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Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

breakingfree

I read this book recently and I feel compelled to share it with everyone. Why? Because it deserves to be read. And people deserve to read it.

“Breaking Free” is a collection of women’s stories – how they became part of, endured, and lived past human trafficking. Within, there are myths dispelled and facts set straight and a guide to how to talk about the topic, sensitively and knowledgably. It is inspirational and incredibly informative, but so accessible, despite being a painful read at times, due to the nature of the issue.

I do however have to give this book a TRIGGER WARNING, as it is not exactly beat around the bush. These are frank accounts of real experiences of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It may provide hope for victims, but it may be too difficult a read for someone who is familiar with the situations written about.

What I think is unique about Breaking Free is the diversity. The stories are not all from women of developing countries, continuing the myth that all sold in sexual slavery are far from the Western World. Neither does it ignore these women. The stories are about women who experienced similar horrors, in different ways, from differing backgrounds.

Maria Suarez went from Mexico to America at fifteen years old. On a job interview to be a maid, her ‘new employer’ locked the door, and informed her that from that moment, she belonged to him.

Minh Dang was born in California. From the outside her house was beautiful, and they were a ‘white-picket-fence and rose-bushes’ household. Behind closed doors, her parents abused and raped her, from the age of three years old. As she grew older, they began to sell her body to neighbours and strange men.

These women are individuals. They are not especially alike. It is a powerful reminder that victim blaming is ridiculous – there’s nothing that each of them did to cause what happened to them. They were unfortunate. Taken advantage of. They were not asking for it. What unites them is their strength and courage, that they took what they knew about this world, and have set out, effecting change.

Now activists in the anti-trafficking movement, Maria and Minh are out creating petitions, speaking to people in power, building safe-houses, removing the stigma. They are rebuilding their own lives as well as millions of others.

The book also features the story of Somaly Mam, which is an issue. I have been shocked to discover that she fabricated her story. It is a very confusing thing. It has been a significant setback for the movement as a whole, as it discredits others stories, the vast majority of which are wholly true. But we must remain in solidarity with the poor girls who have honestly experienced these horrors. I know that I would rather believe a few false claims, than turn away from millions of real victims, who desperately need to be listened to and heard.

Don’t underestimate the power you can have. You can help so many people. There are so many ways in which to support the anti-trafficking movement. Here are just a few:
-READ ABOUT IT. Read this book. Read other books too. Here’s a list.
-BUY ITEMS MADE BY SURVIVORS. Instead of supporting unethical trades, support those who need it. International Sanctuary and Made by Survivors are great places to start, with beautiful jewellery and other gifts created by women learning new skills, building up their lives.
-DONATE TO IMPORTANT ORGANISATIONS. Send money to those who run safe houses, teach survivors new skills, provide counselling for victims, rehabilitate millions. The majority of the organisations listed here accept financial donations, some also accept the donation of your time. Volunteer at a local organisation, hold a fundraiser, become a social media intern for a charity. The possibilities are endless…

We Support No More Page 3

Author:

We support No More Page 3. As an organisation that seeks to empower young women through writing and activism, we feel that Page 3 undermines all the incredible work that young women are doing. We live in a society where young women’s voices have been left to fight for space in a corner on the Internet, but young women’s bodies are readily available for consumption every day in a newspaper. Page 3 has made each of us – at some point – feel uncomfortable, disrespected and powerless. We want women to be represented for what they do rather than what they look like. We want to live in a society where young women’s words hold more importance than the shape and size of our breasts. 

Page 3 is an unnecessary part of The Sun that does little to increase sales (if anything it decreases them) as well as causing many people, including myself, to feel uncomfortable. What does it add to the newspaper? Surely it cannot be considered to be news? And the amount of occasions where it is blatantly out of place such as after headlines about child abuse or rape! It is wrong and must go. – Chloe, 18

A newspaper is widely considered a household item, part of everyday life. Therefore, Page 3 makes naked women seem like part of everyday life, too. As a result, it becomes ingrained into people from a young age that this is normal and expected; women bare their breasts for men, and that is the end of it. This is hugely damaging in many ways- for example, it can lead to pressure if a woman doesn’t want to do what a man wants, and it gives a false image on both sides as to what the female body should and should not look like. These negativities should not be such an accepted part of life. It’s time to move on- it’s time to get rid of Page 3. – Becky, 17

Seeing women presented as sexual objects alongside men presented as politicians, high achievers and world leaders has a massive effect on how society sees women, particularly young girls, who begin to believe a woman’s only purpose is as a sexual object. Page 3 perpetuates this belief and is also hugely detrimental to the self-esteem of girls and young women. Page 3 is an archaic practice that is holding back our society from erasing sexism. – Amy, 16

The Sun is supposed to be a family newspaper. But no families I know buy it. Why? Because they don’t want their children to learn that sexualisation of a woman is normal. That women are just their bodies, simply objects. Page 3 is disgusting misogyny, and it doesn’t do much for The Sun’s sales anymore, so why have it? – Sophia, 17

I support NMP3 because the idea of women’s breasts being entertainment in a newspaper perpetuates the idea that women are there to entertain men. Glamour modelling has no place in a newspaper and quite simply, boobs aren’t news. – Jess, 16

I support NMP3 because every time I feel like society is making a little step further towards an England where women aren’t sexual objects, I’m reminded that Page 3 exists and all hope is lost. It’s shocking and like a sharp kick to the stomach. Whilst some may feel this ‘news’ is harmless, I can promise you, it isn’t. 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual violence In England and Wales, and I, as well as many others, believe that the day Page 3 doesn’t exist will be the day people will begin to view women more as human beings that deserve respect, not sexual toys to provoke and abuse. I support NMP3 because I don’t want to live in a world where people are so ready to critique a woman for presenting her body sexually in public, yet believe it’s okay when the Sun does the exact same thing for profit. If the exploitation of women’s breasts for profit is ‘just the way it is’ then I’m scared to be a woman, and that shouldn’t be okay. – Gemma, 18

The convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women dictates that states must ‘take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise’. Factually speaking, the UK government partakes in this movement; a fact that seems almost laughable considering the complete lack of enforcement when it comes to women in the media. I wish to question as to why the shocking discrimination against women perpetuated by Page 3 continues to thrive and prosper on newspaper stands and shelves. Why is an image equivalent to those found in ‘lad mags’ available at child’s-eye level? If the government’s own research has shown a link between the portrayal of women as sex objects in the media and greater acceptance of sexual harassment and violence against women, why does the government refuse to ban Page 3? The answer, ashamedly, is that we live in a society where the media is written by men for men; a culture that propels and perpetuates the view that women are commodities for male consumption and entertainment. I contend that these pornographic, derogatory images are not harmless, nor are they just ‘banter’. They compound on real women’s wellbeing, safety, behavior and education. They are feeding our young boys that this is the purpose of women; this is how young women should be viewed, used, abused, exploited and treated. They are feeding our young girls the notion that sex sells and is the only solution to achieving success in a male-dominated world. Why are these ideologies still prevalent in 2014? If a naked woman’s body can be used as such a vital component to media consumption, it is about time that a woman’s voice can become the vital component to eradicate the former. – Olivia, 21

Please sign the petition: change.org/nomorepage3

For more information about the campaign, visit their website, nomorepage3.org

The Unspeakable Things Have Been Spoken

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

unspeakable

Laurie Penny. If you’ve not heard the name before, it’s about time you paid attention. I’m a little biased perhaps, as Penny is nothing short of a hero to me. But honestly, she’s great. She’s recently released a book in the U.K., to be released in the U.S. in September. It’s called ‘Unspeakable Things’, and hell, she talks about exactly what girls are told not to. If you’re looking for an easy going, ‘yes you can be a feminist, love pink, wear false eyelashes and shave your legs’ book, this is not for you. Laurie Penny in general, is probably not for you. She is not interested in sugar-coating this movement, making it appealing to the masses. In her eyes, its appeal should just be a given. Frankly, she thinks this kind of lipstick feminism is rather silly. For her, it’s about the nitty-gritty, the things that nobody likes to talk about. But she’s talking about them, and she certainly won’t be silenced any time soon.

Penny interlinks serious analysis of a range of issues, with the ways in which she has personally been affected, making for a very interesting and thought-provoking read. However, the personal side is no sob story – it’s a cold, slightly bitter narrative, at times, relaying the harsh truths of eating disorders, rape culture, and more. There’s no sugar coating, it’s completely honest. And yet, she’s not claiming to speak for everyone, which is an irritatingly common mistake in discussion of these topics. In fact, she regularly stresses otherwise, pointing out that she is a white, middle-class woman; therefore privileged, and unable to tell every woman’s point of view. It is often assumed that feminist texts speak for all women, and often writers assume this ‘voice of the people’ stance. It is incredibly refreshing that Laurie Penny openly refutes this.

The book is in many ways a rant. It is an intense outlet of anger about the world; about neoliberal capitalism; about patriarchal constraints; about transphobia; about white/male/heterosexual/cis-gender/middle-class privileges – you name it, Penny is probably pissed off about it. But it’s still very eloquently written, aside from the regular effing and blinding. She covers ground such as mental illness, single motherhood and abortion. It’s true, these are all topics covered before, but here is the view of a young woman – a view from someone of this generation. However, more importantly, she attacks things barely touched upon before like issues with modern feminism, cybersexism, and uniquely, men’s issues. But it’s not what you think. The chapter on guys is actually the best part of the book. If you only read one part when you pick it up in the bookshop, make it the ‘Lost Boys’ chapter. It’s genuinely eye-opening, and you won’t regret it.

Her unrelenting wit and her ingenious prose style make this book brilliant. Though it was a moving and engrossing read, there were moments when I found myself laughing out loud, because, yes, Laurie Penny kicks patriarchal ass. It is full of dry humour – fitting for the mood of the book and the nature of the issues discussed. Highlights include; “those who are so eager for women and girls to go back to the kitchen might think again… you can plan a lot of damage from a kitchen. It’s also where the knives are kept” and “Having it all now means having a career, kids, a husband, a decent blow-dry – and that’s it.” And that’s only in the introduction.

I’m not saying I agree with every little detail in the book. In fact, there were several points made that I frowned at and found myself strongly disagreeing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value what’s said – quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that we don’t all have to agree on everything. It’s a necessary aspect of this movement – differing opinions, challenging others and being challenged, that’s how the Suffragettes arose! What matters is that, at the very core, we are united in ideas and are willing to fight for social change. This is how we will make equality a reality.

The Unconventional Summer Reading List

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

book

School is out – well, almost, in the U.K – and that means one thing… SUMMER! Summer means a lot of different things for different people; be it swimming in the sea; festivals; camping in the middle of nowhere; road trips; backpacking – usually something pretty cool. Sometimes, it’s just chilling out at the park or in the garden with ice-cream, homemade smoothies, barbecues, spending times with friends and family – which is equally wonderful, of course.

For me, though, the biggest appeal of Summer (and yes, I realise this makes me a huge nerd) is that I have plenty of free time… to read. In the year, I don’t get to read nearly as much as I’d like to, what with work, work, work, oh, and more work! But for two months, I can read a book a day if I want to, no problem! There’s absolutely no better way to relax!

I’m not the only one who thinks Summer is a time for reading, as magazines and newspapers begin to publish their lists of essential Summer reading around early June. Unfortunately, it would seem that I have the wrong idea with my mixture of the Brontës, John Green, and feminist manifestos. Because, each year, magazines’ lists are nothing like mine. Typically titled ‘beach reads for women’, ‘books for your beach bag’, ‘hot summer reads’ and so on, the lists compiled are beyond frustrating to see. Not only are the titles blatantly sexist, but the content tends to be, too. The message sent is that all women are the same – we like shopping, we’re obsessed with our looks, and WE JUST WANT A BOYFRIEND! This plays right into the kyriarchy, this idea that ‘real’ women are white, heterosexual, cisgendered, and of course, one-dimensional, dependent creatures.

It honestly really upsets me, the whole thing. But I’m not letting it get me down too much anymore. There is a way to combat this norm. There are always alternatives; you’ve just got to look a little harder sometimes. Here I’ve compiled a list of suggestions to start you off – Some are a little obvious perhaps, some you may not have even heard of. There’s a wide range of fiction, some young adult, and some adult. But be warned – whilst some are easy to read, these books are not necessarily all light. I like these books for precisely this reason – I have personally found them empowering, liberating, moving, thought-provoking, stereotype smashing, as well as simply enjoyable. I really hope you’ll find something in them too.

  • Matched – Ally Condie. ‘In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Yet for Cassia, the rules have changed.’ This Young Adult trilogy is astonishingly poetic in the way it is written, as well as being an exciting, emotional, compelling read. It is difficult not to find the characters endearing, with incredible development throughout the books. Cassia, the protagonist, is particularly interesting, as she begins as a standard ‘good girl’, complacent to the rules, but as the story goes on, she begins to really challenge the ways of the world around her, in spite of the consequences. It provokes intense political thought, whilst being very funny in places as well.
  • If You Find Me – Emily Murdoch. ‘A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. Suddenly taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.’ This book is beautifully written, and provides a critical narrative on our society, whilst reminding the reader to be grateful for what they have. It deals with several very sensitive issues, including childhood neglect and abuse, mental illness, and addiction, but does so very sensitively, and provides a lot of hope too, through the perspective of Carey. It is easy to relate to this girl – despite most readers living rather different lives from her, on the surface – as we recognise the outsider that is in ourselves, both highly sceptical, yet desperate to belong. A stunning debut.
  • A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly. ‘Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true.’ Exploring familial relationships, and friendships, as well as romantic love, to a backdrop of history and mystery, this book is incredible. The main character, Mattie, is intelligent and hard-working, but also rather cheeky, which makes her a very appealing character. She also adores of her teacher, who is pretty darn cool, and writes feminist poetry. A well-written story, which discusses the personal and universal together, A Gathering Light is a great read.
  • Chains – Laurie Halse Anderson. ‘As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom.’ If you don’t cry a little whilst reading this, I will be surprised. It appears to be historically accurate, meticulously researched, doing justice to those affected by slavery. It is moving, empowering, and as a reader you find yourself feeling fiercely protective of Isabel. It is impossible to put down until the very end, as quickly you become thoroughly attached.
  • Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matson. ‘Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell. But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. Where can it lead?’ This is released just this Summer, and is a great, easy read for the beach. It’s fun, hilarious in places, and immensely enjoyable. The main character Emily is wonderful, she is so normal, it’s fantastic. Checking things off her list is an adventure, and the way it’s narrated makes it all seem very liberating, like she’s learning a lot about herself. It’s inspiring in the way that it’s made me want to go out and do things that I often feel too scared to do. But it also reminds you not to assume things about people, stop making judgements – you don’t know anyone like you may assume. Nobody is perfect, life isn’t perfect, and it’s a reminder that these are true, whilst reminding you that it’s still beautiful. It stresses the importance of friendship, and makes you really, really, really want to hug your best friend.
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett. ‘Three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town.’ Poignant, at times hysterically funny, thought-provoking, inspiring and hopeful. You would not expect an affluent white woman to be able to write accurately or sensitively about issues in the lives of black women in 1960s America, but this book is a real surprise. Everyone will take a lot away from The Help, about class, race, friendship, and more.
  • The Colour Purple – Alice Walker. ‘Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate.’ This book requires a TRIGGER WARNING, as the description of abuse is very graphic. However, I do believe it is an incredible book. It is such a powerful narrative, and an extremely emotional story throughout. It is also a great example of how female empowerment benefits society as a whole. The characters are multi-dimensional, you learn about their thinking, their beliefs, their reasoning. You see all sides of these people, the good and the bad – nothing is sugar-coated. This is a rare kind of book, and a brilliant one.

Happy reading girls!

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