Having worked and volunteered in the third sector for several years, I have recently returned from leading a volunteer project in India. I enjoy seeing different cultures and meeting new people and have a keen interest in photography. This blog will try to bring these together, along with some personal thoughts on international development and other related issues.
View all posts by Sophie Wainwright →
Time to reignite this site, I think. Why haven’t I written anything in so long? In part, because I’ve just been busy – the perpetual excuse – but also because it’s one of those things that always gets put off. Left to do at the weekend, or next month, or when work calms down.
Perhaps one of the reasons it’s an easy thing to put off is worry, or fear of failure. What if I write the wrong thing? What if no one is interested? What if my writing isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be?
I suppose fear of failure – or fear of not being good enough – is one of the major things holding back a significant proportion of people. Impostor syndrome – the feeling that “everyone else” is doing things “properly” (like a real grown up) and you’re a fraud – is oft-felt, but perhaps not talked about enough.
I, for one, can’t be doing with it any more. Maybe this post won’t be “good enough” – what does that even mean? – and yes maybe it will just be a 5 minute splurge of what’s going on in my head – but who cares. I’m going to post it anyway. Maybe action is the only way to overcome these feelings. It doesn’t matter if it’s “not very good”. Just do something. Do one little thing. Then maybe it’ll lead to more little things.
This follow up to “Shame” by Jasvinder Sanghera is in some ways an easy read – if you don’t know much about forced marriage, you’ll probably speed through the book, horrified by the many stories of the women Sanghera has met. Stories of rape, murder, incarceration, mutilation – usually at the hands of close family and in the name of “izzat” or “honour” – make you wonder about the state of human society. But there is a glimmer of hope, in the form of those working together to combat these terrible crimes in the UK. Karma Nirvana was founded by Sanghera in 1993 following the death of her sister, who saw suicide by means of setting herself on fire to be the only way out of her marriage. The charity has since expanded, supporting not only women but men and couples in need of help.
I was given “Daughters of Shame” by a friend. I’ve not read the first book, and this wouldn’t be the kind of book I would have picked out myself. Although I was aware of some of the issues surrounding forced marriages, reading this book has made me more aware of the scale of the problem in the UK. It’s easy to think “that kind of thing doesn’t happen any more”, or “that wouldn’t happen in my town” – but it does.
Figures out today show that the Government’s dedicated Forced Marriage Unit are handling around 120 cases per month, although estimates suggest the actual instance of forced marriage could be around five times that. Figures are all very well, but it’s hard to get your head around them, and they are easy to ignore. According to Peter Singer in “The Life You Can Save“, people are more likely to give money to charity if an advertising campaign highlights one individual who the money can help. This is the case with this book – the stories create the impact. Yes, there’s information about Karma Nirvana, and the action that police forces and the government are taking – but the stories are what stick with you.
The book gives a good introduction to forced marriages, the issues surrounding them and the impact they can have, though at times the sheer number of women’s stories in the book can get confusing, as so many stories are interwoven throughout the book. The author’s narrative voice can become a bit overbearing, and at times slightly irritatingly boastful – though you have to respect all the work she and her colleagues have done in the face of opposition and, occasionally, threats of danger.
Reading the stories of “Daughters of Shame” can at times make the situation with forced marriages in the UK seems deep-rooted and hopeless. There is hope though – the beginnings of change are highlighted, such as the Choice Line for those who need help, and the training and support which Karma Nirvana can offer. Training and awareness within the system are key to ensuring that cases of forced marriage are identified and acted on by those who come into contact with the victims – social services, police, schools.
As well as awareness, political change is important in this field. Campaigning by Karma Nirvana was mentioned in the book, and things have progressed since 2009 – as highlighted by today’s announcement. I always think when reading books based on issues – whatever the issue – the author misses a trick by not ending with a “call to action” – even if just a page or two on what readers could do. It might be cheesy, but it might ensure the book has more impact. Contact details for relevant organisations are included though, and if you have a snoop around the Karma Nirvana website there’s a section on things you can do to help. You can write to your MP, or sign their petition. Mostly though, it’s about raising awareness. Hopefully this post will go a small way towards that. Please share.
Women’s rights. Feminism. Sex trafficking. I know a bit about trafficking, but didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up to training about “Women’s Rights and the Media” with the Central American Women’s Network (CAWN) – but thought I’d give it a bash.
The aim was to get more of an in-depth look at different media and their practical use by different women and groups – for example, a session with a woman from Nicaragua who set up a radio channel for local women, championing their rights and providing them with help and information, as well as naming and shaming abusive husbands.
Other workshops were delivered by Lindsey Collen, a writer from Mauritius, who encouraged us to draw out our own voices in our writing. I’ve not really done creative writing before, but according to her my story (written from the point of view of a cactus…maybe you had to be there…) was “spellbinding” – and others who attended the training were also boosted in their confidence of using different media, which I think was one of the most positive outcomes of the week.
In the programme one of the objectives was to collectively brainstorm and make plans, but sadly after all the workshops and other sessions we’d run out of time – which was a shame, and hopefully something that CAWN might be able to address in future training sessions. However, we all made some useful contacts and certainly learnt from each other. It seems that there’s so much negativity in the world today – in the news and media in general – that it was such an uplifting experience to be surrounded by strong, positive and active women. I hope to do interviews with some of them over the next couple of months as I was inspired to hear about the different projects that these women are involved in – and hope you will be too.
So…I’m home! As you may have noticed from my previous post, things weren’t exactly going swimmingly with the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme with Restless Development.
The team leader from the other group had decided to call it a day and left, and I and one of the junior volunteers in my team decided to do the same. I’d been torn for a while about what to do – I kept thinking “I’ll just stay a while longer, things might pick up…” – but there’s only so much waiting, trying and hoping you can do.
We thought that once we’d made the decision and informed the appropriate staff members, it’d all be smooth sailing from there – how hard is it to change a flight? – but we should have probably known better by this point…
We never heard from the Indian Programme Manager again (perhaps indicating his level of investment in the “project”), and were pushed from pillar to post when trying to sort out our journey home. Eventually it seemed that someone, somewhere was looking into changing our flights (I think we’d been waiting for nearly a week at this point) – but it was Friday afternoon and they had their weekend to get to! Never mind the fact that we were sitting there going stir crazy, having been there for the best part of 6 weeks with nothing productive to do – they were going to clock off and try and get back to us on Monday. They had previously told us that what would be most convenient for them would be if we were to “sit tight” for another two weeks, which we resolutely refused to do – the crux of the issue was that there was nothing to do, we were wasting our lives there. Asking us to waste two more weeks was a bit much.
When we were told to hang about until Monday, and there was still no sniff of a flight being booked, I decided it was time to call in the big guns and ring my mother. Off she tootled onto the internet and found us a flight for the next day – not for two weeks time, as we’d been told was the next available flight – and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so relieved in my life.
Restless Development said that as we’d not booked the flight through STA travel, they wouldn’t be able to pay for our flight home, but could make a part contribution to the cost of it. I’d given up my job, then 6 weeks of my life, a lot of my patience and hundreds of pounds, but it was finally nearly over.
I rang the Assistant Programme Coordinator to ask her to book us a taxi for the next day (seeing as we couldn’t speak Oriya), as instructed by one of the UK members of staff – she then refused to do so, telling us we weren’t leaving as she didn’t know anything about it. I told her our flights were booked – and then we had a rather ridiculous few phone calls of pantomime-style “Ohhhh no they aren’t”…”Ohhhh yes they are”. Anyway, to cut a very long story very short – we got the heck out of there. It took us over 2 days and 3 flights to get home, but we were home!
Since returning I’ve found out that the rest of the ICS volunteers have left India – whether of their own volition or being sent back, I don’t yet know.
This series of posts (1, 2, 3) has given a bit of an overview of the ICS experience – when I’ve recovered a bit (no, seriously…!) I’ll get to work on some posts about India, development, aid and other related topics – so if you’re interested please stay tuned!