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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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.

On flashbacks, intense emotions and grounding…

Flashbacks can be terrifying – they can feel like we are back in that place where pain and fear ruled.

Flashbacks can be triggered by almost anything: smells; seeing an item or an image on television; being in a place; the words someone else uses. As awful as they are, flashbacks are in fact a way for our minds to cope and, far more importantly, are a way for us to regain control.

What differentiates a flashback from other memories is that a flashback is often sudden and very powerful. When a person has a flashback, the memory is recalled involuntarily and can be so intense the person feels as if they are reliving the experience. In fact, with flashbacks sometimes it is difficult to recognise in the moment that what is being experienced is a memory of a something that occurred in the past, rather than something that is currently happening.

168469_488273177284_4476642_nWhen we’re in the middle of an anxiety attack or flashback, the control panel of our frontal lobe goes out the window. It feels impossible to focus or think clearly about anything and sometimes our thoughts come so quickly and jumbled we can’t keep track of them. Things may seem like they are happening around us in a blur. Sometimes we feel paralyzed or frozen, unable to move or say or do anything. Sometimes you feel like you are on the edge of a cliff, perpetually about to fall and tumble endlessly.

Grounding is a tool I was given many years ago by a counselor to help in just this kind of situation and it is one I have used many times since, in just about any situation or place. Grounding helps to bring my mind and body back to the present moment, allowing space for my mind to slow down and to feel a bit calmer – or at least enough to be able to figure out what to do next and how to deal with this intense emotion.

There are many different grounding techniques but I wanted to list a few of the ones that have worked for me:

Self-soothing:

  • Take a shower or bath. The key with this is to focus on the sensations you experience as you are in the shower or bath. Notice the feel of the water on your skin, the detail of the taps, the sensation and smells of the shampoos and shower gels. Let each sensation keep you in that moment.
  • Find a grounding object to keep with you. For the longest time, I kept a 20p piece in the pocket of my favourite coat. I would feel overwhelmed in the crowded trains and subways of my commute and would rub the coin between my fingers when I felt that panic start to set in. I knew every texture and corner of the coin – my fingers knew every detail.

Grounding with your 5 senses:

  • Find a familiar scent (perfume, soap, lotion, tea, essential oil.) and make a routine of smelling it in the morning, before bed, or another routine part of your day. For me, it is the smell of Vicks VapoRub that brought peace and grounding. This is a comforting smell from my childhood and when I was in the middle of a bout of stress or anxiety-related insomnia, it would calm me and help me sleep.
  • 10985257_10152677349657285_697980529239720821_nPut on your favorite item of clothing– a pair of fluffy socks, a favorite sweater, a soft t-shirt. Notice the texture, the color, the way it smells. You can also find a favorite blanket or pillow and do the same. For the longest time, my ex-boyfriend’s sweater lived under my pillow on my bed and helped to ground me on my darker nights. Now, it is a blanket-like tartan scarf that keeps me grounded in its smell and texture.
  • Hold ice in the palms of your hands and squeeze it tight. This helped me in some of my more intense and immediate panics – the feeling of the freezing cold ice between your hands does not allow for your mind to drift to other places and keeps you in the present.

Use your body:

  • Literally ground yourself. Lay on the floor. Notice each part of your body where the floor touches you, and focus on that sensation, the pressure, the texture, the temperature. Press your body down onto the ground. I also found that walking on the ground or grass in my bare feet helped to focus and ground me – feeling the sensations and solid earth under my feet. grounded
  • MOVE! Wiggle your toes, paying attention to the sensation as you move each one. See which toes you can move independently of the others. Do the same with your fingers, feeling the stretch in your muscles, the tension and relaxation as you move.
  • Rhythm. Tap your feet on the floor, find an object to make a soft sound, tap your fingers on the table or lightly tap a glass or other surface until you find a pleasant sound, then create a rhythm and repeat it, staying focused on the beginning and end of each sound you create.
  • Do an activity that requires engaging your hands or whole body. Go out into your garden and pull weeds. Go for a run, engage with the earth. Do yoga.

Go for long walks,
indulge in hot baths,
Question your assumptions,
be kind to yourself,
live for the moment,
loosen up, scream,
curse the world,
count your blessings,
Just let go,
Just be.

Carol Shields

Distract your brain:

  • Count by 7s, as high as you can.
  • Play the ‘guess their occupation’ game. Look at people around you and try to guess their jobs or occupations, or where they are going.
  • Play the categories game with yourself–choose a category like colours, animals, foods, and try to name at least 10 things in that category.

Breathe

  • Practise big breathing – place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Breathe slowly and deeply into your belly, trying to raise your hand like you are filling up a balloon or beach ball with air. Slowly breathe out, feeling the hand on your stomach lower like the balloon or ball is deflating.
  • 4 -7- 8 breathing: Breathe in slowly, counting to 4 seconds while you inhale. Then, hold your breath for 7 seconds. Finally, breathe out slowly and softly, counting 8 seconds while you exhale. Repeat as many times as feels comfortable.

Grounding is not about making the emotion go away or detaching from your experience; it is about tolerating the experience and emotions while staying present in your body.

Be kind to yourself, dear – to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.
You will come to see that all evolves us.

Rumi

— With thanks to The Growlery