Reflecting on Human Rights

On Dec. 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, commemorating this, yesterday was Human Rights Day. In reflection of this important day, I’ve been reminiscing about my trip to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Although I visited the museum in the summer, the experience is fresh in my mind, so I thought I would share some photos (all taken by myself or my family) and thoughts about the museum in this post. This isn’t a complete list of every exhibit in the museum; rather, it is my way of reflecting on Canada’s history of human rights and sharing hope for the future of the world. I hope this post inspires you to reflect, ask questions, and, most importantly, speak up and take action.

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Even the architecture of the building was designed with human rights in mind. According to the museum’s website, architect Antoine Predock’s design was chosen because it “achieves a complexity relating to the diversity of human experience.”

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These words from Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights greet visitors when they enter the museum. It is a thought-provoking entrance, because as you explore more of the exhibits it becomes clear that, though all human beings may be born free and equal, not all human beings are treated that way.

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I think that in Canada, we like to champion our country as having a history of positive human rights. This isn’t the case, though. This exhibit featured this quote from a residential school survivor. Residential schools were the government’s attempt to “strip the Indian from the children” and were classified by many as a genocide.

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The REDress Project was created by Jaime Black, a Metis artist, to honour the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, according to CTV news. Currently, the Canadian government is preparing an inquiry about missing and murdered Indigenous women, and this installation serves as a chilling, yet powerful reminder of the issue.

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Speaking of Canada’s not-so-stellar human rights record… During the Second World War, Japanese Canadians, even people who had lived in Canada for most of their lives, were forced into internment camps. A sign posted with this exhibit opened with a question that I think is still very relevant today: “How do international conflicts affect the way we see our neighbours?”

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As I have previously written, Malala Yousafzai is a huge inspiration for me. The museum featured both her Nobel Peace Prize, shown above, as well as the clothes she was wearing when she was shot by the Taliban. Again, though chilling, this was an incredibly powerful exhibit. It is a reminder of what some people go through just to fight for the human rights to which many of us don’t give a second thought.

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The back of the inflatable vest on the right, according to the sign posted under the exhibit, says “Not to be used for boating. Not a lifesaving device.” And yet, this vest was worn by a child who was rescued in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015. The compass, the sign says, was the only navigational tool aboard a boat of over 100 people who were fleeing from Libya to Italy. Much like that shocking photo of Alan Kurdi, these objects give people who would otherwise only hear about it on the news a real image to grasp. Real people wore these vests; real people used that compass to try to navigate their way to a new life. Real people are facing this scary reality every day.

A quote by Martin Luther King Jr. adorned one sign in the museum, and I think it’s particularly fitting for what is happening in the world today: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

I’ll leave you with a photo of a message that flashed across a television screen in an exhibit which was, if I remember correctly, about genocide.

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Where The Love Is

Where is the love? the Black Eyed Peas ask in a new song that’s sweeping the Internet. Overseas, yeah, they trying to stop terrorism, they sing. Over here on the streets, the police shoot the people. Where’s the love?

When I first had the idea to write this post, I thought I would write about where the love is (and isn’t). It’s not in war zones, I thought to myself: there is no love when people are fleeing cities that are no longer safe, to come to countries where some people viciously oppose their presence. But I realized that sometimes in these situations, there is love. In the world’s darkest places, and in its darkest moments, we see tiny glimmers of hope—hope for the inherent goodness of humanity, and hope that love can conquer hate.

In January, in the midst of Trudeau’s efforts to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada, Maclean’s published an article titled “Saving Family No. 417.” The article details the horrors faced by a Syrian family, and the efforts of 14 Canadians to bring the family to safety. Reading the article, I was brought to tears by the sheer compassion displayed by this group of Canadians. At first, the Syrian family didn’t know that a group of strangers across the globe were working tirelessly to give them a new life. They were, though. And they weren’t alone.

Recently, I saw a photo on Twitter which detailed the attempts of train passengers to help a Syrian family who were struggling with the train system. According to the post, which was written by a woman who was on the train, people were phoning friends to help with Arabic translations, donating money for the family to purchase tickets, and carrying their luggage. Eventually, the train company caught wind of what was happening and intervened with further help for the family. In situations like this, there is love.

Unfortunately, there is not always love. In January, few days before that article from Maclean’s was published, I was writing on this blog about a hate crime committed against Syrian refugees in Canada. Moreover, in the latest edition of Maclean’s, an article details the “brutal and terrifying reality” that Yazidi people, and specifically women, face under the rule of the Islamic State. The article states that, two years after the Islamic State first attacked a village in Iraq, “450,000 Yazidis are displaced, dead, or being used as sex slaves.”

In that article, Payam Akhavan, who is an expert in analyzing genocide and is currently in Iraq, says that “The long-term solution is not military, beyond that needed to gain a ceasefire; it’s giving the Yazidis a measure of justice to restore their humanity. Then the object of pity becomes an agent of change.” To me, these words are incredibly important. When we have empathy and compassion for people in need of help, we let them know that they are not alone and that their stories are worth telling. Not only this, but our empathy can lead to us putting pressure on our elected officials to offer assistance in a meaningful way.

Without having empathy, it’s difficult to fight for action. Empathy looks different for everyone, but it can start by simply reading, or listening to, the stories of people who need help (check out the links above for a start on that). If you come across a story, local or global, that resonates with you in any way, do some research and find out how you can get involved; whether it’s donating time, money, efforts, raising awareness, volunteering, or helping in another way.

The Black Eyed Peas ask, Where is the love? I’m here to say that, if we are willing to search for it, the love is inside each and every one of us.  I’m not going to say “act local and think global” because there are people all over the world who need our empathy—and, more importantly, they need our action. Despite all of the hatred in the world, there is love.

International Youth Day

What does it mean to be young in 2016?

I’ve been wondering about this for a while now, not just because it is a question which pertains to me, a teenager, but because it’s been written on my whiteboard all year. Long story short: in January I was planning to write for an online publication with that question as the focus of my article, so I brainstormed ideas on my whiteboard. The article didn’t end up panning out as I quickly became swamped with exams and applying to university. Nonetheless, the question remained on my whiteboard.

Seven months later, every time I look at it I am reminded that it needs to be cleaned. I rarely procrastinate but with this, I have. Today, though, I’m glad I haven’t erased my whiteboard of thoughts on what it means to be young in this day and age: because today is International Youth Day. I thought I would spend a bit of time reflecting on, well, being young!

I’d be willing to bet that when most people think about today’s teens, their minds quickly turn to technology and social media. The rise of the hashtag. The selfie craze. The fact that “tweet” is no longer the sound birds make at 6 in the morning when we’re trying to sleep, but a 140 character message sent out for the world to read. These things, in part, have defined today’s youth. There’s another important aspect of technology, though: communication. Not only are we able to communicate with people around the world, but we can instantly read and see news about what is happening all over the world.

With the changing face of communication comes an increased awareness; an awareness both of the good and grisly things in the world. We can livestream the Olympics in Rio from a screen in our palm, and watch cute puppies chase their tails—but we are also inundated with stories of murders, of poverty, of wars. The benefit to seeing these things, becoming aware of them, is that we can work to change them. I know I don’t only speak for myself when I say that I use the Internet to stay on top of issues I’m passionate about.

Today’s teens aren’t the only ones to have strong social justice roots. The 1960s Counterculture, for example, fought for women’s rights, peaceful resolution to conflict, and freedom. We are, however, one of the first generations to have constant exposure to what is happening around us, thanks to technology. Perhaps this, paired with the strong convictions already existing within teenagers, will lead to lifelong quests for justice and equality.

Jumping off of the brainstorming bubble on my whiteboard are the words “safe from war”. An arrow jars off that point, though, with the words “terrorism” attached. Today’s youth are growing up in a post 9/11 world: a world that tries to be hopeful, one that hides quivering fear behind a face of resilience. I am writing from my perspective as a Canadian teenager; the reality is, I am very lucky. While terrorism is a threat in developed countries, as it is in all countries, war is not. I grew up listening to O’Canada in the mornings at school feeling thankful to live in the true North, which is not only strong and free, but is also, for the most part, safe.

This is not a statement that all of the world’s youth can affirm, sadly. According to the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth’s website, 14 million youth were displaced as a result of international conflict in 2011—the number is likely even higher today. Not only this, but over 200 million youth are living in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than one dollar per day), reports Advocates for Youth’s website.

So today, on International Youth Day, it is important not only to reflect on what defines the lives of today’s youth, but to hope for a better future for all youth. It is also important to celebrate the leadership of youth who are working to create this better future. Young people all over the world: keep being passionate about issues that matter to you, keep being leaders, and keep trying to change the world. One day, you will.

The Role of Allies in the Fight for Equity

It is said that fiction imitates reality, and this week I read a book that affirmed that statement. The book in question is called Poles Apart by Terry Fallis. Without going into too much detail, the story follows Everett Kane, a young male, who is a freelance journalist. Everett is passionate about feminism, and starts a blog to share his views with the world. He stays anonymous because – and I quote – “If we’re ever going to achieve real equality, women have to lead the movement, and be seen to lead the movement, as they always have…” As a “relatively privileged youngish white man”, Everett doesn’t want to be seen as a leader in the feminist movement. You’ll have to read the book to see how that works out for him.

I thought Everett’s decision was an interesting one. Fiction imitates reality; in our society, many people believe it is important for members of a marginalized community to be the ones leading the fight for equality. In a 2013 article for Bustle author Madhuri Sathish outlines “how to actually be an ally to [people] of colour”. Among her many excellent points is this one: it is important to “amplify the narratives of people of colour”. White people aren’t the ones being discriminated against, or killed because of their skin colour, so, while they can certainly support movements for racial equality, their voices aren’t the most important ones in that conversation. Amplifying the voices of the marginalized, rather than adding new, perhaps unnecessary, voices to a discussion is one way to ensure the people who need to be heard are in fact heard.

This concept isn’t just important for issues of race: it is important to all issues of inequity. Katie Tait writes on OPIA that “while [allies] are a crucial part of gaining the equality that [members of the LGBT+ community] deserve, a lot of them don’t understand that their activism is actually silencing [members of the community.] They mostly have good intentions but a lot of them tend to make their voices more important and talk over the voices of actual LGBT+ members.”

This is where it becomes important to acknowledge privilege. Madhuri Sathish writes that it is important not only to consider privilege, but what that privilege would look like if it was toned down a bit if equality was achieved. But what is privilege, exactly? To give it a short definition, I would borrow two  phrases from Peggy McIntosh: privilege is an “unfair advantage”, and an “unearned entitlement”. McIntosh wrote “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, which is essentially a list of things that she, as a white person, can do because of her privilege.

“When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. / Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour to not work against the appearance of my financial reliability. / I am never asked to speak for all people of my race. / If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.” (Selected sections from her list)

Though some things on this list may seem small, the list overall is pretty powerful. It is a snapshot of white privilege; the things white people are able to do or be sure of simply because of the colour of their skin and the beliefs associated with it. Similar lists could be made for any kind of privilege that exists. In Poles Apart, Everett Kane has acknowledged his privilege as a white male. While this privilege shouldn’t prevent him from supporting feminism, he feels like it prevents him from adding his voice to the conversation. And perhaps it does. But throughout the novel, he demonstrates a powerful belief in the feminist movement, which could inspire more people – men included – to join the movement. This could be seen as amplifying the existing voices of the feminist movement because he is adding a new, supportive perspective.

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Adding new opinions to a conversation isn’t always a good thing, though. Recently, YouTuber Tyler Oakley posted the above image on Twitter. In the conversation about women’s rights and bodies, men’s voices should be less important because they are not the people directly affected by the decisions made. Unfortunately, we see quite often that some men (certain politicians, not to name any names) shout over women with regards to these issues. I think the age-old adage applies here: if you don’t have anything nice, or supportive, to say, then don’t say it. If you’re not going to be an ally to a movement, don’t discourage progress. And if you are going to be an ally, then do so by using your voice to support and amplify the voices of those impacted by the movement. 

Should allies add their voices to movements they’re not directly involved in? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

#WeAreAble

As a student, I love when things I learn in school become relevant in the real world. I’m happy to say that I am able to apply the things I learned in class multiple times a day. The course content I think most often of is from the equity and social justice class I took last semester. That class opened my eyes to so many things: the concept of privilege, the difference between equity and equality, various equity lenses, and how to take action when issues of inequity arise. I learned the importance of raising awareness about inequities. People fear what they don’t understand, and you can’t support a cause without knowing what it is.

Today I saw awareness of a cause raised in such a powerful way that I immediately opened a Google Doc and started writing this post. The awareness came from Tyler Oakley’s latest YouTube video: ‘Flirting in Sign Language’ with guest Nyle DiMarco. Nyle won America’s Next Top Model, and is currently on Dancing With The Stars. He is deaf, and in the video he teaches Tyler how to communicate using sign language.

 

 

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It was already awesome enough to see Tyler, who close captions all of his videos because he believes accessibility is important, so eager to learn sign language: and the positivity of the video didn’t stop there. Towards the end of the video, Tyler and Nyle introduce Nyle’s DoSomething.Org campaign which aims to “fight the stigma against disability”. By visiting this website, you can print out a template to share your best ability with the world. They have created the hashtag #WeAreAble to start a social media movement as well (yay for 21st century social justice!)

“I believe everyone should have access so that way they have equal opportunities in everything.” – Nyle DiMarco

Everyone has a best ability, and I love that this video and campaign promote that. I can’t remember exactly what inspired me to start doing this, but I strive to say “differently abled” instead of disabled. No one is lacking in ability – they just have a different ability. Unfortunately, in our society, there is still a stigma towards different physical and mental abilities. The thing is, though, that ability is a range. Everyone is different, and there is no “normal” ability. There’s just your ability, and that’s the only one that should matter.

The fact that Tyler Oakley and Nyle DiMarco are spreading the word about this is so amazing. Like I mentioned earlier, I truly believe that raising awareness is the first step towards creating positive change. The next step is acting on the positive changes that you are now aware of – and the #WeAreAble campaign is a great way to start on this.

The campaign is also really empowering: even if you feel that you are privileged in the way of ability, you still have a best ability to share with the world. I think my best ability is being positive, and I am positive that this is a campaign that could make a big difference in erasing the stigma around different abilities. What’s your best ability?