#GirlCrush

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June 21, 2016
“Girl Crush” is a term, which refers to one woman’s (typically non-sexual) intense admiration for another woman. Although this term usually denotes to ones appearance, beauty, or physical attractiveness, the term is not limited to such. 
 

When I think of the term girl crush, it needs to encompass much more than the shallow judging of a woman’s exterior. It needs to be a woman or young girl who shatters statistics, and helps break down barriers for other women and individuals around the world. It needs to be a strong female who displays admirable traits of drive and ambition, and isn’t scared of disagreeing with social norms or speaking what’s on her mind. Someone who values the importance of education, and strives to educate and empower others.

 

Each week, I will be dedicating a post specifically to my personal girl crushes. I will explain a bit about their story, and the work and/or awards they have been honoured with, in hopes of inspiring and motivating others. I have learned a lot from these women, and when I am struggling with something in my personal life, I think about their stories and use them as a sense of strength to get me through whatever it is I am faced with.

 
While all the women I will be featuring are undoubtedly beautiful from the exterior, they are even more beautiful inside. I look up to these types of women, as they are so much more than an inspiration to me. They are also exceptional role models and constantly remind me of the type of women I would like to grow to one day become. With this being said, I think it only seems right that I kick off my Girl Crush Series, with none other than my #1 girl crush of all time! 

                                                         Malala Yousafzai

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Malala Yousafzai is most certainly a heroine in every sense of the world. She is admired around the world for her courage, outstanding achievements, and noble qualities. Malala courageously stood up and spoke out against the Taliban, when they tried to deny the females in her town the right to attend school (even though she knew this would put her and her family at high risk). She has made significant strides in advancing the conversation and notion of educational equality around the world, and continues to fight for all children to have the right to attend school. On top of this, at age 16 Malala also co-founded the Malala Fund, an organization focused on securing and ensuring 12 years of free, safe, education for young girls through funding leaders and projects on the ground in developing countries.

HER STORY:

In the documentary He Named Me Malala, Malala recalls her childhood growing up in Pakistan as a very happy and beautiful time living in Swat Valley. But issues began to arise and intensify in her region, when the Taliban a powerful terrorist organization in Pakistan, began travelling from city to city burning and destroying all books, computers, and other educational related supplies. The Taliban began a campaign, which advocated the notion that the education of girls is against Islam and therefore, girls shouldn’t go to school. The Taliban viewed education as a threat to their organization because education helps give children (girls in particular) the power to question and challenge things. The Taliban began imposing strict Islamic law, and started gaining more and more power. With this came the frequent destruction and bombing of schools in Malala’s town. Worse than the bombings and destruction, was the Taliban’s demand that no girl attend school, and their related threat of what they implied they would do if they were to find out girls were attending school.

imageIn 2008, at the young age of 11, Malala used her voice to speak out. Malala’s father Ziauddin, an active advocate for education himself, took Malala to a press club so she could openly protest against the issues taking place in her region. At the press club, Malala gave her first speech titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”. Early into the following year, Malala began blogging for the BBC Urdu under the pseudonym ‘Gul Makai’. In the blog, Malala chronicled her struggles as well as the devastating details of rights abuses in her day-to-day life under Taliban rule.

Malala continued to secretly attend school after the Taliban had threatened everyone against it. During this time, Taliban tensions continued to rise due to the increasing awareness and criticism surrounding their actions, and by Malala and her father’s continuous speaking out on camera and news stations, demonstrating their refusal to be silenced by the Taliban. Malala began receiving death threats from the Taliban, but her and her parents never thought the Taliban would go as far as attempting to kill a child. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

imageTravelling home from school on October 9th, 2012, a Taliban gunman came onto her school bus and shot Malala in the forehead. The bullet entered the left side of her forehead, travelling under her skin along the entire left side of her head, and into her shoulder. Two of her friends sitting close to her also suffered gun shot wounds. No one at the hospital thought Malala would survive. Her brain was damaged, her skull was shattered, and the bullet ended up destroying her left eardrum and the small bones in her left ear, unfortunately leaving her deaf in that ear.

WHAT SHE HAS ACHIEVED:

Since recovering from the nearly fatal incident that occurred in 2012, Malala has gone on to achieve INCREDIBLE milestones. Even before the incident, Malala was making significant humanitarian strides from the age of 11. From 2011 until now, Malala has received some of the most prestigious national and international awards and honours. These include the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize (the youngest EVER to receive this might I add), International Children’s Peace Prize, The Peter Gomes Humanitarian Award from Harvard University, Anne Frank Award for Moral Courage, and the list goes on and on and on. Malala even won a Grammy last year for ‘Best Children’s Album’ for her audiobook I Am Malala, narrated by Neela Vaswani.
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WHAT MALALA’S STORY HAS TAUGHT ME:

Stand Up. Stand up for yourself, and stand up for what you believe in. Speak out especially when you know others are too scared to. Use your voice on behalf of all of those who are scared. Most importantly, stand up when you know something isn’t right.

Always Question and Challenge Things. Just because someone has more power than you, or they are scary, doesn’t mean that what they are telling you is true, correct, or fair. Malala questioned the Taliban’s restriction of female education, because she felt what they were doing was unfair. Malala has taught me to never be afraid to question or challenge things that I disagree with, and this is an important lesson for all of us to remember.

Forgiveness. In the documentary, Malala was asked if she was mad at the Taliban for what they did to her. Her response? She said never once has there been the tiniest bit of hate, not even an atom of hate in her body towards the Taliban, because her religion (Islam) taught her humanity, equality, and forgiveness. Malala is true inspiration to all, I admire her outlook on life. She is a symbol of bravery, and despite her horrible tragedies, she still continues to practice and teach forgiveness.

Don’t Sink to Their Level. During an interview with John Stuart, Malala discusses how she used to think about what she would do if the Taliban came into her house:

If he comes, what would you do Malala? I would reply myself: “Malala just take a shoe and hit him”. But then I said “if you hit a Talib with your shoe, there will be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others through peace and through dialogue and education”. Then I said, “I’ll tell him how important education is, and that I even want education for your children as well”.

Jon Stuart, like myself, were both left to pick up our jaws in amazement. These are such powerful words for a 16 year old to speak, and this further demonstrates how astonishing Malala really is as a human being.

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WHERE TO CHECK HER OUT:

You can join Malala on her journey to making education a fundamental right for all, by following her on Twitter at @MalalaFund (she does not use a personal Twitter account as of right now). To stay informed, learn more about her projects, or donate to her efforts, you can check out www.malalafund.com. Her book is titled I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban and I highly reccomend watching her documentary as well, called He Named Me Malala.

FAVOURITE MALALA QUOTES:

It is so hard to get things done in this world. You try, and too often it doesn’t work. But you have to continue and never give up.”

There’s a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent, or stand up.”

We realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.”

Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullet would silence us, but nothing changed except this; weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born.”

Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”

Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any upcoming blog posts or girl crush features! Please feel free to comment if you would like to see someone included in the coming weeks, of if YOU have an interesting story about yourself or someone you know that you would like to have featured on the site! Below I have also included a wonderful video, of Malala’s father discussing the importance of gender equality and his role in raising such a strong young girl. It is definitely worth a watch so please check it out!
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Proud About Pride

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June 13, 2016

On June 1st, I was joyfully tweeting about how excited I was that June had been officially named Pride Month – something that has never happened before in this country. Even more exciting was that on this same day, another first in our country’s history took place. June 1st 2016 also marked the first time a Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, took to Parliament Hill to raise a Pride flag, and announce he was looking forward to attending Pride parades across the country this summer. This was a truly beautiful moment. I can only imagine how amazing this moment must have been for everyone who has fought so hard to have their voice heard, and LGBTQ rights acknowledged.

When you think back to the 1981 bathhouse raids that happened in this city, we have certainly come a long way. Even thinking back to two years ago when former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford snubbed the World Pride festival, and was the only person to vote against a proposal to help gay homeless youth, our new Mayor John Tory is definitely making a much more progressive statement now. The legislative accomplishments over the past year are also worth noting. I am really proud to have witnessed more and more legislative change in favour and support of the LGBTQ community, and The Torontoist wrote a great article detailing all of these legislative accomplishments that have occurred since June of 2015 in the City of Toronto. Despite these accomplishments, I know it is quite obvious we still have a lot of work to do. Although our country still has quite a ways to go in certain respects, we must not discount the progress that has been made. This progress shows that change is in fact occurring, and I think this sends a positive message of hope to those fighting for the recognition they so rightfully deserve.

At the end of last month, I attended the Liberal Biennial Convention in Winnipeg as a youth delegate, where I was glad to observe a similar theme. In one panel discussion held by the Young Liberals, they expressed support for defending transgender rights. They also urged the necessity of passing legislation prohibiting gender identity as a basis for discrimination, which would be included and protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The discussion included a moving speech by a gentleman from Lebanon, who recalled the difficulty of growing up gay in a country where homosexuality is unfortunately widely unaccepted and discriminated against. Listening to the Young Liberals discuss their plans to organize in order to achieve full equality for the LGBTQ community, was very empowering and inspiring. Seeing young people becoming so passionately and actively involved in politics and doing their part to advance change from a young age, is absolutely amazing, and we definitely need more of this not only in Canada, but also around the world.

I think one of the main problems associated with homophobia and discrimination of the LGBTQ community, is that these people who discriminate don’t fully understand this community, and therefore, disagree with the choices this community makes. I personally don’t understand how people can have so much hate towards a person or community who are doing absolutely nothing wrong. Everything about this is problematic. Not all couples look a certain way, and it is unfair to discriminate against those who choose to love a different gender or sexual orientation than you do. While some couples may look unfamiliar to you, it most certainly does NOT make them any less human, or any less of a couple, and they are DEFINITELY not inferior to you in any sense. It is okay to hold your own personal view of what you think a couple should look like, but it is NOT okay to discriminate against those who don’t fit your mould. All people should be treated equal no matter who they love, and it is a sad reality that this is not yet the case…even in the year 2016. It is 110% unacceptable that because of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, they are unfairly discriminated against. This makes no sense whatsoever. At the end of the day, we are all human. Each and every one of us deserves the freedom of being authentically true to ourselves, and the freedom to love and be with whomever we want!!!

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While exciting things are happening in my country and city this month to celebrate and honour Pride Month, unfortunately the LGBTQ community in other areas of the world are not being welcomed with the same reception. Yesterday morning I woke up to the horribly devastating news of Orlando’s hate crime, which has been named the deadliest mass shooting to ever take place in the United States. In this senseless act of violence, a 29 year-old man named Omar Mateen, opened fire at a gay nightclub called Pulse, leaving 50 killed and an estimated 53 injured, many of which are quite severe. While some people were quick to deflect attention from this tragedy and turn this into something about gun violence and Islam, we must not stray from the fact that this is an attack specifically targeted towards harming the LGBTQ community. This breaks my heart. As President Obama wrote in his statement regarding this shooting: “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub – it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.” Many have taken to Twitter to describe how important having a place like Pulse is to them, expressing their fears of holding hands or showing affection towards their partners in public. I can’t comprehend how some people remain so close-minded in terms of accepting others who are different than them, and how one could go so far as to hurt innocent people who are happily enjoying themselves, causing no harm to anyone. My ultimate dream is to live in a world where we all openly celebrate and respect each other’s differences, rather than judge, discriminate and hate people because of them.

We cannot continue to lose the lives of innocent people to these horrible instances of hate. We cannot continue to judge one another because we have different preferences. We cannot afford to lose any more lives to something so ridiculous, and we most certainly cannot have the LGBTQ community living in fear of these sorts of things happening to them. The bottom line is this community exists and it will continue to exist and flourish, and neither bigotry nor hatred can change or stop this. Love is love, and we must stand united and speak out on the importance of defending the safety and rights of the LGBTQ community. Our voice must be louder than ever before. I am going to use my voice to stand up for the LGBTQ community, and express the fact that attacks like this are not okay, they are not humane, and they shall not continue. I would like to send my condolences to all of the families and individuals who have been affected by this horrible tragedy. To these families, and to everyone who is part of the LGBTQ community, I am mourning with you and I wish you all the strength and courage during this difficult time. Do not let this terrible attack on your community silence you or cause you to live in fear…that is the exact intention of the perpetrator and you must not play into this. Stand tall, stand proud, and continue to be unapologetically YOU!

Although I can’t do much to stop people like Omar Mateen, what I can do is work towards removing this sexual stigma, and helping to prevent history from repeating itself. What I can do is show the LGBTQ community that as a straight woman, I fully support them and I stand united in this fight to achieve equality and fight to have their rights as humans recognized. What I can do is devote some of my time to attending events in the community, and learning more about specific issues that are pressing to the LGBTQ community, and find out ways I can help use my own voice to make a difference. What I can do is spend some time educating myself on issues that I don’t know much about, so I can help educate others. This is what this month is all about for me. I am looking forward to meeting some of the heroes in the LGBTQ community and listening to them tell their inspiring stories. I’m looking forward to joining forces with the LGBTQ community and getting involved in this fight for justice.

There are tons of amazing events taking place throughout the city of Toronto during Pride Month (June 1st-July 3rd), and I am really looking forward to attending some of these. Unfortunately I am unable to attend all of the cool events I would like to due to my schedule, but I am eager to attend two human rights panels in particular: BeyondQueer Politics – 35 Years of Women’s Activism at the Intersections (June 21st), and Blackness and Queer Politics (June 29th), and I am looking forward to attending my first ever Pride Parade!!!!!!

For all things Pride, head over to PrideToronto to find out more about all the events, marches, and parades taking place this month, as well as ways to get involved volunteering. You should also check out some of the great merchandise Bobo Academy has created for this year’s festivities (I really need to pick up the pink “You Can Sit With Us” shirt). I would like to wish you all a very happy Monday, and a wonderful week ahead. Let’s stay strong and remain positive, and remember to always stand up for what you believe, and speak out when things aren’t right!

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The Best Attitude is Gratitude

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June 9, 2016

Growing up, my mother always instilled the importance of counting your blessings, and doing so especially when nothing seems to be going right in your life. When I was a teenager, none of this made sense to me. I would complain and whine about everything and anything, and my favourite thing to do was throw around the phrase “I hate my life” like it was nobody’s business. Every time I would complain about how horrible my life was or how unfair something was, my mother would pay me no time of day. Her response was always: “you are healthy, you have a roof over your head, there is food on the table, you have all your limbs, you have a family who loves you, and you have the privilege of attending school. There’s a lot to be thankful for Saba”. This line always made me cringe, and instantaneously triggered a dramatic eye roll on my behalf, and the most theatrical exit you could imagine (loud stomping included). But as I grew older, and a wee bit smarter, this idea became ingrained in my DNA, and I am so thankful I have since shifted my mindset to think like my mother.

imageIt is way too easy to get caught up in counting all the things we hate about our lives and all the things we don’t have. This is an extremely toxic practice. Whether it’s money, the latest fashion must-have item, clearer skin, a boyfriend, or your idea of the perfect body, there will never be a shortage of things we don’t have. All of us, myself included, could easily make lists that go on for days of everything we don’t have, and maybe some of you are thinking about these things right now. DON’T!!! The problem with focusing on everything we don’t have is that in this process, we forget about all the things we do have, and all the things we should constantly be thankful for. We might beat ourselves up about our arms not being toned enough, but consider this. Consider a woman who lost one of her arms in a tragic accident, and with each and every day that passes, all she thinks about is what she would give to have her arm back. If you put yourself in her shoes, then those arms of yours that may be a little less toned than you would like, seem pretty darn good don’t they?!

imageGrowing up in such an amazing country like Canada has definitely spoiled me, and sometimes I take my privileges of being a Canadian citizen for granted, without even noticing. I am reminded of this every time I hear about my friends experiences growing up in different parts of the world, where the basic rights and luxuries I take for granted everyday, simply do not exist there. I think we are all guilty of taking certain things for granted, but if we take a step back from our hectic lives and reflect on what we have, we learn how lucky we actually are.

imageNo matter how bad our lives may seem at certain times, we all have so much to be thankful for. The point I’m trying to get across here, is that it is extremely important to remember to be thankful for what you have, because despite what you may think, somewhere around the world there is someone who would die to be in your shoes. From time to time our brains are bound to wander to this negative ungrateful space, and this is natural. When this happens, be mindful of not dwelling in this space, and correct it. Refocus your thoughts on at least one positive thing you have going for you, and start to think about some of the things you are lucky to have. Whether it’s your health, access to food and clean water, supportive friends, a stable job, a talent or skill, or a home, whatever it may be there is certainly something to be grateful for. When you learn to be grateful and appreciative of the things you have, rather than upset over the things you don’t have, you start to live a much happier life.

Try to keep this post in mind, or better yet, keep this page bookmarked for the next time you are feeling down, and revisit it to help inspire some positive thinking! Although I myself am not Muslim, I am aware that the month of Ramadan began four days ago on June 5th, and I think this can be nicely tied into this post. A large part of Ramadan involves fasting, and this month-long practice is to instil and cultivate gratitude for what you have, and to realize what life is like for those less fortunate. Thinking about the lives of those less fortunate than you, or actually experiencing how those less fortunate live, can really help to open your eyes and also teach you to appreciate what you have. To the over 2 billion Muslims celebrating this month around the world, I would like to wish you all Ramadan Mubarak (which translates to a ‘Blessed Ramadan’). Regardless of practicing a religion or not, please stay positive, thankful, and remember to always be appreciative. Gratitude is the best attitude!

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A Nightmare Better Known As The Brock Turner Verdict

June 7, 2016

Incase you haven’t heard anything about the Brock Turner case over the past couple days; I will fill you in on the disgusting and deeply disturbing series of events. Brock Turner is a former Stanford University student, and star swimmer. More than a year ago, two witnesses found him assaulting an intoxicated, unconscious (I repeat, unconscious) female outside of a frat party on campus. Ever since last Thursday, when the judge sentenced Brock to an extremely lenient 6-month sentence and three-year probation period (when he was set to face 14 years), there has been an outrage across all social media channels and news outlets for good reason.

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In a bone chilling 12-page victim impact statement, the victim (who has withheld her name for privacy reasons), provides a detailed description of what this experience and trial has done to her life. What I took away from her statement is that every waking moment of her life since the night of the attack, has been absolute torturous hell (which is me putting it nicely). It was extremely tough to get through all 12 pages, as I felt both my heart aching in agony, and every inch of my body slowly fill with rage.

What I find to be so confusing is that the concept of this whole thing is really quite simple. So I’m sort of stumped as to why many people (including Brock, his father, his best friend, and Judge Aaron Persky) are having difficulty grasping this idea. If you murder someone, you are a murderer. If you steal something, you are a thief. If you rape someone, you are a rapist. Period. Rape is a criminal offence, and Brock doesn’t deserve to get away with a slap on the wrist because of his athletic ‘potential’. He should serve the time he rightfully deserves for committing such a despicable act. For me, it is extremely hard to swallow the fact that people are strongly defending someone who is so indefensible. As the victim impact statement pointed out:

You are guilty. Twelve jurors convicted you guilty of three felony counts beyond reasonable doubt, that’s twelve votes per count, thirty-six yeses confirming guilt, that’s one hundred percent, unanimous guilt.

Aside from what happened on the night of the assault, there are a number of other deeply disturbing instances, which have resulted from this case. One, neither Stanford University nor Brock Turner issued an apology to the victim. Two, Brock Turner’s father, Dan Turner, wrote the most cringe-worthy and jaw dropping letter, which epitomizes and encourages rape culture. The letter details how the verdicts have shattered and broken his son. Hmm. His letter paints a picture of his son being the victim, with no consideration whatsoever of how the real victim’s life has been affected. He also mentions how Brock will never be the same…maybe your parenting should have included that lesson about how it is  explicitly unacceptable to rape an unconscious woman? Most disturbing of all, is this excerpt from the letter: “That [the verdict] is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life”. 20 minutes of action? It is absolutely heinous and downright insulting to classify something as serious as rape as “20 minutes of action”.

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What is extremely infuriating to myself, and the many others expressing outrage over this case, is the fact that if you are a star athlete at a prestigious U.S. university then everyone is quick to hop to your defence and work extremely hard to cover up the case, and get you off the hook. Do we not see that something is wrong here? Brock Turner’s extremely lenient punishment was based on the fact that he has “potential” as an athletic swimmer, rather than the crime he was found guilty of committing.

We saw the exact same thing happen with another high-profile university athlete rape case featuring Jameis Winston. Winston was a star football player and Heisman Trophy winner at Florida State University, when he was accused of violently raping a female in the name of Erica Kinsman. Despite DNA evidence, and Erica filing separate reports with police and the university, the investigation was suspended for no reason. Erica’s case, unfortunately, is the sad reality of what actually goes on when victims try and report sexual assault to their educational institutions. There is a documentary titled The Hunting Ground, which reveals the lengths universities go to, to cover up and lie about rape cases in order to uphold the image of their school, and not deter prospective students.

These two cases, along with hundreds of thousands of others tell an extremely important story. These are not one-off events that happen once in a blue moon. There is an obvious pattern of campus rape, and the severity of this problem cannot continue to be overlooked. We cannot continue to let rape become a cultural norm – this is morally intolerable. Although sexualized violence against women is one of the world’s most common human rights offences, this isn’t an issue about just women. This is a basic human rights issue for males, females and transgenders alike. For all of the people who quickly hopped to the defence of Brock Turner, I personally guarantee your sentiments and statements would tell a much different story if this had happened to your own sister, daughter, or wife. The scary thing is, Brock Turner actually has a sister, Caroline Turner, and she also released a statement in his defence, which speaks volumes to the parenting job Dan Turner and his wife have done. It couldn’t be more crystal clear that the verdict of this case is utterly unacceptable for numerous reasons. The verdict explicitly violates the integrity the U.S. Judicial System is required to uphold, demonstrating privilege and extreme bias in favour of someone who has been proven 100% guilty.

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The grim results of this trial as well as the Jian Ghomeshi trial add more fuel to the rape culture fire. These verdicts aid in discouraging those who want to speak out, for fear of experiencing similar repercussions. This is extremely problematic because this can lead to many victims being more reluctant to report rape. This is not okay, and silencing survivors doesn’t make this issue go away.

Growing up as a female, both my school and my parents taught me how to avoid being raped, and what I should do when a male is attacking me or trying to sexually assault me. What’s ironic is that males are never explicitly taught or educated on why it is wrong to rape women, and this may be the root of the problem. It is something that goes unspoken. Parents talk to their sons about the danger of having unprotected sex, but not about the importance of consent. This is something that needs to change NOW. Because of what I have been taught about rape growing up, I have lived my teenage years and early adulthood somewhat paranoid about ever being in that type of situation, and always thinking about how to avoid it. If young teenage boys are taught that rape is a crime and are educated on the repercussions they would face if they were to rape a girl, perhaps they too would have carried around the same paranoia I did. Perhaps this paranoia would deter them from engaging in rape, or better yet, significantly reduce the number of rapes that occur.

I could honestly go on writing about this forever, and how white privilege plays a huge role in this, and that I find it no coincidence Judge Aaron Persky used to be a Stanford athlete himself. But instead, I would like to end this post on a more positive note. As I mentioned above, this post isn’t just about females. I am here to stand up for all the survivors of sexual assault: transgender, male and female. I want everyone to know that I am on your side, and I stand united in this battle to seek justice and put an end to rape culture and the judicial system’s encouragement of it. Know that I am actively fighting for you, and I will continue to do so everyday. No matter what you are told, or made to believe by your perpetrator(s) or an institution, you and your story ARE important. NEVER let anyone try to silence you, tell you your story is petty, or try and trick you into thinking that what happened is your fault – because it most certainly isn’t. Although you may feel weak at times, you are in fact not weak at all. You are strong, and courageous, because you are a survivor. You are no different than cancer survivors, or those who have survived war…you are just a survivor of a different type of battle, and for that I commend and honour you. Filed under my Sabatage Approved page, you will find some resources I have gathered regarding sexual assault, and reporting sexual assault. I intend to grow the list of links, and will continue to work on developing these resources. If you agree with the unfair verdict, there is a petition against Judge Aaron Persky you can find here, which has been drawing wide support. Please share this post, and feel free to leave a comment regarding other resources you may be aware of!

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Recipe: Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Chickpeas

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June 6, 2016

After learning that 2016 was officially declared International Year of Pulses a couple months ago, I was eager to devote some time to getting creative with including pulses in my diet, and testing out some new recipes. I found this recipe in the Old Farmers Almanac Garden Guide 2016 Special Edition Magazine. The magazine did not mention credit to the cook, so I’m not sure exactly who made this recipe, but I found it in that magazine under the “Cooking Fresh: Fresh is Best” section. This recipe is the first one I experimented with, and I’m ashamed to admit that this is as far as I got. I fell head over heels in love with this recipe, and because it makes around 4 to 6 servings (depending on your portion sizes), I ended up eating this for dinner for nearly a week straight. The funny thing is, I’ve cooked it a couple times since and I’m still not sick of it! This is a MUST try. It is super simple, preparation isn’t too tedious, and it stores well. I would recommend making this dish in advance, and separating and storing your portions in microwave safe containers, as this provides a great lunch or dinner option for those of you who are crunched for time.

One thing I would like to mention about this recipe is that although you can use a skillet, I found it much easier to cook this dish in a large pot. When I tried using a skillet, I found there were too many ingredients, and it made it very difficult to stir because it nearly started to overflow. If you end up testing this recipe out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 Onions, finely chopped
  • 1 Head cauliflower, cored and cut into small pieces
  • 3 Potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1/2 Teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 Can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1/2 Teaspoon garam masala

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook onions until soft and golden. Add cauliflower and potatoes and stir. Add tomatoes, cumin, salt, tumeric, and chili powder. Stir and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, or until potatoes and cauliflower are almost tender, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Add chickpeas, cover, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes.

2.       Sprinkle with garam masala and stir well. Serve warm, & enjoy! 🙂

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Checking For A Pulse

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June 6, 2016

It’s official. The 68th UN General Assembly just recently named 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP)! Last year, the same General Assembly declared 2015 as both the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies and the International Year of Soils, so it makes me happy to see that with the declaration of the IYP, we will continue to build directly on the 2015 efforts surrounding soil. I think it’s such a beautiful thing to see this year starting off on such a positive environmental note, first with the Paris Agreement calling for heightened environmental awareness, consciousness, and responsibility, and now with more attention being called towards pulses and the sustainable production of such.

The first time I heard about this declaration, I assumed this was referencing a need to draw more attention to heart health, and encourage individuals to monitor their heart health (via checking their pulses) more frequently. Embarrassing, I know. But for all you smart cookies out there, you probably already know that the term pulses, refers to dried legumes. While a legume can be simply defined as a type of plant with seeds that grow in long cases called pods, a pulse on the other hand, specifically refers to the dried seed found inside the pod. The most common pulses you’re probably familiar with would be beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas, though many others fall under these four categories.

So what’s the big deal about these things anyways, and why is 2016 being declared the year of pulses? Let me give you the run down.

#1: Sustainable Food Production

One of the things that make pulses so attractive to environmentalists is their nitrogen-fixing capability, and I will attempt to explain this in the least scientific way possible, so I don’t lose you. Nitrogen is undoubtedly the most important ingredient or factor when it comes to producing crops, and this poses huge problems for the environment because fossil fuels are essential to creating nitrogen fertilizer. More simply put, the crop production process is heavily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and furthering environmental destruction through its use of nitrogen. What makes pulses so special is that through their biological process, they are actually able to extract the majority of the nitrogen necessary for their growth, from the air. Through this same process, pulses are then able to add nitrogen to the soil, significantly slashing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed! As a result of this process, Pulse Canada notes that pulses use half the non-renewable energy inputs of other crops!

In regards to soil management, their biological process also aids in enhancing soil fertilization for surrounding crops in the same rotation. Statistics Canada also notes that growing pulses in rotation with other grains and oilseeds can disrupt disease and insect cycles as well. But the buck doesn’t stop here! Pulses are extremely easy and inexpensive to produce, plus their production doesn’t require large plots of lands, which helps farmers produce a lot more, on less land. Therefore, it is easy to see why it makes so much sense for the UN General Assembly to dedicate increased efforts towards drawing attention to pulses, because of the environmental sustainability aspect.

 #2: Food Security

This is directly tied to my above mention of the General Assembly’s 2015 efforts to increase awareness surrounding soil, when it named 2015 the Year of Soils. In a paper published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, author Sara J. Scherr (1999) notes:

Pulses, because of their role in improving sustainability, notably through soil management, also impact food security. Soil degradation is a major threat to food security in many areas. Africa is particularly impacted by soil degradation, yet pulses are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers. By improving the crop patterns using pulses, farmers can improve their yields and limit the long-term threat to food security that soil degradation represents.

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Scherr’s findings also led her to put forth the notion that pulses aid not only the nutrition of humans, but also of animals. Scherr noted that by including pulses in the diet of animals, this also contributes to producing healthier livestock, which also works to further enhance food security. This also leads directly to my next point – nutrition!

#3: Nutrition

Similar to my post about Matcha, the more you learn about pulses; the more you start to think “it’s almost as though pulses sound too good to be true”. Pulses have been proven to aid in illness prevention of serious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer because of their ability to lower blood cholesterol and attenuate blood glucose. Further, these guys provide an excellent source of protein, they are low in fat, and packed with iron, zinc, phosphorous and fibre (which many of our diets fall short of providing). Beans also act as excellent source of B vitamins. Vitamin B is a crucial staple needed in all diets, seeing as vitamin B deficiency can lead to all sorts of nasty things like anemia, depression, anxiety, poor memory and concentration, poor skin, irregular heartbeat, which we obviously want to steer clear of!

Moreover, because pulses provide an excellent source of protein, they also act as the perfect alternative to red meat. I briefly noted this in my tips for Earth Day, but I will also mention it in this post because it is something that is extremely important. Reducing the amount of meat in your diet (even if it’s only once a week) can REALLY help the environment a lot more than you think. The meat industry requires so much energy, and to put this into perspective, 1 pound of beef actually requires the use of 1,799 gallons of water. Yes. GALLONS. If you were to swap out meat at least once a week, and substitute pulses instead, you would not only be helping the environment and contributing to environmental sustainability. Your body would also be reaping a number of nutritional benefits as well. Bringing awareness to the nutritional value, and encouraging everyone to make a conscious effort to include more of them in their diet, is one of the core aims of the General Assembly.

Below I’ve compiled a couple of links you can check out if you’re interested in learning more about pulses. Before I sign off, I also want to share one of my favourite pulse recipe with all of you! Be sure to check it out because it is amazing. I hope after reading this post, you too, are encouraged to include pulses in your diet more frequently. Happy Monday to you all, and I wish you a happy and healthy week ahead!

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Pulse Recipes:

Additional Information on Pulses:

 

Why Being WILD is Always Better…

June 5, 2016

Step3Today, June 5th 2016, marks this year’s World Environment Day (#WED2016), which is currently being hosted in the seventh largest African country, Angola. Differing from that of Earth Day, World Environment Day is specifically focused on calling attention to not only the environment, but mainly, to the issue of environmental sustainability. The theme and slogan of this year’s World Environment Day is “Go Wild for Life”, which emphasizes the importance of preserving the remaining endangered wildlife for future generations. WED2016 also strives to shed light on the tragic repercussions that result from illegal wildlife trading and wildlife crime.

While many of us are aware of the illegal trading of wildlife products, and the horrific abuses associated with such, I feel as though we often times push these issues towards the back of our mind because it is rather foreign to us, and these issues are something we don’t experience first hand, or hear covered in the news on a regular basis. Although we are all aware of the illegal trading of wildlife and wildlife products, I think we often times forget the bigger picture: the illegal wildlife trading market isn’t just an issue that effects the endangered wildlife left on our planet, but it is an important piece of a much larger, much more serious, puzzle. As the website for this year’s World Environment Day highlights:

The booming illegal trade in wildlife products is eroding Earth’s precious biodiversity, robbing us of our natural heritage and driving whole species to the brink of extinction. The killing and smuggling is also undermining economies and ecosystems, fuelling organized crime, and feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe“.

Asian Elephant          Tiger

If you’re still thinking “meh, this stuff isn’t really that important to someone like myself” consider this: how would you feel if you could no longer indulge in some of your favourite foods such as honey, wine, coffee, chocolate, and seafood (to name a few) because of environmental damage that prohibits the production of these goods? Then would this stuff become important to you?  NDTV Food wrote an eye-opening article detailing how along with the wildlife, those beloved foods just mentioned, are on a very similar path to extinction due to our own environmental negligence. I don’t know about you, but the thought of no more chocolate is enough to scare me straight!

Despite the designated theme of this year’s World Environment Day, today is not only about waging a war on poachers. It is also about the deforestation crisis, reducing the effects of climate change and global warming, preventing global food shortages, and everything else that falls under the large umbrella of environmental preservation and conservation.

So what can you do to become involved? The answer is LOTS. The three most important ways to get involved are listed below:

1) Spread the Word: The most important thing you can do, begins with spreading the word! Tell your friends, family, co-workers, and fellow classmates and help educate others on important environmental issues they may not know about. You can also dedicate some of your own time to reading up on other environmental issues you are more unfamiliar with. While we may not have the ability to influence government leaders to enforce tougher policies from an individual standpoint, by starting a conversation and becoming engaged in the discussion, you automatically help create and generate a heightened awareness of these issues. The larger the discussion, the more pressure placed on government officials to implement change, and invest in conservation efforts.

2) Get Involved Locally: Another great way to contribute to a greener environment is to get involved at the local level in your own community. For example, make it a point to become familiar with your neighbourhood’s Community Environment Days, to ensure safe recycling and disposal of household items, which helps reduce the amount of unnecessary waste that ends up in landfills. It also doesn’t hurt to stop by your nearest Community Centre, Constituency Office, or sign-up for the newsletter from your City Councillor to find out about the types of events your community is taking part in, and to learn more about how you can help out your local environment (i.e. garbage pick up days).

3) Volunteer: If you have some extra time to donate, volunteering is always an amazing way to give back and help out your community, plus there are a number of fantastic environmental-focused organizations  you can join forces with! One example of a great organization in my city is Evergreen. Evergreen is a Canadian charity centered upon restoring public spaces, and their efforts to do so not only help to strengthen local environments, but also help encourage and promote sustainability in the surrounding community.

On a daily basis, you can also adopt a number of habits to help transform your lifestyle into a more green one, and at the bottom of my Earth Day post, you can find a list of Sabatage tips I created to assist you with such. In honour of World Environment Day, I want to take a moment to further elaborate on one tip I mentioned in that post: Food Waste. Many of us are unaware or oblivious to how serious of an issue this really is, and how detrimental food waste is to environmental sustainability. Did you know nearly half of ALL food produced worldwide is wasted? How disturbing is that?! What many people forget to consider when throwing out food, is that they’re not only tossing away the food. Along with the food, they’re also tossing away all the resources that were used to produce the food, and transport the food to wherever they purchased it from. Here are a couple of my own tips, as well as some from the environmental legend we all love David Suzuki, to help cut back on food waste in your household.

Sabatage Tips to Eliminate Household Food Waste:

  • Save and ACTUALLY eat your leftovers!
  • Make sure you are properly storing all your food in airtight containers.
  • Be mindful of the foods you are throwing away on a regular basis, and modify your habits accordingly (i.e. start recording expiry dates, purchase smaller quantities of things you notice you are frequently tossing etc).
  • Buy only what you need (aka learn to shop smarter). This may seem like a simple concept, but you would be amazed by how many people do not shop smart. Buying exactly what you need, also helps to cut grocery bill costs. You can kill two birds with one stone by downloading apps, which help you plan out your weekly meals and grocery lists to help avoid this exact issue! (Check out MealBoard Meal and Grocery Planner App).

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I hope everyone is having a beautiful World Environment Day today, and remember to appreciate and respect the environment not only today, but always!

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