Period shame is a universal, invisible struggle

By Karen-Luz Sison

Licensed CC0 Public Domain

In May 2015, the Canadian government unanimously passed a motion that ended sales tax on feminine hygiene products. The issue came into hot debate when “No Tax on Tampons,” a petition by feminist activist Jill Plebiak, garnered over 73,000 signatures. While the motion to end tax on tampons has been brought up in Parliament since the 1980s, it was only this year when a decision was finally made to pass this motion in Canada.

The “No Tax on Tampons” motion was a big victory for Canadian women, yet the time it took to even bring the issue to light shows an underlying problem with how feminine hygiene is discussed.

The way the majority of global society deals with menstruation is a significant example of how womanhood is too often associated with shame. This attitude has resulted in a widespread disgust for and ignorance surrounding menstruation, inevitably espousing terrible social and health consequences for women all over the world.

Menstruation is a natural and healthy part of being biologically female, thus it should be a given that menstrual hygiene is a global priority. Unfortunately, particularly in developing countries, this ideal is far from the truth.

For example, in Nepal, chhaupadi, the tradition of isolating girls and women during their periods, is still in practice in rural Nepalese communities, even though the custom was outlawed ten years ago.

In Iran, according to a UNICEF study, 48% of girls believe that menstruation is a disease.

In Japan, some regions exclude menstruating women from holding certain jobs with the idea that menstruating women have an “imbalance” preventing them from working well.

In Malawi, parents don’t talk to their children about menstruation at all, and forbid girls to talk to boys when they are menstruating.

In the United States, menstruation is a particularly difficult challenge for homeless women, who lack access to tampons and sanitary pads; women’s shelters often experience a shortage in donations for these items.

In some countries, women and girls are forced to miss work and school for a week every month because of their periods. Women in developing countries go unpaid for the days they miss work, and girls often end up dropping out of school because they miss too many days of class.

Clearly, taking care of menstruation is a struggle for women worldwide, and women in developing countries have an especially difficult time dealing with their periods. But despite its universality, menstrual health is an unacknowledged struggle because of the negative stereotypes and stigma attached to periods. In order to help provide proper menstrual care facilities and products to women and girls in need, the stigma surrounding periods needs to be replaced with accurate and helpful information. To ignore this problem jeopardizes the education, productivity, health, and dignity of every woman and girl.

It is only through education and informed discussion that shame can be removed. Organizations and events like Menstrual Hygiene Day and Menstrupedia have taken the steps in informing communities about the facts and realities of menstruation. To help spread accurate information and remove taboos, individuals should change the way they talk about menstruation.

We should remove stereotypes and taboos and see periods for what they really are: a healthy, biological cycle girls and women experience.

And there is no shame in needing to safely and properly take care of a completely natural process.

The Trouble with Festival Fashion

By Amanda Lam

Music festivals are in full swing around this time of year, Montreal’s Osheaga music festival being one that concluded last week. Before the festival began, Osheaga made headlines for banning aboriginal headdresses and similar accessories at their concerts. Three other major Canadian festivals — Edmonton Folk Festival, WayHome Music and Arts Festival and the Boots and Hearts Festival — followed suit. The Winnipeg Folk Festival did not ban anything outright, although they are asking next year’s partygoers to leave such attire at home.

Winnipeg Folk Fest’s request came in July after a festival attendee this year wore a headdress and face paint.

“We have been in conversation with members of our aboriginal community and see this isolated incident of a woman wearing a headdress as an opportunity for education and cultural sharing,” wrote the festival in a statement to CBC.

And yet, we need to recognize that this conversation has long been underway and that such incidents are not isolated, but rather reflective of larger problems in society.

Music festivals have become notorious for cultural appropriation. This racist and insensitive act is when someone takes an element from a culture to which they do not belong, and uses it outside of its original and intended cultural context. Often, this is done without understanding the significance of the cultural or spiritual element, and while altering its original meaning.

For example, at this year’s Heineken Escapade Music Festival, attendees were guilty of cultural appropriation as they misused culturally-significant headdresses as a hip fashion trend, much like the incident in Winnipeg.

It has happened that those who participate in cultural appropriation seek to justify their actions as “self-expression” or as “honouring” a culture. And yet, within these justifications lies the person’s failure to check their privilege.

In North America, members of marginalized cultures are often forced to assimilate into Western culture as a means of survival. In contrast, when someone from the dominant culture adopts a cultural element from a marginalized or minority group, this is not a mechanism of survival. Rather, they had the option to choose and therefore they have privilege as a member of the dominant culture.

So, to my fellow festival lovers, as beautiful as you think a headdress is, I urge you to please admire it from afar if you do not belong to its original people group and culture. In doing so, we can make space for all of us to have fun without hurting one another.

Frustration continues with lack of government action on aboriginal issues

By Greer Gemin

On July 1, Canada celebrated its 148th birthday with a party on Parliament Hill, and the overall theme of the event was, of course, promoting Canadian unity and pride. If a country is allowed anything for their birthday it should be a shot at some shameless self-promotion.

Canada is a country that prides itself on diversity and multiculturalism, and rightly so, given the wide range of people who have contributed and continue to contribute to its progress as a nation. With this is in mind, diversity through language, culture, and ethnicity is clearly an advantageous political strategy. But some would argue that the Canadian government has not made a sufficient effort to integrate this diversity into legislation. Particularly, aboriginal rights seem to be conspicuously absent from discussions about Canada’s future.

On May 28, The Globe and Mail reported on Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin’s speech towards Canada’s abuses of its aboriginal population where she called the use of the residential school system an attempt to commit “cultural genocide.” Many are calling this a statement of symbolic importance, as it allows educators to use a term which adequately describes the horrific experiences of residential school victims.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology regarding residential schools in 2008 was significant for being the first recognition of its kind, but we’ve moved past the point of needing only recognition. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has given concrete recommendations as to how Canada can start repairing relationships ruined by aboriginal schools, and has made these recommendations known to both the government and the public.

In early June, Prime Minister Harper had an opportunity to act on one of the recommendations when he visited Pope Francis in Rome: the TRC’s call for an apology from the Roman Catholic Church for the role they played in residential schools. According to The Globe and Mail, Harper did not directly request this of the Pope during his visit.

It seems that the federal government is not forthcoming about plans to take action on the recommendations or other serious concerns affecting aboriginal communities, as was demonstrated at the end of June in the case of the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.

According to The Globe and Mail, Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg have both committed to funding a permanent, all-season road connecting the reserve to the mainland. Without this road the community is isolated from essential services such as paramedics and home-care workers. In addition to their isolation, the community is afflicted by an aqueduct built to supply clean water to Winnipeg that has been diverting contaminated water to Shoal Lake 40 for a century. According to The Globe, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford would not say definitively that the federal government was committed to completing the funding they promised for the road, leaving the community feeling frustrated.

This recent frustration is particularly disappointing given that just this summer the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were held in the nation’s capital between May 31 and Jun. 3. The sense of community and pride displayed at the “Honouring Memories – Planting Dreams” ceremony was particularly overwhelming. In preparation for the ceremony, children from all over Canada decorated paper hearts and sent them to be “planted” by children from the Ottawa-Gatineau area in the gardens of Rideau Hall. The designs varied in seriousness, ranging from playful quotes such as “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” to solemn drawings, such as one of a faceless doll chained in a cave.

The theme of the day was “This Ending is Just the Beginning,” and it could not have been more appropriate. Generations of aboriginal culture were represented, from an older woman who wore a clan blanket, to two 11-year-old girls who were throat singing for the crowd. As well, the participation of young non-aboriginal Canadians and their commitment to recognizing and empathizing with the horrors of residential schools were promising for the future of Canada’s relationship with its aboriginal people. With a new generation of Canadians being brought up with awareness and understanding, change does not seem so difficult.

Canada isn’t the same as it was 148 years ago, and it shouldn’t be. We should take the opportunity of a 150th anniversary to honour the people who will shape Canada’s future – one that hopefully not only includes, but celebrates its aboriginal communities.

Extra reading:


By Nigel Lake

By Anakin78 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Anakin78 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Last month, Toronto mayor John Tory called on police to end the “illegitimate, disrespectful, and hurtful” practice of carding. Although Tory’s statement does not guarantee the abolishment of carding, his acknowledgement sends a message to the Toronto Police Service that it is an immoral practice.

In May, journalist Desmond Cole wrote for Toronto Life where he described his many experiences of police officers carding him — these included asking him for ID, searching him, and questioning him on what he was doing in a certain neighbourhood. Cole was one of the people with whom Tory had discussions regarding carding, crediting Cole as one of those who helped change his opinion of the police practice.

During Cole’s second year at Queens University, he was walking home at night with a friend, a white woman, when a police officer approached them and asked his friend directly if she needed any assistance. She replied that she did not, and the cop walked away.

Cole said he was shocked and angry that his “mere presence could cause an armed stranger to feel threatened on [his friend’s] behalf.” This officer’s interaction with Cole, and similar conversations between other police and civilians, are damaging. By racially profiling people, police are assuming that they are a threat to public safety, which marginalizes them. How can these people, in turn, trust the police when the police, only based on knowledge of skin colour, don’t trust them?

Another point Cole brings up is that “black people are also more frequently placed in maximum-security institutions, even if the justice system rates [them] as unlikely to be violent or to reoffend.” He then hits the nail on the head when he writes, “if [black people] are always presumed guilty, and if [they] receive harsher punishments for the same crimes, then it’s no surprise that many of [them] end up in poverty, dropping out of school and reoffending.” The point he is making is that it is a vicious, never ending cycle which is fuelled by racist stereotypes and a system which marginalizes the black community and other communities of colour.

The Toronto Police, however, take a different stance on carding. President of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack, stated “carding is a proven, pro-active police investigative strategy that reduces, prevents and solves crime.” Police Chief Mark Saunders, Toronto’s first black police chief, is also against the abolishment of carding. Though he wants to end the “random” part of carding, he still stands behind this practice, believing it enhances public safety.

As a Torontonian who takes pride in my city’s diversity, I was very pleased to hear my mayor make his statement against carding. Although I have never been carded, stopped, or searched by a police officer, I have heard many stories from friends who have. It pains me to hear of their experiences and to read articles such as Cole’s. But I become infuriated if people believe carding is not a racist practice. The Toronto police state carding helps reduce and solve crime, yet they have never provided evidence to back this up.

Carding is racial profiling, simple as that. And the fact that it is implemented in today’s society shows us we still live in a world with racism. As Canadians, we take pride in being a welcoming, democratic and free society. Yet this blinds us from the fact that there are many societal ills which we adhere to; institutionalized racism being a very prominent one.

This all being said, Mayor Tory took a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. There is much work to be done to fix what has been broken by racism, and ending carding is only a drop in the ocean. We can’t just “start fresh,” as Tory suggests, on issues such as this. We must recognize the damage it has done, and also try to rebuild the trust between the police and the people. I love my city, and I believe that ending carding is a step in the right direction as we learn to thrive in our abundant diversity.

Journalists speak out against FHRITP trend

By Caroline O’Neill

FHRITP, an acronym for the vulgar moniker “f— her right in the p—-,” reached its peak notoriety in May when CityNews journalist, Shauna Hunt called out a group of men after one of them yelled the string of words during her live broadcast. Another member of the group defended the actions. He was later identified and let go by his employer Hydro One.

Hunt’s actions garnered attention and support from other journalists who have been subject to the trend. For the most part, female reporters have been the targets while simply trying to do their jobs. And while this story should have received attention long ago, Hydro One’s swift firing of Hunt’s verbal harasser solidified the phrase as no joking matter, but sexual harassment. However, like so many other news stories, once the momentum is lost the story is often forgotten.

But the trend still continues.

Earlier this month, CBC reported journalist Ashley Burke was heckled by two men who shouted the phrase while she covered a music festival in Montebello, Que.

Last week, Vice News reported that CBC sent a memo to its employees detailing a set of guidelines for its journalists to handle sexual harassment in the field. The Vice report described the memo as “paternalistic” and ultimately called it a poor excuse for handling harassment on the job.

The main point of the memo, at least as Vice reported, suggests, or perhaps, instructs its reporters not to engage their harassers because it could escalate into physical violence. Vice criticized the memo for asking its reporters not to shame harassers on social media. The article, which called the harassers idiots, said this suggestion undermines the CBC journalists who have come forward to publicly share their experiences.

Coming out of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, CBC is clearly caught between a rock and a hard place. Any action the corporation makes, especially in regards to sexual harassment policy, will be scrutinized.

An inquiry into CBC’s dealing’s with the former Q host found management condoned Ghomeshi’s behaviour and failed to follow its own work place policies. The corporation vowed to do better in the future.

CBC has given its journalists a platform to confront #FHRITP. This includes a great piece by Morgan Dunlop and Tanya Birkbeck, who had both their newscasts interrupted by hecklers. The women explained how it hinders their work and why it cannot be brushed off as a joke.

However, as Vice reported, the guidelines seem to be inconsistent with how reporters have experienced and dealt with harassment.

The memo advises against its reporters calling out harassers on social media, despite the fact that following the June 18 incident, Ashley Burke tweeted footage from her confrontation and CBC later reported on the incident.

This appears to be an abrupt change in direction from how CBC has been handling the issue. Another suggestion encouraged journalists to leave a scene if it appeared to be hostile.

Instead of such suggestions, CBC needs to put in place better harassment policies that support reporters and show no tolerance for anyone humiliating journalists on the job.

Women should be empowered by their corporation to defend themselves while on the job, not be told to put up with inappropriate behaviour. Any victim of school bullying, myself included, will tell you keeping silent is the equivalent of saying it is okay to do it again.

Confronting harassers is not shaming them. It is a reminder that their journalism is worthy of respect — a reminder that they are worthy of respect. Confrontation is not engaging either. Engaging would be yelling out an equally vulgar expression.

Not standing for harassment shows there are consequences for impeding somebody’s work, on live television no less.

A Call to Freeze Arctic Drilling; why you should care that Shell is looking to drill once more

By Jordan Omstead

“Shell screwed up . . . and we’re not going to let them screw up when they try to drill in the Arctic again.”

Those were the words of former US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar after a review of Royal Dutch Shell’s failed Arctic operations.

But that was 2012.

Three years later, Shell is on the cusp of entering the Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait again. The same seas where the company beached an oil rig, the Kulluk, risking the safety of its crew in an attempt to circumvent taxes.

Shell’s shady record was enough to cause significant controversy when the Obama administration recently approved the company’s plans to pick up where they left off in 2012. The same administration that places the possibility of an oil spill at 75 percent appears to think drilling in the Arctic is worthwhile.

The Kulluk drilling rig held over 500,000 litres of fuel and drilling fluid when it broke from its tow and ran aground — one of several cringeworthy moments in Shell’s 2012 Arctic expedition. On top of that, in July 2012 Shell’s oil spill response barge was barred from sailing after failing to meet US Coast Guard safety standards.

Licensed CC0 Public Domain

In November of the same year, the Kulluk’s sister rig, the Noble Discoverer, was tagged with 16 violations by the Coastguard — only ten days after the rig’s exhaust system exploded. All the while, a number of banks, insurance companies, and oil giants (or, the capitalist holy trinity) warned against the possibly disastrous consequences of drilling in the Arctic.

The twisted irony of drilling in the Arctic makes it all the worse.

In 2012, the North pole was warming twice as quickly relative to lower latitudes. As Vice reports, receding ice cover caused by rising temperatures provides greater opportunity for Shell to carry out their drilling expeditions.

In other words, if Shell and their oil buddies keep doing what they’re doing, drilling in the Arctic will only be more accessible in years to come.

Ben Van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, has acknowledged the threat climate change poses. In a recent interview on The Guardian’s “The Biggest Story in the World” podcast, Van Beurden expressed the need for constructive policy change around the burning of fossil fuels. He also reflected on the “personal journey” he took before arriving at the decision to resume drilling in the Arctic.

Using the phrase “personal journey” strikes me as odd for the CEO of an oil company to use as he has decided to drill in an extremely fragile ecosystem. Also, if Van Beurden believes there should be policy reform to counteract climate change, then in 2012, on what was the 14 million dollars of lobbying expenses spent?

After Shell’s Arctic missteps three years ago, the US government enforced a provision which required a third-party audit before Shell was allowed to return to the area. But as The Guardian reported this May, Shell handpicked and paid for the auditor.

Despite Shell’s boasting of industry-leading prevention and oil spill response capabilities, forgive me for not being wholly convinced. Former Shell engineer, Robert Bea, was quoted in National Geographic warning, Shell’s “ability to deal with an uncontrollable [spill] in the Arctic, even in the summer, is limited”.

If you aren’t concerned about Arctic drilling yet, then consider the nearest Coast Guard station with the personnel and equipment vital to a spill response is over 1,500 km away from Shell’s drilling site in the Chukchi Sea.

Perhaps above all, Shell’s decision to drill in the Arctic is a human right’s issue. Aboriginal communities around the Chukchi Sea depend on the hunt of bowhead whales; the migratory patterns of which stand to be disrupted by drilling. As the Guardian reports, the practice is more than just a cultural tradition. It provides relief from the astronomically high prices of food in those communities.

Moreover, the Dutch court ordering its government to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent over the next five years calls into question not only the morality, but also the legality of Shell’s pursuit for fossil fuels. How, with the visible consequences of climate change and the effect drilling has on northern communities, can the extraction of fossil fuels be considered less than outrageous?

Shell considers the Arctic as the new frontier of energy. What’s important then, is that the frontier and its people are protected. Be that by a personal boycott of Shell, signing petitions, or protest, the Arctic is a valuable and vulnerable piece of the earth that needs all of us to work for its conservation.

School Dress Codes Are Fashioned From a Sexist Narrative

By Amanda Lam

Ranging from banning spaghetti straps to measuring the distance between the bottom of a skirt to a girl’s kneecap, dress codes are being used to turn sexism into policy. For young girls in school, dress codes are a tool used by school administrators and other community members to police young women’s bodies.

Some young women and allies have taken a stand in solidarity to speak out against the discrimination they face or object to; discrimination that comes solely based on sex. One recent example of this erupted in a Toronto high school when student Alexi Halket was sent to the principal’s office over her “inappropriate” outfit. In response, Halket organized a day of protest, called ‘Crop Top Day,’ aimed at fighting against the sexualization of women’s bodies.

On this day Halket’s campus was crowded with hundreds of young women and allies supporting her, and approximately 25 other Toronto schools experienced a similar day of protest with students donning crop tops to spite dress codes. Many participants took this opportunity to exchange stories about their experience with discriminatory dress codes and school administrators’ enforcement of these rules and policies.

Dress codes are not exclusive to schools, but also extend into the workplace and public spaces. On June 20, an eight-year-old girl was asked to cover up at a wading pool in a Guelph public park based upon the city’s policy which mandates all girls over the age of four must wear bathing tops. In contrast, her brothers continued to play topless.

School administrators argue that the way some young women dress is “distracting,” as if young men cannot help but objectify young women and their allegedly scandalous clothing. This “distraction standard” is one of the key messages propagated to uphold dress codes.

However, within this narrative, the dress code constructs young men as the victim in the sense that a young woman’s clothing choice could prevent them from paying appropriate attention to school work.

What has been truly frightening to me is that the message this argument sends mirrors the myth that men cannot help but sexually assault women because of perceived sexy attire.

With this thinking, women are held responsible for the way in which society objectifies and sexualizes them as they are simultaneously told they should be ashamed of their bodies. Men are exempt of responsibility for their behaviour while women are policed and held accountable for the actions of men around them.

Sexism woven into policies like dress codes is a problem in wider society. Rather than placing restrictions on children’s and teen’s clothing, schools and educators should encourage students to critically engage with society, focus on their school work, and to be safe while they express themselves. Deconstructing and removing unreasonable and sexist dress codes is a step in the right direction.

Mobilizing Media. Changing Lives.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 867 other followers