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Positives of the Pandemic

By: Samah Atique

With the coronavirus rapidly spreading around the world and impacting the lives of billions of people across the globe, it’s easy to focus on all the adverse consequences of the pandemic, as much of my last piece did. It’s especially easy when you wake up every morning to news of extended shelter-in-place mandates, tragic stories of people losing their loved ones, and economists warning of an upcoming recession. However, despite the focus on the negative effects of the virus, it’s important to shed light on some of the good that has come about over the past few months as a gentle reminder that things aren’t all bad. By no means is this piece meant to disregard the gravity of the situation or ignore the chaos it has caused, but rather to share some positive news and reasons to remain hopeful during these trying times.

For example, regardless of the strict social distancing measures that have yet to be lifted in many parts of the world, today’s digital age offers several opportunities for people to stay connected online. Whether it be hosting Google Hangout game nights with friends, tuning into food bloggers sharing their favorite recipes on Instagram Live, or de-stressing through yoga videos on Youtube, there are several opportunities for people to feel less alone and maintain virtual contact with their loved ones. Many health and wellness coaches have also developed free workout programs for people to follow during the quarantine to stay active. However, writing this from a place of privilege, I understand that nearly half of the global population does not currently have access to the internet and therefore does not have the luxury to enjoy these means. 

Fortunately, there are also endless offline opportunities that have been keeping people occupied over the past few months. Whether it be journaling, drawing, crocheting, or meditating, the pandemic has encouraged many to take on activities that they were unable to find time for during their normal working hours. It is also the perfect chance to catch up on lost sleep and squeeze in as many naps during the day that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
The shelter-in-place mandates have pushed people around the globe to take up valuable hobbies and activities that they may not have gotten the opportunity to do otherwise. And, just like all other calamities, this too will pass and hopefully leave the world with valuable insights and ways to mitigate the damage of future outbreaks. 

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COVID-19’s Overlooked Effects: Domestic Violence

By: Samah Atique

The coronavirus has now reached a staggering death toll of 501,898, a number that continues to rapidly increase — so rapidly that the stats will probably change by the time you’re done reading this article. Besides the numerous lives it has already taken, the pandemic has begun to shed light on a number of unforeseen circumstances that have surfaced since the shelter-in-place mandates. For example, it has brought attention to the discrepancies in workplace supports, such as paid leaves, the scarcity of affordable childcare options, and the underfunding of reproductive health services to name just a few. More so, it has led to an increase in cases of domestic violence, all while making it that much more difficult for survivors of abuse to obtain help. Although these issues are of high salience, governments around the world are struggling to scrapple the resources necessary to help combat them, specifically when it comes to addressing pressing reports of domestic violence.

Financial instability, economic uncertainty, and social isolation are all consequences of the current pandemic. Unfortunately, they are also common triggers of abuse. According to Wan Fei, founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit in Hubei, China, reports of violence in the province have more than tripled since the start of the pandemic in the month of February alone. This holds similar to the situations in several other countries around the world, from Brazil, to Argentina, Germany, Italy, South Africa, France, the United States, and more, all of which have experienced massive surges in cases over the past few months. And these statistics only consider the cases that have been reported. 

To make matters worse, resources to help people facing abuse have been depleting. Many organizations founded to combat the issue have lost funding and places of refuge for survivors have been turned into homeless shelters by officials. This is due to the “all hands on deck” approach many governments and authorities are taking to combat the coronavirus, which includes redirecting resources from nonprofits and clinic services towards fighting the virus. As a result, the already weak and underfunded institutions that are meant to protect women from domestic abuse are further struggling to address the heightened demand. Furthermore, with strict shelter-in-place mandates in place, it has become much more difficult for survivors to leave their houses and obtain help, leaving them trapped at home with their abusers.     

However, several countries have taken steps to help survivors during the quarantine. Canada has decided to reallocate $50 million in funding towards sexual assault centers and women’s shelters, while France is allowing survivors to temporarily be housed in vacant hotel rooms free of cost. Furthermore, through the Spotlight Initiative, the United Nations is actively striving to eliminate domestic violence in the EU through funding and services meant to protect at-risk communities. However, the demands for long-term responses regarding social, economic, and psychological support still need to be taken into consideration to effectively help survivors in the long run.

Ultimately, at a time when people are being fined and arrested for not wearing masks in public, the excuse that there is a lack of resources to hold perpetrators of abuse accountable and properly provide support for survivors is purely baseless. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is working to ensure that their resources and helplines are available 24/7, despite the pandemic’s impact. The number to their hotline, as well as other important resources for those affected by abuse and in need of support are listed below.  

Furthermore, if you would like to donate to help take action for survivors amid the lockdown, you can do so here: 

National Domestic Violence Hotline 

Call 1-800-799-7233 

OR text LOVEIS to 22522 

For more information or guidance on resources, please visit: 

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Women in Politics

By: Samah Atique

“Are you married yet?”  

“You should smile more” 

“Stop being so dramatic”

This is a short compilation of the comments that can be found with a simple scroll through the social media platforms of current female politicians. This objectification, sexualization, and obsession with the personal lives of women in politics is an issue that continues to plague the nation. Whether it be media coverage, interviews, their clothing, or comments from the president himself, these women have to continuously deal with the double standards placed upon them throughout history. 

When questioned on this matter, presidential candidates Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren typically use different approaches in their responses. While Klobuchar has vocally addressed the sexism she has witnessed and experienced in races, Warren has generally avoided the topic. However, both addressing the topic head on and taking a subtler approach hold implications for the candidates. Publicly calling out sexism often leads to potential nominees being accused of playing the “gender card,” while doing the opposite is viewed as dismissive and enabling behavior. Klobuchar and Warren are prime examples, with the former being accused of using her sex to her advantage, while the latter has been accused of being angry and dismissive when diverging from inappropriate questions relating to her gender.          

As absurd as these barriers are, they only account for a portion of the problem. With an elected president known for his blatantly sexist and disrespectful behavior towards women, the obstacles to combating political inequality become that much more difficult to overcome. His recent involvement in the anti-abortion march made him the first ever president to attend the annually held demonstration. In it, he made a speech discussing the importance of all lives, living or unborn, despite the circumstances. However, this Pro-Life agenda does not seem to apply when it comes to the defunding of cancer screening and preventative check-ups, the children who have lost their lives to senseless acts of gun violence with little to no change in gun laws, or the administration’s revival of the death penalty after a 16-year hiatus. The list goes on, but there seems to be a largely selective agenda on which lives should matter and which should be silenced.

Now you might be thinking: Well, don’t male politicians face similar backlash? Yes, and no. Although most, if not all, male political figures do have to deal with criticism on a regular basis, it is generally not rooted in systemic sexism and double standards. There will rarely be an instance of a male politician being questioned on how challenging it is running as a man or how he will balance potential fatherhood while in office. Until candidates can be judged solely on their political platforms, without voters and commentators fixating on their sex, equality in the political sphere cannot be reached. 

Despite many historic wins in the 2018 midterm elections, with women now holding a record 23.5% of seats in Congress, the United States still ranks 75th globally in its representation of female candidates in government. This percentage does not even meet the 24.3% global average of female representation in national assemblies. 

Striving for a larger number of female candidates in politics is by no means meant to depreciate or denigrate the work of their male counterparts. Instead, it would allow for further gender equality in the political sphere and a larger prioritization of the policy issues being considered. The current underrepresentation of women in politics not only results in the exclusion of their skills and unique perspectives in the field, but also undercuts the basic fundamentals of democracy and progressivism. After all, considering the female voice when debating salient issues regarding women does sound reasonable, right?  

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The Dark Side of Fair & Lovely

By: Samah Atique

Picture this: A father suffering from money problems is seen lamenting over the fact that he doesn’t have a rich son to help him out. Now, switch to the image of his daughter who is pictured as poor, unhappy, and seemingly hopeless. No, not because her family is in crippling debt, but because her “dark” complexion is the apparent cause of this distress. Now imagine her conveniently reaching over to grab a bottle of Fair & Lovely, applying it to her face, and suddenly appearing 10 shades lighter. Seconds later, she is seen successfully landing a well-paying job as a flight attendant and single-handedly rescuing her family from crippling debt.    

This is an example of one of the many highly exaggerated and problematic commercials that has been aired to promote Fair & Lovely, a skin-lightening cosmetic product that was introduced in India in 1975. Not only is the advertisement above visibly sexist, but it also feeds in to the idealization of fair skin that permeates many South Asian regions. A considerable amount of the product’s advertisements follow the theme of lighter skinned men and women being happier, wealthier, and far more successful in their respective fields, both implicitly and explicitly promoting lighter skin as the ideal standard of beauty. 

In response to the brand, photographer Pax Jones launched the campaign #UnfairandLovely after she shot a photo series with her classmates Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah. The shoot focused on highlighting the two Sri Lankan sisters’ first-hand experience with colorism, or the discrimination against individuals with darker skin by others that are typically within the same racial or ethnic group. The series pushes back against the notion that beauty and success are defined by the color of one’s skin and encourages media platforms to increase their positive portrayal of darker skinned models. Unfair and Lovely challenges viewers to see these women as anything but the beautiful, confident, powerful, and capable beings they really are. It boldly celebrates the beauty of dark skin that many cosmetic brands fail to embrace. 

The idealization of fair skin in South Asian communities and abroad is largely a byproduct of residual colonialism and the prejudicial treatment of darker-skinned individuals by colonial forces. For example, in India the British rulers who held power typically chose people with lighter skin for higher-paying jobs and higher-ranking roles in society. This prompted the correlation between lighter skin and wealth, status, and one’s overall quality of life.

However, there is some action being taken to combat this issue. The Advertising Standards Council of India created new guidelines in 2014 which include that advertisements are not allowed to portray people as unhappy or disadvantaged in any way on the basis of their skin tone and should not associate skin color with any particular ethnicity or socio-economic class. Furthermore, the nation’s ministry of wealth and family welfare proposed an amendment to the 1954 Objectionable Advertisements Act earlier this year. The bill’s draft now extends to the advertising of products that promote fairness creams, making the practice punishable with up to 5 years of imprisonment. However, it is unclear how enforceable these regulations truly are. 

According to Global Industry Analysts, global spending on skin lightening is projected to increase to $31.2 billion by 2024. The motivating factor for this, they claim, is “the still rampant darker skin stigma and rigid cultural perception that correlates lighter skin tone with beauty and personal success.” Therefore, the market for skin bleaching creams and whitening products still remains successful in South Asian countries and beyond, and will likely remain successful at a global scale as long as these deeply-rooted beliefs remain.