The perception of menstruation gives me the cramps

The perception of menstruation gives me the cramps

On Tuesday, I felt disheartened to read how many UK schoolgirls are skipping school several days a month because it links to their inability to afford sanitary protection. Some are relying on toilet roll to relieve their clothing of stains, or even using socks. Personally, the only time I have had to resort to toilet roll to soak up menstrual blood has been my irregular cycle striking my uterus at unpredictable times i.e. being in a public place and having no reserved rations of towels on me. Being a woman is hard.

When your family struggle enough to afford food, despite the influx of families receiving help from food banks, access to what should be basic toiletries is going to be restricted. Hopefully as of next April, the tampon tax, which sees sanitary products be taxed a further 5% for being a ‘non-essential’ product, will be axed, thanks to the tenacity and determination of Laura Coryton’s campaign. The sorts of taxes and laws which exist under a heavily male government are almost satirical.

While the abolition of this tax will make a slight different, sanitary products are of course still expensive. By the time periods are no longer stigmatised, the whole population able to menstruate probably would have churned out millions of vats of period blood. At Tesco, you can buy 24 tampons for a £1 which is the cheapest rate. However, women shouldn’t have to resort to what’s cheapest for such a function of the product, but then again, beggars can’t necessarily be choosers.

Not only due to costs but also convenience, I have opted to go on the mini-pill – a form of contraception which means I take the pill back to back, therefore not bleeding at all. Obviously, this isn’t an option for everyone, due to factors like age, necessity, the health risks. As with anything these days, of course.

In the BBC’s article, Tina Leslie who created Freedom4Girls mentioned that “we need to give these girls dignity back”. Having no dignity makes it sound almost shameful that these girls are sat at home bleeding out of their vaginas in fear. There really is no shame in menstruating, and schools should ensure they are establishing this view in pre-teens early on and maintaining it throughout the years.

We really are living in a divided nation where some stay quiet about a bodily function natural to a girl which signals the blossoming of her womanhood, and others ‘free bleed’ and make recipes using their blood. Okay, I don’t know if that last part is true, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Personally, the best means of going forward is to now provide a wider range of what’s available at food banks. My mother donates toiletries to the homeless, and I think more similar initiatives should exist. For example, a monthly box of toiletries you can collect including enough sanitary products for however many in the household require them, unisex shower gel, basic razors etc. This not only solves the problem of affording sanitary products but also gives a range of other basic toiletries which everybody should be entitled to.

Of course, there are charities who you can send sanitary products to as donations so that they can distribute them to the needy, such as Bloody Good Period and The Homeless Period among various others across the nation.

 

 

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Oppression or liberation?: the headscarf

Oppression or liberation?: the headscarf

I read just yesterday that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Islamic headscarves can be banned in the workplace, following two female employees being dismissed from work for refusing to remove their headscarves. This would be an umbrella ban presumably, prohibiting the ban of the khimar, burqa, niqab, hijab and chador. What with the fear in Western society of a Islamist attack being prevalent, many are quick to associate a woman wearing a headscarf as dangerous. But to discriminate in a generalised manner does not remove the problem. The problem is one of religious and feminist freedom in a woman.

If wearing a headscarf does not impede on that woman’s ability to carry out her job, why should there be a ban? Tabassum emailed the BBC to say that she would “definitely choose [her] head scarf” over her job. A headscarf is not a fashion accessory, so of course the religious connotations should come paramount. This ruling reminds me of the many occasions where typically male teachers would not allow schoolgirls to wear short skirts because they are ‘distracting’ which is just a whole other problem in itself.

There is an argument that children who have not become accustomed to the symbols of other religions or cultures may become naturally fearful of somebody who is wearing a niqab, for example. Yet, then surely it is the role of that child’s parents to ensure the child does encounter people and experiences that are out of their conception of ‘ordinary’. Our society is a multicultural one, therefore not only should we be aware of other religions but we must respect them too.

Many associate the Islamic headscarf with the woman being subservient to the men’s needs, what with the man having more freedom than the women in Islamic culture. The ban is therefore an abominable ridicule of hypocrisy. If we can point the finger at Muslim societies for oppressing women, then why should European societies have the right to demean them even more?

Many female Muslims perceive wearing a headscarf as being a symbol of liberation and feminism, rather than the opposite. In a world where women are still being objectified for their sexual prowess, wearing a headscarf rejects this notion which I think is incredibly empowering.Hanna Yusuf opined that in a society where women are being told how to look by the media, the hijab, along with other headscarves, resists the capitalist concept that women are not only the merchandise but also the consumers.

As she rightly states, there are women who are forced into wearing the headscarf, which of course is what is derogatory and belittling. But, “liberation lies in the choice”. Having laws which disallow wearing the headscarf imposes on the right to choose. Yusuf goes on to question “why is social pressure, or legal pressure, to not wear [a headscarf] excused as female emancipation?”

It is not the headscarf which controls sexuality, it is the powers in place such as the ECJ’s ruling which are powerfully dangerous. Either way, law should play no part in religion, ideally. To ban Islamic headscarves should mean that any and every religious symbol should be banned surely? If not, then that illustrates that the reason for banning only Islamic symbols is due to racism and Islamophobia.

Now having a legal basis to prevent a woman from wearing her headscarf is undoubtedly going to cause more problems for these women. Somebody who has quietly become fearful of the headscarf may now audibly protest at the sight of one, knowing he has the ECJ on his side. This is what is oppressive.

For my degree I was reading a journal article by Professor Susan Marks called ‘Backlash: the undeclared war against human rights’, regarding whether our conservative government are against such human rights, particularly of women. Marks makes the point that we are facing a certain backlash against women, quoting Susan Faludi in that this movement attempts to push women back into their ‘acceptable’ roles – whether as Daddy’s girl or fluttery romantic, active nester or passive love object”. Furthermore, feminists are not taken seriously, but either as ‘whores’ or ‘witches’. According to Marks and Faludi, there is an undeclared war on a women’s rights, whether that be her choice over her body or otherwise.

While I truly recommend anybody to read the article, I find the final paragraph the most compelling. In that, “the problem is not ultimately the Daily Mail‘s “Hey you, get that veil off!” bully-boy. The problem is the world that produces him”. In other words, while women are objectified in the media and told not that they are too skinny and have to look younger, but they are also too fat and look too fake. Such notions are only prevalent because of the antifeminist views of those around us. In an ideal world of feminists, if advertising were to still exist, it would simply encourage women to establish a much more progressive society. Capitalist greed in exploiting the rights of women, wherever they come from, is wholly regressive.

Despite the ECJ’s ruling, I hope that no Muslim woman feels any less empowered to wear her headscarf. Resistance of the ruling is key to social change. And, maybe one day, we will live in a world where the choice of a woman’s clothing does not require a ruling in the highest court in the European Union.

 

 

What kind of people are we?

What kind of people are we?

Billy Bragg appeared on last night’s Question Time, highlighting our duty to take in refugees after only 350 child refugees were able to be taken in under the Dubs amendment. We individually have a humanitarian obligation to this earth, and respecting other human beings is part of that duty, wherever we come from.

The Dubs amendment was intended to relieve the humanitarian crisis that is the displacement of people, and this country’s reticence towards introducing them into our country. The amendment initially looked like a solution, but it’s of no surprise that its cracks began to surface. It could be said that having such an open door to child refugees may not only encourage them to risk their lives reaching Europe, but leave them vulnerable to traffickers. But then again, not helping these children at all is just as dangerous.

The government purportedly still wish to take in thousands more child refugees. This is clearly rather sensationalist after halting a great way to accept said refugees. 350 children seems a lot in terms of finding appropriate housing and education, but what about the other 2,650+ children who might have expected to be offered refuge? The government has sincerely let these children down by no longer following the amendment through. My favourite description of this ridiculous decision is from Christian Aid as “not only a broken promise to vulnerable children, but a rejection of our international responsibilities”.

I believe that the amendment was the right thing to implement by Lord Dubs in the circumstances, but it still remains valid. Why this particular amendment to the Act should have a time limit is base, and contrary to the government’s intention to adhere to the word and spirit of the amendment. As Yvette Cooper stated, “no one ever suggested we would only help children for a few months then turn our backs especially when the global refugee crisis shows no sign of abating”.

Cooper also questions whatever happened to the commitments of the government to ending modern slavery and human trafficking. As aforementioned with trafficking, children who are found between “a rock and a hard place” as rightfully described by Bragg are most likely to be subject to modern slavery now. We’ve seen enough human beings sacrifice their lives to simply travel from one country to another, so what’s to say that child refugees will not keep putting their life on the line for some degree of sanctuary, however doubtful?

While our MPs seem to be more concerned with the economic state of our country, we as citizens cannot lose sight of what is important. To dismiss the urgency of the refugee crisis and instead prioritise Brexit is abhorrent while such a crisis is ongoing, and I anticipate the results of the legality of the decision to overturn the Dubs amendment.

I know that this country is home to some of the most open-minded and empathetic individuals some of whom are not even British nationals. But how are we to exercise our compassion towards the vulnerable if our government is a barrier? Relying on men and women in suits to hazard an attempt at being empathetic for the welfare of others is laughable really.

Whatever your moral compass, we could all do with pondering the question posed by Bragg: what kind of people are we?

 

FGM isn’t just a non-Western crisis

FGM isn’t just a non-Western crisis

In light of International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation being today, I am so happy to see more and more citizens of the world recognise the issue and crisis that is FGM. While its victims are primarily from Africa, the Middle East, or Asia, there are still victims in the UK; girls and women who are too afraid to speak up in a seemingly open culture. Nobody should go through FGM, and equally, nobody should tolerate it either.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘tolerate’ is defined as ‘to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference’. To avoid interfering is not a matter of respecting cultural boundaries. Interfering acknowledges the protection of one’s autonomy to the ownership of their anatomy. No female, child or adult, should have to endure the excruciating pain that is coupled with her genitalia being mutilated. In some instances, such a practice results in death, notwithstanding infection, organ problems and problems when having intercourse or even giving birth.

Personally, I have never met somebody who has been subject to FGM. But that doesn’t mean these victims don’t exist. FGM has been a silent issue, just like HIV in the last century, except this is inflicted pain and torture, not an illness you can transmit. When we do not first-hand experience a problem, we become ignorant to it, wilfully aware that problem does not exist. Yet, this is the wrong attitude to have with such a sinister crime. Not to mention, it is a crime against gender equality, it discriminates women for being born in their bodies, and can result in mental illness.

The UK does have limited measures in place to safeguard vulnerable women, but such procedures have failed to bring a successful prosecution. Every victim of FGM should be acknowledged and given the appropriate care and treatment, but why are the 17,000 victims living in England and Wales not receiving justice? The scarier fact is that there are roughly 200 million FGM victims worldwide. That’s about four times the population of England alone.

Yet, the 6th February marks the aims of the United Nations in combatting FGM. By 2030, they anticipate that the practice of FGM will be eliminated, as well as other harmful practices such as forced marriage. The UN are not the only organisation who have made it a priority to target the handling of this crime, but the EU and the African Union too.

2030 is 13 years away; 13 years too many chances for FGM to be carried out. While sometimes we can feel hopeless in attempting to tackle a global dilemma, each one of us can still be vigilant to the warning signs and symptoms of FGM. We have to look out for our sisters, wherever they may come from. The NSPCC have offered helpful guidance on being mindful of these signs here.

Today may remind or even introduce the crime of FGM to you, but do not let its incriminating nature be forgotten or tolerated. It must be fought and eliminated. And that takes a world, not just those subject to it.

 

 

Standing up for all women, all races, humanity

Standing up for all women, all races, humanity

It’s difficult sometimes to get my word across as a 21 year old white woman, lucky enough to live in a nation currently untouched by war, famine or poverty. I have never personally experienced the loss of my family, or have had to seek refuge in a foreign land, or adjust to a new way of living in order to survive. Yet, I shouldn’t have had to experience war or disaster to understand the support that is necessary for its victims. So, I will make my voice heard amongst the other millions.

Having witnessed the anti-Trump protests and marches over the last few days, I have been completely astounded and overwhelmed at the tenacity and fearlessness of this generation, particularly the women. We, as womankind, do not let a somewhat unsolicited man make sexist, abhorrent executive orders such as the re-implementation of the ‘global gag rule’ and other so-called ‘administrative’ duties today or tomorrow. The sexism stops now.

Trump is a blunt blade attempting to scar feminist history, half-heartedly cutting their magnitude out of our minds. We will never back down.

President or stranger – nobody, no man or woman can force what you can do with your body, your womb, your ovaries, your vagina, your testicles, your penis, your gender, you.

Nobody, no man or woman can dictate how you should be treated because of your race, your nationality, your home country, your heritage, your history, your religion, your family, you.

Let’s keep fighting for our inalienable human rights, rights which we are all entitled to as human beings, no matter our gender, our sex, our race, our sexuality, our class.

I respect democracy, but a President who has freely denigrated individuals for having a ‘p*ssy’ to not being white is not acceptable and does not respect the values we should all hold in today’s society, particularly of an advanced, Western country.

Sexism and racism will not be enshrined in the orders of anybody with or without power. We must stand up to defeat these evils through our freedom to protest against fascist ideals. This is why it is important for the UK to cut ties with the US should Trump still be President. We have already lost the EU, and losing the US may cost us the rest of our deteriorating economy. But, morality should come first. For May to overlook a misogynistic leader is utterly shameful, despite his purported economic strength.

Yet, I am proud to be of one of the over 1m who have signed the petition to prevent Trump’s state visit to the UK. I do not want to live in a country which curtails hope and prosperity for all races and instead, allows discrimination and hate.

 

Law of the people or of the government?

Law of the people or of the government?

I am a law student, so I do pay a lot of regard to the law with a deeper understanding than others. However, when you break a law down reductively, it is merely a creation of somewhat objective thoughts to maintain social order. An intangibility which can allow you to end up in prison for a stretch of years if you don’t adhere to an abstract order. I don’t recommend breaking the law. But we should all question certain laws which are in existence. Yet, not just laws, but social practices and our own biases.

Today, while browsing my feeds on Twitter and Facebook, two news stories coincidentally appeared one after another.

The first was rather amusing and let me indulge in my pure hatred for our country’s transport system, where two friends met up for a catch-up in Spain rather than in the UK because flights were cheaper than catching the train. Full story here.

Following on was a much less humorous piece all about over 100 refugees tragically dying in the Med. Similar harrowing stories have been told all too often over the last few years, but the situation never seems to improve. How many more innocent lives, fleeing a warzone, have to die before change and positive revolution is achieved?

My uncertainty is to do with how we decide what is law and what is not. I can say with some confidence that the general conception is that refugees are not ‘illegal’ nor are they ‘aliens’. At least I hope a good majority feel this way – for everyone to think so liberally would be sensationalist.

It isn’t unlawful to cross a border when you have relevant and legitimate visas or exemptions, that is a fact. But why have we decided that borders factually exist? Humankind has never been faced with any concrete walls (probably of the kind Trump desires so much) to separate countries from one another. Yet, when our existence is randomised in sperm and an egg which begins a rough nine month journey into creating you, you are, by chance, born into Country X. Nobody chooses to be born where they are, yet by coming into legal existence as a human being on certain soil we are of a certain nationality. We could have been born 100 metres west in Country Y and be a completely different nationality, subject to different laws and regulations.

We are all human beings, our race, nationality and sex are all due to chance. A Syrian man seeking refuge from his war torn city of Aleppo, or a Nigerian girl fleeing the crisis of Boko Haram are humans who not only desire, but require sanctuary, comfort, and basic necessities. Two women can catch a flight to Spain for a quick reunion all too quickly, but the extent that refugees have to go to, after having suffered enough, to purely reach safety should make anybody question their own sense of morality.

But, it is not our fault that the legal system of pretty much any country makes it difficult to enter without adding something to the economy. There is definitely no free for all in England, that’s something we can agree on.

I understand why different countries must exist. To have a world leader would always end disastrously, as everyone has conflicting interests. Breaking the world down into several hundred countries is easier management – it’s like delegation. And yes, I understand why border control is important to prevent criminals, warlords, those with a thing for genocide – that kind of thing.

Governments must work together to establish a better situation for refugees. The crisis is not confined to the countries involved, but it is a global issue that requires the humanity in each of us to respond. If I had a spare room, I would gladly offer it to a refugee like an Airbnb sort of situation but without the payment. But if refugees can’t safely reach the other country to begin with, that’s not something I can be of help with.

We do have an asylum seeking service which you can see here, but probably due to the lack of funding, the displaced person must wait for a maximum of six months for a decision to be made. This is too long. God forbid if the UK had a similar crisis and many citizens were displaced across the world – we would be outraged if we were waiting in temporary accommodation for any longer than a week in a foreign country. But that’s due to how much of a grumbling nation we are. Temporary accommodation to someone in need is something to be grateful for.

The government must be held accountable, but we must thank other organisations like the vast amount of NGOs who are of tremendous help, and reinstate humanity by being of aid to a person in need and at their most vulnerable.

I guess this blog has been food for thought on laws and customs we have in our countries. I just ranted over Twitter about how humankind has some carnal desire to have to ‘own’ everything. I suppose having ‘aliens’ in your country contrasts with this concept of needing to own everything in your country, and anything not yours must either leave or also be owned. #throwback to the British Colony, I guess.

If you can take anything from this train of thought, please ensure it is impartiality, being open to critical thinking, and not taking the world for what it is, but what it should be. You don’t end up in most careers to then do the same work over and over, but you challenge and revolutionise the system, process, whatever you may be working on. Without positive change, we get nowhere as a society. Without critical thinking, laws will never develop and adapt to a growing society.

Ok – I can slot in there that laws will never develop because they’re so damn intangible, but you get where I’m coming from.

 

Sorry, Marx, I have failed you

Sorry, Marx, I have failed you

I remember reading Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto in half an hour while listening to Chinese bamboo flute music on YouTube (it allows me to concentrate, ok). Lifting my glasses off my ears as I read that last sentence, closing the book gently, really questioned my perception on capitalist gains and social class in the UK, particularly.

May I add, this is not a hail to Marxism and why socialism can work in practice. Yet, I find myself in accordance with such thinkers.

There is no doubt that class distinctions is growing at an undutiful pace. My qualm is not just about those with a lot of wealth and trust fund to rely on. It’s those seemingly ordinary citizens amongst us in society who deem themselves to be of higher status than the rest of us.

A bit how Brexit has brought out the closet xenophobe in a lot of individuals.

I volunteer with my university’s law clinic to offer free legal advice to members of the public. The first step involves client interviewing to listen to the problem, ascertain what the client needs, and then to research the legal foundation behind a solution.

Obviously, I’m not going to reveal the details about one interview in particular, but it involved a homeless man, whom we were unfortunately unable to help. I have never spoke to a homeless person before on this level. I can’t call all the times a desperate individual huddling on the street under a damp blanket asking me for change and me politely nodding as a conversation. I have given a McDonalds cheeseburger to a homeless man in the past, which doesn’t make me a humanitarian but more of an endorser of a consumerist company and obesity epidemic.

This man, whom I shall name Toby, was not a delinquent, nor an alcoholic, or drug-addict. He was gracious, concerned of his schedule for that day, and spoke eloquently. I felt peculiarly distraught leaving the building that day, knowing I was heading back to a warm flat with dinner already prepared and currently defrosting to be cooked later that evening, while Toby was heading back to whatever he could call home. Before I headed home, I went Christmas shopping, buying cards, wrapping paper, and a few presents for my boyfriend and a couple of secret Santas. I doubt Toby would be receiving any cards, nor being able to give anything himself.

Homelessness is a devastating problem in this country, with 1 in every 69 people in Brighton alone facing the difficulty. Toby was a lovely man who was plain unfortunate. There are homeless people who have lost their homes due to their own selfish actions, but you can’t generalise this conception to every man or woman shivering on the street pleading for change.

In my future career, I would like to strive for social change, particularly for the working class. But it’s wrong to target this body without addressing the much more serious problem underneath. Yes, rent inflation is terrifying on a low-income job and no help from the government, but at least having a roof over your head is somewhat alleviating.

I certainly will not be ignoring any future homeless individuals that I see on the street. A lot of people get snobbish and state that they do not interact with the homeless because they use any donated money on drugs. Perhaps, because if I were living out of my own coat I would probably have a better time on drugs too.

But there’s no harm in approaching a homeless person and asking what you can get for them, whether that be a new change of clothes, hot food or a hot drink, or toiletries such as sanitary towels for any females.

I genuinely regret all the years gone by that I have intentionally ignored a homeless person. Most of the ones I encounter politely ask for change and still bless me a good day/night after I have ignored them. I feel as though the tables have turned and it is in fact me who is a member of the bourgeoisie, disregarding the vermin proletariat below me. I will never be so naïve again to how homeless people are people too, and just happen to not benefit from the basic necessities that I do. I do feel a hypocrite preaching that I want the best for each person in society, yet narrowly stepping over the hurdle laced with the word ‘homelessness’.

Although I couldn’t directly help Toby’s situation, my brief interaction with him has allowed me to broaden my perceptions on individuals like him, and help in small ways as I have mentioned.

You can also donate directly to the plethora of wonderful charities:

There are also so many ways to directly help homeless individuals during the festive season, whether that be providing hot dinners to even offer accommodation at centres. I really urge you to check out your local homelessness shelters or equivalent if you can spare some free time this Christmas. Such a small gesture can have a radiant impact on a suffering person.