It’s time. {On the invisibility cloak…}

It’s time.

It’s time to talk about all of this…. this strange twilight zone that we seem to be living in. This endless confronting news cycle. This overwhelming media assault. This strange counter-argument that keeps creeping in, seemingly to justify or give some explanation for the wreckage that has been left behind by this patriarchal society that has dominated for centuries.

Yes, I’m angry. I’m absolutely furious. I’ve been so angry that it has taken me weeks to actually write this all down.

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before testifying the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building at the Capitol Hill in WashingtonIn the midst of my desperate self-preservation,  I have read and digested much of the news cycle. Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s devastating and measured testimony followed by Brett Kavanaugh’s angry, rage-filled rebuttal. His subsequent confirmation to the Supreme Court in spite of such doubts about his character. Bill Cosby’s conviction and resultant sentencing for his crimes against women. Harvey Weinstein’s trial. Take it back even to Larry Nasser’s trial.  And then, closer to home, the removal of access to basic contraception within the country that I live. Young women being expelled from school should they fall pregnant in a country that does not advocate even basic sexual education. An assault on sexual and reproductive rights that already has devastated and will continue to devastate many. Victim and former gymnast Aly Raisman speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, (R) a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, in Lansing

Where do I start? Where do I stop? The whole horrific cycle has gone on for years. Yes, we say #metoo and #timesup. But is it even making a difference? With every victory we are faced with more revelations of just how much damage has been done and continues to be done around the world, from the most powerful, developed nations in the world to developing nations.

Even today I heard a story that horrified me by what can only be described as a cultural ‘invisibility cloak’ where a sexual crime perpetrated by a minor on another child was ‘dealt with’ by a family paying off another family…. No counselling sought for either child. No investigation into how or why this happened. No recognition of any trauma. Just ‘dealt with’ and swept away with the rest of the daily news.

My heart truly hurts in this knowledge. In the knowledge of the psychological damage that exists for the children and the fact that I live in a country where there is one social worker per region……an insurmountable caseload. A country where rape cases are dealt with in the same way, with the same ‘invisibility cloak’.

assaultledeIt makes me wonder about the strength or breadth of this cloak. This protective, invisibility cloak that exists that protects perpetrators, hides the truths and covers up so much under a guise of appearances, explaining away, it’s in the past, ‘harmless fun’, ‘banter’, ‘boys will be boys’…. while women are desperately trying to break glass ceilings, there is an invisibility cloak that we can’t even get near.

The cloak crosses nations and borders. For every President who talks about grabbing a woman’s pussy, there is a rapists family paying off a family in order to ‘keep it quiet’ and stop any scandal. For every sexually abusive coach, there is a 5 year old child bride being married off to a 60 year old. The cloak protects in different guises. But it is there. It is real and it is dangerous.

This invisibility cloak dupes a jury into seeing the underwear of a rape victim as valid evidence of ‘asking for it’ in a trial. This invisibility cloak confirms a sexual predator to the US Supreme Court. This invisibility cloak convinces communities to ‘keep it quiet’ and avoid a scandal. This invisibility cloak covers up years of misogyny, abuse of power and victim blaming.

It’s time. This invisibility cloak can no longer be invisible. It’s real. It’s dangerous and it must be torn apart.

margaret-atwood-1-1I am thankful for the rising of women….this wave of powerful women who are trying to tear this cloak apart. From Eve Ensler to Ilhan Omar. From Maxine Waters to Nadia Murad. From Malala Yousafzai to Kat Banyard to Minna Salami…. look up these names if you don’t know them and look further.

Misogyny is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Feminism is the belief in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

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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.