Ending Violence Against Women: Bringing Those Ridiculous Statistics Down to Zero

One day until Black Friday sales!

Less than four weeks until the new Star Wars movie!
One month until Christmas!
Sixteen days to raise awareness about violence against women! 
Go ahead and pick the one that’s most important to you. Before you do, think of these statistics:
  • One in three boys and men are victims of physical and sexual abuse, often at the hands of their partners. 
  • 4.5 million boys and men around the world are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • 700 million men were married as children, 250 million of whom before the age of 15.
  • 1 in 2 murdered men worldwide in 2012 were killed by their partners or family members.
Now waitaminute!
You’re probably thinking, these statistics simply cannot be true. Nonsense! And you’d be right. There’s no way there are that many boys and men who are victims of violence at the hands of their partners. No way so many boys and men can be victims of sexual exploitation or married as children. These numbers are ridiculous; they make no sense.
The statistics are indeed ridiculous, but they are not fabricated: switch “boys” and “men” with “girls” and “women” in each of those statistics and you get the world’s current reality. I switched the sexes from these true sobering facts.
Violence against women and girls – from physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, and spiritual – extends far too profoundly into the fabric of every culture. The causes are numerous, but at the heart of much of the violence is a deep inequality between men and women. As stated by the Canadian Women’s Foundation: “In our society, gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Both men and women receive many messages—both blatant and covert—that men are more important than women. This fundamental inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse, and even murder.”  
In Canada, there are groups that are especially vulnerable: 2/3 of women who are victims of sexual assault are under the age of 24; Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be killed by their partner than non-Aboriginal women; and 60% of women with disabilities are victims of violence. While these groups account for a disproportionate number for victims, it falls on everybody – men, women, boys, and girls – to understand the causes of violence against women, to empower girls and women to understand and fully enjoy their rights, to educate boys, men, women and girls on harmful behaviours, attitudes and practices that contribute to violence against women, and of course for everyone to talk about it. Violence against women cannot remain taboo or a private matter. It shouldn’t be talked about jokingly; it shouldn’t be perpetuated from one generation to the next.
I’ve been lucky; I was raised by my mother, a woman who defiantly challenged instances when she was discriminated against. She’d come back from a garage after getting her car serviced and tell me: “They were going to take advantage of me and charge me for things I didn’t need because I’m a woman, but Buster Boy, I told them they’d better not.” She would be verbally abused, but she stood her ground. If she were being treated like shit, she’d throw it back in the guy’s face. She showed me that you had to stand up for what’s right (and that you were pretty stupid if you decided to take advantage of my mother). Just as importantly, her courage in facing discrimination exposed me to its existence in our society. Getting ripped off by a mechanic is not nearly the same as severe forms of violence against women like physical or sexual abuse. However it speaks to a persistent inequality that many men perpetuate and continue to assume is “normal.” But it’s not normal. These forms of discrimination and violence have to be named, have to be talked about, and need to end. 

November 25 marks the start of a global campaign to end violence against women. The campaign is referenced on social media through hashtags such as #16days or #orangetheworld. It won’t happen in the next 16 days, but everyone should take the time – between shopping for that big screen TV at a Black Friday sale, purchasing tickets for the latest Star Wars movie, or buying a couple of gifts on your Xmas list – to learn more about violence against women and ways to bring those real statistics down to zero.

http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism
Learn more: UN Women kicks of its 16 days of activism to end violence against women from November 25 until December 10. Ideas on what to do, including ways to show support through social media, can be found here

Universal Children’s Day: Giving Refugee Children a New "Normal"

Today is Universal Children’s Day, celebrated November 20 to mark the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child over a quarter century ago. It’s a day to recognize children’s rights and to shed light on the progress made in securing such rights while not forgetting the challenges and disparities that persist. In last year’s State ofthe World’s Children issued by UNICEF (there should be a new one soon), it highlighted some persistent realities:  
  • Almost half of children under 5 in the poorest countries do not have the right to an official identity; 
  • The poorest 20% of the world’s children are twice as likely as the world’s richest 20% to be stunted by growth;
  • Children in 4 out of 10 households in the world’s poorest countries do not attend primary school;
  • Girls still have less access to quality education than boys in the world’s poorest nations;
  • Children going to school in the world’s poorest nations have inadequate access to toilets (both at school and at home);
One of the encouraging aspects of the report is that it highlights stories – of inspiration, innovation, care and dedication – on how to fulfill children’s rights. The stories focus on things that make sense: engaging youth, sparking creativity, working with communities, and reaching all children, among others. Reading the report, I came across something UNICEF refers to as their “Innovation Map”  – examples from around the world of successful projects. To take but one example, a project in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan(established in 2012 and currently hosting about 80,000 Syrian refugees) aims to solve the problem of girls and women unable to access the female toilets in the camp because there was no lighting. Channeling electricity to the toilets was not possible due to vandalism, so solar panels were installed above the toilets to provide the electricity for proper lighting.

Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.
It’s a small innovation, but a necessary one. Just for a moment imagine what life is like in a refugee camp. In the case of Zaatari, the number of toilets available means that an average of 51 people share one toilet. The average person reading this blog probably shares a toilet with less than a tenth that number.
Crappy toilet statistics are only one aspect of living in a refugee camp that makes life harsh. Each refugee has 35 litres of water per day (the average consumption for Canadians was a whopping 251 litres per day in 2011). Just over half of the 28,000 school-aged children are enrolled in one of three schools operating on double-shifts. Two field hospitals have 55 beds in total (remember, there are 80,000 people living there, with 80 births per week). To put it simply, life in a refugee camp sucks. The connotation of “camp” implies a temporary condition, an in-between living arrangement from what used to be your home to a place where you don’t have to worry about being killed on a daily basis. The reality of such camps is quite different: a sense of permanence settles in, a sense of despair, and a sense of normality. I’m reminded of a TED Talk by George Takei in which he discusses his time as a child in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War: “Children are amazingly adaptable. What would be grotesquely abnormal became my normality in the prisoner of war camps.It became routine for me to line up three times a day to eat lousy food in a noisy mess hall. It became normal for me to go with my father to bathe in a mass shower.Being in a prison, a barbed-wire prison camp, became my normality.
As adaptable children are, they shouldn’t have to consider life in a camp as “normal.” There are nearly 50,000 children living in Zaatari camp now. However miserable life is in that camp, conditions in other camps, not to mention the unimaginable struggles Syrian refugees have faced crossing into Europe, can be even worse.
The sheer number of Syrian refugees is astounding. In total, Jordan currently has over 630,000 refugees; overall the number of registered Syrian refugees is nearly 4.3 million. A quarter of them – more than one million – are children. When I try to get my head around such numbers and weigh the reality of refugees’ lives with the ongoing debate of closing our borders to them, I find it very difficult to accept any argument – founded in ignorance, fear, xenophobia or racism, but often a mix of all these things – that supports measures to ignore their pleas and maintain their suffering.
Canada’s new government made a promise to welcome 25,000 refugees by the end of this year and is currently in the process of making sure this happens. Under normal circumstances, it’s an ambitious target, and recent terrorist attacks in Paris (and Beirut, and now Mali) have prompted some to put into question the need to adhere to the deadline of December 31 or even to admit refugees at all. To me, the date is not relevant; moving refugees out of misery is, and whether or not it takes two months or a little longer shouldn’t be a benchmark for success. The government’s approach is a sound one, since it focuses on refugees already registered in camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. The least Canadians can do is extend a warm welcome to those in need, and give a new place for thousands of refugees to call their home. It’s time to give refugees another option of what “normal” can be.

Find out how to help: The CBC Montreal website recently published a useful post on how Quebecers can help

Update November 23: I referred to the government’s plan as a “sound one” – now that the government has indicated it will not allow unaccompanied men into Canada, it’s not looking sound, nor is it fair. Tom Mulcair summed it up well by saying: “While security concerns remain of vital importance, will a young man who lost both parents be excluded from Canada’s refugee program?” He added, “Will a gay man who is escaping persecution be excluded? Will a widower who is fleeing [ISIS] after having seen his family killed be excluded?” A proper security screening is important for any refugee, regardless of their status as accompanied or not, and regardless of their sex. It is, as many have noted, very uncanadian.

A Letter to My Sons: City of Dreams, Gaza

Dear Alexandre, Dear Sam,

 

I’m back in Jerusalem, writing to you from the comfort of a guesthouse that’s part of a cathedral over one hundred years old. It’s relatively quiet save for the traffic outside my window, my room is sparse but pleasant, with archways defining a ceiling three times my height, and a garden a few steps away that a travel enthusiast would probably label as quaint or charming.

 

I do my best to appreciate my surroundings, but doing so after a trip to Gaza only compounds the conflicting thoughts I have in processing what I’ve just experienced. I have felt sadness and anger, frustration and disbelief, despondency and despair; yet in equal measure I have seen tenacity and hope, cheerfulness and gentleness, dedication and stoicism.

 

Over three years ago, in my first letter to you from Gaza, I described the beach view from my hotel window as “beautiful, and it’s full of garbage.” This time, my hotel offered a similar view, although added to the garbage were piles of rusted scrap metal and heaps of crumbled concrete. The scenery going through town and all over the Gaza Strip wasn’t all that different; it was dirty, but once in a while you saw a massive, stinking garbage bin in which people with busted brooms dumped their crap. There were occasional mounds of concrete where buildings once stood. Once in a while you’d see a mosque or an apartment building that would look fine and you’d wonder why no one was in it until you’d turn the corner and realize the front had been bombed to pieces, steel rods sticking through pulverized foundations.

 

There are no traffic lights that work. Banged up cars share the road with carts pulled by ragged donkeys and emaciated horses, trucks that would have failed any road safety check just about anywhere else on the planet, and a parade of international vehicles including the armoured one I was in. Billboards have layer upon layer of faded, posterized martyrs either looking thoughtful or brandishing guns and rocket launchers. The buildings are grey and brown and the roads are just as drab. There are plenty of people milling about, some merchants selling fruits and vegetables in their carts, others smacking the dust off their displays of children’s clothing or cheap toys made in China. Flocks of uniformed students pour out from the walled schools and flood the streets with their brightly coloured cheap backpacks adorned with Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob, and Mickey Mouse always offering their best smiles. Candy wrappers littering the ground mark the students’ homeward journeys.

 

As we drove up to the blue gates of one school yesterday, the words “We need homes” were spray painted in red. After the violence and destruction that shook Gaza last summer, there are still thousands of people who have no homes left, and with winter’s sting approaching, the suffering of many will only worsen.

 

I felt tremendous trepidation coming to Gaza this time. I wanted to know how people were doing without prying. When I asked a friend how things were, he looked at me and spoke with his usual, even tone: “My father passed away two days before the end of the war.” Upon seeing my face, he went on to explain that his father did not die as a result of the violence this past summer, but that he’d been battling illness for some time. Still, I reflected somberly, how horrible for his last days to be spent under the veil of constant fear.

 

My friend told me that it was the first time he’s ever felt truly frightened and helpless. “We were staying at a safe house at one point,” he told me. “I received a call telling me that the house was going to be bombed within five or ten minutes. But when I phoned the police, they could not verify the threat. I didn’t know what to do, so I told the people inside the house about the threat, and they kept on asking me to tell them what to do. But how could I know what was right? What if I told them to go elsewhere and that place would be bombed? How can I have this responsibility to tell someone what to do? I can’t do that, I simply can’t.”

 

He decided to stay in the safe house and insisted others make their own decision as to stay or go. In the end, everyone stayed and the house was not bombed. His story reflects only one moment from that horrible time, a time in which he, like so many others, felt defenseless. The depth of fear and despair Gazans suffered was enough for many people I met to label what happened as a “war,” whereas in the past, there were conflicts or incursions.

 

People are still recovering from the devastation; later that day my friend said his colleagues went to the beach “for stress relief because of the war.” Going to the beach doesn’t sound like much, but when there is so little to begin with, a group of colleagues going to the beach together is as much therapy or freedom or stress relief or faith in God to keep their spirits up and show up for work tomorrow.

 

The teachers I met over the past three days play a significant role in helping children keep their spirits up while providing a safe and sheltered environment in school. I saw them encourage students to express themselves, to be creative, to participate in class and to proudly assert the rights they have, or at least should have. In one activity in which Grade 3 students drew a new city where they would all like to live, one student showed his artwork and explained to the class, “This is Freedom City. And there’s a school here, because that’s where we go to learn.” Another child’s city was “City of Dreams,” and was drawn next to the sea.


To a cynic, such an activity is meaningless, and if anything gives false hope to children who will more than likely live in poverty for years to come. But human rights education has always been more than learning about rights. It’s about helping create a culture of human rights among all people so that we can live a life of dignity and treat others as we would want to be treated by them. Hoping for a City of Dreams in a place that is so often associated with despair, destruction, and hate gives me reason to believe that today’s children will have the strength to dream and contribute towards a better world than the one we’re living in. If a child can do that while living in Gaza, there’s still hope that they will be kinder than those who today act only through violence.

 

I guess I’m hoping for a City of Dreams too.

 

Je t’aime Alexandre, je t’aime Sam.