UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Beach Bodies

Photo credit to the author

I live in a country where it’s bathing-suit season all year. As a woman “of a certain age,” as they say in France, that fact does not exactly fill me with joy.  My bathing suits tend to be utilitarian affairs, more designed for walking along the shore than glamorous sunbathing. Because I live in the United Arab Emirates, however, my friends in the States assume that there is some sort of dress code that mandates what I can wear. Ironically, I wish they were right, but they’re not. It would be great to blame a dress code for my demure swimsuit, rather than admit that it’s my love of bread (and occasional glass of wine) that led me to the one-piece life.

Sometimes I think it’s a betrayal of my feminist principles to be self-conscious about my middle-aged tummy (apparently when I turned fifty my metabolism pretty much decided to leave the building), but I can’t help it: my belly and a bikini aren’t going to be keeping company any time soon. Thinking about my own body makes me wonder how mothers of daughters negotiate the potential land-mines around issues of body image. I have two adolescent boys, and while I know they wrestle with questions about their physical appearance, it all seems less fraught for boys than for girls (ah, patriarchy: the gift that keeps on giving).

Photo credit to the author

I see teenage girls on the Abu Dhabi beaches in the tiniest of bikinis and wonder what I would say to my daughter, if I had one: I’d want to encourage her to wear whatever the hell she wants, on the one hand; and on the other, I’d worry about having her be so exposed, both literally and figuratively. I once joked to a friend of mine whose daughter is sixteen that perhaps all girls should wear “burkinis” and not just those who want to maintain hijab while at the beach.

At the beaches in Abu Dhabi, there are burkinis and bikinis and women wading in the water with their black abayas billowing out in the waves. Men in salwar khameez splash each other, while Russian men in tiny speedos do laps across the beach front.

Pink-skinned Brits crisp themselves in the sun (mad dogs and Englishmen, after all), and children of all sorts laugh and play in the waves. My teen-age sons see the beach as a place to play soccer, paddle-board, and hang out with their friends (preferably as far away from me as possible). I see the beach as a cosmopolitan space that allows for, and respects, individual differences—this person covered up, this person barely dressed—even as we’re all there enjoying ourselves.

When I told my kids about my beach-as-cosmopolitan metaphor, they scoffed. “It’s just a beach,” they said. But I wonder. In a world that is slipping faster and faster towards intolerance, nativism, and fundamentalism, I’m happy to grab at any indication that people from different worlds can exist happily in the same place.

What the beach also provides, much to the shared chagrin of my sons, is an opportunity to talk about (ssshh!) girls. Or rather, desire. And bodies, and respect. We talk (well, okay, I do most of the talking) about what it means to find someone attractive, and about how they feel about themselves in this public and uncovered space; I try not to laugh when the thirteen-year old mocks the sixteen-year old’s subtle bicep flexing when a cute girl walks by. I remind them that it’s okay to feel insecure about how they look (there was much scoffing at this point, and then some quiet questions). We also talk about the importance of looking past what someone is (or is not) wearing—and after one of those conversations, my younger son said, exasperated, “we’ve lived here for six years. Robes or no robes, covered or uncovered, I don’t really care. Can we get ice-cream?”

Ice creams were indeed purchased, although I didn’t have one. Maybe with enough “no” on ice cream, a bikini won’t be out of the question by August.

How do you talk with your tweens and teens about their bodies, and all the related issues? And how can we make sure that our own issues with our bodies don’t inflect how our children think about theirs?

This is an original post written by Mannahattamamma for World Moms Network.

Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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ONTARIO, CANADA: Raising Men Who Respect Women

ONTARIO, CANADA: Raising Men Who Respect Women

4372040121_d4b16e6a9a_zIt’s not often that I get riled up over things that happen in the news, especially in Canada. Yes, we have some outrageous things happening here, but for the most part, Canadian society is reasonably civilized.

However, a story that’s currently unfolding has me feeling a little sick. It is the story of Jian Ghomeshi, a popular radio show host who has just been fired amid a storm of allegations. (more…)

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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INDIA: #DayOfTheGirl Celebrating Girlhood With Murals In School

INDIA: #DayOfTheGirl Celebrating Girlhood With Murals In School

In celebration of International Day of the Girl, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, interviewed the heads of a very special school in India. What she learned and felt was nothing short of amazing…

I was ushered in, inside the Vice-Principal’s room when I expressed my desire to interview both, the VP and the Head-Mistress. It was a completely relaxed chat, and I was so surprised about the open-door policy embraced by this school for all its teachers and students. All my prepared interview questions flew out of my head as they talked about the school, the students and their passion for teaching.

Mrs. Bhavani Baskar, The Vice-Principal (left) and Mrs. Jayashree Subramanian, Head-Mistress (right) of the PSBB Millennium School

Mrs. Bhavani Baskar, The Vice-Principal (left) and Mrs. Jayashree Subramanian, Head-Mistress (right) of the PSBB Millennium School

During the chat, I observed so many students and teachers, and other staff members of the school, knocking and walking in with something or the other which needed either the Vice Principal’s or Head mistress’ intervention. No, you don’t need any appointment to go and say ‘Hello’ to them. None of the students did.

And as we proceeded to chat, I became more surprised and awed at the way they addressed students on a first name basis, from various grades who had popped in for a chat. Who could remember so many names? They did!

It has been a great pleasure to chat with Mrs. Bhavani Baskar, The Vice Principal and Mrs. Jayashree Subramanian, the head Mistress of PSBB Millennium School in Chennai, India. They spoke about their teaching journey, their vision for girls and boys in the school and the murals. It was the murals which sparked my curiosity and led me into their doorway. I included picture of them throughout the interview below, and I hope you find them as beautiful, as I did! Now on to the interview…

What inspired the murals? Who did them?

Initially, we got a palm imprint from all the girls of the school to say, “I am proud of being a girl.” The boys of the school wanted to join, too, to say, “We respect you.” This was done to celebrate the “Day of the Girl Child.”

These murals were an extension of the same theme.

The senior students were encouraged to paint the walls sharing their thoughts on being a girl, and the boys also joined, to express how they felt about their girl-classmates.  The result was the lovely messages that came across on the walls.

Mother Earth Needs Her Daughters

Mother Earth Needs Her Daughters

What was the effect of the murals?

They are receiving a lot of attention. The occurrences of boys teasing girls has reduced considerably. Bullying is also greatly reduced. Respect between the genders has increased. The general attitude has improved.

These murals are painted at the backdrop of the playground, and all the children at some point in time look at them at least once a day. And whether they want to or not, they have to acknowledge their presence consciously or subconsciously. Children right from grade 1 to 12 share the playground and so they would look at them. They would talk about them. And it would create an impact as to how girls are viewed.

The murals affect the thought process of both the boys and girls as they grow up. Boys would respect girls and girls would grow up to be secure, and confident in this society.

Girls Make The World Bright, But Struggle To See The Light

Girls Make The World Bright, But Struggle To See The Light

What is the % of boys and girls in the school?

Boys beat girls by being 54% and girls are 46%. But this is still a great ratio for the state where female infanticide is rampant in the rural areas.

Let Me See The World

Let Me See The World

Can you comment about the performance of the girls and boys in the school?

Girls always out-beat boys! They are more sincere, they are meticulous in their planning and definitely more hardworking.

Do Not Let My Life End

Do Not Let My Life End

They also spoke about their respective personal teaching career and their journey in the school. Mrs. Bhavani Baskar, the Vice Principal joined as a Mathematics teacher and now in addition to her duties as a Vice Principal, she continues teaching Mathematics for Grade 12. She is also the HOD for the Math department. She has more than 20 years of teaching experience in mathematics, and she is passionate about it.

Girls Are Great, Nurture Their Fate

Girls Are Great, Nurture Their Fate

Mrs. Jayashree Subramanian, the Head Mistress is also the HOD of the Social Science department. She also manages dual responsibilities and says she would never trade the joy she finds in teaching for anything. When I asked about her retirement, she says, she is a grandmother, too, and would love to go and spend time with her grandchild. But she feels strongly attached to the school, the children, and even to the principal.

A Girl Child Today, A Mother One Day

A Girl Child Today, A Mother One Day

The Principal of the PSBB Millennium School, Mrs. Sita Uma Maheswaran also had a few words for World Moms Blog in spite of her very busy schedule. The below conversation is from the Principal.

Do you feel like there is a true cultural shift taking place to recognize the importance of the girl child?

On one hand, we Indians, have so many woman deities  being worshipped as God.  On the other hand, we still have women and young girls being gang raped.
There is a lot of talk happening about justice and equality but it us yet to reach the rural level. Urban girls are more enthused, and they do pride in their being a woman and appreciating girls. But it is a known fact that there are certain cities where women fear to step out.
Girls Are Great, learn To Appreciate Them

Girls Are Great, learn To Appreciate Them

What is the main factor driving this force?

Attitude among men is the main factor, irrespective of whether they are educated or not. The way they have been brought up with values in life, the way they have seen their mother or sister being treated – this can have a great effect!
I Am A Girl, Not A Choice

I Am A Girl, Not A Choice

How do you think these murals are affecting the thought process of girls and boys in the school?

There is respect which is breeding unknowingly for the girls, from the side of the boys.  They realize that girls are to be respected and  appreciated.
Give Girls The Wings To Fly

Give Girls The Wings To Fly

What was your journey like to become the principal of such a prestigious school?

I began as a Teacher Trainee in PSBB Senior Secondary School in 1986.  It has been a roller coaster ride since then. There have been many a thrilling moments and a lot of learning. It is but natural when you get to work under some one like Dr Mrs Y G Parthasarathy, The Dean and Director of the school. Becoming Principal was a lot of responsibility. The work is more challenging. My perspectives have changed, too, because of the broader outlook. I work with more people now, and the goals that I set for myself are different, too.
Girl Child - The Greatest Gift To Mankind

Girl Child – The Greatest Gift To Mankind

What is your one wish for girls in your school and all over the world?

Mrs. Jayashree Subramanian, the Head-Mistress said, ” I want girls in my school and all over the world to have self-respect, self-esteem and know that they are powerful. I want to teach the girls in my school to face the challenging world with confidence and courage and know that they can be whatever they aspire you to.”

K(no)w Mother, K(no)w Daughter, K(no)w Life

K(no)w Mother, K(no)w Daughter, K(no)w Life

Mrs. Bhavani Baskar, The Vice Principal said, “I want to teach my girls courage, valor and self-esteem. The great South Indian poet Bharathi said, “It is a great blessing to be born as a human, and even greater honor and privilege to be born as a woman.” I want my girls to realize that. I want my girls to be mothers, sisters, daughters and to be an embodiment of love for this entire race.”

There were a few other teachers too who shared their wish for girls everywhere.

Girls Education Can Change The World

Girls Education Can Change The World

Mrs. Mukhtar Tahsin Fathima, third grade teacher

Mrs. Mukhtar Tahsin Fathima, 3 – grade teacher

Mrs. Mukhtar Tahsin Fathima, the third grade teacher said, “I want all girls to have awareness about sexual education. I want them to know and be able to protect themselves under any untoward circumstances. I want little children, both, boys and girls, to be given adequate sexual education, and the ability to take care of themselves and seek help when they need it. They should also let down their reservations, shyness and taboo and come out and speak and discuss and be aware of things.”

Mrs. Deepa Seshadri, English Teacher

Mrs. Deepa Seshadri, English Teacher

Mrs. Deepa Seshadri, the English teacher said, “I want my girls to be able to wear and talk what they feel like. They should have the freedom to be natural and happy. They should not have to live in a world where any spontaneous or innocent act is misconstrued in a wrong way. My girls as well as boy students should be able to live in a world which is liberated from prejudice of gender-related actions.”

Mrs. Banumathi, Kindergarten Teacher

Mrs. Banu, Kindergarten Teacher

Mrs. Banu the Kindergarten teacher said, “I want equality for all my students. When gender equality is ensured, everything else follows. Education of girl-child, empowerment of women, better living conditions for girls and women and many such issues are resolved.

Girls have a say in everything happening with them. They are independent, and they get to decide what they want to do with their lives. I have brought up my daughter, instilling that she is equal or better than just about any of her counterparts. Every mother and teacher need to do the same with their children. “

The Principal of the school, Mrs. Sita Umamaheswaran said, “I want my girls to know they are no less than any boy or man. To dream big, and set goals that they can work toward. Enjoy womanhood and be in a world that respects women and safeguards them.”

The students of this school have expressed their wish for girls across the world, through these hand-painted, beautiful and striking murals.

What is your wish for the Girl-Child across the world?

This is an original post from our World Mom and Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan on the occasion of the “#DayOfTheGirl Child.”

Her contributions to the World Moms Blog can be found here. She also rambles at The Alchemist’s Blog.

Photo credit for the murals, to the PSBB Millennium School.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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WORLD TOUR: NETHERLANDS: Gender Equality and Gender Neutrality

WORLD TOUR: NETHERLANDS: Gender Equality and Gender Neutrality

gender equalityMy neighbours in the Netherlands just had a baby and have proudly decorated their window with pink balloons and a garland saying: ”Hooray, a girl!”

This would probably be shocking to a new category of Swedish parents, who refuse to reveal the sex of their baby to family and friends as well as to daycare staff. The baby is given a gender-neutral name, and will be dressed in anything but pink and light-blue.

Why? The parents don’t want their child to be subjected to society’s division of human beings into male and female, claiming that the stereotypes linked to it limit the child’s freedom.

While this remains rather rare, there is a rapidly increasing number of preschools in Sweden where gender equality is the main ideological and educational basis.

In these schools, the staff strives to treat girls and boys equally in all respects. They don’t hide the fact that both sexes exist, but don’t make a point of it and won’t encourage the children to play and behave in a way that is typical for their sex. They won’t call them girls and boys, but refer to them as ”friends” or ”children”.

Conveniently enough, a new pronoun is making its way into the Swedish language: ”hen”, meaning both ”he” and ”she” (”han” and ”hon” in Swedish). When the practice of using ”he” for both sexes in law texts was changed to the more cumbersome ”he or she”, texts became difficult to read and people started looking for other solutions.

The idea of ”hen” comes from the Finnish language (although Finnish is completely different from Swedish; its closest relative among European languages is Hungarian), which uses the pronoun ”hän” for both sexes. Apart from being used in texts to increase readability, the Swedish pronoun ”hen” is now used by advocates of gender neutrality.

The new pronoun and gender-neutral preschools are hot topics in Sweden right now. An increasing number of people like and make use of them, but a big part of the population is very critical towards them.

Sweden is one of the leading countries when it comes to gender equality. Thanks to the important work that has been done in this regard, women and men now basically have the same opportunities in all areas of life.

When gender equality turns into gender neutrality, however, are we still going in the right direction? Isn’t there a risk that gender-neutral treatment introduces another type of prejudice? When girls behave in a traditionally girly way, and boys behave in a traditionally boyish manner, will this be happily accepted or will they feel that their behaviour is wrong? Will there be a new ideal of tough girls and soft boys, as some critics fear?

How will children develop when their parents actively try to conceal what sex they are? Will they think that it’s bad to be a boy or a girl? Will they revolt against their upbringing and shower their own daughters with princess stuff, and their sons with cars and toy guns? Or will these children simply be freer and more unprejudiced than those who grow up in more traditional families, and contribute to a positive change in society?

Time will show.

What are you thoughts on this modern, Swedish approach to gender equality?

Kristina was born in Hamburg, Germany, but moved to Sweden at the age of 8 (her mother is German, her father Swedish). She studied French and linguistics and works as a translator. At the moment she lives in the Netherlands with her French husband and their two daughters, aged 17 months and 4 years. Kristina is interested in psychology and right now particularly focuses on child and family psychology. Working three days a week and being a full-time mom the remaining days, she doesn’t find as much time to read, write and practice yoga and music as she would like, but appreciates her early mornings in trains. There is nothing like contemplating an awakening landscape from a train with a cup of hot chocolate. 

The image used in this post is credited to Jonathan Stonehouse. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

World Moms Blog

World Moms Blog is an award winning website which writes from over 30 countries on the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Over 70 international contributors share their stories from around the globe, bonded by the common thread of motherhood and wanting a better world for their children. World Moms Blog was listed by Forbes Woman as one of the "Best 100 Websites for Women 2012 & 2013" and also called a "must read" by the NY Times Motherlode in 2013. Our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, was awarded the BlogHer International Activist Award in 2013.

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MOROCCO: Keeping It All Under Wraps

MOROCCO: Keeping It All Under Wraps

jordanRecently, my boobs took a trip to Jordan.  At least it seemed at the time that the rest of me was just along for the ride.  Never had my cleavage gotten so much attention; never had it occupied my thoughts so completely.

 Having lived in Morocco for almost a year, I thought I knew how to strike the proper balance….somewhere between my usual, US appropriate signature style and a more modest décolletage that I felt was an appropriate concession to my host country’s social norms.

This balance was clearly off-kilter for Jordan.  My ensembles were getting more attention from the male Jordanian population than a Britney Spears get up.  Given that I have been a little sensitive about my dwindling cup size since giving up nursing my son, I was momentarily flattered….before being sincerely uncomfortable and confused.

I knew in theory that one country in the Middle East or North Africa would not necessarily adhere to the same standards of dress for women as the next, just as various areas or social classes within Morocco dressed worlds apart.   (more…)

Natalia Rankine-Galloway (Morocco)

Natalia was born a stone's throw from the Queen's racetrack in Ascot, UK and has been trying to get a ticket to the races and a fabulous hat to go with it ever since. She was born to a Peruvian mother and an Irish father who kept her on her toes, moving her to Spain, Ireland and back to the UK before settling her in New York for the length of middle and high school. She is still uncertain of what she did to deserve that. She fled to Boston for college and then Washington, D.C. to marry her wonderful husband, who she met in her freshman year at college. As a military man, he was able to keep her in the migratory lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. Within 5 months of marriage, they were off to Japan where they stayed for a wonderful 2 and one half years before coming home to roost. Baby Xavier was born in New York in 2011 and has not slept since. A joy and an inspiration, it was Xavier who moved Natalia to entrepreneurship and the launch of CultureBaby. She has loved forging her own path and is excited for the next step for her family and CultureBaby. Natalia believes in the potential for peace that all children carry within them and the importance of raising them as global citizens. She loves language, history, art and culture as well as Vietnamese Pho, Argentinian Malbec, English winters, Spanish summers and Japanese department stores...and she still hopes one day to catch the number 9 race with Queen Liz. You can find her personal blog, The Culture Mum Chronicles.

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JAPAN:  Protecting Children from Adult Images

JAPAN: Protecting Children from Adult Images

porn protecting children

Japan and porn. (Sigh.)

While the “hardcore” stuff is supposedly illegal, and censors wield a mighty airbrush (Images of pubic hair are illegal), soft porn permeates everyday society. In every convenience store, in every bookstore, and in places you cannot avoid (including on the train,) there are images of girls in suggestive poses, scantily clad. (And that’s not to mention the questionable manga comics that some men read in public without shame.)

It’s very different from the world I grew up in, where that kind of stuff was saved for cable TV, R-rated movies, magazines hidden under mattresses.

I find myself having to have conversations with my children that neither they nor I are ready for.

Part of the problem is that I’m not sure how I feel about it.

The “junior idols” here, preteen girls who pose in T-backed underwear? I find that disgusting and legally questionable. But the other stuff? The women who are of legal age and choose to use their sexuality to make a living? It seems like a cop-out, an affront to the rest of us who make our way in the world with our clothes on. (more…)

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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