30.10.15

Why the tampon tax is about more than just periods.

So we found out this week that MPs in parliament voted against the motion for the removal of the 'tampon tax' 305 to 287.  And while it is beyond nonsensical that this is happen, much of the current debate is ignoring the real issues at hand here.

The tampon tax debate is more than just establishing a fair policy for women's sanitation, it's about everything that is wrong with politics - that rich white men are left to make decisions on matters that concern not them, but women who can't afford to have a period. How can we expect politicians to make a considered decision on the tampon tax when the majority of them don't have a uterus?

Article 25 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines the right to "to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being" and I think it is quite clear that sanitation and female hygiene is an integral part of this basic right. How can we claim to be a developed country when we have policy in place that prevents certain demographics from having access to sanitary products because of their financial situation - namely the working class, homeless and students.

Moreover, despite the fact that Laura Coryton started this petition over a year ago it seems rather unrealistic that MPs have only just found time to discuss this issue but instead is more indicative of the ridiculous taboo of talking about women's bodies.

And it's not about the fact that Jaffa cakes and crocodile meat are taxed at 0%, or that the tax is "only 5%". It's about the fact that we should not class sanitary products as non-essential in policy making, and that we deem talking about periods and women's bodies a taboo, and that the government is commoditising a natural biological process - because all of these things allow the government to capitalise on and continue sexist discourse, whilst ignoring the need to represent and listen to women when making decisions on issues where they are the primary focus.

Articles such as this one by Julia Hartley-Brewer claim the battle is trivial and a detriment to modern feminism when there are bigger fish to fry, but we must consider the wider picture that these protests are fighting. Yes there are larger problems within the system of patriarchal societies and global inequality but surely any symbolic action towards equality is a positive one.

The vote against removing the non-essential item tax on sanitary products should not be a sign that this debate is a case closed to our politicians, but a warning to the government that politics needs to be seriously more representative of the different races and genders that belong in the UK to be able to conduct fairer policy making. Period.

'A Five per cent tax might seem low, but this is an issue of fairness, and not only for those menstruating in the UK'
Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/dont-think-the-tampon-tax-can-be-scrapped-youre-wrong-all-we-need-to-do-is-follow-these-5-steps-10090937.html
 

25.10.15

Berlin Birthday

After whizzing through Berlin last Summer whilst interrailing I decided it was probably my most favourite city in the World. Last month I spent my 20th Birthday there and that changed to most definitely.
Birthday's are good things at the best of times, so to spend one in my favourite city with some of my favourite humans was basically the greatest idea ever.
It was a good kind of day filled with brunching, baklava and bumbling. The baklava was owing to our first stop after a lazy brunch, as we set out to the Turkish market, diving between stalls to admire ripe, round produce and escape the drizzle.

The 'Buchstabenmuseum' was echt cool - essentially 3 rooms filled wall to ceiling with old neon signs to celebrate the art work in sign making and typography. It's only open till November so if you are around I recommend you to pop in!
Dinner outside just about made possible by the delicious bowls of Pho we devoured. A side of people watching and time to make plans of just when exactly we can just move right away to Berlin, please.
Oh yeah and don't ask about the pumpkin..
 
** photographs of me taken by my pal Edie. 

21.3.15

Arrival in Kathmandu & Durbar Square

After the ridiculous amounts of excitement induced by the Smith's arrival in Nepal had subsided enough for proper cognitive function to continue, one of the first places we visited was Durbar Square. Kathmandu Durbar Square is the plaza in front of what was once the royal Palace of the Kathmandu Kingdom which is reflected in the ornate and antiquated architecture that is around to feast your eyes on.

Once inside the square we headed to the Kumari Ghar, or house of the living Goddess. According to tradition, a young unmarried girl who fulfils certain requirements is chosen to live in the Kumari Ghar (there are two more of these residences in Nepal). They must stay at the house where they also receive an education, until they reach puberty when they are no longer deemed pure. You are not allowed to take pictures of the Kumari but many tourists go to try and catch a glimpse at one of her daily appearances as it is considered lucky. Despite being an interesting point of cultural difference, I found sighting the Kumari and visiting the house quite difficult - it was harrowing to see the perfectly made-up, yet emotionless face briefly rest at the court-yard window for the benefit of foreign and native onlookers, before disappearing once more from view.

We also just enjoyed spending some time just moseying around the town - it felt like stepping back in time, the motorbikes and cars almost becoming invisible in comparison to the grandeur of the old buildings and the hectic smaller shops and stalls weaved in between, with crowds of people effortlessly gracing the space between the two.
After a shave at the dodgiest looking barbers for my Dad (one of the more bizarre Smith family travelling traditions), we gratefully took some shade in a roof top cafĂ© before slowly heading back, taking our time to appreciate the friendliness of the locals and the precarious and chaotic telephone wire arrangements.



14.3.15

An Open Letter // Why is my syllabus so white?

An open letter to all lecturers, principals, prime ministers, programme conveners and education ministers...
Why is my syllabus so white? And not only white, but nigh on exclusively male?
I can't comprehend how you have failed to neglect such a large proportion of the global demographic, instead choosing only to teach works from white men with privileged upbringings. Has no woman, Chinese, transgender, working class, African or homosexual person ever written an academic source worthy of teaching? For this is  the sentiment your current syllabus exudes and I implore you to think about the impact this is having on the future generations of our world.
I can't help but feel my heart sink, when I walk past the "Women's representation display" outside my lecture theatre, showing only a row of white faces to look back at me. And, as I look at my module options for next year, note the high percentage of white male lectures - a contradiction as I come to university, taking modules in Geography, Literature and Film, desperately trying to grasp as many perspectives on the world as I can, yet being limited by those in charge to do so. Alas, no wonder that so many students cannot recognise their own white privilege, when we are only shown the world through the same eyes.
Disregarding the importance of diversity breeds naivety and segregation, rather than the understanding and acceptance our world craves. Please help make the concept of a diverse and equal world a more tangible reality.
Yours sincerely,
A very bemused student. 
From my perspective - KCL.

10.3.15

International Women's Day

So yesterday was International Women's Day - an important date in the calendar if ever there was one! The concept - simply to raise awareness for gender inequality and give the diversity of women that inhabit this beautiful planet a chance to celebrate womanhood. Yet I woke up to a sight to dampen my high spirits as social media presented me with messages questioning the relevance and effectiveness of International Women's Day. Some even wrote to question the non-existence of "International Men's Day" (despite the fact this was founded in 1992, and occurs every year on the 19th of November...) whilst others claimed that if we truly want to be equal we should not celebrate days such as these. And although I respect the view point that if we were in a truly equal society, the importance of International Women's day may be undermined, but the fact of the matter is that we don't live in a world where we have achieved total equality and harmony across the gender spectrum. We still live in a world where women earn less than men, where female genital mutilation  happens and gender stereotypes cause women to suffer abuse and oppression on a daily basis. Of course I wish that all of this were untrue, but by not having things like international women's day, we would be denying that the problem of gender inequality exists. Furthermore, International Women's Day is a positive and intersectional campaign that celebrates the lives of so many unheard women. Should we not be using social media to ensure the connectivity of this message in all corners of the world, instead of taking the attention away from an idea fundamental to the progression of society? We should not cleanse our communities of these important campaigns, for they raise awareness that there is inequality in this world that needs to be changed, as well as celebrating so many unrecognised female accomplishments that are overlooked because of the patriarchal structure that effects each and every nation on this planet.
 
For these reasons, I made a conscious decision to celebrate this Sunday with a wonderful woman friend of mine, by attending an interactive, Virginia Woolf-inspired art installation, at 'The Strong Room', in Shoreditch. The crowd-funded project involved a "Room of One's Own", represented by a see-through cube containing a writing desk and a chair. Participants were asked to add their own messages and illustrations onto the structure, before it would be recycled into a greenhouse to be used by a local charity focused on helping people with mental health issue in recognition of the suffering Woolf experienced throughout her lifetime. Alongside a gin and tonic, it was the most ideal way to take pleasure in a very joyous Sunday.
Mine and Edie's contribution of the original "woah-man" illustration.

14.5.14

Girl Power! {Thoughts on // Feminism}

I am a feminist. And I'm neither embarrassed nor unwilling to say it. What does embarrass me is the bad press the term gets from the perception of the "stereotype feminist". I am a feminist, and I hate the stigma that so often comes with such a simple and honest statement. Feminism is simply about equal rights between the sexes, why should that be such a hard thing to accept? More often than I should, I hear people uttering and grumbling about how feminism is outdated and unnecessary in this wonderful modern society we have. However just because women are equal in the eyes of the law, does not mean that all social inequality is magically eradicated. In fact, I was watching a documentary recently [Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes] that suggested that due to a rise is social media and sexism in comedy, the situation is worsening. Sure, women can vote and access job positions equal to men but that can't stop social views and distasteful jokes. Feminism still exists; because equality is something you don't give up on.

Homage to some of the important females in my life, past and present.
 



13.5.14

India #3 [Munnar and Palolem]

This is finally the final instalment of my trip to India!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The second half of the trip was quite manic so I have chose a few moments that really stand out for me personally.

1) Staying in a remote camp in the mountains from where we explored the tea plantations and conquered an extremely arduous but rewarding jungle trek through the national park area. We stopped by at cardamom plantations and even a tribal school for some gratefully received sweet tea. However most off putting that our park ranger-come-guide bound ahead effortlessly clad in woolly jumper and flip flops!










Us and the lovely staff from the mountain camp who proved themselves as top card game competition!
2) A visit to a home-stay close to Munnar - the most wonderful family! A very welcoming place worth a visit if you're ever in town, not to mention the excellent home cooking! We also enjoyed the slower pace and cooler climate of mountain life, sloping around the bustly town and local gardens.






3) Getting blessed by an elephant in an unplanned temple visit on a stop over in Coimbatore. Unfortunately I have no pictures from inside but unexpected memories are definitely the best! All of the locals visiting the temple were not at all put off by the arrival of our four white (/slightly reddish) faces gawping at the impressive Hindu deities and beautiful expressions of faith. As we sat peacefully, taking in the scene one man even explained to me how our being there on that day was something sent by God to be thankful of! Their acceptance and kindness was truly humbling to observe.




4) And finally having a well earned rest in the serene Palolem beach huts in Goa.