Métis grad student tackles gender violence in Beijing

Menke MeijerFor Menke Meijer, going to China was one of the most inspiring and rewarding decisions that she has ever made. Over the summer, the graduate student did her co-op term at UN Women in Beijing. 
 
As a research assistant, Menke wrote speeches, organized visas for international consultants, led discussions, and organized press conferences and events – tackling the serious subjects of gender violence and LGBTQ rights.
 
The big project I was on was a workshop to train the military peacekeeping officers on protection of civilians from gender-based and sexual violence in conflict. 
While the United Nations often deals with heavy subjects, Menke’s colleagues gave her a warm welcome and treated her as an equal on their team. 
 
They are an extraordinary group of people, and not once did I feel like I was lesser than anyone else. I left them feeling not only validated, but empowered, which is the UN Womens mission.
Being Métis had a major impact on Menke’s decision to pursue the co-op placement. 
 
I had a lot of guilt at first. I felt it was an obligation for me to stick to home and make sure I focused on Aboriginal issues first and foremost. I had an internal struggle because I had since childhood all these dreams about travelling, seeing the world versus taking care of issues at home before elsewhere. What finally got me to decide to go to Asia was this rare and possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel so far.
Her ethnicity also led to some interesting conversations whilst in Beijing. 
 
The only way I got people to remotely have an idea about First Peoples was to speak about Cowboy movies. Every single person I spoke to wanted to know more about First Peoples. There was a lot of genuine shock when I told them about the history of violence, racism and colonialism toward First Peoples. 
Menke is pursuing a Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies and now writing her thesis on culture and gender in humanitarian aid and conflict resolution. She encourages students to speak their truth and not to keep things bottled up inside:
 
Who we are and where we come from shapes us - no matter how much of a blank slate you want to be. I’d encourage people to look for answers, to push the boundaries, not let adversity stop you, and most of all to not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Speak up, even if it hurts. 
To learn more about gender violence, check out events and displays relating to 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence at the University of Waterloo until December 10.
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