My second piece for the F-Word UK

When the Defenders are the Perpetrators – the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2014/06/when_the_defenders#comments

With 151 countries signing a protocol to end sexual violence in conflict-affected countries and the introduction of a new UN policy to help do so, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London was a fantastic step forward.

The Summit’s aims were many, with much noise made about holding governments accountable, better training for peacekeepers, and supporting women human rights defenders.

Yet what to do when the very defenders are also the perpetrators – such as the United Nations itself? Unfortunately, the Summit did not provide much of an answer.

UN peacekeepers have repeatedly committed acts of sexual violence in many of the same countries the summit highlighted, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti. How can we forget the 2005 revelation that UN peacekeepers were paying young girls in the Congo food for sex? Indeed, according to reports by Cornell constitutional law scholar Muna Ndulo, “UN peacekeepers have fathered an estimated 24,500 babies in Cambodia and 6,600 in Liberia.”

While the UN has condemned these actions and taken steps towards reform, the organisation has been criticised for not taking sexual violence seriously enough – partly because it does not even have the power to do so. It is the UN’s structure that largely enables this abuse; peacekeepers are only contracted to the UN, and thus are subject to their individual countries’ laws. Thus, UN policy enforcement on tackling violence against women is as problematic as the policy enforcement on tackling violence against women is in every country.

While the Summit addressed strengthening domestic laws so that prosecution can occur, still, it did not address this in reference to the UN’s peacekeeping failures – one almost wonders if to avoid touching on the UN’s embarrassing history. It also did not address how the UN keeps knowingly hiring peacekeeping troops from countries that do not adequately prosecute their soldiers for rape, and even keeps the identities of these individuals anonymous.

It is disappointing that at the largest summit of its kind, the media and government representatives at the Summit remained curiously silent about the United Nations’ own contribution to the problem. It would have been the ideal platform to speak up, but then perhaps given the UN’s large presence at the event, it would have hit too close to home.

This inconvenient truth and its omission from the discussions at the Summit offer an important warning: when it comes to ending sexual violence in war, everybody needs to be held accountable for genuine progress to occur. In many ways, some of the factors that have allowed sexual violence in conflict-affected countries to continue without adequate punishment mirror some of the reasons why sexual violence worldwide is so rampant.

To an extent, both are largely fueled by a global culture that perpetuates rape and gender inequality. It’s a culture that often either victim-blames or simply does not take rape seriously enough. Thus sexual violence is not simply the problem of certain countries, but reflective of a worldwide systemic issue all countries contribute to. Even the Summit’s host – the UK government – has failed to protect refugees victimised by sexual violence in war, causing further trauma by refusing to even believe them. And let’s not even get started on how often rape in general occurs every hour in every country, from the US to the Congo, and yet how poorly politicians sometimes respond towards these cases thus perpetuating the problem. For example, the US – despite its large presence in the Summit and the UN – has neglected its own college campus sexual assault survivors.

Ending sexual violence in conflict-affected countries will require more than just 151 signatures. It will require everybody – countries, the UN, individuals – to take an honest look at itself and take responsibility for its own part in this larger problem. The Summit was a wonderful move in the right direction, but until each country and organisation does so, real change will not be possible.

Learning to Love

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​I’ve had the biggest fear of dogs and cats since I was young. I realised recently it’s because in their presence, I have no control. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted to love them. They’re so cuddly, loving and pure. I so yearned to pick them up and just hug.

But because we don’t speak the same language, don’t have the same brains, they could hurt me. They were seductive, wild and dangerous things. A dog could sense and misunderstand my fear for intentions to attack, and accidentally scratch or bite out of his fear. The cat, unable to say, “I want to play and not be held”, could scratch in her squirmy attempt to jump out of my arms and onto the couch.

And so for most of my life, I’ve missed out on the unique love and affection only a mindless animal, free of human inhibitions, can give. Even when I started getting used to kittens and puppies, I’d approach with extreme caution – and in my guarded manner, barely receive anything in return.

Until the day came, of course, when I couldn’t resist anymore the charms of the sweet kitten I live with – watching her follow me, chase her tail, and then accidentally bang into doors was simply too much for me. I had to hold this silly, adorable little angel. So for the first time, I picked a kitten up with the sole intention of cuddling and kissing her, loving fully, rather than half-way loving, half-way protecting myself.

In those brief seconds, my entire heart melted. I felt a deep love, but I also felt for the first time in my life from an animal, deeply, unconditionally loved from this tiny creature. I could feel how tiny she is, her rapid heartbeat underneath her soft white fluff, and realised she was just as vulnerable as I was. But she will still letting me hold her, despite the fact I was huge, just woke up, and looked and felt like a mess. Even if she scratched or bit, it wasn’t meant as an attack, but was simply her own form of self-protection from a larger creature she doesn’t understand.

It reminded me of the boasting ways of the flower from “The Little Prince”, when the Prince realises she simply boasts and acts cold as a means of protection – for she is so tiny and secretly aware of her own smallness in the vast flower world, so insecure, so afraid he too will realise how small she is one day and his love will go. That she wasn’t something to be annoyed by, angry at or, or afraid, but a beautiful little being to feel compassion for, just trying her best.

Did she end up scratching me? Yes, she did. She no longer wished to be held and wanted to be set free to further explore the big world that is the living room, so in her small paw’s attempts to climb out of my arms, accidentally scratched me along the way. But instead of freaking out and vowing to never hold her again, or if I do, going back to wearing armor, I simply let her go. I had some scratches, but they were tiny, and nothing in comparison to the deep intimacy I just experienced surrendering to this tiny creature.

She still scratches me sometimes. Every now and then the rare dog will growl at me as I walk past. But I don’t run across the street as I used to, or at least most of the time I don’t. Kitten’s taught me that that’s life. You can’t predict who’s going to hurt you, and neither can you always control that. Scratches sometimes comes with love, but most of the time, those scratches and bites are a form of self-protection as a result of miscommunication and differences.

Does that mean you run away or shut off a part of yourself from the experience? No, because then you lose much more than you gain.

I got scratched, but I also got a glimpse of the best part of my own human nature and life: what it’s like to be yourself, with all your fears, in your ugly pajamas with no make up, procrastinating and messing it all up, and still be hugged, seen. The sweetness of a little creature looking up at you with big eyes, terrified of you, knowing you could kill her, not understanding your language, your brain, your ways, but still trusting you enough to let you cuddle her. Her love, giving me hope in an otherwise cruel world.

 So I surrender now, and let my kitty sometimes scratch and be mad at me. (She gives cold shoulders, I close the door because I’m busy/stressed and she wants kissies etc…) But then we work it out (she snuggles into my lap, I walk downstairs and give her extra attention) , because the love means more – and is worth more – than any of those fears.

In a word or two, the kitten’s taught me how to love.

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Excerpts from Karen Armstrong’s “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”

Just a few thought-provoking excerpts in non-chronological order from one of the many books I’m currently reading called “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” by well-known religious commentator Karen Armstrong:

ImageCapitalism and post-colonial psychology. Made me randomly ponder the link between post-colonial psychology and domination of women in certain countries, wondering if there is some connection between post-colonial emasculation and unhealthy attempts to re-gain masculinity through abuse/domination of women?

Image Interesting analysis of Islam image still pertinent today. Reminds me of how the media and society villainize(d) certain groups ie immigrants, Jews, women now and during times of witch burnings etc….as a means to expunge their Shadow selves?

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Why trying to be a Somebody is the path to suffering:

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It’s a great read – check it out:

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Photos I’ve Taken That Make My Heart Smile

This sign at a cafe:

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The vibrancy of these flowers, so alive with colour:

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Burning away the old (and almost accidentally setting the table on fire – oops)

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Coffee and conversation on a balcony overlooking London:

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The sensuality of these roses:n

The sensual wild flowers contrasted with composed St. Pauls and all it represents:

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The remnants of a hatched egg I found on a walk – birth:

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Pondering my life’s direction on a swing in a playground:

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My little cousin’s artwork:

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Heart-shaped pages:

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Wearing socks that don’t match:

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A beautiful house with roses on a lake:

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Kitten sniffing flowers:

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This gorgeous poem:

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The surprise when I found out the artist is color blind:

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My cousin’s car:

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Innocence – my little cousin and kitten sharing a moment:

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 My baby:

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Couldn’t get enough of this rose:

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The travel section at the bookstore:

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The magic that is this book:

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Kitten sniffing my shoes:

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The colorful 4 in front of Channel 4:

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 Reading this book:

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Camden canals:Image

This funny bird:

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This menu:

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This sign, because it seemed the perfect response to the question “Universe, give me advice about my life” I asked only a few seconds before:

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The Greys of Liberation (from The F-Word UK)

I wrote a piece for The F-Word UK I’ve pasted below. Original article here: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2014/06/the_greys

What exactly does a liberated Western woman look like? Is she the driven career woman, the stripper, the nun, or the housewife? In feminist circles, the debates over this issue are endless and admittedly often judgmental.

To me, the answer is quite clear: there is no set answer. Indeed, to attempt to even provide a rigid definition for another person can ironically be counterproductive.

Let me explain.

For me, who I am today is a culmination of all the people I’ve ever been in my short life. I’m on my journey towards authentic liberation as a woman, but I had to first experiment with different selves – and still am doing so.

When I was a teenager, I rebelled heavily against my more conservative, studious Indian upbringing. The hyper-sexualised Western world seemed more liberating than my strict background, in which I’d felt so controlled by cultural and familial expectations. Scenes and activities I later found objectifying I embraced in an attempt to construct an identity of my own. I looked at the likes of pole dancers and party girls with secret admiration.

Yet as I grew and gained more self-awareness, I eventually no longer felt this way. While I was beginning to construct an independent sense of self, I realised I was still unhealthily looking for the same validation I had as “the good Indian girl”, but now from men and my Western peers. I realised many of the “sexy” women I’d looked up to weren’t as free as I thought. I felt we’d been pressured subconsciously from society and the media to look and behave like a sex object.

I became disillusioned. I labeled women who largely used their sexuality for gain as disempowered – sell-outs who were emotionally either unintelligent or unhealed. I was wary of the sexuality I’d been sold that seemed so disempowering to my gender. I shunned my sensual side as I couldn’t trust my own impulses anymore; they seemed more a product of a patriarchal society and past conditioning than myself. Certainly I was becoming more liberated as I was starting to learn to think for myself. Still, I was not being my full self ironically for fear of not being a truly liberated woman.

Yet, I could never label either of these stages in my growth as more or less liberating than the other. Each part of the journey led to greater liberation, a blossoming of different aspects of myself, shaping the more balanced woman I am today. The only way I could ever grow and become more liberated is by being able to choose, at least consciously, to carve my own identity. Sure, I will never be 100% free of subconscious, environmental, and biological influences, yet I will always have conscious control. And as I choose to create my life, I grow into and learn more about what is truly liberating for me, even if I make some mistakes along the way.

So really, I’ve no idea what is liberating for you or what will be liberating for me in a few years from now. But thanks to all my various phases in life, I have a better idea of what feels liberating for me right now. Like when I let myself feel insecure or strong, allowing myself to be the imperfect, multi-faceted human being I am who’s still growing. When I belly dance, and experience a different, more sensual side to myself. When I achieve a goal and experience a sense of accomplishment.

I also have a stronger idea of what doesn’t feel liberating for me right now. Like chasing success because I am trying to prove my worth. Dressing a certain way because I feel societal pressure to look and appear sexy. Trying hard to appear confident, like I’ve got it all together, and acting like a “good, classy girl” – doing whatever it takes to not appear like the “trashy” or insecure woman we are taught to look down on. Judging another woman, rather than compassionately supporting her in finding her own personal liberation, however it may look like and differ from mine. Because by trying to suppress and define another for themselves, I inevitably end up suppressing and losing myself.

Perhaps, then, a liberated woman is one who defines liberation on her own terms. She makes her own life decisions in whatever way and order she decides aligns with her individual values. Whether that’s pre-marital sex or waiting, one career or 20 or none ever at all, a job as a sex worker or a life as a nun without sex. Maybe a liberated woman is simply one who lives her life according to what she feels is right regardless of what others tell her, whether that’s a patriarchal system or a feminist leader.