girls. It was an eye-opening experience. For 25 years I’d worked primarily on the challenges of boys. The predominant emotion in that work was sorrow – at how damaged the masculine condition was – how the wars and traumas of the twentieth century had left a generation of men shut down, remote and awkward around their children. It was not unusual to see men and women in those audiences weeping at the damage they had sustained from fathers who were unable to convey their love.
The gatherings with parents of girls, though, have a very different emotional tone. Parents of girls are angry. They see very plainly the exploitation, anxiety creation, and uncaring assaults on young girls both by sexist males, still celebrated in the media, music and sport, and by the corporate world, which by its own admission targetted pre-teen girls deliberately from the mid 1990’s, to sell them products they neither want nor need. The objectification of girls and women was at the heart of the womens’ movement in the 1960’s, and this is no less the case today. Sexism is staging a comeback, media driven and commercially motivated, and it’s the kids who are being hurt the worst.
Researchers such as Richard Eckersley have noted deteriorating mental health among girls worldwide, predominantly anxiety conditions, but manifesting in everything from eating disorders to binge drinking. A shocking one in five girls now suffers a mental health disorder during her growing up years. While most girls are still doing fine, few parents have not heard their daughter say “I hate my body”, or “I hate my life”. The boundaries around our children are down. Home is no longer a haven, the adults are too busy to talk, and advertizing blares from TV’s in every room. Social media holds out the promise of friendship but often delivers cruelty and judgementalness.
Its a paradox that this is happening at a time when girls have never had more scope. They easily outdo boys educationally, and are far more employable. Girls today see that a woman can be a prime minister, but also they see the horrifically sexist way that woman is treated.
Anger is a healthy emotion because it leads to action. There are many things we can do. Our daughters need to know that they are part of a long, and successful struggle, and one which they have to participate in because its gains could so easily be lost. Perhaps the cure for the narcissism of fashion, for paralyzing anxiety over body issues and pleasing boys, might lie in lifting one’s gaze and seeing that this is victimhood, and should not be tolerated. That their problems are linked to those of girls and women right across the globe.
Last month, while the world was discussing Miley Cyrus’s dance routines, an eight year old girl in Yemen died of from internal injuries caused by sexual intercourse on her wedding night. Let me repeat that – an eight year old girl. Its a seamless flow from the poverty that leads from child brides, into child prostitution and trafficking, to abusive pornography, and on to spotty boys in your shopping mall wearing t-shirts with images of women bound and gagged. Its all the same struggle and we can fight it from here.
There needs to be a real uprising in the west against the extraordinary rates of sexual assault, workplace exploitation, and lack of educational opportunity that still characterizes girls lives in the developing world, and is far from defeated at home. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryll Wudunn in their book Half the Sky, document a hundred thousand girls being trafficked into brothels each year in China. Across Asia and Africa, the deliberate neglect of baby girls has led to a gender imbalance, representing the loss of a hundred million lives. In Dubai, a woman will be jailed for BEING raped.
It all starts at home. We have to be wide awake, or we can end up being the vehicles of harm to our own daughters. Three generations of domination by the visual media of television and now the internet have created massive overfocus on how people LOOK. If we talk endlessly about diets, weight and food, we can’t expect our daughters not to catch this disease. In my talks I ask a question of the audience. “Put up your hand if you are unhappy with your own body”. In auditoriums of five hundred people, only two or three don’t put up their hands. “You see”, I tell them “the trouble we are already in?”
How fathers treat daughters is also critical. Showing respect, asking her views, supporting her interests and vocations with generous amounts of your time, simply enjoying her company, sends a message that she has profound worth. Fathers are the first opposite gender relationship a girl has, and set a benchmark which can immunize her from manipulation or misuse by boys.
But most of all, if we can show our girls that they are part of something larger, they soon become activated. A movement is an outbreak of common sense. Of course slavery was wrong. Of course we have to protect the environment. Of course women should be equal. But movements require lots of work, personal and political. Getting involved is in itself liberating, for the fight itself links us together and brings us fully alive. Our daughters need feminism, and it needs them. There’s a world at stake.
Steve Biddulph is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology, and author of Raising Girls,Raising Boys and The New Manhood.
‘I hadn’t anticipated the massive backlash from the boys’
… I started to notice how much the girls at my school suffer because of the pressures associated with our gender. Many of the girls have eating disorders, some have had peers heavily pressure them into sexual acts, others suffer in emotionally abusive relationships where they are constantly told they are worthless…
What I hadn’t anticipated on setting up the feminist society was a massive backlash from the boys in my wider peer circle. They took to Twitter and started a campaign of abuse against me. I was called a “feminist bitch”, accused of “feeding [girls] bullshit”, and in a particularly racist comment was told “all this feminism bull won’t stop uncle Sanjit from marrying you when you leave school”.
Our feminist society was derided with retorts such as, “FemSoc, is that for real? #DPMO” [don't piss me off] and every attempt we made to start a serious debate was met with responses such as “feminism and rape are both ridiculously tiring”.
The more girls started to voice their opinions about gender issues, the more vitriolic the boys’ abuse became. One boy declared that “bitches should keep their bitchiness to their bitch-selves #BITCH” and another smugly quipped, “feminism doesn’t mean they don’t like the D, they just haven’t found one to satisfy them yet.” Any attempt we made to stick up for each other was aggressively shot down with “get in your lane before I par [ridicule] you too”, or belittled with remarks like “cute, they got offended”.
I fear that many boys of my age fundamentally don’t respect women. They want us around for parties, banter and most of all sex. But they don’t think of us as intellectual equals, highlighted by accusations of being hysterical and over sensitive when we attempted to discuss serious issues facing women…
We were told that our “militant vaginas” were “as dry as the Sahara desert”, girls who complained of sexual objectification in their photos were given ratings out of 10, details of the sex lives of some of the girls were posted beside their photos, and others were sent threatening messages warning them that things would soon “get personal”. Read full article here
An unexpected response, perhaps, from an (allegedly) grown woman. But a story in the latest issue did me in.
‘Real Life Stories’ – which I have always appreciated for giving space to the raw realities of so many girls lives – opens with a first person account of Carrieanne who took on the care of her younger brothers and sisters when her mother died suddenly at only 42, for reasons unknown. Carrieanne was 18. A moving photo shows her with her three younger siblings, one only a baby. Carrieanne has applied for legal guardianship and is continuing to study while caring for the children with the help of two older siblings and neighbours. Speaking of her mum she says “I think she would be so proud of what I’m doing now.” I think she would be too Carrieanne. (Now where are the tissues?).
In other ‘Real Stories’, Mariah, 16, is working to end poverty with World Vision. She began by getting an after school job so she could sponsor a child. By 13 she was fundraising for World Vision’s Haiti earthquake appeal and is now collating a book Reaching Out: Messages of Hope, a collaboration between 30 authors, illustrators and advocates from around the world to be published by HarperCollins, with profits going to UNIFEC for which she is now a youth ambassador. “Teens might not realise it, but we have so much power. We can be the generation that changes history. We don’t need to fix world poverty tomorrow, but we can help one child at a time.” Well said Mariah! Read more
So encouraged to see what can happen when women rise up and declare they’ve had enough. I hope these accounts inspire further action to stop online violence against women and girls.
“This is the story of a feminist takeover,” wrote the author of Feminist at Sea, a WordPress blog.
A group of six feminists got hold of a notoriously misogynistic Facebook page called Bra Busters and replaced all the titillating, sexist content with feminist memes and quotes by authors like Andrea Dworkin and Virginia Woolf. There was mass outrage from Bra Busters’ original members—and mass victory celebration by feminists. Facebook moderators got involved, but the page contentiously remains in the hands of the feminists.
[UPDATE] WIN! Facebook responds, commits to change
From Women, Action and the Media:
“…”In a statement released today, Facebook addressed our concerns and committed to evaluating and updating its policies, guidelines and practices relating to hate speech, improving training for its content moderators and increasing accountability for creators of misogynist content.” Read more about Facebook’s commitment here.
Read the open letter to Facebook and join the campaign
A global campaign is calling on Facebook to clamp down on content glorifying rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.
Collective Shout has signed an open letter to Facebook along with women’s advocates and organisations around the world. We invite you to join the campaign calling on companies to withdraw advertising until Facebook takes action to remove content glorifying violence against women.
Here’s an excerpt of the letter:
We, the undersigned, are writing to demand swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook. Specifically, we call on you, Facebook, to take three actions:
Recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that you will not tolerate this content.
Effectively train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.
Effectively train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.
To this end, we are calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site. (We will be raising awareness and contacting advertisers on Twitter using the hashtag #FBrape.)
The campaign has already had significant success, with a number of companies agreeing to pull their ads. Join the campaign today. Your voice makes a difference.
IT WAS International Women’s Day last Friday. We were supposed to celebrate but I struggled to get into party mood.
The 101st anniversary of the global event acknowledged the economic, political and social achievements of women. But the relentless onslaught of harms and injuries to women and girls continues and I wonder, has anything really changed?
Violence against women is a scourge on the planet. Millions of women and girls trafficked into sexual slavery, female genital mutilation, honour killings, dowry deaths, forced marriage, female foeticide and infanticide.
According to the UN, about 200 million girls in the world today are missing. India and China are believed to eliminate more baby girls than the number of girls born in the US each year.
Women and girls are ground down in so many parts of the world. They are at risk of violence at every stage of their lives: from conception to old age. That was vividly illustrated for me during a visit to a shelter for women and girls in Hyderabad, India. On the bottom level were the abandoned baby girls, many with broken limbs from being thrown on to garbage heaps. On the second were the abandoned pregnant girls and women. And on top were the discarded widows.
Every day some new atrocity against women and girls is reported. A 15-year-old girl in the Maldives was sentenced to 100 lashes. Why? Because she had pre-marital sex. Actually she was raped by her stepfather, who killed the resulting baby.
And of course the death by gang rape of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi. Rape is the fastest-growing crime in India. Delhi’s police commissioner compared women being raped to men being pickpocketed.
The conviction rate for rapes in India in 2011 was just 26.4 per cent. That seems bad, doesn’t it? Compare it with 5.7 per cent of convictions in England and Wales. And in the US, 97 per cent of rapists will get off scot free.
Reeva Steenkamp’s death brought to light that one South African is woman killed every six hours by her partner.
In Australia, violence against women costs the taxpayer an estimated $13.6 billion. Yet the mistreatment of women is routinely used in entertainment, fashion and advertising, even treated as a laugh. At the Oscars, host Seth MacFarlane’s sang We saw your boobs, a song about all the women in the audience whose breasts he had seen on screen.
MacFarlane seemed to miss the rapes and bashings, but at least he got to see naked breasts.
Men’s T-shirts collapse rape into a punch line, with slogans like: “It’s not rape if you yell surprise” and “Relax it’s just sex”, depicting the bound body of a naked woman spattered in blood, sold in youth surf stores. Online retailer Amazon had shirts printed with “Keep calm and rape a lot”. Another in the same line says, “Keep calm and hit her”.
Zoo magazine, read by 28,000 boys aged 14-17 a month, features two halves of a woman and invites readers to describe what they’d like to do to the disembodied half they prefer. Zoo is sold in supermarkets.
Facebook promotes violence against women: “Cleaning foundation off your sword after a hard day of hunting sluts, Dragging sluts into your room unconscious in a sack, You know she’s playing hard to get when she takes out a restraining order, I like my women how I like my Scotch, 10 years old and locked in my basement” are some examples.
“Rape is such a strong word, I prefer struggle snuggle” was shared widely through social media not long ago.
Sexual assault worker Alison Grundy says: “If we continue to subject future generations of young men to great barrages of aggressive, misogynist, over-sexualised and violent imagery in pornography, movies, computer games and advertising, we will continue to see the rates of sexual violence against women and children that continue unabated today. Or worse.”
But there are signs of hope. Women and girls are pushing back and demanding change. We saw it in the streets of India. We saw it in the response to the shooting in Pakistan of Malala Yuousafzai, who was shot because she wanted to go to school.
One Billion Rising (representing the number of female victims of violence) events have been held around the world. In Melbourne last month survivors of sexual assault launched a new book of their stories “We will not go quietly”, speaking out against sexual violence.
International Women’s Day should be an opportunity not to shy away from the difficult ugly truths, or be overwhelmed and depressed, but to name and shame them, harness our anger and be part of the solution.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
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“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.