“Almost everything that is great has been done by youth” – Benjamin Disraeli

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This image is sealed on my heart and my mind. Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the Parkland school shooting, at the podium of the March for our Lives in Washington. She took to the podium for 6 minutes and 20 seconds. After speaking briefly, naming each victim of the shooting that took place in February, she fell silent. Purposefully silent. A silence filled with rage, focus, remembrance, passion. As the tears fell down her cheeks, the rally also fell silent, punctuated only by occasional chants of ‘Never Again’ and supportive cheers. There is power in words, but there was even more power in the courage of that young woman, standing in front of a world audience in silent defiance. In a silence that was louder than all the chants and the cheers that had been heard over the day. Her phone alarm beeped and she spoke once more, stating that 6 minutes and 20 seconds had passed – all the time it took for 17 people to be killed in a rampage by one young man with an assault weapon, ending her speech with these words: “Fight for your lives before it is someone else’s job.”

The moment was powerful. Remarkable, even. A powerful call to action to all the law-makers who have not acted – who have blood on their hands – said with over 4 minutes of silence. There have been many great orators of our time, but none, I would wager, who would have been as brave as to stand in silence for 4 minutes in front of a huge crowd. In future years,  I feel like we will look back at what Emma did yesterday with just as much awe.

As the New York Times said of the marches: ” They made music. They made a scene. They celebrated the political power of noise itself. But it was the silences that were the most striking: silences that were strategic and symbolic. The young—the very young—women who spoke on Saturday made the silence awkward. They made it shameful. They made it powerful. They made it, above all, speech.”

The Parkland shootings have galvanised a nation of young gun control activists in ways that are far greater than previous years. With the history of gun violence that exists in the USA, it is shocking that this has not happened before, but sometimes there comes a time where there is enough momentum for change to feel like a real possibility.

Martin Luther King, Jr said, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

This revolution is youth organised, youth led, and is a powerful show of just how incredibly smart Generation Z are. These are the young people who have grown up in full knowledge of social media. These are the young people who have grown up with the omnipresent internet, cable news and open media. They have seen the repeated devastation that comes from lawmakers not acting. They know enough is enough. They know how to make their voices heard. They know how to keep their message being broadcast. Doubt them if you dare.

They are unstoppable. They are incredible.

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On loving fiercely…

“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”

―Agatha Christie, “The Last Séance”

On UK Mother’s Day last weekend, I posted a photo collage of my beautiful Mama on Facebook with this caption:  29025929_10155383164987285_1739070496427314569_nHow lucky I am to have been raised by this incredible woman. Every good thing in me comes from her: my strength, my courage, my humour, my determination, my fiestyness, and the way I love. She gave me wings to fly and is the roots of my tree to return to. Thank you, Mum, for loving us so fiercely and unconditionally.

It got me thinking about fierce love. Love that comes from someone who: unconditionally wants what is best for you; believes in you completely and without limits; has stood by you through rough times; fights for you, even when you have no idea that you need to be fought for; knows the worst of you and still waits for you with open arms; puts you first always; sacrifices for you; lets you be who you want to be without hampering you; gives you complete honesty enveloped in love.

In my Mama’s case, carried me in her womb for 9 months, fed me for hours on end when my cleft palate would not allow food to go down my throat, waited outside an operating theatre for long hours while I, as an 18 month old baby, underwent major reconstructive surgery to repair my non-existent palate, nursed me through recovery, sat through years of speech therapy with me, advocated for me in school when I was having hearing issues and falling behind, fought to give me and my sisters every opportunity that we could have in school, when I wanted to spread my wings – she let me and gave me a safe and secure place to come home to, and when I finally shared with her what had happened on one of the worst nights of my life, she responded only with love. Fierce love. Unending love.

I am thankful – so thankful – to have been brought up by a mother who continues to love so fiercely.

“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”

―Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories

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.