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Real Women, Real Stories

Matan Uziel
Matan Uziel is the curator of Real Women, Real Stories, a new filming miniseries with the goal of embracing women who are silent in their pain but want to speak out. Each episode focuses on a woman who has overcome subjugation and stigmatization in her given profession. While the first season's installments focus on overcoming verbal and sexual abuse and eating disorders in the entertainment and fashion industries, the series also plans to cover women in politics, journalism, and other industries. Here's his story:

My childhood memories are rich and varied. I cannot remember too MUCH from my young childhood, besides the warm feeling from sitting in a basket of laundry just come from the dryer, my dad teaching me how to ride a bike and how to bake from a very young age, how to fly a kite, and the days my mom would pick me up from school. All of these memories leave me with happy, warm feelings about my childhood. I also remember playing with my sisters. My sisters always protected me. I was raised in a rural location of Israel that provided me a wide natural habitat free of conflict and positively infected with freedom, love, peace and prosperity. If the whole of space-time up until now was a lottery to be awarded out randomly to humans, I won the largest jackpot available. We had pets. Lots and lots of pets. I have a loving family, and my parents are the best. We gathered regularly at a table every Shabbat at my grandparents' house to eat meals that nourished our minds as well as our bodies. I had many friends, but my best friends were and will always be my parents and of course my grandfather. My parents from my mother's side are Bulgarian. My grandfather is Moshe Gueron and he comes from a famous Aristocratic family (Castro). He is my guide and my confidant and as mentioned, my best friend, and my role model. My grandparents from my father's side were Greek, are Auschwitz survivors. I remember going with my grandfather Alberto to the sea (They lived in Tel-Aviv), and I loved the food of my grandmother. She taught me of many things. I remember absorbing her stories about Auschwitz and learnt, she taught me about modesty.

Working in the fashion industry as a 20-year-old millionaire, I engaged in the toxic masculinity that harmed many women's lives. I craved power and dominance and manipulated others to get my way. After much self-reflection, I found the courage to heal and to help others instead. Through Real Women, Real Stories, I have been able to elevate women instead of cut them down. I firmly believe that allowing women a platform to tell their own stories.

I have decided to empower women for a myriad of reasons, but again – the main reason belongs to the fashion industry. It was during my years as a fashion agent that I witnessed the atrocities done to women, some of them were underage. Powerful people, some still working in the fashion industry today, abused hundreds of women. This abuse included anything from forcing them into anorexia or illicit drug use to trafficking and prostitution. Many were offered favors and promotion in return for sex or participation in orgies. One of these powerful people is still the owner of a large agency. Like many of these women who have faced these horrors and intimidation, I, too, have faced some. I was told to remain silent and to never share or tell, I was threatened, and if I did tell, I would be hurt and my loved ones would be hurt. Those same powerful people told me that I would be shamed and discredited if I ever revealed their injustices and exploitations. I was the "lesser of the evil" in the industry; although I was aware of all the abuse occurring, I never took on the roles of the abuser or the abused, never forcing anyone into anorexia, drug use, prostitution, "trade deals" or trafficking. Yet, I was part of the game.

YouTube generally monetizes videos – that is to say, an advertisement is placed before of the video and whomever runs the channel receives a share of the proceeds. This is how Real Women Real Stories has paid for the productions of these important videos. But YouTube recently decided to demonetize Real Women Real Stories videos. YouTube has justified this by saying some videos, including ones we have published about sexual assault and rape but not only, are not "advertiser-friendly." Real Women Real Stories features real trauma survivors standing up for women's rights, yet we are punished. Some of our stories are painful. But all of them need to be heard. Some of the videos on our YouTube channel have received millions of views and thousands of comments. Most have been reposted on news sites around the world and shared countless times on social media. It has changed women's lives as their stories have received international attention. Their voices are being heard. And they are changing the world. YouTube's demonetization policy is also applied unevenly. I compiled a long list of videos on the site of the very same nature which are still being monetized. Most are related to abuse and rape, and many are clickbait.

On January 17th, 2017, a man whose voice I didn't recognize have called me from a restricted number. He sounded American. He told me that my appeal to YouTube to re-monetize our videos has brought to his attention in a way he refused to disclose, and that our stories about pedophiles and abusers could cost me my life. He added that people are trying to extort employees from inside YouTube in order to demonetize Real Women Real Stories' videos and thus handing down a "death sentence" to our source of income. The conversation lasted for about 1-2 minutes and as he hung up the phone, I have finally realized what I have thought about for a long time: Our videos have touched someone's nerves. This someone wants to sabotage us, to prevent us from reporting on things which some don't want reported. This conversation happened, and I realized I had unconsciously been waiting for it. This MondayI received a threatening phone call once again. An unidentified man – who sounded the same – has called me saying he is going to harm me and giving me all these kinds of threats, just screaming the top of his lungs like a lunatic. He said that my life is in jeopardy if I don't comply to his request to stop document stories about pedophilia and sex trafficking, and that "do not think of contacting the police or even tell anyone because people in YouTube are getting paid to eliminate your channel and it won't help you." It is scary, but I won't stop. I'm however appalled by Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube) failure to reply to my emails, and she considers herself to be a big feminist and a champion for gender equality. I'm disappointed by YouTube in general.
Here is my video about it: 

We are hoping to get patrons in order to make more videos and promote awareness of the often unseen hardships women face in different professions and places. Our vision is to produce much more compelling women-related content that empowers, enables, and sparks positive social change. (To learn more please go here.) 

One thing that disturbs me a lot is hatred toward women by women. I am occasionally surprised by the degree of spite some women feel toward other women they don't know well. I'm working very hard to bring women together and change it. I am taken aback by the vitriol though. Based on my experience, I can assuredly report that women report more critical views of other women than the men do with their own male peers. I believe that there is much we can do and say to give our daughters the sense that their lives will be equally important to those of men, only by supporting – and not criticizing – other girls. The main goal of the project, though, is to form a network of overcomers and thrivers, not just survivors, who will support and encourage each other and begin to speak up and speak out about the destructive impact women's issues have on individuals, families, and our communities. It is my hope that all families and societies in the world will have instilled in the young minds of their sons a tradition of respecting women, of appreciating their worth, and of not promoting cultural values that dehumanize, brutalize, or disrespect women. This is the main goal of Real Women Real Stories, and it can be done only by raising awareness and educating our children. We will keep to embody the hard stories women experienced through life in order to elicit a reaction out of people by bringing together capturing stories in a way they've never seen.

I'm interested to give opportunity to as much crew members as I can and so my goal is to involve as much talents as possible in order for them to amplify their skills and potential. Real Women Real Stories is a very unique project. Real Women Real Stories at its core is an experience, it is a learning spectacle.

FAQs with an asexual, aromantic, agendered individual.

By Anonymous

Two people find themselves talking to each other in a place. The following is their conversation. 

"So, are you seeing anybody?"

"No, I'm not."

"Oh, how come?"

"I'm not really interested in seeing anyone right now."

"Why is that?"

"I don't know, I just don't feel like it."

"Well, you ought to."

"No, I don't “ought to.” I'm just not interested in getting into a relationship. I don't see the point."

"Maybe if you tried to go out with someone, then you'd be able to appreciate it better."

"I actually have. I didn't enjoy it, it wasn't for me. I'd go so far as to say that I feel some guilt for trying it in the first place. Relationships are meant to be emotionally satisfying for both people, and in my quest to find some meaning in this particular social structure, I hurt another person without fully taking their feelings and expectations into consideration. It's not that I didn't try to offer what I believed that the other needed. It's just that I wasn't invested enough to understand what had to be done. Not to mention that the very concept of romance escapes my understanding. It becomes difficult for me to provide comfort on that level."

"But did you get physical?"

"That's a rather inappropriate question."

"Well, maybe if you had, you and your partner would have enjoyed things better!"

"How about no? Thanks for assuming that we didn't get physical."

"Maybe you're gay?"

"Nope, I'm not."

"There's nothing wrong with being gay. You probably just haven't realized that you're gay yet."

"But I am not gay. I know I'm not gay."

"Then I just don't understand what your problem with sex is."

"Maybe I'm just not into the whole business of spit tasting and piss sharing, or exchanging body fluids of any kind, for that matter. Maybe the idea of touching somebody else's skin just unnerves me."

"But it's so much more than that."

"Well, I'm glad you enjoy it."

"You should really get out more often, meet more people and get to know them. You're bound to meet somebody who interests you."

"Well, I'm here, aren't I?"


"And didn't we bump into each other last week, too?"

"That's true-"

"And again, sometime before that?"

"That's not-"

"Why didn't you show up at Chris' party?"

"I had to finish some work."

"Sounds like I get out and meet more people than you do."

"That's not what I mean! What I mean is, you just haven't met the right person yet."

"Heh. The right person. Sure, maybe someday I'll meet a person that'd absolutely blow my mind and make me go against every natural instinct of mine. I'm not actively going to seek it out, though. Just as I'm not actively avoiding it. I don't know… Have you found the right person?"

"No, I mean, I don't know, maybe?"

"Exactly. You can never know. Because people change, and you can't expect them to adhere to your idea of the ideal. So the right person today could well become the wrong person tomorrow. That isn't to say you should give up on them. Just do what you want and they want, even as I do what I want!"

"That's a very cold way of thinking."

"Is it? I don't think it is. I'd much rather treat everyone I meet with as much love as I can possibly give them, without either them or me becoming uncomfortable. I don't need to be in a relationship to be a warm person."

"So you're like Sherlock, huh? A sociopath."

"No. Again. I am not a sociopath or a psychopath. I care very deeply for the people around me. I can and do empathize and sympathize with them. The only thing that makes you and me different is the fact that I do not want to get into a relationship, and I do not want to have sex. If I were to term these things, it would make me Aromantic and Asexual."

"So you're like a priest, then? Celibate?"

"No. I'm not celibate. Celibacy is a choice, asexuality isn't!"

"Ohh. Ugh. Now I get it. Asexual people are creepy. There's something unnerving about them…"

"But why? You were perfectly fine with me up until five minutes ago. What changed?"

"I don't know, it's just - do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"


"Were you abused at any point in your life? Is that why you're afraid to get intimate? You don't have to answer me, but if I'm right, then you should see a counselor."

"I appreciate your advice, but I wasn't abused at any point. There's no correlation between asexuality and abuse. Much like homosexuality, asexuality is just a way some people are born. Nothing causes it to happen. For some people, it sets in late, and everybody experiences it differently."

"But, from what I can understand, asexuality means you never get aroused?"

"It depends on how you define arousal. Some don't experience it in any form. Others do experience a degree of arousal, but aren't interested in sex in spite of that. The physical attributes of arousal may still occur in an individual without them getting mentally stimulated for sex. Some dislike the process of getting there, but enjoy the orgasm. Others have sex to reproduce, and still others, to pleasure their partners, but for the most part, sex is very unpleasant for asexual people."

"So you'd date somebody if they're okay with not having sex with you?"

"I probably wouldn't. I'm also aromantic, which means that I feel no romantic interest. I don't understand the very concept of romance and what it entails. I am open to the idea of understanding it someday, because the movies sure make it look pretty. But right now this is just the way it is. Many people don't know this, but just like sexuality and gender, romantic attraction belongs to a spectrum too. It maps out the extent to which a person desires and exhibits romantic behaviors."

"Interesting. I know you said otherwise, but it sounds an awful lot like sociopathy or psychopathy to me."

"No! Not at all! I have great friends, and I love my family very much. I just don't feel the need to get romantic with anyone."

"Well, at the very least you don't have a fancy pronoun that I have to remember."

"That isn’t a very nice thing to say. I do in fact, have some questions about my gender. I don't feel comfortable with conventional male thinking, but I also don't feel comfortable thinking in a manner that society leads us to believe women think. So while I'm not dysphoric, I dislike identifying as either male or female. In my mind, I prefer to think of myself as genderless or agendered. I'm quite far from understanding this fully, though. I don't really care what pronoun you use for me, but typically agender people prefer 'they'. It's very important that you don't misgender people, as their assigned genders may have caused them to go through a lot of pain that they wouldn't want to be reminded of." 

To any asexual, or aromantic, or agender people reading this (or all of the above). People will call you cold. People will say you're a psychopath. You are neither of those things. People will pressure you to get into relationships and have sex. You do not have to. You're a wholesome, wonderful and unique person, and you have every right to make choices that suit you. 

The above discourse may not fully describe you, but each of these terms (asexual, aromantic and agender) are umbrella terms that cover a very wide variety of experiences, and if you can relate to any part of what I'm saying, you may find the rest of your experience described somewhere under these umbrellas. And even if you don't, it's perfectly alright! You know you best, and you know what makes you feel comfortable and uncomfortable. 

To those survivors of trauma, who've been told that your identity is defined by it, it is not. Asexuality, agender and aromantic identities are NOT symptoms, but identities that are just as natural as heterosexual, cisgender, transgender and romantic. It's just a question of what you're comfortable with. There is no crime, and no judgment is to be made in choosing to be comfortable.  

And it's important to understand that these three terms don't need to exist together. You could be an aromantic, trans lesbian, for instance. You could be an asexual, biromantic cisperson. You are who you feel like you are, and don't let anybody tell you differently. 

Discovering who you are is a long, confusing and sometimes painful journey. But do not give up on it. You will feel a freedom you can't imagine at the end of it all. Even if the world is in conflict with your identity, you won't be. And that in itself makes a huge difference to your state of mind. 

To the rest of the people reading this, I implore you to show some consideration towards the choices that people make. You might not agree with them. But that doesn't make them psychopaths or weirdos or creeps. It just makes them different from you. Please learn to respect that. You cannot imagine the amount of counter programming it requires for a person to understand that they aren't, in fact a psychopath, but just different. It's a fearful feeling. 

We must learn to accept the choices the people make for themselves rather than stigmatize them. We must learn, that there is something very wrong with us when these choices that have no effect on us make us uncomfortable. 

Multi-Hyphenate America

by Anonymous

my America is waves of cold milk 
splashing about with globs of sticky sweet sugary 
cereal that rot your teeth as fast as they put a smile on your face

the lingering diesel from the exhaust pipe of 
a yellow school bus puttering away deliberately 
picking up small parcels of children of various colors shapes and sizes

my America is the Wheel of Fortune 
followed by Jeopardy! (with Alex Trebek!)

the crisp fragrant crimson leaves of dogwoods 
and poplars in a heap waiting to be jumped in 

 my America is the Shenandoah Valley's 
vivacious curves and dips, 
the Appalachian’s kudzu invasion 
and twangs of a dulcimer

a winter so cold your nose hairs freeze 
when you inhale the sharp but invigorating air

my America eats from my turmeric-stained hands 
and fine bone china 
and drinks my sweet chai 
steeped in cinnamon and cardamom 

offering a cup all the while of fresh coffee 
reminding you of the real Boston Tea Party 
with its acerbic bite of mavericks in costume standing up for their rights

my America is carnivals brimming with funnel cake 
dusted in white where you could never quite win that overpriced 
and otherwise unappealing toy

a land founded by complicated 
rebels with wooden teeth

 my America is soft Bengali guttural Arabic 
and rhythmic Sanskrit tones broken by Latin hymnals 
earthy Gaelic and syllables chewed with grit

an alchemical fragrance of a southern belle’s  magnolias 
bonding precariously with royal Mughal jasmines 
hanging together in a heady summer heat

my America secures the Blessings of Liberty to herself and her posterity 
her colossus welcomes the tired poor masses yearning to breathe

Amid Violence, Choose Peace. Amid Fear, Choose Hope

Melissa Diamond
A Global Voice for Autism is an initiative founded and run by Melissa Diamond. With a beautiful tagline of "Amid Violence, Choose Peace. Amid Fear, Choose Hope," Melissa has been diligently catering to the needs of children with autism. A Global Voice for Autism was founded on the principle that ALL families should have access to education and autism support, no matter where they live. Sharda Vishwanathan caught up with Melissa for an interview. 

Could you start by talking about yourself, your educational and professional background?
I am a current Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford pursuing a degree in Conflict, Security and Development. I previously completed a self-designed Bachelor's degree at the University of Richmond in Peace and Conflict with a concentration in disability in conflict regions.

What inspired A Global Voice for Autism? What was the organisation's founding story?
I established A Global Voice for Autism after meeting a mother and her daughter with autism in Jerusalem in 2012. They had traveled to Jerusalem to learn about the daughter's autism diagnosis and the mother told me that, after their trip, she planned to lock her daughter with autism in her home due to the stigma and lack of resources available in her community. I have a close friend with autism who grew up going to school and engaging in many community activities and it struck me that if my friend had simply been born somewhere else, she might have been denied these basic rights to education and community.

We are currently undergoing some rebranding after finding a clear need for trauma-informed education in the communities we serve. In addition to serving children with autism and their families and teachers, our new programs also use evidence-based practices to equip teachers and families with the skills to support children with trauma-related behavioral challenges in school and in the community.

Our mission is to equip teachers and families in conflict-affected communities with the skills to support and include children with autism and trauma-related behavioral challenges in their classrooms, homes and communities. Our vision is to create a world where children with diverse learning needs are included in their classrooms and to ensure that these children are not only physically present but that they are also learning alongside their peers.

What are some of the current campaigns and activities at A Global Voice for Autism? What are their goals / aims?
We currently have WTO projects on the table. Our first is a program site in Gaziantep, Turkey that will train Turkish and Syrian teachers and parents to support the children with autism and trauma-affected children they serve. Right now, Turkey is integrating Turkish schools and Syrian refugee schools and both school systems are seeking support for including children with unique learning needs in their classrooms. The second project is a weeklong inclusive and innovative education training camp in Algeria that aims to equip Algerian primary school teachers with the tools to meet the needs of diverse learners in their classrooms. This project is still in the early stages but we are working with some great Algerian partners to bring it to life.

In the work that you do, what are some of the challenges you encounter? How do you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges we face as an organization is addressing the plethora of needs that individuals have in conflict-affected communities. From severe poverty to domestic violence to mental health issues, the challenges that our families and teachers face daily extend far beyond teaching children with learning differences. As an organization, we aim to create supportive networks for our families and teachers through our support and self-development groups as well as to establish a web of resources in the communities we serve so that we can refer our program participants to other organizations for support.

Would you like to share any positive anecdotes through your work?
I think that our families and teachers say it best. Here are some of their reflections about our programs:

“Honestly, this is the first time since I arrived here that I feel like I am being treated like a human rather than a refugee. Before I came here I was feeling so hopeless. We are in a very difficult situation and I felt stressed and ashamed of Reema’s behavior. You gave me hope. You made me feel like I could do something about Reema’s situation. You made me feel like my story matters. Now, I feel that I can do anything. Being an autism parent is a superpower. Now for the first time, I understand my power.”
-Lama, Mother of Reema, age 9, Mersin

“I find these skills to be so helpful, not just in supporting the children with autism, but also in supporting children who have experienced trauma. I have kids in my classroom who never used to talk who are now participating and kids who always used to disrupt who are now listening quietly. I never imagined I would see these changes. It’s not one big thing that I did to make it happen either. It’s many little changes that I learned here, and together, they make a big difference.”
 -Soumia, 2nd Grade Teacher, Mersin

“I used to get really angry at my sister. Whenever I would fold clothes, she would unfold them. Whenever I drew a picture, she would tear it up. I learned that sometimes she just doesn’t understand what she’s supposed to do. If I yell at her, she will just get angry too. But now, I can show her what she should be doing instead. That makes a difference.”

The Man Problem, And What To Do About It.

By Siddharth Shiva

I wrote this in January, when everyone was talking about the nonsense that went down in Bangalore on New Year’s Eve. Decided to hold out on sharing it because I knew that people would stop talking about it within a week. 

Scoopwhoop shared security footage of a woman being harassed by two men on a scooter. I’m not linking to that horrendous video. It shouldn’t be online without the woman’s permission, and it most certainly shouldn’t have been presented in viral video format. But in the comments, several times: "When will parents start sending their daughters, wives and sisters for martial arts lessons?"

What happens when the perpetrator is better trained or just stronger in general? Why is it that people still think that defense against sexual harassment is women's responsibility? Its been said by thousands of people that we wouldn’t say this to a person who has been mugged. Men need to stop talking about what women should be doing, and start talking about what we can do to stop this shit from happening. 

Have any of these idiots considered that maybe there's something terribly wrong in the way India raises its boys to be men? Starts with kindergarten teachers telling boys and girls to sit separately. Then suddenly one day you find yourself in college doing the same thing. Dudes are scared to friggin’ talk to women. They feel constantly threatened by them because they're thought of as, almost, a separate species. Men are made to think that a woman who doesn’t embody Indian cultural values, is not a woman, but a foul thing. A whore who’s whore powers will bewitch them into doing things that they won’t normally do. Men are made to think that a woman who abides by Indocultural propriety owes them what they want anyway. This, often by their families. Our movies and television glorify stalking and assault. Because stalking and assault somehow gets you the girl. "Locker room talk" attests for your manhood. The badder you are, the more manly. 

In the old days - Simpler Times (TM) - people didn’t care a whole lot about what women had to say. They were coveted belongings. I mean, they were doing amazing stuff, but mostly invisible to men. So men took this to its logical extreme and drafted laws that more or less sees women as objects, maybe pets. Preferring to protect women’s “modesty”, rather than the woman herself. Why? Because “modesty” can be defined by a man. Laws can be structured around ideas that make men comfortable, with the way they treat women, and their idea of what counts as mistreatment. These obviously need to be changed. This would of course, require women to enter into legislative discourse, if only men would allow them a voice.

But how will this ever happen, when the police and the judges and literally everyone’s grown up in an environment that teaches you that women are, almost, a different species? 

There should be a radical change in the way men are raised, and an environment should be created to ensure that boys are taught that women aren't their enemies while they're still children. Anything else is indoctrinating them into a system of sexual repression and misogyny from a very young age. 

We need to create an environment that stops making sex seem like a badge to be worn. You’ve slept with 10 women? Big fucking deal. I’ve eaten (probably) more than 3000 scoops of ice cream last year and you don’t see me bragging about that (I just did, but that’s beside the point). My point is. Women are human beings. They’re not achievements to be unlocked nor are they prizes to be won. Getting laid is cool, but it ain’t the same as getting lucky. Luck is winning the lottery. Sex is a mutual decision. You don’t slip and fall into pussy by luck, but through dialog. And if that isn’t the case then you’re committing a crime. By treating sex as one kind of statement of manhood you create an environment that makes people more desperate for it. And this needs to fucking stop. 

This environment needs to be confronted from two directions. The first is by encouraging grown up people to understand the things that create this environment so that they can avoid perpetuating it, and the second is by raising the next generation of children in a different, inclusive, even environment. 

What does it mean to show a grown up person that the environment they create when they say “bros before hoes” is not a healthy one? A lot of work, and some compromise. 

I encourage forward thinking men to actively participate in the dissolution of this environment. Because OF COURSE, men value male voices more than they value women. So the next time your catching a coffee with your boyfriends (or bros, if you’re bothered by the connotations of “boyfriend” in 2017), or you find yourself in the middle of a locker room chat, work towards cleaning it up. There are ways of doing this without making you seem like a “killjoy”. This is where compromise comes in. There are two keys to how to effectively communicate feminism to bros: humor and relatability. Your dialog must be easily accessible. I get that not everybody’s as able as I am to spin jokey webs like some kinda joke spiderman, but bros don’t have a very high standard for humor. Humor, to a bro, by itself is abrasive, and it’s quality doesn’t matter a whole lot. All that matters is that your statement is made. They’re smart enough to get that, and they generally appreciate when it isn’t told to them in an “uptight” manner. 

This means:
  • No more bro code
  • No more friendzone (be happy she’s still your friend you fucking creep)
  • Moderation of language: words like slut, whore and fag are absolutely unacceptable 
  • No rape jokes, no sexual assault jokes
  • No objectification; which means no rating her out of ten, no talking about her tits, and no talking about how she was last night. Just fucking shut up about people if you’re going to talk about them like they’re products on Amazon, dammit.
But bros aren’t the only kinda grown ups you will find yourself having to deal with. The arguably more difficult variety of grown up is the Conservative. These people mistake their shitty rhetoric to be respectful. And convincing a person that what they perceive as a positive opinion is actually a negative one is no simple task. For this, once again, a little compromise is in order. It is generally not preferred to draw upon wives and daughters and sisters as examples for why feminism is necessary, because it makes it about the men. However, for some people, there is very little alternative. You must work this angle, in the hope that eventually, they understand that the problems they face go beyond the people they directly care about. So find ways to explain the ways sexist rhetoric affects people that they know. You will find yourself getting through to (most of) them slowly, but surely. 

Convincing grown ups that things that they’ve believed in all their lives are wrong is difficult work. It’s much easier for children to learn. And while I personally dislike children and think that they’re mostly huge assholes, they also have more potential to exhibit compassion than the rest of us. And that’s why, the second angle that I mentioned before, is arguably the more important one, as it has the potential to change everything about the future. People tend to imagine very bleak futures, but those are very avoidable, even without Barry Allen’s help. All it takes is for you to make a solid impression on the younger generation. It’s of utmost importance that they’re raised in an environment that doesn’t discriminate between them based on gender. 

Children are quick in responding emotionally, and are very moldable, characterwise. It’s incredibly important for their happiness, and for our society, that they’re taught the importance of equality and positivity starting at a young age. Realism is a thing that they will discover for themselves at an appropriate time. It’s important that they have the tools to deal with this realization well. For this to happen, it is important that they’re familiar with the nuances of gender and sexuality by then, and therefore, it is important for them to receive a sound education in both of these. There are, of course, other things too, but I mention gender and sexuality, because they’re pertinent to gender equality, which is what I’ve been talking about this whole time (don’t you dare “what about this problem” me). 

In an ideal world in my eyes, we wouldn’t assign genders at birth. People are allowed to build their own character as they grow, and they’re allowed to be attracted to whoever they wish to be attracted to. They could even choose to opt out of these things - agender, asexual people exist (autocorrect doesn’t even recognize agender as a word). Basically, you, friend, and everyone around you, friend, can just be whoever they want to be. Free of expectation. free of societal responsibility. But we are light years away from this. We’re going to be wrapping babies in pink and blue blankets for decades (maybe centuries). 

Really, it all depends on which generation makes a start at working against this tide of time and culture. I’d hope that it’s ours, but we’re all so busy being confused at our place in all of this. Nobody has a confident opinion yet, because our facts and beliefs aren’t yet surely cemented. This is not an affront to our generation; it’s merely an indication of just how far our human civilization is from maturity. We can only get there through a sort of domino effect; where we help each other understand the work that needs to be done. I have faith. I think that we have the a good chance of making it out of this happy and equal. Maybe that’s my privilege speaking. I don’t know.What I do know is that if I were to think anything else, I wouldn’t sleep very well at night.

The Mira Project

The Mira Project ties in art as a means to advocate against Sexual Violence and Violence against Women. Here's a chat with Scherezade Siobhan, the brains behind the project.

Let's start with your story. Could you tell us a bit about your childhood, education, growing years and background?
My story is a bouquet of many different elsewheres! I am a clinical psychologist by way of education and vocation. I have degrees in psychology and pscyhotherapy and am a PhD candidate for the former. I have worked intensively with organizations, communities and individuals for over a decade across various interlinked dimensions including organizational behaviour, group process labs, transformational leadership, emotional wellness, psychological counselling and mental healthcare. My lineage is a combination of Indian, Afghan & Rroma Spanish. Most of my childhood was fairly nomadic owing to an early separation between my parents. I am always a little skittish when I have to specifically talk about myself but for most part this is a good summary of my origin and orbits.

2. You started the Mira Project. What inspired it? Could you share a bit about the journey that went up to its founding? I am a social scientist who makes a living studying, researching and sometimes modifying behaviours in my field of work. In the last few years, I have been specially inclined towards a expanding my practice towards a more feminist form of psychotherapy and counselling.  I come across women from all walks of life and sometimes the unfortunate yet common thread that binds all their/our narratives is frequent exposure and experience with street harassment. When I was 8 or 9, I remember running with my heart gutted in my mouth as a middle-aged lurker followed me from my house to my friends’ where I was originally going. My grandmother had returned home from visiting her eldest son in America and she was loaded with presents for me. I was deathly eager to show off my new summer dress to my playing companions in the neighborhood. I remember that blisteringly hot afternoon of June with damaging accuracy. At 32 years old, I may forget what I wore the day before but I will never forget what I wore that day and how badly I wanted to dissolve into a puddle of sweat, becoming invisible long after I had escaped his tobacco-fueled ambuscade. Nearly 10 years later, I watched my younger sister come home after school and slump into the couch like a deflated parachute. She was panting heavily but refused eye contact and my nerves itched in synaptic misfires. I knew as much as I didn’t want to believe it. The idea that you have to formally or even casually strategize what spaces you want to access or be part of  as you step outside of your house solely because of your gender is a deeply unsettling proposition.  I strongly believe that it is not upto us, women & woman-identified folks, to stop gender based violence in general and street harassment in particular however we do need an open, inclusive and judgment free platform to mobilise our stories and create larger echoes of amplification. That is how The Mira Project came about.  This is a confluence of conversation, community and catharsis. Here, We take space. Without apologies.

3. What were some of the challenges you encountered in your journey? How did you overcome them?
On a daily basis, I tend to invoke Gloria Anzaldua and wrap myself in her mantra that I am not going to persevere in a tradition of silence. This allows me to pivot the axis of our project into a new terrain for newer opportunities. A lot of my work currently involves creating and holding space for collaborative storytelling that is slowly patterning itself into an enduring mosaic of resilience and expressive art. It is a unique and formerly uncharted space for me. My learning curve is evolving on a daily basis. The hardest part is striving for the thoroughness of a prolonged equilibrium in how we curate the stories that are shared with us with a preamble for radical compassion. It is not easy for the participants in this project to invite us into the cloister of their experience without considering the implications. It is definitely not easy reading through a lot of it either but all of it is necessary, needed..

4. What are your key goals / aims / dreams for The Mira Project?
So far, we have curated narratives from over a dozen countries, countless cities and over 100 women in a short span of 4 months. We have had participants from Dublin, Cairo, Edinburgh, Delhi, Chennai, Singapore, Cape Town, Seattle, Los Angeles among many other cities and our age range has been from post-teens to poet laureates in their late 50s. We maintain a closed but very active core group on Facebook that engages in discussions/conversation, resource-sharing and bridges digital-to-irl engagement through actionable opportunities and community-oriented plans. We have actively involved in community catalysis and fostering of better global interaction systems between creatives, academics, scientists, therapists, business women as well as those who choose to take care of homes. We are now in the process of creating a unique support model that allows us to raise funds along with awareness. We will be creating a patron group who can donate to each story we publish and we intend to pool the funds to create educational tools for conducting awareness workshops amongst adolescents in disenfranchised communities particularly in India and South Asia.

5. What keeps you inspired and what keeps you going?
In one word : Duende! In my father’s country, this nearly untranslatable term beseeches an almost primal sense of doing, involvement, submission to the core calling; something that happens through you, turns you into a medium for a larger explosion. Mostly duende affirms the presence of art in any artist but I feel the term is also political and socio-cultural. I sense a puissant, unrelenting outfall of duende on days where I pack in a 10 hrs, full-time job and then knot up my the nest of my unkempt hair and work another 4 hrs on The Mira Project. In Urdu, I am ziddi - stubborn, unfazed, self-willed. Mostly it is the gift and onus of being brought into this world as woman of colour - I must create, I must resist, I must preserve, I must nurture to hilt my kin who are not just those whom I know by the shared rhythms of our blood but also by the shared lineage of our stories. Above all, I think I am trying to do justice to my given name - Scherezade : Shahrahzad - the tireless storyteller. The women who walk with me are fuel for my bones, they allow me to assemble myself into new shapes and structures daily through their words and strength.

6. Have you met with any resistance in the work you're doing? How have you coped with it?
Resistance has been ambiguous, limp and similar to the common chauvinism any feminist activist encounters especially in digital alleyways. We get the odd there-is-no-such-thing-as-street-harassment anonymous chest-beating or the very bromidic and laughable attempts at social media bullying when we collaborate with larger media outlets for sharing of stories. We subscribe to our grandmother’s adages at these junctures, namely - empty vessels spawn maximum din. Ignore, focus, marshall your energies towards building constructive muscle. Above and beyond this, our work has been universally appreciated and supported without any exceptions.

7. How can we help support your initiative?
Engage with the project directly. We allow for each participant who shares their story to leave a wishlist. We encourage our readers to perhaps fulfill some wish from that wishlist. Read us. Talk about us. Write to us.. Share our work with your networks and strengthen the signal. We want to translate the stories we are curating into multi-media, experiential, performative, participatory arrangements for which we want to partner with grassroots activists, artists, filmmakers, musicians, dancers and whole plethora of people who would like to help us make these narratives come to life. If you are a journalist or a writer, please contact us for interviews or possible feature so we can enhance our audience base and reach out to more people.  Participate in our fundraisers in whichever small way you can. We are in the process of setting up educational resources and possibly a digital helpcenter that will allow women to speak about their experiences with gender-based violence without critique or confrontation.

Organizations must help break the silence

By Sharda Vishwanathan

The last few weeks, there have been a string of unfortunate events that have thrown light on sexual harassment at workplace, a topic which is often shushed and covered under wraps. I vividly remember my discussion with a friend about the recent case of sexual harassment involving one of India’s well-known online entertainment company- The Viral Fever, and the immediate reaction I received was, “How do you know the incident reported is authentic. It is an anonymous entry.” When I think of this reaction, I know he is not the only one. This was a recurring theme across many discussions on this particular incident and on sexual harassment in general.

While it’s easy to rubbish off a report or a complaint as false and question it’s authenticity, I think it becomes important to understand how we as a society contribute towards creating fear and intimidation for survivors of sexual assault or harassment to break the silence.

Social Stigma: The social stigma associated with sexual harassment often forces the survivor to not report the incident or to file an anonymous complaint. “You must have done something to have invited it!” “You were inappropriately dressed!” “It’s your fault, you were drunk!” and many such absurd statements that time and again blame and shame the survivor. And every aspect of her life is suddenly under the scanner.

Lack of faith and fear of retaliation: In a survey on sexual harassment conducted by the Indian National Bar Association, 65% of the respondents felt their companies did not follow the process prescribed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. 66.7% of the survivors felt that the Internal Complaints Committee did not deal with the complaint fairly. Further, 42.2% of the survivors felt that they were not treated fairly by their peers and colleagues during the investigation period. A classic case in point is the initial response by The Viral Fever  which was not just intimidating but refuted the claims and pronounced the report as a false allegation thus, highlighting how often organizations do very little to build faith and trust in the survivors by promising a fair investigation.

Intersectionality of class/ caste/ religion with gender:  Across cases, one observes that the power hierarchy established due to class, caste and religion often force women to silently suffer sexual harassment.

Lack of understanding of the law and sexual harassment: Awareness is a major challenge when it comes to issues around sexual harassment. Often companies as well as employees are unaware of the provisions of the The Sexual Harassment Of Women At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013. Further, despite the definitions clearly in place, complaints are often brushed off as mere flirting and does not get any cognisance until they are severe/ extreme in nature. No matter how small an offence is, harassment is harassment. Be it physical or non-physical in nature, every incident of harassment should be looked into.

Job uncertainty and future career prospects: In most cases, 50% of the survivors left the company either after the case is investigated or after the incident, should no action be taken by the company.  Fearing adverse publicity and the impact that could have on future job opportunities, women often choose to remain silent.

It is clear that there is so much more to why survivors of sexual harassment often do not come forward and file a complaint. It now becomes important to highlight what is required of the organizations and the society to create a more conducive environment that promotes safety at the workplace and promotes diversity and equality.

Have a well-defined sexual harassment policy in place: It is binding on every organization with 10 or more employees to have a well-drafted sexual harassment policy in place.

Mandatory to identify an Internal Complaints Committee: In line with the provisions listed under The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, it is mandatory for every organization to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee to investigate complaints of sexual harassment.

Create awareness about the policy amongst the employees:  Every organization must share the sexual harassment policy guidelines with every employee of the organization. This can be done at the time of onboarding for a new employee and by sending a hard copy of the policy or by sharing a soft copy for the existing employees.

Ensure safety and security of a survivor: It is imperative for every organization to create a safe and secure environment that encourages survivors of sexual harassment to come forward and file a report. Further, it is important  to ensure that fellow employees do not indulge in victim-blaming  or shaming the complainant and appropriate steps must be taken to prevent this. And last but not the least, any kind of intimidation or pressure faced by the complainant must be investigated and acted upon.

Provide training to the Human Resources as well as members of the Internal Complaints Committee: It is important that the Human Resources as well as members of the Internal Complaints Committee are provided training with regard to handling complaints of sexual harassment as well as following all the processes as required by the law while investigating a complaint.  There are numerous nonprofit organizations that organize training sessions.

Conduct workshops and training sessions: In addition to investigating sexual harassment complaints, it is the role of the Internal Complaints Committee to organize various training workshops to sensitize the employees on issues around sexual harassment and the importance of creating a safe and secure working environment for all.

Workplace sexual harassment is no longer an unidentified challenge or obstacle to women at the workplace. But it’s time for organizations to identify the interventions to overcome this challenge.

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