Connection & Compassion in the Smallest Encounters

During recent months, many articles have been written on the topic of love – especially on how to find or sustain it during the the coronavirus pandemic. We know, and feel, that our relationships are changing in many ways. We see each other less, but we have more contact online.

But what about the relationships we have with the few people we pass on the way to the supermarket, in the metro, or out on a run? What has changed in these smallest of encounters with our fellow humans? It seems to me that the way we engage and relate to strangers on the street is changing, too.

Strangers Become Threats

With the virus spreading quickly, we have been told to physically distance ourselves from one another. Out in the streets, we give each other a wide berth. However, with physical distance comes an emotional distance, too. Strangers become potential ‘threats’ – potential carriers of the virus that can harm us or those around us.

The coronavirus brings more division than ever. The ‘other’ becomes something completely separate from us – not somebody to respect and engage with, but some ‘body’ to avoid. We see such thinking acted out in the physical fights happening in supermarkets and in the xenophobia and racism being shown.

Though such behavior is outrageous and unacceptable, it is important to acknowledge the heightened levels of anxiety people are experiencing. With more people feeling on edge, aggression and violence may result. More generally, many people are experiencing mental ill-health due to the pandemic, with feelings of depression and loneliness seemingly rising. All the more reason to connect and stand strong, together.

Face Masks, Communication and Understanding

Face masks make it harder to communicate and understand others. Of course, wearing a mask is sometimes necessitated by someone’s line of work, or is recommended by a government. It is relevant, though, to keep in mind that wearing a face mask changes something in our non-verbal communication. Facial expression is key to expressing ourselves and in understanding others. Kathleen M. Pike, Director of the Columbia-WHO Centre in Global Mental Health, explains that:

We need to remember that as our masks intercept the transmission of coronavirus, they also intercept important non-verbal communications that are universal to our emotional connection.

Physical Distancing Does Not Equal Emotional Distancing

With or without face masks, our relationships with the people we encounter while we go about our days are changing. Many people are longing for intimacy, but finding it hard to find while we are obliged to keep our distance. We can, however, offer the people we pass warmth through our eyes, our tone and our energy.

We can acknowledge other people’s existence and humanity, instead of turning away or looking at them through a lens of fear. Let’s draw smiles on our face masks, and wave at those on the other side of the street. Not knowing how much longer we’ll need to keep our physical distance, we could do with learning how to connect to others during even the smallest of encounters.

Sex Education is Everyone’s Right

Sex education is the teaching of knowledge and understanding of our bodies in their natural sexuality. It’s important for many reasons. Many privileged sectors of society have access to this knowledge and understanding, but in many parts of the world, it can’t be taken for granted.

There is a huge problem with sex education worldwide.

In the United States, a survey showed that of 1000 participants between 18 and 29 years, only 33% reported having had some sex education. In the United Kingdom, a similar poll proved that from the same number of participants, 16-17 years old, only 45% felt confident to define their sex education as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, the adolescent pregnancy rate is 30%. Mexico has the highest rate of teen pregnancies among the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Sex education simply means teaching young people to know how their bodies work and how to take care of them.

A sex education of quality provides us with the tools to respect our own bodies and the bodies of other people. It enables us to be conscious of the respect sexuality deserves, to prevent sickness, and to value the importance of open, shame-free dialogue.

Sex education should be part of every education. Sadly, many cultures still think that sex education is not a priority matter. Many people believe it shouldn’t be included in basic education because for them, talking about sex is a synonym for shame.

Consistent, high-quality sex education must not be only an option.

The importance of the subject goes beyond the individual. It matters deeply because a correct education can actually save lives. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), sex educations is:

“[…] teaching and learning aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships…”

Sex education can:

  • Prevent sexually transmitted diseases
  • Provide knowledge of how to use contraceptive methods
  • Prevent unwanted pregnancies
  • Create understanding of the menstrual cycle
  • Reduce stigma and shame

A thorough sex education also gives young people an understanding of the boundaries of their body’s intimate space. This helps them to identify sexual abuse.

With the correct information, people are more able to make responsible decisions.

Sex education must be a right. It is about more than just sexual life. Education helps young people to take decisions about their bodies, health and lives in their own hands. This can, in turn, create a better lifestyle for all.

It’s important to visualize the body as the natural thing that it is. If parents and textbooks would teach about the naturality of our bodies, it would be easier for people to demand respect over their own.

In the world I envisage for the future, everyone will receive high quality sex education. They’ll understand what sex is about, and there won’t be more fear or taboo. No child, woman or man will be limited in speaking about sexuality as a personal and social priority.

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The Sneakers Inspiring & Empowering Women

Just as clothing must be looked after and cared for, it seems increasingly essential that human beings come with a ‘how-to-care-for’ label, so that they are not destroyed by another person.

Josefinas is the only shoe brand born with the purpose to inspire and empower women through flat shoes.

Based on our passion for creating meaningful pieces, we conceived the You Can Leave special edition, which aims to alert to the growing and expanding plight that is gender-based violence and contribute to its eradication.

There are more and more cases of violence, happening earlier and earlier, leading to more and more deaths. The main victims? Women and children.

We created three pairs of sneakers and a pair of shoelaces, all with five common symbols that show ‘how-to-care-for’. They are printed so that no one forgets that a relationship should be based on love, mutual care and respect, and there is no place for violence, guilt, shame, intimidation, or control.

One of each pair of sneakers has a hidden QR Code; it symbolizes a relationship where domestic violence exists and proliferates in silence and shame. This QR Code comes with a message: You Can Leave. A victim may not be able to leave an abuser the first time, but eventually they will be able to leave, for good.

Did you know it often takes between five and seven attempts for a victim to abandon an abuser once and for all?

This cause means so much to us at Josefinas, which is why 30% of the sale of any one of these three pairs of sneakers or shoelaces goes to associations that help and support women victims of domestic violence, namely APAV and She is Rising.

Two pairs of the You Can Leave sneakers not only have the ‘how-to-care-for’ label, but also meaningful numbers:

  • 7 in 10 women experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime

  • 603 000 000 women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime

  • 15 – 44 is the most common age range for domestic violence to occur

It’s our mission to raise awareness. We want to talk about domestic violence. We want you to talk about it! Don’t judge, don’t turn a blind eye.

It is only when we are in someone else’s shoes that we can truly understand how pain and suffering, covered by shame, leaves us incapacitated and feeling like a victim with no way out.

But there is always a way out and it’s very important to know that there is a path that comes after all this.

Domestic violence isn’t a couple’s problem; it’s yours, it’s all of ours. It’s is highly likely that we all know someone who is suffering or has suffered from domestic violence. Domestic violence doesn’t choose age, religion, or social status, so never assume it won’t happen to you or to someone you know. Talk about it! Let’s keep the conversation going.

#ProudToBeAWoman

About Josefinas: Josefinas is the only shoe brand born with the purpose to inspire and empower women through flat shoes. In 2013, three women started Josefinas with the dream of inspiring other women to follow their own paths. Now Josefinas is taking it even further, helping other female leaders grow their businesses and supporting individual women in Rwanda. Josefinas has become a favorite among celebrities, has won the award for Best E-commerce Brand and has become a much-loved brand on social media. @josefinasportugal.

Give Yourself…You

We’re all taught that if we treat others as we’d like to be treated in return, we’ll live happier lives. But isn’t it about time that we turn that around and focus on providing ourselves the same kind of admiration and love we give to others?

Self love goes beyond the stereotypical pamper sessions. It’s about so much more and a deeper-rooted concern. Too often, we don’t have a big enough inner container for the love we deserve to give ourselves. We are infatuated by the idea of other people giving us love, but it will never work if we can’t even provide ourselves with a small portion of the same kind of love.

Many people associate self love with being selfish, when in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Being able to take time out for yourself and your own needs eventually reflects on the way you act towards others. Constantly being negative and hard on yourself leaves no room for others to give you love.  If you can practice self love around others, it will be a subtle reminder to them to love themselves as well.

Self love is such a vital part of our existence, yet one we ignore – often purposefully – on a daily basis. We can get caught up in the complexities of life while trying to balance the need to achieve, impress and belong. We can forget about the most important part of this complex puzzle – ourselves.

“If you have the ability to love, love yourself first.” Charles Bukowski

I am my own harshest critic. I am always the first to criticise and tear myself apart for the slightest mistake or failure, time after time. It took me a long time to realize that I do not need a green light from the rest of the world to reassure me that I’m on the right path. I’m now learning to trust my instincts instead of my ego.

Listen to your body and ignore all the whispers and dark murmurs in your mind. It’s true that if you talked to others the way the little voices in your mind talk to you, those people may not stay your friends for very long.

Choose yourself first before you let anyone else in. Appreciate yourself for the extraordinary being that you are. If it helps you, thank yourself for getting up in the mornings and then reward yourself for making it through the day. Just as you are a well-functioning, powerful machine put on this earth, there is also a delicacy and fragility within you. You must refuse to seek permission or approval to be yourself. Recognize that you, like everyone else, deserve to take up space on this planet just as you are right now.

As award-winning slam poet Caira Lee says, “I am the most important person in the world to me. I accept that person and I admire that person, and I will do everything in my power to see that person’s dreams come true.”

Why She Leaves: Music for Advocacy

This is an anthem for women who’ve made up their minds. They’ve had enough of putting up with a relationship that was emotionally, physically, sexually or financially abusive. Maybe it was all of those things. Or maybe their partners were dismissive and unloving, depleting rather than strengthening them. Maybe it was just too much work. In any case, these women are tired, they’ve given too much and they’re fed up of being disrespected. The title of ANML’s song says it all – It’s Over.

ANML, an LA based and Canadian born singer, songwriter, producer and advocate, feels a person leaves a relationship “when it becomes unfulfilling or unbearable.” She tells me, “I see us all as animals, and I watch other species as an example. They bond. They stay together. So to be in a place where it’s time to let go, your needs are not being met.

ANML emphasises the need to discuss what abuse looks like more openly: “This is different for everyone but it takes a lot of shit until we let go. And we shouldn’t have a high threshold for shit.” She highlights the importance of being educated about abuse so that girls and women have the power to choose what they will do in any situation they might find themselves in. “We should know the signs of abuse so we’re able to decide. We should understand this better.

The video for It’s Over – a poignant display of liberation and self-love – has received over one million hits. ANML says the women in the video are not actors: “Some were in abusive relationships, some needed to say goodbye. I wanted to create a platform for women to talk about their experiences.

The video is raw in other aspects, too. ANML says there were no enhancements, no make-up, no frills. She adds, “It was just the way it was shot. We’re all real people.” In fact, she originally tried shooting professionally, but the video we see -filmed on her birthday in her bedroom the night before moving to L.A. – is the version she found to be most authentic. “So that’s how the video was made. To weave stories together.”

To tackle a problem as systemic and pervasive as gender violence and abuse, we need advocacy that spreads throughout every sector of our society – including the arts. Music is a powerful and emotive form of advocacy, and the potential for artists to create widespread changes in attitudes and behaviour seems unlimited. Show your love for ANML’s music on Soundcloud, Facebook or Twitter.

How to be Alone

Nineteen long months ago, my ex-boyfriend was found unresponsive in his room, overdosed on opiates, a week before he turned twenty-six. A year before, we’d had a messy, incomplete breakup that neither had been sure was final; having it so brutally confirmed left me reeling. Complicating matters was an ill-timed relocation from the city we’d lived in to New York, a scant three months later. Concluding my own life there meant I had little time to process the end of his.

Chaotic though it was, I managed to sellotape my belongings into boxes, lug them up a seven story walk-up in Astoria, and stumble through New York’s towering skyscrapers, blinding lights and labyrinthine subway system. By one chance after another, I fell into an amazing team and began work on a scrappy, big-hearted startup in journalism (an industry almost as unforgiving as New York itself.)

The eight months following my ex’s death were an amazing, painful, thrilling and exhausting blur, where my career exploded as fantastically as my personal life had fallen apart. It was a welcome distraction from my ex’s passing, and a solid reminder that I had much more to live for than what had been lost.

At the same time, the question that haunts all single women my age began, once again, to doggedly pursue me.

So, met anyone special?

I could be at a fellowship in New York for half a year, an incubator in Berlin for two months or a conference in Copenhagen for three short working days, and the first question I could be guaranteed to get about each was, “What are the men like?”

I tried dating sporadically in the last year, and had a good time on a few. However, dates were money I didn’t particularly have, working for a startup, and emotional energy I wasn’t particularly ready to expend, still pulling out sutures from a healing heart.

I started fibbing whenever the topic came up. I told people I was busy on a date, when I was home in my pyjamas streaming movies. (One date, I learned, could stave off inquiries for another week.) In retrospect, honesty is the policy which saves you keeping track of multiple invented suitors; but I was weary of fielding the constant well-meaning but misguided, “Maybe it would do you good to see someone new…

It took a while before my embarrassment at my reluctance to date turned to indignation. Society, as it turns out, is so obsessed with partnership that even tragic death gives us a five-month reprieve before we should be firing up Tinder. In the last year and a half, I’ve always been grateful for any show of support, but as time went on, I was surprised at the nature of it, and how fixated it was on one thing.

People were likely to say: “Which dating apps have you tried? There’s this new one I heard about.” “Did you go out with someone? That’s so great!” “Tell me everything about the last date you had.

People were less likely to say: “I heard about that fellowship you got – congratulations!” “I saw the latest article you wrote, here’s what I thought.” “I heard you got a chance to visit your family, that must have been fun!

People were likely to offer: “I can introduce you to my friend!

People were less likely to offer: “I know you’re pulling a lot of late nights, can I buy you a coffee?

People were likely to advise: “Don’t get too caught up in work you forget to make time to find someone.”

People were less likely to advise: “You got really lucky with your job. Run with it.” “You’re fortunate to get the opportunity to be traveling like this – it’s rare and you’re privileged. Enjoy it.” “Your family’s what got you here, and don’t let yourself forget it. Call your mom.

Yet it’s difficult to be annoyed. Every offer to be introduced to a friend, all the enthusiasm to debrief dates: these aren’t shallow displays of affection or a lack of compassion, but acts of genuine concern. My friends and family were doing the best they knew how. This was they way they’d been taught to help a woman rebuild her life.

It remains an unpopular truth that a woman’s life can be full without a man in it. This makes the loss of a potential partner feel like the loss of the potential for happiness itself. For women in the modern world, a paralyzing fear of singledom compounds the pain following the demise of a romantic relationship (however that may happen), or the stresses of a career, both being sufficiently challenging alone.

To make it clear, I didn’t want anyone to pat me on the back for doing my job (I should be doing my job), or need anyone’s help to remember to call my mother (she reminds me well enough herself). And I’m immensely grateful for the friends that have been there for me, even when they’ve been hijacking my phone to Swipe Right on my behalf. They have been sturdy lifeboats in a perfect storm.

At the same time, I wish we lived in a culture that valued a woman who does her job well, or recognized her role as a sister or a daughter or a friend as much as a girlfriend or a wife. I wish our knee-jerk instinct in supporting the women we care about wasn’t to try to remedy them of their singledom.

Eighteen months, a few reluctant dates, innumerable countries later, I’m single. I’m also happy. I’m doing well. But if there was one thing I needed to hear before I reached the point where I didn’t need to convince myself of that, it would be this:

You’re only in your twenties. Happiness is still out there, and you don’t need to change your relationship status before you find it. Your ex-boyfriend may have passed away, but you didn’t. The best thing you can do now is to live life mightily enough for the both of you.