The Women’s Press Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices.
Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • Published by the Immigrant Women’s Centre
Hamilton joins plea for justice
Hundreds attended Mother’s Day rally calling for the return of the kidnapped Nigerian girls at Hamilton City Hall.
THE WORLD CRIES: ‘BRING BACK OUR GIRLS’ Supporters gathered at Hamilton City Hall on Mother’s Day in response to the kidnapping of over 200 schoolaged girls in Nigeria. The terrorist group that claimed responsibility, Boko Haram, has a decade-long history of bombing churches and schools in Africa, and killing thousands of people. The 30-minute rally started at 12:30 pm, and called for action from the Canadian and Nigerian government. “Whether it is political or religious, children should not be involved,” said Chinazo Okereke, who moved from Nigeria to Hamilton just one year ago. With three children of her own, the pain of this situation resonates deeply with her. “These girls could be my sisters, my daughters. They could be that close.” Okereke, who now holds a university degree, believes more information needs to be known about the situation in Nigeria. “Because of this story a lot of people have a misconception about the education system in Nigeria,” she explained. While barriers to education are still prevalent in Nigeria, the beliefs of these terrorists are fringe and disturbing. “It has been ongoing: the kidnapping, the terrorist attacks. That they are going as far as kidnapping young girls, this is really sad.” Nazia Zeb, Community Outreach
Canada’s face of poverty if we’re serious about poverty, then we’d better prepare ourselves to fight for a woman’s right to a better world // A5
Worker at the Immigrant Women’s Centre, finds Boko Haram’s religious views perplexing. “According to my interpretation of Islam, getting education is a duty of women and men,” Zeb said. “In my view, they are a group of thugs trying to maintain their power through instilling fear in people – especially women and girls – to silence their voices.” Rather than silencing their voices, a global message has been heard. But whose voice are we hearing? The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been mentioned millions of times on social media sites, bringing attention to the issue and mobilizing a global uprising for action to save the girls. “People are taking to the streets and shouting from the rooftops that this needs to stop,” said Evelyn Myrie, Executive Director at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion. “The world is responding and saying we are citizens will not stand by quietly. I think that that is forcing the hands of government to do more. “ Myrie co-organized the rally along with a group of other Hamilton
The politics of race
community leaders. She continued: “Because we live in a global village, whether you live in Zimbabwe, Nunavut, Vancouver or Hamilton, we are all human beings. We are all connected. When a girl is not free, none of us are free.” Not all online activists are supporters of the movement. Some critics believe the campaign will bring free reign for United States military expansion into Nigeria, and warn Westerners to be careful about the impact of what they are rallying for. Okereke however, sees things differently. “The most important thing is that these girls are rescued. Whether it’s political, religious or personal, leave the arguments for now and just get these girls back to their homes... Let the lives involved be the motivating factor.” By Michelle Both, Immigrant Wonen’s Centre
Far from justice
A ride to end stigma
By Maggie Macintosh At age 13, Danielle Berman woke up only to wish she was having a nightmare. Her father, struggling with mental health, had taken his life. Fourteen years later she has put together Ride Away Stigma, a campaign to commemorate her father, educate the public on mental health, and fight the stigma related to mental illness. Stigma is defined as a set of negative beliefs that a society associates with a particular circumstance, quality or person. Stigma surrounding depression, as well as many other mental illnesses involve thoughts that mental health is abnormal, terrifying or even nonexistent. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one third of people are fearful of being around someone who suffers from a serious mental illness. Over half say they would be unlikely to enter a relationship with someone who has a mental illness, and 42% are unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness. After some time of grieving her father’s death, Berman was diagnosed with depression and at 27 continues to struggle with stigma. Due to the impact of mental illness on her life as well as the lives of others in her community, she chose to focus on raising awareness about stigma and mental health. July 2014 will mark the 15 year aftermath that Danielle and her family have been struggling with since her father’s passing. // A4
Gendered pay gap urges need for labour reform // A2 Connecting community and information // A3 Travelling alone in Asia // A6 Local author’s short stories inspire acceptance // A7 Environmental refugees: Maldives to Alberta // A7
Racialized people are missing from civic and political leadership in Hamilton; Programs aim to bring change // A3
Police, government fail to aid migrant workers facing abuse in the United Arab Emirates // A6
Gender and global climate change // A8
Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices. Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • A2
The Women’s Press Women of Distinction
THE WOMEN’S PRESS // ISSUE 24
Twelve community leaders were honoured at the YWCA’s Women of Distinction Awards, held April 24. We asked two of them to offer advice for women.
Editor-In-Chief: Ines Rios Photographers: Allison Burney, Dave Heidebrecht, Michelle Both Managing Editors: Michelle Both, Laura Gamez Design & Layout: Michelle Both Copy Editors: Laura Gamez, Michelle Both, Cassandra Roach Writers: Allison Burney, Alyssa Lai, Denise Roig, Glen Pearson, Jennifer Story, Jocelyn Bell, Katherine Stoneman, Maggie McIntosh, Michelle Both, Sinthu Srikanthan
“Take responsibility for your life. Be fearless. Get involved. Don’t wait to be discovered or rescued by anyone, and don’t wait to be given permission by some obscure authority to take full ownership of your own destiny. You gotta do it yourself.” - Astrid Hepner, An Instrument for Every Child ARTS & CULTURE WOMEN OF DISTINCTION AWARD 2014 www.aninstrumentforeverychild.org
WomensPressIWC.ca Send feedback, press releases, & submissions to Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“See for yourself how much power there is in empathy - in lacing on someone else’s shoes and walking around in them, committed and wanting to learn.”
- Mannat Malik, McMaster University Student 21 & UNDER WOMEN OF DISTINCTION AWARD 2014
Ontario’s gender gap growing By Jennifer Story With files from Mary Cornish TORONTO - The pay gap between men and women in Ontario is getting worse and will continue to do so without government involvement, says a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report released to recognize Ontario’s first officially declared Equal Pay Day. A Growing Concern: Ontario’s Gender Pay Gap, written by CCPA Research Associate Mary Cornish, a human rights and labour law expert, finds Ontario’s gender pay gap widened
between 2010 and 2011 (the last year of available data). “A couple of years into Ontario’s economic recovery from a global recession, the gap between men and women worsened,” says Cornish. “The gap grew from 28 per cent to 31.5 per cent in one year’s time. Women are clearly paying the price of inaction.” Among the report’s key findings based on average annual earnings of Ontario men and women, the Ontario gender pay gap in 2010 was 28% – on average, women made 72 cents for every man’s dollar. In 2011, the gap grew to 31.5% –
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women made 68.5 cents for every man’s dollar. In dollar terms: a man’s average annual earnings increased by $200 – from $48,800 in 2010 to $49,000 in 2011 – but a woman’s average earnings decreased by $1,400 – from $35,000 in 2010 to $33,600 in 2011. Ontario’s Equal Pay Day this year comes on April 16, 2014 – one week later than last year, to recognize the longer time women need to work into the new year to make what men earned. The report outlines a 10-step blueprint to not only close the gender gap in Ontario, but to become a leading
force in a more equal labour market. “These gender gap findings tell us why the Equal Pay Coalition-Ontario has been calling on the government to commit to a dedicated Equal Pay Day in this province and we’re relieved the government has made the first step on this front,” says CCPA-Ontario Director Trish Hennessy. “Now that the province has recognized today as Equal Pay Day, the fruitful work of committing to policy measures to close the gender pay gap begins.” Originally published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices. Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • A3
THE POLITICS OF RACE
Minorities absent from local politics Evelyn Myrie, Executive Director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, explained: “This is one step we are taking to encourage diverse populations to get more involved by providing hands-on skills development, and encouraging the breakdown of barriers to knowledge and skills.” There are plenty of barriers that exist for visible minorities and women, including lack of social capital, limited access to finances, and skewed perception of leaders. “We have been oriented to believe that leadership is male, even though we know better,” she said. “We want to address the issue of gender, MICHELLE BOTH A group from the Immigrant Women’s Centre’s Women of Action program and Volunteer Working but even further down, Group attended a two-day ‘political bootcamp’ for women and visible minorities on May 9 & 10. The racialized people are not event was organized by the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion and focused on civic leadership, the part of the decision making need for diversity, and campaign organizing. process in our community.” She continued: “We can frame it as many ways as we In Hamilton, there are sixteen want, but since Lincoln Alexander was people represented on City Council elected there has never been a person of including the mayor. How many are colour in office.” women? Three. How many are visible Part of the problem is also minorities? Zero. internalized oppression explained The ratios in parliament only Laura Gamez, Facilitator of the Women slightly improve. Between the nine of Action program at the Immigrant members of federal and provincial parliament in Hamilton, there are Women’s Centre. “The reasons why immigrant six men, three women and no visible women do not get involved are minorities represented. much deeper sometimes than just Why is it that our elected leaders representation,” said Gamez. “If do not represent the diversity that a person does not feel part of the exists in our community? community, if they cannot recognize The Hamilton Centre for Civic how their abilities are vital, or simply if Inclusion asked this question as they there is fear of getting involved in that planned the Diversity & Political level of power – they cannot and will Participation bootcamp for women and not get involved.” visible minorities May 9 & 10 at the MICHELLE BOTH Aimed at tackling this problem, Sheraton Hotel in Hamilton. The twoAlejandra Bravo of the Maytree Foundation day workshop aimed to further equip Women of Action is a six-month was among the presenters at the diversity participants to take on leadership roles program, explained Gamez. In the and political participation conference. participatory training, questions around in their communities. power and capacity-building are
addressed through skills development and critical thinking. At the end of the training, participants come up with civic-minded projects that aim to tackle some of participants’ own barriers while also providing hands-on experience. It is hosted by the Immigrant Women’s Centre. Reem Sinno has attended both the political bootcamp and Women of Action program. While many things are different between her home country and Canada, politics still encompasses all aspects of life.
“Why is it that our elected leaders do not represent the diversity that exists in our community?” “Politics are everywhere and everything is political,” Sinno noted, explaining the importance of civic engagement. But the question still remains: what will encourage more visible minorities and women to be involved in politics? On April 25, 16 immigrant women including Sinno, graduated from the Women of Action program. Their projects ranged from tackling employment gaps in local city initiatives to engaging programming that connects immigrant and established Canadian families. “Empowering women, immigrants, anyone really, is a process that is ongoing and collaborative,” said Gamez. “We are all responsible to empower those around us.” The next Women of Action program will start May 20. By Michelle Both, Immigrant Wonen’s Centre
HAMILTON’S RED BOOK CONNECTS COMMUNITY By Alyssa Lai Everyone’s story is different, but with information you can be empowered to chart your own course. For over 40 years, Community Information Hamilton has been connecting Hamiltonians with information that meets their needs. A non-profit organization, Information Hamilton collects and maintains up-todate human services information. The Red Book of Hamilton With more than 4,500 records of voluntary sector, community, government, non-profit, and health sector programs and services in Hamilton, The Red Book of Hamilton is Community Information Hamilton’s primary online directory of programs and services. As a vital source of community information, The Red Book houses information on general community services, employment, education, faith
groups, housing, immigration, senior services and more. The comprehensive database covers human services in Ancaster, Hamilton, Dundas, Flamborough, Glenbrook and Stoney Creek. Child Care Information Hamilton Child care information varies according to each parent’s needs. Child Care Information Hamilton (CCIH) offers a list of child care services in the city. A free and confidential service, CCIH acts as the first point of access for parents, caregivers, child care centres,
community service providers, and government agencies, attending to an average of 153 calls per month (2013). Over 190 licensed child care centres in the Hamilton area are listed in CCIH. Parents are given free parent education materials, customized to individual child care needs. This includes information on the Child Care Subsidy Program, home-based child care, seasonal camps and children’s programs, and services for children with special needs. Community Information Hamilton
also contributes data to local, regional and provincial initiatives. Welcome to Hamilton This local initiative seeks to bridge the knowledge gap among newcomers, offering information on Hamiltonbased organizations, programs and services for newcomers. It is created with the aim to assist newcomers with their settlement goals. 211 Ontario (Dial 2-1-1) A province-wide initiative, 211 Ontario is a free 24-hour call service that links individuals to community resources. Available all year round, 211 can be accessed in over 150 languages. Red Book of Hamilton RedBookHamilton.ca | 905-528-0104 Child Care Information Hamilton CAFCC.on.ca | 905-528-0591 WelcometoHamilton.ca 2-1-1 | 211Ontario.ca
Women in Hamilton, Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices. Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • A4 Issue 16 • May & June 2012 • p.4
The Women’s Press Ride to end stigma
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Photo by Joel Duff, courtesy of the Ontario Federation of Labour
Danielle Berman will ride her bicycle from Vancouver to Hamilton as part of the ‘Ride Away Stigma’ campaign to raise awareness about mental health. - Continued from A1 -
“I’ve always wanted to do something for my dad,” Berman said in reference to her campaign. Initially she had thought of training for a marathon, but instead decided to combine her father’s love of cycling and nature by creating Ride Away Stigma. On the 4,300 kilometre journey from Vancouver to Hamilton, she hopes to raise $60,000. The campaign’s profit will be split evenly between the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. It is too often that people suffering from mental health are considered “psycho” and “crazy,” Berman told the Hamilton Spectator. Due to stigma in the media, along with lack of education, these terms have become commonplace in describing those suffering with mental health illnesses. Fear of judgement can prevent someone who is suffering from coming forward, and it is a reality that cases can worsen if they are not addressed. Unfortunately, many cases go undiagnosed by doctors and too many people are embarrassed to admit their
struggles. Factors that can complicate mental health include grief, anxiety, aging, and most commonly stress, which are all common occurrences in the average person’s life. Berman surrounded herself in nature, activity and family while struggling and believes that having a support system was crucial. She believes opening up can be one of the best coping mechanisms.
“It is not a weakness to ask for help.” “It is not a weakness to ask for help,” Berman said, reflecting on her own experiences. Throughout her campaign and her lifetime, she aims to continue putting emphasis on the importance of ending stigma. Follow Berman’s journey at http://rideawaystigma.com
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Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices. Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • A5
Poverty in Canada has a woman’s face
4.8 million canadians live in poverty
21% 80% 36% 35% 26%
are single parent mothers
of lone parent families are headed by women
of Aboriginal women live in poverty
of visible minority women are poor
of the poor are women with disabilities ART BY CYBERGEDEON
By Glen Pearson LONDON, ONTARIO - Four years ago I attended a poverty forum with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. We had been cooperating on an initiative for helping African girls to stay in school and he was a forceful proponent for equal opportunities in that continent for men and women. At one point he was asked what would be the one thing that he could do, if he had it in his power, to get rid of African poverty. It was a big question, but his answer was bigger: “Invest in the women of every African country.” The silence following that response was deafening because everyone in that room was seasoned in international development and Blair’s solution was almost breathtaking in its simplicity and scope. It’s easy to talk about poverty among women on other continents – the stats confront of us everyday and are daunting. When we close our eyes and think about the desperately poor it is inevitable that the image of a woman and her child overseas come to mind. What image do we envision when we think of the increasing poverty problem specifically in Canada? I asked four people that question yesterday and nothing particular came to mind. Somehow we have delinked low-income existences with women and as a result Canadian poverty remains somewhat ethereal to us all. Consider some of these stats: ● With the recent economic crisis, some 4.8 millions Canadians are poor. Of that number ● 36% of Aboriginal women are mired in poverty ● 35% of visible minority women are poor ● 26% of the poor are women with disabilities ● 21% are single parent mothers (7% of single parent fathers are poor) ● Of senior single women 14% have fallen into poverty Canada’s poverty rate ranks us 20th out of 31 OECD countries. When you consider the data on women in poverty the numbers are even worse. We continue to hear how Canada came out of the economic downturn better off than other developed nations, but
when seen through the lens of women in challenging situations, that’s a bit difficult to accept. Some intrepid women economists continually remind world leaders that economic inequality between men and women reached it highest points in 1929 and 2007, directly preceding the two worst financial meltdowns in the past 100 years. When we increasingly get equality wrong, it’s inevitable that we’ll be in a world of hurt as a nation. Following the London (Ontario) Food Bank’s announcement last week that it was researching closing its doors in order to find better solutions within neighbourhoods where families could get better care, there were numerous responses – most, I’m happy to say, were highly positive. The fiercest critic was a London woman who has had a good life and who feels
Look, I’m not trying to pile it on here, but numbers like these are compelling enough to cause us to make some economic changes. That’s what happened to this woman I was speaking with. When I got to the part about a single mom’s net worth being only $17,000, she broke down, telling me that her daughter was in just such a predicament. Three hours later the same woman knocked at our front door, handed me a box of baby formula, and signed a generous cheque to the food bank. What changed her mind? Not my words, for sure. It was just the sheer numbers, the weight of acquired evidence, that reminded her that millions of women like her actually weren’t really like her at all. They had little opportunity, precious few resources, limitations on access, and, ironically, little time to pass judgments on others. They are just trying to survive. When these women approach us at the food bank, telling us of the massive challenges they face each day, are we destined to just sit there, nod, and remind them that they can always come to us for assistance? Given the weight of such evidence, is it not our responsibility to permit them to face challenges in their own neighbourhoods, where their children play and go to school, and a broader range of supports are available? The London Food Bank’s announcement of last week is little less than taking the war on women’s poverty seriously, even calling for community change. We can no longer accept families facing systemwide poverty when better ways can be researched, discovered, and enabled. Tony Blair’s response that day should leave us just as speechless. If we’re serious about poverty, then we’d better prepare ourselves to fight for a woman’s right to a better world. They are already in the trenches and we must meet them where they live. Parallel Parliament
“We can no longer accept families facing a system-wide poverty when better ways can be researched, discovered, and enabled.” it shouldn’t be too much to ask for people to travel across town to the food bank. She gracefully listened to some key points in return. ● 80% of all lone parent families are headed by women (over 1 million families) ● Single moms have a net worth of roughly $17,000, while for single dads it’s around $80,000 ● The vast majority of children living in poverty are cared for by their mothers, so if it’s true that kids who are poor suffer from higher rates of asthma, diabetes, mental health issues, and even heart disease, then it stands to reason that the chief burden bearer of all these ills is the mother. The load is staggering. ● Women who leave a partner to raise children on their own are five times more likely to live in poverty than if they had stayed with that partner ● 70% of part-time workers and 66% of minimum wager earners are women ● Women who were in similar job situations receive only 71% of what a man makes ● Women spend almost twice as much time doing unpaid work as men
Former Member of Parliament, Glen Pearson also served as the Official Critic for International Cooperation in 2006. Glen presently continues his work as the co-volunteer director of the London Food Bank and the executive director of Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan
Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices. Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • A6
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Travelling alone By Allison Burney After teaching English in Korea for 13 months last year, I set off on my first backpacking trip through a very small portion of Asia. For about six weeks, I traveled through parts of South Korea, the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea), Macau, and Hong Kong. Though I wasn’t literally living out of a backpack and making the road my home, yet it was still a very new and different experience for me. As a young woman planning to travel alone, many people had questions for me. “Are you scared?” “How will you get around by yourself?” “What about the language barrier?” “Is it dangerous?” While these were all questions I had asked myself before setting off, I knew deep down that I would be okay on my own. While it might not be easy, it was something I wanted and needed to do for myself. Had there been a friend willing and able to go with me, my experience would have been much different. But looking back, I’m glad I went by myself. I took the time to appreciate each place I saw more because I was alone. I paid attention to my surroundings, took in the atmosphere, and spent time people-watching in each place I went. I enjoyed my own time, spending as much or as little time in a place as I wanted. It was sometimes difficult or uncomfortable to be alone, but it was also liberating. I had only myself to rely on
“Sometimes, going along may not be just the only option, but the best option.”
when obstacles inevitably arose, and only myself to keep me company. While I always tried to remember my “street smarts” during my travels, fortunately, I was never in a position where I felt unsafe. This trip taught me that traveling alone can be both empowering and rewarding. If I had not had the confidence to venture off, I would not have felt the frosty wind on my face after climbing to the top of Korea’s tallest mountain on the
beautiful honeymoon destination of Jeju Island. I never would have experienced life in Seoul—the heartbeat of Korea—with its impressive palaces amongst busy city streets. I never would have looked, in awe, at the skyscrapers and famous skyline of Hong Kong. Finally, I never would have been swept away by the bright lights, designer shops and numerous casinos of Macau. Sometimes, going alone may not just be the only option, but the best option.
Far from home, far from justice
Domestic workers in the UAE endure abuse in all its forms By Denise Roig Lia has no passport, no work visa, no means of support and no ticket home. For over a year she’s lived in a shelter run by the Indonesian embassy in Abu Dhabi for nannies and maids who’ve fled their employers. “Absconded” is the official term used in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), though that implies that these women have done something illegal. Lia is lucky to have escaped with her life. Working as a nanny for a local family, she was starved, beaten, locked in her room and strangled by her “madame.” Weighing 55 pounds and too weak to fight back, Lia eventually fell into a coma. Following months in hospital and multiple surgeries on her severely damaged windpipe, Lia was granted refuge in her embassy’s shelter, where lawyers attempted to bring her case to justice. Her employer has never been prosecuted, and in an early hearing a judge ruled that Lia had done the damage to herself, a failed suicide attempt. Under UAE law, suicide is a crime. Experiences like Lia’s are pervasive throughout other Gulf countries. In the UAE, more than 750,000 domestic workers – most of them women from Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – migrate to earn money for their families back home. Under the kafala, or sponsorship system, many end up as indentured servants, with their
passports held illegally by their employers. Many suffer physical, sexual and verbal abuse. Many work 15-hour days, with no time off, while others are not paid at all. “Domestic workers are among the most vulnerable workers in the U.A.E.,” explains Emily Cordeaux, a Master of Public Policy candidate at
“Domestic workers are among the most vulnerable workers in the UAE.” Simon Fraser University, who recently completed a research internship with the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government in Dubai. “Domestic workers are characterized as falling under the sovereignty of the family for whom they work, and as a result national labour laws do not apply. Disputes between a domestic worker and her employer are seen as a private matter that should not be resolved in a court of law.” Which means these disputes are rarely resolved in favour of the women.
Police frequently side with the woman’s employer, despite obvious physical evidence. Also, with a penalty of six months in prison for anyone encouraging a nanny or maid to quit an abusive employer, or offering alternative employment, the avenues for assistance are few. However, with the U.A.E. topping the list of Human Rights Watch’s most non-compliant countries, the pressure is on. In May 2012, a law was drafted to regulate the domestic-worker industry in line with standards set by the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 189. While HRW found that the legislation fell short of the necessary legal reforms to offer real protection, it could have been a start. As of March 2014, the draft has yet to be signed into law. If and when it is, will it be enforced? Will attitudes, habits and behaviours change? As Hans von Rohland, press secretary for the ILO, wrote in a recent email, “While the ILO would welcome a standard employment contract that complies with and enforces the provisions of ILO Convention 189 … we would prefer to see the rights of migrant workers enshrined and protected within national labour legislation of the countries of destination.” Lia is still waiting. The author met Lia (not her real name) while volunteering in the Indonesian Embassy’s shelter in Abu Dhabi from 2010-2011.
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Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices. Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • A7
The Life Jackets Book Review by Katherine Stoneman Authored by Omneya (Mony) Shohayeb Omneya (Mony) Shohayeb’s The Life Jackets is an intimate retelling of the author’s own personal comingof-age stories. A local Hamilton author, Shohayeb has had her share of struggles getting through life. The Life Jackets is a collection of short stories, each describing a different time in the author’s life. Shohayeb explains her own feats of coming to terms with her weaknesses and accepting the person she’s become. “For a black and white girl living in a grey world, life is often no more than a series of internal struggles,” writes Shohayeb. The title of the book refers to a metaphorical set of life jackets. The “jackets” are any variety of things, people or places that have helped Shohayeb get through the good and bad in her life. Much of the book has an overarching theme of acceptance. Many of the stories illustrate accepting loss and moving on, accepting your instincts to guide you through life’s challenges, and accepting the way you interact with the world and the people in it. Shohayeb also writes about her personal morals and values, and how important it is for her to live according to them. She describes the differences between what is subjectively right and wrong; how things were “black and white” when she was a child but have changed over time. “As I grew older, the bold line that separated right from wrong became blurry, only to be replaced by this new word referred to as ‘controversial’,” writes Shohayeb. She discusses how that line separating social rights and wrongs has changed drastically, and how blurry ideals have become publicly accepted. To illustrate this idea, Shohayeb compares the example of vintage black and white films with charming heroes and heroines to modern day music
Author Omneya Shohayeb shares her journey through a compelling collection of short stories in ‘The Life Jackets’.
videos that now “sing about […] sex for money.” “A man is not defined by the beard he wears, nor a woman by the nail varnish she wears,” writes Shohayeb. This is her explanation of what a “true man” is. To her, the term means “a true citizen of
“For a black and white girl living in a grey world, life is often no more than a series of internal struggles.” mankind the ever-evolving race to which we belong.” In this sense, a “true man” is a male or female. Shohayeb’s writing takes you back to simpler
times, when the child inside was sure of what was good or bad, right or wrong, and felt everything with every part of his or her being. Reading The Life Jackets is like looking back and reminiscing on past journal entries. It’s written in a very raw way with playful interjections peppered throughout. She often uses the technique of personifying the subject “jacket” of the story, sometimes a seashell, or her homeland of Egypt. This device keeps the reader puzzled for a portion of the story until she reveals what the subject material really is. Minor editorial issues contribute to some confusion when reading certain passages. Each story is relatively short, no more than five or six pages, making this the kind of book that’s good to pick up for a quick read with your morning coffee. The Life Jackets comes from the history of a real person. Shohayeb shares her intimate thoughts and experiences on the page, opening up and sharing her life and lessons with the reader.
The Refugees of the Blue Planet “For the first time in history, the number of environmental refugees had surpassed the number of refugees related to war and political unrest — by two million people.” Film Review by Jocelyn Bell Directed by Hélène Choquette and Jean-Philippe Duval (National Film Board of Canada) Back in 2003, the United Nations made a startling announcement: for the first time in history, the number of environmental refugees had surpassed the number of refugees related to war and political unrest — by two million people. This fact forms the backbone of The Refugees of the Blue Planet, a well-crafted documentary that makes global statistics palpable and personal anecdotes memorable. The film opens with an aerial view of Kandholhudoo Island, Maldives. From the airplane it looks like a tropical oasis. But as a boat, carrying an old woman named Soraya, pulls up to the shoreline, it is clear that the island has been destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. “This is our house,” Soraya says through tears as she picks through rubble in search of her possessions. “This is what happened to our house.” The world’s 25 million environmental refugees include those displaced by natural and global warming-related disasters. But they also include people — mostly farmers —forced from their land to
make way for agri-business. To illustrate the latter, the documentary travels to Brazil, where pulp-maker Aracruz Celulose, a multi-national corporation, has planted eucalyptus trees as far as the eye can see. According to the film, the company bought out 100 villages to make way for its monoculture. Some of the former inhabitants migrated to city slums. Others stubbornly held fast to their land, but now struggle to survive alongside the water-sucking, pesticide-laden trees. Just when the viewer starts thinking, “Thank God I live in Canada,” the filmmakers pop up in Alberta, where Big Oil is encroaching on the livelihood of cattle farmers by drilling sour gas wells near farmland. Sour gas, which contains the highly toxic hydrogen sulfide, can be deadly if it leaks into the ground or air. Ironically, environmental disasters in North America provide the only source of hope in the documentary. “If everyone is a victim, everyone will take action in the end,” asserts one of its experts. If not, the UN predicts our blue planet will have 150 million environmental refugees by 2050. This article was originally published in the United Church Observer.
Women in Hamilton, Raising our Voices. Issue 24 • May & June 2014 • A8
The Women’s Press
Gender and global climate change By Sinthu Srikanthan “The poorest will be hit the hardest and in most societies, women are the poorest of the poor,” said Joni Seager, Professor of global climate change, at Bentley University. According to Seager, women represent a large social demographic that is vulnerable to global climate change due to a lack of access to resources and little political representation. Women acutely face the impacts of the extreme weather disasters associated with global climate change through loss of livelihood, poverty, and increased rates of sexual violence. “There is no such thing as a natural disaster. They always rest upon and have effect on underlying social structures,” said Seager. Poverty, sexism, racism, and other forms of social inequality shape the impacts of global climate change on both local and international levels; however, the role of social structures in global climate change tends to be downplayed. For instance, the UN’s latest climate report ignores the gendered outcomes of global climate change. The report, titled ‘Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability,’ was presented in March during the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While it
received media coverage from the BBC about the “overwhelming” impacts of climate change, it neglected to include a gendered perspective. According to Seager, most policies around the environment similarly ignore gender and thereby inadequately address the gendered outcomes of global climate change. For Seager, the issue is not particular to global climate change and comes down to how women are made invisible in society. “It usually takes a feminist to notice that women are there or are not there,” said Seager. While there is a lack of research demonstrating the gendered outcomes, there is a gap in environmental policies in regards to gender. “We need to find ways to get gendered views into the otherwise closed policy circles,” explained Seager. Seager encourages the public to be advocates for a gendered understanding of global climate change. Proposals for power plants and pipelines must be critically assessed with consideration for the environment as well as social inequality. “We have an obligation to stand up and call out the government for its terrible record on climate change that will affect everyone across Canada and the world.”
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