What Oscar Wilde Tells Us About Fairtrade

17 Nov

At my church on Sunday, we launched Activate as a Fairtrade Faith Community, which means that we commit to providing Fairtrade tea and coffee at all events, as well as expanding to Fairtrade products in other areas, and promoting Fairtrade to our congregation.

Listen to my explanation of how Oscar Wilde taught me about Fairtrade  (the link takes you to the page on Activate’s website where you can listen to the podcast) :

Fairtrade at Activate

A big thanks to the Fairtrade organisation for helping out with resources, and granting us Fairtrade Faith Community status. They have a wealth of resources if you’d like to learn more about Fairtrade, I encourage you to go to their site.

Oh, and the ethical shopping guides I talked about (as well as heaps of other info!) can also be found here.

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Our Government is Listening – Let’s Speak!

25 Sep

The South Australian Government has a ‘Strategic Plan’ – launched in 2004, it is designed to provide a framework for businesses, the community and the government to follow, so that this state can be the best it can be. Basically, it has a whole lot of goals, which will inspire and sculpt future policies and programs.

To briefly go over the Plan, there are 6 main Objectives, which are:

  1. Growing Prosperity
  2. Improve Wellbeing
  3. Attaining Sustainability
  4. Fostering Creativity and Innovation
  5. Building Communities
  6. Expanding Opportunities

Obviously, these are all incredibly vague, so every Objective has subheadings. For example, the subheadings of Objective 2: Improving Wellbeing, are:

  • Preventative Health
  • Healthy Life Expectancy
  • Psychological Wellbeing
  • Public Safety
  • Work-Life Balance

In 2010, the Plan is in its regular reviewal process (every 4 years after 2006), and to ensure that views of people from all walks of life and all parts of SA are heard, consultancy events have occurred. A vast range of people have contributed their ideas to what they want the state to look like in 2020, in various discussion forums across the state. This is our chance to tell our state government what we want South Australia to look like!

I attended a consultancy group hosted by the Premier’s Council for Women, and the discussion group outlined the sexualisation of women in the media, and how it affects us, as a great concern.

YWCA is an organisation that encourages leadership in women all around the world, and the Adelaide office has created a submission for the 2010 Review of South Australia’s State Strategic Plan. You can view it here.

Under Objective 2, the YWCA has recommended that the Strategic Plan add a target underneath Preventative Health:

This is because research shows us that premature sexualisation has a negative effect on the healthy development of girls, and sexual objectification of women influences poor body image and self-esteem, as well as eating disorders.

By 2020 reduce by more than 50 per cent the 2010 rates of sexually based advertising and images appearing in South Australian media and South Australian public spaces.

 

Iencourage you to support the YWCA’s recommendation to the Strategic Plan. Go here , have a poke around, click on ‘Get Involved’, and tell our state government that the sexual images of women in the media are a massive concern to the public. We have a great opportunity to encourage our government to deal with the issues that concern us! You can comment on the conversation that I have already begun, or start a conversation of your own!

Streetwalker

9 Sep

Last week, I met a friend at my local shopping centre for a coffee.

After parking my car outside, the small task that stood before me was walking past an outdoor cafe and into the complex. Simple, no?

Well, kinda.

As I approached the cafe, I noticed there was a group of 3 men and a woman smoking, on a table outside. I was aware (what female isn’t?) when their heads turned to appraise my face, my hair, my body, as I came nearer.

Not knowing where to look, I concentrated on the concrete before me. Sometimes I just don’t feel like dealing with a group of people evaluating my appearance.

One man said, “I like your hair.”

Yes, well, I have big hair. I love it. Thanks man. I responded appropriately and kept walking.

After I had passed them, another yelled out, “How much?!”

Sigh….

I am not angry because I was compared to a sex worker; I have met many women in the industry who are incredibly gracious and lovely.

I am angry because someone who doesn’t know anything about me believes that they have the right to insinuate that I have a price. That my body is worth monetary value.

I am angry because the perpetrator is male, and he is not aware of the way in which comments and objectification like that take power away from me, nor is he concerned about how it makes his female friend, who is sitting next to him, feel.

I am angry because our society constantly promotes images in which women are merely a cluster of body parts, designed to appeal to men’s sexual desire, thus inviting us to view ourselves and other women merely as sex objects.

And I am angry because it is almost impossible for a young girl/teenager/woman to be in public without her appearance being directly remarked on.

“Mmm…”

“C’mon love, give us a smile!”

“Ooh, sexy legs…”

Statements like that, generally from men in groups, are NOT compliments. They are sexual harassment.

As a woman and a human being, I deserve more respect than that. Everyone does.

Guys, please. Stand up for respect. Say something to one of your mates if he talks like this.

And girls, let’s take some of the focus off our appearances – compliment each other on accomplishments, inner strengths and intelligence, instead of makeup and waist size.

Let’s create a culture that values the content of our character instead of the shape of our bodies.

Angels in Dharwad

22 Aug

Some of you may know I went to India almost a year ago. It was a fascinating time where I had the chance to explore places I have never imagined, breathe in colours and smells from another world, and meet beautiful, strong and inspiring people.

One of the places we visited (I went with a group from Rahab) was called Dharwad, which, in contrast to the cities of roughly 8-10 million people that we frequented, was a town in a rural part of South-astern India. We stayed with a lovely couple called Arun and Shobha Massey, pictured with their daughter Melissa, who headed up a home called Joyful Children’s Home, as part of Caring Hands Ministry.

Joyful Children’s Home are for girls whose parents have either died or have given them to the Masseys to look after. Every girl in the home is a daughter of a Devadasi. The word Devadasi, when translated, means “Servant of God”, but the meaning goes so much deeper than that.

Devadasies are temple prostitutes.

(an old devadasi we saw on our visit, begging during religious processions, as she cannot work anymore)

Under Hinduism, there are over 330 million gods. The temples that were located near Dharwad worshiped the goddess Yellamma, and there is complex mythology behind this figure, which ultimately results in wives or sisters or daughters being dedicated to Yellamma to serve her as a temple prostitute. These women are dedicated by their fathers and husbands in order to appease the goddess for financial misfortune or a family without sons. The young girls partake in a “dedication ceremony” once they have menstruated for the first time, and a priest or a wealthy local man has sex with her. Her job is then to serve the temple. Often, men who visit devadasies are not just satisfying sexual urges, but hold the belief that it is the highest form of worship of the goddess.

A devadasi is a sex slave.

She is threatened with curses of leprosy if she refuses, and her family depends on the money earnt to live. These women are forced to satisfy the lusts of any customer, and if the men prefer not to wear a condom, the devadasies must accept. Many contract HIV/AIDS, as well as other STIs, and often are impregnated by their clients. Generally, daughters of devadasies are led into the same life as their mothers.

(some beautiful girls from Joyful Children’s Home)

The children of devadasies have no one to call their father, and in India this often means that they cannot even open a bank account. They are also met with an astounding amount of social stigma, and are spat at and despised, which can prevent these children from receiving a proper education, therefore forcing the daughters to take up their mothers’ occupation.

Arun and Shobha Massey were outraged at this oppressive cycle and decided to act against the injusice. 15 years ago, they created Joyful Children’s Home, a place where orphaned girls are given an education, fed amazing food (the most delicious meals I ate in my two weeks in India were in Joyful Children’s Home!), and brought up in a loving and undiscriminating environment.

(Me with some of the girls – they called us Aka, big sister)

In September, 2009, there were 70 girls there, all full of life and love and playfulness. They included us in their games and made us sing and dance for them. It was the most beautiful community of girls aged 2-18, some spoke some English and some spoke Karnata, some with sad pasts and some with tragic pasts, but all with joyful hearts.

Here is  the latest of Arun’s update emails – it touched me as I read about the horrific lives they are rescuing the girls from, and inspired me that there is so much good in such dark places.

Dear Prayer Partners.

We left our house at 6 am on 16th August. Mamta and Chandrakala – two of our girls accompanied us to Jagdal where our church was celebrating 1st anniversary.

After lunch we travelled to Jamkhandi. Seema, our worker in that area wanted us to meet five new girls who needed admission in our Children’s Home. These girls were all in one of the red light areas of the town. The houses were closely situated and the surroundings were stinking. Many curious eyes watched us boldly. When we reached the dead end of an alley we stopped before a tiny room.  Two small girls came out. One was around 10 years old (Aarti) and hunch backed. The other (Jyoti) was 9 years and very malnourished. Soon many men, women and children gathered around us.

We were shocked to hear the story of the hunch backed girl. Her mother was a prostitute and a drunkard. She got so mad at her crying daughter one day that she beat her with a broomstick so hard that crippled her. Her back is concaved. Her older sister is HIV+ and her body is covered with sores. The mothers of these girls died of AIDS.  Their two boys and three girls became orphans when they were very young. No one wanted to be bothered with their responsibility. They begged for food and sometimes they did some odd jobs like cleaning in the restaurant nearby or running errands like bringing liquor from the shop for men who came to prostitutes in that area.

How in the world can any child live in an area like this! What a miserable life. All around these children everyday girls who are a little older than themselves are selling their body for a few rupees. Their play ground is the dark alleys where men are lurking to buy sex. When they are hungry and needy, instead of being attended by their mothers, they spread their hands in front of strangers. It is just a matter of time before they start selling their body for a morsel of food.

Their elderly neighbor pretended to be very concerned about these two girls. But she tried to stop our worker from bringing them to our Home in Dharwad. She had her evil eyes on them thinking that the girls can bring her some money in a just a few years by selling their young bodies.

From there we walked to another house where a young widowed mother wanted her 6 year daughter to come to us. A few houses away, lived another beautiful young prostitute who shouldered the responsibility of her younger sister, her older sister’s two sons and her own three children. Her older sister who was also a prostitute had died a few years ago.  Convinced by our staff worker about the reality of short life of a prostitute and the dangers of the red light area, she begged for her two daughters to be taken into our Home and given opportunity for a safe environment and education.

We sat on two broken chairs in her kitchen. The room was so small, dirty and hot and we watched her boil some water and milk. We did not have the heart to refuse her hospitality. She brewed some coffee and served us. Our hearts entwined with these dear ones. Arun clicked a few pictures and showed to the girls. The little one giggled and giggled. Her laughter touched the core of our being. She made our day!

In spite of the jealous neighbors’ gossips and discouragements, a volunteer brought them to Joyful Children’s Home. The mothers shed some tears while departing but all the five girls took to our Home atmosphere like fish to the water. As we write this report, we hear their happy chatter and laughter. Praise God. Our God is in the business of restoration in their life. Nothing can stop Him!
Yours in His Ministry,
Arun & Shobha Massey

The terrible living conditions of the red light industry saddens my heart. And it makes me so angry that poverty steals the dignity of so many people around the world.  But I cannot help but think: What phenomenal people! What bright futures these girls have! I really see God in such situations.

If you would like to find out more about the Devadasi System, go to Wikipedia – there are some very informative links, which the article cites as sources.

If you would like to find out more about Joyful Children’s Home, or Arun and Shobha Massey, including supporting them financially, please go to their website.

If you know of any other ministries which are doing wonderful things similar to Caring Hands ministry, feel free to comment. I love hearing stories of hope and light in places of darkness and oppression, we must celebrate the good things!

Some Facts about Those Who Seek Asylum in Australia

15 Aug

by GetUp!

Self Love Revolution

16 Jul

I’ve found a video from Sunday Night called “Thin is In” – find it here  (I’m having trouble embedding a flash video player so just go to the link to the blog, and scroll down). I sourced it from a website called Collective Shout, an organisation whose members campaign for a world free of the sexploitation of women.

Please have a watch. It’s a fantastic look at the incredibly negative consequences of the thin – obsession? fetish? – within the fashion industry.

             bw_004.jpg picture by annaxisxthexshit

The excerpt briefly touches upon the impacts of constantly being confronted with images of uber-thin models on girls and women; Australian fashion designer Alex Perry shirks any responsibility. The fashion designer believes that it to make clothes for size 16 girls in order to make them “feel better” would not be “creative or beautiful”, but “ordinary”. Perry displays an incredibly patronising and ignorant view of the issue.

One of my favourite parts of the segment was when a former model, Kate Dillon, says: “You can be ill, you can be on drugs…but if you fit the clothes, you’re alright”, therefore capturing the industry’s disregard for models and ultimate regard for profit.

            

In my opinion, the fashion industry is presenting a dangerous ideal to women all over the world. The body shape that is portrayed in magazines, on catwalks and in various photoshoots is a major variation from the average woman! We aren’t all incredibly thin, we don’t all have perky/round/cleavage-enabling breasts, we don’t all have perfect skin, and we don’t all have gorgeous facial features. And that’s ok – beautiful, in fact!

The image we aspire to is a lie.

Many women may have some, or most of those characteristics. However, many don’t. And we need to stop trying to live up to the waif ideal! Manufacturers and advertisers use thin models because this particular artechype of beauty sells. But these images bring nothing but harm to women.

Ladies of the world, friends, sisters, let’s stop talking about our weight. Let’s stop feeling guilty for eating food. Let’s stop spending so much money on beauty products and trying to look like the perfect creature that doesn’t exist! Let’s get real – let’s be true to ourselves.

I believe we need to start a revolution – a revolution of self-love!

American Apparel: Sexually Integrated Advertising

12 Jun

Goodbye American Apparel. We had fun. Like that time we met on The Sartorialist and you showed me what all the hipsters were wearing (along with Ray-Bans and a bored expression). And when we danced together in disco pants that sculpted my jellifluous belly with super high-rise stretchy goodness. Oh yeah, and there was that time when I looked at some of your promo photos and felt mildly nauseous.

American Apparel and I were once friends. I used to browse the colourful menagerie of plain clothing upon every visit to Rundle St, musing on the unobtainable prices and outrageous patterns. Long ago, I was even attracted by claims of ‘sweatshop free’. But I’ve made a personal choice to boycott the fashion mecca of the alternative middle-class.

The way the models are photographed make me feel angry.

A girl lies on carpet in late-afternoon light, naked except for black bikini panties. She lies on her side, legs bent and turned so that we can see the curves of her body. She looks up at the viewer with an expression that can only be described as half playful smile, half apprehension, while her arms are placed near her face in a defensive position.

The photographer stands above her, which gives the viewer a feeling of dominance.

Another girl sits upright on a glass table in a bodysuit, looking up at the camera whilst leaning back. Her bare legs are wide open and bent, feet leaning on the corners of the table. Her crotch is the centre, and therefore the focus, of the photo. Her red, glistening lips are slightly parted as she looks just beyond the gazer, showing an inviting image of expectation.

These are advertisements found in local street magazines, and on American Apparel’s website. Or, if you care to look above street level on the American Apparel building in Adelaide, from Bent St, you can find a 2 metre high photo of a woman’s torso in a body suit. The leotard is zipped open and barely covers her nipples; her body is pressed against glass so her breasts are squashed ‘carwash’ style. The photo is blown up so as to cover the whole window.

These images are highly sexualised, and perpetuate an idea of women that is unhealthy.

Sure, American Apparel is definitely not the only corporation that uses over-sexualised images to sell their products. (Has anyone heard of Tom Ford?!) And, granted, the technique of using sexual body language and subtexts in order to subliminally persuade consumers to buy, buy, buy has been used since before the fifties. Yes, it is a cutting edge style of photography and merchandising, which often creates controversy, and therefore higher brand recognition, and increases sales.

But by being constantly bombarded with pictures of women in sexual positions, we are persuaded to view women (including ourselves, if you’re of the female persuasion) solely in a sexual light.

Images like this make me feel irate and trapped, and I used to not know why.

Melinda Tankard Reist is an commentator and advocate for women. In her book Getting Real, sexualised images and their cumulative impact on society are analysed. In Western culture, women are often only seen as valuable when physically desirable. When we see images similar to those in this post, we are instructed to view this woman not as an individual who has an identity, but as a body. As we passively consume hundreds of similar images a week, we are subconsciously influenced – without our consent.

Not only do sexualised pictures endorse the objectification of women, but this impression of the female body also encourages young women like me that the only way to succeed is to use our attractiveness and bodies (perhaps this is where the term ‘feminine wiles’ originates?)  Mark Sayers, a commentator on consumer culture, labels this ‘performative sexuality’. As we grow up, we learn from constant socio-cultural input (movies, television, ads, each other) that success is achieved by being attractive.

How many times have we heard that waitresses who wear makeup get better tips? Have you realised that you’re more likely to remember the name of Bec in your politics tute, with the nice smile and big boobs, instead of that girl with the greasy hair? And how often does the media inform us about a highly-respected female engineer, instead of a 17-year-old model ‘making it’ in Milan?

I understand that models are merely clotheshorses, and the adornment of their bodies is an essential part of the art of fashion. It isn’t possible to portray the inner workings of a girl’s mind in every Vogue shoot. But American Apparel’s consistent depiction of women in demeaning poses perpetuates the ideology that sexuality is woman’s greatest contribution!

Being constantly affronted with sexy images of women damages my ability to view myself and others as individuals beyond their appearances. Because media continually depicts females as sexy and nothing else, it can be difficult to understand how to communicate an image of myself to others without sending out sexual messages.

I know that as a human being, I am a sexual person; as are the women in American Apparel’s photos. But they are both so much more than that. And so am I.

The Ethical Consumer Guide tells us that boycotting is a way of actively rejecting something produced or sold in an unethical way. As consumers, we have power. Companies that manufacture products that we buy work for us – without customers, there would be no profit. And as a citizen in a consumer society, I’m going to make my voice heard through my economic choices.

So this is it, American Apparel. We laughed together, we ate ice-cream together. But I deem your substantial contribution to the mountain of over-sexualised pictures of women damaging to the collective consciousness, and unethical. I will no longer spend my money at your store.