Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Difficulties of Feminism

This post was written by Isabelle via UN Volunteering Service.

It’s August 2014. I’ve been a university graduate for over a month, and this rite of passage has triggered a tsunami of introspection and self-doubt in me. 

Among the questions that are washing over me is that one question that seems to have taken over recent discussions of society especially in the past couple of years: ‘How can I be a woman, in the face of such unyielding, incompliant adherence to the patriarchal norms of society?’

Malala Yousafzai
I’m sitting at home in London today, watching Jon Stewart’s 2013 interview with Malala Yousafzai, and I can only be awe-struck by how a 14-year-old, halfway across the world in a much more restrictive and less feminist-friendly society, could so calmly and determinedly stand her ground on the issue of women’s education, in the face of cold death pointing at her forehead.

In comparison with that scenario, speaking up for feminism in classrooms, in social situations, or at the family dinner now seems harmless and easy … right? Standing up for women’s rights to fairer pay, to education, to equal treatment in the law, in our society surely has much lower stakes than in such a society as the one where Malala was hunted down and shot!

Feminism was instilled in me at a young age because I regularly witnessed a couple who are close to my heart (read: my parents) struggle with the place of traditional gender roles in their marriage. But you’d think that if that were the case, I’d be much more outspoken and firm on the issues on a daily basis.

Over the past year, it’s become very trendy (and easy) for people on Tumblr - and the Internet in general - to fight for women, be snarky and sassy about the patriarchy. But, ‘in reality’, as I’ve observed, conversations with friends, acquaintances, family, co-workers aren’t quite as starkly supportive – ‘reality’ is still very much averse to feminism. When you hear a joke about women (‘haha rape, that’s so funny’), or even a joke or insult towards men that compares them to the female stereotype (‘take it like a REAL MAN’), and you want to stop them and call them out on their BS, it’s hard isn’t it? Something stops you? 

And it’s made infinitely worse if another girl in the conversation laughs or joins in with the deprecation of women – that only increases the difficulty of battling misogyny. I certainly fear I’ll be judged for being too uptight, too militant, too hysterical. How are we to balance wanting to help the feminist cause with not wanting to hurt it by casting a negative image over it?

But the negative associations with feminism – the uptightness, the militancy, the hysteria – will only remain if we sit there quietly and watch as further misogynistic jokes and insults are cast out into existence. The negative associations of feminism are a product of men, but also a product of women not doing anything to dispel them.  

And perhaps what we are faced with might seem like nothing compared to Malala’s battle, which is quite extraordinary. But the ordinary is just as worthy of our attention. What goes on in our everyday conversation is the foundation of the society we live in. If we change our tune in our everyday lives, we choose to change our society.

Because what was it that marked us apart from boys and men such that inhabiting this world became a daily battle for us women to fight? Probably (as is still the case) some man (or men) somewhere, a long, long time ago, decided that they could make decisions for women and thus decided that womankind was inferior to mankind. It’s about time things changed already. 

I might not be able to a Malala right away, I might not even yet be able to speak up for feminism, but you can join me on my journey of working out how to be a woman I myself can admire. 

Written by Isabelle Pan, UN Volunteer.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Alcohol: A Big Risk for Women

This post was written by Volunteer Blogger Diana via UN Volunteering Service.

When I was fourteen friends would make fun of me if I didn’t have a drink. Fortunately, I realize that actually, they were not my friends. I didn’t drink because it doesn’t call my attention. However, I think the problem is not drinking, but the way you do it. So I decided to investigate a little more, to decide what the real problem is for us: girls, women: What does Alcohol represents? What are the consequences of start drinking? In the following lines I present you some results of my research that answer these questions. 

Alcohol represents a health challenge for women. Even in small amounts, alcohol affects women differently than men. In some ways, heavy drinking is much more risky for women than it is for men. There are times and ways to drink that are safer than others. Every woman is different. 

Why are lower levels of drinking recommended for women than men? 
Women are at greater risk than men to develop alcohol-related problems. Alcohol passes through the digestive tract and is dispersed in the water in the body. The more water available, the more diluted he alcohol. As a rule, men weigh more than women, and, pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men. Therefore, a woman's brain and other organs are exposed to more alcohol and to more of the toxic byproducts that result when the breaks down and eliminate alcohol. 
  • The number of female of female drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal traffic crashes is going, even as the number of male drivers involved in such crashes has decreased. This trend may reflect the increasing number of women who drive themselves, even after drinking, as opposed to riding as a passenger. 
  • Long term health problems from heavy drinking include liver, heart and brain disease, suppression of the immune system and cancer.  
  • Because women are more likely to become pregnant in their twenties and thirties, this age group faces the greatest of having babies with growth and mental impairment of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is caused by drinking during pregnancy. 

How Do You Know If You Have an Alcohol Problem? 

Answering the following four questions can help you find out if you or someone close to you has a drinking problem:
  1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking? 
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking? 
  3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking? 
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover? 
One "yes" answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. If you responded "yes" to more than one question, it is very likely that you have a problem with alcohol.

In either case, it is important that you see your health care provider right away to discuss your responses to the questions. Even if you answered "no" to all of the above questions, if you are having drinking related problems with your job, relationships, health or with the law, you should still seek help. 

By Diana Huaman, UN Volunteers 

ABOUT AUTHOR Diana, 21, from Peru is an International Business student and a teacher too. She would love to travel the world, study translation to learn different languages, start her own company one day and contribute to society through education. 

Diana Huaman
IN HER OWN WORDS: " My name is Diana and I am 21 years old. I have a small family I love: mum and brother, and a boyfriend I adore.  I’m Peruvian and I have lived all my life in Peru and haven’t finished knowing it. My country is so big, so beautiful; I’m so in love of my country! – think you could notice that. I’m studying international business administration, although in fact I always wanted to study translation since I love learning languages, but I decided to do business because someday I want to start my own company so I can show everybody what beautiful things we have here and travel and travel around the entire world doing that, while at the same time I can help my compatriots by giving them work. I could define myself as a woman committed to every goal she sets, that loves meeting new people and very competitive!  In addition to my studies I am a teacher, which I discovered it’s kind of my real vocation. I teach children and adolescents and I believe it’s the best contribution I can make: education."

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Nada: The Woman Who Persevered Through Life

This post was written by Stefani via UN Volunteering Service.

My dearest ladies,
I'm writing you for the first time and for the beginning I just wanted to tell you a story. The story about a very special woman. She gave me life, she taught me life and she is the reason why I’m the person I’m today. This is her story…
            It happened 50 years ago in a small village called Balte, a young baby girl with beautiful brown hair and brown eyes was born. She did not know at the time what life prepared for her. She did not know how difficult it was to be a girl in a community she lived in. She did not know and she certainly did not expect that. Her name was Nada.
At the time she was two months old, her father abandoned her and her mother. Her mother was a great woman, but weak. She could not live there anymore. She was mistreated by her husband and living alone with a small child was not something easy in that part of the world. So she ran away to a far land and left Nada behind.
She spent her childhood with her relatives that could not have a child, so they gave her everything and they were the only once that really loved her. They took her as their own and so allowed her to go to school.
Nada was the best student in school, favorite among friends, but her success was only appreciated by her relatives. There was one situation where her teacher asked for the address of her father and he wrote him a letter. She never knew what was written in the letter, she only knew what professor told her that he would love to meet a father of such a special young girl. Her father never came to school, he never met her friends nor her teachers. He never appreciated anything that she had done.
The next thing that happened, her father came to visit her and yelled at her, blaming her for the letter professor wrote. He claimed it was her fault that the professor wrote him a letter, he was sure she was complaining to him which was of course not the case. She tried to convince him that it was not her fault by crying and begging but he did not believe her. The only comfort she ever found was in the long sleepless nights full of pain and tears.
She had to move and live with her father so she can attend high school. It was the hardest thing to do and abandon her amazing relatives. During her time at her father’s house he again received a letter from several people that were worried about Nada. They asked him why does he pay so less attention on her, why did not he ever took her on vocation like he did the other daughter he had with Nada’s stepmother, and thousands more whys? He again blames her for everything.
The only gift or thing he ever gave her was a training suit for sport class she had in school. Her mother on the other side gave her everything she could. She bought her clothes, took her on vocations and many other things. She wanted redemption for what she did to her by abandoning her.
 Nada’s mother had a new husband and he was really possessive, alcohol addicted and very difficult. Even though Nada begged her to leave him and to come back with her she could not do it. She could not confront the people and herself by admitting she made another mistake, so she stayed with him.
Four years ago she came here with him on vocation and she unexpectedly passed away at Nada’s house. So now, the first time ever she rests here near Nada, and that was the only thing that have Nada comfort in such a painful situation.
Nada cried so many nights and she never forgot her difficult life path, but she always loved her parents and she forgave them everything they did. All those things that happened in her life left a deep trace on her soul. She was a believer, she prayed for everything to be better and it did. Faith helped her survive.
Today she still has a constant need to prove herself and to be good to everyone so they do not reject her. She got used to carry all difficult situations by herself but now she has someone, she has a family. The life taught her to be a fighter for the family, for the business world, for everything she wanted. Unbelievable strength and desire for family union made her a fighter and believer and the result is today’s harmony in her own family, something she never had before.

Why Telling This Story?

I wanted to tell you a real story of a real fight. It was my mother’s fight and I could write a whole book about all the things she went through, and this is only small part I wanted to share with you. She is an example for me and it should be for you too. 

Every time I realize how difficult it is for a woman to be part of this society I remember her and the time when it was even harder so I keep fighting to make it a better place for my children. It is unrealistic to think that everything will be solved in a short period of time, but we should keep fighting for a long term, for a future. I believe in us, do you not?

Written by Stefani Marjanovic, UN Volunteers


Stefani Marjanovic, 24, lives in a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She has studied International Law at the American University in Bosnia and this year is starting her Masters in Human Rights and Environmental Protection. 

Stefani Marjanovic
IN HER OWN WORDS: " I lived outside my country few years, I also went on several exchange programs so I could say I’m very intercultural. I have seen many things, sometimes good, sometimes disappointing but it was after all a big lesson to learn. Thanks to a free summer and good will, I decided to be part of this amazing blog and to help and teach young women how to fight, how to grow, how to enrich themselves and become what they always dreamed of. I always wanted to help and was always eager about justice so I think I am exactly where I am supposed to be."

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