Thursday, 26 May 2016

Respect is greater than fear

By Selene Cruz via UN Online Volunteers

Respect Should Always Be More Powerful Than Fear #SharingNotShaming
At 22 years old and fresh out of college, most young adults out there are embarking upon their first working experiences. Eager to learn and trying to make a positive impact in my first serious job as an English instructor for employees of a transnational company, I was striving to grow by always doing my best, learning as much as I could from others, and ensuring that everything that carried my signature had the best quality. 
Helping my students improve their skills, confidence and competence in the language could potentially lead to promotions, or excellent letters of recommendation. How can anyone know that this kind of drive in a woman could be so badly misunderstood?
I had two different groups in which all of my students were significantly older than me. Some of them over 30, but most of them were pushing 40 and even 50 years old. This considerable age difference between me and my students only meant that I had to earn their respect so they could acknowledge my expertise. Thankfully, I was excited about this challenge and I was committed to get my students to achieve greatness.
The lessons began and a few weeks later, one of my students –a manager in the company- came up to me asking for tutoring. I naturally agreed because he needed my help and I knew he could do better. We got together after class and I started assigning him different English-related activities. Then he started asking me about my personal life. He seemed genuinely fascinated by my answers and told me he had never met anyone so gorgeous and appealing before. 
The way he looked at me, his progressing closeness, and his increasingly more intimate questions and remarks about what I wore, my hair and makeup, started making me extremely uncomfortable, considering the fact that I knew he had a family and he had a top position within the firm. Even though there was a part of me who was aware of this inappropriate behavior, I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it because I may have had misread the situation and the last thing I wanted was to have a scandal on my hands. So, I let it go.
The tutoring sessions continued for several weeks but my discomfort never disappeared. His advances became more frequent and evident; when he wanted to greet me or hand in assigned tasks, he attempted to hold my hands or waist, hug me, kiss me on the cheek, and caress my back. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore so I told him his actions were not right and he had to stop. He justified everything by telling me that he didn’t mean anything by it and that we were just friends. We were not friends.
Something inside me stopped me from speaking out to my superiors about it. I felt scared of the repercussions, ashamed of being labeled as a troublemaker or homewrecker. I knew in my heart that I hadn’t done anything to suggest that I was interested in him, and yet I was the one who felt guilty. Was I overreacting? Could all of this get me fired? A million thoughts crossed my mind, and I didn’t have the strength to talk to anyone about it.
I was an emotional mess. I could not continue being in a place where my work was being overshadowed by someone who saw nothing but a piece of meat he wanted to get his teeth into. I had gotten such positive feedback from the rest of the students, and I should’ve been thrilled because of it. It didn’t matter, though. One person had made me feel like my work was worthless.
One day I headed straight to the HR office. I was determined to quit. After the initial greetings, the HR director told me she wanted to talk to me first. She said she had received comments from other employees about a possible sexual harassment case involving me. I denied it at first. I thought I was going to be fired for getting too personal with other members of the company. My word was nothing compared to his. I was just a 22-year-old inexperienced woman against a highly-regarded manager that had a reputation to take care of.
To my surprise, the HR director told me that any kind of improper behavior from a colleague that disturbs another may be considered a form of harassment, and what had happened to me was not going to be tolerated. It was necessary for me to come forward with my story so that the person involved received proper sanctions and it wouldn’t happen to anyone else. I ended up telling everything and luckily, he admitted to acting wrongfully.
At that point, I didn’t really care what the sanction was going to be. I realized that it is reprehensible to treat anyone the way I was treated. 
No one deserves to work in a place where you are teased or bullied for any reason, sexually or otherwise. We are all human beings with values and dignity and we deserve respect simply because of it. We are not eye candy, punching bags, or laughingstock to anyone. 
The way we look, dress or act does not define who we are, and does not determine the manner in which we interact with others. It is our hard work, character, and willingness to help others that people should pay attention to and admire from us. 
We shouldn’t be afraid to let our voices be heard when we go through any kind of injustice. We never know how many people will be inspired by our courage. It is our responsibility to be game changers in the world, and we must begin by setting a great example for everybody else.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Shame the Abuser, Not the Victim

By Adedamola Taofeekat via UN Volunteers

                   My Past Experiences Shouldn’t Ruin My Present Life
My name is Odofin Adedamola Taofeekat and I am a 21 year old from Nigeria. Who I am today, who I will still become, is shaped by what I’ve gone through in the past, either positive or negative.
Girls face terrible and shameful situations everyday all over the world and a lot of them are too scared to speak up out of fear that those that they value will shun them when they know their stories. I was a victim of sexual harassment.
When I was 8 years old, I was sexually harassed almost every day by my class teacher when I was in primary 2. He would sit by me at the back of the class during class exercises and touch my inner thighs through my skirt.
At first I didn’t understand what he was doing, I would push him away gently scared because he was my class teacher and he could’ve beaten me for being disobedient. However, he was persistent and kept it going for over two months.
I was never really a social butterfly as a kid, I kept to myself always and had no friends so I didn’t have someone to tell my problems too. I knew what he was doing was wrong but I was too scared of the consequences if I had told people. I would always dread going to school every morning because I knew what I was going to face, and face alone.
However, one day after the same occurrence, I found the courage to explain to my mother what my teacher was doing. I told her I didn’t like it and felt uncomfortable, and the next day my parents went to the school and the teacher was fired.
Unfortunately, some news of it got out in school and children can be mean to each other sometimes. I felt embarrassed that they knew what happened and I got a lot of pitiful looks and side talks for it. I was physically and mentally depressed for more than a year. I felt so violated.
I was a little kid that got harassed for over two months without anyone to run to. I felt disgusted at myself at such a young age and I got a certain stigma at school. But eventually I got over it, or so I thought.
I was an early bloomer, so at the age of 10 I stared developing breasts when I as in primary 4. At first I was excited thinking I was a big girl now, but my classmates thought otherwise.
They made fun of me saying it was abnormal to have them at that age and they went as far as bringing up my past experience saying I was having breasts because I let “teachers” touch me. No one wanted to associate with me then and my life was a living nightmare.
Fortunately, I got a double promotion to primary 6 but my mum took me away from that school to start Secondary School. Three years later, I was almost raped in the middle of the night by a 15year old steward working with my family. This event coupled with my early childhood experience affected me for more than two years. I felt everyone that looked at me knew my secrets, I was sad always and developed a terrible case of anxiety and fear of the male gender.
I developed a problem with the way I looked and thought my body wasn’t good enough and it was my fault for letting my teacher harass me for so long. I hated bodily contacts and my school mates saw me as weird. However, I had a great family support, especially my mother.
I began to open up little by little on my sadness and shame. Who I am today is as a result of my past, but I have found a way not to feel terrible about it. I realised that all the times I was sad and alone, I gave room for my mind to re-enact those moments without control, but since
I’ve opened up they’ve lessened and the past remains exactly in the past. I’ve learnt to appreciate my body and although I still struggle with anxiety, I’ve learnt to manage it with the help of family and God.
Wherever and whoever you are, just know that you can overcome whatever you might’ve faced or are facing. No condition is permanent. Never let your past ruin your present, rather let it be a story to tell others that will give them hope. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Always think about you and your well-being and try not to bottle things up because there are always people waiting to listen and help you feel better.

No one can make you feel better about yourself than yourself, I could spend forever telling you how special you are but if you don’t believe it on your own then words will only fade way. #SharingNotShaming

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

We can overcome racism

By Kumsa Yuya via UN Volunteers

Whether or not we are conscious of it, from birth we are being socialized.
This process of socialization tells us what is valuable, important and beautiful. Although not inherently problematic, often these attributes deemed valuable in society are attached to immutable characteristics that have been assaulted through history.
These characteristics include things like skin color, size of facial features, and behaviours that are a presumed consequence of having these features. Borne out of these historical circumstances is a hierarchy that is clearly discernable no matter where we are in the globe. The result of these arbitrary categorizations is the institutionalization of discrimination; a caste system is thus accepted as nothing more than unquestionable truth.
Although this is the reality for many marginalized groups throughout the world, my story will focus on what I faced and learned as a result of these experiences being an African Canadian. Although Canada is distinguished in the eyes of many from the United States, it is undeniable our histories are intertwined for better and for worse.
Slavery – and the creation of racist stereotypes that were necessary in order to launch this institution persist hundreds of years after the fact. Racism is pervasive. It manifests itself in both pronounced and nuanced ways not only interpersonally, but also through policy and discourse.
Black Canadians come face to face with racism early in their lives. My personal experience with racism is as early as the third grade where I can vividly remember being called a “nigger” by classmates at recess.
Although I am doubtful these children knew the implications of their words, it is still troubling that at such a young age the social categorization of individuals has been so readily learned by them.
They knew who belonged to what group, and where they stood socially because of certain physical characteristics. I had never heard the term before, but I would eventually learn it was derogatory and said only in an attempt to eviscerate the dignity of the person it is hurled toward. 
As it had helped cement the position of these students above myself in our social hierarchy, being labeled as inferior had certain implications on my self perception that would only magnify as I matured and began to understand discrimination more deeply.
The result of this interaction and ones similar to it were me regularly questioning my place in society and inherent ability to achieve certain goals. Children have the most expansive imaginations in our society, but the imposition of these barriers is not often viewed from the perspective of the target.
Once racialized, thoughts of what one can not achieve become more prevalent than the endless possibility that was imagined before this process taints the mind. 
Thoughts become self deprecating as beauty and intelligence become synonymous with all of the features you are devoid of. Once negativity has been imposed by the outside world onto an individual long enough, self imposition of these destructive self beliefs is inevitable and for some irreparable.
Learning about the circumstances that have put this system into place is liberating. As similar events began to accumulate over the years, I rarely thought about race until after high school, although I was often aware of it.
University acted as the main catalyst for introspection and the analysis of socialization and the arbitrary nature of what is deemed to be social currency. Identification with these negative stereotypes and limitations slowly began to dissolve, and I was left with a blank slate that was at first scary, but later this new found autonomy became intoxicating. 
Although I was able to replace these old limitations with many new and positive beliefs, it would be disingenuous to claim that the effects of past and present racism have disappeared.
They are embedded into your personality, and much like smog, is always there to cloud interactions and be ingested by those who remain unaware of the damaging effects. 
I am also not foolish enough to think this self realization has resulted in external perceptions of myself to be any more positive. It is this unfortunate paradox that racialized individuals must live with; being forced to deal with and work through racism and develop self appreciation as a result of being thrust into a subordinate position in society.
Conversely, however those that have not had to deal with a particular type of adversity remain unaware and often unsympathetic to the plight of those dealing with these issues every day, allowing these structures to be upheld. It requires the group facing this type of discrimination to accept the current circumstances of society and develop tools to effectively deal with these unique challenges, and is something I had to learn.
A lesson I’ve learned from these experiences is the importance of compassion in humanity. It allows us to relate emotionally to one another and thus spur us into action to dismantle structures that reinforce inequality and alienation. 
Throughout history, resistance to discrimination has risen contemporaneously with racism, even when lives were at stake. Although it may not be fair, as part of a marginalized group it is your social responsibility to continue to challenge the status quo.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

We must embrace our differences

By Iliana Oikonomu via UN Volunteers

While you grow up, you have a lot of people telling you what’s right and what’s wrong. What’s okay and what isn’t. And all these “rules”, all this ‘musts’ and ‘mustn’ts’ are based on society stereotypes, and what is consider a trend. But those things, those stereotypes, change over the eras which really makes me wonder; Is there really a right thing after all? Is there a thing that should apply to everyone?
And why should we all look, talk, act and think the same way? Every human, every single person, is different but it often seems we try to put them all in a bag and make them clones of each other. Where are their beliefs and since when ‘feminism’ is a trend and not a way of thinking and living? These things occurred to me a lot and I’m happy to finally be able to share my story.
Growing up, I’ve been no exception of people judging me for the clothes I wore or the way I talked or walked. Even as a kid I had to take hard criticism about my style, my hair, my weight and even things I had no control over, as my height. My clothes were too ugly. I was too short, too skinny.
Even my family insisted my weight wasn’t healthy, that I was underweight and I should eat more when for that part of my life, that was just my body type and there was nothing I could really do to change it. Growing older and getting into high school, my body had changed completely. I started having curves and I was getting thicker, something that pleased a lot my family, but it seemed, not society.
When I was finally starting to feel confident with my (finally) curvy and more woman-like body, I started getting called fat. They started telling me tips about the perfect weight and looking weirdly at me when I was eating a simple sandwich. I started seeing pictures in magazines of girls being extra thin.
Social media at that time were going crazy about the new trend, thigh gap, trying to give you advice on how to achieve that perfect empty space between your legs. At that point I decided to eat less. Cut down some of my calorie intake, eat healthier. The results weren’t fast though and my family started complaining once again about me eating “nothing at all”.
Even though I completely changed my eating habits there was no big difference. I got rejected by people I liked for my weight. I’ve never been overweight. Just thick.
Long story short, after a series of circumstances I only ate one tiny meal a day. I was getting not only thinner but also weaker. I was dizzy. I had no power to do anything. I didn’t want to go out because people might make me eat something and then I’d feel guilty about it. Still it wasn’t enough for me.
I only wanted to fit in. Fit in that size zero dress.
People then started saying I’m too skinny. That I should eat something. That I don’t look healthy and that I was better the way I looked before. And then it clicked. No matter how I look or what I do, people will always want me to look different. And that I just shouldn’t care.
I should just try to feel comfortable in my own skin. And that was my next goal. Not losing one more pound, not grow a gap between my thighs. I reached the weight I wanted and that I still keep, and I worked on feeling comfortable like that.
Trying to love myself for what I am because in the end that’s all that matters. To be healthy. And the times changed and the next trend was thick girls that are working out and are fit. And even though I fit in that new description of the “perfect body” I know there are girls out there that are naturally skinny, just because they’re built this way.
And I want to say to every girl to stay just the way they are. That’s my message. To stay as you are and love it. Because you’ll never be enough for society, unless you’re enough for yourself first.

Don’t try to fit in new trends that most times are unhealthy. We’re all different, and that’s our power. Our uniqueness! I was lucky enough to get out of this situation alive but also stronger. If you’ve ever felt targeted because of your weight please share your story and feelings about it. This is about #SharingNotShaming