October 6, 2017
Leaders In Human Rights – Michelle Falk
Why is sharing human rights stories important?
It’s important for everyone to take in a variety of perspectives and experiences. You might not realize, for example, if you’ve personally never dealt with sexism, how it affects people in your community on a daily basis. On the other hand, if you do identify with these struggles, it can be empowering to hear someone’s story of perseverance and strength. It’s important to come together as a community in empathy and understanding.
What change do you hope your involvement will bring to society?
Generally, I’d like the world to be safer and more nurturing for young women. As a young girl, I was led to believe I could do anything. But then as I got older, more and more exceptions were tacked on to that rule. I was told things such as, “that’s nice that you like basketball but only men can play in the NBA”, “It’s great that you like to read but boys don’t like girls who ask too many questions”, and then you see misogynists get elected and you’re being told your worth depends on how attractive men think you are. So I’d like young girls to be told they can actually do anything with no exception, and for that to be true. Our expectations for young women need to match their ambitions. In this way, I hope I can be a role model for young women interested in human rights and social justice.
What was your biggest source of strength and motivation as you continued your journey to advocate for gender rights?
This can sometimes be a strength and sometimes a bit deflating but, as far as gender equality goes, the job is never done. Women are underrepresented in political and socio-economic institutions and over-represented in ads about botox and contouring and whatever else they’re trying to sell us today. Sometimes the most empowering thing is to just give a big middle finger to sexism and continue on like no one’s ever doubted you before. Even with a Master’s degree, I still get mansplained to. Even in a parka, I still get street harassed. Fighting this fight, or even just existing as a woman, can be so exhausting. Take time for yourself and remind yourself constantly of your accomplishments. Surround yourself with other badass women and support each other.
What do you believe is the most effective way to fight for human rights or raise awareness?
Our philosophy at MARL is to address inequality and social injustices at their root cause through education. The more people are aware of systemic issues surrounding racism, sexism, homophobia, etc etc, the more people can come together in solidarity to fight against it. These issues will not go away overnight, it takes a huge cultural and mental shift to address these issues and only then can we begin to think about progress.
Why did you get involved in the movement? A specific story or person?
I started getting interested in human rights as a student at the U of W majoring in political theory. I took my first feminist theory class in my third year and it absolutely blew my mind that individuals’ struggles could lie under the surface of our social, economic, and political institutions. As soon as I had the vocabulary to understand the patriarchy, it all just clicked. Suddenly, things I unconsciously understood to be unfair were part of a greater movement. I did my Master’s in Gender Studies and Feminist Theory at McMaster University, and eventually moved back to Winnipeg to work for MARL. I’ve always been most interested in the ideas side of political movements so being involved in the community this way has been really great.
Where can young people start to fight for human rights?
A good way to get involved is to start volunteering at your local non-profit. Charities all run on limited resources and need all the help they can get. Volunteering is a great way to get a sense of how people are working in the community and what resources are available to people.
What is your life motto?
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” – Audre Lorde
Superpower you wish you had and why?
The introvert in me is going to say I would be invisible.
Any tips for someone wanting to become a human rights advocate?
Getting involved in human rights work is not easy but it’s so worth it. There are times when you’ll be tired and discouraged but just know the work you’re doing is important and it matters.
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