Do Women Benefit from Revolution?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself while reading Thomas Sankara’sWomen’s Liberation and the African Struggle’.

The book has made me think about the powerful images of Alaa Salah from Sudan. It’s also made me think about the women in South Africa – of all races and backgrounds – who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956, and the female members of the Black Panther Party draped in leather and berets.

I thought of all the women around the world who have taken to the streets to demand their rights, and I thought about how women have always sacrificed their time and bodies in the name of a revolution – just as men have.

“You are our mothers and life companions, our comrades in struggle, and because of this fact you should by rights assert yourselves as equal partners in the joyful victory feasts of the revolution.” – Thomas Sankara, March 8 1987

Women have long been asserting ourselves as equal partners, but are we fully indulging in the feasts of revolution?

In my own country, South Africa, I would say that the answer is no. Women have been written out of history. When I learned the history of Apartheid in school, there was zero mention of any women. Not Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Not Albertina Sisulu. Not any of the other women who participated in the March of 1956. Not the women of the Black Consciousness Movement. I also remember learning about the Black Power Movement and hearing no mention of women like Angela Davis or Kathleen Cleaver.

Despite revolution, women still struggle for equality.

One current example is that the government in my country wants to expropriate land to the historic rightful owners. However, there is no clear plan as to how women should be included in this. We want ‘radical economic transformation’, but women are excluded from holding powerful positions. According to Africa Check, in South Africa women made up 72.5% of teachers and 37.3% of principals in public schools. The statistics in other fields are just as depressing.

Historically, the women’s rights movement has also been exclusive to middle-class white women.

This was shown by leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States through the exclusion of black women. Why would you exclude a group of people who undergo even more oppression than you do?

Personally, I still think the #MeToo movement has mostly benefited white women in Hollywood and middle-class white women in the West. What has changed for girls and women in countries like mine because of #MeToo? To me, it seems like nothing at all.

In some countries it is still legal to mutilate a girl’s genitalia, despite widespread acknowledgement that female genital mutilation has absolutely no health benefits for girls and women. It is a way to ‘prepare’ girls for childbearing and marriage. With this in mind, where is this ‘sexual revolution’ the Western world speaks of?

These are sad truths, but I want to call on all my sisters worldwide to take a stance together.

Let us take a stance against oppression in all forms, so that society can reap the rewards of equality. Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” Let us be those kinds of women.

Women’s March 2019: Same Photos, Different Story

On Saturday 9th March, 15,000 people attended the Women’s March in Amsterdam. They braved icy bullets of rain and gusts of furious winds to take to the streets. Despite the grim weather, the atmosphere was electric.

Women, men and children from all walks of life joined in the songs of solidarity. Their voices echoed off the facades of old Amsterdam houses. The inclusivity of the march was bolstered by slogans such as ‘2019 is not just about women’ and  ‘all oppression is connected’.

Messages ranged from #BlackLivesMatter to #TransLivesMatter, and from welcoming refugees to questioning the ethics of male circumcision at birth. There were signs about closing both the wage gap and the orgasm gap. People called out the need to change perspectives on gender and to tackle climate change.

It was a beautiful blur of colour, intersectionality and communal cheer.

And yet, when I Google ‘Women’s March 2019’, hits from popular websites portray the march in a very specific way. Much can be said about the language used in the most negative articles. I am particularly interested, however, in the merit of using sensationalized images in coverage of events like the Women’s March.

It becomes immediately apparent when browsing through articles that the diversity of photographs is not extensive. In many cases, the same handful of images are being used. The Dutch photo service ANP appears to be the source of these continually reused images.

The photos carry important messages for the feminist movement. They share a common focus on the female body and, possibly, on criticism of the Madonna-whore Complex. Three of the most-used pictures show women with barely concealed or totally exposed breasts. In one, a woman refers to herself as a ‘slut’. Another warns Rutte, the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands, not to ‘f*ck with these c*nts’.

The messages put forth by these women are important. They are about our right to agency over our bodies – to do what we want, wear what we want, and own our sexuality. They’re also about our right not to be constantly sexualised simply because we exist in female bodies.

The repeated use of a few specific images have caused them to become sensationalized as the collective face of the 2019 Women’s March.

What does this collective face portray? It could lead many to conclude that the march was attended primarily by ‘free the nipple’ type feminists. But this is only one of the many components of the feminist movement as a whole, and of this event in particular. It’s a far cry from the intersectional ideology of the march.

Diverse use of images in the media is important.

Falling into the trap of using the same mass-circulated pictures is easily done. It’s often the easiest, quickest option. But in the spirit of the 2019 Women’s March, and of intersectionality and diversity, here are some photos from the march which I think are more representative:

One of the organizers of the Netherlands Women’s March 2019.
A young man challenges the now infamous phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
A woman holds a sign showing balled fists of all colours – a visual indication of intersectional feminism.
The rainbow flag, a symbol for the LGBTQ community, was donned by many attendees.
‘I am a sick feminist’. Many people with illnesses and disabilities were in attendance too.

When covering actions for equality in the media, whether in major publications or on personal blogs, it’s important to use the diversity and choice available to us. Sensationalised images are tempting to re-use because of their recognisable quality and virality. However, every face in the crowd on 9 March mattered, and so did every photograph taken.

We have to ask ourselves: what is the story we want to tell?

Photos by Scarlett Bohemian photography

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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.

South Africa, Let’s Stay Positive

How do we stay positive in a country experiencing a continuous increase in gender-based violence?

In South Africa, it has been reported that femicide is on the rise, with South African Police data reporting that the murder rate for women increased drastically by 7.7% between 2015 and 2016/17. New cases are reported on a daily basis and more women are silently suffering in abusive relationships than ever before. It’s all over the news, happening in our circles to those we love and destroying lives of too many South African women.

In light of the newly released statistics on domestic violence in South Africa, I’ve found myself struggling more than ever to stay positive and hopeful for the future of our country and future generations.

Fighting for a cause should be a crucial part of all of our lives, even with the reality it shoves upon us. Living in a country where human rights have evolved and made such historic progress, but where barriers are still entrenched and need to be navigated around, it feels as though progress is now on an elongated plateau.

So how exactly can we stay positive in light of all of this?

As difficult as it can be, getting involved is the answer. Being confronted by the brutality and violence can fire up a warrior inside us and spur on the fight. It can urge us to speak up and confront the distressful situation in the country head on. We need to acknowledge the reality and tackle it whole-heartedly. We need to converse, share opinions, listen to each other and form a community.

It is a fight that each and every one of us must take part in. It is our duty to stand up for women by raising awareness to the injustice in our society.

This is a call on South Africans to be brave, stand up, and speak out against gender based violence.

Without disregarding the reality of the situation, we also need to focus on the positive milestones women have achieved and are currently achieving around the world – and especially in our own country. Without the belief that things are going to get better – they won’t.

In South Africa we celebrate August as Women’s Month. This year, it was welcomed by thousands of gender equality activists, members of the LGBTQI+ community and women across the country who took to the streets on August 1st in a march to raise awareness against gender-based violence.

#TheTotalShutDown echoed throughout the whole month. Whether it was online, within communities or chatter on the streets – we had people talking. “My body, not your crime scene” was chanted throughout the country. Women were urged to join nationwide marches and those who weren’t able to were asked to avoid work places and take a moment of silence for all the victims of femicide.

Flickering fires of passion were ignited within women no matter their cultural, racial, political or social differences for one common goal – justice for fellow sisters. It was mesmerising watching women come together and embrace their differences while connecting with each other. Women found themselves in each other.

South African women have fought this brutal reality so passionately and for so long, we cannot let it win. No matter how difficult, we have to believe that we can make a difference and mend this broken country.

We are warriors and will be remembered in history as the ones who carried the fight.

When Women’s Rights Are Not Enough

Ninety-eight years ago, the women’s suffrage movement kicked off a century of progress for women’s rights in the United States. The 19th amendment. The Equal Pay Act. The Civil Rights Act. Title IX. The Gender Equity in Education Act. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Violence Against Women Act. And many more pieces of legislation designed to thwart discrimination against women.

So when millions took the streets during the Women’s March, some people dismissed the event as a pointless political stunt. After all, the battle for women’s rights in our nation was fought and won already, right? Not quite.

For every women’s ‘right’ there is a shadow side of women’s ‘reality’. Lack of enforcement, power imbalances, social stigmas, and inequity – simply having so-called equal rights is not enough.

The reality is most women have – at some point – felt silenced, ignored, disrespected, or unsafe, just for being a woman.

Women in the workplace are undercompensated and overlooked, and their intelligence is routinely discounted. At home, women are saddled with the second shift of housekeeping and caregiving. Women are catcalled and harassed. Women are physically and sexually abused, trafficked, and murdered.

Women are more likely to live in poverty, overpay for everything from razors to mortgages, and carry student loan debt longer than men. Women’s choices about their bodies – how they care for them, dress them, use them – are judged and policed. Women are underrepresented in STEM, and told they can’t succeed in politics.

This list represents but a small sample of the dark side of #WomensReality.

Rights matter, of course, and many people – including men, women, and non-binary folks – still do not have them. We ought to continue to push for full rights for individuals of every gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, ability, class, income, religion, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, or nationality. But we also must acknowledge that human rights do not guarantee equality if people and institutions continually fail to enforce them.

Ending violence against women, closing the wage gap, achieving fair representation in leadership and politics, deconstructing harmful stereotypes – these issues can’t be boiled down to a simple matter of human rights.

What we need is a culture shift to examine our reality. We need to wake up to the discrimination that’s happening on a daily basis, to our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, friends, and colleagues. The work of gender equality is global and local, too.

That’s why LiveYourDream.org has launched an awareness campaign called #WomensReality. In the spirit of similar social media movements, we want to expose the gap between stated rights and the harsh realities women face.

Our theory is that if all the women who have experienced hardship simply for being a woman could talk about their experiences, it might illuminate how big this problem truly is. The #WomensReality campaign is a rallying cry to acknowledge that gender inequality happens in complex and nuanced ways that the promise of ‘equal rights’ can’t and won’t solve. We have a long distance to go before we actualize full gender equality.

Join the conversation by sharing a time when you felt silenced, ignored, disrespected, or unsafe just because you’re a woman, and tag #WomensReality.

Together, we are a force for truth.

LiveYourDream.org is a movement – an online community of nearly 100,000 volunteers and activists addressing some of the most serious challenges women and girls face today, such as gender-based violence and lack of access to quality education. LiveYourDream.org is powered by Soroptimist, an international nonprofit of volunteers that economically improves the lives of women and girls through its Dream Programs. Learn more and join the community!

‘She’ by Kiirstin Marilyn: an Anthem for all Women

Since the release of her EP Ghosts with Spectra Music Group, Kiirstin Marilyn has embarked on a new independent musical journey with her latest single, She.

She, co-written and co-produced by Justin Ardolino, with additional instrumentation by Benny Reiner, expresses Kiirsten’s vulnerability as an artist as well as a citizen of the world.

While Ghosts began to expose Kiirstin’s true social and political beliefs, She considers not only the tenor of our current times, but also the history of nations as well as the personal history of generations of women.

She began as an homage to Kiirstin’s grandmother, Linda Liholm, who fled Soviet oppression and the occupation of Estonia in 1944, after Germany lost World War II. Boarding trains and boats that were beyond capacity, Linda, with her 4-month-old child, Ulo Kuhi, narrowly escaped a future in a Siberian concentration camp or death.

Through the process of writing this song, Kiirstin discovered a profound empathy for her grandmother and a deep connection to her that she had never felt before:

“I always knew my grandmother came here as a refugee of World War II, but her story was always more of an abstract idea without any real understanding of the history behind it.”

“My grandmother and I did not speak the same language. I was a very American kid, and growing up I just couldn’t connect with my immigrant grandmother. I wished she was ‘normal.’ I wished she spoke English. I wished she was everything other than who she was, and only as I’ve gotten older and educated myself beyond the American education system, have I realized how short-sighted that mentality was.”

“My grandmother endured so much hardship and heartache to allow for me to have what has been a fairly easy life here in the United States. I’ve never known war. I’ve never known hunger. I’ve never known true fear.”

As the song began to really take form, Kiirstin realized that She had morphed from a song just about Linda to a song for all women empowered by the generations before them who fought for equal rights. In our current political climate, just after electing a misogynistic ‘leader’ to the highest office in the land, Kiirstin felt she needed to raise her voice for women and use her music to encourage others to demand their voices also be heard.

The official video for She, shot and edited by V4V Productions, features images from the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C., which Kiirstin attended with her mother, Valerie Kuhi, along with a million other like-minded women. While being a song specifically inspired by and about Kiirstin’s grandmother, She aspires to be an anthem for all women who continue to fight for liberation and equality.