#WhatIReallyReallyWant: GIRL POWER!

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July 16, 2016

Whenever I hear the phrase “Girl Power”, the first thing that comes to mind is the Spice Girls posing together, flashing peace signs. Although the phrase was coined prior to Spice Girl mania, there is no question about the fact that the Spice Girls were the ones responsible for popularizing the widespread use of the term, during the mid-1990’s. The phrase grew to become so popular that it actually landed itself a home in the dictionary, where it’s defined as “the idea that women and girls should be confident, make decisions, and achieve things independently of men.”

Girl power rests upon the fundamental notion of female empowerment. And for that reason, I find it absolutely brilliant that The United Nations Global Goals For Sustainable Development managed to work the Spice Girls into their latest campaign to promote awareness for Goal 5, which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

As part of the Global Goals campaign for girls and women, Project Everyone, Getty Images, and the global cinema advertising association SAWA partnered together to produce an amazing music video titled “#WhatIReallyReallyWant”. The video uses the famous Spice Girls hit song “Wannabe”, and features female artists from around the world. Throughout the background of the video, there are images calling for some of the things girls and women “really, really want”, which include ending child marriage and violence against girls, quality education for all girls, and equal pay for equal work. These are some, but not all, of the targets outlined by the United Nations in Goal 5.

The video is very well done. So well done that former Spice Girl members and other celebrities began endorsing and sharing the video, declaring their support for gender equality initiatives, and reiterating the important messages the video aims to deliver.

Along with the video, this campaign seeks to encourage girls and women to share a photo of themselves (or a piece of paper) stating what they really, really want for girls and women, using the hashtag #WhatIReallyReally. All images featuring that hashtag will be shown to the world leaders meeting at the UN in September 2016.

Goal 5, Gender Equality, became part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September of last year, when leaders from around the world gathered in New York at the United Nations Headquarters. The leaders in attendance reached an agreement on 17 specific goals and targets to achieve by year 2030, which are referred to as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also known as SDG’s or Global Goals). These goals tackle a wide range of issues, and highlight the need for transformative and universal change on behalf of not only the national leaders, but everyone around the world.

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Thanks to live streaming capabilities, I was able to virtually attend both the Women Deliver Conference and The United State of Women Summit a couple months ago, where  the importance of investing in women and girls was a topic that was repeatedly brought to the table. A conversation I never get sick of hearing.

During the Women Deliver Conference, Dr. David Nabarro, Special Advisor on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development touched directly on the topic of investing in girls and women, and how this is one of the most important investments. Dr. Nabarro described the 2030 Agenda as “a plan that is like a tapestry, that goes right across the totality of human experience, and right at the centre, is girls and women”. Nabarro argued that unless girls and women are given the best possible support and investment, they will be unable to contribute to the future of our world in the way they need to:

“It’s investing in girls and women that’s the key. In order to do that, what’s the most important thing? It’s for girls and women to be able to enjoy good health, to be able to make reproductive choices, to exercise their rights, and if that is done than the economic gains are huge – at least ten times greater return on investment. And at the same time, the countries themselves, if they’ve got healthy women who are able to enjoy well-being and to exercise their reproductive rights, they will be able to undergo the kind of development that is necessary for the future of our world.”

To me, it’s an absolute no-brainer to invest in girls and women, because the unfortunate reality is that millions and millions of girls and women around the world are unable to fully contribute to progressive development, as a result of denied access to education, forced harmful practices from a young age, and feelings of disempowerment as a result of their circumstances and cultural traditions. Due to such, we are missing a very large portion of the population which could be participating and contributing to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, and this is extremely problematic. Imagine what we could do if we had an extra 60,000,000 girls and women helping us work towards these global goals? The possibilities are truly endless. Plus, we all know there is no force more powerful than a strong, educated, and empowered woman!

Please join me to help make some noise in order to raise awareness for the Gender Equality Sustainable Development Goal. Get your friends and family involved too! Use the hashtag #WhatIReallyReallyWant, and tell the world what issues matter to YOU! The more noise we make, the more pressure placed on national leaders to adopt and enforce concrete legislation promoting gender equality at all levels, and in all countries. When women do better, everyone does better…so what are you waiting for?!  Let’s get to it!

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#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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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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