Archive of Why We Are Here Stories

Why ‘Can’t Stop the Serenity’?

Last May Vancouver Organizer Samatwitch wrote about why Vancouver holds CSTS events each year. Thanks to her for giving us permission to reprint this from their website.

Why do we do this? Why do organisers spend so much time and money for each event? Why do people volunteer, paying for their own tickets to do so? Why do Browncoats - and others - keep coming out to CSTS events?

Partly of course, because the events are fun. Each city is different and has ideas and plans that work for them. A lot of people come out to see Serenity on the big screen or to sing along to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Some people come to spend an afternoon or day with their friends at a fun event - or to bid on an auction item they can't find anywhere else, especially handmade items. All those are legitimate reasons, of course, but I think a lot of people come because the events enable them to make a contribution to better the lives of women and girls globally and locally.

Last year I wrote again about D'ua Khalil Aswad and how it inspired many of us to continue to work hard for Equality Now. This year I want to talk about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for having the desire to get an education - something we in the west take for granted. She was targetted because, at 15, Malala was already known around the world for her blog on education and the state of women's rights in Pakistan. Here is a video from the New York Times, recorded with Malala and her father when she was only 11. Even then she was determined to continue her education. Now she is doing that, albeit in Birmingham, England, where she was taken for her surgery and safety.

I also want to talk about the heinous crimes committed against women and girls as young as five in India. There have been numerous accounts lately of girls being kidnapped and raped. Some have died as a result; some have committed suicide. These things don't just happen in India or Pakistan or Iran or Ethiopia or Egypt, of course, as we saw this week with the rescue of three young women who had been held captive for a decade in a house in Ohio. But when it happens in the United States or Canada or England, our laws are (usually) strong enough to punish the perpetrators - and deter a lot of people from committing the crime in the first place.

This is where Equality Now comes in. They work with groups in various countries to educate and to change the laws to protect women and girls from violence and discrimination aimed at them BECAUSE they are female. You can check out some of their successes and some of their ongoing campaigns on their website.

This year, we need you more than ever - to buy a ticket, bid on an item or two or more, to spread the word and bring your friends to support these causes - and to have fun while you're doing it. Dress up in a Whedony costume, sing your heart out along with your fellow fans, maybe enter the Evil Laugh contest - or write some Vogon poetry. We will come together to have an enjoyable afternoon, made more so by the fact we know we are helping women and girls around the world - and locally - have a better life.

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Join us in supporting Equality Now’s actions against increasing rape and sexual assault in the US Military

We often get asked "What is the point of Can't Stop the Serenity? I can watch my DVD/Blu-ray of Serenity anytime at home. Why should I support a local event?" We'd like to share our answer with you. By supporting a local Can't Stop the Serenity event, you are helping to change the world. Now, that might seem like a pretty big claim, but here's where it's true. The money which you hand over at a local event for a few hours of entertainment, some merchandise, a few raffle tickets or perhaps to win something cool in an auction goes to support the vital work of Equality Now. And what does Equality Now do with it? They make positive change happen. Often, that change is in places far from your home such preventing child marriage in the Middle East, and protecting the rights of women in Africa and Asia. But sometimes, change is needed a lot closer to home.

This month, we'd like to highlight some of the work that Equality Now is doing in the United States.

Did you know that in 2012 there were over 26,000 reports of sexual assault against service members in the US Military? And that this was a 35% increase since 2010? On 7 May 2013, the US Department of Defence released their 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. The report plainly showed that efforts to combat sexual assault in the military are not having the desired effect, and in fact, sexual violence and the culture of impunity are getting worse. According to Equality Now, approximately 1 out of every 100 sexual assaults in the military results in the conviction of the perpetrator. This is due to the multitude of obstacles rape survivors face in pursuing justice, including in reporting the crime, getting a thorough and impartial investigation, and seeing their assailant face appropriate charges and punishment.

Therefore, Equality Now has welcomed the 16 May introduction of the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a bi-partisan bill which would remove the power to prosecute sexual assault from military commanders and transfer it to professional prosecutors. Equality Now and their partner SWAN (Service Women's Action Network) have been consistently advocating for this reform for many years and will be following the bill closely as it moves through the legislative process to ensure that sexual assault victims have access to justice in the military.

You can add your voice to those calling for change. Watch the trailer for The Invisible War (and seek out the full documentary) and read the Equality Now Action Report to find out who you can write to in the US to advocate for positive change. And contact your government representatives to encourage them to support the bill.

We'd also like you to please support a local Can't Stop the Serenity event and give generously so that Equality Now can continue their work to put an end to rape and sexual assault against the men and women of the US Military, and support those who have already suffered.

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Did you know your support of Can’t Stop the Serenity helps Equality Now end global and local sex trafficking?

As we launch into another season of Can't Stop the Serenity, you may find yourself being asked why you attend these events and what your support means. You may even be asking this of yourself. Can't Stop the Serenity is not just about watching Serenity on the big screen, enjoying the company of Browncoats, and winning prizes is raffles, contests and auctions. It's much bigger than that.

Being part of Can't Stop the Serenity – as an organizer, a sponsor or an attendee - means that you are helping to put a stop to violence and discrimination. By using your voice and opening your wallet, you are helping to change the world for the better. For each friend you tell about the work of Equality Now, you are adding a voice to the chorus for change. For every dollar that you spend on tickets, merchandise and donate, you are giving Equality Now the ability to make change happen.

It's the people at Equality Now and their partners who do the really hard work, who help rebuild the lives of women and girls who have experienced horrific treatment at the hands of individuals and governments, and who fight to change the communities and laws to protect instead of injure. And by giving generously of your time, energy and money, you give them the power to do what they've been called to do.

But what exactly does Equality Now do? This month, we’d like to highlight one of the areas where Equality Now has been working for change.

Alma is a survivor of commercial sex exploitation, coerced into prostitution by the owner of a bar near a US military base in the Philippines. Alma’s story is the first in a series of Survivor Stories. Each month, a new story will be published at www.equalitynow.org/survivorstories amplifying survivor's voices to expose coercion, trafficking and sexual abuse in Cambodia, Brazil, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, the US, and the UK. The series highlights the work of anti-trafficking advocates around the world and offers online actions readers can take to support global efforts against the multi-billion-dollar trafficking industry. The Survivor Stories series aims to firmly establish the link between trafficking and how it fuels the large and diverse commercial sex industry. Equality Now and its partners are committed to reducing the demand for commercial sex by advancing policies that criminalize buyers of sex while decriminalizing those who are sold for sex and providing them with support services.

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Why We Are Here (Part VII)

Why We Are Here

Twelve is a magical age, where life is poised to leave childhood behind while reaching out toward the mysteries of women. Dolls sit on shelves but remain dear friends and babysitting becomes something to strive for, to feed the blossoming feminine need to nurture as well as to earn money for little dreams. Yet on September 11th, for Fawziya Abdullah Youssef (a 12-year-old who should have been a flower girl instead of a child-bride) life ended - awash in pain and blood. Fawziya bled to death after three days of hard labor, a child forced to become a mother before her time. For most WOMEN it is a traumatic experience (pain of any kind for anyone is debilitating) but to force a CHILD to suffer through it for THREE days is a devastating commentary of sadness and disbelief. Yet, Fawziya is not the first Yemeni child-bride, nor is she to be the last. Unless something is done now to educate and legislate changes to protect these girls from the same kind of horrors Fawziya suffered through, thousands more will follow in her bloody footsteps. Without a minimum statutory age, there is no way to even begin to punish those responsible for this sick slavery. This is where the hard working efforts of organizations like Equality Now help to make a difference all over the world. Recent reports find that anywhere between 25% to 50% of the females in Yemen are married off before the age of fifteen - giving them the ghastly earned sobriquet of “the brides of death.” Many like Fawziya (married at a mere 11 years of age) are traded off like cattle to cousins and/or for the promise of high dowries. Little girls and young women without a chance to pursue their own dreams. Do you remember when you were 11 or 12? Do you know of a girl now who is that age? Can you imagine the horrors of being forced into maternal servitude without a say, to anyone with enough collateral to buy you? Can you imagine dying after three days of horrific pain, giving birth to a stillborn baby - alone and unprepared? Now imagine it if you went through it as a child. Don’t stop there - use that anger and disbelief and turn that energy toward something positive. Use it to do something, anything because there is always hope when good folk get together. It only takes a minute (at the very least) to donate something to an organization for change, like Equality Now. If you want to do more, you can write letters, speak out in blogs, twitter or get the word out via other social networking sites. Go to one of the remaining CSTS events to not only have a great time, but to donate to Equality Now so they can do more to bring balance to this impoverished area of the world. If 8-year-old Nojud Mohammed Ali can fight the system in Yemen, and win - just imagine what we can all do together. When her father married her off to a man 20 years older than her, she fought and was granted a divorce. Because of her courage, others are becoming aware of their own rights for childhood, education and the chance to become what they want to be. So it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you fight the good fight, you can make a difference and bring about change.

Join with me in supporting these girls and women and do something for the greater good of all of humanity. Donate your time, talents and pocket change to Equality Now - because that’s what us Browncoats do best. This is the best way I know of “aiming to misbehave.”

Warm Regards, Anne

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Why We Are Here (Part VI)

Why We Are Here

This week’s Why We Are Here is a special one.  It is dedicated to all of the caring fathers out there in the world.  Equality moves both ways, and we need to remember that when walking and working with our male counterparts in humanity’s symphony.  There are plenty of wonderful courageous men who work hard for equality right alongside the womenfolk and who practice doing the right thing.  At the same time, there are many who have dedicated themselves to learning how to do the right thing, in spite of thousands of years of cultural influence.  It is because of the education and other programs backed by Equality Now (and other worthy institutions) that these seekers of truth and equality have the chance to change the imbalance.

I was asked an honest question the other day, about keeping the signal going and if it really worked.   The question was not derogatory; this was not an attempt at knocking the efforts of the quest for equality.  Instead he wanted to know with hope in his voice and heart, if the actions of Equality Now and individuals connected with EN and other viable organizations, really were making a difference.  “Yes!”  I said.  Then I proceeded to give him examples of how Equality Now achieves victories in world law, perception and deed with their impassioned campaigns and illuminating education.

In the process of telling and showing, I came across something more.  I found out about the courageous men who are fighting culture and their places within it, in order to bring a balance and harmony back into the world.  It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say no, when everyone else you know and love is either indifferent or worse yet, saying yes.

South Africa’s Bafana Khumalo, offers gender workshops for African men in rural areas, striving to teach them among other things that equality for women will not be the downfall of society.  When interviewed for an article, he tells of how trepidation turned to joy when one of the older men attending raised his hand on the 3rd day of the class.  Instead of fighting what he had been taught all his life and practiced, he told of his illuminating thoughts.  This is what he shared.  “‘Yesterday, after I got home,” the participant began, “I called my sons, I called my wife, and I explained to them what we are doing in this workshop.” He told his children that things had to change in their home. No longer could their mother arrive home tired from a day of work and be expected to cook, clean, wash the dishes and clear up all on her own. It was simply unfair.” (From “Men fighting for women’s equality.”  on Afrik.com - en.afrik.com/article13786.html )

How amazing is that?  Seeds of hope planted in the rocky ground of tradition, spring to life and share their fragrant scent of equality with others - who will plant more.  This is what Equality Now helps bring about.  This is why we, who participate in Can’t Stop the Serenity year after year, continue to support their efforts.  Together we can plant a garden of equality

Our amazing communications guru, Jen Cummings, taught me about something very special, White Ribbon Day.  As their website states: “The White Ribbon Foundation of Australia aims to eliminate violence against women by promoting culture-change around the issue.”  More seeds planted which have bloomed into an international day of celebration and education.  (Quoted from their website at www.whiteribbonday.org.au/About-WRD-34.aspx )

The fine folk at Equality Now are a lot like Mal and the crew of Serenity.  Equality Now does whatever it takes to keep the signal going.  They get the word out all over the ‘Verse about the wrong done against women and they won’t let anyone stop them from doing what’s right.   Furthermore, they fund programs to help others see what’s wrong and how to transmute it to a powerful force of good.

Johann Schiller wrote: “It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.”  To all of you fathers with hearts of gold, we salute you today. (Including my wonderful groom of almost 19 years, who strongly supports my charity efforts, keeps me sane and going strong.)

Please also check out the Men Against Sexual Violence website, located www.menagainstsexualviolence.org/ As you can see, there are so many working to fight the good fight.  With the wonderful men in our lives who strive to do good, we are well on our way to achieving victory.

With warm regards,

Anne Barringer, 2009 Global Organizer Can’t Stop the Serenity

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Why We Are Here (Part V)

Why We Are Here

In the past few weeks, I’ve shared some stories about the cold, cruel and unbalanced world around us and the need to keep the signal going.  But what happens when you do speak out?  Do things change?  The answer is yes - they do.  Some change faster than others but action and speaking out do make a difference.

That’s why today’s “Why We Are Here,” is about the positive side of working to make the world a better and more equal place.  There are two stories I am going to reference today, where Equality Now has helped justice prevail and the winds of change sweep far and wide.

Our first story deals with Zambia and the horrific rape of school girls by their teachers.  Not for the first time, Edson Hakasenke raped one of his students by luring her to his house on the premise of collecting schoolwork.  He threatened her, like so many others, with her expulsion, shame and guilt.  But the girl’s aunt spoke out, forcing the authorities into action.

Nonetheless, justice was not swift.  First Hakasenke fled the country.  Then, upon his return, they arrested him but LET HIM GO, citing there was too much delay in the reporting of the crime.  The aunt found a lawyer willing to take the case pro bono, but they were going against a huge hurdle.

And this is where Equality Now came into play.

Where does the money we raise go?  One place is Equality Now’s Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund.  With this fund they were able to assist the family’s lawyer with international and legal precedents.  This led to a civil judgement against this sick pedophile and further legal and disciplinary action against him.

But Equality Now didn’t stop there.

The problem of rape and abuse against schoolgirls in Zambia continued unchecked.  One victory is never enough.  So they set up a program to help identify this problem.  Together with Zambian organizations, they put together a plan to stop this heinous crime once and for all.

Then something else happened.  More girls who once had feared to come forward saw the light and sought justice.  Now, because of the support and voice of Equality Now, the laws have been changed and so many girls have hope where once they had none.

Our second uplifting story is about a woman named Kobra Najjar. Because of Equality Now’s fervent campaigns to save this woman, she recently was released from prison just this month - after 11 years of being imprisoned (the last three years waiting to be stoned to death).

Her crime?  Kobra was forced to prostitute herself by her own husband to support his heroin habit.  When one of her clients killed her husband in sympathy, they branded her as a murderess and an adulterer.

Yet Equality Now worked ceaselessly, waging written campaigns against the system, sending out pleas and letters to anyone who would listen until Kobra’s sentence was commuted to 100 lashes - tantamount to a death sentence.

However, they didn’t stop there.  Equality Now continued to cry out against the injustice and urged others to do the same.  Education, illumination and a heart of gold, fueled  EN to seek balance, to seek justice - and now at long last Kobra is free.

This is why we work so hard each year to help Equality Now, because their actions make a difference in the world.  By helping, we too are making a concerted effort to bring about change.

Henry David Thoreau said:  “It takes two to speak truth, one to speak and another to hear.”  So imagine what we can all do together.  Imagine how many of us there are, so that each time one of us speaks up for those who can’t, another is hearing and passing the truth on.  Now think about the support we give strong voices like Equality Now.  Instead of one set of ears, we are now able to reach thousands of ears.  By taking on the system one woman at a time, they are actually paving the way for hundreds and thousands of girls and women to achieve equality. One light in the darkness can shine enough light to see other shapes huddled therein and is enough to light the fires of hope in the hearts of so many.

So feel proud of yourselves, for all you’ve helped and will help, Equality Now do.  Many of us are pulling our hair out wondering if our plans will all come together for these charity screenings.  Stress may be causing doubt to whisper in our ears, and we find ourselves asking if it’s all worth it.  I simply say look around at how many lights of hope you are shining - and I think the only answer you’ll hear echoing in your hearts is . . .  YES!

Keep up the great work!

To read more about our first story, click here: Zambia: Rampant Rape of Schoolgirls by Their Teachers - Equality Now Women's Action 32.1, February 2009

For more on Kobra Najjar:

With warm regards,

Anne Barringer Can’t Stop the Serenity 2009 Global Organizer

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