Recent writing: Periods in Yarl’s Wood, and teenage feminist activism

I’ve been a little quiet on social media this month – largely because I’ve had my head down in various commercial and personal projects that I can’t post very much about. I spent a lot of November working on a ghostwriting project for a client who’s one of the most inspiring feminists I’ve ever met. She’s a woman with real strength, courage, and such a fiercely independent spirit, and it’s an honour to play a part in telling her harrowing story.

Meanwhile, my recent journalism work has followed some similarly feminist themes. In my first article for women’s health website The Femedic, I wrote about asylum seeking women’s experiences of having their period while detained in Yarl’s Wood. As I’ve written a million times before, detention is traumatic and unnecessary as it is. For already vulnerable women, painful periods, cheap sanitary towels, and a lack of suitable pain relief can add another layer of misery each month. Many thanks to my friends and sisters at Women for Refugee Women for their support in putting this article together.

25 November was the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. I remember as a young feminist (and still, often, as a slightly older feminist!) feeling utterly helpless in the face of such enormous global problems: domestic violence, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault, trafficking, and forced marriage. But I’ve also learned that little steps can mean a lot more than you might think. With that in mind, I wrote for Betty Collective about 16 ways that teenage feminists can get involved during the 16 days of activism – from signing petitions to fundraising, and attending Reclaim The Night marches.

This is the trauma of getting your period at Yarl’s Wood – for The Femedic:

“When you’re on your period, at the very least you want a clean environment, you want pads that are comfortable, and you want the freedom to eat what makes you feel better,” says Grace*, a 43-year-old refugee from Uganda.

Grace sought asylum in the UK after facing persecution and sexual violence in her own country because of her sexuality. She now has refugee status and the right to remain in this country, but in 2015 she was detained in the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre for seven months.

Described by the chief prisons inspector as “a place of national concern”, Yarl’s Wood is a Home Office detention centre run by private firm Serco. It houses up to 400 women, including refugees and asylum seekers, at any one time – ostensibly in order to deport them, but statistics show that three quarters of detainees, like Grace, are released back into the community to continue with their immigration cases.

Continue reading at The Femedic…

16 ways you can help end violence against women and girls – for Betty Collective:

Violence against women has never been more in the public eye, with what feels like a constant stream of allegations against everyone from Hollywood superstars to government ministers hitting the headlines. But, beyond high profile cases of sexual harassment and assault, violence against women is a much bigger, global issue, believed to affect around 1 in 3 women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

As a teenage feminist, it’s easy to feel totally helpless in the face of such massive problems – from female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, to rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. But remember that every big change starts with lots of tiny steps.

Each year from the 25th November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until 10 December (World Human Rights Day), UN Women organises 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Here are 16 ways you can get involved…

Continue reading at Betty…

Recent writing: Pay rises, travel visas, and women’s jobs in the Army

In August and September I worked on a project with Closer magazine’s online team, sponsored by the Army, exploring the experiences of four women with jobs in the forces. Opportunities to travel and the lack of a gender pay gap stood out as big career perks for all the women I spoke to, as well as an impressive range of sports and adventure training.

Sticking with the themes of jobs and travelling, I also wrote a couple of ‘how to’ pieces for The Debrief – one looking at how to get a visa for various popular travel destinations, and the other asking: ‘how the hell do you negotiate a payrise?’

Ask An Adult: How The Hell Do I Ask For A Payrise? – for The Debrief:

Talking about salaries is an absolute minefield – whether it’s sussing out if the guys in your office are earning more than you and your female colleagues, or trying to plan a holiday with friends who are all on totally different incomes. And when it comes to negotiating a pay rise, many of us feel completely clueless about the etiquette. Is there a right or wrong time to ask? How do you even start that conversation? And how the hell do you persuade your boss to say yes?

Young women in particular typically lack confidence when it comes to this kind of negotiation – and the odds may even be stacked against us. Research published last year found that while men and women are equally likely to ask for a pay rise, women are less likely to be successful than their male peers. So just what is making it so difficult for us to get what we’re worth at work?

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Visa – for The Debrief:

If you’re anything like me, the absolute best bit about travelling outside of Europe is collecting passport stamps from each new country you visit. Sadly though, the flip side of that is remembering to check entry requirements and sort out visas before you fly – and who hasn’t had that last minute, ‘shit, visa!’ panic three hours before leaving for the airport? To make sure you’re organised and prepared well in advance of your travels, here’s our guide to getting a visa for some of the most popular holiday destinations.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Being a woman in the Army – for Closer online (sponsored by the Army):

Being a woman in the Army: From joining the Reserves to travelling the world

Just finished school and don’t fancy uni? Well a job in the ARMY could be for you! Here’s why…

Being a woman in the Army: 10 years of adventure and opportunity

Being a woman in the Army: Raising a young family


Recent writing: the London floristry project helping refugee women

Bread and Roses: supporting refugee women

I’ve had lots of work published in September, including writing on sexual health, mental health, work, and lots more. But I wanted to share this article separately, as it’s one I’m especially proud of. After writing for The Guardian about my godson and his refugee mother back in July, I went on to write a feature for them about an incredible project, Bread and Roses, which I also discovered through my work with Women for Refugee Women (WRW).

Bread and Roses is a social enterprise that teaches refugee women floristry and employability skills, helping to boost their confidence and get them back into work. I’ve seen firsthand the difference it’s made to the lives of women from WRW’s network, so it was a real privilege to chat to them and some of their newly trained florists. There’s a snippet below, and you can read the article in full at The Guardian.

One of Bread and Roses' refugee florists

I’ve never had the chance to build a career. I was a student when my traffickers brought me here and then, as an asylum seeker, I wasn’t allowed to work,” explains 37-year-old Monica from Ghana. “Now I’ve got leave to remain, I’ve felt anxious about throwing myself straight into full-time employment,” she adds.

It’s a challenge facing many refugees in the UK who, regardless of their professional backgrounds, often find themselves up against language barriers, loss of confidence, CV gaps, and a lack of UK work experience.

But one all-female social enterprise is aiming to overcome all that, providing refugee women with the practical and emotional skills to blossom in the workplace. Hackney-based Bread and Roses offers a seven-week floristry programme, teaching trainees how to create everything from floral bouquets to Christmas wreaths.

It is inspired by the principle of Rose Schneiderman’s 1912 feminist speech of the same name, which argued that low-paid women need more than just practical necessities to survive, but also dignity, respect and the opportunity to flourish.

For women such as Monica, its benefits go far beyond the practical skills: “I loved working with the plants, particularly calming lavender and stimulating eucalyptus. But I also learned social skills like networking, working as a team and not being afraid to ask for help,” she says.

“I was already interested in floristry, but I’ve never been green-fingered so I didn’t think I’d have the skills. Building my knowledge, and being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, has made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right support network around you,” she adds.

Continue reading at The Guardian…

Recent writing: antenatal depression, childcare, and why you’re always hungry

In the last couple of weeks I’ve written my first two pieces for Grazia Daily. In the first, I explore the shame and stigma surrounding women’s experiences of antenatal depression during pregnancy. The second looks at the varying cost of childcare globally, and where best to live as a working mother.

Thank you to all the lovely mums who spoke to me about their experiences. Big thanks also to Tommy’s, PANDAs, and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance for their advice around perinatal mental health support. If you need support with antenatal or postnatal depression, do check out these brilliant organisations.

And, in my latest piece for The Debrief, I asked some experts why we can’t stop thinking about food.

Why We Need To Start Being Honest About Antenatal Depression – for Grazia Daily:

“From the day I found out I was pregnant, I felt like a failure because I didn’t have that excitement that everybody says you’ll have,” says 22-year-old Lauren. “All these negative emotions came over me – fear, panic, shock, and massive amounts of anxiety. It was horrendous.”

It wasn’t until after her 20-week scan that Lauren was diagnosed with antenatal depression (AND), a condition that affects around one in ten women during pregnancy.

A similar number of women are affected by postnatal depression (PND), which kicks in after the birth of your baby, but AND tends to be less well known about because of the shame around the condition.

Continue reading at Grazia Daily…

The Truth About How Much Childcare Costs Differ Around The World – for Grazia Daily:

It won’t come as a surprise to working mums that British childcare is amongst the most expensive in the world. A 2016 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that couples living in the UK spend, on average, a mind-blowing third of their income on childcare costs.

So how does it compare to the rest of the world? If you’re parenting as a couple, the UK tops the chart for childcare costs as a percentage of income – followed by New Zealand, Ireland, and the United States, where dual income families typically spend at least a quarter of their income on childcare.

Single parents in the USA typically spend more than half of their net income on childcare, making it the least affordable country for single parent families, followed by Ireland and Canada.

Continue reading at Grazia Daily…

Ask An Adult: Why Am I Always Hungry? – for The Debrief:

Always hungryWe’ve all been there: you’re sat at your desk, work is dragging on a bit, and your mind starts wandering towards that pack of chocolate digestives you spotted in the staff kitchen earlier, or the half a cereal bar that’s smooshed up in your bag.

I really hope at least some of you are nodding along in recognition of yourselves here, and that it’s not just me! But am I actually a ravenous, insatiable glutton, or is there something more complicated behind my constant desire for food? We asked some adults, why am I always hungry?

Continue reading at The Debrief…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Being ManKind: The crowdfunding campaign exploring modern masculinity

Masculinity is in crisis. As a feminist, and as a journalist covering mental health, it’s impossible not to notice. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems. They’re significantly more prone to substance abuse than women. They both commit and suffer from more violent crimes.

And, while men benefit from many privileges under patriarchy, they also suffer from limiting and sexist gender roles just like women do.

The more work I do in this area, the more convinced I am that men’s mental health is a feminist issue. And tackling it has to start with some frank and honest conversations about what masculinity really means for mankind today.

Being ManKind

I was thrilled, back in December, to meet the team behind Being ManKind – a collaborative, educational project, aimed at challenging stereotypes and getting men and boys talking about what masculinity really means in the modern world.

Being ManKind is the brainchild of Darshan, Priya and Jenny from social enterprise Super Being Labs. I knew I loved this organisation as soon as they explained that the child in their logo represents their company ethos: “be curious, be creative, and don’t be a dick”.

The initiative aims to use men’s own stories and experiences to challenge traditional stereotypes of masculinity and provide positive role models. It all started with their gorgeous coffee table book, Being ManKind Vol. 1, a collection of inspiring stories told by men from all walks of life – from a paratrooper living with the loss of his legs, to a comedian grappling with anorexia, and a foreword by boxer Anthony Joshua.

The book is a fascinating read, and beautifully put together with photos capturing the whole diversity of men and masculinity. According to the Being ManKind team, their aim with the book is to “offer an opportunity for boys to draw on a diversity of experiences, to decide for themselves what it means to be a man. The book wants to show that once you get past polarised gender expectations, you find that the only unbreakable code in humanity is kindness. The idea is that through the stories told, boys and men will be inspired to forge forward as kind and confident individuals, both for themselves and those around them, allowing everybody to succeed together.”

Gender education

For every copy of the book they sell, another copy is donated to a school or youth organisation – along with educational resources and lesson plans – in a bid to spark conversations amongst young people from across the gender spectrum. “Unfortunately, the world still defines people by their gender, rather than their humanity. These gender stereotypes create expectations that not only damage those who are burdened by them, but they also cause harm to the people around them too,” explains Being ManKind co-founder Darshan Sanghrajka.

“After all, you can be powerful but compassionate, strong but weak, competitive but giving, courageous but scared… the list goes on. Gender has nothing to do with it. We need to help the next generation understand their roles as individuals, and only then can they start to positively understand their relationships with those around them. Without this, we can’t ever have an equal and just society; fear and greed will rule, rather than kindness and unlimited potential. It’s why the team and I have embarked on this project – it’s important to a just world and now, more than ever before.”

Crowdfunding

With volume 1 already under their belts, Being ManKind this week launched a Kickstarter campaign to take the project to the next level. With a £75,000 target, and more than £8,500 raised on day one, their goal is to take the Being ManKind conversation to a bigger audience, by extending their work with schools, youth organisations and charities, creating an outreach programme, and continuing to tell more men’s stories through their digital platform and future book volumes.

Please do support them if you can – I’ve pledged £35 to secure my copy of volume 2!

Being ManKind – The Mission from Super Being Labs on Vimeo.

International Women’s Day 2017

Women, strong as hellHappy International Women’s Day!

Today is one of my favourite days of the year, because it provides a focal point for celebrating women’s fantastic achievements, and campaigning on all the areas where there’s still work to be done.

This time last year I joined my sisters from WRW in a vibrant and defiant IWD party outside the Home Office – to celebrate the courage of women who cross borders, and to demonstrate against the harmful policies that impact on their lives.

This year, for obvious reasons, I’m not able to spend the day with those sisters who endlessly inspire and encourage me with hope for the future. Instead, I’m holding a smaller, quieter celebration, from home – wearing my WSPU T-shirt, reading some of my favourite feminist writers, writing about feminism for one of my female clients, and reflecting on the challenges ahead for the international feminist movement.

But I also wanted to mark this IWD by sharing some of the articles on feminist issues that I’m most proud of having written over the last few years. Some are interviews with incredible campaigners and activists, while others address problems still facing women across the UK, and worldwide – from representation and healthcare provision, to violence and trauma.

My IWD top 10:

  1. Nimko Ali: A year as the face of FGM (Feminist Times, 2013)
  2. We need to talk about the UK media war on women (Open Democracy, 2014)
  3. Anne Scargill: “There’s no jobs. There’s nothing. In 1984 we knew this would happen” (Feminist Times, 2014)
  4. Why do women still need to ‘Reclaim The Night’ in the UK? (Telegraph, 2014)
  5. Uphill ride? Women’s road races are struggling for status – and survival (Independent, 2015)
  6. Study shows how distressing anti-abortion ‘vigils’ are for women (Broadly, 2015)
  7. “What have I got to lose?” Hunger strikes and protests at Yarl’s Wood detention centre (New Statesman, 2015)
  8. The reality of being a pregnant woman in Yarl’s Wood (The Pool, 2016)
  9. How the UK is failing women’s mental health needs (Refinery29 UK, 2016)
  10. ‘When we get it right, we save a life’: Domestic abuse teams in hospitals (Guardian, 2017)

(Images by Tyler @ roaring/softly)

‘When we get it right, we save a life’: domestic abuse teams in hospitals

Domestic violence support in hospitals

Domestic violence support in hospitals

My first published feature of 2017 looked at the role hospitals and other healthcare settings can play in tackling domestic violence. It was also my first freelance piece for The Guardian!

I’m very proud of this article, and it was a real privilege to work with domestic abuse charity SafeLives. They, and the organisations they work with, are doing such vital work in this area. Particular thanks to Sharon*, who so bravely and candidly shared her own experiences of violence and abuse.

The Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) is one of around 25 hospitals in the UK to have a team of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs). Now SafeLives, a charity dedicated to ending domestic violence, is calling for every hospital in the country to invest in on-site IDVAs to support more abuse survivors like Sharon.

More than half of domestic violence victims identified in hospital access A&E in the year before getting help, according to SafeLives’ A Cry for Health report. The charity believes health professionals are ideally placed to identify victims and intervene earlier.

“Domestic abuse is extremely difficult to talk about but a lot of research suggests health settings are a good place, in terms of not carrying stigma and feeling safe,” says chief executive Diana Barran. “We also know that clinical staff are unlikely to ask about domestic abuse if they aren’t confident there’s a someone they can refer to. This is simple; let’s have two or three specialist practitioners in every hospital.”

Many thanks also to IDVA Punita Bassi and nurse Mandie Burston, for sharing their experiences and expertise. They’re both such wonderful examples of how clinical staff and IDVAs can work together to protect patients experiencing violence. If only the system worked so well for all victims!

Read the article in full at The Guardian…

*Not her real name

 

If you need support

If you are based in the UK and experiencing domestic violence, or other forms of domestic abuse (including emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual abuse, or stalking), you don’t have to suffer alone. Please contact one of the following services for specialist advice and support.

For women:

Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid)

For men:

Freephone Men’s Advice Line, open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday: 0808 801 0327

For LGBT people:

Freephone Galop, open at the times below: 0800 999 5428

  • 10am-5pm Monday-Wednesday
  • 1pm-5pm Tuesday: trans-specific service
  • 10am-8pm Thursday
  • 1pm-5pm Friday
  • 12pm-4pm Sunday

Why Masterchef’s Elly is my feminist hero of 2016

Elly Wentworth

elly-wentworthElly Wentworth may have narrowly missed out on winning 2016’s MasterChef: The Professionals, but over the last six weeks she’s very quickly become my feminist hero of the year.

I have a real weakness for foodie TV, from the trashy like Come Dine With Me and Dinner Date, to the higher brow like MasterChef and Great British Menu. There’s something strangely satisfying about watching fantastic chefs whip up culinary delights while you’re eating yet another bowl of uninspired pasta and pesto.

I have to admit that MasterChef: The Professionals has never been a particular favourite. Unlike the amateur version, the MasterChef: The Professionals tends to be quite male-dominated and macho, with lots of big egos. This series was no exception. Out of the 48 contestants who started the series, Elly was one of just six women. In almost every heat, men outnumbered women 5 to 1. Except, of course, in the two heats where there wasn’t a single female contestant.

When Elly made it through to finals week, I was really pleased for her. Not only had she defied the very slim odds of a woman even getting to the final, but she’d done so with the most spectacular skill, confidence, and grace. At just 24 years old, Elly has consistently triumphed against older, more experienced male competitors, and she’s done it with the kind of unshakeable self-confidence that we virtually never see from 20-something women on television.

“The raviolis have come out absolutely gorgeous”

Throughout the series Elly’s talking up of her own food has been refreshing, inspiring, and an absolute joy to behold. It’s the kind of self-assuredness we expect from mediocre white men, yet Elly has 100% earned the right to feel proud of herself. She’s an amazing chef, cooking amazing food, and she damn well knows it and isn’t afraid to say so!

Despite not getting the win she deserved, Elly’s MasterChef journey represents a much bigger victory. It feels like a real game-changer to see a young woman celebrated, and owning her successes, on primetime TV for being absolutely brilliant at what she does. And not only that, but doing so without being classically beautiful. Elly is short and curvy. Her chin, like mine, has a tendency to break out in spots when she’s under pressure – and she, like me, isn’t bothered about slapping loads of makeup on to cover it up. She’s simply there to do what she loves and excels at: create incredible food.

And then, of course, there’s her wonderful relationship with judge Monica Galetti. I adore Monica anyway, so I’ve just loved watching the dynamic of sisterhood and support develop between them. Monica’s clearly been rooting for Elly for weeks now, with every “that’s my girl”, encouraging grin, and empty plate. “I love her attitude, the gusto, the fight she has when she’s cooking.” Me too, Monica. She’s going far, that Elly Wentworth…

For Pregnant Refugees, Every Day Is a Fight to Survive

My latest article for Broadly looks at the horrifying experiences of pregnant refugee women, many of whom have no access to antenatal healthcare.

pregnant-refugees-1480690270

‘There was only one thing on my mind: to get to the UK, to reach a safe place where my baby and I could have a good chance at life’

Eritrean refugee Helen* was two months pregnant when she left Calais refugee camp in France, hidden in the back of a lorry. But when she arrived in London, she immediately knew something was wrong. “I was in pain, and when I got up I saw that I was covered in blood.”

Having boarded the lorry with 29 other desperate migrants, Helen was the only stowaway not to be found when police searched the vehicle at the border. “I was hiding under the flooring so they couldn’t find me. It was a dangerous hiding place; unknowingly, the police were walking on top of me. I didn’t think about the pain I felt. All I thought about was getting to England,” she says.

On arrival though, the pain and panic kicked in. “The lorry driver shouted at me when he saw me, but I begged him to show me to the nearest police station,” she says. Later, in hospital, a doctor confirmed that Helen had miscarried her baby.

As difficult pregnancies go, the circumstances don’t get much more grim than preparing for a baby while fleeing your home in search of safety—and, for Helen, this pregnancy really was traumatic from beginning to end.

Continue reading at Broadly…