Take to the Streets & Demand your Rights

“When women work together, it’s a bond unlike any other.”
– Victoria Principal

At times when change is needed in society, the streets become more important than ever. When our minds are full of fear or worry, and when a problem is right there but no one will look directly at it – action needs to be taken. When it seems no one will raise their voice and insecurity becomes part of daily life, we start to understand the importance of the streets as more than just roads.

For people who agree that public problems are political matters, streets can be the best places to express ideas.

Great movements have been made from the streets. They give space to everyone; a person, two more, and a bunch of groups of people. People pay attention to those brave enough to speak, out loud and in public, for what they believe in.

If everyone stayed at home, sick and tired of discrimination, then nothing would ever get better. But when you find people who share your desire for freedom and equal rights, then nothing can stop you.

Our global history has been shaped by those who have taken to the streets to demand their needs and rights.

The world wouldn’t be the same if Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t occupied public space. If women hadn’t gone out to march for their right to vote, society wouldn’t be the same today.

Women have long tried to empower themselves by exposing inequality, even when the system seems almost totally against them. Today, women, and some great men (with hopefully many more to come), are fighting the patriarchal systems that oppress women and restrict men.

Women continue to claim the streets as places to raise our voices and express ourselves.

It is on the streets that we can make the violence, persecution and oppression facing women visible. In public spaces we can demand what we deserve: rights and equal recognition of our role in society. Because women matter.

Peaceful protest is part of our right to free expression. It is a right that hasn’t always been enjoyed by all women around the world, and continues to be denied to many.

If you are able to raise your voice – my advice is to do it! Meet with your friends in public places, speak up about street harassment, open up space where women can feel safe to speak. Go ahead and give feminism what it needs – your voice.

We need to remember the importance of public space for activism.

Our streets hold great power and potential for social organization. Women can achieve monumental changes. And we should keep trying to do so, because the fight of some should be the fight of all.

Real-World Things You Can Do During 16 Days of Activism

November 25th begins 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We now have 16 days to speak up in a world that is readier to listen than ever before.

Gender-based violence has many faces and is experienced in many contexts with varying degrees of severity.

It happens most mornings to a garment worker in Lesotho who is coerced into sex with the security guard in order to pass through the factory gates. It happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, the South Delhi student raped and tortured on a moving bus in 2012, later dying from her injuries. It is still happening to a 12-year-old in Niger living in fear of a man twice her age to whom she is married against her will.

While many examples are graphic and extreme, gender-based violence can also be subtle and pervasive.

It’s there in the story of the woman choosing a longer walk home from work to avoid the catcaller loitering near her apartment. It haunts the girl who panics after saying “no” to a guy who perceives her refusal as ‘playing hard to get.’ It includes the countless women who have felt forced to compromise their integrity or moral compass to advance their careers, whether on the big screen, in the boardroom, or on Capitol Hill.

As a global community, we are constantly learning about beliefs and behaviors that contribute to gender-based violence. At one point in time, the kind of behavior that would trigger the response ‘boys will be boys’ was considered acceptable; now, it is a societal norm we are unwilling to tolerate.

16 Days of Activism started as an initiative of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University and has grown into a global movement. Iconic buildings including the Parliament in Bangladesh, the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai will all be illuminated in orange to express their solidarity.

You can share the 16 Days of Activism campaign with your digital community through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But we need more than hashtags. Outside of the digital sphere, here are real-world things you can do to make a difference during 16 Days of Activism 2018:

Update your wardrobe. Clothes that are no longer needed in your life could make a huge difference in someone else’s. Several organizations exist to support women in achieving economic independence, break the cycle of poverty, and strengthen communities. Dress for Success has drop-off locations across the world, or you could search for a local organization accepting donations.

Support migrant women affected by the border crisis. Thousands of immigrants are deeply impacted by the border crisis exacerbated so cruelly by American officials. Organizations providing hospitality to new immigrants, asylum seekers and reunited families that have been separated in recent months welcome your support. Annunciation House, a trusted long time shelter in El Paso, Texas, is specifically requesting donations that will enable them to purchase feminine hygiene products for the hundreds of girls and women lucky enough to rest briefly and find human kindness there.

If you’re in the USA, call your members of Congress. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 is set to run out of funding again, on December 7th. There was a major debate in Congress over the last reauthorization in 2013 – primarily over a provision to extend the law’s coverage to Native American women, immigrants, and LGBTQ women. It was ultimately given new life and signed by President Obama, but 138 Republican members of Congress voted against the reauthorization. Call your Representative and urge them to fight for a stronger VAWA.

Donate. There are literally thousands of organizations, locally, nationally, and globally, that are doing vital work to help stop gender-based violence. For example, WomenStrong International works with its partner in Kenya to support Community Action Groups against gender-based violence. In the US, the National Network to End Domestic Violence has served as a voice for millions of women, men, and children who have endured abuse for more than 25 years. All of these organizations depend on the support of people like you and me to keep their doors open.

Make time to make the difference. Giving your time is one of the most meaningful ways to impact the world. You can receive training to support someone in crisis with programs such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline. You can support safe reproductive health services by volunteering for Planned Parenthood, or you could get involved in the movement to end street harassment by getting involved with your local Hollaback chapter.

WomenStrong learns from local Community Action Group in Kisumu, Kenya

World Refugee Day 2018

The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide hit a new record in 2017: 68.5 million. It’s the equivalent of 44,400 people each day, and means that the world’s forcibly displaced population is now greater than the total population of the United Kingdom.

Two-thirds of all refugees come from 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar & Somalia. In March, the conflict in Syria entered its eighth year, with no end in sight. Since August last year, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar. Millions from South Sudan have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Much of our news coverage remains focused on refugee resettlement in developed countries, or rather, on developed countries’ efforts to restrict access, block borders and, most recently, to tear families apart. However, figures show that developing regions host 85% of the world’s refugee population.

At least 1 in 5 refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence. Children make up 52% of refugees worldwide. 9 months on from the Myanmar military crackdown, thousands of Rohingya rape victims are giving birth in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.

The state of our world today will go down in history. Children will study it in classrooms of the future. And yet, as new reports roll in, numbers rise, conflicts persist, disasters strike and crises unfold, it can be difficult just to keep up, never mind to feel hopeful or inspired or useful.

This year, the statistics and stories shared to mark World Refugee Day feel overwhelming to me and the scale of our global crisis feels paralysing. But if nothing else, today is a much-needed reminder to stay informed, and to encourage the people around us to do so too.

This year, World Refugee Day is a reminder that no act is too small and that words have power. It’s a reminder to take breaks from scrolling and shopping and feeling disconnected to give ourselves time to read and listen and do what we can to remain aware. The world needs us to be informed so that we can speak, act and vote in ways that help us move into a future where all people can live in peace and security.

5 Easy Ways to Stay Informed this World Refugee Day:
  1. Read the new UNHCR report on global displacement.
  2. Read articles and look at photographs which highlight the humans behind the numbers.
  3. Read blog posts by women and girls around the world.
  4. Take time to research local organizations supporting refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in your own neighborhood/country, and find out how you can best support them. It could be by donating money, volunteering your time or simply by helping to spread the word about their work.
  5. Celebrate examples of passionate collective action and remember: we are not powerless.

Refugees Are Welcome

A couple of weeks ago, on a grey, rainy Sunday, I walked up to my front door to find a little crowd gathered outside. There was music coming from speakers on the pavement and two young men stood on ladders, painting on the wall beside the Indian restaurant below my apartment.

A few hours later they were finished. People stopped and looked up as they walked past and pointed it out to children who tilted little heads back to take in its scale. People stood and talked and took photos with their phones.

The painting shows a mass of people and faces, in orange, yellow, black and brown. Around the people there are outlines of houses, or maybe they could be tents, and on those in thick black capital letters it says “Refugees Are Welcome”, “Support Calais Jungle”, and “Homes for Humans”. That last one is repeated several times.

I Instagrammed it, hashtagged StreetArtLondon, and felt a pride that I knew was unjustifiable. I ignored that bit. I basked in the easy, cosy warmth of virtue by association, as though the coincidental proximity between this painting and my home said something fundamental about me as a person. As though those artists had done me a favour by painting words I believed in on a wall to save me the trouble of being brave or strong or smart enough to paint or say or defend them on my own. I could just Instagram theirs, shut my door behind me and enjoy a self-satisfied pat on the back.

On the Sunday after the U.S. election I walked out into the grey November drizzle pulling my hood down over my eyes. I turned to close the door behind me and stopped. Pushed my hood back off my face. I stood and stared and felt a deadweight drop painfully into the bottom of my stomach.

Black paint blocked out the words Refugees Are Welcome. And the words Support Calais Jungle. Black paint also blocked out, specifically, the word Humans in Homes for Humans. That bit made me feel nauseous. I stood on the pavement for what felt like a long time and let the anger spread through my body because I liked the way it was thawing the numbness I had felt all week. In my inability to comprehend or make better what was pouring from the TV, the radio, newspapers, magazines, Twitter, my Facebook feed, people’s faces, I had shut down. Disengaged.

But there in the rain I stared at the black paint over the letters and felt myself wake up a little. Reignite. I spent that entire Sunday watching people look up at the wall and then straight back down. Pull their hoods a little further over their eyes, walk a little faster. Tug their children’s hands a little harder.

So I Instagrammed it, hashtagged RefugeesAreWelcome and felt a disgust that I knew was inadequate. Each day since then I have walked past the painting on my way to and from the bus stop and battled with what it means to do so. What it means to walk on. By my own lazy logic I am hateful by association and the coincidental proximity between this vandalism and my home says something fundamental about me as a person.

Now, and always, silence is acceptance. Inaction is an invitation and complacency is complicity. This is no time to disengage. It’s no time to opt out or shut down or avoid discussing what is complicated and uncomfortable. It is time to be emboldened by the realisation that politics is not something that happens in far away countries or behind closed doors or on the news. It’s something that happens on your doorstep, regardless of whether or not that’s inconvenient for you because you’re about to miss your bus.

I am still reeling alongside much of the world and there’s a lot I don’t know or understand. But I know that I vehemently reject the notion that any people are Humans. I know that I am unwilling to look up and straight back down, to pull my hood further over my eyes, and merely to walk on. And that knowledge is enough, for now at least, to be my starting point.