Monday, 27 June 2016

What do we do now?

After the UK referendum on EU membership last week returned a 'leave' vote I, along with so many of my friends were lost for what to do now. Have thought about options over the weekend and heard suggestions, here is a list of possible actions I've collated for you to consider:
  1. Don't be a bystander. There has always been racist violence in this country, it's not suddenly new since the vote, so this is advice forever and always - don't stand by when people use words or actions are used to hurt others. People of colour and those of other nationalities are being increasingly targeted after the rhetoric of the some referendum campaign factions, and for those who are targeted its a daily occurrence, they have to challenge these assaults all the time. If you see or hear words or actions being used, whether on the internet, in the street, in school, the workplace or anywhere, do not let them go unchallenged. Black lives matter, refugee lives matter, immigrant lives matter. Challenge those using hate speak, or if intervening isn't safe, report it to an appropriate authority. This article from the Guardian suggests some ways to respond to racism. 
  2. Challenge Yourself. It's easy to think that we are completely unbiased, but the things we say and do can be hurtful to others, particularly people of colour or those whose culture or beliefs are different to our own, even if we don't mean it to be. Reflect on what you say or do, and if you realise something you've said is hateful - apologize or edit or delete the post if it's online. 
  3. Educate others. If you work with young people lots of organisations have made packs of activities to help those you work with to understand and challenge racism. Such as Show Racism the Red Card, this from the Red Cross, resources from UKYP linked to their 'Don't Hate, Educate' campaign and RacismNoWay. There is also this list of resources about refugees and asylum seekers on the Refugee Week website, and this one from the Guardian(Send me a comment if you know of similar resources for youth leaders or to be used in the workplace and I'll add them to this section.) I have selected a few of these activities to make a simple 1 hour session plan that you can just print and use - all you need is pens, paper and a few sweets - download here
  4. Get/Stay Informed. Over the past few weeks and months it's been hard to separate the facts from the exaggerations and outright lies. Many of us don't know what sources we can trust. So try to read views from multiple different places to be as informed as possible about the way forward and what's at stake. This article from the BBC gives an introduction to what happens now with an illustration of the complicated process of negotiations, and this one from the Guardian links to sources of impartial information on Europe. It's tempting to use social media to hop from one emotion stirring headline to the next, but try to find the sources and facts behind them. 
  5. Write to your MP and MEP or go to their surgery. The referendum was advisory, how we go forward now is in the hands of our elected representatives. Talk to them and tell them what the future relationship you want with Europe looks like. You can find their details at:
  6. Join a political party. This referendum has inspired more of us to talk about politics, keep that up by joining a party and influencing who stays/becomes their leader and their future policies. Search online for the party's website to find out how. 
Whichever way you voted last week, whichever political party you support, get involved and take action.

Last month I was proud to take part in the European Youth Event in Strasbourg and saw firsthand how we can learn so much and gain so much from working together across cultures, with diverse friends and colleagues, to make change. This is my vision for the future and I hope you will help to make it happen.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

New school of thought- when it comes to education, girls deserve better!

This blog was written for Chat for Change and was first published on March 5, 2016.

At an international scale girls and women have faced many gender-based barriers to being in school and getting an education. In some places there are barriers that affect boys in particular (such as recruitment to fight in war and conflicts) and trans* and non-binary people face extreme barriers to education based on their gender identity. However, it is the month of International Women’s Day and so this blog is going to focus on those which disproportionately affect girls.

A lot of research has been done all over the world to try and identify why there were a lot less girls in school that boys and there were found to be a lot of factors involved. There were cultural norms which parents or girls themselves enforce. Many thought that an education wasn’t needed or a waste of money for girls and there are stereotypes about what are ‘girls-subjects’ and what are ‘boys-subjects’ in most countries. Even in the UK and Australia, where we should have equal access to education regardless of gender, these stereotypes influence what people study, the careers they have access to afterwards and the relative value we place on those different jobs – in pay and in prestige. Work to break down these cultural norms has to be sensitive – it might be scholarships specifically for girls so the parents can see an immediate financial benefit to them being in school rather than at work, or wider campaigns such as those about women in STEM subjects that are now visible across many countries.

Then there are other barriers that girls face. Physical provision of facilities can often be a problem – particularly toilets. These might not be provided at all, or if they are, not have the necessary privacy or resources that girls need once they start getting their period each month. If you can’t go to school when you have your period then you end up missing out on up to a quarter of your education and soon fall behind, many then drop out completely as adolescents. Several organisations have investigated different ways to sort this problem by supporting the creation of toilets at school buildings and finding ways to increase girls access to sanitary products. This story gives one such example from India.

The third barrier I want to talk about is gender based violence and this is a major deterrent to girls getting an education. This might be harassment from other students or even from teachers. A survey Girlguiding did in the UK revealed that 70% of girls aged 13 and over had experience sexual harassment at school – whilst that might not have meant those girls dropped out of school completely, it is going to have a tremendous effect on the education they are able to receive. There are increasingly campaigns highlighting important concepts such as consent, but to really tackle this problem I think every country needs to invest in comprehensive sexuality education programmes that are a compulsory part of the curriculum. Students shouldn’t be able to opt out of learning about how they should respect their fellow human beings. In the UK repeated calls for this to happen have been rejected by the government, but their campaigning continues and many organisations are developing and refining programmes to provide this kind of education to as many young people as possible.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the barriers girls and women face in accessing education, but offers some food for thought. The previous Millennium Development Goals focused on just getting an equal amount of boys and girls through primary school. The new Sustainable Development Goals go much further – wanting everybody, regardless of gender, to have access to high quality education from early years through to tertiary institutions. It also calls on the world to “Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all” – another step that will address some of these barriers faced by girls. By working together to achieve these global goals by 2030 we can help girls and women to get the education they deserve.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Education Partnership For Global Development

This blog was first written for 'Chat for Change':

The provision of universal education, regardless of gender, is one of the most important Sustainable Development Goals – in itself and as a catalyst for change in the other areas. Likewise is the need for partnership working and achieving peaceful societies. So when we bring together these three ideas education, partnerships and peace we hit upon a very strong tool to enable us to achieve the SDG targets.

One such partnership is the ‘World’s Largest Lesson’ – founded by 10 organisations and with many more contributing material. On their website you can find all the materials you might need to plan a lesson for your class at school or run a workshop with you guide or scout unit. There’s a animation film, comic book and a copy of the goals written for children and young people too. Take a look at the resources and see how you could use them to spread the message of the SDGs with your group or peers.

Another initiative that partners with adults and young people all over the world to take action on the issue encapsulated in the SDGs is ‘A World at School’. They particularly work with youth ambassadors and faith based groups to spread the message of the importance of education. Kolleen Bouchane, Policy and Advocacy Director for ‘A World at School’ said: "Education has a unique power to catalyse gains in other areas. Very few, if any, health or economic interventions will be sustainable without gains in education.” This article on their website gives a great explanation of how education can help us achieve all the SDGS.

Finally this month, I want to leave you with this video which outlines how education is essential to achieving other areas of sustainable development.

The SDGs and Me!

This blog was written for and first published on 'Chat for Change':

Education played a critical role in getting me involved in the SDGs and prior to that the MDGs. I first heard about the concept of international development in my secondary school Geography class, and we went on to specifically discuss the MDGS. It came up again at university where I took Development Geography modules. Both these times it seemed distant, a big thing decided upon and acted upon by countries and huge NGOs to help people in other countries. Something that I would only be involved in if I worked for government or a development NGO long after I graduated.

It was until I attend the Young Women’s World Forum in 2010 that I realised I was responsible for making these goals happen. As an international event organised by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, there were young women from nearly 100 countries in attendance. We took part in sessions looking at each of the goals and it was a discussion on gender equality that really struck a chord with me. In the UK, I had always seen the goals positioned as this lovely development target to improve other people’s countries, mainly in the Global South. Through the education I gained at this event I saw how others saw the goals as relevant to their own lives, they owned them and worked to make them a reality. So when I heard that the UK doesn’t meet one of the targets – equal representation of women in parliament – I realised that we aren’t a pinnacle of development to aspire towards, we need to develop too and I can help make that happen!

That event inspired me and I wanted to make gender equality a reality. I set up a project in the UK and ran events, exhibitions and created an activity pack all around achieving gender equality. I also was fortunate to be selected for a number of WAGGGS delegations to subsequent United Nations events where I was honoured to be able to advocate for the visions of girls around the world to be recognised in the next international development targets – the SDGs.

For me, I look at the SDGs and see it as a global roadmap that we drew together, a map to a better world, and I feel particular ownership for the areas I, along with hundreds and thousands of others called to be part of it – ending gender based violence, ensuring we can all get an education, ending gender inequalities, working together with civil society all over the world to make it happen! This isn’t a document ONLY decided upon and actioned by those with a lot of resources to hand, it should be owned and guide action by us all, the world over, in our own communities and in partnership with others. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Concerning Proposed Changes to Student Visas

I have not blogged much about this, but it is something that angers me greatly and affects me personally. The direction that UK immigration policy has been moving in the past few years is unjust, xenophobic and damaging to the vibrancy and diversity of the country. Now there are further proposed changes to student visas and this is a move that will benefit nobody. You can read about these changes here.

This prompted me to write to both my MP and the MP of a friend of mine who would be drastically effected by the proposals, specifically about the move to prohibit part-time working and force non-EU students to leave as soon as their course ends. I have copied what I wrote to them below adapted to be used by anybody, and I ask you to also use some or all of what I have written to send a message to your own MP. You can find your MP here.


Dear Madam/Sir,

I am writing to you to voice my concern regarding the proposed changes to student visas for those outside of the EU and the implications this will have.

There is a PhD student at the University of York and is originally from the USA. His thesis investigates the royal progresses of Queen Elizabeth I and through his hard work examining archive materials he has made unique historical discoveries about this period of British history. He is part way through his research, yet already knows that his heart belongs to the UK and this is where he would like to remain and work once he has completed his PhD. He is also a superb teaching, inspiring undergraduates at York as to the value and pleasure to be gained from History!

Yet this is all put in jeopardy by the proposed measures. Teaching is a vital part of the PhD process - it trains the educators of the future, its a vital career skill and one that helps to disseminate innovative research findings to new audiences. By not letting non-EU students undertake paid employment during their studies you would deprive them of this vital career skill, and a vital mechanism by which they can earn enough money to live on in order to continue research that benefits the UK - culturally and economically. Nobody benefits from such legislation.

Insisting that non-EU students leave at the end of their course also a ludicrous measure. For one, when do you deem the end of a PhD students course? It is not a clean cut process - there is a hand-in, the Viva defence and the process of tidying up any research we might be undertaking in partnership with others. By essentially deporting and then allowing re-entry once a suitable job has been found will only harm your immigration statistic too, surely? But also, you are insisting that having been in the UK for over 4 years, that in that time a student will not have made the UK their home. Being in the country where one has developed years worth of personal and professional ties is often essential to successfully building a career in academia, especially building upon existing research. Surely having cultivated a world-leading researcher in their field, the UK would want to benefit from and support their ongoing career?

Within universities across the country, a significant proportion of the staff and students come from overseas originally. They bring with them different perspectives, different experiences and wealth of knowledge that makes the UK research environment so rich.

I believe that these proposed immigration policies will make the UK a less appealing place for immigrants - but your party seem to have missed the point. It will make the UK a less appealing place for the most brilliant and resourceful people in the world to undertake innovative research and education. Please do not play to the xenophobic rhetoric. Nobody benefits from such legislation. 

Yours sincerely,

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

This post was written in my capacity as Gender Ambassador for Chat for Change. Check out their website for lots of other amazing youth bloggers chatting about gander equality this month!

“Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” - a famous quote, often attributed to Hilary Clinton, but widely used by many to highlight the need to recognise women as equal to men.

Next week sees the start of an event at the United Nations, the Commission on the Status of Women, which specifically seeks to examine how the rights of women are being assured around the world. The event will bring together a record number of government officials and civil society organisations this year as it also marks the 20th anniversary of a landmark conference held in 1995 in Beijing. Globally, however, the past few years have seen countries want to regress on the promises made at these previous events. The rights of women and girls have come under threat.

Women, and girls in particular, are often seen as a group who can be politically ignored. In some countries the face restrictions on their ability to vote. In the vast majority of countries there are fewer women members of parliament than men. Men’s concerns are societal issues and “women’s issues” are relegated to a niche area of policy. We should not be marginalised – women make up around 50% of the population and the specific challenges facing us across our lifetime deserve due attention in local, national and international policies.

This year, 2015, presents us with several turning points in which we can accept the current situation or advocate for the rights of all human beings to be assured no matter their gender or where they are born. With a summit to present the next international development agenda in September and a major climate change summit later in the year, the future of the planet for decades to come will be shaped in the next 12 months.

With International Women’s Day coming up on the 8th March, there is no better time to add your voice to the call for gender equality. Take to twitter to state #WomensRightsAreHumanRights this Sunday (or everyday for that matter). Tag your tweet to #CSW59 to share your thoughts with those in New York next week. Search for your countries UN Mission in New York and email them your concerns. But most importantly, spread the message in your own community. Tell your friends and family that you believe in gender equality and make it a reality through you own life too!

You can download a mini-zine featuring the key points to raise to protect the rights of girls in the future international development agenda here. This can be printed on A4 paper, a cut made along the bold grey line in the middle of the page and then folded into a miniature magazine.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Social Justice – Taking Action on Gender Equality

This blog was written for Chat For Change on the subject of social justice. Visit this platform and get chatting yourself to discuss the importance of human rights to young people!

The difference between “Social Justice Issues” and other “Social Issues” is the idea that we have a moral duty to address an issue of social justice.

A social issue may be specific to a place and have negative consequences, but there are other influencing factors as to whether it should be addressed or not. For example perhaps the idea of graffiti in a neighbourhood, some people will think it is a menace but others will call it art. In contrast social justice issues are often connected to human rights. A social justice issue might be the lack of access to something that is considered a “right” and is often connected with the idea of equity.

This is why gender inequality is often talked about as a social justice issue – because it is about people being treated differently and having different access to their rights based on their gender. Gender inequality is not just one thing and is made up of lots of other social justice issues – the discrimination against women in being allowed to own property, discrimination based on gender when moving from one country to another, violence against a person based on their gender, and many more.

It is this last issue, gender based violence, that I want to highlight as one we should talk more about. This type of violence comes in many different forms – intimate partner or domestic violence (which takes place within relationships or families), sexual violence, genital cutting, early and forced marriage. These are often very sensitive topics. They are connected with a lot of emotions for survivors of violence. And our culture often says that we should not speak about them in public as they are private matters.

However, if we do not speak about them, then these injustices will continue to happen. It is a difficult conversation to start and many adults do not think these are topics to discuss with young people. But there are startling statistics about how many young people have been subject to violence based on their gender, be that male, female or another gender identity. It is too late to wait to have those conversations as adults – we need to create safe spaces to discuss these subjects with all young people so that they are empowered to address violence amongst their peer groups and prevent it from happening.

It is an issue of social justice, everyone has a right to a life free from violence, and as such we have a duty to address it. What programmes have you come across that work towards achieving gender equality and ending gender based violence?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

It’s Pointless for Girlguiding to Support No More Page 3

This morning, I walked through Sheffield City Centre and was met by two poster boards each showing a woman in her swimming costume. It made me happy. They were billboards advertising the “This Girl Can” campaign and I’m looking forward to a chance to get back in the pool this weekend.

But it wasn’t until I saw Twitter that I felt the need to blog – the reports of the end of near naked women in The Sun newspaper were premature. Or rather, by the fact it was The Times (owned by the same corporation as The Sun) that announced the demise of the feature it was actually a malicious and misogynistic hoax. Printing a naked woman in The Sun today, to me, has just made it clear how much the editors, owners and decision makers at that paper must hate women, how threatened they felt by women celebrating the tiny victory that was the covering up of breasts on a feature that still aimed to objectify women.

One article in the New Statesman suggested that it was a mistake for the campaign to be asking so nicely for what it wants, but actually it’s about what kind of society we want to create. No More Page 3 is not about taking away one picture from one newspaper – that is the symbolism. It’s about creating a society where young women feel valued and respected, where they can live free from the fear of sexual assault, and where we have a media that is free to say what it wants but chooses not to contribute to creating the systemic inequalities that prevent us from achieving that society we want.

I have to admit that when I first read the news this morning I thought – how to we get the people behind The Sun to listen? Do we play to the economics? Do we boycott – though arguably those of us who have a problem with Page 3 already don’t buy it! Do we need direct action? But we don’t need more cultural violence and focusing on economics just supports the idea that money does equal power.

Then I was thinking that, actually, it’s pretty pointless for Girlguiding to support No More Page 3 (bear with me feminists). 88% of Senior Section members polled voted for the organisation to put its weight behind the campaign – but that’s a bunch of people who The Sun editors probably believe are predominantly white, middle class, 16-25 year old women (we can have the debate about the real demographic profile of Girlguiding sometime else – the media don’t work with facts, they work with assumptions). They’re not exactly, and I am returning partially to the economic argument, the prime Sun purchasing audience are they?

Yes I want to teach other young women that our opinions matter, that they are powerful and can affect change. They are, but maybe not in the way we think.

When you look at the list of organisations signed up to support the No More Page 3 campaign, they mostly focus on girls and women's issues, youth issues, related to education, and many perceived as middle class domains. Nearly 60% of The Sun readers are over 45 years old. 60% of them are men. Over 50% of the readership are men categorised as belonging to social classes ‘CDE’ – and they definitely weren’t in the 88% of 16-25 year old Girlguiding members.

The Sun is a corporation, it doesn’t have morals, it serves the needs of its shareholders to earn money. We can’t make a for-profit newspaper take any action other than that which serves its economic interests. But it is run by people, probably a lot of men, but there will be women in their lives too. We want to end of Page 3 to come about because women are valued and it will come to an end when those people who run and control The Sun do just that.

I say that it is pointless for Girlguiding to support the No More Page 3 campaign, because they currently do so surrounded by their peers – organisations that by their nature value young women already. Yes, we should continue to support and promote the petition. Yes, we should continue to promote the value of participation in peaceful protest and democratic mechanisms. But we need to wake up to the fact that the only way the Page 3 nudity will truly be gone for good is when everybody who prints, edits, buys and looks at it understands why it needs to go. Girlguiding supports girls and young women to develop their full potential, to become confident individuals who will change the lives of those around them – this more than petition signing will contribute to the end of Page 3 nudity.

My proposal. Back to those “This Girl Can” posters. We want societal change, we want positive images of young women that celebrate them, not objectify them, we need to make that change. Let’s put “The Alternative Page Three” everywhere; let’s get organisations and individuals who might even have supported Page 3 to realise how it benefits them to value young women; let’s encourage those dissatisfied with our current media portrayals to write, to take their own photographs, to take over and create their own media outlets; let’s work together to create a culture of respect, a culture of consent and a society that cares about all its members.

So yes, sign the petition, but don’t just do that. Value the women in your life and do everything in your power to make sure everyone else values them too. Because they are awesome and deserve respect.

Today the people behind The Sun disrespected them. What are you going to do about that?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Rethinking (Dis)ability

This post was originally written for Chat for Change.

What is a disability? The use of this word is charged with social, political, environmental and emotional meaning. How I am using it in this blog post is to reflect a characteristic of a person which is not catered for generally by society and thus results in barriers to different forms of participation.
Often people living with disabilities are depicted purely through the iconography of somebody in a wheelchair, leaving out the needs of everybody who might be disabled by society in a different way. 

A person passing me in the street would rarely categorise me as having a ‘disability’ – however my varying levels of ability that classify me as having dyslexia and dyspraxia mean I use a number of additional tools to undertake certain written and reading activities. The problem is the same as for wheelchair uses, those with a hearing impairment or with a visual impairment – society sets things out in a certain expected way, such as steps up to a shop or library, and a disability is something which requires a person to need an additional tool to enable them the access the same facility or service, such as a ramp or lift.

Having a disability is often stigmatised and as such creates inequalities in access to employment, education, health care, housing services. People living with disabilities are often discriminated against and when this is combined with gender inequalities it can create a double level of discrimination against girls and women living with disabilities. If girls are less likely to complete primary or secondary education in many countries, then where there is another barrier which prevents access to education, such as a disability, girls will be particularly affected.

If we think about it, over the course of our lifetime each of us has differing capabilities and differing additional needs at various stages. I would argue that the nearly everybody in the world would benefit from thinking more about accessibility in all that we do at some time or other.

When we plan our facilities, services and programmes we need to think through as many scenarios as possible to help us cater for the diversity of potential users – but we will never be able to anticipate every need, and that is why it is also important to be adaptable. When we come to realise a barrier to somebody’s access and participation, we need to be willing to speak out, find solutions and make change happen!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Toilets - A Gendered Issue

When I was 17, I spent five weeks in Ghana on a volunteering project. Whilst there I taught English in the local school and worked with a local NGO (funded by WaterAid) to build toilets for families. Whilst now I am critical of the usefulness of having British teenagers mix concrete, dig holes and build walls when local people could have been learning these skills and possibly even been employed to do so,  I quickly realised the value of the project as a whole. 

You don't have to search far to find the dangers of lack of access to adequate sanitation. The WHO estimates that almost 800,000 child deaths a year are caused by diarrhoea - that's about 1 in 9 worldwide. Open defacation spreads disease and contaminates water supplies amongst the most vulnerable populations. 

Then there are the specific threats that a lack of access to a toilet creates for women and girls in particular. Most people will have heard the reports of two girls in India who were raped and murdered when they left their home to go to the toilet in nearby fields. Attacks like these are all to common place as 1 in 3 women around the world don't have access to a place to safely go to the loo! Yes, when talking about violence against women and girls we need to tackle the reasons why violence happens with the people who are committing these acts, but in this case we could do so much by ensuring everybody has access to adequate sanitation facilities.

Girls and women also face challenges on how to deal with their periods when they have limited access to private sanitary facilities. Once she has started her period a girl will regularly miss school if she doesn't have access to suitable toilets whilst there - estimates vary between 6 weeks and 2 months of each year, that's a lot of education to be missing! There are critical issues to be addressed in providing facilities, but also in providing access to materials that can keep a young woman clean and healthy during her period without unsustainable economic or environmental consequences.

This week I read countless articles about innovative sanitation systems, each developed from specific local needs and circumstances. From the solar powered, self cleaning loos in India to the rickshaw port-a-loos across Africa and Asia and the use of readily available materials (bamboo among them) in any context. This is a challenge that we need to innovate our way out of and we can do that if we invest our time and resources in the right places.