Why I chimed for change…

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One of the issues that's been weighing heavily on my heart this year has been that of female empowerment. As I develop into womanhood, I've begun to feel a growing sense of empathy and connection with women as a collective. I've begun to identify and unpack gender specific issues that many of us have experienced but never voiced. I've begun to realise how often women have stayed silent when we should have spoken out. Moreover, I've begun to identify with the struggle of women worldwide. I've grown increasingly outraged that I live in a world where women are 73% of the world's illiterate and 70% of the poorest. A world where women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence and sex trafficking. A world where over 25% of women have experienced some form of sexual abuse (despite only 15% of sexual crimes being reported). A world where women feel as though their voice doesn't matter. So I decided to blog about it. And tweet about it. I used any means of social media at my disposal to engage in the conversation of women's rights. As a result, one of my oldest friends sent me a message with details about a campaign called ‘Everyday Sexism'.

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The campaign was started by Laura Bates, a woman fed up with the everyday acts of sexism women experienced. The idea of the campaign was to use social media to give women a voice to speak out about the sexism they encountered in everyday life, yet bizarrely consider normal. Thousands of women posted directly on the website and shared their stories of everyday sexism. The stories ranged from outrage at lewd comments and suggestive remarks to harrowing stories of physical and sexual abuse. Instinctively, the stories of the other women resonated with me. I realised what I, along so many other women had considered ‘normal' for so long was actually wrong. I suddenly felt empowered and emboldened to speak out. I decided to share my story…

My story

It was a cold wintry day, and I had just got to the train station after a long day at school. As I lived quite a distance from my school, by the time I got to the station it was dark. I was in complete school uniform, and although I always looked older, it was apparent I was under 16. I walked home, with my headphones in my ears, completely unaware of the footsteps behind me. At the time, I lived in a block of flats. As was customary in our flats, I would usually hold the door open for the person behind me. When I took my ear phones out, I realised there was someone behind me, and I held the door open for them without looking back. As I walked up the stairs, I heard the footsteps quicken behind me. Assuming the person was in a rush, I slowed down and stepped to the side to allow them to go past. However, as I did so, I felt a strong pair of arms grasp me from behind, wrapping their arms around me and in the process immobilising mine. In that instance, contrary to what I'd ever imagined, I was unable to scream. As I desperately writhed to free myself, I again found myself silenced. Eventually, I managed to break from his tight grip and run hurriedly up the stairs. My heart beat loudly in my chest as I fumbled desperately in my pocket to find my keys. As I looked back, I saw his face. He smiled smugly, and calmly walked away. Eventually I unlocked the door and entered my house. I collapsed into my room, half in sheer terror, half in relief. I couldn't even begin to imagine what would've happened if I hadn't escaped. After I got myself together, I felt an overwhelming sense of confusion. I wondered whether I should call the police or tell someone. I wondered whether anyone would believe me. Whether I had somehow provoked him. Whether it was my fault.

In that moment, a male friend popped up on my MSN messenger. I explained to him what had happened and waited for his response. He replied: ‘Oh maybe you were just looking sexy'. That confirmed it. It was my fault. From that day forward I never told a soul. I walked around with deodorant in my inner sleeve and a key tucked in between my index and middle finger as makeshift self defence tools. I imagined using the deodorant as pepper spray and twisting the key into a potential attackers thigh as self defence. But I remained silent. Until Everyday Sexism…

As I read through the stories on the website, I suddenly realised I wasn't alone. My experience wasn't an isolated incident caused by my actions. It was not only common, it was a regular part of womens everyday lives. My story wasn't the worst, nor the most gruesome, but it seemed somewhat disturbing that only the most harrowing stories seem to evoke empathy towards women. It's not right that I, or any other woman should have suggestive/lewd comments shouted at us as we walk down the street. It's not acceptable that women have their personal space and privacy invaded on a regular basis. It's not acceptable that women should feel vulnerable simply because of our gender.

So I decided shared my story. Initially I wondered whether it would even matter. Whether sharing it would make any difference. Whether it was ‘important enough'. Whether it was just a drop into the ocean that would eventually disappear. However, what I failed to realise was that even the smallest raindrop produces a ripple. A ripple that spreads further than where it initially fell. And as more raindrops fall, the further the ripples spread. Similarly, the more women spoke out, the more the voices turned from silent whispers to a loud cacophony of voices that could no longer be ignored.

From one woman's conviction and passion to ensure women had their voices heard, thousands felt empowered to speak out. The campaign began to spread through social media, and eventually into mainstream media. I read how Laura Bates had begin to target not only everyday sexism in real life, but also on social media, such as a campaign to put a stop to sexist Facebook pages (#FBRape). I read how women were fed up of ‘putting up with it' and finally dedicated to putting a stop to it.

After sharing my story, I was contacted by Amos films who were making a short film based on the stories shared with the Everyday Sexism project. I was asked to appear in the film directed and produced by BAFTA award winning director Dan Reed. Furthermore, I learned that the film would be shown at the recently aired ‘Chime for Change' concert, an initiative founded by Gucci and fronted by powerful women in the media such as Beyonce, Frida Giannini and Salma Hayek. The aim of Chime for Change being to encourage people to sponsor projects focussed on empowering women by supporting global projects centred on improving womens health, social justice and education.

On the morning of filming I felt apprehensive. I started to feel nervous about sharing my story with strangers, and potentially hundreds of other people. However, the more I spoke to other women, the more I realised my story was bigger than me. It was about every other woman who has been through a similar experience, or much worse, yet felt silenced. For every woman who blamed herself for an act of attack or abuse which wasn't her fault. For every woman who thought her voice didn't count; that it was just a mere drop in the ocean.

So I told my story. A story I initially thought would spread no further than a few hundred people was broadcast at a concert to 50 000 concert attendees, and over 50 000 followers on Twitter. Suddenly my story became part of the bigger picture. The bigger picture that women should never have to suffer fear, violence or abuse merely on the basis of their gender. The ripples of my drop spread further than I could've expected. As more women add their drop to the ocean, the ripples will spread far and wide and encourage others to add theirs.

So that's what I want to do. I want to encourage other women to use their voices. Don't be silenced. Add your drop – no matter how small it seems. Let the ripples spread. Let your message be heard. Chime for change.

So without further ado, here's the video made for ‘Chime for Change':

Director: Dan Reed, Amos Films Concept: Laura Bates

To add to the everyday sexism project visit: www.everdaysexism.com or follow them at www.twitter.com/everydaysexism

To donate to the everyday sexism campaign go to:

http://www.catapult.org/project/fighting-everyday-sexism

To read more about Laura Bates and her amazing drive to see everyday sexism end:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2013/apr/16/everyday-sexism-project-shouting-back

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9862136/Twitter-sexism-project-hits-20000-entries.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-day-the-everyday-sexism-project-won–and-facebook-changed-its-image-8636661.html

For more information on Chime for Change check out the website and support a project:

http://www.chimeforchange.org/

 

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