Thursday, 29 December 2016

Shamed for Being Thin

By Ananya De via UN Online Volunteers


There has been a variety of body shaming that I have faced, sometimes subtle and sometimes direct. There were some even over those features on which I actually have no control, for ex., my blunt nose or my height (when in school), but the one over which I have encountered the most throughout my life is over my thin body frame.

The most peculiar thing that I have seen is that most of the people here are not even aware that they are thin shaming. We see that people try to control themselves or others from uttering some remarks on someone’s obesity or darker skin colour etc., but we see automatic comments on seeing someone thin or skinny on how they need to eat something.

I know that due to the image portrayed by the media, people who are overweight face much stigma. But it’s actually a matter of perception. Even if the visual media is seen to promote to become thinner, it seems that in Indian common households girls with few layers of fat are more preferred or else why should I be given such kind advice from more than one person on how should I try to obtain a proper figure so that later I would be considered a good prospect in the marriage market. 

Again, I would like to make it clear I am not pulling any view on being under or over weight upwards or downwards, I am just telling about the way the people are affected by what they usually see in their society and how they judge others on the basis of what they think is ‘normal’. 

I am just putting forward the thought that if someone is happy with how they look, then, we should let them be so.

There was this incident which occurred when I was in school, maybe in class 9 or 10. Some of my friends from school and others, we all used to attend a biology coaching class together. I don’t remember the details clearly, but I remember that one day the teacher put forward some questions on whether I was not eating properly or if I was having any problems in nutrient absorption and metabolism. 

Maybe it was meant to be some remark in light manner, but it doesn’t diminish the effects that it had on me and the other friends who attended the class.

I still remember the way the questions plagued my mind. I still remember how it became a long standing joke amongst that teacher and my school friends. And I still remember how I thought that since he is a biology teacher, what he said must be correct and that if I was thinking in that way, my friends must be thinking in that same way. I remember that when added to the usual remarks of my classmates on how thin I was, it made me question myself time to time if I really had a problem or if I was really so thin that it should invite comments. 

These kinds of comments on any body type and shape are much damaging as they put a dent into one’s self-esteem and confidence.

But again, I remember the other aspects too. I realised that I was always eating more or less a balanced diet. I also remember how I searched a lot in books, internet and also discussed with our family doctor over these questions. 

And I remember how sometime later I had told that bio teacher about how genetic factors might be a reason along with other factors (three of my aunts, i.e., sisters of my father have similar body frame) and being thin doesn’t mean I don’t eat well or I have a metabolism problem. One cannot just assume that being thin means being unhealthy.

I don’t know if I could make him or others understand it no matter how much I have repeated it till even now. Even if it’s ironic that the ones at college (irrespective of boys and girls) commenting on how I would float away in the air or something else were the ones trying hard to lose weight and asking frequently about what diet I maintain. 

But that search backed by scientific facts was one of the firsts which put my mind into rest. I could tell myself clearly that being thin doesn’t mean I am weak or I have any kind of problem and there can be other reasons. And it is not my shortfall if I look differently than what is fixed to be the societal standard for ‘normal’. 

Yes, I still have self-doubts on whether I look too thin or not while trying over new clothes or so. 

There have been years of occasional remarks and various name callings ranging from stick to size zero which would have surely left some mark or so, more than I would like to admit. But I now know that if I think with a clear mind, I can try to put them past me. I know that if I am well and active, then, no matter how much people try to demean me, I should not let them pull myself down (my BMI stays around 20-20.5, well within the ideal range).

As we grow older, the way we perceive things changes and the way we handle things changes. Books and interaction with other people helped me a lot. It helped me to understand the differences between the spiteful comments, the teasing ones, the concerned ones and the remarks without any intent but due to habit etc. We have to realise when we need to protest and when we have to ignore it, i.e., when that person is not worth it. We are what we are irrespective of it being our choice or us being naturally so. 

And any kind of shaming hampers the process of embracing ourselves the way we are. Our nature, our personal character defines us, not a part of our body or a certain body type. Thus, we don’t have to listen to anyone if they are trying to portray us as anything less than a person as a whole.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Ain't I A Woman

By Ashley Dye via UN Online Volunteering

If I had a dollar for the innumerable times I’ve been called or refer to as he, him, or sir, I would be a millionaire. Seriously, it happens so often to me that I’ve actually become accustom to the shaming, offensive, and masculine pronouns.  It’s been happening to me since I was a kid. I grew pretty much a tomboy playing basketball, football, soccer and many other sports. Most of my friends were guys and the role models I related to the most, were the men in my family. Now, I’m not trying to infer that I didn’t have women role models. I’ve just always been an adventurous and active kind of person. 

The men in my life afforded me the opportunity to live that lifestyle. I’ve never wanted to be anything other than myself. I never thought that people would challenge my gender simply because I wear men’s clothing. My choice of clothing has always ventured toward an androgynous or tomboyish style. Yes, I am very aware of my both my masculine figures and my masculine personality. However, regardless, of my attire I’ve always indentified as woman. I just happen to shop in both the men’s and women’s department, but does that make me any less than a woman. It completely baffles me that some people can be so narrow- minded and not realizing the diversity in womanhood.

 As I got older I began to realize that I was fighting for my right to be called a woman simply because of the clothing I choose to wear, my hair and my masculine facial figures.  Clothing, hair, and physical figures shouldn’t be the only thing included when determining whether someone is a woman. We women are phenomenal in every aspect because we have the power to be anything we want to be, there’s no one type of woman.  We’re not all straight haired, makeup wearing, dress shopping and heel wearing types of women. Some of us like to switch it up. For example, my attire depends on my mood or comfortably. One day I may be in a dress with heels, and the next day I maybe in a Polo shirt with men’s jeans and sneakers.  Regardless, I still proudly profess and embrace my womanhood.

                About three years ago, I began working as a cashier at a local gas station where I live. I had just cut off my hair so that I could embark on a healthier and more natural look. The goal was to start growing dreadlocks. Now, from the first day that I began working there I would get mistaken for a man. I would get called sir, man, and dude.  At first it didn’t bother me because I thought maybe people aren’t use to seeing a woman with natural hair. However, it began to bother me after I would correct customers and they would continue to refer to as man. For example, I was assisting a regular customer one day with lottery tickets and he insisted on calling me sir after I had corrected him. Now keep in mind that this particular customer often visit the store and was very aware of my gender. 

                 After, getting annoyed with the constant masculine pronouns I finally told him sir, “I am a woman” and his response was “Well! I can’t tell.” It was right then and there that I realize that our society has a distorted picture of what a woman should look like.  It really got me thinking was my masculinity over clouding my femininity? Should I begin wearing makeup? Or perhaps I should just attach a sticker to my uniform that reads “I am a Woman.”

Chaka khan once sang “I’m every woman it’s all in me” because being a woman isn’t simply based on personality, the way she dresses or the way she wears her hair.  We women shouldn’t be place in a box because we are the very definition of diversity. Women come in all different shapes, sizes, races, cultural and of diverse educational backgrounds. 

One of the most common misconception is that women should act and look like women. But what exactly does that mean? Who came with this act like a woman notion? Why are we women constantly being place in a box? When I think of the diversity in womanhood I think of women like First Lady Michelle Obama, Erkyah Badu, Pink, Serena Williams and Janelle Monae. These are all beautiful women who have been shamed, demean and even dehumanize because of the way they’ve dressed, their body type, and the way they’ve worn their makeup and hair. 

For example, Serena Williams has been subjected to some harsh and cruel criticism throughout her career as a professional tennis player. It’s no secret that being a professional athlete puts you in the front row seat of critics. However, I feel some critics go too far.  In life, we’re all going to be subjected to some kind of criticism, and in many ways it’s good for our growth into adulthood. I feel that some of the things the media has said about Serena Williams have crossed the line.  The biggest issue for me is the constant body shaming.  Instead of recognizing her for her accomplishments as an athletic critics tend to focus on the fact, that her body type doesn’t fit society idea of femininity and beauty.   

Over the years, I’ve read countless articles and have seen horrible tweets about to her physique and how she’s apparently “Built like a man.”  Our society seems to be intimidated by women that don’t fit into the norm.   Serena Williams is an incredibly athletic and one of the most beautiful women in sports today, yet so many critics go out their way to try and demean, degrade, and dehumanize her simply because of her unique physique.  I can relate to Serena Williams because I know what it’s like to be shamed because of the way you look.

“Ain’t I a woman?” I mean, at the end of the day “Ain’t I a woman?” Sure I don’t look like the traditional idea of a woman. I don’t always dress in feminine attire. I have masculine figures both physically and emotionally. However, does that make me less than a woman or unworthy to be called a woman?  Society teaches us that femininity means looking, acting, and having particular body and facial figures. Society has inadvertently or perhaps purposely poisoned our minds with what it means to be a woman. 

Today’s society tell us that femininity and masculinity pertains to your gender when, in fact, it doesn’t.   Masculinity and femininity has nothing to do with gender and I believe because of this misconception I have experience misidentification. I think that young women everywhere should embrace who they are and not become accustom to societies social norms pertaining to women. 

Every little girl should be encourage to be themselves and not basic on what others think.  Your clothing, hair, personality, and lifestyle choices don’t define your gender, or your womanhood. We women are divergent, strong, and passionate and come in all different types of packages.  Not all women have the Hollywood look or meet social norms.  

Be you, be brave, love yourself and realize that not all women have to look like the women on television or in the magazines.  It’s okay to prefer jeans over dresses.  You don’t have to wear make up to be consider feminine.  For all the little girls that will be challenge with gender identity, know that you are phenomenal, beautiful, and very definition of strength.  Never like anyone make you feel unworthy or less than a woman simply because you don’t fit their definition of femininity and beauty. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Being Afghan in America

By Nargues Kohzad via UN Online Volunteers

As an Afghan girl, growing up in America has had its difficulties. Trying to balance where I am from and where I live required courage, and I did not have that at the age of ten. Unfortunately I dealt with what is called “ethnic shaming” and to tell you the truth it was not dandy.

                The problems began when I started school, even at the early age of six. I remember it was Eid one summer, a celebration generally conducted by Muslims after the holy month of Ramadan. Eid is a celebration everyone was looking forward to, especially the kids. We would always get new clothes, gifts and eat yummy treats we never ate the rest of the year. Nevertheless, during this celebration everyone would henna their hands. Henna is a type of dye that we used as temporary body art. I remember being so excited to apply henna on my hands, not knowing the fatal events that would occur the next day at school.

                The next day arrived and as you would imagine, all the kids at school looked at me in an odd manner. They would point at my hands and laugh, as if there was some sort of specimen crawling on it. What is that? Why does it smell so funky? They would add.  Remarks like this made me very insecure.

                Several other events occurred as well. I remember it was cultural day at school, a day to celebrate our roots. I was not too excited about this day in particular but my mom decided it is the perfect time to wear my traditional Afghan clothes. I could not say no to her so I slipped into the clothes and wished for the day to end as soon as possible. I arrived at school seeing everyone dressed up. Kids came up to me and touched my coin necklace and stared at the mirrored embellishments on my dress. They gazed at my scarf that was subtly put on my head. I already knew they were uncomfortable, uncomfortable because they could not recognize my heritage. Was I some tribal girl? Was I dressed as a gypsy? The question mark on their face made me want to leave immediately.

                Awkward events like this continued throughout my life. Sometimes I was bullied, sometimes I was ignored and sometimes I was even accused of being the extreme.Unfortunately I had grown up after the events of 9/11 where people just assumed that if you have brown skin, an unpronounceable name and roots from the Middle East, then you must be a terrorist.  Growing up in an environment where I was wrongly accused and shamed for who I am was extremely tough. I would often wonder to myself, why can’t people accept me for who I am? Why do they have to treat me so differently? Why do I have to be ashamed of my background?

                Days, months and years passed, with this, American society had also grown. Bullying and teasing from my fellow classmates had decreased a lot as I got older. Society seemed to have gotten much more culturally aware and international, finally I felt as though I could fit in.

                Now at the age of nineteen, these issues are all behind me. I learned to love myself and my background because it is the one thing that makes me unique. I learned to look at the brighter side and use my ethnicity as a tool that would help me rise rather than a burden that would weighing me down. 

               After all, nobody should be ashamed of where they come from because it is a part of their identity, part of their soul. In addition, to anyone else who is juggling between two identities or cultures, know that it is possible to create a beautiful balance. If you have ever been targeted because of your background or ethnicity, please share your story.
               This is about #SharingnotShaming.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

When Are You Getting Married?

By Wisam Gangari via UN Online Volunteers

“Congratulations on your (insert significant milestone)! Here’s to your wedding!” This (or some variation of it) has become a standard salutation, which I, and many other young Arab women have heard upon the accomplishment of a significant milestone in our lives. It is the 21st century, yet social norms in the Arab world still hold tight to the notion that a woman’s goal, nay, destiny must be to get married. Any other ambition or desire must be secondary, and is therefore, less important.

            Growing up in a predominantly Arabized culture, dating at a young age was never socially accepted, that is, by families. Couples that were brazen enough to publicize their relationship were often expats, or individuals who came from “liberal” families.  Parents instead emphasized the importance of education above all else and instilled within their children the notion that good grades led to a successful future. In turn, this mentality, more often than not, inspired the youth with a sense of purpose, ambition and the desire to achieve greatness, all of which are admirable traits. In my case, and in the case of many other women like me, however, this proved to be a burden more than a blessing.

            I always strived to excel academically, so that I may pursue a career in which I can make a difference, accomplish a sense of fulfillment and self-worth, and ultimately live my truth. Upon graduating from university, I’d planned to get a job working for organizations or think tanks, diplomatic missions and so on. I dreamed of working in establishments that aimed to improve lives. I saw for myself a future in which I was a successful workingwoman, proud of my accomplishments. I never expected that, what is objectively seen as an admirable goal could also be a source of shame.

            I found that not many within my society found my dreams and ambitions to be as admirable and noble as I did. On the contrary, I found that many criticized my choices. Because my priority wasn’t to “find a husband” (as if husbands were to be picked from an aisle in a grocery story), I was wasting my child bearing years and was going to end up forever alone. My desire to pursue a career, for some reason unbeknownst to me, somehow meant that I was anti-marriage. Many women who seek to fulfill their professional goals are frowned upon and are considered, by society, as too liberal or intimidating, and therefore unapproachable.

In the years since I’ve graduated university, I’ve been faced with comments like, “Why are you still single?” or “When is your wedding?” or “Have you found someone yet?” While these questions in and of themselves may seem harmless, they are really asking a different question altogether: “When are you going to abide by the social norms that have been prescribed to you and stop disgracing your family?” Of course not all families are adamant to have their daughters married off before they are ready, because society deems it necessary. However, in a society where social and familial ties are so strong, it is always harder to defy the status quo and reject social standards that are so deeply embedded in the culture.

The concept of marriage loses its value, its worth, and its sanctity once it becomes an obligation that is forced upon you, and for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, I believe that marriage is a beautiful and sacred notion that everyone (who wants it) should be blessed with. It is the start of a new and exciting chapter in life. It can be an exhilarating ride. It should be a source of comfort, love, and safety. Marriage isn’t at odds with wanting to pursue a career, it isn’t at odds with having the desire to travel and explore, it isn’t at odds with wanting to complete your education. You are not forbidden from pursuing your dreams just because you want to get married and you are not forbidden from getting married because you are pursuing your dreams.

So here’s to you, to the ones who want to climb Mount Everest! To the ones who want to get their PhD! To the ones who want to save lives or become the next CEO! And here’s to you, to the ones who want to get married! There is nothing wrong with that. 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Don't Let Stereotype Impede Your Success

By Mitchelle Khadenje via UN Online Volunteers

My very first lesson that a girl had no place to prosper was in high school. Despite the normal public system where majority of the schools were ‘single gender’, I found myself in a mixed school. At first, I took no notice of any differences-we were all brothers and sisters, just like in primary school. But with time, things got clearer. The boys population was near three times the girls population, so the boys almost had their way unanimously.
As a teenager experiencing changes and not being sure of how people would perceive your utterances or actions, it can be difficult to stand up for yourself. Most of the girls would end up consoling each other in the dormitory; crying themselves to sleep because ‘the guys said something about them’. I have always been a calm, almost reserved kind of child- passing my tests, assisting others. I however, was not in the habit of lying to myself and others, so I was always in trouble for speaking my mind.
One incident that I would never forget was when I stood up to one of the greatest ‘taunters’ in my class. As young ladies starting to ‘develop’, it was sometimes uncomfortable to embrace the changes. Majority of us were shy, wearing baggy sweaters or skirts, while our male counterparts took pleasure in chanting all forms of ‘praise’ for these changes, an emotionally derailing routine for the young ladies. It was in the midst of this miscreant hullabaloo that I found myself the source of a chant one evening in class as I was walking out during a quiet evening session. I wanted to ignore this, as I would call it, childishness, but my nature couldn’t allow it. I took a turn, and gave the gang leader a piece of my mind on how much he ought to grow up. Need I say that apart from the uproar and unedifying spectacle that unfolded, he and I are good friends to date.
Ever since the incident, I became less or practically not ashamed of who I was, accepting myself as I was, and standing up for myself when need be. I have since experienced many more incidents where it is believed that the girl-child should not advance ‘too much’ academically, neither should she be witty. At some point I was sabotaged at the workplace and my workstation cleared, leaving my items lost because someone thought I would impede their success. Some elders would tell me that I would not attract a husband if I continued with the path I was treading, some would classify me as a feminist and others would call me a mere prude. Not to say that the road has been smooth, but believing in oneself has been a significant factor that has enabled me gain mileage academically and professionally as a young woman in sub-saharan Africa.
The African culture depicts the woman as the house-hold manager, a good wife and mother. Sometimes, great intellectual capacity, academic advancement, strong-will and focus to not only improve oneself but also the society can be perceived wrongly. Despite civilisation, innovation, economic development and women empowerment in the continent, the ‘girl-home’ mentality is somewhat prevalent in at schools as well as workplaces. It sometimes can go by default that one’s male counterpart is presumed to be a better option for a promotion or good at Math and Science just because it’s an apparent ‘norm’. However, one should not allow such stereotypes to bring them down and impede their success.
I have learnt to appreciate that sometimes people find themselves stereotypical or judgemental probably because of how they have been brought up, or the people they associate with often. Teach a baby that a vice is good and the child will grow up knowing that the wrong thing is actually right. As is my case, I have been privileged to work with great people who believe in one’s skills, knowledge and potential rather than gender or appearance for a given job. I have met male professors who acknowledge a young lady’s wit and hard work in a chosen science as well as a male counterpart’s without any bias or prejudice.

Standing up for oneself, in my opinion, should be a basic habit inculcated in us. You can be treated with a negative bias maybe due to your race, gender, intellectual capacity among others, but it is up to you to prove them wrong. Let your work or art speak for itself. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Similarly, seeing is believing. Once others witness your worth and importance, they will almost naturally change a certain preformed opinion of you to what they now actually know of you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Banda - Bound to Home

By Mehvish Ally via UN Online Volunteers

Life tests our vim and vigor at the best of times and seems an insurmountable challenge at the worst of times.  But in our world of low, middle, and high-income nations, some lives are inherently more privileged and systemically valued than others.  
This neither means that wealthy people lead easy or care-free lives nor that the poor are relegated to the depths of irreversible misery: it is an illustration, albeit merely one, that the world is a place where complex dualities abound.  Masculine, feminine, rich, poor, these are all roles assigned to society by its own machinations and until we question their presence, meaning, and necessity, humanity’s eyes will be collectively shut to a deeper understanding of what it means to be alive.  Our anatomies and our economic stature are nothing to be ashamed of.  Though they may shape who we are, such identities should not be considered shackles but weights that increase our muscle and mettle.  
Like other countries around the world, Bangladesh has a tradition of having servants for the upper class.  Though domestic workers were initially considered to be ‘banda’, Bengali for bound to the home, and had little formal legal rights, contemporary society and the law no longer permits this as people have realized the inequitable ways of their past.  
Today, many former domestic workers have found more ‘official’ jobs as janitors or cooks in restaurants.  Some are able send their children to college to ensure a fate less chained to the whims of employers’.  Others, though, grow accustomed to their surroundings and feel they would not be able to cope with the life that awaits them outside.  In fact, their employers become a family whom they can’t imagine leaving, a feeling which their employers even reciprocate.  The latter category is where Ms. Mirda falls.  There is still a stigma within Bengali culture of being ashamed of one’s class, though it is dissipating over time.
Rizia was born in the former East Pakistan town of Boro Pasha in Mirda Bari around the year 1969.  She does not have a birth certificate, as most villagers at the time did not have a formal system of birth registration, so her age is a rough estimate.  Her village is still home to many agricultural workers.  Her father, Hamid Uddin Mirda, was a rice and wheat farmer.  Fieldwork is no mean feat, as the workers wake up before dawn and labor until dusk.  Rizia has no recollection of her father, as he died when she was very young, likely before she turned 4.  This left her widow mother and her two brothers Abdul Majid and Abdul Aziz to fend for her and her two sisters.  
Her fondest memories are of her mother and eldest sister, whose names she can no longer remember.  But when she does reminisce, it is about her mother cooking for the family.  She also speaks fondly of her eldest sister and remembers her braiding her hair and running amok in the village with her hand in hand.  After her mother died, Rizia’s eldest sister cared for her like a mother.  These recollections of her sister and her mother are the only instances of love she has from her life before beginning domestic work.   However, as tradition went, her older sister was soon married off. 
The memories she has of her brothers aren’t positive ones and she was reluctant to share them.  When asked if she ever thought of them her reply was an abrupt, ”never.”  Her brothers could barely take care of their widow mother and themselves and could no longer afford to keep another mouth to feed around.  When she was 12 years old, Rizia’s paternal uncle brought her to the home of her current employer’s mother, to be a playmate and caretaker of her current employer, who was only a year old at the time.  It was a common practice among the nobility in Bangladesh to keep a ‘companion’ servant for their children, who would both feed them, put them to sleep, and play with them. 
Rizia still says that her current employer’s mother and the kindness she showed is the biggest blessing in her life.  Clearly, those of a contemporary mindset will disagree - how can becoming a child-worker be a blessing?  However, the fact is that relative to most other children her age, she was well clothed, well fed, and not beaten and therefore, better off.  We cannot dismiss this notion as cruel moral relativism when the same is done when economists chart development in poor countries.  It is not feasible to apply the same standards of healthcare for a mother in a rural Bengali village and a mother in the Upper East Side of NYC.  Similarly, it is not feasible to compare her life to that of a child in America.  Whether you find international disparity to be a fault of colonialism or a self-inflicted problem, the surrounding circumstances in each country are completely different and must be taken into consideration. 
After about a decade of working, she had reached marrying age and was married off to a rice farmer.  The marriage broke down in about 2 or 3 months.  When asked of her husband, Rizia makes sure to clarify that he was neither cruel to her nor beat her (again, a rarity both for her era and now).  It was the in-laws that caused problems, were cruel to her, and led to the ultimate breaking down of the marriage.  She believes that their cruelty was spurred by the fact that her dowry was not properly paid, though they might have been abusive regardless.  Domestic violence committed by in-laws is unfortunately still a serious issue in rural Bangladesh.
After her marriage ended, she did not go back to her brothers, as she knew what awaited her there: another forced marriage.  Instead, she went back to her former employer for work.  She was welcomed back and began working again as a nanny to her employer’s newly born son.  Through her work, she says she found a solace and reprieve, and though she never had children of her own she felt her employer’s children to be hers in a sense. 
After her mother died in 1994, Rizia lost touch with her family.  She no longer felt a bond as she did before , and didn’t bother to keep in touch with her brothers.   Her younger brother’s son is now an assistant for clerical workers in the High Court of Bangladesh, which is a big step up from being a rice farmer’s grandson.  Rizia’s  nephew had contacted her and asked her to live with them but she fears would try to dispossess her of her small but ample inheritance and savings.
When asked about any regrets in her life, Rizia wishes she were educated as she feels her life would be very different, however, she has no regrets of her own making.  She feels the few decisions she did have the luxury to make herself were good ones. Even after her employer’s passing, which she still mentions with tears in her eyes, Rizia remained in the household and is now nanny to her two grandchildren, the youngest now nearly 3.  She has cared for an entire generation of a family and they will be forever indebted to her
This is just one snapshot of one person’s life in a world of over 7 billion people.  Rizia’s story brings up numerous complicated issues that illustrious economists and politicians barely scratch the surface of.  Rizia is content.  Caring for children, though not her own, gives her purpose to wake up in the morning.  She is treated well, can go out when she pleases, and does not face the wrath of an abusive husband, which many women of her nation and the world over do.  Yes, she has sadness in her life that most readers and I will never have to experience.  But the human experience is not a statistic – it is an ongoing visceralness. She is not ashamed of her life, and no one should feel sorry for her.  Rizia feels at peace with her life, and ultimately, that is a feat most people would be fortunate to accomplish. 


Mehvish Ally is an American law student of Bengali heritage. Multicultural from birth, she was born in Kuwait, raised in the United States, and for the last 4 years has been living a confusing expatriate life in Bangladesh.  She met Ms. Nirda when she stayed at her employer’s home for a time.  Initially, their relationship was distant and had a forced politeness to it, but over time, a sort of kinship grew. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Skin Color and Beauty Aren't Linked

By Ly Than Phuong via UN Online Volunteers

Many societies have put a link between the beauty of a woman and her skin color. In my country, Vietnam, people like pale skin and they show more affection and favor toward lighter-skin individuals. Vietnamese people often associate lighter skin with wealth, tidiness and beauty. They consider people with lighter skin more easy-looking and attractive. On the other hand, darker-skin girls are thought to be less pretty and of course they do not receive as much attention, admiration and love as girls with lighter skin.

I am twenty years old and I am a young girl with a darker skin than many of Vietnamese people. My life with a dark skin color is not very easy as I from time to time have to listen to all the different things that people tell me about my skin color.

When I was small, my aunt told me that I was not born by my parents because my skin color was darker than theirs. I got so upset at that time that I even asked my parents and others for the confirmation of my origin. Since that moment, I have noticed that the color of my skin has concerned other people and they do not seem to like my dark skin.

Another incident happened when I got transferred to a new school in class 4. I came to new class and met a lot of new friends. Everything went well except for one problem with some of my classmates because they made fun of me for my skin color. I was called “Black Phuong” every time they saw me and this name followed me for the whole time I was in elementary school. I did not like that name and I would not let them call me using that word. I kept on with my fight, I told their parents and I resorted to my teacher and their parents for help but none of these attempts worked out. I was exhausted. I stopped fighting and I accepted that I was black and ugly.

The most common thing that I heard during my childhood was that if I had had a lighter skin color, I would have looked more beautiful and I might have become a very hot attractive girl. It was because of my skin that I became ugly in the eye of beholders.

Even now, my skin is still the very first thing people notice in me. I have been hearing a huge number of comments from other people about my skin color. They would say something like “Oh Phuong, your skin looks darker than I last see you. Remember to take care of your skin.”  

Growing up in the environment that valued pale skin color, I lacked my confidence and pride in my appearance. I stopped believing that I was pretty and I lost my confidence in standing in front of others. I was miserable for the hate speech of other people and drown in these comments.

However, when I came to university, I met a lot of people and I noticed their efforts to find out who they were regardless of the prejudice, stereotype of society. I started to question myself. I keep thinking about why I should care about what other people tell me. Why I should become miserable just because of what people think about me. I am who I am and I do not want others to define or judge me.

I have a chance to challenge my identity and to define my own meaning for beauty. After much thinking, I start to believe in the beauty of myself. I am black. I love it. I am standing out as a young beautiful person in my own way. The skin color cannot make me feel bad and upset anymore.

No one can set any standard on beauty because what is called beauty for one will differ from that of other people. There is no such thing that this person is prettier than the others. Everyone is different and it would be unfair to use the same standard of one group for the whole society. I think everyone is beautiful in their own ways and everyone has the right to be proud of their own beauty regardless of what color their skin is.

If some people around us tell us about what beauty is and that we are not beauty, please do not believe in what they say.

On the way to beautify ourselves in a bright way, one thing to bear in mind is that if we do not allow others to manipulate our feelings about ourselves, no one could do anything to our identities and prides.

Now, I am happy to tell the world that I love my skin. I am proud of it. 

Friday, 21 October 2016

Reclaiming the Narrative Gives Happiness

By Gaurav Ganti via UN Online Volunteers

I was 13, when I first noticed the small clump of hair in my hand as I took a shower. The implications of this did not strike me until a couple of years had passed. Fast forward 7 years, and my male pattern balding has progressed quite far.
I have never considered being bald to be an issue. Yet, every time somebody asked me why they could see more of my scalp than was normal, I would feel a twinge of regret. A twinge of regret that was tied to the fact that I would always be different from people who had nice wavy locks, or curly frizzy hair. People, for whom a haircut lasted more than a few minutes, and could include a variety of different styles which were beyond me. Tied to these occasional twinges of regret, is an unfortunate comparison to what my life could have looked like, if I had more hair. This unfortunate tendency to associate our body images with our problems in life, is what leads to the genesis of a cycle of insecurity that doesn’t break very easily.
However, these twinges of regret continued to remain occasional, and I got used to people staring at my receding hairline, while they spoke to me. What troubled me more, was the fact that there were bigger issues out there. There were people who suffered from genetic disorders, people who were openly bullied because they weren’t thin. The world seemed filled with people who had issues which were more problematic than mine. It was with this mindset, that I began to be filled with a degree of disgust every time I thought of my receding hairline. This comparison to other’s problems, was proving more harmful than a comparison to other’s wavy locks.
These aren’t issues which are uniquely linked either to me, as a person or my receding hairline, as an issue. I believe that anybody who is a victim of circumstances, often tries to appropriate some amount of blame to themselves, for playing up problems which are small, in relation to the rest of the world. They are also people who continue to be victims of abuse, where it is important to note that abuse isn’t always from people with bad intentions. So, I think it is important that I share how I tackled these issues, in the hope that my receding hairline can teach other people the lessons it taught me.
A friend told me, “Balding is a condition, being bald is a choice”. I decided to shave my head. I was now bald, but felt empowered because I had reclaimed the narrative. It was now my choice, and I could claim as much. I also realized that no problem is too insignificant. Our inability to show compassion to people who we believe have small problems (“Oh, he’s fat because he eats too much”), is often an active inhibition to us showing compassion to people for whom this problem might shape their life. A degree of compassion and empathy can be derived only when we realize that a small problem for me, might be a huge problem for others.
Yet, for those of you who feel like they are victims of circumstances, and feel helpless, reclaim the narrative. Never let anybody tell you to feel ashamed. Never believe that you have no choice, and that circumstances control you. Because they don’t.

Nature took some of my hair away. The day I got ahead of nature and got rid of the rest myself, I looked back at nature and laughed because I had got there first. I had reclaimed the narrative of balding, from nature and society. And I had never felt so ameliorated.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Female Healthcare Should be Discussed Openly

By Marion Mbiyu via UN Online Volunteers

I feel like the older I’ve become, the more aware I have become of my shame. I find myself constantly scrutinizing and doubting myself in a lot of things especially when it comes to making personal decisions. I also find myself more embarrassed about the most mundane things. For instance, I try to say less a lot of the time because I might say something stupid. It’s as if there are invisible standards that I am trying to confine myself to.
Growing up there wasn’t much discussion on sexual intercourse, relationships and even female healthcare and hygiene. There was so much secrecy and shame when it came to these sorts of conversations. I remember being on my period and I would be in excruciating pain and would lie about the cause of the pain. Or even going swimming as part of the lesson which was mandatory, and having to ask the nurse to give me a letter stating that I wasn’t well.
Worst of all, was a school matron in boarding school and among the most absurd, dreadful advice she had given us. I remember her explaining how a girl is at her worst when she is on her cycle, she’s disgusting and no man would want to see that (the blood stains). She then went on to say how girls need to hide their period and that it is a shame for people to know.
Now I am able to look back and understand why these conversations barely happened because there’s still a stigma attached to these topics till this day.
Between the ages of 14 to 19, I feel that I slowly and subliminally started becoming more aware of beauty standards, which were completely unattainable on my part. Between the ages of 14 to about 16, I saw beauty and prettiness equivalent to lighter skin, which seems absurd, but at the time it seemed like the lighter skinned (mostly mixed race) girls and boys were instantly beautiful and likable, purely on the complexion of their skin.
Around that age, I was also aware of how much difference “curves” made to a girls physic. By the age of 18, I remember asking my mother why my body just wasn’t developing the “right way” and like most mothers, her response was that sometimes it takes time but things would change the older I got . It was all fun and laughter when talking to my mother, but I remember on one occasion playing rounder’s and a group of older boys (whom I didn’t know) saying how “I looked masculine”. At the time, I also had really awful acne, and then again I remember a boy (whom I didn’t know) saying how my body was okay but my face was “something else”. In another occasion, I remember two boys saying how my face was dreadful from a closer view.
I think the thing that bothered me the most from these kind of comments was because they weren’t confrontational and part of me felt that there must have been some truth to them. I walked away hating myself even more and being ashamed of my appearance. Worst of all was how I became insecure, and I acted out and said the most unpleasant things to others as a way to make myself feel better.
Now I am 22 years old and I feel like I’ve learned to love my appearance and appreciate my feminine body. I am much more aware of social issues, gender being one of them and the shame that society burdens girls and women with. At my age, I feel that I am much more critical of the social norms and standards.
So what if I have cramps and aches, it is part of what happens to my body when I’m on my menstrual cycle.
So what if I have a stain on my trousers or skirt, it happens.
So what if my body is not up to societal standards and my appearance isn’t “fit” enough for people’s liking.
I am aware that when it comes to gender issues such as FGM, the right to education, healthcare etc. there is an urgency to tackle them due to their magnitude. But, I also feel that there has to be a huge shift in society’s mindset, and conversations on sex, relationships, female healthcare etc., should be discussed freely. This, of course, will not happen instantly but it is worth having these conversations with both boys and girls at a young age and save girls years of unnecessary shame.
I’ve grown to suppress a lot of what I have experienced, but I’ve also grown to be more mindful and happy with myself.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Respect People's Religion

By Luanna Cristina Hedler via UN Online Volunteers

My parents are not extremely religious but God is a very important part of our family since I was little and as I have learned during my life. We go to the church every time we can and I consider that been educated by the protestants church ideals and way of seeing life and being is a good thing for me.

When a teenager, I entered a church group with people my age 12 - 14 and it was awesome to gather with young people like me who had the same beliefs and doubts about how to live among non religious people or people who makes fun of God. Because that was my issue during school and high school.

I always felt like when I was in church or in my church group I was free of every judgment, joke, bullying and I could be myself, I could be free and when I was at school I needed to act like the others to be part of the group and be cool. I even got a little distance from the church because I was afraid my school friends would find out I had a band that sang praise songs and that I pray to
God and Jesus Christ.

This was a long period, about almost 10 years of my life, because in graduation it was no easier for me either. Everybody is like atheist, don’t believe in anything and think people who does are weird. So I thought I needed to accept and be ok with it, without expressing my opinion about religion because God and Jesus were not well accepted by the others even though I always respected each one beliefs and religions.

Fear and shame are not cool feelings, not at all. They make you feel small, afraid of being yourself, afraid of not being accepted by society and specially by your friends or the people you like somehow. But in the end, when you realise you are lying to yourself, you feel even worse, because in fact, you don’t need anyone’s approval but yours.

I feel like sharing this with you, because this turnover in my life, this acceptance, this freedom came by empowerment stories, empowered friends and examples that made me strong enough to go over it after understanding what was going on with me, and that I had a way out.

I needed to comprehend that from now on, what I have hidden for so long would be exposed and I promised to myself I would never hide it again. It is hard to deal with others and with your mind every day, but I always replay this in my mind: I don’t have to be ashamed of the religious part of my personality and true self.

When you have the courage to live for yourself, for your happiness, for your beliefs and matters not paying attention to haters or people who dislikes you, that’s when you grow and become a great person for yourself and for the world.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Moral Education to Help and Not Shame

By Debalina Roy via UN Online Volunteers

I want to share a sense of overwhelming pain that had a debilitating effect in my life. I have been a quiet person and an introvert since childhood. I could never imagine that life could be unduly depressive or even sad.
Upon growing up a little at the age of ten I had observed significant changes in my body and emotions. I was becoming taller and heavier than my peers and started liking people older to me. I wished to mingle with both the sexes in the pursuit of studies, sports and recreational culture. Usually many girls and boys took notice of me but, to my surprise they befriended all others and never me.
I was growing up as a loner finding little to do throughout the day. Gradually, I was seeing days of deep depression and a form of inferiority complex took birth in me.
I kept silent all day long struggling hard to keep up a normal routine and academics seemed to be an encumbrance in life. I didn’t feel emotionally united with family members too. I had led a one sided life and had been reprimanded often for little or no reasons. I was walking amidst thorns at that time.
As years rolled by I was diagnosed with a rare type of disease of the pituitary gland affecting only five percent of the population of the world. The treatment was a long timed one and it had affected me awfully. I had in no time gained an enormous amount of body weight that made me look unappealing and less modern. My functional skills had become slower and I was more prone to pondering than active living.
I needed love and sympathy that I never received from people around me.
The fact that my suffering was genuine and not a pretension was incomprehensible to others and the society that I belonged to. I nevertheless tried hard to overcome many symptomatic illnesses by means of work therapy.
I began working as a registered volunteer in a social organization. I managed two groups of underprivileged children observing and facilitating an English language expert.
By witnessing their difficulties and issues pertaining to every aspect of child life I somehow realized that I could be stronger than the obstacles I encountered. Thus being more adamant than depression. With time I had built up my confidence level and desired employment. Unfortunately a dark shadow of bad luck loomed behind me which I wasn’t really aware of.
Each time I got an employment, I was ousted from the office without being given any reason. It still remains a mystery to me. Yes, it’s true that I have suffered from an ailment that had affected my work-life-balance for a long time, especially during my student days.
Today I have normalized completely and restored my speed in every sense. I have compensated a lot for what I had lost. I strongly feel and believe that every individual living in society must be given moral education accompanied with a serious dose of awareness of health issues and hazards prevailing in each type of society. Each one in society must be made compassionate, helpful, trustworthy and completely reliable as citizens.
Humanitarian laws and ideals are not just subjects of high leveled verbal dictates; in reality they send the message of indispensable values that connect us to each other especially in times of high stress and essential needs.
One mustn’t be opinionated and judgmental about those who seem to have a handicap or are facing a crisis of some kind in life. One must make a helpful intervention for the persons in distress, assisting him or her to overcome difficulties and surpass limitations to lead a life of true normality.
Therefore, by being transparent in sharing and supporting others one learns to be in one another’s shoes.  It abstains us from pursuing the vile ways of shamelessly shaming others also. Henceforth, the future of our world can be a container of spiritual values armed with truth, knowledge, and hope.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Sex-Ploitation can Happen to Both Genders

By Duncan Aliero Muhani via UN Online Volunteers

I grew up as a responsible young man, with good moral and sound Christian values. My mother always dedicated her time in educating me about every aspect of development including sex education and personal responsibility. 

She believed that sex education would always help me make safe and right decision during my involvement in sexual activities and relationships, hence protecting me from any sexual abuse, exploitation, sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancies.

I joined one of the local universities to undertake a degree. At the university the values my mum had taught me guided me through out in my day to day endeavors. I observed high level of discipline and moral responsibility. 

During my second year of study, I proceeded to do my internship which was part of the university requirement. I was posted in a cargo handling port in The Information and Communication Department at the IT support desk, with responsibilities that included but not limited to supporting the organization employees on challenges they faced during use of computers and related items.

One early morning, a lady made a call to the IT support desk; she urgently needed help due to a problem on her computer. Because I was still a learner, we left the office with one of the employees in order to provide support to the lady. We solved her problem and went back to the office. At around 3pm the same day, the lady made a call again. 

She brought up the same issue. This time around, I was asked to go and solve the problem. The lady was warmer and welcoming than she was in the morning, we talked for a while; she was very interested in knowing me; where I schooled and where I came from. 

I also got the opportunity to know more about her. We quickly created a rapport; she said the response at the help desk is sometimes slow. And this she said slowed down delivery of her work. She thus requested my number so that she could directly call me just in case a problem, that requires urgent attention, arose again. I gave her my number and left.

She would call me whenever she had an issue and I was always happy to offer my services. One day she called me just before 4.30 pm and asked if she could drop me in town, I quickly accepted. I knew it was an appreciation for the good service I had been rendering to her. The fare to town was also high and considering I was still a student, I could not reject the offer. I felt lucky for meeting a true friend. She would drop me in town every day and occasionally give me money.

One day she asked me out for coffee over the weekend in a resort restaurant, I accepted as we were now close friends. We had some good time together in a desolate place. In the middle of our conversation she confessed to be in love with me. I was shocked as she appeared much older than me; probably in her fifties.  I knew outright that this was sexual harassment. 

I remembered the sexual morals my mother had taught me. The challenges my mother anticipated I would one day face, had finally arrived; I had to make the right decision. I politely told her she was much older than me and that it would not work. We talked for a while as she tried to convince me. I later left having disappointed her. I just never thought that would happen.

A week later, I still ended up in her car again. I did mention amidst small talk that I had never watched 50 Shades of Grey the movie, she insisted I come over to her place over the weekend so that we could watch the movie together. I already had plans to check the movie out with some friends in a local movie theater, but the cost was high so I thought it was a better deal.

I came to her residence over the weekend for the movie date; she warmly welcomed me and took me around the house. She stayed in the leafy suburbs of the town in a four bedrooms storied house with a balcony overlooking the lawns, a garden, and flower beds. A spacious kitchen with fully fitted units, with full size microwave oven, electric cooker and refrigerator, a lounge with knole style, sheesham hardwood sofa set padded with cream cushion, color television with free view. Bathroom fitted with thermostatic electric shower over the bath, wash hand basin, and toilet, and electric heated towel rail. The bedroom had twin beds with matching chest of drawers. She was truly affluent and living large.

But she was all alone in this large bungalow; I asked her why she stayed alone. She said she had separated from her husband few years ago and that she had one child who was in a boarding school.

She served me with an alcoholic cocktail, as we watched the movie. It was the first time I was taking alcohol in my life. At first I felt a little guilty but thought it was okay. It was a gorgeous film with a little humor, lots of luscious scenery, drama and sexy scenes. I got drunk in the process and we ended up having sex.

This continued for a while. We would meet over the weekend and sometime during the weekday just to drink alcohol and we would end up having sex. The issue began taking toll on me. 

I felt I had really let myself down for not taking up what my mother had taught me. I thought this lady was taking advantage of me. This issue really depressed me and I become withdrawn even to my family back home. My parents noticed my weird behavior and wanted to know if there was any issue.  I told them I was okay.

I recognized the pattern of deceit and denial I was living in. I endured the shock of revelation to my own conscience about my mistake and decided to stop it completely. I realized that the lady was sexually exploiting me. And that’s when I noted that sexual exploitation can happen to either of the sexes. So I changed for a better me.

As we struggle to empower the girl child, girls must also be educated about the values of love and respect for the opposite sex. This understanding of equality of women and men will prepare both to work together as equal partners in all field, thus ensuring greater appreciation of each other. Therefore, ensuring success in the struggle and push for girl child’s rights.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Every Complexion is Normal

By William Dekker via UN Online Volunteers

In a family of five siblings; two older and two younger, I emerge in between resembling no one - dark and black. This is my story:
In those childhood days, majority of us were naïve or rather too innocent to think of what set us apart. We mingled with little or no regard to colour, shape or size, not until maturity set in.
On my first Saturday in college, I auditioned for a play that was premiering a month from then. At the end of the day, seven contestants auditioning for the same role had been eliminated. Two of us were left in what seemed like a tie. We had gone through it up to late in the evening and the judges had to make a decision. In a very outrageous tone, one judge whispered; “since the play will be performed during the nights, we are better off with a lighter guy than the dark one”. Immediately the role was awarded to my competitor (who was way more light-skinned than I was).
 That evening I returned to my hostel room, rejected and dejected. For the first time, my skin colour had worked against me. My complexion had denied me the chance to showcase my talent and whatever skills I got. The chance was taken away from me, not because I was incapable, but simply because I was darker than a fellow contestant. It haunted me for days and months.
At that very time, I had joined college to pursue a degree in Information Science. With Information Science, I would easily major on information studies and specialize on Media science so as to get to broadcast journalism (which was my passion and aspiration from long ago). The incident at the theatre audition played in the back my mind severally and haunted me for long. I imagined that the same would be the case when I get to the corporate realm. I imagined that I would be denied broadcast jobs just because I was too dark for the camera, maybe. It is at that point that I made one of my biggest decisions ever. I immediately quit the course and sought an admission into a different degree line; this time round IT.
But that was not the end of the pain. Through the four years in campus, I continued suffering in silence. I became overly cautious of my complexion. I turn out to be photophobic – as already I knew I wasn’t good for the camera. I resisted group photos like the plague. In case of unavoidable situations, I would stand behind people in a bid to shelve myself from visibility. Few friends invited me for photos too. While some would pretentiously ask me to join them, they would later delete the photos as “I always made them look bad.” Others would instead keep the photos and mock me whenever it gave them joy to do so. At some point, a colleague wrote a 450 word article to mock my dark complexion. But by then, I had slowly grown resilient.
As much as I had quit the Information Sciences course, I still remained a good communicator. I just changed the tact. I couldn’t be seen though. Instead I was heard and read. I broadcasted in the University radio while at the same time published articles in the campus student press. I rose to become the Chairperson of the press club. I engaged in other clubs and societies, majority of which I chaired, became the President or an executive committee member. Due to the consistent exhibition of diligence, I was later appointed into the student council and made in-charge of University communications on Student Affairs. It became one of my last responsibility before leaving campus.
Just before exiting campus, through a recommendation, I got the privilege to sit among the country’s great entrepreneurs, captains of the industry and corporate bigwigs as an honorable judge for the regional “Hult Prize Competition”. Hult Prize is a global student challenge, in which the winner takes home $1,000,000 for presenting the best business idea in line with the year’s theme. But you see at that time I was still black J
After the event, which I considered my greatest achievement then, I posted a photo of myself on Facebook with the event’s caption. The first comment to the Facebook photo post was meant to be an ironical mockery but instead, it has remained my biggest motivation to date: “YOU ARE DARK BUT YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT.”
Of course I was dark in the photo. And still I maybe dark today but my future is bright. Since then I have gained sufficient confidence. Today, my colour is my pride. I no longer scorn myself for the melanin I have. In my repertoires, my blackness will never stop me from achieving whatever in life that I desire. Neither will it prevent me from mingling.
And now, so you think you’re too dark to mingle? Who told you dark is the obnoxious? Why not the reverse? Remember Malcom X’s questions? “Who taught you to hate yourself? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the colour of your skin?”
Conventionally, it is of greater advantage to be contented with your appearance. The happier you are with yourself, the happier other people feel around you. This is my experience; when you learn to love and accept yourself, you’ll feel more peaceful, more confident and people will find it a pleasure to be around you. You become calmer because you feel more connected within. It even becomes easier to connect with others too. That is biggest secret to keep you attractive. 
Today I have more friends who, at no point show any dissent for my complexion. In fact, it the question of colour doesn’t even ring on their minds.
You see, in the end neither dark nor light skinned is abnormal. In fact every complexion is normal. Every physical appearance is normal. There’s a wide range of normal and that is where you fall. That is where we all fall. You maybe dark, I maybe dark but guess what…the future is bright!!!