‘Touch of Care’

 

I saw this video this morning, and I’m filled with optimism and joy.

I’ve shared posts before about encouraging movements from south Asia, targetting women’s rights, beauty standards and feminism. This is the first time I’ve come across a nation-wide campaign normalising transgender people and their lives.

I knew what to expect when I saw the article accompanying it on NPR, but it was still a wonderful surprise that the video didn’t preach, or generate a rallying call to arms, or worse yet, and as is often seen in south Asia, portray transgender people as caricatures or as objects of ridicule.

It’s a normal story about a girl on her way back to university, thinking about her childhood and her parent. Only at the end do you realise that her mother is transgender, though it’s hinted throughout the video through the partial shots of her mother.

The woman playing her mother is Gauri Sawant, an activist and head of Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust, an NGO based in Bombay which works with transgender people. The story in the video is based on Gauri’s life raising Gayatri, the daughter of a sex worker friend of Gauri’s. Many articles have sprung up in the past few days talking about it, Gauri’s work, and that’s generating even more discussion around the reality of transgender rights and equality in India – which gives me a lot of hope.

I’m buoyed by the fact that the social media response has been overwhelmingly positive, despite the – legitimate – cynical critique of Vicks. The link between the product and the video isn’t clear, this could just be PR stunt, etc. To me though, it’s not really an ad for Vicks in the way this was an ad for Tanishq, for example. So I’m treating it almost as a short movie, independent of the brand. It doesn’t matter to me if the ‘caring for families for generations’ super is accurate or not. This is an equally bold move for Vicks, and similarly to the Tanishq ad, makes a topic that’s either taboo or at best, marginalised, something for everyone to talk about. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

Celebrate International Women’s Day differently

Today is International Women’s Day, marked around the world in many different ways.

It’s also the 100th anniversary of the start of the Russian Revolution – on 8 March 1917, female textile workers protested in Petrograd, forcing the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and Russian women won the right to vote.

tdih-march08-HD

Cast a look on social media today and you’ll be inundated with photos, videos, memes, statistics, quotes and a host of other visuals commemorating women’s achievements through the ages, the further struggles that lie ahead, the reality of women’s oppression around the world today, or – sometimes – funny jokes. Many of these are informative, heart-breaking, inspiring and/or important to share.

But so many are mere platitudes, which illicit a response for all of five seconds before they’re gone from your mind. Like these ones, from Instagram and the official IWD page:

IMG_0555

IMG_0559

IMG_0556.JPG

IMG_0558

This will form the bulk of most people’s contributions today; a simple message (sometimes with grammatical errors) saying ‘Happy Women’s Day’, and a few cheerleader-esque platitudes, and fin.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, simply because that’s the way most of us mark a special day/holiday on social media. I wanted to take the chance today to write about what it means for me, and why some of the ways in which IWD is ‘celebrated’ make me uncomfortable.

First of all, a cursory glance at social media or at the many protests taking place globally today (check out #DayWithoutWomen on Twitter and Instagram for some truly powerful photos and symbols of resistance) will show you that most of those partaking are women. That’s antithetical to a movement as powerful as feminism.

Feminism is about equality, opportunity, choice and freedom.

That’s universal, so I don’t like to see that mostly women are sharing these posts, or wishing each other, or being the most visible participants.

However, that’s an issue of the feminist movement as a whole, not necessarily with today – but it’s one of the many glaring examples of where we need to ensure we’re a more inclusive movement. During the Budapest Women’s March in January for example, about 95% of those attending were women, despite the organisers being men from Greenpeace. What’s wrong with today, and with the movement, that it’s seen to involve or target women, rather than address fundamental issues about opportunity, freedom and justice?

Secondly, these platitudes. What do they say of our struggle to date, of the millions of women around the world who have given their lives, freedoms and rights so we’re allowed the rights we have today (and so I can blog about it right now?)

It feels cheap, somehow, to quote a Beyoncé song or post a tokenistic picture of super-heroines. If we’re going down the diversity route, where is the Maori Wonder Woman? Where’s the tall, fat woman? Where’s the Native American, the south Asian, the hijab-clad Muslim Wonder Woman?

Attempts to get shares on social media, or reblogs of zippy soundbites, are not what we need. We need today to be about more than that, and for an actual commitment from more than just women to the longer term causes.

Feminism:

My dad, one of the first real feminists in my life and a constant source of strength and inspiration (fine, I may be a little biased) shared a series of Tweets which perfectly encapsulates the day and how we ought to think more about our movement.

IMG_0553.JPG

 

Third, I notice that people speak about women’s rights, opportunities and achievements only on this day. The struggle for equality and freedom is ongoing, and we can’t reserve all our activism, passion or anger for just one day. We should champion achievements, highlight the road ahead and speak about these issues constantly if we’re to make any impact.

We’ll post a picture, maybe share an article or two, and for the most part, I see so many people leave their activism there – it’s called clicktivism for a reason, and it’s not enough.

Image result for male feminist

So to that end, I’ve thought about ways we can make our dedication to the issues underlying today’s celebration more relevant and lasting – the easiest way is to donate to an organisation near you, volunteer time, arrange campaigns and join coalitions in your area. I’ve trawled the internet and my own database of resources, and here are some ideas for ways in which we can be of service to our global sisterhood beyond today.

 

CAF America shares this inspiring set of ways to educate yourself on the issues facing women, and the work done to combat it, here.

UN Women’s focus this year is ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 505-50 by 2030.’ Read more about their campaign here, the events they’re hosting and the wealth of resources to support representation in the work place.

Women in the global workforce

Courtesy UN Women

Womankind UK shares this page of resources, with links to their global partners.

You can filter by geography, and learn more about the work of each of these incredible groups. Here are some examples:

Afghan Women Resource Centre (AWRC)

AWRC strives to help women improve their economic and social well-being and enables them to become active in decision-making processes. They encourage them to stand up for their rights and be active and confident members within their families and communities.

The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (Gender Centre)

The Gender Centre is committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of women. It works with both women’s groups and other organisations providing support and training in areas such as implementing women’s rights, project planning and campaigning. The Gender Centre was established in 1995 to make sure women’s rights were included in development programmes in Ghana.

WHR Nepal campaigners

Courtesy Womankind UK

Here are some excellent globally-focussed groups working on women’s empowerment, access rights, championing leadership and representation, or working towards equality and justice:

 

Women for Women International

A nonprofit that works with women who have experienced war, civil strife and other conflicts, providing them with the tools and resources to become financially independent and self-sufficient, WfWI was founded in 1993 and has helped more than 351,000 women through direct aid, rights education, job skills training and small business development. They currently operate in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. Women for Women International offers a one year program that teaches job skills and business training to women in conflict, in addition to facilitating group therapy sessions for war survivors.

 

Every Mother Counts

An advocacy and mobilization campaign to reduce maternal mortality, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of women and girls worldwide by educating and supporting maternal mortality reduction. Hundreds of thousands of women die each year from pregnancy complications or childbirth difficulties, 90% of these deaths are preventable. No Woman, No Cry is a documentary by Christy Turlington that shares the stories of at-risk pregnant women from around the globe. The film spreads the message of the need for  resources and education to reduce maternal mortality. The nonprofit also collects old mobile phones to be donated to health care providers in rural areas to provide better communication and medical services.

 

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development is an international, feminist, membership organization committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. AWID provides comprehensive information and analysis on women’s human rights and global issues.

 

Samahope

Millions of people worldwide lack access to basic surgical care. Local doctors and resources are stretched thin to provide medical care on a large scale. To address this issue, Samahope enables supporters worldwide to fund these doctors through crowdfunding. Donations underwrite treatments for birth injuries, burns, birth defects, blindness and trauma-based injuries. The platform has activated more than 3,000 donors to impact the lives of over 6,000 patients.

 

Dressember

In 2013, Dressember’s fifth year, the organization aligned with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. That year, 1,233 registered participants around the world rallied to collectively raise over $165,000. Participation doubled the next year, and the campaign raised more than $465,000. Starting in 2015, the campaign will increase its partnerships with other anti-trafficking organizations.

 

Girls Who Code

Seventy-four percent of middle schools girls express interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but only 0.4 percent of high school girls choose computer science as their major. Girls Who Code aims to empower girls with the computer science education and skill sets needed to pursue 21st century opportunities. The deputy public advocate of New York City, Reshma Saujani, the organization’s founder and CEO, started Girls Who Code to close the gender gap in technology. In 2014, its programs served 375 girls in multiple cities. Some 90 percent continued to pursue computer science or a closely related field as their major or minor, and 77 percent changed paths because of their time with Girls Who Code. By moving toward gender parity in computing fields, more girls will be equipped with the tools they need to innovate and incite social change.

 

Ultraviolet Edge Initiative

The Ultraviolet Edge is a global initiative of Urban Decay Cosmetics to empower women. By helping to fund organizations that fight for the rights of women everywhere, Urban Decay encourages all women to embrace their individuality in everything they do.

 

Women’s Partnership Market

Women’s Partnership Market supports grassroots organizations like Women’s Global to empower female entrepreneurs through access to business training and microfinance to address the root causes of poverty.

 

 

Bustle’s list of groups also includes some international organisations, such as:

We respect, protect and promote the dignity of our clients and their communities.

Courtesy Camfed

Camfed

International nonprofit Camfed has been pioneering girls’ education programs in sub-Saharan Africa since 1993. According to its website, the organization’s programs have directly supported more than a million students through primary and secondary school. To donate, head over to the Camfed website.

Engeder Health

Family planning is a pressing issue for women, and that’s the focus of global nonprofit EngenderHealth, along with STI prevention and maternal health. Check out the organization for yourself and donate here.

Pro Mujer:

Founded in Bolivia in 1990, Pro Mujer is a women’s development organization distributing small loans to women in Latin America. Since its creation, Pro Mujer has loaned out more than $2.8 billion, $340 million of which was distributed last year. Donate here.

Pathfinder: 

According to its website, global nonprofit Pathfinder “envisions a world where everyone has access to contraception, where there are zero new HIV infections, where no woman dies from preventable pregnancy-related complications, and where everyone leads a healthy sexual and reproductive life.” The organization is dedicated to worldwide sexual health using a groundbreaking community-based model. Donate here.

Check your Boys

I came across this video today and I’m not ashamed to say I watched it about half a dozen times.

This side of five years ago, we wouldn’t have seen this many videos, or these types of conversations happening at this level. This side of five years ago, when I asked my closest male friends if they were feminists, there was a moment of hesitation before they admitted that yeah OK, maybe they were – “but not one of those nutty types.” Obviously the negative connotations attached to the label of feminist haven’t disappeared by a long shot, but conversations like this are taking the whole idea so much farther than I could have imagined.

I’d only heard about all the dating quandaries women face these days through friends – but now I’m experiencing it, and it’s equal parts terrifying and empowering.

Empowering because we’ve created an environment where a woman ‘talking back’ when she’s been insulted, or doing as she pleases on a date without thought of what the date thinks, or taking charge of her own body and life, is encouraged and almost the norm.

Yes, we all face pressures when out dating, but I remember a time about five or six years ago when I may have hesitated before telling a date he was being misogynistic, or would have laughed at a joke I didn’t find funny, or would have dismissed an opinion simply because I wanted to get along with this person.

It’s liberating to no longer feel like that, and the fact that we as a society are talking about everyday, casual sexism in an open way has a huge part to play in that. It’s an exciting time to be a young woman!

Of course there are still instances which show us how much further we have to go when ‘branding’ the term ‘feminist’ – like this video of Emma Watson and Malala Yousefzai. It’s alarming that in this day and age, a young woman could ever consider not calling herself a feminist, but obviously we have to consider cultural, sociological and economic factors in these cases.

What do you think of the video, and the idea of ‘checking’ on men from different backgrounds?

 

 

The Atlas of Beauty

I came across a wonderful photography project today – The Atlas of Beauty by Michaela Noroc.

Michaela is a Romanian photographer who has travelled around the world to capture the true faces of female beauty in all its forms. Through this, she aims to showcase the diversity of beauty in our world.

I see many young people trying to be somebody else, to copy global trends, instead of being themselves, keeping their unique genes and cultural background. There is a lot of pressure to look in a certain way, and my message is that an original is always better than a copy.

The inspiration for this came from a recent trip to Ethiopia.

I realised that beauty is about being different, yourself and keeping your cultural heritage.

In this album, I will regularly add interesting faces that I met by chance, on the street. Because The Atlas of Beauty means also images captured in few second with women from all around the world, in their everyday life.

So without further ado, here are the photos. Be sure to check out her wonderful Instagram and Facebook pages! All photos come from Michaela’s Facebook page.

The idea of The Atlas of Beauty was born two years ago. Then, in August 2013 I started a long trip with some savings gathered in a few years and my backpack.

I wanted to go round the world and capture natural and authentic feminine beauty.

Initially, the project was called Beauty Around the World, but then I changed it to The Atlas of Beauty, a name that expresses better the idea of doing for the first time ever, an encyclopedia of feminine faces and cultural diversity of the world.

In November 2014 I returned from my trip around the planet, after 15 months of searching, with a portfolio full of images, but with empty pockets. Now I am in Bucharest and I’m trying to raise funds to go on a new journey in the summer.

Each advice, suggestion, promotion, share can help me make new images.

Medellin, Colombia

Colca Valley, Peru

Los Angeles, US

Jakarta, Indonesia

Bagan, Burma

Ethiopia

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Singapore

Ecuador

Maramures, Romania

Mawlamyine, Burma

Havana, Cuba

We live in a diverse world and there’s beauty everywhere. A few months ago I entered in the amazonian jungle of Ecuador to capture images for The Atlas of Beauty. In a Kichwa tribe, with hundreds of years old rules, I found a very expressive young woman. She dressed in her wedding dress (yes, this is her marriage outfit) that she used when she was 15 years old (yes, people from this tribe may get married at that age) and let me take her some photos in her courtyard. Actually, in Amazonia all the jungle can be your courtyard.

Tibetan woman in Xiahe, China

I met Maria Jose last year in the driest place on earth: the Atacama Desert in Chile. She was traveling with a backpack, sleeping in a tent, making all kinds of ornaments of paper, which she was selling. In Latin America I met a lot of people who had this lifestyle for many years, not being part of the classical way of living in a society. Maria Jose is a student yet and enjoys the freedom of this independent journeys, only on vacations. She’s from Venezuela, but moved with her family since few years ago, in Chile. Maria Jose from Venezuela, in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

There is a place in Ecuador where most men have long hair to their waist and women wear traditional clothes with pleasure. Although it is a prosperous city with modern influences, in Otavalo the old habits haven’t died and the indigenous population has plenty of traditions to be proud with. In a world of globalisation, where more and more women tend to behave and dress the same, it’s nice to see that there is still diversity, that there are still young women who proudly assumes their origins and keep their traditions. I dream to discover in the future more places like this, with The Atlas of Beauty, and to show that diversity is a treasure that we mustn’t lose. The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc/ Diana in Otavalo, Ecuador

In Myanmar I met the most serene and generous people. Maybe it comes from buddhism or maybe it’s the peace that everyone enjoys after long years of dictatorship and violent conflicts. I tried to bring this gentle atmosphere in The Atlas of Beauty, photographing Yu Kyi in one of the most important Buddhist temples in the world. For The Atlas of Beauty any share is a chance to grow and continue. The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc/ Yu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar

The Peruvian women from the Andes Mountains walk proud in their traditional clothes. I would have stayed for hours to admire the fine details of Calla’s dress, but I had to photograph her before the night would spread out over the beautiful landscapes at nearly 4,000 meters. The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc/ Calla in Colca Valley, Peru

I think true feminine beauty means assuming your origins and enjoying elements from your culture, things that make you different. In other words, beauty is diversity.

Rihanna’s dress and the ensuing media frenzy

Yes, it’s happened again.

Another woman has worn something which has made people lose their minds.

Let’s try to think of the last time a man wore something and the press drove themselves insane psychoanalysing why.

I’ve attached the article below, but first let me get down to what annoys me about it and the whole debate that’s whirling around it:

1. This would NEVER have happened if a man had turned up to an award ceremony wearing an outfit which “left little to the imagination”. Besides taking pictures, perhaps commenting on how ‘toned’ they’re looking, I doubt people would very much care.

We’re not even entering the maelstrom of why it’s all right for a man to go topless but not a woman.

2. And most importantly, why does something have to be a “feminist statement” or a fashion choice? Why do we really care so much? Can’t it just be about a woman going to an awards ceremony wearing a glittery dress?

Or just a dress?

Many of you will remember how the media lost their minds when Jennifer Lopez wore this outfit:

(Sidenote: does this take you guys back or what?!)

Seriously, I’d be interested to see what you come up with.

Try and think about the last time we went this crazy when a man wore something in public. Nobody cares if it’s a man.

Why are we losing our minds just because there are breasts involved?

It isn’t progress to view occasions like this as a feminist victory or statement.

We will have moved on as a society when our media thinks the way most of us do: that it is not news if a woman wears a dress. It isn’t news if she doesn’t. It just is. She is a human being, wearing things. Let’s calm down and move on, and just let them be. It isn’t a feminist statement, it just is.

I also have to share this link because this is what I’m talking about. Women aren’t allowed to just walk around, go shopping, go for a run, go out with their kids, without it being scrutinised.

It’s absurdly patronising to talk about a woman without make-up as somehow bold. Does that mean wearing make-up makes you weak? Seriously?

Just because someone is going through a divorce, doesn’t mean she is brave for going to a market with her children (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett). Where are the photos of how “brave” Will Arnett is being, going out in public? Going shopping?

Just let it be what it is.

I happen to think Rihanna looks amazing, because the colour of her dress makes her glow, and the turban is really beautiful too. J.Lo’s dress was gorgeous and I love those colours. Most people would say the same thing.

Why is our media suddenly taking it to extremes?

More headlines like “Woman wears dress to awards show” and less “Young artist, misunderstood by everyone, bears all in brave display of feminist bravado”, please.

Which of course isn’t to say she isn’t a feminist, she is. It just doesn’t make everything she does a show of her feminist strength.

She’s wearing a dress because she likes it. By saying it’s something more than it is, we’re actually reversing any steps we’re attributing to Rihanna’s ‘feminism’.

If all of these ‘headlines’ we’re talking about are really doing as much for feminism as the media says they are, then why do we need to keep making every action taken by a woman as a feminist act? Why can’t it just be a thing that a human being does, because surely that’s when we see progress – when your gender doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with your life?

Here’s an article published in ‘The Independent’, a British newspaper, yesterday. I’d recommend you read all the linked stories too, just in case you’re not familiar with all of these stories, like me:

Rihanna’s practically naked dress: Why it could be one of the most powerful feminist statements the pop world has made to date

Why society still isn’t ready for too bold a display of female sexuality by Ella Alexander Wednesday 04 June 2014

“The naughty outfit left nothing to the imagination,” wrote one publication, adding that “one wonders what Anna Wintour [another show guest and the editor of US Vogue] thought” of the attire. “Rude girl Rihanna is trend-setter, but let’s not copy this one girls,” bemoaned another. But few British newspapers and their online counterparts went as far as to boycott the image and not publish it at all, despite seemingly taking the ‘moral high ground’. Whether they agree with the shimmering statement or not, Rihanna succeeded in shocking everyone – which is probably exactly what she wanted. Rihanna in her Adam Selman dress, covered in 216,000 Swarovski crystals What she didn’t want to do is what the fashion world expected, which was to dress in an understated, innocuous, unthreateningly sexy way so popular with Victoria’s Secret models and Playboy bunnies. Instead, the singer attended the CFDA Awards on Monday 2 June – during which she collected the coveted Style Icon award  –  wearing a part Josephine Baker, part sphinx sheer dress, her modesty covered by a nude coloured thong. She accessorised with a white fur stole, smoking eyes, glittering gloves and a turban that referenced the style of glamorous Twenties flapper girls.

Rihanna at the CFDAs last night The fearless and brave move is largely characteristic of the star, who is unapologetically and refreshingly herself. She smokes cannabis publicly, dances like a serpent and doesn’t believe in the concept of layering clothing – it seems that excess fabric so often gets in the way for her. Unlike many of her peers (she is just 26), she truly appears not to care what anyone thinks. As anyone who travelled on the infamous 777 tour in November 2012 can attest, she is a woman completely in control of her ship. And she couldn’t care less how long you’ve been waiting on that plane for her or indeed whether or not her bare nipples cause offence. She’s too busy having fun. Even Patti Smith – a rock ‘n’ roll poet who paved the way for women in music – is a fan, describing her recent track Stay as “the 2013 song of the year”. “I love that song,“ she told The Independent in March. “I didn’t know much about it, but I found it so touching, so beautiful and it didn’t bother me that in her music video she sung it naked in the bathtub. I thought it was beautiful.” However, perhaps society is not quite ready for such an overt display of a woman’s sexuality. The evidence is clear: aside from the disapproving reactions that her CFDAs dress attracted in the media yesterday, this morning her Rogue fragrance advert was deemed “inappropriate for children” after the Advertising Standards Association deemed it too “sexually suggestive”.

The Rihanna Rogue advert that’s been deemed inappropriate by children The picture depicted her sitting on the floor topless (although her bare chest was not on display) with her legs raised up against a large bottle of her perfume. The ASA admitted that her facial expression was one “of defiance rather than vulnerability”, but gave the advert “a placement restriction” for being “provocative”. The issue of public censorship surrounding women’s nude bodies has been raging for the past few weeks. Rihanna recently deleted her Instagram account, after the social network censored a topless picture shot for a French magazine. Grace Coddington was next to bear the brunt of the network’s conservative nudity restrictions. The 73-year-old US Vogue creative director was temporarily banned after sharing a line drawing of herself topless. The most recent and arguably most documented ban was of Scout Willis’ account and her ensuing topless protest. The 22-year-old daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis was prohibited from using the channel after posting a photograph of a jumper that featured an image of two topless women.

One of the images Scout Willis shared as part of topless protest She took action by strolling the streets bare-chested of New York to demonstrate how women are allowed to go nude in the city, but not on Instagram, also launching the hashtag #FreeTheNipple. Unsurprisingly, Rihanna tweeted her support. “I am not trying to argue for mandatory toplessness, or even bralessness,” Willis wrote in a blog post for XOJane. “What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body — and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her. No woman should be made to feel ashamed of her body.”

It seems that, in the eyes of the media, a woman can be too confident with her body. Too much of an audacious display of female sexuality is not yet a welcome occurrence; apparently, it makes many feel uncomfortable and intimidated. And it’s still too easily and patronisingly pinpointed as to “wanting to please the boys” – a condescending and simplistic approach to women who want to look “sexy” because it’s just one of the many things that can make them feel powerful and strong. So here’s to Rihanna and her audacious nearly-nude dress – a fearless, powerful and fantastically seductive feminist statement that the pop world should be proud of, not scared of.

Maya Angelou dies aged 86

Maya Angelou, one of the most talented poets of our time, has died today aged 86. I don’t normally like to make eulogies or memoirs public, but I’m just so shocked by this.

For many of us, her works were part of our school curricula. Her poetry inspired generations of writers and aspiring artists and her words couldn’t help but move you.

I was in 9th grade when I read ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, on the recommendation of one of my favourite teachers. Angelou’s work changed the way I appreciated literature, the way I understood the struggle of other people and my views on feminism. We’ve all come across a Maya Angelou quote (or ten) in our lives and for many of us, she remains one of the literary greats.

She’s worked in almost every profession imaginable for a woman of her time and race. She’s travelled the world and championed the causes of those at the fringes of society. She’s been a journalist, an academic, a poet, an advocate – even a prostitute, if certain stories are to be believed!

Since high school, I’ve had one of her quotes up on my wall and referred to it often as motivation. It’s now in a journal of illustrations and quotes which I keep for inspiration.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

She changed the way I looked at my place in society as a woman and alongside the work of Wangari Maathai, inspired me to look at the world through a special kind of lens and do what I could to change the way we treat those less fortunate, without patronising or condescending.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

She was fearless and unapologetic for her style, opinions and personality and I admired that so much.

She’s experienced unimaginable pain but also achieved great personal and professional successes. She lost her mother and her brother and almost lost her grandson. She’s won a Pulitzer and three Grammys. She always met criticism head-on and never backed down – you can’t imagine how inspiring that is for a teenager trying to build her identity!

Facebook has already started filling up with RIPs, photographs and thoughts. I thought I would blog about it because even though it’s not like the sort of posts you normally get from me, Maya Angelou inspired me. I drew from her work when I felt socially isolated in high school; when I needed a boost of courage to take on a challenge I wouldn’t otherwise accept; whenever I needed to feel inspired and in awe.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

8 Women who made the World a better place in 2014 (Reblog)

Happy International Women’s Day! It’s a day we celebrate the women and girls in our lives and also look to others around the world. Today in Budapest, I was out with my boyfriend and was amazed by the sheer number of flower vendors and florists which had just popped up over-night!

As Andrew quipped, the difference between love and lust can really be seen in places like this. We stopped at a florist where I was treated to a beautiful bunch of tulips and he saw a man staggering under the weight of what must have been 30 or 40 long-stemmed red roses. Whereas I was told “not to go too mad and buy the whole shop”!

DSC_0013

But I digress – I want to talk about International Women’s Day, not just my Saturday!

Quite often, news outlets and NGOs are quick to share links about the tragedies faced by girls around the world. Malala Yousafzai’s face and story is all over the internet today, alongside stories about the ongoing global struggle against child marriage, rape, torture and abuse.

But this year, I wanted to look at some positive examples of female empowerment and some cheerier stories.

I found this on the Huffington Post and have shamelessly stolen it. I find this is a much more life-affirming way to celebrate women. Let’s look at what has been achieved and what we have to proud of as a global society, because if we keep looking at all the terrible atrocities faced by women every day, we’ll never want to try fighting the fight. These are the sort of stories which keep me motivated to keep writing about women’s rights so I hope you get something out of it too!

1. Afghanistan’s first female police chief showed the world what courage looks like.

Col. Jamila Bayaz was appointed to run security in the Kabul’s District 1 in January, becoming the first woman in such a senior frontline role. The mother-of-5 is responsible for policing an area of the Afghan capital that includes the presidential palace, government ministries and the central bank. “This is a chance not just for me, but for the women of Afghanistan,” she told NBC. “I will not waste it. I will prove that we can handle this burden.”

Women in Afghanistan have faced a steep battle to reenter the workforce and public life after the end of the Taliban’s restrictive rule. They still face considerable obstacles including discrimination from an ultraconservative society and the threat of militant attacks. Afghan policewomen have been targeted by insurgents and several women in public office were assassinated in 2013, according to the Associated Press. Bayaz is undaunted: “I am ready to serve, I am not scared nor am I afraid,” she told AP.

jamila bayaz
Col. Jamila Bayaz talks on the phone at her office in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

2. Xiao Meili put a taboo subject back on the map.

Xiao Meili set off the remarkable journey in late 2013 to walk more than 1,200 miles between her home in China’s capital Beijing and the southern city Guangzhou to raise awareness of sexual abuse in the country. The 24-year-old woman told Time Magazine she hopes the unusual sight of a female backpacker on China’s roads will draw attention to how authorities handle abuse and will break the social stigma victims often face. At each town along the way, Meili and her supporters post letters to local officials urging them to investigate abuse allegations, screen teachers and improve sex education.

Meili’s journey has developed a popular following on social media and she asks women in each town to walk with her or offer her a couch for the night, according to Global Voices. “China’s traditional idea is that it is dangerous for females to travel alone outside. But conversely, so many sexual abuse cases take place in places we thought were safe like schools and buses,” she told China’s Global Times. “This is not an arduous walk. Each step represents a female protest at society.”

aziza yousef
Xiao Meili explains her “feminist walk” in a social media post. (Youku.com/screenshot)

3. Azizah Al-Yousef began a campaign to end Saudi Arabia’s oppressive male guardianship system.

Azizah al-Yousif has been a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia’s conservative establishment since she launched the October 26 Women’s Driving Campaign last year. In a bid to end the Kingdom’s ban on female drivers, women posted YouTube clips of themselves driving online. “We are sick and tired of waiting to be given our rights,” al-Yousif told CNN at the time. “It’s about time to take our rights.”

Now al-Yousif is pressuring authorities to end the country’s male guardianship system, which forces women to ask the permission of male relatives to travel, work, complete education, get medical treatment or a passport. The Saudi Gazette reports that together with a group of activists, al-Yousif sent a petition to the Kingdom’s Shura council to demand reform. “This petition renews our demands as women. We want our issues to be put on the top of the Council’s priority list,” she said.

saudi car
Screenshot of a video posted by the Saudi women driving campaign shows Azizah al-Yousif at the wheel. (YouTube/screenshot)

4. The Central African Republic’s interim president Catherine Samba-Panza gave a violence-stricken nation new hope.

Catherine Samba-Panza, a women’s rights activist and reconciliation advocate who is known in the Central African Republic as “mother courage,” was selected to lead the country in January amid devastating ethnic clashes that forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes. As CAR’s first female president, she pledged to lead the country away from the circle of bloodshed. “At the very heart of the people, I felt this desire to elect a woman who could bring peace and reconciliation,” Samba-Panza said of her presidency, according to The Guardian. She has a formidable task ahead of her. This week the UN warned of “religious cleansing” and immanent danger to civilians trapped amid the fighting, Reuters reported.

catherine sambapanza
President Catherine Samba-Panza sits in the parliament building before taking the oath of office in Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

5. Ukrainian pop icon Ruslana became a champion of the country’s protest movement.

Ruslana is one of Ukraine’s most famous pop singers and brought the country to victory at the EuroVision song contest in 2004. She is also a passionate social activist, so when protests against President Viktor Yanukovych erupted last November, Ruslana became a nightly fixture on stage at the protest camp in Kiev, according to Newsweek. “A public person, musician or artist should exercise their civic activism to be the voice of the people,” she told the magazine. The Washington Post reported that some of her performances at the EuroMaidan protest hub lasted up to 10 hours.

When the protest movement was met with brutal repression, eventually leading to Yanukovych’s downfall, Ruslana was devastated but defiant. “We no longer sing or dance, despite the severe cold. We understand that today the fate of the country [that has taken] several decades to come hangs in the balance. Instead of singing, we pray,” she wrote in an email to Newsweek in February. With Yankovych now in exile and tensions high as Russian troops flood Crimea, Ruslana called for the country to join together peacefully. “Ukrainians are strong enough to unite, we understand that propaganda is designed to divide us,” she told the BBC.

ruslana
Ruslana performs on an anti-government barricade in central Kiev on Feb. 10, 2014. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

6. Mehrezia Labidi helped enshrine gender equality in Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring constitution.

As vice-president of Tunisia’s constituent assembly, Mehrezia Labidi led the tumultuous debates over the country’s post-Arab Spring constitution. Labidi is the most senior female politician of the ruling Islamist part, Ennahda, and took a firm line for women’s rights throughout the debates, often to the disappointment of her own party. “It’s like giving birth: painful, but in the end everyone is happy when the child arrives,” she told Deutsche Welle.

The constitution that passed in January was celebrated as a breakthrough for women’s rights. Labidi helped push through key gender quality provisions by allying with secular politicians, the BBC explains. “I have always achieved everything I wanted myself. Sometimes I wonder whether men could compete with me,” she told the network.

tunisia laabidi
Mehrzia Laabidi speaks during a Tunisian National Constituent Assembly session in Tunis on Jan. 17, 2014. (FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

7. Lena Klimova gave Russian gay teens a voice online.

Just days before the Sochi Winter Olympics opened in February, young journalist Lena Klimova was charged under Russia’s controversial ban on “gay propaganda.” Authorities targeted Klimova because of her incredibly popular “Youth-404” website (404 designating “page not found”) where gay teens write about their struggles with homophobia in the country.

Faced with a stringent fine, Klimova was most concerned about Russian youth losing access to the forum, according to The Guardian. “If it will be closed, LGBT teenagers will lose the only place where they can openly speak about themselves and receive advice they need to live. It will be a catastrophe,” she wrote on Facebook. But with the world’s attention on Russia during the Olympics in Sochi the case was haltedand Klimova’s website was able to give a voice to outcast teenagers for at least a while longer.

lena
Lena Klimova pictured in a handout photo. (Elena Klimova)

8. Zainab Bangura pushed countries to recognize that sexual violence in conflict has to stop.

As the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Bangura has seen first-hand the devastating effect of rape used as a weapon of war. Bangura, who lived through the 1991-2002 civil war in her native Sierra Leone, told Reuters: “For me, one rape is too many.”

Since she took up the role in 2012, Bangura says she has seen “a political momentum that is unprecedented” to combat sexual violence in conflict, including a U.N. declaration in which 140 member states have committed to ending rape in conflict, Buzzfeed reported. In February, Bangura’s office struck another victory when the U.N. and African Union signed an agreement to prevent and respond to conflict-related violence in Africa.

zainab bangura
Zainab Bangura gives a press conference at the United Nations office in Nairobi on April 4, 2013. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)