Boys will be boys! And other issues…

“If we are to fight discrimination and injustice against women we must start from the home for if a woman cannot be safe in her own house then she cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere.” ― Aysha Taryam

 

This April is sexual assault awareness month. Pretty long title but it’s a form of sexual violence which basically covers many types of crimes and global issues such as rape, groping and domestic violence. Now, I’ve definitely held back from getting too involved over social media and decided to stick to one day because life is already pretty heavy with everything going on at the moment! Buuuut, it’s also a super important time as domestic violence is obviously on the insane rise and this month has a special focus on supporting victims.

 

#MeToo

I know the importance of feeling supported and heard, but it’s all so complex and daunting for all of us. The crime and abuse of many experiences are bad enough, but the aftermath of trauma, support and seeking justice sometimes feel so much worse. I know this because I’m a survivor (read more here) and I know how hard it is to be vulnerable, ask for help and to also provide the right help to others. Please do reach out to me for any advice or support. I hope this blog  helps at least one person.

 

COVID-19 and the rise of domestic abuse

Fighting injustice remains my main fight because even for a wealthy and developed nation, we have a long way to go. Home is not always a safe place and outside is scary too. Violence against women are some of the only crimes that remain on the rise. And now in a lock-down, we’ve seen these statistics almost double with some helplines and support website traffic in the UK increased by 156%. But, have we seen a dramatic rise in police reporting? No, only about 3%. This is an issue.

Being in a lock-down situation means that these incidents are also becoming more violent and more common, however with refuges closed and being unable to leave our homes, many are left with few options and less safety. If you’re reading this and are not sure how to get help, connect with someone here or read at the bottom for other options.

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Guys are not the problem

I know that men can be victims too, but women are the main victims in almost every crime (around 84%) with men the main offenders (around 92.4%) so, violence against women remains the key issue and crisis. But this doesn’t mean that men are the problem. It’s our cultures, our societies and our behaviours that need fixing. We’re talking about gendered crimes which are deeply rooted in almost every society around the world from the President of the United States to that guy in my hometown. It’s a pandemic in itself which has lasted decades but it’s still so invisible. So, how can we recognise, help and support those who need it the most including ourselves?

The signs

If your friend starts choking, what do you do? You try the Heimlich maneuver, call for help, call the emergency services. We do these steps because we know what to do in an emergency. But when someone you know may be a victim of violence, there are no clear steps on how to help them or how to even recognise the signs unless they’re 100% obvious, which by then, it’s very serious.

 

Ten signs of an unhealthy relationship

  1. Making threats or instilling fear.
  2. Insulting, putting you down or making you feel bad.
  3. Forcing you to do things unwillingly.
  4. Guilt tripping.
  5. Physically mistreating you (pushing, slapping…).
  6. Checking your social media, phone and web history constantly.
  7. Wanting to control where you are, who you spend time with etc.
  8. Cheating on you or accusing you of cheating.
  9. Forceful sex/rape.
  10. Manipulation with your finances or belongings.

 

Note, it’s important to notice these signs and to know where to get help from because the effects of abuse, assault and violence can last generations and has more impact than you’ll ever realise. Even if you think this doesn’t affect you, it does, through our healthcare, our justice system, our taxes, our community, our loved ones and we’ll never break these cycles unless we address the root and heal as early on as we can. If you recognise these signs in your own relationship, please click here.

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What is rape culture and am I involved?

Rape culture is all around us, it’s a very real thing. And it’s not that people are being told to rape or to be violent but it’s kinda excused or shrugged off in mainstream media and society. It creates a normalisation within our environments and through ‘locker room’ talk, derogatory language, objectification of women and porn/glamorisation of sex and violence, it enables a society that ignores others safety and rights.

Spot these examples

  1. “She asked for it!’’ or victim blaming.
  2. “Boys will be boys!” or telling everyone that assault is inevitable, and boys can’t be held accountable.
  3. “But guys get falsely accused all the time!” which is not true and deflects those who are truly affected. Men are more likely to be raped themselves than to be falsely accused.
  4. “But what were you wearing? Were you drinking?” this teaches that it’s more important to not get raped instead of teaching men to just not rape. It also deflects from the issue and causes more damage to the survivor.
  5. “Rough, beaten, underage and crying for help” these videos and titles in porn are damaging to those who confuse what they watch with real life and real situations to their online screen.
  6. “Men are dominant and aggressive grrrr and women are submissive and passive” not always true, not healthy and definitely should not be defined so much. Men can cry and women can be strong AF and so on and so on. Let’s embrace this.

See the issues?

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For you, the survivor;

 

For you seeking support for others and creating a better world

  • Stay connected and don’t be afraid to create conversation.
  • CONSENT! Always ask for consent, communicate and never assume.
  • Think about the media, our friends and our own language and messages.
  • Listen without judgement and believe what they are saying. We don’t even have to offer advice or question their choices. Just listen, believe and support.
  • Speak out and stand up for what is right, even if it feels hard.
  • Educate yourselves on these issues. There’s so much available on Netflix, TV and YouTube and the more we know and learn, the bigger chance we all have in creating safety and equality. I’ve tagged a load below!
  • https://www.rainn.org/articles/help-someone-you-care-about
  • https://www.rainn.org/articles/tips-talking-survivors-sexual-assault

 

It’s always tricky to write a blog like this. It’s hard to find a balance between knowledge, awareness and support but I hope it’s helped or made you think about something differently.

For anyone struggling, know you’re not alone, you’re worthy, you are loved and you’ll have better days. The actions of someone else is not your fault.

For anyone affected or for anyone who wants to talk, you can message me privately on here, on my Instagram @Vanishamay or email vanishamay@googlemail.com.

 

I hope you all find some happiness, strength and courage today,

V

X

 

For more support;

https://www.rainn.org/

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/help-after-rape-and-sexual-assault/

https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/rape-sexual-assault-and-sexual-harassment

https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

http://thesurvivorstrust.org/

https://www.survivorsuk.org/

https://www.womensaid.org.uk

 

For learning, listening and watching;

#metoo

“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.” – C.S. Lewis

 

There are some people out there who will never understand what it’s like to be a female, to be treated as an object, disposable, and used. No exaggerations. They’ll never understand our daily struggles from the most mundane things like being extra wary on our walk home, to the extreme cases like rape and sexual violence.

And I hope they’ll never experience what it’s like,

but I hope more people will understand.

 

2017’s boom of the #metoo movement bought to light how prolific sexual violence is, how many people are affected, how many people suffer in silence and how little is done to help the healing, to fix our rape culture and to stand by those who suffer the most in our societies. The massive movement highlighted the abuse that takes place within the most influential and powerful circles which hit home just how vulnerable we all are to men, their power and violence.

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It proved once again how sexual violence, abuse and rape knows no boundaries, classes, cliques, race or ages.

 

Then came 2018’s hearing of Brett Kavanaugh and Dr Christine Blasley Ford which took another toll on the hurt we all feel as women in a society that fails to keep us safe, that fails to hear us and that fails to even stand by us.

The social media trends that followed were both incredibly inspiring and incredibly heart breaking. I could barely sleep that first night of the Kavanaugh hearings. I watched as millions of men and women took to their social media platforms, using their voices to tell their stories and showing support for the horrible ordeal that Ford was put through.

#ibelieveher #whyididntreport and #metoo all became top trends.

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Fast forward to today; 19th January 2019. The King of R&B is under criminal investigation after a docuseries brought together the survivors of R Kelly’s 30 year-long abusive horror stories. People were once again taking to social media to make a stand and highlighting one of the worst issues we have in modern day society.

 

Millions of men and women coming forward and telling their stories of rape, abuse and sexual violence.

Millions of men and women coming forward with millions of reasons why their stories went unreported.

And then millions of men and women who are still silently healing and hurting, who can’t find the right words and are still figuring out or moving on from their stories. Millions just like me.

 

These movements and trends are one of the positive and best things that have come out of 21st century technology. And unlike the feelings of isolation and shame that sexual violence brings, the trends and sense of community from social media instead brings us together. It gives comfort, support and the bravery needed to tell your story and bring you one step closer to dealing with it. To healing from it. Which is why, although it’s taken me more than 6 months of writing, re-editing and brave moments, I’m feeling braver and able to talk about my own experiences.

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Today, I feel ready to say that I’m with her, I believe her, and me too. I’m one of the statistics that didn’t report it, and it’s something that has stayed with me heavily ever since.

And like millions of others, there were and still are so many reasons why I felt like I couldn’t report it.

 

I’m a girl who stands up for others in acts like this. I preach and research and even wrote my whole dissertation about injustices against girls.

But when it happened to me, I did nothing.

I lost my voice then so much more.

It felt like something from a movie.

Like something you’d seen a hundred times before.

You’re watching clips of someone doing something to your body,

in your safe space, and you have no control because you’re barely conscious.

He leaves you and the scene.

You wake up the next morning sore and in autopilot.

Your body just walks straight to the shower and you clean.

You scrub your skin and you brush every bit of your mouth.

You feel dirty.

And you hurt for days.

And you cry.

Then you get on with your life.

Because it’s not like real-life, and it couldn’t have happened to you.

But, as dramatic as it sounds, it happened just like that.

 

And it’s so easy, to try and brush it to the side. Something so common.

Because what’s the point in fighting?

There’s not enough help. There’s victim blaming. There’s court. And police. And proof. And no support. It’s scary, and costly, and lengthy, and in many cases, just one word against the other.

Then there’s feelings of shame, embarrassment and loneliness, and the feelings from the aftermath which are so much worse than the feelings of the actual incident. Feeling dirty, used and completely unworthy.

Because of society, and a boy, and the behaviours we allow and brush to the side. And all of this makes me feel angrier at society and myself than at him.

More than one year later, and after yet another horrific incident, I’m not sure how much stronger I feel. But I’m still angry and I want change. And that makes me want to fight harder.

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63% of sexual assaults will never be reported to the police. And out of 1000 rapes, 994 abusers will walk free.

How is abuse against women so rampant in every society around the world? How is it one of the only things that are showing no signs of improvement?! How are we failing so many girls and women around the world every single day? Mocking our basic human rights of safety and love.

 

I don’t want it to define me, ever. I don’t want people to see me and think of these incidents. I don’t want to be a victim because I’m so much more than what happened them nights. That’s not what this is about.

 

And for so many of us, it’s not simply about justice or seeking revenge. It’s not about getting even. It’s about building a future and creating the change needed to ensure that society can keep our women and girls safe from abuse, rape and violence.

 

We need better ways and more options for reporting and supporting. Even now, I don’t believe the people from my incidents should be locked away. I think they, like many others, need rehabilitation and restoration because simply locking these people away will not solve this social and global epidemic or stop the cycles of abuse.

 

We shouldn’t be afraid about making conversation around these topics and instead teaching our young men and women what is right and what is wrong. We need to teach and learn to recognise the stages of abuse, what our options are when it comes to abuse and to create a safe space where we can have real conversations about it all with our abusers, with a support system, with our communities and even with ourselves. We need to call it out before it happens, when it happens and keep that conversation going if there is an after.

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In times surrounding these events and movements, know that these women will be rethinking and reliving some of their darkest times, many in silence and many still healing. Look at the women in your lives and love them hard, support them and tell them “I believe you”.

 

I’m so proud and grateful for every single person who has come forward, for every #metoo, #ibelieveher and #whyididintreport for their bravery, power, support, and inspiration. For anyone struggling, know you’re not alone, you’re worthy, you are loved and you’ll have better days. The actions of someone else is not your fault.

For anyone affected or for anyone who wants to talk, you can message me privately on here, on my Instagram @Vanishamay or email vanishamay@googlemail.com.

 

I hope you all find some happiness, strength and courage today,

V

X

 

For more support;

https://www.rainn.org/

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/help-after-rape-and-sexual-assault/

https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/rape-sexual-assault-and-sexual-harassment

https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

http://thesurvivorstrust.org/

https://www.survivorsuk.org/

Who made your clothes?

So, I’m starting this blog with an exercise. I want you to look down your body. Run your hands over every item of clothing that you’re wearing, every layer and feel right down to your shoes. Feel that material and look close at the stitches. Now, think about all the other hands that have touched your clothes too. Do you know how many? Now, check the labels. Made in where? Vietnam? China? Bangladesh? And made by who?

Did you know that, if you’re reading this, you have 4x the amount of clothes in your wardrobe than your parents did? Did you know that 1 in 4 people around the world work in the fashion industry as we know it, with 98% of those people living below the poverty line, and 80% of those people being women? And is any of this making any of us happier? Hell to the no. Far from it.

I want you to meet Nazma, who at 13 years old, started work in a Bangladeshi garment factory; earning a wage equivalent to £2 a month. Nazma’s life has been extremely difficult, because not only has she worked in conditions, that some consider as modern-day slavery since she was 13 years old, but she’s also seen the hardships and inequalities of hundreds just like her.

I saw Nazma last year. She was angry with the world and asking for change.

“Women are earning £50 a month. They make your t-shirts, your dresses, your leggings. The multi-national and retailers come to where the labour markets are cheap. And when clothes are cheap, women are cheap. Nothing comes for free in this world, nothing is discount, women pay with their blood and their sweat… Women are not respected. Women should be safe in all workplaces, everywhere.” – Nazma Akter, London, 2017

And above is Laboni and her husband, who moved to Bangladesh to find work and a new life. Laboni, alongside 1,137 others died when her factory collapsed five years ago.  The Rana Plaza story still hits me hard because it’s a story so common and a story that is never taken seriously enough. A story where workers rights and concerns were ignored, and the clothes that now fill our wardrobes were made at a human cost, just like so many others.

Most of my wardrobe, and yours, would have started in the hands of girls like Laboni and Nazma. They then end up in shops worth billions of pounds. Worth enough money to pay these women and men fair living wages. Worth enough money for their CEO’s and management to actually make time and visit the hands that are making their goods. Worth enough money to ensure that no human is working in these unsafe and inhumane conditions, yet alone a 13-year-old child. Worth enough money to make a change.

You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another. It shouldn’t work like that. That’s not empowerment. That’s not freedom, or love, or anything positive in fact.

But we’re greedy, right? And at least they’ve got jobs, right?

Yeah in deathly conditions. You know in the UK when it hits over 25 degrees, and everyone starts banging on about ‘safe working conditions’ and workers’ rights in that godforsaken heat? Well imagine that, plus another 10 degrees, plus 10-hour working days, plus seeing your family twice a year, plus dirty living conditions, plus gruelling work environments that are unsafe and the air is filled with chemicals, plus very little choice so you’re trapped and taken advantage of. Workers in Cambodia faint daily from the heat, starvation and pure exhaustion. Who do they work for? Suppliers to Nike and Puma. For how much? £120 a month.

And that’s just a snippet of the effect it has on the people of our planet, but the fashion industry is harming our planet in extraordinary ways too.

As the consumers, we are the cause of this. We are the cause of a 500% increase in consumption. Because of us, the consumers, the factory industry is now the world’s biggest plastic polluter, the second biggest energy consumer and the biggest producer of the non-bio gradable material that is polyester. Click here for my last blog to read more about the effects that fashion has on our planet. 

 

What are the solutions?

The solutions are in our hands, and there are so many of them! As a consumer (and human being!), I love to shop, I like my clothes, and I love getting dressed up. And I’m not saying we should stop, that we should boycott and throw tomatoes at the doors of Zara, but we can shop with a conscience, with more care and with more heart. This is easier said than done, when every time you flick on to Instagram you see girls earning big bucks for promoting these labels hard. I get the pressures of society. But think, is it worth it? What’s going to really matter 10 years from now?

  • Repair, re-wear and reuse your clothes

Don’t buy anything with the thought of chucking it away. Buy things that you love and wear them with love, repeatedly. Repair them, learn to sew things up and customise!

  • Engage with and challenge current suppliers

Shop ethically and challenge the fashion industry. If a company doesn’t have transparency regarding their suppliers and production makers, then the likelihood that they either have no idea who is making their clothes or that they’re in unsuitable, unethical conditions is highly likely. Do your research, ask questions and don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right.

  • Stop sending all your old sh*t to charity shops

Use Depop, eBay, car boot sales and sell them on! You’ll make some money and your clothes will go to a new home, instead of a landfill like the ones damaging Haiti. Who’s winning now?!

  • Realise change starts with you

Nazma is now a human rights activist who spends her days fighting for justice, safe working conditions and fair pay for factory workers. We can do the same. Follow ethical brands on Instagram, shop from ethical brands and support these people hard! Move away from the stereotype that ethical fashion is expensive and exclusive. Imagine if every brand was ethical? It would all be affordable and sustainable.

 

In fact, only 1-3% of the final cost goes to the hands that actually made them, so realistically speaking, we just need to shift the money from the hands of the super rich CEO’s and into the hands of these women. This way, costs wouldn’t even go up for us…

The makers of our clothing, those who are so often invisible and marginalised, are worth celebrating and given safety and quality of life too. No-one’s life, and the future of our planet is worth losing over the latest material trends. Let’s call on the UK fashion brands to protect the women who make our clothes and the planet that we live on.

And next time you change your outfit or purchase a new item of clothing, I dare you to look at the label and ask; Who made my clothes? Is she getting paid? Is she safe? Who is she?

Thanks for reading you lovely lot!

Vanisha

X

Follow my twitter and instagram @vanishamay

 

Things to follow:

Things to watch:

 

International day of the girl child - J at Mision Mexico, Tapachula, Mexico

Dear girls of Mexico, 

I’d like to dedicate this International Day of the Girl Child to the refuge of Mision Mexico and its 13 inspiring girls, and to the girls throughout this beautiful but progressive country. Although the girls in this refuge are lucky today, this wasn’t always the case, and unfortunately there are many other girls just like them. My dear girls, today is for you.

 

My main interest and area of research has been on inequalities and crimes against girls but mainly of those in Asia. Before coming to Mexico, I had very little knowledge of the gender injustices and inequalities felt throughout the country. Actually, statistics suggest that crimes against girls are extremely common in Mexico and run deep alongside the culture, drugs, tradition and machismo attitudes which are putting thousands of girls at risk every single day. These statistics include our girls at Mision Mexico.

Similar to much of Asia, Latin America portrays correlations between low levels of education and high levels of poverty with high level of crime. But the differences lie in the research, statistics, media coverage and report-making which when compared, seems almost non-existent in Latin America and especially Mexico. It’s no surprise that I knew so little about what it means to be a girl in Mexico, because there’s nothing to know about. No one’s writing about it. No one’s talking about it. Which means that no one’s stopping these injustices or supporting the girls who face difficulties that we can’t even begin to imagine. And for those that have tried in the past, their lives have been in grave danger and they’ve faced horrific consequences. Here are some statistics that I could find:

 

  • In Chihuahua, Mexico, 66% of murdered women are killed by their husbands, boyfriends and family members.
  • It’s estimated that 14,000 women are raped every year in Mexico. That’s 38 women and girls every day.
  • Statistics also suggest that 44% of women in Mexico will face some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. 91% of these cases will go unreported. And of the cases that are reported, not even 8% will end in conviction.
  • Sexual violence and torture remain as routine practice used by security forces like the Navy and the Army as well as the Mexican police. Reports by Amnesty International suggest horrific statistics and confessions by women who have been unlawfully arrested, raped, electrocuted and abused by officials in uniform. What hope do these women have?
  • Studies also suggest that Latin America is the worst place in the world to be a woman.

 

Femicide is a fairly new sociolegal term which I used almost every day in my last year at university, and its a term that can be best described for the 40,000 murdered Mexican women that occurred between 2000 and 2014. Femicide is the deliberate gender-based killing of a female. Put more simply, it’s where girls are killed for being girls.

Alongside this, there’s the harassment. The widespread and systematic act of sexual harassment is something that even I have felt during my time in Latin America, and its incomparable to anywhere else I’ve been in the world. It’s on the streets, it’s in the clubs, in public places, in shopping centres, it’s in Peru, in Colombia, in Brazil and in Mexico.

If the discrimination and lack of humanity is this obvious and common whether it be a too-close-for-comfort encounter on a bus or the murder and rape of feminist activists in their homes, then why is there not more data, research, policy plans, and solutions for our girls? This chart complied by the UN women shows the lack and missing amount of data for women in Mexico. The data doesn’t even exist.

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http://www.endvawnow.org/uploads/browser/files/vaw_prevalence_matrix_15april_2011.pdf International day of the girl child – Mexico

The 2017 International Day of the Girl Child’s focus is on data collection and analysis, and using this data to “adequately measure and understand the opportunities and challenges girls face, and identify and track progress towards solutions to their most pressing problems.” (http://www.un.org/en/events/girlchild/)

 

Human trafficking, sexual slavery, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect and gender based stereotyping like how a girl should behave, are all experiences, knowledge and some of the backgrounds shared by our girls at Mision Mexico and in the city of Tapachula. The reality of a statistic actually having a face is one of the toughest things to come to terms with whilst volunteering here, but our girls now have lives filled with hope, love, choice and opportunity. Let’s make this a reality for all girls. 

Today you can make a difference. Equality, safety and crime-free lives are not impossible goals for our girls. You can help raise awareness by sharing this post or by checking out the links below. You can also donate, follow and volunteer with the girls and boys at Mision Mexico.

 

Thank you for your time!

Happy International Day of the Girl Child!

Vanisha

X

 

Instagram: @vanishamay

 

Mision Mexico

http://www.lovelifehope.com

https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren/

Photograph credits to previous volunteers at Mision Mexico**

Here’s what’s wrong with volunteering…

As my life is about to take a huge turn in the right direction with the start of my career and voluntary work beginning this month, I can’t help but think, in a world that is desperate for volunteers why voluntary work seems to be only for the few and not for everybody? What’s the problem with volunteering? Why me? And why not you?

Luckily, a few years ago I finally realised my passion and the main things that I want to do with my life. My purpose in life is to help people, to help improve lives and to fight for justice, human rights and alongside those with no voices. So, obviously, I love talking about it, about aid, crisis, the news, and the world and all of the people in it. And naturally people tend to give pretty positive responses but among the questions and shock some say..

“That’s so amazing! I can’t believe you’re doing it unpaid!”

“Wow I don’t know how you do it!”

“Is that safe? Should you be doing that?”

“Ooh I could never do that. Only few people like you can!”

“How do you have the time? Shouldn’t you be actually working?”

Err well, you could do it! I don’t have the money! I make the time! Is crossing the road always safe? Which got me more thinking about the bigger question; why aren’t more people volunteering? What is the big issue surrounding helping those in need? People back at home (from my experiences in England) have all these excuses as to why they can’t volunteer. And some are fair enough, people work long days, have families, busy schedules. But if you can find the time for the gym every day, a cinema date once a month or even a night out every weekend, then guess what? You already have time to volunteer. 

Volunteering is like a taboo word that makes people run away and shut their doors. But why? Volunteering can be literally anything for as many hours in the year as you want it to be. It’s fully flexible with tons of options! And you’re helping the world! Bonus.

You could volunteer by helping the homeless for the day, by helping conservation and caring for turtles in the Caribbean for two weeks, you can work some hours at the local animal sanctuary, spend 30 minutes on the phone at the Good Samaritans or even protect women from violence in India for months on end. There’s literally something for everybody! So now what’s the excuse?

For an hour in your day or a week in your year, forget safety, forget time and forget money. Being human is being selfless. If everybody gave a little something back and spent time with those more in need, then already the world would be a better place. And of course we can all take time out of our days to spare some kindness, love and humanity. 

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote everyday about the kind of community that you want to live in.”

So what kind of world do you want to live in? Choose to help, choose to change the world and choose to volunteer! 


Here are some websites and a list of voluntary options: 

Redcross – http://www.redcross.org.uk/Get-involved/Volunteer

 • Shelter – https://england.shelter.org.uk/support_us/volunteer

 • Food bank – https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/volunteer/ 

 • Good Samaritans – https://www.samaritans.org/volunteer-us

 • Original volunteers – http://www.originalvolunteers.co.uk/

 • GVI – https://www.gvi.co.uk/

 • HelpX – https://www.helpx.net/

 • Workaway – https://www.workaway.info/

 • Mision Mexico – http://lovelifehope.com/

Thanks again for reading guys!

Remember to follow me and my travel adventures here on instagram @vanishamay

Vanisha 

X

Umoja, Kenya

Umoja: The man-free land.

Looking for a different kind of adventure? Interested in travel? Passionate about society and women’s rights? Then you need to make this inspiring community a priority for your next big trip! Where are you going…? The fascinating lands of Kenya!

 

For more than 500 years tradition and culture have dominated the lives of Kenyans women. Living in patriarchal communities where men make the rules and women have few rights. Where rituals such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages are common even today. This means that girls as young as 12 years old are being mutilated and married off to lives as wives and mothers. Though, this isn’t an essay or a lecture, but an informative and interesting travel article of why I think you should visit this land like no other, the land with no man, the inspiring village of Umoja, North Kenya.

 

Tourism is Kenya’s second largest industry which attracts millions of tourists travelling in hopes to see the wanders of the wildlife, exploring the safaris and holiday on the white-sand beaches with the exotic marine life and exciting activities. Meanwhile in the dry lands of Northern Kenya, the women of Umoja are transforming lives and changing their own fate.

 

Umoja (meaning unity in Swahili) is a safe haven for women who have been abused, raped, and who are fleeing from the oppressive formalities of their culture. Located in the Samburu region, Umoja is home to almost 50 newly-empowered women and their hundreds of children. The village that is inspiring women all over the country to make possible and influential changes is also a village that has a no man policy. This is one of the first communities in the world to run as a matriarchal society prohibiting men to live there. How interesting is that?!

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The woman behind it all is Rebecca Lolosoli (pictures above by The Guardian) who created the movement 25 years ago and formed the village with other women who revolted against their rapes committed by British soldiers and discriminating communities. Fifteen women spoke up about their horrifying abuse and decided to make change. Now they support other women living in fear of FGM, early marriage and domestic abuse from the men of Samburu. In an interview, Rebecca explained how much power the men had;

 

“If the husband wants to kill you, he has a right to kill you, because you are like property.”

-Rebecca Lolosoli

(you can watch the short documentary here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrnmBLB-UX4)

 

So, what better idea than to just leave and form a whole new village where women have rights, freedom, a voice and more importantly, safety.  The women of Umoja are living completely independently without a man for the first time in history. They’re building their own huts, forming their own businesses and they’ve even created a school for the children. And for those thinking “but how do they even have children? How can they keep this going?” as one Umoja resident explained to a Guardian reporter;

 

“We still like men. They are not allowed here, but we want babies and women have to have children, even if you are unmarried.” – The Guardian

 

Completely inspirational.

 

Depending on tourism, the women welcome visitors and usually with a very big, all singing and dancing celebration! Handmaking brightly coloured jewellery, clothing and gifts to sell to tourists, the money helps fund their communities and gives the women the opportunity to earn their own income and stand on their own two feet.

Umoja-women-009

So be inspired and take a trek off the beaten track! Visit the wonderful women of the village and adventure to the worthy and incredible no man’s land!

 

Here’s how you can visit:

  • Book a tour! Agencies and tour operators offer safaris like the Samburu National Reserve Safari which usually include visits to the village. Convenient if you want to pay a short visit.
  • Camp in the village! To provide further income to the village, the women of Umoja have created a campsite adjacent to their homes for guests and tourists to spend the night or two. The Umoja camp is perfect for budget travellers and has a bar and restaurant, along with traditional entertainment of singing and dancing with the women.
  • Stay in a lodge. There are many lodges around the area so for those seeking slightly more luxury but want to stay nearby, this option is the best one for you!

 

List of useful websites, news articles and information on how to get there:

 

 

Hope you enjoyed it and let me know if you’re planning a trip to Umoja or have been before!

Follow my South American adventure here om instagram @vanishamay

Thanks for reading guys!

Vanisha Sparks

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Global bodies, sex and stories from around the world.

“Every young person will one day have life-changing decisions to make about their sexual and reproductive health. Yet research shows that the majority of adolescents lack the knowledge required to make those decisions responsibly, leaving them vulnerable to coercion, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.” -UNFPA

 

Sexual education improves the lives, dignity and knowledge for every single person in the world. Sexual education helps define healthy/unhealthy relationships, consent, safety and human rights which is vital knowledge for absolutely everyone. Right?

 

It’s no shocker that caught up in all the wrongs of the world are our young girls and women who are most at risks of HIV, aids, unwanted and unsafe pregnancies and abortions, STD’s, sexual assault and exploitation. This is especially unsurprising when 120 million girls don’t even have a basic education yet alone a sexual education.

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Travelling is amazing and opens your eyes to many differences around the world including some of my main interests such as sex in society, prostitution, trafficking and how the women and girls of the world fit into all of this. It’s apparent that sexual education, knowledge and awareness is sometimes non-existent in many countries around the world.

 

This means that some girls around the world have their monthly periods and have no idea why they’re bleeding, if it’s normal, if it’s natural and what their body is even doing. It means that for some girls they are locked in their homes during these times, stopped from going to school and forced to using unsanitary solutions in shame.

 

This means that 125 million girls and women alive today have undergone various forms of female genital mutilation without the knowledge as to why they’re being mutilated, what their rights are, and even the full knowledge of why they have genitals in the first place.

 

This means that people are unaware of their right to consent and safety and are fully exploited by people who see dollar signs all over their female flesh. This means that people visiting brothels whether they’re in Amsterdam, India or London are usually unaware or don’t care that the human being who is there to ‘give them a good time’ is more than likely to be there not out of choice, but out of force, bribery, slavery, trafficking and fully stripped from their rights, safety and voice.

 

There are approximately 20-30 million slaves in the world today. 80% of these humans are sexually exploited. 80% of these humans are women and girls. Still not shocked?

17_humantraffic

Conversations with a friend in Peru brought to light the situation of women and contraception in the country. He explained how it’s mostly women prostitutes who are on the pill which completely took me back as a young woman on the pill herself. In the UK, most women I know are on some form of contraception and for so many different reasons. It shocked me that perhaps the knowledge and availability of contraception might not be accessible or encouraged for all females, and not just sex workers.

 

This also reminded me of my experience with a man in Indonesia who hosted me and a friend and allowed us to attend a double circumsion ceremony for two boys aged 11 and 7. The conversations that followed will always be with me. He spoke about how his wife every month has bloody clothes but was unsure why. Especially surprising as they had two children together including a daughter who had also undergone FGM. Yet, he had no knowledge about the female body, what happened at his children’s births, why his wife has bloody clothes every month, and also how sex can be for pleasure and not just for reproduction. The knowledge and tradition that he did possess was that the female genital is actually seen to be ‘unclean’ in his community and is in a much better state once cut or mutilated.

 

As a woman who has grown up in a country where sex education may be basic but still teaches all the essentials, where I freely and openly talk about my body, health, sex and sexuality with my friend, family, nurses and teachers, where my further studies have opened my eyes to the dangers surrounding the female body regarding rape, FGM, assault, and inequalities, it never crossed my mind that these girls I want to protect and the men who live beside them might not even know how to have sex, or what a period even is.

 

“If an 11-year-old girl arrives in hospital pregnant, nobody says anything,” says Alvaro Serrano, director of the region for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). “Women and girls are dying because of poor sex education.” – The Guardian

 

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It’s a pretty deep topic but further conversations with some European backpackers about their experiences with prostitutes, their ridiculous expectations and their absolute disrespect and disregard for the humans interacting with them spurred me on to further research, share my stories and help raise awareness on the importance of sexual education for everyone worldwide. Sexual education should not be based around fear, shame, religion or tradition but around health, dignity, humanity and for all those most affected, especially our women and girls. 

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What are your thoughts on sexual education? Is it helpful for young people? Are there any alternatives? Do you have any experiences that you want to share or talk about?

 

Feel free to drop me a message!

You can also follow my South American adventures on instagram @vanishamay

 

Thanks for reading guys!

Vanisha

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My list of used resources and helpful websites…

On menstruation:

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/periods-around-the-world

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/menstruation-themed-photo-series-artist-censored-by-instagram-says-images-are-to-demystify-taboos-10144331.html

On sex ed:

https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/international-sex-education/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/may/20/six-best-sex-education-programmes-around-the-world

https://plan-uk.org/

http://www.unfpa.org/comprehensive-sexuality-education

https://www.bustle.com/articles/80266-5-places-around-the-world-where-sex-education-is-improving-because-comprehensive-and-progressive-programs-do

https://www.aasect.org/evolving-state-sexuality-education-around-world

On trafficking and the rest:

https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-human-trafficking

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs364/en/

What is FGM? Everything you need to know to join the fight against it.

FGM is rarely spoken about, heard about or known about. But why is this the case  when it affects over 200 million women and girls? How can we have gender inequality when 200 million women and girls are violated every single day through the practices of FGM?

 

So what is it?
FGM stands for female genital mutilation. It’s the intentional harm, alteration and/or injury to the female genitals. Globally, over 200 million women and girls have been cut with many more at risk. FGM is a violation of human rights for girls and women. In countries where antibiotics are not readily available, like Sudan, 1 in 3 girls will die. But this isn’t just an overseas issue, in the UK, it’s estimated that FGM will affect 20,000 girls, even though it’s illegal.

WHO have identified 4 main types of FGM:
Type I – Clitoridectomy
This which sees partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

FGM

Type II – Excision
Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. The amount of tissue removed varies from community to community.

FGM 2

Type III – Infibulation
The narrowing of the vaginal orifice with a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and re-positioning the labia minora and/ or the labia majora. Can take place with or without the removal of the clitoris.

FGM 3.1FGM 3.2FGM 3.3

Type IV
All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.

Why is it performed?
FGM is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality. It is mainly practiced in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but affects girls worldwide, including here in the UK. It’s supported and practiced by both men and women, with the common belief being that the cultural and social benefits outweigh the risk and dangers. (WHO 2008).

The reasons given for practicing FGM generally fall into four categories:

Psychosexual reasons: FGM is carried out to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes completely affected leaving women feeling no sense of pleasure depending on the cut. It is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure.

Sociological and cultural reasons: In some communities, FGM is a part of a girl’s initiation into womanhood, it’s a huge part of tradition. The myths that an uncut clitoris will grow to the size of a penis, or will increase fertility, help promote the practice.

Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: In some communities, the external female genitalia are considered dirty and ugly and are removed, ostensibly to promote hygiene and aesthetic appeal.

Socio-economic factors: In many communities, FGM is a requirement for marriage. Where women are largely dependent on men, economic necessity can be a major driver of the procedure. It’s also a major income source for the ‘cutters’.

Why is FGM different to circumcision for boys?
For women and girls there are immediate and lifelong complications. Immediate complications include:
– Severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, wound infection, urinary infection, and septicaemia. The haemorrhage and infections can be severe enough to cause death.
Long-term consequences include:
– As well as medical complications such as anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and complications during childbirth, FGM has severe psychological effects.

Type III (infibulation) creates a physical barrier which makes sexual intercourse, childbirth, menstruation and even urinating difficult. Women are often cut open for sex and childbirth because there’s simply no space for anything to come in or out.

The procedure and effects of FGM are extremely harmful and severe. The hidden practice effects girls worldwide and is not spoken about enough. As well as protecting and supporting the survivors of FGM, we need to be raising awareness and providing the knowledge that FGM is wrong, dangerous and fatal.

fgm-by-numbers

You can do your bit here:

– Look at Aida Silvestri’s ‘Unsterile Clinic. A project to help raise awareness of the practice of FGM.
– Watch Call The Midwife (Season 6, Episode 6).
– Read Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today by Hibo Wardere

– Sign a petition;

https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/52740

https://www.change.org/p/end-female-genital-mutilation-in-india?use_react=false

Learn more at

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/female-genital-mutilation-leaflet

https://mashable.com/2015/08/09/female-genital-mutilation/

Support organisations and NGO’s like
http://www.dofeve.org
http://28toomany.org/
https://plan-uk.org/about/our-work/fgm

https://www.instagram.com/hibowardere/

 

This topic is tough but thank you for wanting to read and learn more. It makes a difference.

Vanisha

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Follow me on instagram and twitter @vanishamay 

 

Looking for a fun night out? The three biggest problems girls experience on the dance floor. 

24 year-old single girl seeking a fun time with her girls, with a few drinks and a night on the dance floor. 

Not much too ask right? And the last few times I’ve been in a club have been just that, but with the addition of multiple guys acting like complete sleaze dogs to not just me and my friends, but to most of the other girls around us too. Sexualisation, misogyny and disrespect are as common on the dance floor as the dab. I for one, am so tired of guys grabbing my butt instead of shaking my hand. Offering to buy me shots instead of asking to buy me dinner. Asking to take me home, before even asking my name… 

WHATS GOING ON?!

Perhaps I’m overreacting or perhaps it’s not spoken enough about but here are 3 recurring problems complete with horror stories after conversations about what it means to be a girl in a club…


Problem #1

Some of these guys have this ninja talent (especially in London’s tiger tiger) of somehow sneaking right up behind you, then acting all nonchalant like you two been grinding all night when you turn around out of shock horror that a stranger could even be that close to you. Personal bubble. You are in my personal bubble. How did you even get there. Get out right now. 

The dance floor is not a space where all laws and social norms stay outside. If I walked past you in primark would you lift my skirt up? No. So why do you think it’s okay for your hand to creep up my leg in a club without my permission or even without my awareness that again, you’re so bloody close to me. 

Boundaries, learn it people. Come up to my face, not my behind.


Problem #2

Ego. It’s funny, and it’s probably alcohol induced with a hint of the macho man attitude but some of these guys think they’re actual gods on a night out. No fear. He’s gonna talk to me, my friend, and them four girls at the bar. Lol no shame. Then he’s gonna ask for my number. I say “no thanks”. He asks “why? Do you have a boyfriend?” Ha ha ha I’m thinking brilliant. The only time it’s okay to talk out loud about my imaginary boyfriend. “Yes, yes I do, he’s waiting for me outside”. But this dude is relentless, again no shame and has an ego bigger than Everest. He says “ahh that’s cool b we can be friends, does your boyfriend allow you to have friends, we can go out for dinner as friends, unless he’s the type that don’t let you have friends, let’s exchange numbers as friends”. Lol is this happening, are you really doing this. I have a boyfriend (as far as he knows) and I said NO. Why is that not enough? Why are you still winking at me? Stop.

Problem #3

Ratio. I’m not sure why tiger tiger has 17 men for every girl and toyroom seemed to have the complete opposite, but in both cases it was a huge problem. Either you were surrounded and hounded by guys or you were put out like cattle for sale and the guys got to choose which ones to prey on and which girls to cast aside. It seems like common sense for clubs to get an even ratio but no. And it’s a definite contributing factor. 


I’m not sure why these are even issues in 2017 but clearly we still have a long way to go with drawing the line on harmless flirting and friendliness to actually being violated and harassed in clubs. The dance floor is a place where misogyny, power conflicts, disrespect and sexualisation still exists. I hope one day that a night out will be without these worries and annoyances. Maybe teaching in schools about boundaries, relationships and what could be harassment and uncomfortable for some people could be an idea? I don’t know, all I do know is that no matter what club you’re in, this attitude is everywhere, and from now on I’m telling these dudes that the guy on the left is my boyfriend… 

 

Let me know your thoughts and experiences are from any perspective!

 

Thanks for reading 🙂 
Vanisha

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Hearts for humanity on international women’s day 2017. 

International Women’s day is a day to reflect on the progress we have made for an equal world, to hope for the future, to have courage for change, and to celebrate those who have had all kinds of impact on their countries, communities and throughout history.

 

After marching at the #march4women hosted by Care International in London last Sunday, I felt incredibly empowered and ready to take on the world. The inspiration was in the atmosphere and the hope and ambition of every single person in the crowd was amplified, including my own. After dealing with what seemed to be a hopeless situation where the word ‘feminism’ is still misunderstood and gender is still so binary, I felt like people were finally opening their minds and climbing on board for the fight for equality.

 

But this was soon shot down. Thanks to me flushing my phone down a public toilet in Shoreditch (cry), I caught up on the events of the day on Facebook from my laptop and was stunned by the amount of backlash and negativity in the comments which included things like this….

 

Woman 1: So sick of these women’s marches – I’m a women and I find the whole gender equality, pro-abortion thing disgusting – get back in the kitchen and make your families Sunday lunch!!!

 

Man 1: All I see is hundreds of women that just need a good hard shag. After that they will be fine! Think of all of the men going hungry this lunch time. This is inexcusable

 

Man 2: What is it women feel the need to be equal to in the year 2017

 

Man 3: I respect my woman especially when she gets my dinner on the table at a decent hour

 

Man 4: Ffs hear we go again

 

And these were just five of many! By this point I was shouting “make your own damn dinner” at my laptop screen and had lost all hope….

 

Well my anger has since settled and I realised the importance of differentiating opinions, freedom of speech along with raising my voice to help people understand these issues better. And also how similar my questions were to these ridiculous comments. I found myself also questioning why women felt the need to be equal in 2017? Why again? Why on earth are we still trying to resolve these issues? I’m sick of the marches! ‘Hear we go again’ in 2017, still campaigning and hoping for global gender equality. Without a doubt, ‘inexcusable’….

 

Every day for me is a blessing, and for the majority of you reading this, you’ll know how extremely lucky  we are in so many ways. Which is why empathy is so important and I believe plays a huge part in being a good person. (Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another). And these comments are proof that many of us are simply lacking basic human empathy.

 

So how serious are the issues anyway? Listen ‘hear‘…

The UN report ‘The World’s Women 2010’ shows just some of the dire gender disparities in current situations:

  • Out of 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 2 out of 3 are women.
  • 70% of the poorest people in the world are women.
  • Women own 1% of the world’s land.
  • 72 million primary age children are out of education. 54% of these are girls.
  • 2 million women are victims of genital mutilation every year.
  • Approximately 70 million women and children were subject to sex trafficking in Asia in the last ten years.

 

On top of these statistics, our current global refugee crisis means millions more women are without their rights and extremely vulnerable. Although many of you seem to think refugees are flooding in to the UK with hopes to take our jobs and housing, actually 86% of the 65 million refugees are displaced in developing countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Ethiopia. Our effort in the U.K today is just one big joke.

 

These are normal people who never imagined that they would be in these circumstances. People who were in education, people with homes and 9-5 jobs. People like you, and people like my own family who fled from Uganda in 1972 leaving their businesses, cars, homes and belongings to come to the UK where they knew no-one, did not know the language and were given sanctuary in centers, all in a cold, snowy winter when they’d never seen snow before! It seems unimaginable, but I think about my own family, then I watch the news and actually it’s extremely real.

 

One of the reasons I struggle to sleep at night and one of the reasons I know I’ll spend my life in these areas of conflict, is simply because I cannot switch off. My mind is constantly thinking about the help we can give, the ways we can give that help, the places we can start, and the people we can start with. It’s normal for me. But for those who are struggling to understand the seriousness of feminism, gender equality and the refugee crisis, for those who maybe don’t feel the same way, ask yourselves for humankind, please find human empathy for the people who are suffering through no fault of their own, who flee their homes and everything they know in fear and terror, for women stuck in detention centers and are unsafe in refugee camps, for girls who will never see inside a classroom, for all refugees in these situations, and for all women around the world and for those women right next to us. Find your hearts for them.

 

We are failing humans on huge scales. We must do more.

 

“I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard” – Malala Yousafzai. It’s so important for people like you and me to use our platforms and dare to be bold. So how can you celebrate international women’s day, and what can you do today?

 

  • Spread the word and use your voice through conversations and writing to your MP.
  • Sign a petition or two, or three.
  • Wear red to show support worldwide
  • Follow events from the day all over social media and share, like and use the hashtag #beboldforchange which is this year’s campaign theme.
  • Donate to the many women and refugee organisations.

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

http://www.womenforwomen.org.uk

http://www.careinternational.org.uk

 

And check out these events if you’re London based…

London – Wednesday 8th March, 18:00pm – BE Unplugged ‘Disrupting the Future: Passion, Purpose and Change

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/be-unplugged-disrupting-the-future-passion-purpose-and-change-tickets-31879903650

London – Saturday 11th March, 12:30pm – Million Women March and Rally

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/million-women-rise-march-and-rally-tickets-32049705532?aff=erelexpmlt

 

Start today and join the movement to promote basic human rights and values #beboldforchange

 

Thank you 🙂

V