Monday, 25 January 2016

End Gender Discrimination At Work

By Aisha via UN Online Volunteering

They say when we deny the story, it defines us; when we own the story, we can write a brave new ending. 

Cognition and knowledge is not about how many pleasant or unpleasant experiences you've been through; sometimes it is how you can view the same place or thing in different ways and from different perspectives. When I was younger, my understanding of events and people was simple; everything was either black or white. As I grew into a young adult, I came to realize that there were so many shades of gray that I would be forced to discern.

I have always seen myself as a relatively cool, calm and collected person; never harbouring resilient doubts of my abilities as an intellectual and as a woman; not realising that my belief about myself would be shaken to the core. 

At 23 years, I had just graduated from university and was among the top students in my class. Receiving a call on the same day as my graduation, the news that I had been offered a high paying job at a corporate company after three nerve wrecking interviews was like hitting triple jackpot. 

I would be able to help my mother pay rent, hospital bills and I would finally be financially independent, or so I thought. Saying I was extremely enthusiastic and fazed about the opportunity, would be an understatement, little did I know that my excitement would be just but a flash in the pan. I cannot begin to describe the perpetual stigma that African females encounter in their daily functioning; 

I am not just speaking from blasé conjecture but from first hand experience. One of the things that came up in my interview was "how I would handle working with the senior males in the department being a younger female". I did not give the question much thought; my perception now is that it was an extremely strong question that the whole selection process was based on the fact that I was a younger female working with older males and who was trying to cross over to a career traditionally assumed to be for males.

It is common knowledge that what you allow will continue; If you set the precedent for people to ride roughshod over your rights they will stamp all over you, but what happens if you show up as a confident, mature and rational adult yet you experience abuse and discrimination? Will you remain unchanged? I was the only female in my department among the very few females in the company. 

Everything was a smooth ride, especially when I wasn't meetings my targets, until I started to generate output and challenged everyone's expectations of me. All of a sudden I became the company's fall man; I would be faulted and blamed for everything that went wrong. But, that was just the beginning of the storm; those were trivial matters that could be swept under the rag. 

Soon, my ethnicity, age, gender and degree became an issue and were gaining a lot of negative attention from male colleagues even in other branches of the company. I became a target of smear campaigns and I remember I would walk into the glass built office, and the men would ogle at me and scream. I focused on the job, tried to be as calm as possible and prayed that it was just a phase, but it turned out to be wishful thinking on my part.

My work was sabotaged, and people would take credit for my efforts such that on the performance measurement report that was forwarded to the main office, I looked like I was doing practically nothing. The work that I did appeared under the name of my male colleagues. They told all the clients that cared to listen that I was just but a secretary! 

When I complained to the top manager, he assured me that he would look into it but later he passed by my desk with the rest of the male team, read a line of my complaint email, and they burst out laughing. Everything took a nosedive henceforth; my colleagues would send me phonographic videos and videos that suggested I was the problem and that I had no self esteem. 

My immediate manager told me that they didn't want a woman in their team and that they would frustrate me until I left. The top manager started making passes and ogling at me, claiming that he would "protect" me if I "scratched his back". One female colleague that I confided in, a single mother, was fired on the grounds that she was filling my head with lies about the company. Soon my salary and commission started to be deducted, yet the males were never affected. 

My subordinates were told not to assist me in any way, and I remember one time one started pointing at me, shouting to everyone that I was just a woman and my place was at home raising a family. In short, I was the "problem" and all the men were the victims. I was eventually told that I wouldn't be confirmed lest I removed my "knickers". 

I dreaded going to the office; every morning I felt like I was walking into a battlefield, constantly walking on pins and needles, my body always on "fight or flight" mode. One doesn't know the weight of the load she's carrying until she feels it's release; when I received the "Scarlet letter", which I was expecting, I was too exhausted to mourn my loss. 

Daring not to create a legal haze surrounding my departure, management told everyone that I had resigned. After the Iong 11 month probation, I lost most of  my money and I went from executive to beggar; I couldn't pay my student loan so my name was forwarded to the CRB. I had nothing to show at the end of all the hard work and dedication; I felt completely humiliated.

It was the classic cat and mouse game; the more I fought for my dignity, my respect and sanity, the worse it got. 

And for anyone going through what I went through, I know this sounds counterintuitive, but  never show strong emotion at the workplace,  no matter how badly you feel you have been wronged. That would only be used as ammunition by your "enemies"? 

By reacting, I was only feeding them,  exciting them because now they had my attention, and I looked like the unstable one. Apparently my actions were seen as an attempt to upset the status quo; the misguided notion that women had to assume a submissive subordinate role at the workplace. 

My plight was seemingly couched in the systems bureaucracy, gender bias and discourse of male dominance. Women are oftentimes only appointed for "window dressing" and their roles , are made ineffective by lack of senior management support.

 Bottomline: Do not let your own fears of societal rejection dictate who you need to be and allow it to result in surface compliance. "Do not Conform", let that be your guiding mantra. Stand up for yourself, know your truth and speak up, no matter what they say. 

There are many people who would do anything to break you; who would say you are the problem; who would gaslight you and say you have a skewed perception. 

People fear what they do not understand and what/who they cannot control. Set and respect your boundaries, never ever apologize for being who you are, never give away your dignity to get or keep a job. The labels they place upon you do not define you, they are just projections of qualities they do not like about themselves. Last but not least, do not supress the pain, embrace then release it; accept that what happened was "FOR YOU," not "TO YOU." 

Honour your emotions and journey to recovery, forgive those who wronged you and forgive yourself; trust me once you make that shift, you will never be the same person again; you will reach a level of consciousness and realize that those who wronged you need your empathy, not judgement. Their perception has been hazed by old prejudices, distortions and misleading cultural alibis. 

It's not what happens to us in our lives that makes us into writers; it's what we make out of what happens to us. It's our distinctive point of view. I fully recovered, after a case of agoraphobia and PTSD. 

That is what inspired me to start writing about the challenges that women and children, especially in Africa have to face, daring to inspire the redefinition of male and female roles until societal consensus is reached. 

When we dare to walk this world unapologetically, it's how we put our pictures up and validate ourselves; I was punished and vilified for having the nerve, and unmitigated gall to love and reaffirm myself as a woman, a young woman. 

It's not over yet; every setback bears with it the seeds of a comeback. My scars are markings of where the structure of my character was welded. I am not my wounds; I am the transcendence of them, still I rise...

#End Gender Discrimination at the Workplace. 

Monday, 18 January 2016

My gender is not a limitation to how I live life

By Adriana via UN Online Volunteers

I’m 18 years old and I live in Lima, Peru. I consider myself to be a kind and intelligent person, sensitive, and I love to do normal teenage things like listening to music and having fun. I believe I’m happy, but it hasn’t always been this way.

Living in a traditional society as a woman bring certain things with it. Like, not being considered equal to man, being thought of in a rigid way or having to act as society dictates. I’ve never actually been quite okay with that, so I didn’t stick to it, since childhood. That’s when the bullying started.

I was bullied since first grade, when I was just 5 years old, until fifth grade at 11 years old. I was shamed for a number of reasons, the first one: playing with the boys and preferring “boys toys.” 

I never really thought much about it, it just felt natural to play soccer and ask for cars instead of Barbie’s. Don’t get me wrong, I was quite feminine too but girls my age preferred jumping rope and not interacting with the boys. So, I didn’t have many friends at school, because girls wouldn’t play with me, and boys wouldn’t talk with me.

I didn’t care about it because I still had a couple of friends to play with, and that is all that really mattered to me, I mean, I was a 5 year old, all I wanted to do was play and have fun. 

Later on, when I was 8, the only two friends I had, moved out of the country. I was left alone, to try and find someone to hang with. By then, I didn’t play with the boys anymore, because they didn’t like playing with “the girls” and the girls liked to just sit around and talk, still I was okay with it if I could get a group of girls to be with.

But I couldn’t get any group to accept me, and also for the reason I was always top of my whole class. This time other kids didn't like me for another reason: being smart. Kids just didn’t want to hang out with me, and I didn’t understand why that was. 

I started thinking something was wrong with me, I started to not like myself as much, to feel uncomfortable in my own body, wanting to be like one of the popular girls. 

At that time, in my lowest point in life, I would spend hours crying in the school’s toilets as I was alone and wishing for a friend. 

It was then that I received one piece of advice from the person I love the most: my mom. She had been there through it all and she told me the others were just jealous, that there was nothing wrong with me, she told me to just be myself and not to stress out about what other people thought about me. That helped me rebuild my self-esteem and I learned a valuable life lesson I still use today: If you like yourself, or at least learn to love what you are with flaws and all, nobody can bring you down.

Years later, it started getting better. I made a couple of friends who liked me for who I was, and the best of all… I didn’t need to change myself. I changed schools, it all got better. I made a whole lot of new friends, and had they best years of my life so far on high school. They were so good; sometimes I don’t even remember I was bullied at all. 

Remember, you just have to be strong and keep on going. Things do get better sooner or later, don’t let anyone tear you down.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

My religion isn't a way to take away my rights

By Zain Zaman, via UN Volunteers

Shahida Parveen: from Sanitary worker to right activists

Having been born in the slums of Pakistan, in a poor Christian family, a challenging fate awaited me. Being the eldest among my siblings, I was expected to work and contribute to the family income as my father, who was a cleaner at district hospital, was the sole breadwinner and we were a big family.

Every morning before the sunrise I set out along with father, to go to the hospital where I would start helping my father in cleaning offices, wards and even washrooms before the staff could arrive. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth nor was my childhood any was pleasant.

When I reached adolescense, I was feeling ashamed of our status in society. I was taunted countless times for being a member of a family which mainly does the cleaning and sanitation work. Christians account for around 2% of the almost 180 million population in Pakistan. However, representation of Christians in the occupation of cleaning and sweeping is extremely high.

As I grew up I realized that the problem is not about being a member of the Christian community, who are mainly sanitary workers. The real problem is that we don't have a proper platform to convey our message to society that we should have the same rights which other communities are enjoying in Pakistan. That was the time I decided to become a right activist.

Regardless, my family had different plans for me. I married my cousin, who was also a sweeper, moved to his city and settled there. The situation of Christian community was not good there either.

We were facing innumerable challenges and the the biggest of them was that we did not even have our own graveyard to bury our dead - we used to go to other cities with dead bodies to bury our community members. I decide to knock the door of court, after my extensive campain the court decision came in our favor and few years later we had our own graveyard.

I got a job in Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA) as a cleaner. There were no government jobs except cleaner for us as we did not have the basic education. I was sure that our fate was not going to change unless we sent our children to schools, and so, I went door to door asking women to send their children to school. I took the lead by sending my children to school.

The next task ahead me was to have our political representation at Tehsil level (Tehsil is an administrative sub-division of district in Pakistan), I decided to contest the local bodes election of Pakistan which were held in 2005. Thanks to my community and my vigorous campaigning I won with ease. For next five years I represented my community in Tehsil council as minority Tehsil consular, I conveyed the grievances of my community in each and every meeting of the council.

On the other hand I kept balance between my family and professional life, today four of my sons are doing jobs in governmental departments since my priority was to give them at least basic education which they got.

Now as the local bodies elections are scheduled on December 05, 2015 in Punjab province of Pakistan I am dreaming to unite my community to elect our representative unanimously for Tehsil council so we can pursue our shared goal of acquiring a church for Christians community in our city.

I faced innumerable challenges in my life, there was I time when I was working in Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA) as sanitary worker, all while taking care of my nine children, representing Christians in Tehsil Council and hearing queries from the  dweller of my constituency simultaneously.

My story goes to show that life is the name of continuous struggle, one should not give up to stereotypes of society rather dare to guide his own fate, It's in one’s own hand to steer his life. I was not educated nor did my family have any political background - all I had was hunger for my cause of become a Rights Activist and contribute to change the living standards of my community which I did and will continue to do so.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

My past relationship does not define me

By Myrto Delkou

As a young woman I’ve always been told I should be careful who I “give my virginity to”. 

Growing up, there’s a lot of rules surrounding how sex should be. They’ll tell you when to do it, how to do it and who you should do it with. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s important that you stay safe and you’re mature and ready to do it. But, I feel like we should feel free to make our choices without being judged.

So, if one decides their first time should be with someone they’re never gonna see again, that should be just as fine as if another chooses to have sex with someone they’ve been in a long-term relationship with. Women receive a lot of harsh criticism when it comes to sex. They’re judged for the number of sexual partners they’ve had, the frequency of their sexual activity, their choices in their sex-life, in general. And it shouldn’t be that way. I’m a nineteen-year-old girl and here’s my story.

It was summer after high school. I was having the best time, with my friends, finally without responsibilities and just waiting to find out which university we got into. And there was this really nice night bar we used to hang out to, a lot. I was almost 18 years old and very happy with myself. I had an amazing group of friends around me and I was feeling like I could take on the world.

And at some point I got a call from one of my friends saying that somebody who worked at that bar, liked me. And when I found out who it was… he wasn’t really something special. A short guy,  a few years older than me, not the kind of person I would notice, otherwise.  But he knew the right things to say, so when I “officially” met him he told me how pretty he thought I was, that he fell in love with my eyes and so many other beautiful things and I was very flattered. And so I ended up engaging into something with him.

Days passed by and I was so excited about being with someone who liked me so much and was so nice with me. He wanted to be my boyfriend and really, having somebody notice me like that…made me feel great.  I don’t think I ever fell in love with him but at the time I thought that I had. Maybe I was just very enthusiastic about this new relationship. And when he said he loved me, though I knew it was too soon for any of us to mean it, I said it back.

Nearly two weeks in, I had sex with him. It was my first time having sex, ever. It wasn’t pleasant but most girls don’t report very pleasant experiences when they  have sex for the first time.

It went on well! We were together for three months when I got into university and moved to a different city. And we both promised we’d stay together and try to make it work despite the distance.

He never called. Not once. He never texted. I was always the one to reach out to him. But he wouldn’t spare one minute to call me, he became distant and when I started getting mad, he started lying. 

And at first, I believed that he really was very busy with work or very tired or even that his grandmother suddenly died! And they all turned out to be lies. Of course I broke up with him (I must admit I was about to relapse when he apologized). I felt ashamed. I felt like being with that person, who turned out to be terrible, was such a bad choice and I started pointing my own fingers to myself.

His behavior made me hate him. There’s a lot that happened that would take too long to write down but the main point is, I never wanted to see him again and I still don’t.

It took about a month for me to feel ok again. And after a while some thoughts started creeping in my mind… What happens when the person I got so intimate with for the first time in my life… turns out to be a terrible hypocrite?  Does this say anything about me?

My relationship with him was the least important relationship of my life and also the one I want to forget about. But  it was during that relationship when I had sex for the first time. So, should it matter, who it was? For me, it doesn’t. For me, what matters is that I was ready to do it and that, at the time, he seemed like the right person.

I grew up in a town where a lot of the time, people were commented on, based on their past relationships. So if a person passed by a group of other people, there was a chance someone would know them and say “Oh, she/he dated that person.”

 And suddenly there would be an opinion formed out of this. But I feel like no past relationship can say anything about who I am or what I stand for. Because a past relationship could be a mistake ( like it was in my case) or it could be something that deep down never felt right or something that felt right at the time but not in the end. 

After all, I see it in myself, I evolve and change every single day and in most cases, so do the people I once dated. And there’s a high chance we’ve all evolved so much and if we met now… we probably would never even like each other. So why should anyone be defined by an ex?

I was afraid that the fact that I gave my so called “precious virginity” to a person who ended up treating me like nothing, would  mean I’m a fool or I’m less worthy. And I decided to turn that fear, that weakness…into strength and help other girls who face problems like mine.

Because no one should be judged so harshly for their choices and their decisions, whether they end up regretting them or not. I try to see it as a lesson and I try to not let all the “importance-of-the-first-time” talk affect me that much. 

I really don’t know why there’s so much fuss about it. It shouldn’t matter who I (or anyone) chose to have sex with for the first time because it says nothing about who I am. I think that it’s not that much about the action of sex as it is about the amount of feelings invested into that person. And when they act like your emotions never mattered, it hurts.

And it makes you feel like this is what you were worthy of. But truth is, this is not the case. You are not your mistakes. You are not your wrong choices. And you are not anyone’s opinion. So, we should stop shaming girls for their past, especially when it comes to such a sensitive issue, like sex. 

Sex is something beautiful and we should all be allowed to enjoy it without needing to apologise for choices we’ve made about ourselves and our life. After all, it’s our mistakes that teach us something new, each time.

If you have ever felt targeted because of a choice you made,  please share your story and your feelings about it. This is about #SharingNotShaming.  

Friday, 1 January 2016

Sharing Not Shaming

This year, we are embarking on the theme of Sharing Not Shaming, in order to raise awareness, empower and pull down any limiting dogmas set by society that are inhibiting self growth, self acceptance and overall development.

This campaign was initiated by SAFIGI Volunteer from Greece, Myrto Delkou.

Catch a glimpse of each story below:


Read Myrto's Story here.

Read Shahida's Story here.

Read Adriana's Story here.

Read Aisha's Story here.


Read Debayani's Story here.

Read Muhkamat's Story here.

 Read Marie's Story here.
Read Marie's Story here.

Read Shucheesmita's Story here.


Read Tram's Story here.

Read Vyshakh's Story here.


Read Isha's story here.

Read William's Story here.


Read Iliana's Story here. 

Read Kumsa's Story here.  

Read Adedamola's Story here. 

Read Selene's Story here. 


Read Hannah's Story here. 

Read Nachizya's Story here. 

Read Daniela's Story here.

Read Mishaal's Story here. 


Read Flavia's Story here. 

Read Mitchelle's Story here. 

Read Rizia's story here. 


Read Nargues' Story here 

Read Ashley's Story here 

Read Ananya's Story here. 

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation < Safety First for Girls > would like to thank all volunteers who shared their stories toward the Sharing Not Shaming Campaign. It was a pleasure and an honor working with you, knowing you, and using your stories to inspire more understanding, equity, equality, and love in our respective societies.

A special thanks to UN Online Volunteers Platform for giving us access to a wonderful pool of volunteers all over the globe.