Freedom of Expression for All Women, Everywhere?

Freedom of Expression for All Women, Everywhere?

This week, many of our brave sisters in Iran are risking their lives by standing in public without their mandatory – legislated – head covering. Yes, a woman not covering up is tantamount to a criminal activity, not just in Iran, but in other parts of the Middle East and Asia. Yes, this is 2018 and we’re still dealing with these barbaric and backward practices. Depressing, isn’t it?

But there’s something that depresses me even more. I have a hard time understanding why some Canadians and other Westerners – many who call themselves liberal and open, and bend over backward to be politically correct – vociferously defend face, head and even fully body coverings that are usually dictated by archaic traditions and customs where women are treated as second class commodities, with very strict rules and roles to follow.

Such women are usually told the coverings are for their “safety” – as twisted that logic is. This kind of sentiment is not just degrading to the women, but disrespectful to those men who are more than capable of controlling their impulses and live in society as normal, law-abiding citizens.

If this practice is so “noble” – as some purport it to be – then why is it only forced upon women? Why is this practice enforced in communities where women must sit in the back of religious institutions while the men sit at front? Is this what egalitarianism looks like?

Yes, there are some adult women who dress a certain way willingly, as a sign of their beliefs and faith – and to those women, I offer my respect for their freedom to express themselves as they wish.

But a majority, especially girls and young women, are coerced by their own misguided mothers, patriarchal fathers and brothers, as well as community and religious leaders, and told if they will be ostracized if they don’t comply. As we, humans, typically live in group environments and seek validation from our community, these young girls follow through, not wanting to be punished or be seen as not being dutiful.

Remember that young woman in Quebec who wanted to cover her full face in public institutions? She was never without her male guardian. Then, a journalist asked her if, just like she wants the freedom to cover up fully anywhere here in Canada, would she confer that same freedom of dress to her sisters in Iran and Saudi Arabia who are currently fighting this oppression enforced by legislation. Her answer? “No, they MUST cover up.”

The hypocrisy is deafening.

Yet no one raises their voice to defend this type of subjugation that comes from misogynistic practices common a thousand years ago. No one wants to offend these cultures. If we acted with the same mind-blowing apathy about other issues, we’d still have slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa.

For those who say “but it’s their culture,” I’d like to remind you that girls are human too, regardless of their culture, race or background. They have feelings and dreams, and desire freedom of speech, dress, movement and education just like any of us. Don’t take away their dignity by treating them like some alien race.

Your silence only thickens the age-old cultural veils behind which blatant human rights abuses hide. Your silence allows these backward practices to continue today. And that’s really a shame.

If you want to learn more about Iranian women’s fight for their rights, here is a great place to start: http://mystealthyfreedom.net/en/

EDIT – 1 February 2018

Some have asked why I wrote what I wrote here. Here’s why.
 
There’s a group of almost a million determined and brave women who have gathered under the banner My Stealthy Freedom and who are fighting for their basic rights and dignity in Iran. I’ve been quietly reading their stories for the past two years, feeling lucky that I have the opportunity to live in the free world.
 
Then, on Tuesday these women came out in force and asked on their forum whether we – those of us living in the West – care for women’s rights around the world. They asked if we even know what’s going on and asked why we’re so silent? That made me sit back and think.
 
I know many of us who look away and pretend nothing’s wrong, lest we offend another culture. Many have chided me for bringing international women’s issues up because that can be construed as “racist.” This mindset, I believe, only aids and abets the abusers and enables heinous crimes to carry on under our own watch. I certainly want no part in that, so I told these women that I’m a writer and that I will write.
 
I told them that what I’ll say will not be popular, but my feelings of discomfort or any concern for losing popularity are nothing compared to the human rights violations these women go through. So I wrote this to open everyone’s eyes. And I did so apologetically. Because I’d never want to get to the end of my life, knowing I remained a silent coward while others suffered.
 
If speaking up for women’s rights and for the most vulnerable population on earth makes me a racist, so be it. I will wear this badge proudly.
Time is always right to do right

Time is always right to do right

Every morning, I do my exercise routine at home listening to motivational talks from a Youtube playlist called Top Ten Rules, and it just happened that I clicked on Martin Luther King today – on his 89th birthday.

I write stories based on how young women around the world are mistreated by their own families and communities, and I realized as I listened to Mr. King that the struggles these women, and especially girls, face in these traditional cultures are no different to what African Americans faced during his time. Forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, suppression of freedoms of movement and of speech are just the tip of the iceberg. These practices are shockingly entrenched – yes, even in 2018.

Then I heard Mr. King say this: “We must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So time is always right to do right.”

I felt my chin lift a little higher and I stood a little straighter. Yes, we must not be too complacent, hoping one day these societies will modernize. We must never be too fearful to speak up for fear of offending other cultures. Human rights violations are human rights violations, regardless of where or when they occur.

As much as we’d like to think all traditions are sacred and cannot be criticized, we should never fear to speak up when we see atrocities, especially when the victims are girls, mere children.

“Time is always right to do right.”

The Immigration Question

The Immigration Question

Many of you are not going to like to hear this.

Immigration is not the answer to the world’s problems. It’s a band aid, feel good (for some) solution that does little to progress the planet as a whole. And I say that as an immigrant myself.

We must empower people within their own nations and force their leaders to value their own people. Having lived on four continents and travelled to countless places now, I’ve observed and experienced, time and time again, gut wrenching corruption, unbelievable nepotism, mass scale and at times legislated discrimination against women, entrenched abuse against the poor, the disabled, and LGBTQ community and other marginalized populations. These problems are rampant and chronic.

There are many countries where young girls are still subject to forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings—barbaric acts perpetrated and upheld by community and political leaders. You’d be surprised to know this happens even in our own backyards, within communities that quietly engage in these stone-age practices. These happen because we allow it to happen. These happen because we’re too afraid to offend “their culture,” and turn a blind eye to blatant human right violations.

Just like we rallied against apartheid, we must call abusers out even if it means losing trade or business opportunities or make us “politically incorrect”. We must hold foreign leaders and community leaders accountable to how they treat their own people and not reward them with charity, aid or business which only lines their own pockets, while the majority struggle to make a living.

It’s astounding to see the ruling families of some countries been driven around in luxury super sedans while right next to them are slums where their own people scrounge for food. It’s heart breaking, frustrating, maddening.

There’s something inherently misaligned when we’re solving some of the biggest science and technological problems and even considering becoming an inter-planetary species by populating Mars, while girls here on earth are still denied an education by their own families and children don’t have enough to eat everywhere.

We must stand up for what’s right and do so unapologetically. We must stop tolerating the intolerable.

I’m All in Now

I’m All in Now

There. I’ve gone and done it.

Against all advice and logic, and to the confusion and consternation of everyone around me, I bowed out of my corporate job on Monday. I will no longer be forced to travel on red-eyes, lead a bickering national team or track multi-millions of dollars which everyone wants to get their hands on. This also means that finally, I’m free of my migraines. What an absolute sense of relief. Thankfully, I’ve got so much vacation left (that I probably should have taken earlier), I still have a few months until my paycheck stops. After that, I’ll be relying on two years worth of savings. That’s it. The end of my runway.

The trigger for this move was a series of life-changing events on the personal front, including a sad divorce and a cancer scare, but if I really think of all this clearly, none of this happened by chance. These events merely woke me up from a stupor. This is but the culmination of more than two decades of hard work, frugal living and planning ahead. This is what I’ve been dreaming of and planning all along in the back of my mind, ever since I stepped out of high-school and into adulthood a long time ago.

More than anything right now, I’m simply grateful I’ve been able to have this experience, to say goodbye to that phase of my life and start this new and exciting one.

Last week, I received heartwarming and encouraging feedback from my beta readers who said they like my work, enjoyed my book and asked how they could join me in my mission to empower girls and young women around the world. Last night, I spoke with an entrepreneur incubator here in Vancouver and got advice on my business and financial plans. They actually think I should have jumped out earlier. 

There is only one road ahead of me now. My calling is calling, and the pull is strong. It’s high time to do the thing I want to do, the thing I dream to do. I want to leave a legacy when I die, one that says at the very least, she tried to leave this world a better place than when she found it.

For those who wonder, yes, I’m anxious about this decision. Yes, I’m nervous about the uncertain future. And yes, I smell the fear in between those euphoric moments when I wake up to a day that’s mine and my own to do what I’ve always dreamed of. But now my motto is: feel the fear and do it anyway.

There will be steep mountains to climb on this journey, and there will be high cliffs off of which I may roll, but that’s life. Whenever I fall, I plan to get back on my feet, dust myself and keep on walking. Because that’s what it will be like to live a life without regrets.

I’m all in now, and there’s no looking back.

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Why I do What I do

Why I do What I do

My stories are about girls from around the world kicking ass and beating evil men, while still enjoying the things girls love, from fashion to food to cute guys. And why not? Life’s not just about survival, but about growing and thriving and laughing and living, isn’t it?

I’ve lived in seven countries in four continents and traveled to countless more since I was a baby, so I write from my own experiences and observations. I write to entertain, but more importantly I write to empower girls, especially those who live in the darkest corners of our planet. These are sad places where a girl is born with few rights. If any. Their rights are taken away by archaic customs and traditions, by their own families and communities and in some cases even by law.

Did you know that in some parts of the world a little girl can be bartered in exchange for clemency when a male member of her family commits a crime? That little girl is “married” off to the other family only to be abused in horrific ways that if we truly knew how, it would keep us all awake at night for the rest of our lives. Hard to believe this is happening today, in the twenty first century, under our own watch, isn’t it?

Contrary to some beliefs however, girls aren’t disposable or useless or a burden. In contrast, girls are the greatest untapped resource on earth. The greatest untapped resource on earth.

Did you know:*

  • Women operate a majority of small farms and business in the developing world
  • Each extra year of a mother’s schooling cuts infant mortality by between 5 to 10%
  • When girls over 16 earn an income, they reinvest 90% in their families and communities, compared to men who invest only 30-40%
  • Every 1% increase in the proportion of women with secondary education boosts a country’s annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3% points
  • Picking just one country – if India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. Imagine

Did you also know:*

  • 38% of girls in developing countries are married before the age 18, with 15% of all girls married before 15. Yes, you read that right. Married before the age of 15 usually to men 20, 30 or more years older.
  • In a single year, an estimated 150 million girls are victims of sexual violence, and 50% of all the sexual assaults in the world are on girls under 15. These are our children.
  • The number 1 killer of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide is pregnancy & childbirth complications. These are our children having children.
  • Women and girls make up 80% of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across national borders annually with the majority trafficked for sexual exploitation
  • 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation, also called cutting. Most go through this between infancy and 15 years old
  • In sub‐Saharan Africa, girls aged 15–24 are eight times more likely than men to become HIV positive. Imagine being 15 and being HIV positive?
  • There are 65 million fewer girls than boys in primary school today. Girls’ primary school completion rates are below 50% in most poor countries because they’re pulled out by parents for domestic work or to be married off
  • More girls under 16 years old are in domestic service than in any other type of work

Heart breaking statistics.

Let’s not forget behind all these numbers are real live girls with blood pumping in their veins, bright eyes that look up to the skies in wonder and hearts filled with feelings, wishes and dreams. They are just like how you and I were when we were little. But as you can see here, so many girls have their hearts and bones broken on a regular basis around the world.

This horrifies me. And it should you too. It’s for all these reasons I write. And also because I was a little girl once and know what it’s like to grow up in this world as one.

I have heard that feminism is a dirty word now, one that is isolating and choleric. I fervently believe in the equality of all  – women, men, boys, girls, gay, straight, transgender, bi, black, white and everything in between. But, if even one girl is forced to drop out of school and marry a man she’s never met with no one uttering a word in her defence, then I say feminism is not dead. If even one little girl is taken to the back shed to have her clitoris cut while she screams for mercy, then I say feminism is not dead. If even one young woman is robbed of her identify and restricted in her movements by being forced to cover up for so-called safety and ‘honour,’ then feminism is not dead. When those of us sitting in the comfort of our living rooms whisper to one another “Oh, but it’s racist to talk about it. We must not offend,” and pussy foot around serious human rights violations, then I say feminism is not dead.

As long as we, in the name of misguided multiculturalism and perverted political correctness, allow honour killings, forced marriages, wife beatings and female genital mutilation, to continue, then, I say feminism cannot die. When so many today defend such vile practices as “cultural, “part of a heritage,” or “a tradition,” then no, feminism cannot die. There is still much work to be done.

For those who still wonder why we must care, I have a simple poem for you. A poem I hold dear to my heart.

 

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Martin Niemöller, German Anti-Nazi Activist

Regardless of where you identify yourself in the political spectrum and whether you agree with any of the organisations mentioned in this poem or not, one thing holds true. The day we stop fighting for what’s right, is the day we give up on ourselves and on humanity.

 

My Message

My message to all the vulnerable little girls everywhere is to stay strong, fight for your rights, find ways that allow you to learn and become who you truly dream of becoming. With all the advances in technology and reach of information these days, there has never been a better time to be bold and grab onto your dreams. So yes, you too can grow from the little acorns you are now, to magnificent, giant oak trees.

Anything is possible, my little sisters.

I also want to you know you’re not alone in your endeavor to claim your rightful place as human beings, to be respected and valued like any other. We will change this world together. We will make the world aware, and we will make them care.

And if no one else will, I promise you, you’ll find me standing with you, always.

 

*Sources: www.girlrising.com  / www.icrw.org  / www.allgirlsallowed.org / www.planusa.org

Dreaming of Kilimanjaro

Dreaming of Kilimanjaro

“If I have to swim across the sea to get what I want, I will learn how to swim, then I’ll swim it. If I have to climb the highest mountain to get what I want, I will learn how to climb, then I’ll climb it. If I have to dive the deepest ocean to get what I want, I will learn how to dive, then I’ll dive it. If I get disappointed because things did not appear as I wanted, I will learn how to accept it, then I’ll try to accept it. At least now I have experienced how to swim, to climb and to dive and also how to accept everything that came from my effort. Then, I will try again to do better.”
Johni Pangalila

 

 

I made a promise to myself a long time ago.

I promised myself I’d climb Mount Kilimanjaro before I turn 50. I have quite a ways to go before my deadline looms, but I’ve decided to start planning now, and bring to life this dream I’ve had since growing up in the long shadow of this mountain. Africa is the continent that held me as a child, the place I grew from toddler to teen, so this voyage will be in some way a return home.

But I don’t want to climb just to climb. And I don’t want to climb to satisfy a curiosity, or conquer something, or to prove myself to the world.  I want to climb for one reason and one reason alone. I want to climb for all the little girls everywhere on our planet earth, whether they live in the slums of Asia, the villages of Africa, the favelas of South America or the inner cities of America. These young girls are in my mind every day as I write my stories and my novels. And every day, I wonder how many of them have stood up for their right to learn, their right to play, and to not have their childhoods robbed through forced marriage, modern slavery, bondage, rape or worse. I long to find a way to help them, support them, and inspire them to create a life of their own making, one that is filled with security, health, and happiness as they define it.

Little girls matter to this world, more than any of us realise. To them I say, Rise up. Be brave. Stand strong. They will be what will propel me every step of the way up.

I will be video-documenting this journey from preparation to finish and plan to share with you every step of the way. I also want to share the stories of those brave souls who plan to join me, especially women of all ages who have overcome adversities to create their own destinies. In the coming year, I’ll be adding a blog about each climber who decides to join me on this epic journey, share their story and showcase their talents whether it be in art, music, writing, science, technology, education, design, business or more. My hope is for at least one little girl to view a video or read the story and whisper to herself ‘If she can do that, then so can I.’

But this is not going to be a super solemn or serious journey. It will be a fun one too. Did you know that most Kilimanjaro porters start each day with a Swahili song and a dance, inviting climbers to join them? What a wonderful way to say good morning. So who’d like to join me and sing and dance all the way to the top in January 2018?

To whet your appetite, here’s a documentary of the mountain and the surrounding park.  Enjoy!

 

Fast Facts:

  1. Mount Kilimanjaro which lies along the border of Tanzania and Kenya, is a giant snow-capped volcano formed a million years ago when lava spilled from the Rift Valley zone.
  2. At 19,341 feet above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
  3. There are three volcanic cones on the mountain: the extinct Mawenzi at 16,893 feet, the extinct Shira 13,000 feet and the dormant Kibo at 19,341 feet which could erupt at any time. The last major eruption was 360,000 years ago and the most recent activity was 200 years ago, so I’m not too worried.
  4. The youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro was Jordan Romero of California, USA who climbed in 2006 at 10 years of age.
  5. The oldest man and oldest woman to climb are Martin and Esther Kafer from Vancouver, Canada, who achieved their feat in 2012, aged 85 and 84 respectively.
  6. Anne-Marie Flammersfeld, a 37-year-old German, was the fastest woman to climb the mountain and broke the record at 8 hours and 32 minutes.
  7. Bernard Goosen scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007, taking six days in his wheelchair.
  8. Kyle Maynard, a true and inspiring hero in every way, the first quadruple amputee to ascent unassisted to the top of Kilimanjaro in 2012. Click here to watch this incredible video of his climb: Kyle Maynard

 

Live your life as you would climb a mountain. Climb steadily, slowly and surely. Every so often glance at the peak. Enjoy the scenery at every vantage point on the way up. Be prepared for all circumstances. Know that there is more than one way to the top. The magnificent view from the top is well worth the determination, perseverance and effort of the journey.

Harold B. Melchart