Categories
Ecology

Trash in Paris: sorting and recycling should be taught in schools

Credit : L.R.

The modern Western economic model of society produces a tremendous amount of waste. In France, for example, it reaches 38 million tons per year.

Back in 1884, the Prefect of Paris, Eugène Poubel, decided that waste should be collected and put in special containers, covered with a lid. His memory lives on, as, after the reform, Parisians started calling the trash bins “poubelle,” and the name stuck.

The innovation allowed the city authorities to clean up Paris’s streets and kick off the tradition of sorting waste.

Garbage recycling centers have existed in Paris since 1886. Rag-pickers collected paper, cloth, bones, and cans, while other workers took away iron, pottery, and enamel products. After careful selection, only organic waste remained, which was mixed with the soil and used for the needs of agriculture. The rest of the garbage was incinerated and converted into steam and electricity.

The waste sorting law was adopted in France in 1992, but only at the end of 2002 has it been implemented in all districts of Paris.

Parisians throw garbage in three multi-colored bins. Yellow is for plastic and paper; white is for glass, and green is for household waste. Only a few districts in Paris use a fourth separate brown container for organic waste.

For successful recycling, sorting and collecting waste needs to be done right. The main task of sorting trash is processing it into new resources.

Before 2020, some of the plastic and paper packages were recycled, while others were not. Now, the sorting process has been simplified, and all parts of the box can be thrown into a yellow container.

A simple example is of this issue is cookie packaging, which, most often in France, consists of a cardboard box containing a plastic container covered with a plastic sheet. Until 2020, only cardboard was recycled, but now all packaging is recycled in most districts. Starting in 2023, all plastic packaging will be recycled.

Sorting and recycling garbage has not yet become a widespread habit. Parisians still often wonder how to do it right.

As a result, education remains one of the main tasks of successful recycling. High-tech recycling centers are huge progress, but in order for them to work efficiently, waste must be sorted right at the first stage, in the homes of Parisians.

The problem is – no one knows one hundred percent how to sort and recycle garbage properly.

There are many urban legends on this topic. Is it right to flatten plastic bottles? They take up less space this way, but the recycling center may not accept them. The tinfoil now can be recycled and belongs in the yellow bin. But it must be rolled into a sphere the size of a tennis ball to be correctly processed at the sorting facility.

I still have a lot of questions and a great desire to sort the garbage correctly. I am one of those people who understand that recycling waste into resources is an essential process. Yet, the lack of centralized and accessible information prevents us from doing it correctly and efficiently.

Some Parisians don’t care what happens to the trash – as long it is out of sight. It is hard to blame them. Their position is another consequence of the lack of information and social education.

There are many different initiatives to reduce plastic waste, including reusable containers and bulk shopping to avoid packaging. However, these innovations are most often seen in expensive organic supermarkets and remain the exception to the rule. Most city dwellers buy groceries in regular stores, which means that the amount of garbage in Parisian houses does not decrease.

Not everyone realizes the importance of recycling and waste reduction on their own. Informing the public about waste sorting and recycling is a crucial part of the process. In my opinion, kids should be taught at school how to recycle and why it’s essential, so the new generations know better and can do better than us.

Categories
Ecology

A basket of fresh vegetables to save the organic farming: my experience in AMAP

Credit: Ta-Tev

AMAPs exist in almost every city in France. The abbreviation stands for “Association pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne”, which translated from French means the Association for the maintenance of farm agriculture. First amaps appeared in the country in 2000. They allow city dwellers to buy fresh vegetables, bread, eggs, and meat directly from the farmers, and farms get the funds and help they need in return.

Joining an amap starts with signing a contract with a local farmer. Everyone involved wins: having many subscribers helps to ensure the farm’s financial stability during the year, and members get fresh produce weekly – organic vegetables, grown without pesticides.

In Paris, a farmer can work with one, two, or three districts, depending on how many people his harvest can accommodate. In some areas of the city, several amaps coexist, with different farmers in charge of each. I had a chance to be a member of amap in Ile-de-France.

At first, I was skeptical about the proposal to join the amap. I’ve heard a lot about this association, and some of my friends have expressed mixed reviews. Among the inconveniences of this system, people most often remarked on the fact that vegetables need to be picked up regularly, once a week, at the same time. This means that on the evening of the amap meeting, the person has to be there and is forced to plan their life around it. By signing a contract, people also agree to help farmers from time to time: participate in the distribution of vegetables and help during the harvest.

Another disadvantage is the fact that the harvest is not always predictable. Some weeks the farmer may have less vegetables, so subscribers can’t fully depend on getting everything they need from the amap. They might have to buy the necessary products in regular stores, which can be annoying if the family is trying to stick to getting 100% organic produce from the farm and uses it as motivation to join the amap.

Amaps in Paris rarely offer fruit (the variety of crops depends on the farm and its location). One of the important principles of the system is to support the consumption of seasonal products. In the summertime, the farmers will bring tomatoes and cucumbers, while during the winter amap will have different types of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, celery root, and black radish.

After much thought, I finally decided to sign a contract. My main motivation was to support local farming and sustainable agriculture practices.

When I went to the first distribution of vegetables, I was amazed by the number of people supporting this system. The crowd was very diverse: couples with children, older citizens, and young people. I saw a friendly face right away – our neighbor turned out to be one of the members.

After talking with the farmer, I learned that about 40 people are registered in the amap of our district (and this was far from the only amap in the area). The farmer at that time had no more space and even had to refuse some people who wanted to sign up.

I was impressed by the friendly and cheerful atmosphere at the meetings. As it turns out, every week, those charged with distributing the vegetables (a task all members have to take turns on every six months) bring pies, drinks and throw a small party. Some people pick up the vegetables and immediately go home, while others stay to socialize. Participants discuss organic farming, alternative energy production, waste reduction, and supporting local farms. During these evenings, people exchange views and experiences.

After several meetings, I realized that the distribution of vegetables from 7 to 8.30 in the evening falls on the time when the French are normally having dinner. Members were multitasking and using the meetings to socialize and have a meal with friends and like-minded people. At the end of the night, when everyone gets their baskets of vegetables and the dinner is over, distributors can take leftover produce home.

The most abundant times for amaps are summer and fall. During that season, our farmer brought the freshest vegetables: juicy tomatoes, fresh onions, cucumbers, eggplants, zucchini, and fragrant herbs.

Once a year, the most active amap members organize a big meeting, to which all subscribers are invited. They discuss organizational issues and main trends in agriculture, participants vote for innovations and exchange opinions. In addition to these annual meetings, the city’s amap network often hosts conferences and screens documentaries on organic farming.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the amap membership for me was the trips to the farm. Each time it would get together about twenty people. Working on the farm turned out to be a very educational process. On the one hand, I learned a lot about farming and was able to see with my own eyes how it is done in France. On the other hand, during potluck lunches at the farm, when everyone shared something they cooked at home, I was able to meet interesting people from different cultures and parts of society, united by love for the land, desire for a change, and the search for alternatives to the modern consumption system.

Digging in the ground, picking vegetables, having that pleasant tiredness in the evening – it all reminded me of my childhood when I helped my parents in our countryside Russian «dacha». Back then I couldn’t appreciate the pleasure of growing my own vegetables. Working in the garden seemed to me a pointless waste of personal time because everything could be bought in the store. Helping our farmer now, I had the feeling that I, too, make some contribution to the cultivation of vegetables, and even more, a contribution to the development of subsistence farming.

I got a different point of view on local farming. I tried new vegetables, the ones I never bought at the store before since they were unknown to me. I plunged into a world of solidarity not only with farmers but also between amap participants. There was a tradition among the members: those who cannot come for their basket of vegetables can ask someone to pick it up and hold it until the next day. At times, especially in winter, when it is dark and raining outside, it is difficult to motivate yourself to go to the amap for vegetables. But every time, I managed to overcome my laziness and went to a meeting.

I never regretted my decision to join amap. When we moved from Paris, I had to leave the association and now, when I try to grow my own vegetables, I fondly remember this invaluable experience. Thanks to the amap and the people I met there, I have the hope that through the solidarity and responsibility that awakens in each of us as we work together, we can contribute to the better future of our planet. Even if this contribution starts with a simple basket of fresh vegetables.

Categories
Ecology

Julius and his community garden

Julius is an architect. He lives in the heart of the 19th district of Paris. Several years ago, together with many other people that live in his enormous building, Julius planted a community garden. From that day, it remained a passion project for him. The garden, labor, and fruits of which are shared by all the participating neighbors, allowed them to create an island of nature surrounded by the stone jungle of Paris.

In this interview for Draftsy Julius agreed to tell us more about his garden and how it changed the life of the building.

D: Julius, what was your motivation to create the community garden?

J: Well, the “garden” part came first, and the “community” came later. My primary motive was the simple pleasure of watching a seed grow into a plant and bear fruit, watching a visiting bee, the rain, and the sun do their part in it. Experimenting with tomatoes in my own 12th-floor balcony for a few years was enough to satisfy this pleasure. I guess this sort of intimate engagement with nature is the first and necessary element of our ecological being as a society. At the same time, I’ve also been looking for opportunities to shatter social norms, historically associated with urban green spaces, which are exclusively decorative and recreational in their purpose.

What do you do in the parks of big cities? You admire begonias, you jog, you have your picnics on the grass with friends, and you take care not to stain your nice clothes with grass and dirt. In a way, you treat it like a big veranda with flowerpots, attached to your living-room. Parks are full of signs forbidding you to do this and that which is far from the freedom you have while being in a forest.

My first idea was secretly planting some “unsightly”, rural vegetables in those beautiful flower beds all around Parisian parks. This subversive idea brought me to the “community” dimension because the urban space and social norms are unthinkable without sharing, without living together. You can’t undo big cities, but you can try changing them. This is how my connection with nature shaped into a sort of love triangle: nature, society, and the individual. I discovered many like-minded people in Paris, and in fact, this grass-root movement has been going on all over Europe for some time now. Some are moved by the return-to-roots motivation, others – by the looming ecological disaster, the collapse in the bee population, and the climate change.

The idea is to reclaim the urban green areas nearby, leaving the choices of how to make their urban environment greener for private citizens. Some of those reclaimed areas are tiny left-over spots: in German cities, and recently in Paris, people started “adopting” a three square meter area around a sidewalk tree, and planting wildflowers, pumpkins, and whatnot. Others temporarily squat the sites of demolished old buildings. The municipal authorities started following this essentially grass-roots trend and now provide assistance – something that was unthinkable twenty years ago. There are many such initiatives around Paris, and communal gardens are nowadays often included in new housing projects.

I am lucky to live in an apartment building with a large adjacent green area and share it with some like-minded neighbors. We asked the landowner to allocate us a plot for urban gardening. He gave us a go. Partly because, for better or worse, the ecology nowadays is an asset of fashion for housing companies, and partly because this way he saves on lawn maintenance costs.

Now we have a 600 square meter garden, which is rather big for a city that is one of the most densely built spots in the world. This is how our garden came into being, and we just gathered the third harvest.

D: What were the first steps for you and your neighbors to make it happen, once the decision was made, and everyone was on board?

J: The first steps were us trying to agree on what we want to do, how do we want it to happen, and deciding on what is the endgame of the project. This (still ongoing) discussion didn’t magically make the garden materialize but it’s still worth mentioning. France is a country with very strong traditions of social consciousness, and a tiny communal endeavor as this can quickly devolve into hot debates on social and political order. The idea of allotting land for individual use was discarded from the outset. Are we going to be a collective garden or a shared one? This question would perplex a person from some Nordic country, but the disagreement on it was nearly fatal for our group.

Credit: Julius

The steps that did advance the creation of the garden were getting up from the table in the middle of the discussion, going to our plot, building wooden frames, and working the soil. With time, we procured some funds to buy wood and tools and to replace the infertile soil. We learned to enjoy together what we used to enjoy privately in our balconies: watching the flowers and vegetable plants bloom, start to smell, ripen with fruit. There’s a very particular kind of pleasure in taking the elevator down to the garden to fetch some salad greens and cucumbers for dinner – in the middle of Paris! 

D: Who was helping you? How many people participated in the project? How much time do you spend working in the garden now?

J: The landlord – who is a semi-private social housing company – gave us a budget for our bigger expenses: the wood, irrigation pipes, and the new soil. The plans, workforce and logistics came from our group exclusively. This involved all kinds of know-how, ranging from carpentry to plumbing. Our group is very diverse profession-wise, but nearly all come from a white-collar professional background. There are opera singers, mathematicians… We had to rely a lot on my professional expertise as an architect. A lot of very specific knowledge, especially when it comes to gardening, comes from online resources, from YouTube, and so on.

We started with about 30 members in the beginning, but today the regulars count 5-10 devotees. Since we have extremely diverse skills and capacities, some work with the soil, others organize events, do paperwork or take photographs for the archive. Since we’re still in the “investment” stage, putting everything in shape takes a lot of time, but unlike the day job, the amount of work largely depends on the biological calendar, naturally. We are looking for outside funding, and this year the French government created an all-country financial assistance specifically for urban gardening. I’m counting on it to help us buy some trees and wood for the garden furniture.

D: How do you share the responsibilities of taking care of the garden and the harvest?

J: We never established a more tangible “constitution” of the group. There are however a couple of “red lines”: no individual appropriation of land, and no power hierarchy (except for my being a sort of unelected leader). We compensate for the lack of structure by playing by ear. I guess that puts us somewhere within the anarchist camp, but we don’t pigeonhole ourselves in political definitions. There’s an unwritten agreement though that we will keep with the ecological practices and philosophy.

As a general observation, there’s a big gap between the time and effort that people tend to invest into what is a hobby, after all, and the real needs of a well-managed garden, which will simply perish if you don’t water it the moment it needs to be watered. We have a WhatsApp group to quickly react to the weather and call for reinforcement when needed. Sometimes nobody’s available, and the plants take the toll.

While we have no hierarchic structure, we do have supervisors of technical areas: some are responsible for flowers, others for vegetables, for budget, for the compost, and so on. Most of those initiatives come spontaneously, and the person who introduces an idea is usually responsible for overseeing its realization. This makes the choice of the supervisor by voting somewhat irrelevant because it’s rare for several people to author the same idea. Some voices were calling for using voting to arbitrate every little decision, but this proved to be as time-consuming as counterproductive, mainly because gardening involves thousands of small choices that are purely technical. For example, a group can vote very evenhandedly for planting peas together with onions, but those two cultures will never grow well together. Some choices are less obvious because there are various philosophies of gardening. We are still divided over the question of whether we should mow our lawns the “English way” or let it grow wild in the spirit of “French garden”. We’ll have to hear the pros and cons and put it to vote.

Since the land is used commonly, we share the fruits of the garden in the most equitable way possible. The harvest is not big enough to set a quota for sharing, so eating the fruits is a largely symbolic act of sharing. Being- and having fun together is a very distinct dimension of the group, although this has little to do with its ecological purposes, properly speaking. But urban gardening and ecological consciousness have a strong social bond, almost a kinship. Even within the population of our high-rise residence overlooking the garden, our group and its activities are subjects of curiosity and talk. In this sense, our activity is very different from that of an agricultural professional, tending to his or hers obscure rural garden: it’s inevitably a theater stage for other townsfolk to watch. This may sound a bit negative, but at the same time, it’s a form of direct action in transforming the traditional urban mindset. All our new recruits joined us after seeing us through the window. On a broader scale, there are about fifteen similar garden projects in our district alone, which amounts to certain visibility in the city and its municipal ecological politics.

D: What do you usually plant? Did you have to change it at all in the process of trial and error (some plants did not work well, others made more sense, etc.)?

J: In the beginning, we were reduced to a narrow range of plants that could grow in our silty substrate that only had 1.5% of organic matter. Things got better after we added 40 cubic meters of rich soil. Now, besides the usual European-climate friendly vegetables, we grow various tomatoes, even Italian bell peppers. For the exotic peppers, we’ve built a greenhouse. Due to having no formal training in the field, we use the trial-and-error method. This year I tried growing the southern melons in the greenhouse, but in a humid greenhouse the mildew devastated the plants. Tomatoes do very well, although this summer was extremely cold. With flowers, we have the usual pleasure-garden beauties, but in general, we chose the most bee-friendly flowers.

D: In your opinion, will community gardens disappear in the future, or will they become even more common?

J: The urban community gardens can’t possibly disappear because their emerging follows similar reasons that back in the nineteenth century forced the authorities of big cities to create public gardens at the expense of the built areas. The trend is not only a matter of fashion but also an absolute ecological and social necessity. Unlike public parks though, the urban community gardens have lots of limitations: they appear where an empty spot in the built-up environment becomes available. But more and more city planners include such gardens in new housing projects. It’s becoming a norm with benefits.

D: Do you think the creation of community gardens in the big cities could be an alternative answer to the future problems with food?

J: Interesting question. There’s certainly a lot that can be done for cities to be able to provide themselves with agricultural produce, but there are certain limitations to be taken into account. The vegetation footprint in Paris is gradually spreading on the flat roofs, even on the walls, but it will always have to share space with other components and functions of the city. Sunlight is another thing to share. Certain vegetables and fruits are easy to grow even in the city but very difficult to transport from remote places. For example, fresh raspberries. There is a company in Paris that cultivates them on the rooftops and provides them directly to restaurants because a massive amount of berries goes bad very fast and can’t stand transportation. The same is true for salad greens and many other vegetables.

D: If you could have the power to make it happen, which other alternative do you think has the ability to improve the ecological situation in the big cities around the world?

J: Outside the lack of vegetation, there are dire ecological problems in the city that should be treated as quickly as possible, for instance, the transport and thermic insulation of buildings. If your question is more about the nature in the city, I wish I could transform flat rooftops into a real layer of thick greenery floating above the city, with occasional footbridges and small animal overpasses across the streets. It would be a new space for the same population, but it would have different norms of being together. Utopians of the nineteenth century called for combining the best of the city and the countryside, but the idea ended up with sad fenced suburban condominiums. So, this would be my shot. But that would require massive changes in building by-laws, construction codes, and even in the concept of land ownership. French people say Soyons réalistes, demandons l’impossible!

If you want to learn more about community gardens in the 19th district of Paris follow the link https://www.cheminsdejardins.com/ . The garden of Julius and his neigbours is under the number 24.

Categories
Ecology

World CleanUp day

Credit : Brian Yurasits

World CleanUp day is celebrated today – millions of people around the world are coming together to make a difference in their communities.

According to the World CleanUp day official website, last year, despite the pandemic, 11 million volunteers in 166 countries participated in the event and collected 43000 tons of garbage. This year the organizers hope to see even more people take part.

The idea to simply get together, go outside and clean up the environment as much as possible was born in 2008 in Estonia. A local grass-roots organization Let’s Do It called for a national cleanup day. Fifty thousand people showed up and picked up ten thousand tons of trash, ultimately “cleaning up” the country. The event quickly made the news, but what is even more important, it inspired millions of people (and even whole governments) to follow suit.

Members of the initial Estonian group have created an international Let’s Do It World movement in 2011. In 2018 they naturally progressed from the idea of “cleaning up” individual countries and organized the first World CleanUp Day. According to the movement’s 2020 annual report, participants specifically concentrated on plastic bottles and cigarette butts. However, during last year’s cleanup, volunteers around the world unearthed some interesting finds. In the Cayman Islands, they collected a lot of abandoned shopping carts; in France, a washing machine was pulled out of a canal; and in Ukraine, volunteers found a motorcycle buried in the mud.

In my home state of Florida, thousands of volunteers will go out today to clean up local parks and beaches – World CleanUp day coincides in the US with the International Coastal Cleanup, which urges people to pick up trash on the shore and stop plastic pollution of the ocean at the source.

Even if your Cleanup Day will consist of picking up a plastic bottle from the sidewalk or taking a bucket for your morning beach walk – we can all do our small part. Let’s clean up the world!

To learn more, check out https://www.worldcleanupday.org/

Categories
Topic of the month

Volume III – Ecology

In the first two volumes, we wrote about the meaning of home and freedom. When considering the topic for September, it seemed to us that ecology would be a logical continuation of this conversation.

In the recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the humanity received a harsh verdict: we are causing immense harm to the planet, and some of the changes can be considered irreversible for the following centuries to millennia. Scientists from 66 countries have worked on the report. Their conclusion is rather pessimistic and does not leave room for hope to solve global warming issues any time soon.

What is happening to our planet today is the result of catastrophic, insatiable human greed. Humans’ desire to take advantage of the Earth’s resources till the last drop, and our irresponsibility and cupidity to dominate nature have led to the reality in which the forests around the world are burning, new diseases appear, and various species of insects, animals, and fish disappear forever.

We act as if we have an extra planet somewhere, a new, clean home. Unfortunately, humanity has no other planet besides the Earth, so it is time we face what we are doing to it. With the ecological catastrophe already happening, it is possible that in the future, it may cause social disasters associated with the restriction of human rights and freedoms.

Today, we have a choice to make. On the one hand, we can pretend that everything is fine, the planet’s resources will be enough for our generation, and say “our grandkids can deal with this problem.” Or we can choose to act – on a personal level and by influencing global corporations who are causing the most pollution and changing the face of the planet.

This month, we would like to talk about various environmental initiatives and discuss what we can do to help the planet.

Agrippina&Tatevik

Categories
Society

Sex trafficking in France: how migrant women end up in modern slavery 

Credit : Ta-Tev

When I think about the freedom of women today, I think about it in the most literal way – as freedom of migrant women that I have worked with. They come to France in search of a better future for their families but instead find themselves involved in sexual exploitation.

Sex trafficking is a controversial topic, surrounded by stereotypes, myths, and tabus. It raises a serious problem of the exploitation of women’s bodies by men, challenges the patriarchal society that makes this exploitation possible, and in some countries even legal and regulated. Sexual exploitation brings into question female’s freedom of choice. Does it exist for women caught in the grip of modern slavery? 

In this article, I will mainly talk about women who have been victims of trafficking and prostitution. Men also fall into this system, but much less often. All the information is based on my experience of working with victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery, professional courses I have attended, as well as the literature I have read. This topic is very extensive, so for this discussion, I will outline only the basic facts about how human trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims takes place in France.

Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in the modern world is a developed and well-functioning system, supplying women to Europe, the US and Canada, and Russia. Women and girls are brought from poor countries with unstable political and economic situations. They come from Africa, where the main traffic of people comes from Nigeria; Eastern European countries including Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria; and more recently Latin American countries.

What happens to women brought to Europe? Do they manage to get out of this sexual slavery? Can they rebuild their lives in the new country? To answer these questions, consider the situation of victims of trafficking and forced prostitution in France. 

France is a part of Europe, but not all European Union countries have the same stance towards prostitution. France is a neighbor to Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Ireland, which all support the neo-abolitionism approach. This means clients are punished and fined, pimps can face a long prison sentence and a huge fine, but women who engage in sexual relations for money are considered victims of the system of prostitution.

Since 2011, prostitution has been perceived in France as violence against women and equated with crimes such as rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. Since 2016, buying sex in France is punishable by law. The client, creating a demand for the service, thereby participates in the human traffic for sexual exploitation and violence against women, which runs counter to the gender equality policy in the country. 

The women are brought in from different countries, depending on the expectations of the clients. Most are lured to France by fraudulent means. Girls are forced to engage in sexual relations with clients against their will, through blackmail, threats, and violence. Since it is illegal to buy sexual services, these women are victims and not subject to the punishment sex workers face in the countries where prostitution is prohibited and illegal (for example, in Russia and some countries of Eastern Europe).

How do women become victims of the prostitution system and what do they go through? 

The story of every trafficked woman is unique. However, certain situations can put women at increased risk of falling victims to sex slavery. It is important to understand that women who have been trapped in this system and found themselves in France are mostly migrants who decided to go to Europe to work, not knowing what kind of work awaits them. Forced to migrate to feed their families, many of them leave their children with relatives and hope for a better future abroad. 

Others are young girls who have experienced violence in their own country (molestation at a young age by family members or sexual assault by strangers); some are victims of forced marriage; others are forced into prostitution in their home countries. 

Depending on the country the women are trafficked from, the methods of attracting them are different. Often, women involved in prostitution against their will have an unstable income and a history of sexual abuse. They come from extreme poverty. Many did not have or do not have access to education and information. Most, deciding to leave their country to work, do not know what awaits them on that path.

For example, women from Nigeria mostly go through Libya, where they become victims of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. For several years now, journalists and international human rights organizations have raised the alarm, telling the world community that people in Libya are being sold and bought while trying to get to Europe. Migrants are regularly sold into slavery, tortured, and killed. Women who manage to get through this hell, end up on boats that transport them to Europe. Not everyone survives at sea. Once in Europe, women have to pay back the money they spent traveling there. However, instead of the expected job as a nanny, a worker in a nursing home, or a hairdresser, they are forced to “work” on the street and sell their bodies.

How do women leave prostitution?

There are several well-functioning systems for transporting, selling, and exploiting women in Europe. It is very difficult to get out of those systems, but it is possible. Every girl (the victims can be also minors) and woman involved is controlled by pimps and other participants of the process, who have a huge impact on victims of trafficking. Criminals use various methods to control and intimidate victims: psychological manipulation, blackmail, threats of violence against the women and their loved ones. For example, women from Nigeria are forced to take an oath of obedience before leaving. During this ritual, the hair is cut off from different parts of their bodies, mixed with nail clippings and parts of the skin, and made into a Voodoo doll. If women refuse to obey, they are reminded of the oath and the punishment that awaits them. 

At some point during sexual exploitation, a woman may be faced with a situation that will influence her decision to flee from a pimp, despite the threats and serious consequences of disobedience. Most often, she decides to take such a step when faced with serious health problems, after being brutally attacked by a hot-tempered client or after finding out that one of her family members was murdered by criminals. Sometimes women simply no longer have the physical or mental strength to continue such a life. It is at this point that they have the courage and strength to seek support from organizations that help victims of sex trafficking.

How can organizations help victims?

Several organizations in France support victims of sexual exploitation on their way to a normal life. They employ social workers and educators, psychologists, lawyers, and other professionals. Some women turning to these organizations just want to tell their stories and rehabilitate their bodies and souls. Many need help with legal issues, some simply have nothing to eat and need help to get food and housing. Whatever issue a victim of sex trafficking may bring to these associations, the central problem for them is the experience of prostitution in itself.

Many women don’t know how to cope with the past and deal with the psychological trauma caused by constant violence against their bodies and souls. They want to start a new life but are not sure how to live with the eternal fear that they will be found and forced to go out on the streets again. At the same time, they are facing the fear of not surviving this new “normal life” without traditional work, knowledge of the language, and support.

Organizations working with victims of sex trafficking help them find solutions for these issues. They support women and help them build a new life filled with positive emotions and experiences. 

The path to normal life for victims is long and difficult. Breaking free of sexual slavery, women find themselves face to face with psychological trauma and fears for themselves and their families. By contacting organizations that support victims of sex trafficking in time, they can receive psychological help and talk with social workers, which allows them to speak about their problems and process what happened to them, and gain access to information about their rights. In addition to psychological problems, victims of the sex trade can have serious, wide-ranging health problems that must also not be overlooked. 

At the same time, women are faced with the problem of survival. They must find ways to feed themselves and figure out where to live. There are a few organizations and associations in France that help them with basic needs. Women can get temporary housing by calling Emergency Number 115 for the homeless; various charities help the needy and the homeless with food. All this social support keeps women afloat for a while. However, for the most part, women find themselves without papers, money, and knowledge of the language, in the country the bureaucratic system and cultural codes of which seem to them (at least in the beginning) a complete gibberish. Many of them, after applying for asylum, are rejected by the authorities and risk being deported, which for many (especially the women from Nigeria), can mean a return to sex slavery and violence from pimps demanding backpay.

There are women who, at their peril and risk, go to the police and write a statement against their pimps. While their case is being investigated, women receive a temporary residence permit. If the investigation does not identify the perpetrators and reaches a dead-end (which happens very often), that residence permit is not renewed, so women, again, face deportation.

France has a state program for women affected by sexual exploitation, called “Exit Prostitution”. The program lasts two years, supports women financially, and gives them access to intensive courses in French and the labor market. However, the program is not perfect. Depending on the area, it is not always easy for women to access the program. Once the victims join the program, it can last longer than two years, which in itself becomes a difficult test for women. Many of them want to forget the past, start a new life and look with hope to the future, yet they are forced for years to speak about their trauma and remember it. 

Is it possible to leave prostitution for good? 

Many women escape and never go back. Those who return do it for various reasons, but this is a topic for another article.

In Russia and France, one can often hear that prostitution is the oldest profession, and if women are engaged in it, it must be their personal choice. No “job” in the world causes as much psychological and physical trauma as prostitution. That’s why for me, sexual exploitation cannot be considered a profession, it is constant violence against the body and soul of a woman. No women dream of becoming sex slaves to men that make money by selling their bodies. For the vast majority of women immigrants in France, prostitution is not a free choice. 

I believe our society needs to rethink its views on prostitution. As long as we consider such phrases as “prostitution is a profession”, “because of prostitutes we have fewer rapes”, “it is their choice, they like it” normal, there will be no real equality between men and women. Equality means the female body is respected and not sold for profit against a woman’s wishes. Equality means the women are protected from being beaten up, humiliated, and raped. 

Categories
Free form essays

Freedom of having children late

Credit: Adrian Hillman, iStock

When I was a little girl, I thought I would have two kids by the time I was 25. Granted, I grew up in Russia, where getting married young and having children young has been an accepted tradition for a very long time. Instead, I went to college, worked as a journalist for a while, and then moved to the US.

In my early twenties, the last thing on my mind was, “where do I find a fine man who can be the father to my future children?” Instead, I was thinking about how to get the tickets to the latest DJ set or use my journalist ID to get to the backstage of concerts (after using it first to get in for free). I traveled, I made friends, I fell in love. I made stupid decisions. Probably some good ones, too. But the twenties seem like the perfect time for screwing things up and learning from your mistakes.

I did get married for the first time when I was 27. He was much older than me, and having kids right away just wasn’t something we discussed. I felt I had a lot of time, and our financial situation was far from ideal. When I got divorced two years later, not having children (or any property together) was more of a blessing than a regret.

Only in my early thirties did I finally find myself, learned to listen to my desires, and treat my body and mind with the love they deserved all along. I moved across the country, traveled even more, got a new job. I started going to therapy (that divorce was a great thing for me but still left me in shambles).

I am trying to say that up until I was about 31-32, I wasn’t too concerned about having kids. I was hoping to meet someone soon, who would be a good husband and a father. I knew I was getting close to the moment when I would want to become a mom. But I also enjoyed being single, discovering the world, and learning how to be genuinely happy on my own. In other words, I was growing up and becoming the person I was meant to be.

Maybe it is the privilege of our comfortable times and both countries where I grew up and now live. We don’t have to do farm work from an early age; we can get good education, travel, build careers and write dissertations. We are not required to marry a wealthy neighbor to help our family out or birth half a dozen kids to help with the chores around the house. Times are changing, and in many countries, women have kids much later in life.

I am one of those women, and I think it’s ok. I also think people need to stop asking us when we will finally start pushing babies out, “like we are supposed to.”

One of the Russian politicians went viral last year when she said that women should ideally have kids before the age of 25, so maybe the schools need to do a better job at explaining to girls how important this is. Women who give birth later than that she called “the old birth givers.” The term is not new and was widely used in Soviet times. It refers to women who become mothers after they turn 27.

Russian society did not take her comments lightly and suggested she leaves it to women to decide what to do with their bodies and instead focuses on astonishing levels of poverty amongst single mothers in Russia. While the attitudes of younger generations are certainly changing, a doctor in a Russian infertility clinic still might suggest a husband (of any age) chooses a younger wife if the current “after 30” partner is not successful in conceiving a firstborn.

A couple of years ago I went for a walk with a friend. He lives in Madrid; we have known each other for many years but never had a chance to meet. I was in town for work, and we decided to go for a stroll and grab dinner together. It was a perfectly lovely evening, up until we started talking about our personal lives. I told him I was dating someone, and I believed we would get married at some point and start a family. To this, my perfectly kind and well-meaning friend said, “Oh yeah, it is time to start trying for kids, no? How old are you, 33? 34?”

Because I was going to therapy for years and was able to react to things better, I did not burst into tears or scream at him. I calmly explained how inappropriate this question was and suggested he should never say that to another woman. He apologized profusely and felt so bad he insisted on paying for dinner.

I don’t think my friend is a horrible person. I think it is just too normalized to ask such questions and make jokes about the subject. People rarely realize that they might be hurting others with their unwelcome inquiries.

Yes, we are having kids when we are much older. Our lives and attitudes towards motherhood are changing. Still, our bodies are largely the same as they always were, with the exception of the availability of much better nutrition and medicine. This means that having kids can be difficult at any age, but it sometimes becomes even more difficult later in life.

I have friends who have been trying to conceive for years. I know a few girls that are currently going through IVF treatments and a few others that just gave birth after it. I know women who suffered miscarriages. Fertility is a difficult subject, and problems with it can be devastating to the family. It is also not something couples might discuss with friends or acquaintances in a casual conversation.

When someone asks, “when the babies are coming,” or comments on a woman’s weight gain with suggestions of pregnancy (which can be completely random or a result of hormone therapy to battle infertility), they don’t know how much pain they are causing.

Not everyone is ready to have kids at the same time. Some people decide not to have them at all, and that is also ok. Some families wait years to have a kid and focus on other things in life. Others have six children and are universally hated by everyone who has the misfortune to dine at the same restaurant with their large brood.

Let’s agree not to ask stupid questions about fertility, lack of kids, not enough kids, kids of opposite gender “to finally have a boy/girl,” and all other things that are none of our damn business. Let’s learn as a society to be better and do better. We must remember that even the questions that come from the most loving heart of a good friend or an elderly relative can be hurtful and most definitely unnecessary.

Let’s learn different ways to ask married couples about how they are doing and to check in on single female friends approaching their mid-thirties. Talk to them about their favorite Netflix shows. Discuss plants and dogs – no one will get mad at you if you ask people when they are going to finally get a puppy. Devise the plan to take the patriarchy down and solve the climate change crisis. Just stop asking women about having kids.

Categories
Free form essays

Freedom of a mother

Credit: Linda

Our reader shares her view of what freedom means for her as a mother living between Turkey and Germany.

When asked about freedom, I wanted to write about freedom of choice as a mother. I am a mother of two, a 4-year-old girl and an 8-month-old boy, both amazing children. I am German, but we live in Turkey, in the city of Edirne, near the Greek and Bulgarian border. I gave birth to both of my children here.

I feel very privileged when I think about the freedom of choice that I have. I know about families that are staying apart because the mother has to live in another country for work; there is a lot of work migration from Eastern to Western Europe. Turkey is rather a destination for migrant workers from even further East nowadays, like our friends from Afghanistan, young fathers working in Edirne, leaving their wives and children behind, in order to support their families.

As a mother, I also had the freedom to choose where to give birth to my children. We moved to Turkey when I was 3 months pregnant. At the time, I was very unsure whether I could imagine giving birth here, in a foreign country with a foreign language, under the care of a health system I knew almost nothing about. In hindsight, I am more than content about our choice to stay here. The health system is very professionally managed, and I had the freedom to choose a natural birth (instead of the predominant birth style of planned cesarian in Turkey). 

My gynecologist was very much in favor of natural birth. In the Turkish medical system, the gynecologist who supports the woman during pregnancy is also with her during birth, together with several nurses and a midwife. I have heard stories from friends in Germany, that they were often left alone as a couple during labor for long periods, as clinics in big cities are too busy and understaffed. We ended up staying in a hospital after birth for another night because it was so comfortable and the staff was so supportive to us in this new situation.

Having a baby (especially your first) doesn’t leave a lot of freedom for the parents. It is not easy and has its ups and downs, but the most important thing about raising children is having support and people around you, in my opinion. 

With my parents-in-law living only 15 minutes away and my husband being self-employed and having flexible hours, we could always go see the pediatrician together. Again, I heard about the desperate hunts for an appointment for the third-day routine check-up in cities like Munich – all pediatricians would be full or not accept new patients. 

I always felt very supported as a mom and see it as a positive thing for my children to be able to stay and interact with other people, even if it is just for a few minutes when they are very small. They are learning from a variety of humans while knowing that the love and care of their mom are always there when needed.

I also had the freedom to choose to start working again very soon after birth, when my daughter was 4,5 months old, which is more than unusual in Germany. Due to the governmental regulations such as paid leave and job guarantees for parents, the vast majority of moms there stay home with the baby at least until it is one year old. Dads usually stay home for 2 months only, as governmental support in Germany provides 14 months of paid leave that can be shared among the parents, with one parent needing to take at least 2 months. Dads mostly do the minimum.

I had the freedom to work part-time, 16 hours a week on two days during the first year, then moving up to 25 hours a week. I was working from home on my computer for my company in Germany, while my daughter was with a nanny/house helper, a local woman a little older than me who had never worked before but was more than happy to earn money herself, a very positive, smiling, much-loving friend for both my children and me. 

When my daughter was 14 months old, she started going to kindergarten for several hours a week. She loved it and had a very good balance of only sleeping at home, getting enough rest, and enjoying the interactions with other children. 

We had the freedom to travel to Germany every two months with the baby. The trips helped us establish a good, trusting connection with my part of our family there as well. It also allowed my daughter to learn German as well as Turkish.

I had the freedom to choose not to buy all the luxury, woolen or wooden made, seemingly eco-friendly clothes and toys for my daughter that seem to be the necessary (but very expensive!) standard for the middle-class parents in Germany. I kind of pity the families living in Munich, for example. I see them as victims of the need to earn the money to make a living in this expensive city. Being forced to maintain a certain level of income gives them a lot less freedom of how to structure their family life and life in general.

I had the freedom of choice to do a couple of work trips to Germany and Western Europe when my daughter was around one year old. My husband would spend the day with her, going to the zoo, the aquarium, and making me a little jealous of their adventures.

During the pandemic, the newspaper columns on parentship in Germany were full of complaints about how difficult the situation is, how parents have to balance work and child care, how little politicians think about families and their needs. 

I was feeling for them and supported their desire to be heard. Nevertheless, I think that instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities and the freedoms we have. 

I can personally say that we did not suffer due to the pandemic. Of course, we were all scared at the beginning. I was mostly afraid of what would happen if someone in my family in Germany would get sick and I would not be able to go see them. But we adjusted quickly. 

I continued to work. The kindergarten closed for some time, because of safety concerns. Our nanny and then my husband were able to stay home with our daughter for a month each, then her Turkish grandma looked after her for two months, and after that the kindergarten re-opened and we chose to send her there again.

It was a free choice for us to have a second child, but it was not our first choice to become pregnant during the pandemic. Nevertheless, I have not regretted it at all. Doctor appointments were a bit more regulated, and during birth, the father couldn’t come to the labor room, but he could be at the hospital. It was the opposite of Germany, where the fathers were allowed in the labor rooms only, but not in the hospital in general. Pushing the second baby out only took me 15 minutes anyway, and then my husband, our new child, and I were reunited.

With my son, we could not travel to Germany as before due to the coronavirus, but we had the chance to move there temporarily for a few months when he was 3,5 months old. The car trip from Turkey to Germany usually is a 16 hours drive, plus one night spent in a hotel. It is not easy, but doable, and we have done it several times already. In fact, it seems to be the most common way of travel for Turkish families living in Western Europe.

Because we chose to move for 4 months, my firstborn could experience kindergarten in Germany. I found it to be a very enriching experience for her and she enjoyed her time there a lot. I think German kindergartens emphasize much more that children play freely and with less organized activities than Turkish kindergartens. Teachers in Turkey establish a somewhat closer connection with the kids, interacting with them very lovingly and warmly. In our temporary kindergarten in the German village, everything was closer to nature, with a big garden and kids watching little frogs grow.

In Turkey, our kindergarten is all-inclusive and flexible regarding food and eating times. When we get there late, at 10:30 am, for example, the teacher would say: « Has my little sheep had breakfast yet? No? Then I will prepare something for her.»

I find these differences only enriching, and I am happy my child could experience kindergarten in both countries.

Here we are now, excited about what else we will see and live through as a family. I want to repeat my point: instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities we have and the freedom of choice. And that often, choices are not made easily and freely, as we have specific stereotypes about different countries in our minds. Such as that life in Turkey must be worse and more difficult than life in Germany.

I have learned to see the good and difficult parts of living in both countries. I do not really have a favorite place to live in, but I encourage everybody to explore and not trust the stereotypes and fears. Even if moving to a different place with two kids means packing a lot of stuff and traveling, while one of them needs to be breastfed every hour. Organizing this is exhausting and can make you cry in between doing what needs to be done. Hopefully, your family and friends will be there to help and support you. But either way, if you muster the courage, you will experience a lot of amazing things and enrich your life.

Categories
Photojournalism

Osy Milian

“The Grays”

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Lilith
Karma
Koniek
El Sofa (The Couch)
Comprometidos (The Compromised)
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Osy Milian is a contemporary Cuban artist from Havana with a strong presence in the international art world. Her works depict the complexities of both personal and cultural experiences of modern citizens of Cuba, expressed through a vibrant artistic reflection. In this exclusive material for Draftsy, Osy agreed to tell us about her latest project – “The Grays,” a series of paintings currently on exhibition in Boca Raton, Florida.

While Cuba is currently going through a period of upheaval and disquietude, and Osy’s works in many ways remain relevant and match the mood of the moment, “The Grays” were actually created prior to the recent protests, during the pandemic and are inspired by it. The paintings reflect the uncertainty and disorientation of young Cubans affected by the virus and the further havoc it wrecked on their country. 

Osy normally uses vibrant colors to create her paintings, and yet the series live up to their name and are mostly done in grays and pastels, with rare splashes of brighter hues. The works are meant to convey a gray moment in the Cuban panorama, full of uncertainty, fear, and change.

“The figures on the paintings are translucent, they look and feel like ghosts. They are anxious, waiting for a change, waiting for something to happen in the country, for the things to get better” – explains the artist. 

In one of the paintings (“Karma” – ed.) a woman is holding a horse head, an oversized knight chess piece in her lap. The authority and strength of this powerful animal create a metaphor for the woman having full control of decisions in her life. The red hue over her eyes represents her anger. (Osy uses red for this emotion throughout the series). Ms. Milian adds that we also need to control the animal within us, the instincts of it – hence the red rage encompassing the head of the woman in the painting. We must be in balance with it and with the world around us. 

The red color is visibly more prevalent in the paintings depicting young girls, demonstrating that the new generation is more aggressive than the old ones and is willing to fight for their rights. The repeating theme of the birds represents the concept of migration, the flight that most Cubans cannot make. The inability to get away. 


Some of Osy’s figures are meditative, looking calmly back at the viewer. According to her, this calmness is also about control. In this case, control of emotions as the pandemic was making people in Cuba (and all over the world) anxious and crazy. The artist offers to meditate on the passing of time and realize that one day this period in our lives will be just a stage in the history of the world. 

When asked about the subjects of her paintings (they are all women or young girls), Osy explained that she considers herself a feminist artist and wants to speak for all women in the world. 

“My subjects are beautiful and strong women; my art represents them and the struggles they go through. I am also including myself in my paintings. Female artists deal with sexualization and the male gaze, we carry the weight of experiences that male artists don’t have to ever encounter. Women don’t want to be perceived as sexual objects. That is another theme of the series – you can see it specifically in the “Lilith” painting”, – added the artist. 

Osy Milian’s “The Grays” exhibition is presented by NCO Creative. It is on view at The Gallery Lounge of Boca Raton, in the Town Center Mall, and will be featured until Friday, August 20th. For viewings by appointment, please contact Natalie O’Connor at Natalie@ncocreative.com.

Draftsy would like to thank Natalie O’Connor for her help with this article. Natalie is the founder of NCO Creative, a boutique art consulting company dedicated to procuring international works, with a special focus on Cuban art. NCO provides services, such as art acquisitions, select artist representation, exhibition coordination, and the curation of Cuban art tours.

NCO Creative

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Info@ncocreative.com

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Categories
Book Reviews

Bad feminism and Ngozi manifesto : review

Credit: Ta-Tev

The subject of freedom of choice for women is immense and always relevant. In my opinion, it is especially important nowadays. To explore the topic of freedom this month, I turned to books written by two female writers who were born on different continents but were connected by a desire to be free and happy. These books invariably provide important ideas for reflection and open the dialogue about the place of women in the modern world and feminism in general. In these works, one can find the explanation for the fight for women’s independence and learn how to raise our daughters happy and free to choose the future they want and deserve.

Roxane Gay “Bad Feminist”, 2014

Roxanne Gay is an American of Haitian descent. Through her own experience as a woman, writer, and professor, she discusses serious topics that are relevant for any country and any society. The book was published in the United States of America in 2014 and consists of several essays. It begins with a short introduction, in which the writer discusses feminism and its many faces, as well as why she perceives herself to be a bad feminist. 

Roxane Gay’s work consists of a series of articles in which she analyzes books, TV shows, movies, magazine and newspaper articles, social media posts, and contemporary events taking place in the United States. All her essays are united by the question of whether a modern woman has the freedom of choice: what to do with her body, be thin or fat, decide if she wants to become a mother, or not have children at all.

Roxane Gay talks about what it means to be black in the US and how African Americans have been criminalized in the country over the years. The writer discusses slavery and its portrayal in Hollywood films. 

Roxane Gay’s book is a treasure trove for those who want to understand the contemporary culture of the US and learn about the problems of American society and heated political debates often centered on women’s rights. The writer skillfully analyzes films and books, draws parallels between different works of art, which allows the reader to look at them from a new point of view.

Roxane Gay expresses an important idea about overweight people, saying that there is always a reason for their condition. Weight gain is often preceded by serious or tragic events that cause the person shock and pain. This can be the death of a husband or the loss of a child, divorce of parents, the absence of a father in childhood, or sexual abuse. In such situations, often only food can give a person some comfort and create the illusion of control.

“Bad feminist” also discusses sexual violence and how trivial it had become in American society. Roxane Gay gives an example of the reaction of the American media to a gang rape in Cleveland, TX, to show how backward society looks at sexual violence. While discussing this tragedy, the media did not care about the fate of the victim, an eleven-year-old girl who was repeatedly gang-raped but focused instead on the fate of 19 young men and teenagers who, due to the publicity of their crime, would not be able to graduate from school or university. 

Speaking about how early sexual abuse can affect the body and psyche of a child, Roxane Gay opens up to the reader and talks about the gang rape she was a victim of at the age of 12. This event changed her life and influenced the way she saw herself. Roxane gained weight over the years because she thought that if she is “big and strong,” it would protect her from the new assault.

At the end of her book, Roxane Gay calls herself a bad feminist because she as a woman is made of contradictions. The most important thing for her is to be herself. She says it’s better to be a bad feminist than not to be a feminist at all. I am sure that you will get real intellectual pleasure from reading the “Bad Feminist” essays.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions”, 2016

In response to her friend Ijeawele’s question about raising her baby-daughter to be a feminist, Nigerian writer and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a Feminist Manifesto. It consists of fifteen suggestions. Each of them is dedicated to a specific topic related to women and their place in modern society. In her manifesto, Ngozi talks about the importance of teaching children about gender equality from an early age. She believes we should not impose blue color on boys and pink color on girls, and offer girls the same toys as boys, and not just dolls and vice versa.

The writer pays a lot of attention to how to prepare girls for the future and give them more professional opportunities. Ngozi discusses the important issue of raising girls only for marriage, as is customary in Nigeria. In Nigerian society (and many others), girls are expected to know how to cook and clean the house, be polite, obedient, and gentle. They are expected to sacrifice themselves for the sake of marriage. The fate of the girls comes down to “waiting for the prince” who will ask for their hand. This is considered the height of success for a woman. At the same time, boys are brought up in a completely different way. Professional ambition is rewarded, young men are expected to strive to prove themselves and build a career. For young men, marriage is not the main achievement in life. The result is an imbalance in marriage and society as a whole. Men have a consumerist attitude towards relationships and women in general, while women sacrifice everything to be with a spouse.

Ngozi talks about the importance of words and gestures. When a man cooks, cleans the house, or looks after the children, society says that he helps his wife. It creates a belief that everything related to housework and childcare is assigned to the woman and not the man. The writer insists that women and men should share household work and care for children because they are both parents.

Ngozi invites her friend Ijeawele to encourage her daughter’s love of reading and support her interest in sports. She suggests it is important to teach the girl to ask questions and have her own opinion and show her that the world is diverse and wonderful and that diversity and inclusion are what makes it rich. 

The Manifesto touches upon important issues of raising children free from prejudices and pressure from society. Upon reading it, it becomes clear that all the suggestions are suitable for raising both girls and boys because the author brings up important issues of gender equality and offers solutions to pressing problems of society. Ngozi’s work helps teach kids how to use critical thinking, be able to reflect and be empathic towards others and enter life courageously. With the support of the manifesto, parents can raise their kids as feminists, no matter the gender of the child.