#StandUp4HumanRights

Today, Sunday 10 December, is Human Rights Day. On this day, I feel proud when I reflect on how far we have come over the last century, in terms of pursuing a better world, and fairer societies. And at the same time, I can’t help but be worried about some of the steps we seem to be taking backwards, with rights that we are seeing eroded almost on a daily basis, such as the right to seek asylum and receive international protection, the right to live your life free from any discrimination (be it of a racial, political, sexual or any other form), the right to live free from violence, the right to equal protection of the law, the right to be protected from arbitrary interference with our privacy, or attacks on our reputation.

We are also seeing how some rights are overlooked or trumped by a misunderstanding of how human rights work, such as claiming the right to free speech while violating the right of others to live free from discrimination or incitement to discrimination. Many people and policy makers do not understand that rights come with responsibilities: human rights are not a way of getting yourself ahead at the expense of others. They speak to our collective community, not to our individualism. What is universally recognised in the Human Rights regime are the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. Admittedly, it is a delicate balance, but I feel this notion is being seriously distorted for political and financial advantage.

 Other rights, such as the right to a nationality and identity, we often take for granted. A nationality allows us to belong to a community, to own a passport, to access public services, to marry, to open a bank account, to work, to not be arrested arbitrarily for being undocumented. Yet, thousands of children and adults face the challenges that come with being stateless, not recognised by any country, and very few politicians are willing and brave enough to make it possible for this to change. The Rohingya crisis is a classic example, a crisis rooted in such a lack of recognition that dangerously equals dehumanisation, now unfolding in front of our eyes but brewing for years. Only two decades ago we declared that ‘never again’ would we allow another Rwanda. Then again, we had already said “never again” to witnessing genocide and violence without doing everything possible to protect people’s human rights when we came up with Refugee Convention, the conventions against torture and genocide, the Geneva Conventions… And yet, here we are. Again.

And what about the erosion in the ability to claim our rights? This, I feel, constitutes one of the biggest barriers to the fulfilment of the aspirations of the drafters of the Declaration of Human Rights, and of those of us who believe in the international human rights regime, and also to the attainment of justice and peace. You may not be aware that on 29 November, we marked the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders. On that day we commemorate women who died while fighting for human rights. Like these women, millions of people are still today unable to claim their rights, they are people without a voice, people silenced. The Guardian newspaper has a special section dedicated to ‘the defenders’, people around the world committed to environmental protection, and who too often die in the process, their rights ignored. Journalists also lose their lives daily in places like Philippines, Mexico, The Maldives and, recently, Malta, for speaking the truth and exposing injustices. While in many other parts of the world their work and worth are undermined constantly – ignored, at best, and often ridiculed or discredited.

But there is always hope. The #metoo movement, Australia’s new equal marriage law, the generosity of many countries towards those crossing borders to escape violence, #blacklivesmatter, you and me working towards more love and kindness, striving for a world where we all live free from fear. All these are amazing examples of processes to claim our rights. We must find more ways to contribute to claiming our rights and the rights of others, and we should demand our leaders to aspire to be in a race to the top when it comes to the fulfilment of human rights, not a race to the bottom.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. … Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” –

Eleanor Roosevelt.

metoo

There is one kind of love that is harder, and more complicated, for a lot of people than all other kinds of love, and that is the love of self. Being able to rest in the deep feeling of worthiness and peace that comes from truly loving, not just accepting, you.

There are millions and millions of men living with deep self-doubt, and self hate, and that is a horrible and needs to be addressed, but today, on the “International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women” I will focus on this issue with women. The difference between men and women, in this context, is that the narrative of self-hate is a huge part of women’s open communication with each other, as well as with themselves. It is how you are supposed to be. Any woman reading this will know exactly what I’m talking about. Telling others, and yourself, that you are not good enough (“oh, that is so pretty, but I could NEVER wear that with this flubby tummy-fat!”, “oh, I’m sorry, I’m sooo stupid, this is just like me to do that”, “I wish I could pack such lunches for my kids, but I’m such a mess!”) is such a natural part of how we are that we usually don’t even think about it. But it does affect the way we think about ourselves. So why are we doing this? Why are we constantly putting ourselves down, in words and thoughts, why do we have such incredibly low regard for who and what we are, when we are these amazing miracles of life and love that most often go above and beyond every single day?

I am no expert in this field, so I will leave the question open. I will, though, take the leap and say that I believe the feeling of unworthiness that most women have, is important to the discussion of the sexual and other physical violence that women are victims of. On one end, previous experience of violence and assault will affect your self-esteem, and on the other end feelings of unworthiness might make you belittle harassment experiences that are actually illegal and morally appalling, thinking “it was probably my fault”, “I’m so sensitive, that was nothing”, and refrain from reporting sexual assault by thinking “nobody would trust me”, “I could never handle going through a trial” etc.

There are so many things that need to be changed, drastically, and there is a lot of discourse on the subject in the media, in homes and workplaces right now, thanks to the massive outpouring of stories through the #metoo campaign, but since love is the focus of this blog, I will speak up for that today. Since the start of this movement, a lot of women have realized that it wasn’t just them. It wasn’t just them being “stupid” or “sensitive”, or that thinking it being “unkind” to the perpetrators family to report them is a valid reason not to. But importantly, I also believe that a lot of women realized that their silence actually meant that the abuse could go on. That evil and powerful men could stay powerful, when they could have been brought down. So they are now speaking out, I think in huge part thinking about OTHERS. Being sisters and mothers and daughters and protecting each other by pointing out the danger, and that is absolutely beautiful, but I want to get further.

I want women to speak up out of love and respect of themselves, their own bodies, and I want them to be empowered enough to do it right away. I want us to teach girls about the massive lies that they are being fed through almost all cultural channels and contexts, and help them grow up knowing how infinitely worthy they are, how nobody, ever, is allowed to make them feel scared or uncomfortable, or worse. How their body is for NO ONE to judge or abuse, but only for them to use and enjoy and share with men or women who they feel safe with. And I want grown up women to learn this too.

Love every piece of your body, and honor it. There is nothing wrong with it, there is nothing wrong with you. It is the world you live in that is broken, but we are going to fix it. We won’t fix it by focusing our energy on loosing “those last five pounds” though, we fix it by loving every ounce of those five pounds. We fix it by showing every woman and girl around us that we’re standing tall and proud and powerful, and that we will not be shamed, we will not be silenced, we will smile, we will laugh, we will voice our very important opinions, we will fight for those who have no voice, and we will not sit still and look pretty and make every one else feel comfortable, at our own expense.

Truly love and honor yourself, and trust where that takes you. You might think that sounds scary, but we have nothing to lose, because THIS is our reality today, the reality of our sisters around the world. And this is a living nightmare:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/25/health/sexual-harassment-violence-abuse-global-levels/index.html

Happy Universal Children’s Day!

In preparing for this post, I was determined to keep it positive. At the end of the day, there is nothing more amazing than children. Children are born perfect, pure, unbiased, without prejudices and full of unconditional love. Oh to stay like that forever!

As they grow, they watch and copy our words, our actions, our responses. They become exposed to a larger world, and to all kinds of beautiful experiences as well as risks and dangers. They are influenced by what they hear, what they see. They start making sense of the world around them in their own way, and according to their developmental stage. Their childhood experiences even determine their health as adults. Children who are exposed to abuse and neglect grow up to suffer increased risk of depression and other mental and physical diseases. They also often grow to replicate the same behaviour in others, not knowing better and sometimes unable to break the cycle.

Yet, how often we forget how important children are to our own and humanity’s future, and the future of the planet. We take for granted that teachers at school will do all the hard work and we don’t support or appreciate those teachers enough. We don’t provide enough opportunities for working parents to give children enough quality time. We make it hard for single parents and those who live under the poverty line to make a living and allow their children to enjoy their childhoods. We often let their voices be drowned in our everyday routines and negative narratives about how to raise them. We create gender and race stereotypes from the moment children are born, with colours and toys, cartoons and advertisements, and create a false sense of security by making parents believe that money, toys, and material things are enough to raise the human beings of the future.

And youth, we forget about the youth! We fail to inspire them, to give them hope, to guide them, to mentor them. We spend countless hours in front of our computers, phones, iPads, on social media, and forget how to make time for children of all ages. And they need our time. Being a child is very hard sometimes.

I want to keep this post positive, I do. I don’t want to bring up the suffering that many children around the world experience, I am not even going to talk about their rights. But I would like to remind us all that all children want and need is that we love them, that we believe in them, and that we hear them. They need that, and they deserve nothing less than that. It does not take very much either: reading a book with them, a nice walk in the park, 5 minutes of unguided play, making a cake together, drawing, listening, a hug, being fully present when we are with them… We have the power and responsibility to ensure the best possible childhood for our own children and must do everything we can to do the same for every child we come in contact with, and even those we can’t connect with directly, for example by staying informed about children’s issues and supporting organisations that exist to protect and empower children. Never forget, there is no such thing as other people’s children. They are all our shared responsibility, and joy. Children have so much to say and so much to teach us. Let’s listen. The world can stop for one day. Let children take over the world.  ♥

People are awesome and I have proof.

This is a story of loss: loss of possessions, loss of land, loss of entire towns and tragically the loss of life. It is also a story of hope, love, kindness and the incredible strength of community.

On the night of 8 October the worst fires in Californian history began burning. A week later they’re still burning – over 200,000 acres of land have been decimated, tens of thousands of people evacuated from their homes, and thousands of properties have been destroyed. Heartbreakingly, at this point, over 40 deaths have been confirmed. It’s hard to fathom the loss and devastation. It’s also hard to fathom just how quickly nearby communities jumped into action to help in any way they could.

This story focuses on the amazing love, support and kindness displayed by people during this time. There are many, many examples: of friends and neighbors opening up their homes to take in evacuees, of the unwavering dedication of incredibly brave firefighters, some of whom lost their own homes but kept on fighting to protect other homes and other people. In fact, there are so many that there wouldn’t be space here to talk about them all. Instead I will tell you about my personal experience of this love, support and kindness.

On Tuesday 10 October, I noticed my friend, Michelle Laker from Life in the Bay, was collecting donations for fire victims. I thought I would put a call out on my Facebook page to try and help. On Wednesday 11th, I asked the principal of my son’s school, Nesbit Elementary, whether we could post on the school Facebook page to ask for donations – and if we could use the school as a drop off point for collections. She responded with a resounding ‘YES!’, and on Wednesday night she sent out a school-wide email that ended up getting circulated to other local schools too. On Thursday the donations started to arrive:

Thursday afternoon

I started to realize the car-load of donations I had expected may be turning into a little more than that. On Thursday evening I heard reports of people from the wider community dropping off donations. By the time I arrived at 8:30am on Friday the pile had grown to this:

Friday morning

Not only that, but there was already a mom from one of the other schools waiting to help us sort through donations. I had to leave to drop my youngest at pre-school and was gone around an hour, by the time I got back the pile of donations had been organized into categories by an incredible group of moms who had also arrived to help. These ladies worked some kind of magic and from then on as donations came they were quickly sorted into their appropriate places, ready for distribution.

organizing

And the donations kept on coming. As the neat piles grew and were organized by amazing volunteers, so did my concern about how I was going to get this all to the distribution centers. I had initially planned to get one or two carloads of things and to drive them to Michelle’s house so she could distribute them. This was way past that now. I was worried about what to do if we couldn’t get enough drivers!

I had been in touch with a lady in our area, Krysten, whose husband had a large pickup truck that they would be driving up to distribution centers. She said I should bring some things to her house. I warned her that we had a lot and her response was ‘bring it!’. We did. My friend Nichole and I packed our cars full and drove them over. Krysten wasn’t perturbed, she felt she needed to help out and was going to do whatever it took to get supplies to where they were needed, even if that meant doing numerous trips over the weekend. This is not a short trip; we’re talking between 3-4hrs each time. After unpacking our two carloads of donations, Krysten told us to bring more and we did. By the time we got back her husband had arrived and decided he’d clean out a very large trailer they have and they’d fill that up too. Krysten drove back to the school to collect more donations to deliver.

Even though we had taken so many things to her place, by the time we got back the spaces where they had been were filled up with more. There was a constant stream of people coming in to ask what was needed and how they could help. N95 masks were in short supply in the area and we had asked if anyone could get hold of those. A short while later someone delivered a large crate full of them. We had asked people to stick to the donations listed and this is what everyone did. Not only that but people added small personal touches to them, such as the person who donated a pack of high energy snacks for the firefighters and handwrote ‘Thank you’ on each one.

The rest of the day continued in this way, a whirlwind of donations, and volunteers giving their time, their skills, their strength and their love. I had put requests out for drivers on the school Facebook page in the morning, and amazing people stepped up to help, but the donations just kept on coming. So on Friday afternoon I posted a request for drivers on our neighborhood website, Nextdoor. Within an hour I had so many drivers that I had to start turning them away. We stopped taking donations at 2pm and by 4:30pm on Friday afternoon, this was what the school hall looked like –

empty hall

Every single donation had been picked up by volunteer drivers and they were either already on their way to the distribution centers or would be heading there on Saturday morning.

Overall, I estimate that between 12-15 truck loads of donations were received and dispatched within the space of two days. The way members of our community came together to help blew my mind. I spoke to and met so many wonderful people over those two days, most of whom I had never met before, and every single one of them just wanted to help. Every single one of them was so kind. Every single one of them wanted to spread some love and some light during this hard time.

In the beautiful, historic town of Sonoma there is a statue of the community’s founder in the main square, which has been draped with signs thanking the firefighters for everything they have done. One of the signs reads, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke”.

Right now, there are so many things happening around the world that can make it seem terrifying but this, this right here, is how we try to make it better. We come together to help each other wherever we can, we share what we have, we treat each other kindly and we love.

In the face of horror, choose love 💜

We, at Just Love, are devastated by the events in Las Vegas this past Sunday. We feel there is no room in the world, and in our hearts, for the kind of hatred and senseless violence that drives people to commit these acts.

We want everyone to remember to stay strong in the face of darkness, to not succumb to the kind of weakness that allows us to become desensitised to the suffering of others, nor to fear that which is different, or react other than with our hearts.

Our thoughts are with all that have been affected by these events in any way, and with those who have suffered at the hands of individuals that choose the path of violence, fear and division. We will not give in to hate, or apathy. We must stay strong and face these things with love. Just Love 💜

We need more glue.

I have just completed back-to-school shopping, which this year included getting glue sticks for my kids’ classrooms. First and second-graders go through kind of a lot of glue, and as I was unpacking a delivery box of about a million glue sticks, one of my sons came up, made big eyes and said “WHAT? How many glue sticks do we need???” to which I replied “Well, you know what, you can never have too much glue”. That’s probably not actually true in regards to physical glue, but there is, however, another kind that you can never have too much of.

At our wedding, the minister quoted U2’s Staring at the Sun, saying “There will be hard times ahead, but God’s glue, love, will help you stick together”. I thought that was beautiful. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, I’m sure you can agree that love is what keeps us together, in families, in communities, and as a world. And I am also pretty sure that you can also agree we need boxloads of it.

Today is world peace day, and to me peace, true peace, is love on a wider scale. It is safety, respect, equality, compassion, and freedom. The bad news is that these are all fragile things, which will inevitably get cracks, but the good news is that with enough glue, we can put them together again.

Another back-to-school activity for me is to help getting the art supplies for this year ready. Being in the art room, smelling the paint and looking at the master pieces the children will learn about, I realized that humanity actually has two kinds of glue: Love, and art. Most of us will never learn to love every single person on this planet, we will only truly love those in our immediate proximity, those whose stories we know. But that circle can get wider, through art. We might read an author, listen to a musician, a passionate speaker, view works of an artist, and over years of paying attention to a person whom we will never meet, we do learn to love them. Because they share their stories.

We learn of the stories of others in more ways, of course. Our compassion for victims of natural disasters, wars or persecution doesn’t come from cold, hard numbers, it comes from stories about individuals, or pictures of individuals. Any news team will try to interview survivors, bereaved families, first responders, people who can share their stories of what happened, because that’s how we connect. Story telling, sharing your truth, be it through talking, writing, painting, whatever expression you have, makes the world smaller, and glues us together.

So tell your story, and listen to the stories of others. In particular – find stories of people you don’t understand, people you fear, and try to see their humanity. The only way for leaders with malicious intent to stay in power is to keep us apart; to make us fear each other, to take away our glue sticks. But you can fight this. Be the one who keeps handing out new glue sticks! Keep loving, keep telling your story, keep listening to others. And if you have to – shout your words, listen harder, read more, love more.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with you.

Emily B.