Our Movement Was Made For This Moment {{VDay 2018}}

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One out of three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence within their lifetime. One in 3. 

The statistic alone is terrifying, yet in the wake of #MeToo, The Larry Nassar trial, pussy-grabbing Presidents and Weinstein’s ‘open secret’ in Hollywood, it is no longer that hard to believe.

Twenty years ago, when Eve Ensler wrote ‘The Vagina Monologues’, the mere utterance of the word ‘vagina’ was groundbreaking. When people wouldn’t even say the word, much of the truth about what happened to vaginas was repressed, denied, kept secret, and coated in shame and self-hatred.

Now, in the 20th year of the resulting VDay movement, people might ask if what we are doing is still relevant – are ‘The Vagina Monologues’ still relevant? My answer is yes, yes and yes. In fact, they couldn’t be more important at this time.

Over 51% of the world’s population has vaginas, clitorises, vulvas, and many to this day do not feel comfortable, familiar, free, or endowed with agency over them. Let’s remind ourselves of that statistic, shall we: One out of three women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.

For the third year here in Arusha, we are producing ‘The Vagina Monologues’ in a benefit production as part of the global VDay activist movement to fight violence against women and girls. Our beneficiary this year is the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation which works here in Northern Tanzania to eliminate all forms of FGM through information, awareness, and sensitization campaigns which target the grassroots and empower them to stop the practice. The magnitude and persistence of FGM continues to shock those who come across it, as it affects vulnerable girls by violating their child rights and entitlement to bodily integrity.  FGM is a form of gender-based violence and has been recognised as a harmful practice and a violation of the human rights of girls and women. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated. Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old. Like many African countries that practise FGM, there are significant regional variations in prevalence here in Tanzania. The regions of Arusha, Dodoma, Kilimanjaro, Manyara, Mara and Singida all have rates of FGM prevalence between 20-70%. Yes, 70%.

I sometimes wonder, in the midst of such statistics, if what we are doing is even making a difference. And then I will look at what VDay has done in the past 20 years, and what we have done here in Arusha in the past 3 years. VDay globally, since 1998, has raised over $100 million dollars for grassroots anti-violence groups, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and safe houses in places like Kenya and Afghanistan. V-Day supports and launched the City of Joy, a revolutionary center for women survivors of gender violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has graduated over 1000 women leaders. In over 100 countries, VDay activists have impacted their own communities, educating people in women’s rights, opening people’s eyes to the realities faced by women across the globe, breaking taboos and creating space to talk about that which has been kept in secret and hidden for centuries.

What we do makes a difference. What we say is relevant.

Our movement was made for this moment.

 

 

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Tea and Consent

my-body2There should be no gray area when it comes to consent and sexual assault. And yet, when I found myself, once again, in an argument with a grown man who insisted and attempted to mansplain the ‘grey area’ of consent and the ‘blurred lines’ of rape, I found myself so filled with anger and disbelief that I couldn’t bear to continue sitting across the table from him.

You see, it scares me that, in this day and age, with revelations of sexual assault by men in positions of authority flooding our newsfeeds, I can still be faced with a grown, educated adult who will argue that there are grey areas when it comes to what does and does not constitute consent and rape.  Even so, upon reflection and when I look at some comments on a variety of media, there still seems to be a serious lack of understanding among both young people and adults alike about what constitutes consent and healthy sexual behaviors.

These are actual comments left on a video that I have featured below:

  1. “LOL. Sorry but she was asking for trouble. Sounds like a guilty conscience to me.”
  2. “People that get absolutely smashed – well, how are you meant to look after yourself like that.”
  3. “Others will take advantage.”
  1. Being intimate or social with someone does not automatically lead to sexual intercourse. Dating, flirting, kissing or being intimate do not convey consent to sex. Consenting in the past or being in a relationship does not mean consent is automatically given in the future.

2. Responsibility for rape rests solely with the perpetrator. Someone on drugs or too drunk to make decisions doesn’t have the mental capacity to give consent.

3. Both parties have to agree to sex. When someone is asleep or unconscious they cannot make a choice or give consent.

If a person is intoxicated or unconscious, they cannot give consent. If a person says no, at any time, no matter what, they are not giving consent. If a person says yes, then changes their mind and says no, they are not giving consent. If a person is younger than the legal age of consent, they cannot give consent. If a person says nothing, they are not silently giving consent.

This needs to be taught in schools, homes, workplaces  —  everywhere.

Why? Because, rape culture is alive and well and sitting across from us at the table attempting to mansplain itself.

When the statistics of rape and sexual assault still sits at one in three women, the issue cannot be ignored. And, when we discover “court-created loopholes” around laws about sexual assault and rape, we cannot let them stand.

In October, Thames Valley Police released this video, an illustration of an original blog linked below, comparing consent to tea.

But the comparison is not only effective, it quite clearly condemns any attempts to claim murkiness around the subject. Because if you get when it is and isn’t OK to serve tea, you can’t really claim ignorance when your initially willing partner slips into unconsciousness.

Too many people are not getting the justice they deserve, and too many perpetrators are not held accountable.

Every day, women across the country consider the risks. That is our day job and our night shift. We have a diploma in risk consideration. Consider that skirt. Consider that dark alley. Consider questioning your boss. Consider what your daughter will think of you. Consider what your mother will think of what your daughter will think of you. Consider how it will be twisted and used against you in a court of law. Consider whether you did, perhaps, really ask for it. Consider your weight. Consider dieting. Consider agelessness. Consider silence.Amber Tamblyn

And while I did walk away in rage after my conversation the other day, I know that the conversations need to be had. I hope that we will continue to have honest and informed conversations about consent and healthy relationship behaviors within our communities so that we can prevent crimes like this from happening in the first place and truly start to challenge this pervasive rape culture in our societies.

On #metoo…

“I wish women didn’t have to rip our pasts open and show you everything and let you ogle our pain for you to believe us.” — Lindy West

Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein – it is almost the same every time: A woman will come forward with accusations of sexual abuse, and then many women will come forward and suddenly sexual assault dominates the 24-hour news cycle. It’s everywhere you turn. Your social media timelines are filled with news stories and women sharing their own accounts in solidarity. Celebrities come forward. Hashtags spring up. It is everywhere.

As a survivor, whenever this subject dominates the news cycle I simultaneously rejoice and despair. On the one hand, I’m overjoyed light is being shone on the darkness and loud voices replace the silent acceptance that so often accompanies these attacks. However, the survivor’s stories bring out emotions, memories and reactions that remind me of a time I have locked away in a box in my soul.

If #metoo has taught us anything it is that we are not alone. But even in the midst of the incredible roar of your fellow survivors, it can be easy to lose yourself and feel overwhelmed by the harrowing stories that populate your news feeds.

Self-care is essential.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, here is some advice. I am not a counsellor, I can only give some words of wisdom from my own sometimes overwhelmed soul.

Your feelings of being overwhelmed or lost are real. PTSD is real and doesn’t follow any set path or rule. Everyone’s experience is different; start noticing what physical reactions you’re having to reading accounts – these can be cues that you’ve absorbed too much. Step away from anyone who belittles your feelings or reactions. Don’t judge yourself. Recovery from any form of trauma is neither linear nor clear-cut. You’ll be fine for days, weeks or even years, and then an emotional wrecking ball will come in and you feel like you are back where you started. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to feel what you need to feel. It’s all part of healing.

Self-care. In the midst of the media onslaught that accompanies #metoo, #YesAllWomen and the many other campaigns, if is easy to feel bombarded and blindsided. Trigger warnings are still not used widely enough and it is difficult to feel safe even opening Facebook. Set boundaries with your time and what you’re willing to share. No job is more important than your mental health. Moderate your exposure and know when it’s time to unplug. Take time to look after your soul. Take a bath, play some soothing music, drink some tea. Make sure you’re eating well. Cry. Go for walks on the beach. Play with your kids or nieces and nephews. Reach out for help if you need to – this mountain you’re climbing should not be climbed on your own.

If you are ready, share your story or add your voice to the many. There is a power in sharing your story – in it no longer being secret and taking up residence in your heart and soul only. Sharing your story can be liberating. But it can also be terrifying and triggering. Unfortunately, one of the many reasons for these hashtags existing in the first place is because of the pervasive victim blaming and predator protecting. In sharing your story, you open yourself up to exactly those reactions from uneducated and sometimes unexpected people. Be careful and only do so if you are ready. Even if you are not ready to share your story, one of the biggest things you can do is support others. All of them. Call your sisters, girlfriends, aunts and see how they’re doing. Have a girl’s night. Stay close to one another. Surround yourself with love and joy and laughter and compassion. Stay close to people who love you and far away from people who don’t understand what you’re going through, they’ll only make it worse. You don’t need to share your story just because everyone else is.

You owe it to yourself to do what’s best for you.