The “I do!” Youth Initiative
Welcome to the blog page of "I do!" Youth Initiative. Below, you will find bi-weekly updates about the initiative in the areas of youth outreach, progress of the workshops, participants' learnings, artwork created throughout each workshop, documentary filming, as well as, film-screening events.
Starting back in March 2013, the Laidlaw Foundation granted funds to the I do! Project to create an eye opening and informative online public service announcement. The I do! Project set out to shed light on the unspoken issues and incidents of forced marriage that have taken place right here in Toronto, through collaborations with spoken word artists and forced marriage survivors. The collaborations consisted of pairing three spoken word artists with three forced marriage survivors. As a result, three heartfelt spoken word pieces, telling the true life stories of three courageous women and their overcoming f0rced marriages, materialized.
This piece written and performed by Chantelle Walters, was used in the filmed PSA, and is an actual account of forced marriage from a real life survivor living in Toronto. The back story and inspiration for Chantelle’s piece is of a young girl pressured by her mother, who wanted to vicariously live through her daughter, forced her to forego her youth and become a wife. The young girl struggled with feelings of wanting to please her mother but also of longing to be a normal adolescent and experience the beginnings of womanhood. Instead, she was thrust into an empty marriage. The young girl suffered in isolation, and was unable to to reach out to her mother for love and support. Eventually her husband ends up leaving her and she returns home to be embraced by her mother, but the reunion is bittersweet. Currently, this young woman is completing her studies at a Toronto university, is budding artist and an advocate for empowering young women.
7 Days Pt.1 | Pt.2 | Pt. 3 – By Lishai Peel
This piece written and performed by Lishai Peel brilliantly tells the account of a woman who has been forced into marriage twice. The woman’s first marriage took place in her youth in India, where her family forced her to marry, feeling that she was getting to old to not be wed. She remained married in Indian for a few years, had a child, and then migrated to Canada. Shortly after arriving in Canada, the marriage ended due to extreme physical and sexual abuse. Her second marriage, again receiving pressure from her family, was arranged to a man living in Indian. After he arrived and they had been married, he also became very abusive. The marriage ended when her abuser abandoned her with three children. Today she is a social worker who often handles domestic violence cases and is a strong advocate for ending forced marriage and violence against women.
This piece written and performed by Shirley Gillett tells the story of a young woman born in Canada and raised in a strict Christian religious sect, forced to marry an older man who is a prominent member in the church she once belonged to. After her engagement, she was taken abroad and cut off from her family. Shortly after the engagement she became very ill and her fiance, seeing her as a burden, ended the engagement and left her in a foreign country with no means to support herself. She has since come back to Canada, reunited with her family and is now fighting the religious sect by exposing their questionable practises.
The PSA also involved collaboration with a young videographer Ernesto Lemus, who graciously offered his outstanding talent, time, and commitment to the filming and editing of this PSA. His vision and passion brought great energy to the project and the I do! Project and FMP are extremely thankful for his invaluable contribution.
It has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here!!! Thanks to the wonderful and talented contributions from the young women that participated in our spoken word workshops. Though the original documentary screening took place in March 2013, this is the official online debut of the I do! Project’s documentary: The Right Is Ours
The documentary follows a group of young women as they explore relationships, self, and tackle the controversial topic of forced marriage through the art of spoken word.
Thank you to all that contributed to the making of this documentary and please feel free to comment and share among and with one another… The Right Is Ours !
On Sunday, Feb 3rd we had a private film-screening event at Dorset Park Community Hub where we all got to see our documentary The Right is Ours. While waiting for others, we also got to watch some youtube videos (mostly by Lily Singh, who also goes by the name ‘Superwoman.’ This was fun and had us all laughing. When watching the documentary afterwards we got to reflect not only how we got to meet many great young individuals but how we got to learn about consent and forced marriages. It was nice to see how the documentary actually turned out and how our movement was proceeding. We have all been taught some skills that would help out a friend, co-worker, colleague or any acquaintance if they were ever to be put in an unfortunate situation like that. Now we all know the basics of who to contact and how to work around certain obstacles. In addition to what we learned throughout the workshops we got to participate in an activity facilitated by Raheena Dahya, a lawyer who has worked with cases of forced marriages in the U.K. She got us to put ourselves in the shoes of a parent,
spouse and friend in the situation of a forced marriage and give some more insight on everyone`s point of view in it. It was a really eye opening experience. She also explained different types of laws involved such as tort, criminal and civil. She also told us about some of the cases she dealt with as she had a lot of experience as a lawyer and reminded us that in reality, we may not always be able to help a person in a forced marriage situation and that was fine. Forced Marriage Project Coordinator Shirley Gillett also told about her experience working with the Forced Marriage Project and read her poem called “Life Sentence.” – Rammya Ilankannan
“A Day to Strike, Dance and Rise…”
The V Day event was a hit! On February 14th, I had the opportunity to help host the Forced Marriage Project’s One Billion Rising event. It was an inspirational event which gave me a whole new outlook on how to celebrate Valentine’s Day. This event consisted of a variety of entertainment including singing, dancing, and spoken word.
We started with some live music played by volunteers and my fellow host Rammya. As chairs started to fill we encouraged people to write about why they are rising. This exercise gave me the opportunity to see the diverse reasons why people chose to attend. I was surprised to see so many men at the event in support of their mothers, sisters or significant others. It made me smile because this event should not be seen as one-sided. It is an event focused on equality and humanity, but more specifically a push against the objectification of women.
Some of the highlights of the event for me were the two spoken word pieces done by Shirley Gillett and Chantelle Walters. Shirley’s piece was particularly engaging because of the way it was delivered. The piece was written in a spiral, as one sentence with one single period. This means it has to be read as a single run on sentence with little breaths between words. Shirley explained that the piece was meant to make the listener feel dizzy and overwhelmed which was exactly how I felt! The piece, in my opinion, was very unique because instead of addressing the issues directly, it presented them with sarcasm and blame. I understood it as society blaming the woman for the assault she has endured, as if she brought rape upon herself with the way she dressed or acted. It was a protest to rape culture.
The second piece written by Chantelle Walters, describe the life of a young girl in India, involved in the sex-trafficking industry. She intertwined the young girls’ story with the popular kindergarten song, the “Rainbow song,” using the colors to describe the unfortunate events. This was brilliant! The contrast of the song and the words showed that the girls’ innocence and purity was being stripped, used and corrupted. I don’t think I’ll ever think of that song the same way again.
Being a host of this event was a learning experience. Before this event, II did not know of Eve Ensler’s work in the Congo and India. I did not know of the One Billion Rising Campaign or that it was happening worldwide. When I first heard of the campaign, I did some research and found people rising in Germany, Spain, Romania and Ethiopia! Obviously I wasn’t aware that I was part of something so empowering! This was one Valentine’s Day I will never forget. – Mariah Carty
We are at the end of our road and there are no words to express how much growth and accomplishment has been made these past 7 weeks. This week, we used our time to perform and perfect different pieces we have been working on. As a group we decided on a date to come together and share our work with the other spoken word group. The girls had a chance to select which pieces they felt comfortable sharing. We also worked on a group masterpiece about a girl being forced into marriage. The piece was entitled “Love Will Come.” It approaches the issue from four different perspectives; the victim, her father, her mother and her friend. Although there are four perspectives, each expresses a combination of anger, confusion and helplessness. The father is determined to have his daughter married so that she can have a better life but neglects his daughter’s right to choice. Her mother, who wants the best for her, is torn between standing by her husband and traditions and comforting her daughter. Her friend is confused and concerned about her well-being and the daughter herself is struggling with honoring her family or standing up for her rights. Not many of us could directly relate to the roles we were playing but we did our best to put ourselves in the situation. This allowed us to apply the emotion needed to make the piece effective and personal. I think being able to empathize is a key aspect in understanding an issue and making the effort toward change. The ability to relate gives the drive needed to question what we are being fed through media, society or key members in our lives.
Overall this has been a great experience that has resulted in new ideas and friendships. Many of the members of the group talked about continuing with writing spoken word and attending different art events together. It was difficult to say goodbye because we learned and grew together, discussing sensitive but controversial topics such as forced marriage, honor, consent, body image, expectations and gender roles.
I would really like to thank Sheniz Janmohamed for all that she has taught and the time she has spent with us. I also look forward to attending the screening of the documentary piece and hope there are many more workshops like this to come. – Mariah Carty, Youth Ambassador
Our fifth workshop started with the group working on our headline pieces. After some rehearsing, we performed our work to the class and received feedback and suggestions. The headline pieces were very effective because they were a reflection of real stories. We then had a discussion about forced and arranged marriage. Forced marriage is when a person is married against their own will. They are not given a choice and their spouse is assigned by parents, relatives or other family members. With arranged marriage, the marriage is discussed freely and although the parents are involved in finding the spouse, the individual makes the final decisions. Together we brainstormed the many motives for forced and arranged marriage. We came up with a few concepts which include gaining status, for money, a person’s age or acquiring citizenship in a country. We also compared the difference between the forced marriage and the ideal arranged marriage. The discussion was very insightful and sensitive because we felt comfortable enough to share personal stories and experiences making the concepts that more concrete. — Mariah Carty
The sixth workshop started with my giving a presentation about forced marriage, going over the difference between arranged and forced marriage and also the signs of abuse that could be related to a possible forced marriage. Then we looked at a video from England about a woman who was forced into a marriage. Sheniz and I led a discussion about what issues the girls saw that were brought up in the video. Then Sheniz wrote the girls responses and also how they would feel in the situation. She also took the discussion into the direction of the people who are involved in a forced marriage situation. Then she asked the girls to choose a character and write from the perspective of that individual. The girls chose being the father, mother, forced marriage survivor and the survivor’s friend. The rest of the workshop, they wrote a page of poetry that involved thoughts from the perspective of their character. Everyone shared their pieces at the end and each piece was brilliant. Then Sheniz led them towards how to perform their pieces in a group, for example, using the technique of inserting their lines after each other as if it was a conversation in a “stream of consciousness” instead of the girls reading their full pieces individually. After directing them in that way, Sheniz left the girls to decide for themselves as to who would say her line when. We saw them discussing certain characters repeating the same line, which created more complexity about the lack of communication and understanding in the situation as each character held to his/ her beliefs. In the next workshop, the girls would finish their pieces and start practicing performance. They would also get time on the performance day for more rehearsal. – Amna Siddiqui
On the seventh day of our workshop, we went through the specifics of forced and arranged marriages. One of the ways we went through it was through discussion, we all talked about what we learned through the past few weeks, and what we thought of the topic before. Afterwards we talked about what signs were for someone that may be about to be forced into a marriage, this was a really effective conversation as not only did we clear some doubts but we saw the progress in a clear way. As for the spoken word part of the workshop we got into small groups and started writing dialogues about the things we have learned and what they truly mean (what consent is, what the difference between an arranged and forced marriage is, why arranged marriages aren’t bad, etc). These pieces are what we will learn to perform and eventually present for the finale of the workshop. – Rammya Ilankannan
In the last workshop, Whitney had divided the girls in two groups of four. They had started working on the themes they wanted to write about. One groups going to write about a forced marriage and an arranged marriage scenario. The other group was going to write about consent. In the beginning of the workshop Whitney led a warm-activity as usual to get the girls to share how they were feeling. Then I went over clarifying a little more about the difference between arranged and forced marriage, especially the grey areas such as the example of Orthodox Jewish marriages, which some consider better and more long-lasting than marriages based on dating, but which has also been criticized by one woman who started an organization called “Unchained At Last” as too pressuring because there is very little time to make the decision after going to about six dates. A young woman may trust her parents choice and go with their decision without requesting for more meetings with the man she is going to marry or without rejecting, but we also discussed what she needed to think about if she did not know the person enough before the marriage.
Then the girls started writing their group pieces and Whitney helped them bring out their ideas. They were not finished writing by the end of the two hours so they would need some extra time to finish their pieces and practice performance. On the performance day, which would be on Saturday Dec 8th, they would also get an extra hour to rehearse their group performance. – Amna Siddiqui
Three weeks together and we are finally starting to become comfortable with each other. This week we split into two groups to work on separate pieces. Each group worked together to produce material and some used pieces from our previous free writing. We each brainstormed different ways to perform effectively. Emotion, pace of speech and tone of voice in combination are very important when trying to get an idea or message across. We then performed these pieces and received feedback and suggestions. Through performing our work we had an opportunity to use the techniques we have been taught like emphasizing emotion and body language, echoing and repetition. Echoing is when each person starts a line of the piece one after the other but it is recited at the same time. It shows the mix of separate but similar messages. Repetition is also a simple but effective tool because it emphasizes an important word or phrase. It can also translate as unity if each person, though different, recite the same word. For example an entire group repeating “I” or “We” can show that although each girl is from a different culture or background they are united because of similar issues and they share a common thought as women.
At the end, we had a disscussion about honour after looking at a bristol board that had different meanings of honour. We looked at the way honour had a different signifance for men and women, with honour that emphasizes on good character traits, pride, courage or power being more associated with men and honour as chastity or sexual purity being more associated with women. There is a lack of equality in the way women are not usually allowed to uphold personal dignity, courage and self-will but that they are supposed to represent the honour of their families through keeping a reputation of purity. This can involve restrictions on young women. Our discussion also involved when parents impose restrictions to genuinely protect girls and when it can turn into something for the sake of reputation only. Lastly, Sheniz gave us a strip of paper with a headline written on it that was supposed to be related to honour-related crimes against young women. We are to write whatever we think of the headlines and share in the next workshop. — Mariah Carty
The fourth workshop started with Sheniz giving us pieces of paper with different words written on them. We put the words together to form poems. Then we wrote down the poems we had created in our books and changed spots so that another person changed the poem. After a few moments, we all read the before and after poems and reflected on why the changes had been made.
Next we moved on to the girls sharing their written pieces about the headlines that Sheniz had given them in a previous workshop and also what they thought the headlines were about. The three headlines used were “Shunned in Life, Remembered in Death,” “A canadian tragedy lost in “culture talk” and “Girl Interrupted.” The ones who wrote about the first headline were able to guess correctly that the headline was about Amanda Todd, a young woman in British Columbia who went on a video chat where a picture of her topless was taken and was used to blackmail her, shame and bully her to the point of suicide. The second headline was associated with the Shafia Case, in which a father killed his three daughters and his first wife with the help of his son because the eldest daughter was in a relationship with a guy. However, it was about the murder of Aqsa Parvez. It was also her father and brother who killed her because she did not wear a hijab. Unfortunately, Toronto Life also put an air-brushed and sexualized picture of her taken from facebook, blaming “cultural differences” for her death.
The girls shared their pieces and then worked on one piece about each headline. Their pieces were not supposed to be related to what the headlines were actually about but whatever they could conceive from the headlines. This was also a practice in learning how media writes about and influences stories. – Amna Siddiqui
Our fifth workshop introduced the discussion about consent and how it relates to relationships. Some of the participants knew what the word ‘consent’ was but we still went over a definition to make sure everyone understood. Then we talked about dating practices and looked a recent graph from a study that showed that young women prefer being asked out and young men prefer doing the asking. Then I asked participants how young women usually show if they are interested in someone and they said by indirect ways such as flirting, and body language such dressing up or playing with hair. Then we looked at a video that talked about sexual consent and how it is not okay to rely on body language or silence to start a sexual activity. It is too dangerous because, without an explicit, verbal consent, the move could be sexual assault or even rape.
After the discussion, Whitney and I pulled out a flip chart paper where the girls wrote down words related to consent or choice. They used phrases they had picked from the discussion and the videos as well. This would help us know what they learned and also help them in writing their final pieces. The last activity involved the interpretation of women’s objectification when they are encouraged to stay silent or their choice is considered passive, even non-existent. Each participant went to the front of the room, picked ones of the objects Whitney had brought in and said she was not that object. There were some very clever ideas that came up and showed that the girls had a good prior knowledge of how women can be treated as objects and how they could defy it. Lastly, they went back into pairs to work on their writing pieces. – Amna Siddiqui
Our sixth workshop further talked about consent and excuses related to violence against women. After performing our poetry pieces from the last couple of workshops, we were all handed posters that described situations of consensual sexual activity and non-consensual sexual activity (sexual assault). There were words or dialogue that would be typically said in either of the situations. We all read a line from the posters that struck to us and talked about what that meant to us and what we thought about it.
We also looked at many excuses people make when it comes to consent or even violence (and not only against women, the examples we went through applied both sexes). Whitney had prepared many strips of paper with common excuses on them for assault cases. We picked a paper and read the line on it. Then someone else had to give an argument against that excuse by saying “Welll….” For example, one of the lines was ‘well she hit him first, there was only so much he could take’. The lines created a discussion more than clear arguments against them as some of us asked for explanation about the scenarios those lines may be used in. Our cameraman Kevin also joined the conversation and provided some more insight as we explained scenarios and examples many of us have seen in our own life or through some sort of media that have had these excuses. Lastly, we discussed what a forced and arranged marriage was, and what the differences were in terms of consent and other typical common ways they are constructed. Some of the participants shared stories from people they knew. One of them told of someone she knew who was unhappy and afraid before the marriage but eventually became happy after the marriage. While this was one way a forced marriage could turn out well, we also discussed how that may not always be the case. We heard perspectives from South Asian and Somali background. As we ran out of time, our discussion of forced marriage will continue in the next workshop. – Rammya Ilankannan
The second series of Spoken Word workshops began as young women ages 17-24 joined Sheniz Janmohamed to learn spoken word and to present forced marriage related issues through this performance art.
We started the session with introductions and our experience with spoken word. The experience level varied around the room but each member was ready to learn and improve on their skills. Our first line of business was establishing a definition of what we think spoken word is. We decided that spoken word is a creative and poetic way of expressing feelings, attitudes and perspectives that are either personal or present in the community; whether it is in our media, societal views or expectations. For example we viewed the video of a piece expressing the many appearance preparations women endure to achieve what society deems as “perfection.”
Second we talked about a few aspects that make a spoken word piece effective. Our facilitator Sheniz did a great job in demonstrating how body language, pace of speech and the tone of voice can support and promote the message of your piece. For example a piece that is made to convey how angry a woman is with sexism may be performed in a firm, authoritative voice with a faster pace of speech. She may also gesture or move in certain ways to express her discomfort. We then moved into trying an exercise saying “no” in three different tones. The first no was passive and quiet, the second was aggressive and angry and the third was firm and strong. This exercise was to demonstrate how tone of voice can deliver a message.
Finally, we concluded the workshop with discussing gender roles and the main responsibilities of women when it comes to family. Our first free writing exercise was to complete the phrase “Because I am a woman…” in our notebooks. These pieces will be worked on throughout the 7 week period and will hopefully develop into great performance pieces at the end. – Mariah Carty, Youth Ambassador
The second week of this workshop started off with an activity to get to know each other more. Sheniz brought in a round piece of rock and everyone wrote a line about what they thought it was on a piece of paper and then fold it. Sheniz shuffled the folded papers and each participant picked one piece of paper to read what someone else had written and guessed who wrote it. Surprisingly, everyone matched the right person with the writing on the pieces of paper.
I led a discussion about gender by showing the participants a bristol board with definitions related to gender, socially expected gender traits, and sexuality. It was very encouraging to know that participants had read about these concepts in school through courses on society. Mariah had also had a discussion about gender roles in one of her university classes that she brought into the discussion. Sheniz wrote down some of the behaviour that is expected of women in our society. Our discussion led to the next activity, which the participants adding a line to “Because I am a woman…” on a piece of paper, folding the paper where they had written their line and then passing it to the next participant. Then everyone read their piece out loud so that we had a group piece written down. Everyone copied it in her own notebook and then they sat in a circle away from the table to rehearse performing that short poem as a group. Sheniz showed the group various techniques of performing it together and the effects of that technique. For instance, one participant would start reading a line and before she finished, the next one would start reading her line. This created the effect of echoing and reinforced the power of young women speaking up together. It was very exciting to see the participants learning to perform already.
The last activity involved the girls going into two groups and brainstorming group pieces that would talk about gender roles that affected them. In the next workshop, they will finish off their group pieces, rehearse together and then perform. — Amna Siddiqui