Wednesday, 11 October 2017

International Day of the Girl


BY ELLIE CONSTANTINOU

Today is International Day of the Girl. A day exclusively dedicated to the younger members of nearly half of the human population. When I originally wrote that previous sentence, I used the word ‘celebrating’, because personally, I believe that the life of a girl, woman or person is one to be celebrated.

However the real purpose of International Day of the Girl - and one that is much more important - is to bring to light the unequal opportunities, the disadvantages and the discrimination that young girls face, all around the world.

There are nearly 1.1 billion girls in the world today. That means 1.1 billion opportunities for the world to drive change and see progress. Over a billion minds full of potential; full of ideas, creativity, energy, and most importantly - power. However, many of these girls are quickly disappearing from public awareness and we are forgetting the responsibility we have in terms of establishing an international development agenda that helps every girl.

Many forms of feminism are alive today. Of course, campaigning for equal workplace rights and equal pay is very much important in the world we live in today. However, UNICEF reports that every 10 minutes, a young girl living somewhere around the world, dies as a result of violence. The number of gender-based violence increases in times of humanitarian emergencies, including cases of sexual and physical violence, exploitation and trafficking, and child marriage.

Forget workplace equality. These girls are not being given equal opportunities to survive.

In Malawi, every other girl is married before the age of 18. Hitting puberty indicates that a young girl is ready for marriage, and next steps usually mean dropping out of school to marry and starting a family.

750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday.

The Education for All Global Monitoring Report reports that adolescent girls in zones of conflict are 90% more likely to be out school in comparison to young girls in conflict-free countries. Simply put, young girls around the world are unable to attend school and receive the same education that we often take for granted, because they’re in places of conflict.

These girls aren’t the ones creating conflict.

These girls are being placed at a disadvantage because of wars created by others. Facing violence and danger, because of others. They are the future of 50% of the population, yet they are having to compromise their future prospects in terms of their lives, work and financial independence.

These girls are collateral damage.

It might not seem like we can do anything to help. Often we’re miles away from the situation and it feels like there’s nothing that we can do. However, acknowledging the discrimination that girls face and showing support for their empowerment, is a call for a social and political revolution. It calls for the breakdown of barriers set up to limit girls. It creates the equal opportunities that seem to have not been granted to half of our population, for no real reason at all.

Today, on International Day of the Girl, girls will take over the positions of over 600 leaders in 60 different countries as a display of their power and potential. Around the world, girls will take on the roles of presidents, mayors, head teachers, business leaders and many more, to show that girls everywhere should be free to dream, lead and believe that they can make a change.

“We cannot succeed when half of us are held back” - Malala Yousafzai

Acknowledge your privilege and spread awareness of the social and political movement that is so necessary for women everywhere.

#InternationalDayoftheGirl

[Photo: UNDP India]
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Thursday, 5 October 2017

I Am


BY NICOLA HARE

"You may write me down in history, with your bitter twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I rise." – Maya Angelou

One of my favourite poems of all time belongs to the great Maya Angelou. Still I Rise has always been a way of grounding me in my thoughts or questions about who I am and so, it seemed fitting that I would introduce this piece; I Am with a quote from the poem.

Years ago, I must’ve been 13, I had a class called citizenship and at the time; it was just another lesson that had to be crossed off on a school day before I went home. It’s only now that I realise how pivotal lessons such as those were; my teacher, Miss Klienfield was the first teacher to perhaps challenge what it is I believed about the world. There were many lessons and there were many questions that we were faced with but the one lesson that has never escaped me was the class about labelling.

The term ‘labelling’ or ‘to label’ is defined as attaching a label to something.
Socially, labelling is the theory of how self-identity and/or behaviour of individuals may be determined and/or influenced by the terms that are used to describe or classify them. The term is essentially associated with the concepts of stereotyping or self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now imagine, 13-year-old Nicola, sitting in class, last lesson before home-time and I was truly dumbfounded by what was being explained. I mean, I would like to believe that I understood what was being taught but if I’m being truly honest, I had always disassociated myself with such a concept. There were no stereotypes that I felt I associated myself with and so surely, the concept must not apply to me.

The truth is; more often than not, definitions, labels, they do not belong to the defined. As a black woman, what is attached or associated to me is the concept of ‘double lacking’; for I am Black and I am woman and for a long time; I believed that it was true; being a woman and being Black both seemed to be inferior in the eyes of society and thus, it must be true that as a black woman, I am double lacking. To define me as double lacking because of my woman-ness and my blackness is entirely comedic to me now because whilst I am woman and I am Black and I do not lack.

Understand this now: what you look like or the perception that people may have of you does not determine who you are. What’s maddening is how easily we are cornered into these labels and how effortlessly one can fall into the trap of labelling because we choose to believe those who have defined us. The act of labelling is such a psychological dysphoria because it is not simply about having a label attached to you; it is about the embodiment of said label.

Imagine a puppet master willing his puppets to move and act according to him, the puppets follow because they know nothing else, they are merely pawns, props in the grand scheme of things. It is not the puppets that are rewarded for their entertainment but rather the puppet master. It is not the puppets that are granted favour and opportunity, but it is the puppet master. It is not the puppets that determine their fate but rather, the puppet master. We want to convince ourselves that we are the puppet masters of our lives; that the show is ours and the pawns are those that we will to our cause when in reality, a lot of us have allowed society, societal norms and labels to make us puppets. We fall into the narrative that has been written for us without questioning what that does to who we are.

I am Black and I am woman. Those two things will never change, nor do I want them to change because they are a part of who I am. I say part because I am more than just Black and woman. I am strong and I am intelligent. I am ambitious and I am powerful, diligent and creative. We become so consumed with other people’s definitions of who we are that we lose ourselves and how to define ourselves.

Have you ever wondered why people are so uncomfortable with claiming their greatness? It is not simply about fearing one’s work but our greatest fear is often not what we’re bad at something but rather the possibility that we are good at it. It is our light that terrifies us and is that not a maddening thought. Have you ever questioned why we are so quick to criticise ourselves and yet when it comes to time to compliment ourselves; we’re embarrassed, shy, we think it foolish. I wrote a post earlier this summer and explained how I make a habit of telling myself of how great I am every morning. I tell myself that because I am great; it is who I am and it is important that I identify with that.

People will always have a perception of you and more often than not, said perception will be projected onto you. What is important is knowing who you are despite that. You see, knowing of oneself is not simply about how you view yourself but it is also the maintaining of such image despite a label or stereotype being attached to you. We need to learn to be the definers of our own lives and destinies otherwise we become puppets, living for the master that does not know of our means and sees us as only objects.

You are not lacking because you are Black, you are not lacking because you are woman, you are not lacking because of your size or your class. The standards that are placed onto these labels do not determine who we are, understanding that is the beginning of defining who you are.

So here within lies my challenge. I challenge you to define who you are. This is not a self-critique or general definitions of you are. This is about defining who you are as more than the exterior. Say it out loud or write it down. Just begin with I Am…


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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

When it's Right to be Wrong


BY ELLIE CONSTANTINOU

It never feels good to back out of something. I’m the first person to advocate trying absolutely everything you want to set your mind to. Yet sometimes there isn’t enough time or energy to balance every commitment I’ve made. Even with an endless stream of commitments and responsibilities, I still find myself feeling guilty when I have to turn my back on a decision or situation that I had previously tried to commit to with a lot of enthusiasm. 

Some things just don’t work out and the passion you once had for a certain commitment might be best placed elsewhere when the time comes to act on it. The truth is that no one can be right about everything. There are so many things we are yet to learn or experience and fortunately we’re within reach of so many different opportunities that allow us to do so. Whether it be academic advances, new skill sets or various assets from one another, we always have more to learn.

Accepting that we always have the opportunity to learn more is one thing, but admitting defeat is entirely something else. Looking back on a decision that you made with confidence and realising that in hindsight, it wasn’t the smartest of things to do, can often be damaging in terms of your mindset and self-belief. However, there are a huge number of things in life that can’t be predicted and there’s no way of knowing how they’ll turn out until we experience them. Often, we even have to experience them firsthand for ourselves, too.

Talking to a friend recently about a situation I found myself in recently, he asked me “How could you have been so dumb?”. I say I found myself in this situation, but really I got myself up and sat myself right down in the middle of it, without bothering to weigh up the consequences against what I wanted at the time. In reply to my friend, I gave the usual “I know, I know”, but really, I began to ask myself how I could have actually been stupid enough to allow myself into something I’ve quickly begun to regret. Then I realised, it was what I wanted at the time. When it came to making that decision, I made it using all the information I had at the time, along with the emotions that I was feeling. No one is to blame, and although I beat myself up about it for a little while, I soon realised that what’s in the past stays there for a reason. The decisions I’ve made in the past don’t define who I am or what I can do today.

Many of us act on impulse. It’s easy to see someone or something that catches your eye and immediately jump in to it. This can be a relationship, friendship, job or any other commitment that we don’t properly think about but feels right at the time. At some point, it becomes clear that it’s no longer what you want or need, or that it isn’t benefitting you in the same way that it once was.

One thing that is often essential to remember is the misconception that backing out of these commitments makes you seem flaky or unreliable. This isn’t true at all. Taking time out to evaluate your recent decisions and assess the impact that they’re having on your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing is one of the most important parts of personal awareness and development.

Sometimes it’s essential to change your mind, move away from overbearing commitments or ties and use this new space to make new decisions, even if only for a little while.
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