Smoothing the Transition into the New Year

By Ella McKelvey, National Director of Online Engagement

What feminism has taught me about the need for emotional literacy

January has always been a difficult month for me. Growing up, my family barely even acknowledged New Year’s Eve, and I still struggle to find the romance in the New Year. I have always seen it as less of an inauguration, and more an admonition - Christmas is over, and it is time to exchange the vivacity of celebration for the tedium of routine.

And yet, despite the anti-climax of the post-celebration lull, New Year is also a time that I associate with feeling anxious. In recent years I have found January an emotional struggle - swinging between ennui and jittery angst; with the contrast of the highs and lows only serving to amplify their intensity.

Sometimes, I would feel both restless and deflated at the same time. I found this incredibly unnerving – how could one body hold up against the clash of these emotions?

I should clarify that these mood swings are not a manifestation of mental illness. Instead, January has historically been a time when my mental health feels challenged.

I now realise that, like all humans, my mental wellbeing fluctuates. But coming to accept this wasn’t easy. I used to confuse being in control of my emotions with suppressing them. I thought the unpredictability of my mental wellbeing was childish, rendering me a little girl .

Subconsciously, I had adopted the patriarchal practice of not exploring my mental wellbeing, thinking it would be indulgent and a sign of weakness.

When I first learnt about sexism as a young teenager, I thought that the best way I could assert my right to having equality with men was by replicating not only their demands but also their conduct. I hadn’t yet understood the idea of the patriarchy, nor had I realised that forcing myself to conform to either gender stereotype was far weaker than working to challenge them.

Even though I came to these realisations many years ago, I have been practicing my stiff-upper lip for even longer. Ignoring my mental wellbeing is a deep-rooted habit.  Whenever I am surprised or confused by my emotions, my default response has always been to dismiss them as irrational.  

But this New Year, I decided to make a change.

As 2018 started to draw to a close, I noticed myself getting increasingly nervous about the prospect of the New Years blues. In previous years, I would have just put on my emotional blinkers and tried to ‘ignore’ my way through it. But I had begun to suspect this was only making things worse. I decided it was about time to woman-up and face my fears.

So, in the restorative stillness of a lazy post-Christmas afternoon, I decided to sit down and work out what exactly it was about the New Year that made my anxiety and weariness flare. At first, I played a simple word association game – I took a pen and piece of paper, and began writing words to describe some of the emotions I associated with the time of year.

To help me, I referred to an image of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion

In short, the wheel can be used to show the relationship between (sub)categories of human emotions. I used it to identify that my January emotion-swings typically included bouts of anger, shame, grief, despair, fear, apprehension, remorse, contempt and pessimism. Once I had identified and categorised the emotions, I found it easier to think about where their roots might lie. The wheel showed me that grief and remorse are closely related – I realised that these probably both stem from the way New Year can prompt me to lament the passing of the previous year, and with it “missed opportunities”. I noticed that shame and despair were negative forms of surprise… it made me think that these feelings might have something to do with noticing where I had failed to fulfil the expectations I had placed on myself over the past year. And then, comparing myself and my accomplishments to other people; that probably explained the contempt.

I had never explicitly felt under pressure to meet goals by the end of the year, nor make resolutions. Why would you diminish the scale of your growth by dividing it into years?

But in my haste to dismiss the ‘symbolism’ of the New Year with a heavy dose of rational cynicism, I failed to realise how much of the New Year’s dogma I was absorbing on an emotional level…

… all the braggy facebook posts, sentimental news items, the pressure to make New Year’s Eve special… I might have always known that I didn’t need to reflect, compare or mourn come the New Year. But what I hadn’t realised until now was my tendency to be subconsciously prompted to do these things. It seems that by ignoring my emotions in an attempt to be less sensitive, I actually ended up being more vulnerable to the sentimentality imposed upon me during the holiday.

During January, it turns out that, much of why I often feel anxious is down to my emotional disorientation, rather than the raw feelings themselves. As a result, labelling my emotions has helped to make them less powerful. Over these past few weeks, I have gained an even deeper appreciation for the importance of emotional literacy. I have finally accepted that rather than being an indulgence, introspection is a vital facet of emotional resilience.

If you are feeling like your mental wellbeing is severely affecting your quality of life, it is important that you seek professional assistance, for example from your GP. You can also try ringing the Beyond Blue Helpline on 1300 22 4636.  

Breaking the Taboo with Comic books

By Naomi Menezes, International Representative (India)

The Indian society, the second most populous country, has progressed leaps and bounds in several aspects – technology, politics, economy. However, the very mention of sex or its education continues to make society uncomfortable.

Sex education, which ideally should be an important part of the school curriculum, remains a taboo topic in most areas in the country.

Sex education, including its spiritual aspects, should be a part of a broad health and moral education from kindergarten through grade twelve, ideally carried out harmoniously by parents and teachers

- Benjamin Spock

Parents refrain from conversations that revolve around sex while school teachers shy away from addressing this topic. It is seen as offensive to Indian values, and concerns are that it might lead to risky sexual behaviour and promiscuity.

The lack of sex education in the country has resulted in many young adults consciously or subconsciously acting out due to sudden physical and mental changes which they are not properly aware of. This leads to cases of depression or other mental instabilities.

Incidents of unprotected sex or sexual abuse don’t happen because of sex education, rather due to the lack of it. However, it is essential for young adults to accept their bodies in order to be empowered from within. This will make them less vulnerable to discrimination as they will be able to stand up as informed individuals and dispel any myths.

So who’s your ThatMate?

Bringing the topic to the forefront and stirring society’s perceptions is a budding social entrepreneur from Satara – Madhavi Jadhav. She founded ThatMate– a platform that is providing sex education to children in the district through comic books!

Madhavi realised that the youth of today had no outlet to discuss or ask questions that they had about sex or puberty. They either turned to the internet or their friends – both unstable sources of information. They lacked a ‘mate’ who they could confide it or freely express their concerns.

Picture-1.png

Born out of a personal experience of being a ‘that mate’ to her niece, Madhavi quit her corporate career to move to Satara and start her own social organisation. Her aim was to connect with the students in a manner that would be informative yet relatable. She transformed sex education from loaded lectures to creative comic strips – conversational, communicative and cool.

Picture-2.png

These comic books are packed with apt illustrations that answers just about any question related to puberty and sex -   menstruation and its hygiene, nocturnal emissions, genital hygiene, etc. Available in English, Hindi and Marathi primarily, Madhavi aims to translate these comics into several other languages in the coming months. The first of it’s kind – these books are made available to school children at a minimal price.

Picture-3.png

Apart from comic books, ThatMate aims to reduce the myths associated with sex and mental health through interactive workshops, online forums, and counselling services.

What started as a simple blog in June 2016 that scaled into workshops by November 2016 itself, Madhavi today is working with seven schools and 550 students in Satara and Nagpur. So far, they have conducted three summer camps with Spandan Foundation, Agastya International Foundation and Lulla Charitable Trust in Satara, Hubbali and Sangli.

ThatMate has impacted 2 500+ adolescents through their workshops in Satara, Hubbali and nearby Talukas. Through their Facebook live and Online forum, they have reached out to 13 000+ people. Madhavi is expanding her footprint by building lasting associations with the government of Sangli that will assist in reaching out to an additional 50 000 kids.

How can you get involved?

1.    Follow

2.    Volunteer

Reflections on an Evening with Malala

By Madeline Price, National Director and Founder

What struck me first as Malala Yousafzai strode onto the stage was how young she is. Despite all that she has achieved and of her story that has inspired millions across the globe, she is still only a 21 year old commencing her degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Oxford.

 The entire audience chuckled along in solidarity when she reflected on the hardest part of moving out of home to commence university study being having to wash her own laundry.

 But when she spoke of the 130 million girls who are not in school globally, of how she was one of 15 000 young girls in the Swat Valley (her local region) denied access to education under the Taliban rule, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium of 5 000+ people. We sat with baited breath as she spoke of how the Taliban understood the importance of girls education, more than our own leaders do:

The Taliban banned girls education because they knew how the empowerment of women could change everything. If only our own leaders cared as much about the education of girls as the Taliban does.

Her words ring true. The plight of girls education globally has long been the topic of discussion, with entrenched global goals as part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (Goal 2 of universal primary education) and the revamped Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 4 of quality education).

Whilst the enrolment rate in primary education reached 91 per cent in targeted regions by 2015, immense disparities still remain. The lack of equal representation in secondary and vocational education remain distinct, children from low-socioeconomic households are four times more likely to be out of school than children from high-socioeconomic households and, in targeted regions, one in four girls are not in school. Globally, 103 million young people lack basic literacy skills, with 60 per cent of them identifying as women and girls.

Whilst Malala spoke passionately about the lack of leadership direction and financing of girls education globally, critically she spoke in length about the structural barriers to achieving this education: conflict, child marriage, gender bias, health, displacement, natural disasters, and the lack of substantial educational programs located within refugee camps and facilities for internally displaced people (IDPs).

As an internally displaced person herself, Malala spoke about the importance of having an identity in her advocacy. Named after Malalai of Maiwand (the only heroine in Pashtun history known by her own name), she spoke of how:

Many girls spoke out [about the issues we were facing]. The difference is that my Dad did not stop me [whilst other girls parents did’].

The support of her father in her advocacy has been pivotal for her work, providing her with the platform and support not afforded to others in her community. Valuably, this familial support has backed her during the toughest times of her life, particularly when the Taliban were targeting her:

When I couldn’t go to school, I wanted someone to speak for me, but no one was. I recall thinking that if I do speak out, they might target me. But if I don’t speak out, then we have to live in this situation forever… Today, we have 130 million girls who are speaking – are shouting – at us to do something! If I can speak out for myself, I can speak out for them too.

Despite her focus upon girls education globally, she is passionate about and commentates on other issues of global gender equality. When asked about the #metoo movement, a slight smile crossed her face as she answered:

For me, the #metoo movement is crucial because it started a conversation about violence against women in the West, that we always talk about in Pakistan, and in India, and in Brazil, and in Afghanistan, and in all of the so-called ‘developing’ countries. This movement shows the global nature of these issues, and has finally started the conversation in your communities too.

As young as she is, Malala and her story is globally known and a pivotal part of the movement towards gender equality globally. She left the crowd with this piece of wisdom:

If you give an education to a girl, you are not only changing her life, but also the whole world.

Just like Malala and the education she received has changed the rest of our world.

Madeline Price, the National Director and Founder of the One Woman Project, had the opportunity to attend ‘An Evening with Malala’ in Sydney in early December. This trip was personally funded and she attended on her own accord, not on behalf of the One Woman Project.

Dubai: A City of Contrasts for Expectant Parents

By Ella Tanner, International Representative (Dubai)

Lucy is a 33-year-old financial controller working for an architecture practice in Dubai. She has white blonde hair that sits just above her shoulders - it is getting a lot thicker now her pregnancy hormones are kicking in. With a relaxed attitude and a dry black humour that is typical of northern England, Lucy seems to breeze through life easily.

When I ask her why she moved to the Middle East in the first place, she looks at me incredulously, ‘for the money, of course!’ She laughs as she clarifies, her husband owns a successful crypto-currency business based in the UK and since there is seemingly an infinite amount of willing investors in Dubai, opening an office out here seemed like a logical next move for the company. They have now been in the UAE for four years and live a comfortable and relaxed life. Lucy works part time so she spends her afternoons at pregnancy yoga classes or at the gym with her personal trainer. Her commitment to her fitness shows as she still looks strong and lean at six months pregnant.

Her baby girl is due in April. She isn’t worried about becoming a first time mum, she is hoping her laid back attitude will somehow flow to her little girl. But she is saving up a bank of TV shows for the sleepless nights, just in case. Her main concern, she tells me, is that under Dubai law, she is only entitled to 45 calendar days’ paid maternity leave. This is not a lot. Because she works for a company with its head office in the UK, they are more flexible and they might give her unpaid leave, but she isn’t sure as she hasn’t asked yet.

She was relieved when she told her employer that she was pregnant and they were happy for her. Lucy relays horror stories that she has heard of expectant mothers being made redundant from their jobs when they announce their pregnancy which cuts off their medical insurance, their visa and unless they can find another job as a pregnant woman in male dominated workforce, their right to live in Dubai.

Even if she is given unpaid leave, Lucy is unsure whether they should remain in Dubai. She doesn’t know if it is the right place for her to bring up a baby. I ask Lucy how she thinks her daughter’s life will differ if she grows up in Dubai compared to in England. She hesitates for a moment before she responds:

She will be more spoilt here and she will have to make new friends every year because the place is so transient. But she would also learn a lot about different cultures, different religions and different ways of life.

But, Lucy and her husband have no family support here. She wants her child to feel connected to her home and to her family.

With this looming over her, Lucy is not sure what the right option for her and her new family will be. Will her best option be to give up the lifestyle and job opportunities that Dubai promises her and her husband? Or should she return to the safety, support and stability of England?

But Lucy is lucky. This decision is not make or break for her and she doesn’t need to make it straight away. She can move home tomorrow or she can move home in 20 years, regardless, her lifestyle and career will remain relatively the same.

But, this is not the case for thousands of women working and living in Dubai who come from countries with limited medical care, low wages, university degrees that are not internationally recognised and little to no social welfare or support. Dubai is a city of contrasts and Lucy’s life compared to the thousands of women from less developed countries is a classic example.