My Interview with Rayne Fisher-Quann – We the Students Do Not Consent

On Friday September 21st, 2018, thousands of students across Ontario walked out of their classrooms in protest of the Ford government’s decision to revert the 2015 sex ed curriculum back to what it was in 1998. 17-year-old Rayne Fisher-Quann decided to take action and raise her voice about the harm that this decision could cause. She was able to rally more than 40 000 students to leave class to show the government, that we, the students, demand change and do not consent to this decision. I had the chance to chat with Rayne about her experiences and goals for the future.

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Diviya: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you first got involved in politics and activism?

Rayne: “I’m 17 and in Grade 12 and I think I’ve always really tried to be involved with activism and to be politically active. I think that’s something that I think everyone can do, which is in itself a form of activism. It’s just being educated and knowing what’s going on, knowing what’s happening with politics. That’s something that I’ve always tried to do and something I think all young people can do as a form of activism. But obviously when I really started getting involved in politics was this summer and that was kind of when I made the switch. I had always been the person who went to rallies but never did any of my own stuff but then when Doug Ford changed the sex ed curriculum and the Indigenous curriculum it really affected me. Obviously it’s something I care about so much and that kind of inspired me to do that protest because he wasn’t listening to the students and I didn’t see any other young people speaking up at the time so I decided to do it, and obviously it was something that so many people really did care about.”

Diviya: Why do you think that it is so important for youth in our country to receive proper sex education?

Rayne: I think that there’s a lot of answers to that. I think that kind of the amazing thing about the 2015 sex ed curriculum was that it had something for everybody. I think everybody in our province had a stake in the sex ed curriculum, whether they knew it or not. I think that the education that a generation of children receives absolutely will affect the state of the entire province even for generations, like the education that hundreds of thousands of children receive even for a few years will completely change the way that our province turns out. It’s so important, especially living in 2018, and living in the world that we live in. Our children need to be educated about all of the issues that concern modern society, and it’s so important that people know about consent and that people know about gender identity, even if that’s the issue that affects them personally. Even if it’s a straight, white, male guy who probably isn’t personally affected by knowing about gender identity or knowing about LGBTQ issues, it’s so important that everybody grows up to be tolerant and grows up to be respectful. Knowing those issues can make such a difference in how our most vulnerable groups in this province are treated.

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Diviya: What do you think is the importance of proper sex ed in educating young boys with regards to consent and rape, especially given what is currently happening in the US with the Kavanaugh hearing?

Rayne: “Yeah, obviously that’s something I’ve been following really closely. It’s also a particular issue that I’ve spoken out about and has a lot of relevance to myself. Something that I’ve talked a lot about in the media is my own experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment and how for me almost daily I’m sexually harassed and how I’ve been sexually assaulted just by strangers in public many, many times. A lot of the time I think if any of those men and received an education and consent or had learned how to take no for an answer or learned how to pick up those signs, that probably wouldn’t be my experience and it probably wouldn’t be the experience of so many thousands of girls and even millions of girls around the world. I’ve talked to so many people who have said that before that curriculum, they couldn’t define consent. It’s so hard to exercise that autonomy if you can’t put words to it, if you don’t know that there are laws in place and you don’t know that this concept exists. Being able to put words to it and put words to a feeling is so important to be able to exercise that autonomy to yourself. It’s also so important for men to be aware of that concept too because again there’s there’s just so many guys who just honestly didn’t know that having sex with a drunk girl constitutes a breach of consent. There’s so many people who just didn’t learn that and there’s so many other cases where an education would have made such a difference.

Diviya: How did it feel on the day of the walkout to see thousands of youth standing up for their rights alongside you?

Rayne: “It was definitely super overwhelming, literally right up until we started getting the numbers. I was scared to death that nobody was actually going to do it. It was really, really stressful, but once I saw it happening it was the most overwhelming feeling that I can possibly describe. I feel like as a teenage girl, which I’m sure is something you can relate to, it often feels like not a lot of people are on our side. It often feels like not a lot of people care what we have to say or think that our voice has value. But feeling that validation of seeing 40000 to 50000 youth across the province standing with me and working on something that I had worked on and really working together to work on this issue that so many people care about, that was such an amazing feeling. “

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Diviya: Have you ever dealt with any gender-bias or discrimination as a young woman who is passionate about STEM?

Rayne: “Yeah, absolutely, I mean honestly just the response that I’ve received is so based on my gender. I’ve worked with and talked to a lot of guys over the course of this who are on my side and so many of them have said that if if it was them who ran this they wouldn’t have been receiving any of what I have been getting. Their response to everything that I’ve done has been so overwhelmingly based in gender. People on Twitter and 4chan are out calling me a slut and a whore and saying that I should just keep my mouth shut and look pretty, and it’s so overwhelmingly based on gender. I’ve explained that I go to the best school in Toronto for advanced math and science and I plan on going to MIT for my Ph.D. in theoretical physics. There’s definitely been a lot of discrimination going down that path. It’s so difficult even for people to see me as intelligent. I feel because of how I present and how I dress and how I look it’s a lot easier I think for people to assume that I’m not intelligent because there’s a lot of stigma and a lot of assumptions that people make when they see someone who is very feminine. Often when people want to be seen as smart they think that they have to dissociate themselves from femininity in order to do that. I know that stereotype of the smart girls who doesn’t wear makeup and wears glasses and that kind of stuff, and that’s never something that I’ve identified with. I’ve always wanted to look very feminine and wear makeup and wear dresses, but also be very smart and be very successful. That’s something that I think threatens a lot of people because a lot of them have never really seen that before. I’ve literally had people say ‘you want to go into theoretical physics, but you’re so pretty” that’s something that someone has actually said to me. There’s so much gender bias, especially in physics, which is such a male dominated field and it’s really frustrating. But I think that every single woman that goes into physics or goes into science is working to make that a little better.”

Diviya: How have you dealt with any negativity or resistance towards the message you are trying to spread?

Rayne: “It has been really difficult. A lot of the time I just try to brush it off and try to make a joke out of it. But it can be really scary sometimes. I’ve gotten death threats and rape threats and stuff like that and it can be really scary, especially because a lot of them know where I go to school and have a general idea of where I live. Yeah, so it can be scary but I think that all of the hate that I’ve gotten has almost made me more resolute towards the cause. It’s made me realize how important that education is. When people’s first response to seeing a young woman use her voice is saying “I hope she gets raped”, that’s clearly a statement on the state of our education and the state of education that they received. While it can honestly be really difficult to see all and to see so much of it, it’s almost made me believe more strongly in the cause.

Diviya: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Rayne: “I think that obviously I’m always going to be involved in activism, that’s something that I want to do for my whole life. I really hope that I won’t have to fight this fight much longer. I hope that Doug Ford will make the changes that we want him to, but I’ll keep fighting this for as long as it’s necessary. But in the next five years I’m just planning on going to university and getting my degree, and I’m hoping to be starting my master’s degree by then.”

Diviya: What actions can Ontario youth take to further your message and advocate for this issue?

Rayne: “Like I said, I honestly think that one of the most radical actions that any young person can take is just being educated and being aware and being involved in politics. You don’t have to do anything really crazy or hard to do that. All you have to do is read the news and vote when you’re old enough, that’s so important. Honestly just being an educated youth and being politically involved is so important in getting us the respect that we so badly need right now. Right now the most important thing that youth can actually do is participate in the Ford government’s consultations because they have actually opened their sex ed consultations but they’re kind of trying to hide it. They haven’t released a statement that they’ve opened it and they’re trying to spread the message that it’s only for the parents, even though that’s not true. Anybody can be involved in these consultations, and you can submit as many as you want, so it’s so important that if you care about this, submit a response every single day. Be involved in those consultations and make your voice heard, that’s the most important thing we can do right now.

If you would like to participate in these consultations about the future of Ontario’s education, go to https://www.ontario.ca/page/for-the-parents.

Thank you so much Rayne for allowing me to ask you a few questions!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

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My Trip to Ghana – #ChangetheBirthStory

A few weeks ago, myself and nine incredible Canadian youth set off on a journey that would change all of our lives forever. As Youth Advocates for Plan International Canada’s #ChangetheBirthStory campaign, we were given the opportunity to travel to Ghana to see the programs we support in action.

Change the Birth Story is a campaign run by Plan International Canada that is working to improve access to healthcare for women and girls during pregnancy and childbirth around the world. The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness and support for programs being implemented in countries including Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique. The goal of these programs is to contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality in targeted regions among marginalized and vulnerable women, especially adolescent girls and children. Plan is working to change the birth story by training health care providers, engaging men and boys as proactive partners and delivering sexual and reproductive health and rights education through local partners. They have also helped to establish Adolescent Clubs, Daddies’ Clubs, and Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) to strengthen the community.

There are 30 Youth Advocates spread out across Canada who I am working with to collect endorsements as part of the Change the Birth Story campaign. Our goal is to show the government that Canadians care about these issues and want funding to continue to go towards this project. An endorsement can look like a written signature, an online signature, or a picture of raised hands at a larger presentation. Over the course of this year, each of us will be collecting 500 endorsements of support from Canadians by word of mouth, giving talks, and raising awareness on social media.

Shortly after our Youth Advocate Training for this year, 10 of us were chosen to embark on an incredible trip to Ghana to enhance our understanding of this project. The purpose of this trip was to facilitate an exchange of knowledge and experience with Ghanaian and Canadian youth. Throughout our trip, all of us were able to form deep and lasting relationships with individuals who have been directly impacted by this project.

After a long 24 hours of travelling, we arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana. On our first day we visited the Legon Botanical Garden where we were able to explore and appreciate the natural beauty of Ghana.

On our second day we left Accra and got on a 3 hour bus ride to the Volta region where we we met the 10 Ghanaian youth who had been selected from their communities. They are each leaders of their Adolescent clubs in their communities and they are all incredibly kind and motivated. Throughout the week, we visited community projects and participated in workshops together.

During our trip, we had the opportunity to visit three communities in the Volta region. We were welcomed by the entire community each time and then had the chance to sit in on some group and club meetings.

One of my favourite meetings we sat in on was the Daddies’ Club where there were 40 men in attendance. They participated in an activity where they compared male and female gender roles in their community discussed how they can support their wives in the household. They came together to find ways they can help that included cooking, sweeping, washing, caring for children, and taking their wives to the clinic or hospital during pregnancy.

We also sat in on a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) meeting that is a savings groups where community members to come together to support each other financially. These community-based groups are locally run support systems that benefit all members. In order to be a part of this group, each member must contribute a small share. During medical or financial emergencies, any member is able to rely on the group for support. After only one year of this group, they were able to afford things like children’s school supplies and roofing maintenance.

In many of the communities that this project is working in, youth are involved in Adolescent Clubs. These groups provide a safe space for discussions to take place about topics including reproductive rights, healthy lifestyles and the importance of education. We watched as the youth participated in games, activities, and drama performances to demonstrate their learning.
On the second day of project visits, we had the chance to sit in on a meeting with the Community Health Committee who are all volunteers. When asked why they joined the Committee the volunteers explained that they simply wanted to save lives in their community. In this community, the closest hospital is one hour away by car and there is only one car in their community that is able to provide emergency transport. The Committee members want to see improvements in education, access to transportation, and learning facilities. They are inspired to continue their work to continue helping people in their community.

How is the birth story changing?

  • Youth are being empowered by learning about their rights
  • Teen pregnancies are decreasing rapidly
  • Male engagement is increasing
  • Community members are able to rely on each other for financial support during times of crisis
  • Access to safe and quality maternal, newborn and child healthcare is steadily improving
  • Communities are eager to ensure that these projects can be sustained in the future

My Biggest Takeaways

  1. Ghanaians are courageously kind people
  2. They are incredibly generous and welcoming
  3. Communities are open-minded and eager to make a better life for themselves and their children
  4. They are able to have conversations about important topics that are often taboo in Canadian culture
  5. Western culture is very isolating – it is important to let down our walls to discover the power of community
  6. We all have a story worth sharing and fighting for

I learned so much simply from having conversations with young people who have grown up in very different circumstances, but still share the same passion for achieving gender equality. This trip has truly left me with an open mind, a reignited passion, and a full heart.
If you would like to support me in reaching my goal of 500 endorsements, click here to sign your name and show the Government of Canada that these issues matter to Canadians.

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

Speakers Idol 2018 – My Experience

“Freedom of speech is not freedom to propagate hatred”

-Simon Wiesenthal

A few months ago I came across this quote in a poster created by the ‘Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies‘, that was advertising an exciting speech competition called ‘Speakers Idol’. This contest gives Ontario youth the opportunity to enhance their writing skills and public speaking abilities, while exploring real world issues that matter to young people. After doing more research, I learned that Simon Wiesenthal was an inspirational Holocaust survivor, Nazi hunter, and writer. This organization is committed to honouring his legacy through Holocaust education, and Speakers Idol is a platform for youth to learn more about his story and give their perspective on one of his quotes.

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I found his assertion to be very intriguing, so I put my pen to paper and developed a three-minute speech that I sent in along with hundreds of other applicants across Ontario. I was very excited to have made it past the semi-finalist round and into the finalist round that took place on March 27th at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts. It was a truly unforgettable experience to stand alongside 9 passionate and eloquent young people who are all raising their voices.

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Below you can find a written transcript of my speech, as well as a video that was filmed.

Our world’s history is fraught with a long line of malicious and corrupt rulers who have caused tremendous pain, violence, and suffering for millions. Each of these heinous leaders share the corrupt ideology that the freedom to spread hatred is an extension of freedom of speech. Many years ago, Simon Wiesenthal, an influential Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter affirmed that “Freedom of speech is not freedom to propagate hatred.” This statement was true during the Holocaust in World War II, and it is still relevant in 2018. However, I believe that the deep-rooted meaning of his assertion is that uncontrolled hate speech leads to the rise of evil power.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental component of a just and democratic society. However, what many people fail to recognize is that Canada was not created simply on the basis of freedom – our country was born out of a dream for justice and equality for all. Freedom of speech can only function within an equitable society if reasonable limits are placed on the extent to which individuals can express their opinions about others.

During the early 1900s, as Adolf Hitler began expressing his abhorrence for the Jewish population, others began listening to his words and felt justified in expressing their own latent hateful beliefs. During World War II, the Nazis used their power to deny the basic humanity of an entire religious group. The devastation caused by Hitler’s reign is a powerful example of the snowball effect that one person can create by abusing their freedom of speech.

More than seventy years after World War II ended, this snowball effect can be observed once again in the global political theater. During the 2016 US election, Donald Trump capitalized on the nation’s fears and exposed the suppressed attitudes of a subsection of the American people, empowering his followers to begin turning their thoughts into action. The impact of the Donald Trump era has demonstrated the importance of drawing the line between constructive conversation and blatant discrimination.

Simon Wiesenthal emphasised that hate speech serves no purpose to our society except to further silence those already stripped of their voices and humanity. As Canadians, it is essential that we work to preserve and protect our shared values and beliefs by calling out hate speech when we hear it, putting pressure on our government to continue enacting change to protect marginalized groups, and giving our support to victims of hate speech. It is only when clear lines are drawn between free speech and hate speech that discrimination will cease, and inclusivity will prevail.

If you are interested in learning more about the incredible work that this organization is implementing, check out their website at: https://www.friendsofsimonwiesenthalcenter.com/

I am honoured to have had this opportunity to share my passion, and I am very grateful to the organizers and judges who helped to ensure that Speakers Idol 2018 was such a success!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

2017 – The Best and Worst Year for Women’s Rights

This past year was a true roller coaster filled with a combination of devastating lows and triumphant highs for women’s rights and social justice. There were undeniably moments of great despair when progress seemed to be retreating instead of moving forward. However, there were also some major wins for the feminist movement that I believe are worth celebrating.

The Inauguration of President Donald Trump:

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2017 was off to a rocky start with the inauguration of US President Donald Trump – an openly sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic man. He is someone who has proudly bragged about sexual assault and belittled women innumerable times with his obnoxious words and distasteful tweets. Although Trump’s election campaign claimed to “Make America Great Again,” it was clear to me and the rest of the feminist movement that his words and actions were rooted in fear, hatred, and discrimination. On January 20, 2017, this man was handed the keys to the most powerful office in the world on a silver platter. After seeing my worst fear come to life as Donald Trump was indeed inaugurated as President, I knew in my heart that his reign would have grim consequences for women in the United States and around the world.

The Women’s March:

Only one day after his inauguration, millions of women and their allies took to the streets in a worldwide protest against hatred, fear, and discrimination. The 2017 Women’s March was a historic show of solidarity and unity in the face of extreme adversity.

A reported 5 million people walked in 673 marches on all seven continents around the world to advocate for better policies and attention to be placed on human rights issues including women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, and environmental justice. I never felt prouder to call myself a woman than on January 21st, 2017 – it made my heart burst to see both women and men coming together and using their anger as a catalyst for peace and change. The 2017 Women’s March served as a strong reminder to the world that when a community of people from all different backgrounds and experiences come together with a unified message of love and hope, real change happens.

The #MeToo Movement:

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Related imageThe #MeToo movement was born in 2006 when civil rights activist Tarana Burke founded Just Be Inc, a program to support and empower young victims of sexual violence who live in marginalized communities. Tarana Burke is currently the Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity, and her work has focused heavily on ensuring that women of colour whose voices have been silenced in the past are truly heard.

In October of 2017, Tarana Burke’s movement began gaining more attention when celebrity Alyssa Milano asked her followers on Twitter who had experienced sexual assault to respond with the simple hashtag – #metoo. The hashtag quickly went viral worldwide as millions of women began raising their voices and sharing the stories that they have kept hidden away for years. During this time many celebrities began opening up on social media including Lady Gaga, Reese Witherspoon, Viola Davis, and Ellen DeGeneres, just to name a few. As the movement garnered more international attention, many allegations were made against numerous celebrities who have since been fired. This helped start important conversations about sexual harassment and abuse in many areas and industries including Hollywood, the music industry, and the world of politics. In my own life, it was very eye-opening for me to see such large numbers of people sharing their stories on social media. This truly showed me the magnitude of these issues and the power that we have to come together as a community in a show of resistance.

The #MeToo movement truly evolved to unite women of diverse backgrounds who have shared experiences of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault. Although this movement has helped to start these new conversations, I also think that is important to recognize and understand how this movement was created and what it is rooted in. It is crucial that these conversations are inclusive of everyone, especially women of colour, and not just focused on the stories of white women in positions of privilege and power. While these stories deserve to be heard, it is equally important that our conversations are welcoming and recognize the diverse backgrounds and experiences that each woman comes from. 

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The Silence Breakers:

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On December 6, 2017, The Silence Breakers, were named as Time’s Person of the Year to recognize the profound impact that this movement has had on the world. This title referred to all of the women who have shared their stories and have helped to break down the stigma and silence surrounding sexual abuse. I was thrilled to see such brave, strong, and resilient women receive this title, and I believe that their courage to stand up in the face of adversity is truly remarkable.

2018 – Time’s Up:

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On January 1st, 2018, a new campaign was launched with an ambitious goal of raising $15 million to fund legal support for victims of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse in the workplace. A unified call to action was made in a “solidarity letter” written on behalf of more than 300 women from different industries in the workforce. The campaign has been backed by many influential actresses including Emma Watson, Reese Witherspoon, and Natalie Portman. This campaign has already nearly reached its target, and has the power to continue to amplify the impact that the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement had in 2017.

Although this year held many challenges and setbacks for women’s rights, I am very proud of how far the feminist movement has come and the path that is on now. I am very optimistic about the future of women’s rights, and I know that if we can continue to come together united in our goals, we will be able to make gender equality a reality.

On January 20th and 21st of this year, women and men will come together again in the 2018 Women’s March to celebrate what we have achieved so far, and to recognize the obstacles that still need to overcome.

This year, I will be marching in the Women’s March to show my support and passion for women’s rights – will YOU be joining me?

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya                

Canada, Let’s #Changethebirthstory!

Living in Canada, news of a pregnancy is often associated with love, celebration, and the excitement of bringing a new life into the world. Regular checkups take place, baby showers are held, and women and girls have access to the care and resources they need and deserve. However, in developing nations, mothers and their babies are often faced with difficulties and complications that result in death.

The harsh reality is that complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for young women worldwide. Each day more than 800 women and girls die due to these complications, and  unfortunately, 99% of these maternal deaths occur in developing nations. Globally, approximately 2 million girls under the age of 15 fall pregnant each year. An additional 2.7 million newborn babies lose their lives each year, equivalent to the population of Toronto.

Young mother holding her baby

Issues and Barriers:

In developing countries, young women and girls face numerous barriers and delays to receiving the proper care and resources necessary for a healthy pregnancy and childbirth. These barriers include the recognition of complications, the capacity to seek care, available transportation to care, and receiving skilled care from qualified professionals.

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The Cause:

The sad truth behind these injustices is entrenched in the inequality of the sexes and the cultural notion that women and girls are subordinate to men. In many parts of the world, women and their bodies are not given the respect and care that they deserve. Unfortunately, this translates over to a lack of access to resources and education, increased gender-based violence, decreased decision-making opportunities, and increased rates of early marriage and pregnancy. Around the world, women are continually denied their reproductive rights and their ability to make decisions about themselves and their bodies. As a result of the injustices they face, they are left unable to make decisions about the timing or amount of children they wish to bring into the world.

Change the Birth Story:

I am very excited to be working with Plan International Canada as one of their Youth Advocates who are working to raise awareness about their Change the Birth Story campaign. Plan is working with 4.7 million people in 5 countries around the world – Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, and Senegal. They are working closely with communities to increase access to resources and care so that women and children can receive proper health services. Additionally, they are engaging entire communities including men and boys to raise awareness about the diverse needs of women, girls, and their male partners. Plan is making a real and lasting impact in the lives of millions of women, girls, and their children around the world.

Your Name has Power:

My role as a Youth Advocate is to educate and inspire the Canadian public to take action on this issue and endorse the meaningful change that Plan is implementing globally. Over the course of this year, I will be collecting 1000 endorsements of support from Canadians across the country. Your name and 60 seconds has the power to amplify this campaign and truly change the birth story in developing countries.

Click HERE to sign your name and help #changethebirthstory!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

What Being Canadian Means to Me – Celebrating 150

Last weekend, millions of Canadians from all different backgrounds, cultures, and faiths came together to celebrate our nation’s 150th birthday. Celebrations took place across the country with concerts, barbeques, and fireworks to commemorate the day and all that it represented. On Sunday in our country’s capital, a truly inspiring event took place to highlight all of the diversity, multiculturalism, and rich history that comes with our beautiful country. We Day Canada took place on Parliament Hill and included many inspirational and successful Canadians who shared messages of hope, love, and reconciliation. Speakers and performers included Justin Trudeau, Gord Downie, Alessia Cara, Lilly Singh, and many more.

The Ottawa Children's Choir performs Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie's song Secret Path at We Day on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Sunday, July 2, 2017. Downie's project

Throughout my life, I have always felt extremely blessed to have been brought up in a country that honours the beliefs and ideas that I hold so close to my heart. I am able to live my life freely without fear for my safety or wellbeing. As a young Canadian woman, for the most part, I am treated the same as my male counterparts. I am privileged to receive an education equal in quality to my male peers, without any fear of punishment. I have the freedom to express my opinions and ideas with the world through any outlet I wish, including this blog. I am eternally grateful for everything that my Canadian life has afforded me, and this Canada Day I truly appreciated and recognized that.

Coming from a mixed Indian background, I often wonder what my life would have been like had I been born in India. My grandfather travelled to Canada to attend the University of Toronto as a young adult. In the following years, my grandmother followed him to the very cold and snowy land they now call home. Through hope, determination, and big hearts, they were able to create a better life for themselves and my entire family. My grandmother quickly became a successful financial planner and my grandfather pursued a career in engineering. My grandparents are true examples of the Canadian dream, and the importance of working hard and helping others. However, they would not have been able to integrate into our country with such ease without Canada’s commitment to diversity and multiculturalism. Canadians continue to accept and love one another, regardless of gender, religion, sexuality, or race. We must continue to honour these traditions to ensure that everyone feels welcome and included in our wonderful country.

While we often celebrate our achievements for equality, the sad truth is that our path contains many cases of injustice. Many minority groups included Japanese people, Indian people, and the LGBTQ+ community have faced unceasing barriers to achieving success. Our Indigenous peoples have suffered countless atrocities that are often ignored and pushed aside by the Canadian public. Throughout the twentieth century, thousands of children were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in residential schools that were designed to “kill the Indian in the child.” The negative effects of residential schools are still being felt today due to the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that 150 000 innocent Indigenous children were forced to endure. During the Sixties Scoop, children were again “scooped” from their homes and placed in non-Indigenous families where they experienced a severe loss of cultural heritage. 

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Reconciliation for our Indigenous peoples is not only a want, but a need. Ignoring our past and the cruelty these groups have faced has gone on far too long. It is a time that we recognize our past, and make active steps towards ensuring justice and acceptance for all Canadians. Although it is important to celebrate our efforts and successes, it is equally vital that we look to the future to ensure that ALL of our nation’s groups are accepted and included in the decisions that affect them. It is each of our responsibilities to love one another and use what we have been given to help those in need, because that is what being Canadian is all about.

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Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya

An Open Letter to Donald Trump from a 15-Year-Old Canadian Girl

Dear Donald Trump,

We are living in a world controlled by fear and hatred – we are scared of each other, of change, and most of all the unknown. In your campaign, you capitalized on the nation’s fears of national security, a declining economy, and the possibility of a woman as president. You made reckless claims of building a wall between Mexico and the United States, banning all Muslims from entering the country, and threatening to have Hillary Clinton prosecuted. To both my shock and horror, your tactics worked and somehow, you, a sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen these threats come to life through the implementation of an executive order on immigration that has banned citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This ban will prevent citizens from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen over the next 90 days from entering the country. Additionally, the order has suspended the entry of all refugees over the course of 120 days. In your speech, you explained that the reason behind this order was to “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America”. However, since 9/11, no one has been killed in a terrorist attack caused by anyone who has immigrated from (or whose parents immigrated from) any of the countries that are currently being banned. This begs the question of whether this edict was formed with the intentions of making America “greater” and “safer”, or simply created out of intense racism and fear.

As a 15-year-old girl living in Canada, it is likely that many of these policies and executive orders will not directly impact myself or my family. However, as a strong believer and advocate for women’s’ rights and many other social justice issues, it is demoralizing and heart wrenching to witness so much hatred in our world. It is incredibly frightening to live in a society where someone who has continually promoted misogynistic ideas about women can become the President of the United States. This election has proven to me that the activism that I have embraced is very important and needed.

As President of the United States, you have the most impactful and powerful job in the world. While you and I may not agree on most issues, I believe that these are some of the important ideas that are key to “making America great again”:

1. Be inclusive

America’s history is rooted in immigration – there simply would not be a United States of America without it. When countries open their borders to others, EVERYONE benefits.

2. Help those in need

It is vital that America acts as a safe haven for refugees and all people who are fleeing war, terror, and violence. We simply cannot live in a bubble of privilege,  while countless individuals are suffering in the face of adversity.

3. Build Bridges, Not Walls

When you think about history, building walls have never helped anyone. With the amount of money it will take to create a wall between America and Mexico, you could bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, and make America a more inclusive, diverse, and “greater” place to live.

4. Listen

It is clear that the key to a well functioning and prosperous democracy is when the voices of citizens are heard loud and clear. I know that Americans believe in equality and justice, and the government’s actions must reflect that.

As President of the United States, it is vital that you remember that the power of love and acceptance will always trump hatred and ignorance.

Sincerely,

Diviya

Women in Politics: Why Equal Representation is Essential

50% population, yet 25% representation? Something doesn’t add up…

Throughout the past century, Canadian women have continually fought to have their voice heard on a political level. It was less than a century ago that women couldn’t exercise the right to vote or hold office. Only in 1929 were women considered “persons” in the full legal sense of the term.

It is quite clear that we have made significant strides for women in the past, but we still have an extremely long way to go. Women still comprise only a quarter of the seats in the Canadian Parliament. Not only this, they are often exposed to a language of harassment and violence each day, both online and in person. Sandra Jansen, a former MPP for the Progressive Conservative party, crossed the floor recently to the NDP. Due to harassment, sexist comments, and personal attacks, she was forced to leave the party. The comments about her floor crossing were extremely hateful and derogatory towards Sandra and all ambitious women aiming for a career in politics. They included:

“What a traitorous bitch.”

“You are both a disgrace to Alberta, lying bitches.”

“Sandra should stay in the kitchen where she belongs.”Image result for sandra jansen floor crossingAnother example of this was the US election, where we saw such a competent and qualified candidate lose to a racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic person like Donald Trump. Hillary fought extremely hard and faced disproportionate barriers to becoming president due to being female. She was characterized as being very closed-off and shrill, while a man with these same characteristics might be seen as powerful and strong. Women across the world continue to face these same barriers and are seen as less qualified and capable solely because of their gender.

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As a young girl who dreams of becoming the Prime Minister in the future, it can be quite a deterrent to see such clear examples of gender inequality and sexism in politics. However, it is now more important than ever that we keep fighting to break through glass ceilings that Hillary Clinton and many other women are working to smash. We must all play a part in ensuring that women are equally represented in politics and across the entire playing field.

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a campaign spearheaded by Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl initiative called ‘Girls Belong Here’. I had the chance to step into the role of a female politician for a day and saw for myself the importance of having equal representation in Parliament. That day inspired me even more to continue working towards a career in politics and eventually becoming the Prime Minister of Canada.

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It is critical for all young women, including myself, to see themselves represented in all aspects of life, especially in politics. If young girls are able to see women like themselves making key decisions for their country, they will strive for greatness and dream bigger than ever, because if she can do it, so can I.

Creating equal representation of women in politics will continue to be a long fight, and it starts with YOU

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya 🙂

#GirlsBelongHere – My Experience

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a campaign from Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl initiative called ‘Girls Belong Here’. In honour of the 5th International Day of the Girl, an inspiring group of girls from across the country and I had the opportunity to step into the roles of people in positions of power for a day. The purpose of this campaign was to show the importance of having women represented equally across the playing field. Women make up 50% of the population, so we need to make up 50% of leadership roles. In Canada, the average percentage of women in executive ranks is only 15%. Of the Fortune 500 companies, women hold less than 5% of the CEO roles.

These numbers need to change. It is crucial that young girls see themselves reflected in roles across the board so that they can aspire to fill those seats one day. If our youth can see that they are capable of filling these seats, our world will be a far more inclusive and just place to live in.

The twelve of us came out with a video calling on world leaders and representatives to give us their seats for the day, so we can truly take the lead. The response was completely unprecedented, with more than 250 leaders across the world answering our call. In Canada, girls stepped into the roles of Ministers, MPs, CEOs, and more.

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Jathusha Mahenthirarajan, with Madame Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women
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Reina Foster, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
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Raisa Musad, with Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

I had the chance to step into the role of Ms. Rachael Harder, the Conservative Critic for Youth and Persons with Disabilities. On October 4th, I spent a truly empowering and humbling day with her, attending meetings, special events, and Question Period. Throughout the whole day I felt incredibly inspired by Ms. Harder who is a huge believer and advocate for girls’rights and giving youth a voice. She has dedicated her life to ensuring that the voices of all Canadians are heard, no matter what their age or gender.

Despite my uncertainties leading up to the day, I surprised myself by feeling totally comfortable in the role and felt my confidence growing as the day went on. Before Question Period, I helped Ms. Harder write a question to ask regarding women’s rights and the Yazidi women who are being persecuted by ISIS. I had the opportunity to lead three different meetings during the day. The first meeting I led was with some of Ms. Harder’s female MP colleagues in which we discussed the importance of women’s role in politics.

I then chaired a meeting about men’s role in advancing gender equality with some of her male colleagues. I also led a very eye-opening meeting with the Red Cross in which we discussed some of their work in Syria and Iraq.

I am so incredibly thankful to Ms. Harder for all of her support and generosity in making this day so impactful for me. I will always cherish the time we spent together. She is a truly amazing woman who serves as an inspiration for me, and all girls across Canada.

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I didn’t think things could get any more exciting than going to Parliament, but the following week I had the opportunity to mark the 5th anniversary of International day of the Girl with some amazing people.  On October 11th, myself and four other girls who participated in the Girls Belong Here campaign had the opportunity to attend three unforgettable events. In the morning we went to the Toronto Stock Exchange and rang the bell with Madame Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and other youth advocates for girls’ rights. We then traveled back to the Plan Canada offices where we sat on a panel with
Madame and discussed our experiences as a part of the campaign and our beliefs surrounding gender equality.

It was a true honour to be sitting next to Madame, who is such a huge advocate and hero for gender equality and girls’ rights in Canada and across the world. She is so incredibly welcoming and easy to talk to and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be having a conversation with her about an issue that I am so passionate about. This experience is something I will keep with me forever and will continue to empower me.

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To end off the day we attended an event at the Toronto Eaton Centre where we chatted with the Leader of the Opposition, MP Rona Ambrose about her efforts in creating International Day of the Girl. It was very inspiring to hear about all of her hard work and role in making this day a reality across the world. Her dedication to the cause serves as a great example for me, and all Canadian girls.

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My entire experience as a part of the #GirlsBelongHere campaign has been such a humbling and empowering time for me. I am forever grateful to Plan International Canada for giving me this opportunity and entrusting me to take on such an important role.

What is the most significant lesson I have taken away from this experience?  I was reminded that when it comes to leadership roles, girls truly belong here, and EVERYWHERE else where decisions are made!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya 🙂

Walk for Andrea – Finding a Cure for Food Allergies

In September of 2015, 18-year-old Andrea Valentin Mariano died a preventable death from an anaphylactic allergic reaction. Like many Canadian children, Andrea was severely allergic to dairy and peanuts. On just her second day of University she happened to not be carrying her epipen with her, and she bought a smoothie that either contained milk or peanuts. She was taken to the hospital immediately, where she died three days later.

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Andrea is not the only Canadian child who has suffered from severe allergies. In fact, 7.5 % of Canadians have a life threatening food allergy; that’s 1 in 13 Canadians or 2.5 million people (SPAACE, 2015). In Canada, the amount of emergency visits due to an anaphylaxis reaction has nearly doubled in the last 4 years (study from 2011-2015). Although someone can be allergic to any food, the top 10 most common allergens are: dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, wheat, sulfites, mustard, seafood.

What makes this issue and Andrea’s story so real and personal to me is that two of my younger cousins, Preeti and Arjun, suffer from severe food allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame seeds. I have been present at a family wedding where my cousin who was just 3 years old at the time had an anaphylactic reaction. My cousins mean the world so to me and I can’t imagine anything bad happening to them. It is because of them that I am passionate about raising awareness about food allergies and finding a cure.

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I also have close family friends who have severe allergies to nuts, dairy, eggs, seafood, and soy. Unfortunately, right now there is no cure for food allergies and the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is strict avoidance of the allergen. That is why their parents, Jyoti and Peter, have created an organization called Walk for Andrea – Finding a Cure for Food Allergies. My family and friends, along with Andrea’s family have joined together to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for food allergies.

Walk for Andrea

  • Date: October 2nd, 2016.
  • Location: Milne Dam Conservation Park Trail (Markham, Ontario)
  • Time: 10am – 12pm

All the money raised from this event will be donated directly to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Program at Sick Kids Hospital to find a cure for food allergies. To make a difference and register for the Walk for Andrea go to: http://walkforandrea.ca/index.php/registration/. Or, if you don’t want to participate in the walk itself, you can still make a donation by heading to http://www.walkforandrea.ca and click the ‘Donate’ button. Sick Kids Foundation will provide tax receipts for all donations over $20.

To learn more about the walk and food allergies head to http://www.walkforandrea.ca.

Together we can help find a cure for food allergies. I hope to see YOU at the Walk for Andrea on Oct. 2. 2016!

Thanks for joining me on my journey to change the world!

-Diviya 🙂