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The way we view powerful men is about to change

One by one, they all fall down — men of power, men of money, but clearly not men of finesse. Simply put, men that are lacking any form of respect for their female peers, co-workers, or acquaintances. The movement that started with the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, has grown into a festering and disturbing monster over the past few months, with almost daily cases of high-profile men who are now being exposed for their alleged sexual misconduct. What do these stories prove to us? How has society allowed these powerful men to dominate and get away with locker-room talk and disgusting predatory behaviour?

For me personally, it started with watching the fall of British actor Ed Westwick. I was a fan of his work and I grew up watching soapy drama’s like Gossip Girl. Sure, his character on the show lacked morals, and the way he played with women’s emotions was atrocious, and that time he attempted to ‘rape’ a fellow character on the show…that was all teenage drama. After all, he was playing a role. He was being ‘Chuck Bass’ . But, when this transferred into real life, and woman after woman described similar scenarios where he pinned them down and forced himself upon them, I knew he had no right. I feel terrible for the women in these situations. While no charges have been filed against Westwick, his reputation is certainly paying the price, as his shows have either been cancelled or halted.

Matt Lauer is a face I grew up watching. I thought of him as a respectable and well-known journalist on NBC. Waking up and watching the today show with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric was a tradition that many people can recall over the 20 years he has been working at the American network. And it was all ruined in a few minutes after hearing he was terminated for sexual misconduct. Lauer allegedly sexted interns and gave co-workers sex toys with notes about how they should use them. There is also the tape that TMZ found of Lauer telling once co-host Meredith Vieira, to ‘keep bending over like that’, when he thought the cameras were off air.  My view has certainly changed. How was this behaviour tolerated? Obviously the fact that he was the highest paid reporter and attracted over four million viewers with his charm each morning have him a lot of sway.

I’m now prepared to be disappointed by the familiar faces I see in the media and whose work I once admired as brilliant. Just this morning, entertainment mogul Russel Simmons stepped down as CEO from his string of companies after he was accused of “sexual misconduct”, where a woman alleged he forced her to have sex with him

Nothing gives these men the privilege to put women through years of mental and physical abuse? Probably just that — they are…. so-called men.

Let us continue to speak out against any form of abuse to women and may the fall from grace for these powerful men mark a turning point in history for women around the world .

 

Let’s end violence against women and girls

Thanks to the #MeToo movement, more and more women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. Women and young girls are finding that powerful voice within them to speak out against sexual violence and crimes against women in general.

On Nov. 25, the United Nations will lead the annual worldwide campaign marking the start of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  This will be a 16-day campaign with hundreds of events worldwide.

One in three women are affected by violence. According to the UN, 19 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have said they experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last year. In 2012, almost half of all women who were murdered, were killed by an intimate partner or family member. The same can be said of only 6 per cent of male victims.

The theme for the campaign is Leave No one Behind, emphasizing the urgency of addressing these issues and not allowing them to be normalized. The campaign will educate the public on the types of violence women face and mobilize change.

During these 16 days, iconic buildings worldwide will be lit up in orange, the colour officially associated with the day. Orange symbolizes a brighter future without violence. Local events that could spring up in your city include marches, flash-mobs, concerts, football and rugby games, as well as other unique and creative public events to bring awareness to the issue. The hope is that this movement will mobilize governments and the public to take part in the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s umbrella campaign to end violence against women by 2030.

“Violence against women is fundamentally about power,” Guterres said in a statement. “It will only end when gender equality and the full empowerment of women will be a reality.”

The rise of the #MeToo campaign on social media has awoken a global protest against sexual harassment and assault. Through this hashtag, women are sharing their stories of violence afflicted towards them from even politicians and celebrities. These women are acting as examples for others, finally bringing some of their attackers to justice. UN Women is now working towards implementation new laws and policies that will offer women and young girls further protection.

The specific theme this year is also directed at refugees and migrants who are at a higher risk of being targeted for abuse. This recognition covers all women and girls despite their age, race, religion, income or citizenship. Women and girls need to be protected and offenders should be prosecuted to ensure that there is a societal message of  a zero-tolerance policy  towards violence of any kind.

For over 20 years, UN Women has been supporting various organizations around the world that have proactively taken steps in reducing community violence directed towards women. Earlier this year there was a collaborative effort with the European Union on a special spotlight initiative focusing on domestic, family , sexual, violence, human trafficking and labor exploitation. This included an initial investment of $500 million (EUR) by the EU.

To show your support during the 16 day campaign, use the hashtag, #orangetheworld and #16days. You can also change your profile picture by adding an orange filter.

Remembering lives lost due to anti-transgender violence

Transgender Remembrance was marked on Nov 20,  a day in which to reflect on the 325 transgender people around the world who have lost their lives between Oct 2016 and Sept 30 of this year.

Statistics Canada tracks the number of hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and in 2014 there were 155 reported cases and in 2015 there were 141 instances. This number is alarmingly high, as most transgender people suffer in silence when dealing with hate related issues.

From people using the right pronouns to challenges in school and healthcare, transgender youth face a large number of challenges. In a national survey in 2015, over one-third of transgender Canadians between ages 14-25 attempted suicide. Transgender Remembrance Day does not normally count the number of deaths by suicide ,but if it did, the number in remembrance would be even higher.

Transgender Remembrance is all about reflecting on an often bullied and low profile community. During different remembrance ceremonies around the world, the names of those who lost their lives to  anti-transgender violence are marked. Members of the trans community all pay respect and come out to attend this somber occasion.

Transrespect.org issued the full list this year of all the names of people around the world who have lost their lives. The list is a report of all transphobia issues and murders worldwide. There was one Canadian listed, Sisi Thibert, a transgender sex worker who was found stabbed in her apartment in Montreal just a mere two months ago.

Many trans-advocates do not just honour all those who have lost their lives, but as well victims and survivors of transgender targeted violence. Transgender remembrance started in 1999 in the United States by a transgender woman to mark the murder of another victim. During the reading of the names, there is often a moment of silence and a candlelight vigil. In Canada, there was a memorial held at the University of Winnipeg on Monday evening with over 100 people in attendance, and at Toronto Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto, Toronto police raised the transgender flag for the first time to mark Transgender Remembrance Day.

Woman of the Week: Jazz Kamal

Jazz Kamal’s boxing name is Jazz the Inferno, and as a musician she is known is Nari, meaning fire in Arabic. Both names define this fiery Egyptian, a woman who has the ability to create, destroy, and rise from the ashes renewed.

Kamal destroys the boundaries of what it means to be a repressed woman, and instead lives a life of truth and integrity. Her story is reminiscent of the fiery phoenix renewed, rising from the ashes stronger and ready to help others find their own light in a time of darkness. Kamal is a boxing coach and helps create a space for women to embrace their power and strength at Newsgirls, a women-only boxing studio in Toronto. She is also a profound lyricist and musician, creating political word-spins worthy of the hip hop greats.

I first encountered Kamal as a boxing coach at Newsgirls, a women’s boxing studio that runs classes and a program called Shape your Life to help women who have experienced violence. It turns out that Kamal found her passion at the boxing club two years ago. “I started boxing at Toronto Newsgirls and I hadn’t boxed anywhere else. I’ve always been a fighter but for the last two years I had gloves on,” Kamal says. “Newsgirls is a place where you don’t understand what you are there for until you still step through the doors.”

Kamal fell in love with boxing right away and wanted to make it a permanent part of her career. She began coaching and now helps run the ‘Shape your Life’ program. Before she committed to Newsgirls full-time, she was a technician for a theatre company, a job she really disliked. “My soul was drained and I didn’t see a way out,” Kamal says. “Savoy, the owner of Newsgirls, showed me all the steps to become a boxing coach. I specifically enjoy her coaching style and I told her I wanted to quit my job. It was at the point where I was crying everyday coming home from work. I didn’t want to turn 30 and still be at my job.” In May of that year, Kamal took a leap, quit her job and moved to Newsgirls full-time.

Kamal is also a musician and is a lead emcee/rapper of the group, Phatback, a soul and hip hop group that discusses important political issues. “The idea of the band was born just before I started boxing,” Kamal says. “I’m the lead MC and the lead singer is also a queer woman of colour. We are dedicated to making music that uplifts and our stuff is pretty political.” Phatback is starting a monthly residency in February 2017 every last thursday of the month at The Burdock (1184 Bloor St. W.).

Along with being a lead emcee of a band, Kamal is also a spoken word artist and independent musician going by the name Nari. Her early music reflects a lot about her journey coming out in the LGBTQ community. “I was a late bloomer when I accepted myself as a queer person. Coming from a country where it is very rough for gays in Egypt, I am definitely in danger if the wrong people find out. People go to jail for that,” Kamal says. “Not that North America is the beacon for LGBTQ, I am still allowed to live with my wife in a house we own here.”

Kamal’s journey to accepting herself has not been easy and she has overcome great struggle in order to reach a happier place in her life. “I was going to commit suicide, and I tried twice. My sister walked in and I didn’t want her to see. That ignited something in me that said how are external factors in my brain telling me I have to commit suicide? The answer isn’t to just end it. I had a difficult 10 years ahead of me, but I am able to deal with them differently,” Kamal says. “It doesn’t feel like the end of the world anymore. I have more ammunition, and more energy. I’ve gone to a lot of schools and talked about it.  Without fail, a kid will reach out to me and say it is good to see a queer Egyptian woman being loud and proud about who she is.”

Kamal strongly believes in helping others and nurturing people through their own personal journeys. Her courage and confidence is incredibly moving. She also shared her story in the 2011 PFLAG campaign and speaks to kids at schools advocating for the LGBTQ community. Furthermore, Kamal speaks up about domestic abuse in same-sex partnerships and violence against women.  “Some people didn’t believe I could be in an abusive relationship with another woman. It was psychological warfare and it took me a year and seven months for me to say no,” Kamal says. “I have learned to separate aggression from violence. Aggression is being able to push forward when someone is trying to push you back. Violence can happen without someone even touching you, they can break you down psychologically. You always have a choice, get mad.”

Kamal brings so much passion to her boxing classes and helps many women lift themselves out of the damaging and debilitating world of abuse. Kamal teaches women how to get angry and embrace their strength as a form of empowerment. “My advice to any woman is if you are mad, get angry. Anger is temporary,” Kamal says. “It is much easier than to repress it for years and years. Otherwise, it will turn into violence against yourself.”

Kamal changes lives everyday with her confidence, her comedic skills in the middle of boxing session, and her absolute selflessness when it comes to helping others. Above all else though, I would say the most inspiring lesson that Kamal represents is how far you can go as woman and a passionate person if you refuse to back down. Through her journey in accepting herself as queer person, Kamal faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles and fought hard to live honestly by who she is inside. She didn’t stay in an abusive relationship, and she didn’t stay in a crappy job. She found her passion, and strived towards becoming a person who helps others. Furthermore, she finds peace and power in teaching others to do the same. Whether in the ring or out on the street, Jazz has taught me to have your arms ready and never back down, and to the fight for what you love in this crazy and beautiful life.

Meet YWCA Toronto’s 2016 Women of Distinction

Half of the federal government’s Cabinet is made up of women, but 90 per cent of women do not report sexual abuse. Investment in community infrastructure is on the agenda again, but in Toronto alone, there are 95,000 households on the social housing waiting list.

While it would be wrong to claim there has been little or no improvement on so-called “women’s issues,” it would be equally erroneous to suggest that continued progress is inevitable, especially for women and girls living in poverty, fear, and isolation. The work to secure equality and social justice remains an ongoing challenge. That’s why we need to support associations like YWCA Toronto.

For 140 years, YWCA Toronto has provided shelter and support to those seeking refuge from violence and abuse; offered training and resources to help women into jobs and out of poverty; increased participation and empowerment among girls; and advocated for a fairer and more equitable society.

Over the past year alone, more than 6,000 women received training, job-seeking assistance and links to community resources through YWCA Toronto’s employment and skills development centres. More than 900 women and their families found permanent homes through YWCA Toronto and 1,300 women and their children were able to escape and recover from violence. Working together, YWCA Toronto was able to help 1,000 more women and young girls than the previous year.

YWCA Toronto has also played host to the launch of the provincial government’s Action Plan on Sexual Violence and Harassment; advocated for better child care, poverty reduction and national housing strategies; and called for action on Truth and Reconciliation recommendations, among other things.

YWCA Toronto recognizes that these results can only happen if women work together. For the past 35 years, YWCA Toronto has honoured extraordinary women who have worked tirelessly to make a difference for women and girls across the city, country, and the globe.

More than 200 women have received a Women of Distinction Award since the first awards ceremony in 1981. They are game changers in their respective fields – law, education, health, culture and the arts, politics, environment, international development and corporate leadership. These women have used their talent to improve the lives of other women and young girls, and helped raise awareness about inequities in local, national, and international communities, and create systemic change.

See for yourself. On May 26 YWCA Toronto is hosting the 2016 Women of Distinction Awards ceremony – the organization’s biggest fundraising event of the year. Proceeds support the over 30 programs that serve more than 12,000 women and families in the Greater Toronto area.

There will be eight women receiving the honour of a Woman of Distinction award. These women are truly awe-inspiring:

Roberta L. Jamieson (President’s Award) First Nations leader, highly acclaimed public figure and CEO of Indspire, Roberta has spent five decades in numerous breakthrough positions advocating for change and justice for Indigenous people and Canada.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente (Young Women of Distinction) Tessa Hill and Lia Valente were 13 when they took on rape culture as a documentary project and turned it into a successful public campaign bringing sexual consent into Ontario’s health education curriculum.

Colleen Johnston (Corporate Leadership) This senior executive from TD Bank Group and women’s leadership guru has successfully championed for stronger representation of women in corporate leadership, which helped to significantly increase the number of women in TD’s executive ranks.

Georgia Quartaro (Education) Georgia created innovative education programs and violence-against-women training that reaches women and marginalized groups who have experienced trauma and responds to their needs and potential.

Reeta Roy (International Development) Reeta Roy saw that opportunities and conditions for girls and women farmers in African countries were disturbingly unequal to men’s. The MasterCard Foundation she heads guarantees that at least 50 percent of program participants are women and girls.

Elizabeth Shilton (Law and Justice) Elizabeth argued before the Supreme Court to uphold the rape shield law; won a pay equity case ending wage inequities; defended the right of sexual assault survivors to keep their names out of the public eye; and prevented the disclosure of counselling records of sexual abuse survivors.

Dr. Cheryl Wagner (Health) When HIV/AIDS first hit women, Dr. Cheryl Wagner was one of the first – and few – Toronto physicians to whom they could turn for expertise, help and health care. She extended her work to include researching and advocating for services to address their distinct needs.

Celebrate these women and what they have accomplished! To get your tickets to the exciting event at The Carlu (444 Yonge St.), visit www.womenofdistinction.ca.