on India

TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, HONOUR KILLINGS

 

Women and girls in India are victims of routine gendercide and you don’t need to look far to see the horrors of the crimes that are committed against them. In recent months the situation has become so dire that events have even headlined in our own news: the 23 year old Delhi student who was kidnapped & gang raped repeatedly, whos intestines were pulled out of her with an iron rod by her attackers which resulted in her death a fortnight later; the 17 year old who ingested poison in order to kill herself after naming the three men who raped her in her suicide note; and the spine chilling statistics – 55% of Indian Women being victims of various forms of gender-based violence. These are just the stories which make our newspapers, but every day is a struggle against a deeply rooted patriarchy for these women. In a culture which still sees a woman as a second class citizen, Indian women and girls are trapped in a remorseless cycle of discrimination that begins before they are born.
   Every year in India 500,000 female foetus’s are selectively aborted, 3500 of which happen in Jaipur – the city with a population of 2 million in which I am volunteering. Baby boys are coveted – they are an investment, whereas baby girls are a burden. Baby girls are typically neglected and are subsequently 75% more likely to die before the age of five than their male counterparts. They are a burden which at the average age of 16 is passed on to another family, accompanied by a dowry payment – a form of compensation. A compensation which is often seen as so inadequate that 5000 brides a year are murdered at the hands of their inlaws. Shockingly often, however, many girls do not make it to marriage, instead becoming part of the 150 thousand women and children who fall victim to sex traffickers every year. Approximately 1/3 of these are aged between 12-17 years old.
   A woman is raped every twenty minutes in India, and the culture of blame that exists in the U.K. is far worse in these cases. Women are seen as responsible for their attack – for being “tempting” or “Westnernised” – and three women a day die in honour related murders. Gender based violence is a universal problem, however the threat is most severe in societies where women’s rights mean next to nothing. A mother with no rights has no protection or motive to offer her daughter.
   It is hardly surprising that India was recently named the worst G20 country in which to be born a woman. A government who in the last five years had 27 candidates stand in elections who acknowledged the existing rape charges against them. The second largest country in a continent where more girls have died in the last 50 years just for being girls than all men from each country have died in every single battle of the 20th Century. The endemic hatred of women is thorough and seemingly unending. 
   Despite this bleak prognosis the seeds of change have been planted. In the last few months civil unrest has began as the people have started to demand tougher laws, fast tracked court cases and justice for their country’s women. International pressure has led to the Indian government acknowledging and beginning to solve its problem. Non-Governmental Organisations have campaigned and raised money to fund schooling for Indian girls and small business loans for women most in need, for instance those who are rescued from forced prostitution or that are fleeing abusive husbands. 
   Legislation is obviously an important change, however it does nothing to challenge the entrenched social contempt for Indian women. Furthermore, adequate rights and justices are rarely handed down by the ruling classes and instead must be demanded and fought for. It is widely acknowledged that women are no more the problem than the solution. Education and empowerment is the method with which girls will rise through societal ranks and so force great change. Educating girls is key to not just women’s rights but also to economic improvement – a society working with and for only one half of itself will forever remain half of a society, half of an economy. Education mirrors status, and status means the ability to influence change.  Allowing girls to stay in school gives them more power to control their lives: pursuing employment or higher education; getting married later; having fewer and healthier children; taking better care of themselves and breaking free from the vicious poverty cycle.
   The Women’s Empowerment project bases itself on these principals. As a volunteer the main focus of my work will be to educate and motivate teenage girls & young women into helping themselves. I will help to develop vocational skills, along with basic numeracy, arithmatic & computer work. I will teach conversational English, and assist in teaching the importance of sanitation, hygiene and nutrition. I aim to use my business knowledge to help aspiring girls to develop viable business models and market plans. Finally I want to create an awareness amongst the women with whom I work about their rights surrounding rape, domestic violence and dowry – because women cannot defend themselves from abuse & work above their vulnerability until they have the confidence to speak against it. I do not deceive myself: I am a priveleged, young white woman from the first world who cannot possibly know the full extent of these women’s struggle from simply reading the news & studying statistics. My volunteering is a learning experience for myself which I can pass on to my peers at home, through joining the ranks of my comrades working in solidarity with our Indian sisters. By donating ourselves we can help to empower these women to help themselves, and each generation thereafter. The question is not if but when Indian women will rise above their oppression and create the lives which they deserve. Bystanding is not simply turning a blind eye, but enabling. Continuing in silence is undermining and slowing down every woman’s effort to create a better life for herself, her family and her country. I pledge to stand by no more and I hope that you will join me.

“It is impossible to realise our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
– Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, 2006

on 3rd December; coming out

Image

On this day, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I want to to come out as a person living with a disability.

15% of the World’s population are living with a disability. 1 in 4 people from the UK are suffering from depression or another mental health disability right now. I want to go public with my disorder. Not for sympathy nor reaction of any kind. I just want to try to dispell some of the myths surrounding my personal condition for those that know me and those that don’t.

Having depression does not mean that I sit around and cry everyday. It does not mean that I feel perpetually sorry for myself and have mood-board cuttings of my funeral. Having depression does not mean that I hate myself. Having depression does not mean that there is massive trauma in my past that has caused it or something wrong with my life that needs fixed.

Depression, for me, is inheritted. My mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother and I all share this joyous serotonin deficiency which means we react differently to situations than other people might do. Think your family has drama? Try four generations of women with identical methods of thinking and wildly differring personalities. Pick the wrong day to tell us it’s raining and there’s a high chance each of us will take it personally; which spells for carefully considered reunion locations or risk facing an umbrella duel at dawn.

Having depression means I can go weeks and weeks without feeling a thing. Literally nothing. Happiness, anger, sadness, elation, empathy, satisfaction, frustration, interest, worry, arousal – you name it; I can’t feel it. Then at the drop of a hat (and I been this both figuratively and literally) I go from an unimpressionable chasm to Moaning Myrtle a la Harry Potter’s Chamber of Dejected Secrets. This stage of unpleasance can last anywhere between a half hour to three or four days and is always followed by rewinding back to blissful nothingness or being absofuckinglutely fine. No explanations; no reasons. Just sitting in the layby with your hazards on to cruising pleasantly just below speed limit in less than 0.uneventful seconds.

Having depression can make me annoyingly happy. Not annoying for me, no. But then again no one wants to be THAT guy at the party thats soberly crying because they JUST FUCKING LOVE EVERYONE. But then that’s the thing about being annoyingly happy – you just really don’t care how annoying it is when you’re that high on life. For some reason everything changes. Colours are brighter and everyone is so so pretty and that new Nicki Minaj & Justin Bieber song isn’t actually that bad. This side of depression is like falling in love repeatedly. Nothing you learn could make you think badly of life. Sure, you’re in debt up to your eyeballs, your flat mate’s been given an extra strong dose of bitch today and you’re failing your course AGAIN, but such is life AND OH MY GOD HOW WONDERFUL IS LIFE.

This is depression for me in very broad explanation. I can elaborate further on aspects. The anxiety is mostly an everyday occurence in one form or another but is ironically more emotionally triggering to write about than depression. The accompanying paranoia that would have some of my friends rolling their eyes in inpatient exasperation. The cyclic nature of all of these things, how one manifestation of my condition blends seamlessly into another, with random periods of remission yet existing as an ultimately unending series. I won’t elaborate however, for personal reasons and because it would’nt make the lightest of reading.

Having depression makes me want to hide. Whether I’m doing this consciously or unconsciously, for about half of the week I just don’t want to face anything. This varies as all symptoms do from stage to stage, but at this point it’s about half of my week. By hiding I don’t just mean from people; I mean from responsibilty, conscience, eating. I just don’t want to deal with these things and so I don’t. This is the most frusting stage both for myself and for others, as I am fully aware that every time that I don’t get out of bed or eat for the day that I am making myself worse. Other people know this too, so its became such a touchy subject with those that can’t see why I won’t just snap out of it. When I’m hiding and I’m aware that I’m hiding, I’m aware that I’m not doing myself any favours. But to put it bluntly; I couldn’t give less of a shit if I tried. And trying definitely isn’t something on my agenda at this point.

Having depression means that I take medication to treat the symptoms. This is something I’m not going to discuss or explain. I have had far too many ‘chats’ with people about antidepressants to know that it is better for everyone for me to just not talk about it. (By ‘chats’ I mean “well my neighbour’s uncle’s dog took antidepressants and they said ….” and the like.) I don’t care what someone has read about treatment or heard about placebo: unless you personally are taking or have taken antidepressants I genuinely don’t care about what you have to say about it. The first prescription that I took made my condition worse, but kept me stable for long enough. The second prescription and the one that I am taking now I believe is the reason that I am even still alive. It has allowed me to learn my disability and to analyse my syptoms, my behaviour & my life in ways that I could’nt before. This is something I will never unlearn whether I stop taking my prescription today or continue until the day I die, which is why I don’t care for any unqualified person’s comment about whether I should be taking them or not.

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Having depression is frustrating. It’s existing with a condition that a lot of the time you feel you can’t tell anybody about, and when you do it’s living with the stigma attached to your name for the rest of the time. Thats Hanna, she’s depressed. I think that the stigma of mental illness is one of the worst, although luckily having not experienced any other stigmatised illnesses besides “outspoken individual” I cannot possibly say.

Having depression, I hope, has made me a better person. I think that I was born a pretty judgmental person (and I can argue nature vs. nurture on both sides of this til the cows finally get a job and leave home). It’s something I hate in other people and despise in myself, but I think that having a mental illness has given me a new dimension on people. Cheesy I know, but I genuinely think that without it I’d assign people to boxes within seconds of meeting them an there they’d stay without reason or hope of reassessment. Having depression means I constantly evaluate myself and reflect a lot on the wolrd around me, as reflected in my writing. Having a mental illness has also helped me to actually empathise with other people. Would I care about people on the other side of the world whom I will probably never meet/have discovered feminism/want to change the world a little bit for other people if I didn’t? I dare say that I wouldn’t, and for that reason I am grateful for this horrible, debilitating, infuriating and awesome disability of mine.

This entry had been hovering in drafts for four days, waiting for some bravery to have me push submit. Thankfully a stunning “f*ck it” attitude swanned in this morning which has allowed me to do so, so please excuse the lack of proof reading!

on moving mountains one pebble at a time

I’ve got that amazing excitement you only get when you know that you’re changing the world.

It’s completely intoxicating, this having a passion. I want to scream it from the rooftops like an enamoured lover. For the first time I feel so fulfilled, like I have a purpose. I have something to live for and fight for. I know that as long as I do I’ll be happy.

I’ve realised that at twenty years old I have no right to have a defeatist attitude. Just because everyone around me thinks that I can’t make a difference doesn’t mean I have to agree. I owe it to myself to try.

And as for why I care? Please let me know what you did to help the world today. Then I’ll have a conversation with you about the point in my effort.
I’ll get back to you about that defeatist attitude in another twenty years, suckers.

never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, indeed they are the only ones that ever have

on change

It’s exciting, it’s scary, it’s inevitable

We are constantly changing a little bit at a time. Moving forward, improving, making mistakes and going back and taking a different direction with ourselves, layer upon layer, creating complicated and undefinable human beings, each of whom are working through their personal natural selection to be their best possible version of themselves.

That is, if you are open to change.

Change is scary. You build yourself a nest and become completely comfortable in it, moulding it around yourself. So yeah, its scary when that nest is taken away. Suddenly you’re attempting to exist as you were in a space that doesnt fit you quite so comfortably.

Our attempt to grow requires our willingness to accept change and to go through change ourselves. Like natural selection, it is those who are best able to adapt that continue the longest and most happily.

I think we all realise this. Our environment changes and we need to move with it or be left behind. It’s not easy for everyone, those who so require their nest to remain intact feel threatened by their neighbours who can more easily fly with the wind, just as those restless neighbours can find their homely counterparts to be commonplace.

 

Relationship selection at work?

on making life difficult for myself

Another day; another ideological argument with my peers which leaves me red faced and tearing my hair out in frustration.

This happens way too often. It’s on gone past the point of just picking my battles. August saw me swear off my opinionated self ever again purely for my own sanity, only to return again all guns a’ blazing about three days later. I have taken to only indulging my opinionated self with those of whom do not fall into the lost causes category. You know, the ones so far up their own arses that no amount of rhyme nor reason could ever possibly sway them from their precious foundation of ignorance (yeah, you know the ones). Unfortunately, too often into this category fall those who prefer to just bury their heads in the sand, something which is both saddening and maddening in equal measure.

Now we could all wax lyrical about how if more people gave a shit we’d have a lot more shit to throw at those making things shitty for everyone else (and by giving a shit, I do not mean literally handing someone faeces. I mean caring about something outwith your own immediate environment). These people infuriate me no end purely because of their commitment to blissful ignorance. The fly.in the ointment, however, is that I used to be one of them.

Hearing the news day to day used to depress me. There was a whole lot of bad stuff happening that I could do a whole lot of nothing about. So instead I’d tune it out. I stopped listening and I stopped reading. When anything remotely concerning came up in conversation – not to do with The X Factor or that-bitch-said-what-now – I’d toss my hair and laugh that I knew nothing of the world around me and haha what an airhead I am. I made myself not care. This was completely something defensive for me and there’s no one event I can pin the change on except the simple fact that I gained some self confidence and stopped being so afraid.

The problem with awareness is that it leads to further awareness. One minute you’re just realising that some fluffy bunnies probably died after being forced to ingest the hairspray you’re applying liberally to your already stiff head and the next your naked in a field, drinking fair trade coffee out of a recycled mug toting Marxist banners and smoking marijuana with your vegan friends. Not that this is a bad thing, obviously. 
But awareness is a scary thing and you cannot unlearn just as you cannot unsee. Having your eyes opened to the world and it’s ills is disturbing and is rage inducing. I challenge anyone to investigate the true extent of human trafficking and to not feel anger; to learn the degradation and squalor of the sweat shops which supply the vast majority of our collective wardrobe and to not feel guilt; to allow themselves to realise that actually it’s not the lazy and promiscuous working classes/those pesky immigrants/The Daily Mail’s flavour of the week that is the reason our country is fucked but rather the fault of our corrupt government with their hands in the corporations pockets, and to not feel wow they sure pulled the wool over my eyes disgust. It’s horrible to recognise the intense atrocities that are allowed seemingly unknowingly to continue around us; the bystander effect on the biggest of scales. Denial and attempts to deflect responsibility help to ease the guilt, the fear that it could be you next. But by far the most effective of all is to turn your blind eye. What you do not know cannot hurt you. 
So many times I have despaired with myself: why do I care? This doesn’t affect me. And if I had a penny for everytime someone else asked me that question I’d have…. hmm, about a pound to put in my non existent savings ( thanks, Tories (or alcohol, whichever)).
So should people care? Well on the basis of humanity, morality and basic compassion I’d say yes. But on the basis of making life easier for yourself? I’d say no. 
So often I am completely exhausted due to being emotionally invested in things which don’t directly affect me. Couple that with the constant criticism and anger based purely on your being a person violating people’s sense of well being by merely having an opinion. Add to that the stigmatism of actually having awareness of societal issues (see naked-field-coffee-Marxist-marijuana-vegan above) continually perpetuated by the media as irritating clueless hippies and it’s bloody difficult to even get people to listen to you, much less concede with what you’re saying. Too often I have had to bite my tongue, to leave a room to stop myself going bat-shit crazy. Too often I have ended days in tears of frustration that any efforts of mine have been in vain. It’s no wonder people are afraid of awareness, when those who arn’t are so attacked by the rest. When they are told to just forget about it because it’s just making life difficult for themselves.The fact is I can’t. Because of the person I am, because I’m in too deep, because I realise that giving all my shits and helping people is something I want to do for the rest of my life, I can’t 

It doesn’t make life easy, this shit giving thing. Sure, the more people that do the easier it will get, but I realise that if everything continues exactly as is right now for the next few decades then there won’t be any massive change in my lifetime. But that’s only if we all continue to turn that blind eye of ours. So I hope we won’t. 

Hopefully I’ll see you soon, knee deep in all the shits we give, naked in that awareness field. I’ll be sure to share my fair trade coffee with you when I do.

on friends, critics, and the inner doubter (and how these things are probably all the same entity)

‘friend’ is a word which I think we all toss around too much. More often than not I find its more of an umbrella term 

acquaintance companion relative associate colleague side-kick therapist neighbour agony-aunt confidante instructor aide com-padre backseat-driver parent crony adjudicator competitor antagonist expert analyst savant buffoon speculator learned-doctor 

but my favourite of the moment would be this one

Critic

-noun

1. a person who judges, evaluates, or criticizes

2. a person who tends too readily to make captious, trivial, or harsh judgements; faultfinder

Just me? Please tell me it’s not. 

Now, I love my friends. Cliche, yes. True? Yes again. But there’s a small collection of them that I find very hard to like from time to time. I know that sounds awful, but hear me out.

You know that voice in your head; the niggling disparaging one that doubts everything you say and do? The one that when you go “oh! what an excellent idea brain! how very good you are!” it replies with “well, I really don’t think that’ll work. As in it won’t at all. It’s stupid. You should probably just crawl into a hole and think about how useless you are for the rest of the day.” You know the one? Well that voice is these friends of mine. It’s live and it’s loud and it’s in public for all to hear & concede with, and it’s pretty much constant. (now you should know that I’m “soooo dramatic” so you probably shouldn’t pay attention to a word I say, by the way). Although yes, I am exaggerating. A bit.

Everyday I doubt myself, most of us do. I’m not meaning to whinge or whap out my violin here (trust me, you do not want to hear either of these things. I am not what we would call vocally or musically gifted.)  but it’s very hard to overcome your inner self doubter when those around you more or less parrot her on a daily basis. Ahhh, you say. Surely there is truth in the doubt? If these outer and mystical inner critics agree on this critique which they are critiquing upon you? *

Well, maybe so. But it doesn’t mean that I want to hear it. 

These friends of mine are all beautiful, strong willed, opinionated and intelligent women who I am completely in awe of. Bless them, more than likely they think that they are looking out for me by routinely degrading my choices. People like this tend to have opinions on how other people are living their lives; and that’s okay. I have opinions on there’s! But there has to be a line. Something I’ve learned in my time of being an outspoken gobby shit is that even though you have an opinion, sometimes it is vastly inappropriate to give it without permission. And that’s what I mean here.

The last few months have seen me make some big changes in my life. From changing anti-depressants, to upping them, to downing them; to booking a volunteering excursion; to giving education one last shot; to dropping out of uni completely in the pursuit of nothing in particular; to finding a passion; they have voiced unwelcome opinions on them all. And yes, some have been lovely. The majority, however, have been the perpetual lambasting of my personal choices of which they have no particular knowledge nor are they affected by. 

I know, I know. I know I should bring it up with them, this being my strength of feeling and deepness of hurt etcetc, instead of pointlessly hammering my troubles into the blogosphere. I know that I have nothing to complain of, am educated straight white individual experiencing some first world problems and probably am just feeling menstrual. I do realise all of this. But the problem is I am stubborn. And my friends are stubborn. And we are all stubborn to the point that we would bite off our own noses to spite our faces (but then probably wouldn’t just to prove a point). 

So instead of doing the mature, worldly-individual action of sitting over a cup of green tea and discussing my problems, I am committing them to teh internetz for my friends to find one day and further lambaste me some more. And because it’s better to just do the sensible thing and bitch about it behind each others backs. And because I want to. Because I’ve sat here so long now that my arse has gone numb.

*ironically, language is not something which my friends nor my mystical inner doubter criticise me for