PETRI Sofia organizes anti-discrimination events
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King
This iconic quote is part of the legendary “I have a dream” speech that the well known human rights activist Martin Luther King delivered on August 28, 1963 at Washington DC. It is also when that great man gets killed on the 4th April 1968, that shocked and subsequently inspired a young teacher named Jane Elliot, from a small and mainly inhabited with Anglo-Saxon population town of Riceville( Iowa), to act against the atrocities of the then widely spread discrimination and segregation of black people. Her incredibly provocative, but proved to be very successful, teaching experiment stirred up a powerful reaction in American society, after a movie about it – “The eye of the storm” was released. Following it a movie about the movie with more “behind the scenes” details of the experiment was also released called “Class divided”.
On the 19th of February more than 20 people gathered in the beautiful theater hall of the Federation of Scientific and Technical Unions in Sofia, Bulgaria to watch the projection of “Class divided”. Discussions and a thematic role-playing game that put participants into different character’s shoes followed. The aim of the game was to understand inequality and how difficult it is for some people to move forward in life because of their social status and ultimately, it teaches participants about empathy.
The event was organized in collaboration between “Society for democratic education” and PETRI Sofia volunteers, and was part of the second edition of the “(Im)Possible Education cinema festival”. The people who came were students, philosophers, teachers and pedagogues, or simply people who are concerned with the topic of discrimination. Guests received the movie very well and all unanimously expressed their appreciation for Jane Elliot’s efforts to teach kids to accept, instead of hate.
But what did Jane Elliot actually do in her experiment? Well, let’s dive into it – it is pretty interesting.
As a teacher of third graders, she undertook a unique experiment with her class, that she hoped would make them understand how wrong it is to discriminate based on skin color, ethnicity, race… or even eye color. Things that are integral to our identity, but are not defining our personality and are not a result of one’s personal choice.
Her classroom consisted only of white children who at that point, were taught by their families to hate and discriminate black people. She decided to divide the kids by the color of their eyes and much like society did at that time ( and unfortunately still does sometimes and at some places), she would treat one of the groups as privileged and superior, and the other one as if it’s members are untrustworthy and inferior – all based solely on their eye color. The first day the blue-eyed kids are the superior group – she gives them a longer break, she praises them and speaks against the brown-eyed kids, while also making the brown-eyed ones wear a small collar on their neck so that “they are being spotted from far away”. The next day the roles are turned around. She even gives tests to the two groups to a***s if their performance changes, when they are being regarded as privileged and when they are treated as inferior. In the end she gathers the class and asks them to share their feelings. When being the privileged ones, kids learned to feel superior rather quickly and scored higher on tests, but when they are forced to walk in the shoes of the marginalized group, they feel terrible and also score lower when being examined. The discovery was subsequently confirmed by Stanford University.
Teacher Jane Eliot turns the classroom into a place where real life is happening – it creates real conditions for children to experience what is discrimination and to be touched by questions like what it’s like to be humiliated just because you’re different. What is the feeling of being a second-hand person? In this rather provocative experiment, it is impressive to see how only minutes can turn otherwise polite, attentive and compassionate children into cruel, discriminatory beings.
The resolute teacher does the same experiment in different formats outside the school environment and the impact on people is remarkable every time. Ninety-eight percent of the population in Riceville is of white people of Anglo-Saxon origin, but nevertheless in the prison population over twenty percent are from minorities. To make sure prison officers are sensitive to the concerns of this large minority, the Iowa administration hires Jane Eliot to give her lesson to some of them and it works like a charm – adult prison guards learn a lesson of empathy and compassion .
When talking about discrimination….
On 1st of March Bulgarians celebrate the arrival of spring and give away traditional bracelets for health and prosperity. We at PETRI Sofia know that this date was also important for another reason – it was the international “Zero discrimination day”. Our team decided to combine the two celebrations in an interesting way by giving away free martenizas to people on the street, together with messages against discrimination. Remember that Martin Luther King quote from the begging? It was one of the hundreds of quotes that we printed on little papers, made into tiny cute scrolls that we gave away to people of all kinds of ages and nationalities to promote tolerance. Our volunteers made the bracelets on their own which added value to them. They also made a beautiful colorful poster with “Zero discrimination day” written on it and walked around the whole city center while giving away the martneizas and messages so that they promote tolerance, acceptance and spread joy.
As one of the main objectives of our organization PETRI Sofia is also to promote sexual and reproductive health – that is why we distributed free condoms and special little convenient boxes for keeping them safe. Talking about protection and sexual health is incredibly important, especially in a country like Bulgaria, where these topics are still taboo for many people. This was proved by the reactions of many of the people when we offered them to take protection for free – a mixed reaction between shyness and disproving looks at us. It was especially important to talk to the youngsters– teenagers and adolescents who are just starting to explore their sexuality or regularly have sexual partners.
We managed to give away more than 250 martenizas and anti-discrimination messages and 200 condoms. We provoked a lot of smiles and genuine support for our causes and we consider this a successful event!
But why are we posting about events from the 19thFebruary and 1st of March today? Well today is 12th of March and its no specific celebration, but it is a chance of silent reflection of all the significant dates that have passed. Four days ago was also the 8th of March – the international day of Women! Happy Women’s day ladies, with a bit of a delay … but you know what? We don’t need a special day to celebrate the importance of women and to express concerns about the issues they face! Every day counts as important.
Having in mind the difficulties women have faced trough history, and just how much more work there is to be done to prevent gender based discrimination and violence, especially in some countries, Women’s day is a important commemorative day. It is significant for the Human rights movement and activism in general, which fights to bring about tolerance and acceptance of people regardless of their nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or any factors other than their personality and values. All days and activities that aim to fight against discrimination, hate speech and acts of hate are interconnected and this article is dedicated to all of them and to the notion that every day should be a day for reflecting on other people’s problems, a day of Zero discrimination and a day for appreciation – of women, men, black, white, Asian – everyone!
But lets talk a bit more about what are the most common women rights issues?
Issues commonly associated with notions of women’s rights include the right: to bodily integrity and autonomy, freedom from sexual violence, rights to hold public office, to vote, to enter into legal contracts, to have equal rights in family law; to work and be paid fair wages or equal pay, to have reproductive rights, to own property, to education.
History of the day (information from United Nations website)
1909 The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.
1910 The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women’s Day, international in character, to honor the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.
1911 As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women’s Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
1913-1914 International Women’s Day also became a mechanism for protesting World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
1917 Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.
1975 During International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March.
1995 The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments, focused on 12 critical areas of concern, and envisioned a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.
2014 The 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) – the annual gathering of States to address critical issues related to gender equality and women’s rights — focused on “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”. UN entities and accredited NGOs from around the world took stock of progress and remaining challenges towards meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have played an important role in galvanizing attention on and resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
2015 In 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 5 is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Today there is still so much to be done that we don’t know where to begin from. Fighting for equal pay and equal opportunities to take part in politics. Fighting for the right to have abortion which is still illegal in many countries. Preventing atrocities like female genital mutilation, which is widespread in some Middle East countries where in general women are outspokenly treated as less of human beings – when families have girls it is considered to be “bad news”. One of the worst traditions that are highly discriminatory are the so called “menstruation huts”, that are known to be used in Nepal and aboriginal tribes in Australia because of menstrual taboos. They force women to spend the days of their period confined in shabby huts with poor ventilation, living conditions and sanitation. In the beginning of the year a woman and two children lost their lives in one such hut in Nepal, which focused Human rights activists and society’s attention towards this not very well known problematic tradition.
In conclusion, we at PETRI Sofia have the following message to all of you – whoever you are – respect and accept others ! Life is hard enough – we all deserve to have the freedom to pursue happiness, but for this to happen we need to build a peaceful and tolerant human society and it starts with acceptance of our inevitable differences that actually make the world the colorful and interesting place it is.