Current Affairs

‘I have faith in our generation’; youth march for climate justice in Brussels

‘I have faith in our generation’; youth march for climate justice in Brussels

The last few Thursdays, Brussels’ streets have been flooded with students. They carry signs and chant phrases such as ‘climate justice now’. Belgian youth is fed up with a system in which their future is put at risk and politicians make all kinds of promises in order to be elected, while the biggest contributors to climate change go unpunished. 

The outrage of youth was sparked when Belgium voted against new EU energy efficiency guidelines after 75,000 people attended a climate march in December. Soon, a movement called Youth for Climate emerged, which called for students to skip school and march for climate justice. While its first marches were small, their size has been quickly growing. Today, during the third climate march, approximately 32,000 young people marched. 

‘I just realy want us to be heard’

Luna Bauwens, one of the organisers and forerunners of Youth for Climate explains why it is so important to her to mobilise her peers to march for climate justice. ‘I really want us to be heard. 75,000 of us marched in December, but it did not make a difference. Our climate ministers did not even show up to the EU meeting about the eco pact. I am very angry at the Belgian government because it does not take any initiative to tackle climate change.’

While climate change does not affect Luna personally yet, she is afraid that it will be a problem for her future children. ‘There are solutions, and still, we do not tackle the issue because we are too lazy, or because it will cost money to do so.’ She hopes that Belgium’s new government, which will be elected in May, will make tackling climate change a priority and will invest in solutions. 

At the same time, she is also afraid that politicians do not take this youth movement serious. In her experience, adults think they need to explain to young people how things work. They think they can reassure them by showing some data and making some new promises. We will have to wait until after the elections to see whether politicians take youth serious or not. But if the new government proceeds to neglect climate change policies, Luna predicts that there will be more protests by Youth for Climate. 

When asked if the young generation is sufficiently active in politics and activism, Luna says she thinks it is. She is amazed by the fact that 32,000 people marched for the climate today, only because two teenage girls encouraged them to. To her, it seems that more and more young people start to realise that something is wrong with our capitalist system. ‘It is nice to see that more people realise this. I have faith in our generation’. 

A photo impression of today’s march

Do you want to know what you can do to counter climate change and environmental pollution? Check out these articles about the Zero Waste movement and the UN Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World!

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Current Affairs
The struggle for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

The struggle for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi teenager named Rahaf Mohamed al-Qunun has made international headlines recently. She tried to flee to Australia after she renounced Islam and was threatened to be ‘slaughtered’ by her cousins. Denouncing Islam is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Rahaf also reported that she was physically and mentally abused by her family and that she was being forced in an arranged marriage.

After she managed to make it to Thailand, her passport was taken by Saudi diplomats during her layover. She then locked herself up in an airport hotel room. From there, she tweeted about her situation to attract the attention of international media and the United Nations.

Wait! Weren’t women rights approving in Saudi Arabia?

This might all come as a bit of a surprise. Recently, Saudi Arabia made headlines because of its improvements in women’s rights. In June, women got the right to drive, and last week it was announced that women will now be notified by text if their husband divorces them. Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s regime, women’s rights seem to be advancing. 

But critics say that these improvements are mainly superficial. Women’s rights are severely restricted by the country’s guardian system in which each woman is set under the control of her husband or a male relative. While this system is not embedded in the law, most Saudi institutions comply with. Women need their guardian’s approval for all major decisions, such as getting a passport, travelling, and signing a contract. 

Not only does the guardian system severely restrict freedom of choice on a daily basis, but it also puts women in a dangerous position of dependence and possible violence. Women need their guardian’s approval to seek justice if they faced sexual abuse or violence, even if the violence is of the hands of their guardian. This effectively forces women to stay in violent marriages and family situations. 

To be fair, the guardian system has loosened up a bit recently, and women can now access health care and education without a guardian’s permission. Since these law reforms, women are also allowed to open a business.

However, as women are still financially and socially dependent on their husband and male relatives, the effectiveness of these new rights are questionable. What happens when a woman starts a business against her husbands’ wishes? If doing so makes her face the risk of abuse or divorce, she might not want to carry through with it.

Yay, women can finally drive.. right?

Recently, Saudi Arabia had the dubious honour of being the last country in the world to give women the right to drive. But while women’s newly won right to drive seemed like a significant step forward, women still depend on their guardian’s permission to obtain a driver’s license. 

The new right to drive is a part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s programme called Vision 2030. This plan sets out economic and social reforms to reduce Saudi Arabia’s economic reliance on oil. One of the plan’s components is to get more women to enter employment to increase economic growth, and the right to drive is a way to do so.

At least nine women’s rights activists who protested the female driver’s ban are still stuck in prison. According to Amnesty International, these women are being tortured and sexually harassed. Last December, Twitter suspended the account of activist Loujain al-Hathloul’s father. He had been tweeting about the alleged sexual harassment and torture that his daughter faces in a Saudi government prison. 

In reality, the ‘right’ to drive, is more of a gift than an actual right. All of this begs the question whether women can now drive because of a Saudi wish for a more equal society, or just because it might be economically beneficial.

Other so-called improvements

This week, it was announced that women are now informed by text if their husbands are divorcing them. Before, husbands could divorce their wives even without ever letting them know. While this seems to be a big step forward, this law is superficial and hollow. It does not guarantee the right to alimony after the divorce or the right to custody of a woman’s children. 

Furthermore, there are still many things that women flat out cannot do in Saudi Arabia. One of these things is to ‘show their beauty’ in public. Saudi Arabia uses a dress code based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Women are expected to wear an abaya – a long cloak- and a headscarf. If women expose too much skin or wear make-up, they are often harassed for it. 

Women’s interaction with men who they are not related to is restricted as well. Most public buildings have separate entrances for men and women, and public places such as transportation, and parks, are mostly segregated. Interacting with unrelated men can lead to criminal charges against both parties, but women usually face harsher punishment.  

Shallow improvements meant to mask a fundamentally patriarchal system

While recently it seemed as is women’s rights were advancing in Saudi Arabia, these improvements are in fact pretty shallow. Newly won rights, such as the right to drive, are ultimately meant to mask a system in which men have ownership of women. And while this ‘progress’ is made in the name of equality and human rights, the motivating factor behind it seems to be mainly economical.

The power of social media

Fortunately, al-Qunun’s situation worked out so far. Because of her tweets, she was noticed by the U.N. Refugee Agency, and granted asylum in Canada. While this does not entirely guarantee her safety, at least she has the chance to build a new life in another country. 

Other women who managed to flee Saudi Arabia were not so lucky. In 2017, for instance, 24 years old Dina Ali Lasloom managed to reach the Philippines before she was returned to Saudi Arabia against her will. She was trying to escape a forced marriage. No one heard from her after she arrived in Saudi Arabia. 

Social media might have been the key to success in al-Qunun’s escape. Since she managed to attract international attention, Saudi Arabia’s options to take her back to the country were limited. In fact, in a video that al-Qunun posted, a Saudi Arabian official is heard saying that he wished they had taken her phone, instead of her passport. Would al-Qunun have managed to find asylum and to stay out of the hand of her family if it had not been for her tweets?

A growing number of Saudi Arabian women realise the potential of social media as well. Ever since al-Qunun managed to escape Saudi Arabia, women started tweeting. Under an Arabic hashtag that translates as ‘remove the guardian system, or we will all migrate’, women share their experiences living in Saudi Arabia. As the hashtag says, they threaten to leave the country if the guardian system is not removed. Let’s hope their protests are being heard.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, the restriction of women’s rights is not the only problem in Saudi Arabia. Other issues include the general lack of respect for human rights, the ongoing war in Yemen, and the murder on journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But hey, this does not mean we should sit and wait until human rights magically improve in Saudi Arabia. There is plenty that you can do.

For instance, you can use social media to raise attention for women’s and human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, and to put pressure on its government by sharing posts and articles! And you can help human rights organisations with their Saudi Arabia campaigns. To get you started, here is an e-mail campaign by Amnesty International UK to free Saudi female activists. Be sure to sign it!

Interested in women’s rights? Check out articles about the relationship between contraceptives and poverty and about the re-appropiation of the word ‘bitch‘. 

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Current Affairs, Feminism
Putting an end to family homelessness in the Czech Republic

Putting an end to family homelessness in the Czech Republic

A bed made of cardboard boxes, worn-out clothes, a bottle of cheap wine; several stereotypes that come to mind when talking about homelessness. Walking the streets in Czech cities, one might think that only a few people face homelessness – lost souls who have not been lucky enough in their lives.

However, the term homelessness does not only include those without a roof over their head. The European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion, also used by Czech authorities, identifies four types of living situations (roofless, houseless, insecure, inadequate) considered as homelessness. According to this typology, people living in women’s shelters, in accommodation for immigrants, in insecure housing or in extreme over-crowding are perceived as homeless as well.
Most Czech homeless people are hidden from sight in temporary facilities with extremely poor living conditions. For instance, it was reported that in a collective housing facility in Karvina, 13 families had to share one shower and one toilet and adults slept on the floor.

The Czech paradox: More people in need of accommodation despite economic growth

The Czech economy is currently in excellent condition. Moreover, the percentage of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the Czech Republic is the lowest among EU member states (12.2 per cent in 2017 comparing to the EU average of 22.5 per cent), and the unemployment rate has not been lower in 22 years. In spite of the current period of prosperity, 200 000 individuals do not have stable housing. This is approximately two per cent of the Czech population and includes 20 000 children.

To make matters worse, the number of homeless people is growing in the Czech Republic. The main cause is that there is no law on social housing and bad living conditions for people in financial distress. Since the Czech government acts too slowly, many municipalities have decided to tackle the situation themselves, declaring war on homelessness. A promising project called Housing First, introduced in many cities across the globe, has proven to be a powerful tool to fight homelessness. Recent results from the City of Brno, the first Czech city to implement Housing First, showed that its results in local conditions are also undoubtfully positive.

What is Housing First about?

Housing First is an innovative tool designed for people who need significant help to enable them to leave homelessness. It was developed by Dr Sam Tsemberis in New York in the early 1990s. Since then the concept has been successfully implemented in several countries in North America and Europe. Its success rates are high; it has been shown that the model ends homelessness in at least eight out of every ten cases.

Contrary to more traditional approaches, in Housing First, homeless people are offered housing as soon as they enter the programme, regardless of their situation. The project is based on the idea that housing is not only a human right, but also the essential first step to solving all problems related to homelessness, such as drug abuse, health problems, and money problems. When participants have moved into the new house, aid workers do whatever it takes to keep them living there. Only then, the next step is focused on improving their health, well-being and social situation.

This approach is different from traditional homelessness services, which often require a person in need to follow social competency training and to commit to a long-term cooperation with NGOs or national authorities before housing is provided. In Housing First, accommodation is offered unconditionally. The assumption is that only when someone has formed a home base, has he the ability to tackle other personal problems.

Photo by Barbora Kleinhamplová.
Photo by Barbora Kleinhamplová.

The first pioneer in the Czech Republic

The City of Brno (population 380 000) which owns and controls access to 29 000 flats, approved a strategy to end family homelessness: to make it rare, short and non-recurring. Since 2016 various traditional and experimental approaches have been tested for outcomes. The Housing First approach has been one of them. Thus, Brno has become the first Czech city to experiment with the tool.

Before the trial run of the Housing First project was launched, a family homelessness registry was conducted in April 2016. The results showed that there are 421 homeless families in Brno, and two-thirds of them are Roma. Once homeless, these families are often considered unfit as tenants by both private and public landlords and have little access to housing.

Between September 2016 and June 2017, 50 of these 421 families were randomly assigned to the Housing First program through a lottery organised by City Council for Health and Social Affairs. To be able to measure the impact of the Housing First approach, the project was accompanied by a randomised control trial lead by the University of Ostrava. Consequently, other 100 families were randomly assigned as a control group. Both intervention and control groups were surveyed at baseline, and after six and twelve months several preselected indicators were registered and compared.

Promising but not surprising results

The trial period ended in June 2018, and the final report was published by the University of Ostrava in December 2018. So far, the results of the project are promising.

One year after the start of the program, 96 per cent of families still lived in the house they were assigned. During this first year, families who were not selected for the Housing First programme were on average homeless for roughly nine months, while this was only 0.16 months (less than 5 days) for families who benefited from the program. Overall, families participating in the program had 5.6 m2 more living space per person.

Unsurprisingly, the Housing First intervention did not only improve housing circumstances. It also had a positive effect on health and well-being. It was found that the health conditions of participants in the program improved, whereas the condition of the control families worsened. Stress levels were significantly lower in participants, especially in mothers. And both parents and children in the intervention slept better and longer.

Moreover, participating mothers were 4.5 times less likely to have high levels of psychological distress than mothers in the control group, and had a lower incidence of depression. The use of antibiotics was 2.23 times lower in people that participated in the program. In the intervention group, fewer children were placed in institutional care and foster care. Children spent more time with their families and were more likely to be happy in school.

The program was financially viable as well. The cost-benefit analysis showed that the housing first program could save public money. In fact, it was estimated that 106 emergency room visits, 51 emergency service calls and 39 cases of hospitalisation were prevented thanks to this intervention.

Although the results of the Housing First trial are promising, the intervention is not a quick fix for all problems. Life satisfaction, for example, improved significantly during the first six months of the program but was still lower than in the general population. And, while the financial situation of families in the program got better, most of them were still not able to cover their basic needs. Of course, many of the problems causing and stemming for homelessness need time and professional help in order to be solved. It is therefore essential that help remains available for a substantial period of time after participants have moved into their new house.

Photo by Barbora Kleinhamplová
“It is just better when I come home [from work] compared to the hostel. You are at home, it is clean, the food is prepared. I eat, I can have a shower, I have my privacy.” Photo by Barbora Kleinhamplová.

Brno’s success inspires other Czech cities

The project results demonstrate that the Housing First approach can thrive in Czech conditions and can be a useful tool to reduce (family) homelessness. The concept implementation was closely watched by media, elected officials and experts from all over the country. Inspired by Brno’s success, several Czech municipalities, such as Liberec and Ostrava, have already launched their own Housing First projects.

Posted by Dominik Plihal in Current Affairs
Contraceptives: a tool to fight poverty?

Contraceptives: a tool to fight poverty?

In Delaware USA, at every doctor’s visit, women are now asked if they plan to get pregnant soon, even if the visit has nothing to do with their reproductive health. If a woman answers no, she gets whatever form of birth control she wants on that same day, free of charge. This new approach aims to reduce unwanted pregnancies to help women escape poverty. 

Whereas Delaware used to have the nation’s highest rate of unplanned pregnancies, this number is estimated to have declined with a whopping 24 per cent since the start of the program three years ago. Its key to success seems to be its same day ‘delivery’ of birth control. This is important, as many hurdles prevent women from coming back for a new appointment. For instance, it can be hard to take time off at work or to find someone to baby sit while they are at the doctor’s office. 

A similar program is conducted in Colorado USA. Here women can choose to have a contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) or implant placed without charge. So far, 30 000 devices have been placed and the results are promising. The age at which women become pregnant significantly increased. Whereas first, half of all births to the most unfortunate women in Colorado occurred before the age of 21, this age increased to 24 after only five years of the program. This result caused Colorado to climb ten spots up in the US ranking for lowest teen birth rates. But that is not all. Not only did teen births drop with 40 per cent between 2009 and 2015, but the number of abortions also decreased by 35 per cent. Moreover, more than 80 million dollars were saved on Medicaid costs. Unsurprisingly, the success of these programs inspired others. Washington and Massachusetts are now starting similar programs.

Access to contraceptives: not a given

Nowadays, the benefits of birth control are clear, and its use is fairly accepted. A rare exception is the Roman Catholic Church, which formally forbids the use of all contraceptives. In the USA, 99 per cent of sexually active women aged 15 to 44 used contraception at some point in the past. 

Unfortunately, reliable contraceptives are not a given for many women. In the EU, there are large disparities in access to birth control. While in Belgium and France 91 per cent of women have access to contraceptives, other countries score much lower. In Andorra, for example, only 18.8 per cent and in Greece, only 38.2 per cent of women have access. Religion, costs of birth control, health insurance coverage and infrastructure are just some examples of factors that can prevent women from accessing contraceptives.

Worldwide, over 200 million women do not use any or use risky contraceptive methods, even though they do not want to get pregnant. This is often due to lack of access, money, or information. It is estimated that, if these women had reliable contraceptives, the number of unintended pregnancy would drop from 89 million to 22 million yearly. Moreover, 45 per cent of pregnancies in the USA are unplanned, and 65 out of every 1000 women aged 15-44 in developing regions unintentionally got pregnant in 2014. In the EU, on average 6 out of 1000 women aged 15 to 17 become pregnant. This is usually unintentionally, considering their young age.

The complex relationship between contraceptives and poverty

While many women do not have reliable access to birth control, its role in preventing poverty is increasingly acknowledged. In the USA, the concept of birth control as a tool to increase economic mobility first emerged in the 1970s, after contraceptives and abortion became legal. Quickly after, women’s careers and educational attainment started to improve. Ever since, it has played a role in poverty reduction. In fact, it was found that women who have legal access to birth control are significantly less likely to experience poverty later in life. 

But, as poverty is a complex topic, its relationship with unplanned pregnancies is not yet fully understood. Thanks to research and political interest, we are now starting to explore the dynamics. 

Protecting the health of women and children

One of these dynamics is the effect that prevention of unplanned pregnancies has on health. Unfortunately, pregnancy does not come without health risks for both mother and child. And, as it turns out, these risks are even higher in case of unintended pregnancies. A mother’s likelihood of facing maternal depression and anxiety, for example, is higher in case of unplanned pregnancy. 

Especially young women face risks when they get pregnant. In fact, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in teenage girls. Moreover, when teenage girls get pregnant, this poses risks to the baby as well, especially in developing countries. Here, babies are at higher risk of dying and low birth weight, preterm delivery, and severe neonatal conditions. Moreover, the use of condoms, an easy-to-use method of contraception, prevents HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Clearly, by preventing unintended pregnancies, birth control helps protect the health of women.

Additionally, a share of unwanted pregnancies inevitably leads to abortions, whether safe and legal, or unsafe and illegal. Yearly, approximately 3.9 million unsafe abortions take place worldwide, contributing to maternal mortality and health problems. The use of birth control prevents unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Whatever your stance on abortions, preventing them is a worthwhile cause.

Improving educational and economic chances

Unintended pregnancies most often happen in young women. As raising children demands time and money, this can force them to drop out of school, decreasing their future earnings. But not only parents are affected by unintended pregnancy. Children born after unplanned pregnancies are more likely to stop their education early and to earn less later in life.

By preventing unintended pregnancies, birth control gives women a chance to stay in school, thereby improving their career perspectives. In fact, it was found that American women who have unrestricted access to contraception during their late adolescence were 17 per cent more likely to be enrolled in university at age 21. 

Curiously, women and girls do not necessarily need to use contraceptives themselves to experience positive effects. Just the proximity of contraceptives and family planning services can be beneficial. It is shown that access to contraceptives encourages girls to plan better futures by investing in education, especially in developing countries. As it allows women to exert control over their reproductivity, all of the sudden it is worthwhile to stay in school. In Malaysia, for example, it was found that just the availability of family planning services made girls remain in school six months longer. And in Indonesia, it was found that girls have higher attendance and accomplishments in school when these services were available in their neighbourhoods. 

Additionally, when contraceptives become more accessible, employers are more likely to hire women, as they are less likely to miss time at work. Because of the chances that occur when women have access to birth control, it has the ability to reform economies.

Other positive effects

While reducing poverty is extremely expensive, reducing unplanned births is fairly easy and cheap, and has the potential the render huge returns. Studies have shown that for every dollar invested in contraception, the costs of pregnancy-related healthcare is reduced by $ 2.20. Looking further at the socioeconomic effects, universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health services might return $ 120 for every dollar invested in it.

Moreover, birth control gives women (and their partners) more control over their lives, and may lead to better outcomes for children. Of course, the decision whether to have kids or not should never depend on whether you can afford birth control or not. Children deserve to be born into a family where they are wanted, and where parents have the resources needed to take care of them. 

Additionally, birth control might affect the relationship between unintended pregnancies and staying in abusive relationships. Women in abusive relationships are two to three times more likely to be forced into pregnancy and to have an abortion. After giving birth, they are more likely to stay in the abusive relationship, risking their own lives and wellbeing, and their children’s. 

The potential of contraceptives in developing countries

Access to birth control is especially a problem in developing countries. Here, it is estimated that 214 million women and girls do not have access. If these girls and women had access to proper contraceptives, approximately 67 million unintended pregnancies and 76,000 deaths could be prevented each year. 

You could argue that access to birth control is especially needed in developing countries. Populations are growing quickly here and resources are very limited. Since many people already live without sufficient resources to meet their needs, restraining population growth is necessary.

However, increasing the use of contraception in these areas is not as easy as it seems. Even if birth control is freely accessible, factors such as religion, education and social norms affect whether or not girls can use them. In some cultures, for instance, having many children is considered a symbol of status. Of course, the unequal position of women in some places also plays a role. 

The dark history of state contraceptive programs

All the positive effects of birth control aside, state contraceptives programmes have a dark history that should not be ignored. In the 20th century, 33 American states had programs of compulsory sterilisation in the name of eugenics and wellbeing. In 1976, it was found that 25 to 50 per cent of Native Americans were sterilised between 1970 and 1976. It is suspected that some of these sterilisations took place during other surgical procedures without the consent of the patient. In Nazi Germany, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring resulted in thousands of forced sterilisations. While these laws and events seem to be things of the past, more recently, judges offered reduced sentences to defendants if they agreed to be sterilised or use birth control.

Acting on the belief that limited reproduction of the poor would be beneficial for society, these programs violated reproductive rights, especially those of people of colour and with disabilities. Even today, black women are more likely to feel pressured to use birth control and healthcare professionals are more likely to suggest IUDs to black and Latina women.

Another risk of contraceptives programs is that the high pressure to succeed can cause clinics to ignore the wishes of patients and pressure them to use contraceptives whether they want it or not.

Our understanding of poverty

Obviously, poverty and its relation to birth control is a complicated topic. The question remains whether unintended pregnancies cause poverty, or poverty causes unplanned pregnancies. For example, while there is no difference in sexual activity, a poor woman is over five times more likely to unintentionally get pregnant than an rich woman. And the age at which women have children is related to their socioeconomic status as well. For instance, places where women have children earlier in life have bigger gender pay gaps. It seems that unintended pregnancies is as much of a sign as a consequence of poverty.

The risk of framing contraceptives as a tool to fight disparities is that it can simplify our understanding of poverty. Structural factors, such as racial discrimination and the availability of social services, lie at the heart of poverty and need to be addressed. These issues will not go away simply by increasing access to birth control and reducing unintended pregnancies.

The power of education

Another important, and often underestimated, factor in reducing unplanned pregnancies is education. Merely teaching girls how to read enables them to use contraception and to understand sex education resources. Girls who have received a high amount of education are less likely to become pregnant early in life and to enter into child marriage, and more often have future healthy pregnancies. Moreover, it should be taught that pregnancies and the use of contraceptives is the responsibility of both men and women, instead of solely a woman’s responsibility. 

Full of potential.. and risks

It is clear that contraception has a huge potential to change people’s lives and decrease conditions of poverty. But there is a thin line between enabling women to take charge of their reproductive health and violating reproductive rights. Any program offering forms of birth control should be based on the consent and wishes of each individual patient. Moreover, the aim of such programs should be to give women the means to take control of their lives, not to fix society’s poverty.

Furthermore, access to birth controls should not be seen as a single remedy for poverty.  It should always go hand in hand with regular education, scientifically-based sexual education for both genders, and action to tackle structural causes of inequality. Only then, contraceptives will be fully effective in preventing poverty and creating chances for women and children. 

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Current Affairs
The Nashville Statement in the Netherlands; a closer look at a tolerant country

The Nashville Statement in the Netherlands; a closer look at a tolerant country

Over the last days, there has been outrage in the Netherlands over the emergence of the Nashville Statement. This religious statement about gender roles and sexuality in today’s society was translated to Dutch, and signed by a few hundred Orthodox Protestant preachers. Among whom were some prominent figures. 

What is the Nashville Statement?

The Nashville Statement was initially written by the American Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The CBMW’s mission is to ‘set forth the teaching of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.’ A similar statement, called the Danvers Statement, was published by this organisation in 1987.

The Statement was released in August 2017. In the meantime, it has been signed by over 22, 000 people. As it says in the opening paragraph, ‘Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being’. In other words, the statement is a reaction to changing times in which Christianity and its view on gender roles and sexuality are losing in popularity. It then goes on to describe the evangelical Christian view on what human sexuality and gender roles are supposed to look like.

In essence, the statement is an attack on the LGTBI community. In its view, only marriages between one man and one woman are legitimate and approved of by God, and therefore, same-sex marriage is not. Moreover, according to the statement, there is no such thing as homosexuality or transgenderism, and ‘adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is inconsistent with God’s holy purpose in creation and redemption’. As if that is not enough, by stating that the ‘pardon and power [of God] enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord’, it implicates that the gay and transgender people can be ‘cured’.

Its impact in the Netherlands

As soon as the Dutch version of the Nashville Statement was signed, it sparked criticism and outrage. Critics of the Nashville Statement contest the notion that God would judge people for their love for others. People where specifically outraged by the implication that homosexuality and transgenderism could and should be cured. The COC, a Dutch advocacy group for the rights of the LGTBI community, called the statement a harmful document for Orthodox-Protestant members of the LGTBI community, and a cruel and insensitive move by its signers. The statement makes it hard for those who are gay, bisexual or transgender to be out.

Kees van der Staaij, a Dutch Politician and leader of the Reformed Political Party, was one of the most prominent signers of the Nashville Statement. While he says that his party has always been straightforward in its support of marriage, family and sexuality only in the Biblical sense, he was criticised for denying a fundamental part of the Constitution to thousands of Dutch members of the LGBTI community. Others criticised Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, for not speaking out against the statement. The fact that four signers of the Statement are professors at the Vrije Universiteit (the Liberal University of Amsterdam) was also cause for anger. 

The Nashville Statement also did not go well with many Dutch Christians. Gert-Jan Segers, politician and leader of the ChristianUnion, tweeted that this statement does not serve the conversation about religion and homosexuality at all. He added that Jesus’ first message for this world was not one of do’s and don’ts, but one that made clear that everyone is welcome to join Him.

Others emphasised that, regardless of one’s identity, everyone will always be welcome in the house of God. In protest, a group of Dutch Christians started a petition called Ik sta naast je (I stand with you). By signing, Christians attest that ‘God’s unconditional love is for everyone’. Another voice against the Nashville Statement comes from het Humanistisch Verbond (the Dutch Humanist Association) in the form of the Liefdesverklaring (Statement of Love). Just as the Nashville Statement, the Statement of Love is an online document that can be signed by anyone. However, signers attest that women and men are equal and that love can take many forms. It denies that people have to hide their sexual orientation and confirms that marriage is a choice made by two people, gay, bisexual or heterosexual. So far, the statement was signed by 45,000 people. On 9th January, Amsterdam hosted a Viering van de Liefde (Celebration of Love), where people gathered to demonstrate against the Nashville statement and to celebrate love and inclusivity. 

The Netherlands as a tolerant and progressive country?

The Netherlands has an image of being progressive and tolerant, and the Dutch are proud of this. It was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, and various festivities to celebrate the LGBTI community are held each year, such as Pride Amsterdam and Pink Monday in Tilburg. On first sight, it seems that the LGTBI community is fully accepted in the Netherlands and that everyone has the freedom to be themselves. 

But the data suggests differently. Whereas 92 per cent of Dutch people think that gay people should be able to live as they want, things change when one’s own child might be gay. One in six parents think it is not okay for their children to be gay, and in parents with Turkish, Moroccan,  Antillean or Surinamese background, it is even three out of four. Moreover, 15 per cent of adults said rather not to hang out with people who do not clearly look like either a man or woman. 

Who thinks acceptance of the LGBTI community is higher among young people is sadly mistaken. In 2017, 27 per cent of boys and 13 per cent of girls said to disapprove of it if two boys kissed in public. 18 per cent of young people say not to want to be friends with someone who is gay, and at least 15 per cent disapproves of it when transgender chooses to undergo sex change. Of openly transgender young people, almost half said to have experienced verbal violence in school, and 20 per cent to have faced physical violence.

Unsurprisingly, this intolerance and discrimination take its toll. One in ten adult transgenders says not to be open about their gender identity, and only 62 per cent of young transgenders have told their parents about their gender identity. In 2016, one in five LGBTIs said to have faced LGBTI-related violence during the year before, and in 2013, the city of Amsterdam saw 535 reports of violence against LGBTI people. Moreover, mental health problems and suicides are significantly more prevalent in the LGBTI community. 

What we can do

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for others to change their minds and become more tolerant. We can all do something.

It is easy to dismiss the Dutch Nashville Statement as just a single incident, a hateful document signed by an extremely religious group of people. But intolerance towards the LGTBI community clearly is a big issue in the Netherlands, and based on data in young people, this is not improving. Moreover, statements like this influence public opinion, and disrupts the conversation on gender roles and sexuality. They send a signal to LGBTIs that they have no place in society.

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for others to change their minds and become more tolerant. We can all do something. Especially those who are cis-gendered and heterosexual should make an effort to learn about the stories and experiences of those who are not. We should all speak up when we witness discrimination, intolerance and misogyny to send a strong signal that that is not okay. And we do not need to wait until another Nashville-like statement is published to celebrate love and acceptance. Every day, we can honour those of the LGBTI community. Not despite their sexual orientation or gender identity, but because of it. Because everyone is perfect the way they are, and because diversity makes the world more beautiful. 

As the Dutch saying goes, unknown makes unloved. Intolerance towards others stems from ignorance. Let’s talk to each other in order to make our society more inclusive for everyone. 

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Current Affairs
Breaking down coffee; Starbucks and stereotypes

Breaking down coffee; Starbucks and stereotypes

In 2016, Starbucks announced its partnership with Percassi to open its first store in Italy in 2016. Ever since, public opinion in Italy has been divided on the topic. In fact, the current vision of Starbucks originated from a trip to Italy. During this trip, the company’s CEO was inspired by the Italian passion for making and drinking coffee. He decided to make it his own. Nowadays, however, many Italians associate Starbucks with the American way of living. Starbucks represents an “exotic and new” experience of having coffee. It is profoundly different from the Italian experience, not only by tradition but also regarding the coffee-based products served. It is not rare to see Italians on holiday abroad posting pictures of Starbucks beverages on social media. These drinks are seen as an only-foreign, only-abroad enjoyable product.

This is why the recent opening of the first Starbucks store in Milan made headlines and raised public attention. Soon enough, both a “welcoming wing” and a “conservative wing” emerged in discussions. The first was happy that Starbucks had finally landed in Italy and saw it as a positive sign of globalisation.

In fact, Italy is slowly leaving behind its strong attachment to traditions, anchored to the past. It is opening up to foreign cultures and to the coexistence of different brands and experiences which were not accessible to Italians before. They are happy to be able to enjoy Starbucks products in their home country. However, many people were quickly disappointed by the new Starbucks store not offering frappuccinos or other “exotic” key products.

But for more traditionalist people, Starbucks in Milan is as gut-wrenching as putting ketchup on pasta and has to be boycotted. Simply said, Starbucks does not fit into the current coffee culture of the country. Moreover, it could be a threat to existing, family-run bars and to the preservation of one of few remaining personal, traditional experiences: having coffee.

In fact, according to FIPE (1), there are almost 150.000 specialised coffee bars in Italy. This is not counting the multi-purpose bars, restaurants and pastry shops where coffee is served. There is at least one bar serving coffee per Italian neighbourhood. Up to 17% of specialised coffee bars are located in Lombardy, the region around Milan, alone. Almost 10 million Italians have breakfast at bars at least three times a week. Here, the bar owners often even greet regular clients by their first name.

Another example of the intrinsic role of coffee in Italian social life is the so-called “caffè sospeso”, or pending coffee. Originally from Naples, it represents an act of social solidarity. Someone would order a ‘sospeso’ and pay for two coffees, while receiving and drinking only one cup. The pre-paid second cup would benefit someone else; a poor person, a stranger, or simply someone passing by. None of these traditions are upheld at Starbucks.

What is more, during its very first operational week in Milan, Starbucks was reported to Antitrust, the national competition authority. The reason was the extremely high prices of its foods and beverages. If a regular espresso costs 1,10 Euros, an espresso at Starbucks is 1,80 Euros.

A second argument from the anti-Starbucks wing is the association of the name of Starbucks with other global brands, such as McDonalds’ and H&M. According to opponents, these are characterised by non-environmentally friendly policies, exploitation procedures, as well as gender and skin colour discrimination accidents.

Starbucks’ environmental and social impact

However, this might come as a surprise: not only is Starbucks involved in putting forward green policies, it also aims at increasing its social responsibility actions around the world.

However, this might come as a surprise: not only is Starbucks involved in putting forward green policies, it also aims at increasing its social responsibility actions around the world. Of course, this does not mean that Starbucks has never been involved in controversies.

In fact, Starbucks was criticised for huge water waste and for not providing recyclable bins in 2008. And in 2006 it was criticised for claiming to be in line with fair trade guidelines, while in fact only 6% of products certified as such. Recently, it faced boycotts for kicking out two black people from a store without any reason. However, Starbucks’ positive policies might be an example for other companies and to its customers.

Among Starbucks’ green policies, it is worth mentioning a few sustainability policies and initiatives throughout the brand’s historical development:

  • “Grounds for your Garden”: Starbucks launched this environmental policy in 1995. This composting programme works on a “first comes, first served” concept. The idea is that anyone can pick up free used coffee grounds to enrich their gardens and compost at home. Although this project had limited impact at first and is not available everywhere due to local composting legislation, it has evolved to become an essential part of Starbucks’ environmental policy.
  • Reduction of garbage: In 2004, Starbucks started to reduce its non-recyclable waste. It based its efforts on the consideration that especially garbage bags and paper napkins were non-reusable products that are used in vast quantities.
  • In 2006, Starbucks implemented a “10% recycled paper in beverage cups” strategy. Although critics declare this is not enough in terms of environmental protection, it was the first policy of this sort in the food and beverage industry.
  • Since then, Starbucks also introduced a recycling strategy, complemented by recycling bins, and reusable cups in the Northern American stores. Special discounts are offered to customers who brought their own reusable cups for the next purchase.

Moreover, Starbucks was ranked #15 in the 2008 American list of Top 25 Green Power Partners because of its purchases of renewable energy. Furthermore, Starbucks is also active in the field of social responsibility. Besides calling for an inclusive and fair environment at the workplace and being an active member of the World Cocoa Foundation, is the following initiatives are worth mentioning:

  • “Partnership with Conservation International”: in 2009, Starbucks started cooperating with Conservation International to help protect natural coffee environment communities in Mexico and Indonesia. It moved 90% of its coffee purchases to preferred C.A.F.E. (coffee and farmer equity) certified providers. These are ranked according to social responsibility indicators, based on a complex, multi-variable scoring system. The company is now purchasing almost 100% of its coffee through C.A.F.E. or other ‘ethically sourced’ certification systems.
  • Ethos, Starbucks’ brand of bottled water, is sold throughout stores in Northern America. It aims to raise awareness for clean water issues. Some 3% of its total profit is dedicated to helping children get clean water through funding projects in the least developed countries of the world.
  • Food donation: since 2010, Starbucks USA has been donating leftover pastries to local food banks through a food collection service named “Food Donation Connection”. In March 2016, Starbucks also launched FoodShare. This is a five-year plan to donate all unsold food from its stores in the U.S. to local food banks and pantries. In 2017, the program was running in 10 different cities, with the goal of expanding to the entire country.

Considering these arguments and developments, the discussion about Starbucks’ role in Italian coffee experiences and local traditions seems less relevant. Of course, the customer experience is important, but it is an illusion to think that we can halt the worldwide expansion of global brands. Moreover, it is our responsibility as consumers to pay attention to the environmental and social impact behind the brands we like so much, and Starbucks seems to score quite well in these areas.

The image of Starbucks as a global monster destroying local businesses, damaging the environment and exploiting farmers in the poorest countries seems to be unfair. This clearly is no black and white scenario, and we might never know the truth about big corporations. But it is our duty to look for information about social responsibility and environmental policies of shops, brands and stores. We need this information to be able to make informed choices about who and what we want to support.

Posted by Elisa Rossetti in Current Affairs
Books every Idealist should read

Books every Idealist should read

Reading is essential to our understanding of the world. It introduces us to new perspectives, new ideas and new ways of life. It allows us to learn important life lessons without having to make the mistakes to learn them, and to travel to other countries, continents, and even different times. For self-acclaimed activists, idealist and general do-gooders, reading is especially functional. Learning about the experiences and knowledge of others helps us grasp abstract issues, such as racism, injustice and inequality. Reading about the lives of changemakers and influential figures can inspire us to take action, or to formulate our own plans of action.

Even though there are millions of books out there, it can sometimes feel as if there are no new books to read. So, dear Idealists, to make sure your bookshelves are stocked for the next few months, we composed a list of books we think every Idealist should read.

Justice and poverty

Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in the USA. This book is about his career challenging bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, specifically focusing on children and the death penalty. This book gives a thorough insight into the bias encountered by people of colour in the criminal justice system and the difficulties in challenging this system. Despite the heavy subject matter, it is an easy read. This book will leave you outraged and with a thorough understanding of one of the most significant issues of our time.

From Outrage to Courage - Anne Firth Murry

From Outrage to Courage – Anne Firth Murry

In From Outrage to Courage, activist and professor in international women’s health and human rights Anne Firth Murry sets out the many issues that girls and women in developing countries face during their lives. These topics vary from sexual violence to being denied access to education, and from gender-selective abortions to arranged marriage. All of the information is backed up by scientific evidence and Anne’s own experiences in developing countries. To keep readers from losing all hope, every chapter ends with examples of organisations and groups that successfully fight for women’s rights, and their accomplishments.

I’m judging you: The Do-Better Manual - Luvvie Ajayi

I’m judging you: The Do-Better Manual – Luvvie Ajayi

In this collection of essays, Luvvie Ajayi, the owner of, addresses a range of issues, varying from light subjects such as guidelines for pleasant use of social media to racism and media representation. With her razor-sharp wit and smart insights into society, Luvvie has the ability to engage the writer in both light and serious matter. This definitely is a fun and valuable read!

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, many people took this as a sign that new era of colourblindness had started. Michelle Alexander challenges this notion by laying out how the criminal justice system has adopted the function of racial control in the USA. This systems specifically targets black men through the War on Drugs, decimates communities of colour, and relegates millions of people to a permanent second-class status.

White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White - Daniel Hill

White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White – Daniel Hill

Trying to understand the notion of white culture and the effect it has on other cultures, Daniel Hill began a journey to understand the white identity. The book explains the seven stages that people go through in their cultural awakening. Moreover, it empowers white people to be agents of reconciliation in a world where the focus seems to be on differences instead of similarities.

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege - Ken Wytsma

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege – Ken Wytsma

Ken Wytsma examines the notion of privilege and discusses whether it is real or imagined. He explains the foundations and background of inequality and privilege. Moreover, he equips the reader with the information needed to effectively take part in the discussion about race-related issues. An essential book for white people to read, as it opens the reader’s eyes to daily realities and privileges that mostly go unnoticed.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement- Angela Y. Davis

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement- Angela Y. Davis

Angela Davis takes the reader with her in the exploration of the foundations of previous liberation struggles. This journey covers, amongst others, movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. She highlights the connections between different movements and connects past movements to today’s struggles.

Photo of person reading a book

Equality, feminism and LGBTQI

Nasty Women - by Samhita Mukhopadhyay & Kate Harding

Nasty Women – by Samhita Mukhopadhyay & Kate Harding

As President Trump’s proclamations about ‘nasty women’ became known all over the world, feminists decided to reappropriate the phrase. Samhita Mukhopadhyah and Kate Harding published the work of inspiring women who are not afraid to state their opinion. Nasty Women features essays of a diverse group of female writers about the state society is in today, how we got there, and what is now needed to move forward.

Men Explain Things to Me - by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me – by Rebecca Solnit

In one of the essential reads to understanding feminism, Rebecca Solnit introduces the term ‘mansplaining’, and lays out other phenomena such as rape culture, global inequality and marriage equality. Rebecca manages to explain heavy material in a light and easy-to-read fashion, and thereby to make feminism accessible for a wide variety of people.

Dear Madam President - by Jennifer Palmieri

Dear Madam President – by Jennifer Palmieri

Jennifer Palmieri, former Communications Director of Hillary Clinton, wrote this book as a letter to the first female president and to all women working to succeed in any field. Jennifer lays out frameworks for women to take control of their lives, workplaces, and their country.

Full Frontal Feminism: a Young Women’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters - by Jessica Valenti

Full Frontal Feminism: a Young Women’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters – by Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti, the founder of, wrote this guide for young women to support them with issues they face, such as health, reproductive rights, violence, and pop culture. The book has been so influential for feminism, that the Washington Post even wrote that much of the credit of the revival of feminism among young women should go to this book.

Feminist Fight Club: a Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace - Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight Club: a Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace – Jessica Bennett

In Feminist Fight Club, Jessica Bennett describes common biases and problems that women encounter in the workplace and lays out frameworks to tackle these problems. With wit, Jessica talks about issues such as pay inequality and being ‘manterrupted’ and ‘himitated’, and provides fight moves to tackle these problems in the future. Feminist Fight Club is one of those books that every woman, especially young women, should read.

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done - Susan J. Douglas

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done – Susan J. Douglas

A situation every feminist has experienced at least once or twice: ending up in a discussion about why feminism is not needed anymore since nowadays women are entirely equal to men. Using examples of how women are portrayed in popular culture, Susan J. Douglas illustrates how sexism is still very present in today’s society. She explains how these portrayals keep us from tackling the challenges that women are facing and drive wedges between generations of women.

The Guy’s Guide to Feminism - Michael Kaufman & Michaell Kimmel

The Guy’s Guide to Feminism – Michael Kaufman & Michaell Kimmel

In probably one of the only guides on feminism written by male authors, Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel write about the changes in feminism over the last decades, and how these changes affect women and men.

On Being Different: What It Means To Be a Homosexual - Merle Miller

On Being Different: What It Means To Be a Homosexual – Merle Miller

In On Being Different, Merle Miller describes what it is like to be homosexual in the US. The book was first published in 1971 but is still very relevant today. It presents the struggle that gay people have gone through over the last decades, many of which are still relevant today.

Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial - Kenji Yoshino

Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial – Kenji Yoshino

In Speak Now, Kenji Yoshino described the events surrounding Hollingsworth v Perry. This was the trial that legalised same-sex marriage in 2010 in California. During this trial, the nature of marriage, the political status of gays and lesbians, the ideal circumstances for raising children, and the ability of a democracy to protect fundamental rights were thoroughly examined. The abstract and legal reality of the trial is made comprehensive though Kenji’s account of his own experiences in finding love, marrying, and having children as a gay man. This book is an absolute must-read to understanding one of the most significant victories of the LGBTQ-community in recent years.

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality - Jo Becker

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality – Jo Becker

In Forcing the Spring, Jo Becker describes the five year battle for marriage equality in the US. This started with the 2010 trial in California challenging the ban on same-sex marriage. She was given free rein in legal and political war rooms where the strategy for marriage equality was plotted, such as the Oval office, the chambers of federal judges, and into the mindset of Supreme Court judges. Not only does Jo give an excellent insight into the fight for marriage equality, she also manages to do this with a talent for storytelling that would be fitting for a great thriller.

Person reading a book on bed

Biographies & Inspiring people

Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World - Sarah Prager

Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World – Sarah Prager

In this book for young adults, Sarah Prager writes about 23 people who have two things in common. They belong to the LGBTQ-community, and they have had a significant impact on the world. While the book features some well-known people such as Abraham Lincoln and Frida Kahlo, it also includes lots of people who are yet to get the attention they deserve.

100 Nasty Women of History - Hannah Jewell

100 Nasty Women of History – Hannah Jewell

Hannah Jewell tells the stories of 100 of the bravest and baddest women in history. Women from all over the world, from every race and discipline, often not recognised for their work, but all ‘nasty’ in the best sense of the word. Some of the women discussed are well-known such as Aretha Franklin and Coco Chanel. Others are not but genuinely deserve a spotlight.

The Book of Awesome Women - Becca Anderson

The Book of Awesome Women – Becca Anderson

This book about the accomplishments of women will not only inspire you and make you happy, but it will also teach you about essential parts of history and current affairs that are often underreported.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King -Clayborne Carson

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King -Clayborne Carson

Martin Luther King is one of the most well-known and prominent activists and change makers for civil rights and equality in the US. This account of Martin Luther King’s professional and personal life will teach you about leadership, activism, and history, while increasing your understanding of the society we live in today.

Rosa Parks: My Story - Rosa Parks & Jim Haskins

Rosa Parks: My Story – Rosa Parks & Jim Haskins

In My Story, Rosa Parks tells us about the civil rights movement in the USA, in which she had a major part, and the turbulent times she lived in. Although she is most famous for refusing to give up her seat in a segregated bus and thereby sparking the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, her life was filled with many more quiet but significant acts of resistance and activism.

I am Malala - Malala Yousafzai

I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

In 2014, Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her relentless advocacy for girls right to education, freedom of terror, and female emancipation. In this biography, she tells the story of how she became an advocate for human rights, how she was shot in the head by the Taliban, and how, despite this, she never stopped advocating for human rights. If you ever doubt your potential to change the world, read this book, and you will be amazed by the impact one person can have.

50 Inspirational Bedtime Stories: 50 Amazing Black People Who Changed the World - L.A. Amber

50 Inspirational Bedtime Stories: 50 Amazing Black People Who Changed the World – L.A. Amber

While this book was actually written for children, adults will certainly enjoy reading it as well. The writer bundled the stories of 50 black people who had or have a profound influence on the world, ranging from Serena Williams to Michael Jackson to Barack Obama, and featuring many more stories.

Book shelves with beautiful light


None of the above - I. W. Gregorio

None of the above – I. W. Gregorio

In this fictional story, Kristin Lattimer finds out that she is intersex. As if this situation is not complicated enough, her story is then leaked to the whole school. None of the Above explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between. It will make you think about gender norms that are present in our society, and give you an idea of what it is like to not entirely fit into one of the two dominant categories.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Emily M. Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post is gay but has not told anyone, when her parents die in a car crash. She comes to live with her old-fashioned grandmother and aunt Ruth and falls in love with her best friend. When she is eventually outed, she is sent to a religious conversion camp to “cure” her homosexuality and to teach her “appropriate gender roles”. By the way, in case you were feeling like having a movie night, the book was turned into a movie which was released in 2018.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

In this classic, Harper Lee tells the story of a black man who is being accused of raping a white woman during the Great Depression in Alabama, USA. The story is told from the perspective of Jean Louise Finch, whose father is the attorney who defends the suspect. It addresses issues such as racial injustice, the destruction of innocence, and gender roles. Let’s just say, there is a reason that this book is a must-read in practically every high school in the USA.

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is an enchanting tale about a young shepherd who gives up everything to follow his dreams, and the adventures and challenges he encounters along the way. This is the ultimate book to read when you long to follow your heart but are not quite ready to step out of your comfort zone.

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Based on real life and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the book tells the story of Starr Carter, whose best friend Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer. Although he was not armed, he ‘probably was a drug dealer’ according to the police. Starr tries to pick up her life in a society torn of by inequalit. A contrast that becomes ever more clear as she lives in a poor neighbourhood while going to school in a wealthy neighbourhood.

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Current Affairs