Yes you read that right and let me just re-iterate: Thordis Elva is a Women's Rights Badass.
I met Thordis in Sweden while participating in a 109 World Humanitarian Trip to support the Panzi Hospital in the Congo and to bring awareness to the global epidemic that is sexual violence against women. Before meeting this powerhouse I watched her TED talk and let me tell you I was floored. I don't want to give too much away because I HIGHLY recommend that you watch it yourself here. But in case you need persuading, she speaks WITH (yes that's right, alongside, beside, next to) her perpetrator with whom she also co-wrote her book South of Forgiveness which you can purchase here (and again I HIGHLY recommend this badass read).
I got to know Thordis while sitting at dinner at this mission trip where we are all new to one another, complete strangers really
(although united in the cause that brought us there.) And I have to tell you that after watching her TED talk I didn't know what to expect now that I was sitting next to her at dinner. Thordis is a delightful dinner companion , asking questions about my sister and I (we travelled together) all while being genuinely interested in our responses. Not to mention she has an amazing sense of humour and I admit that the casual swearing in all the right places made me fall for her even more. (I'm a sucker for a good cuss in just the right moment.) I think the best part was how interested she was in mine and my husband's wedding. She couldn't get over how "Canadian" it was that we got married wearing skates and on an outdoor ice rink!
When Thordis opens her mouth to speak, you just stop and listen. It kind of reminds me of when I was a kid and a favourite show would come on and I would find myself just staring and watching the screen with my mouth half open dumbfounded and in awe. So the next day after dinner when I saw her official presentation it was like I was that kid again - awe struck. The way she speaks so eloquently about an otherwise taboo subject of rape and sexual violence is mind blowing. The way she breaks down statistics without hesitation is admirable. She knows her facts and it's personal. The passion that she has for bringing violence about women to the forefront of discussion be it in political, social or familial settings is palpable. And she does it all with grace. Originally Icelandic but now living in Sweden her English is remarkably native sounding.
Just recently with all of the #Metoo hashtags making waves in social and mainstream media, Thordis answered some questions for the blog. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Thordis! Keep doing the amazing work that you are doing!)
Can you think of a time in your life or a specific situation when you had to really dig deep to find gratitude?
I think the hardest time I've had in terms of feeling grateful is when I've been consumed with self-pity. The blackest of times have often been triggered by heartache, loss or illness. For example, I was diagnosed with what seemed to be cancer at the age of 22, when I was studying abroad, in a different continent than my friends and family. It felt very difficult to be so far away from them during those trying times. Gratitude was not the first thing that came to my mind. But after the initial shock, I decided that if I was ill, I was going to love my life and make the most of it. I bought a spontaneous ticket to go see a friend in Puerto Rico and felt very grateful for her company, as well as for the opportunities I had. When my doctors eventually confirmed that I didn't have cancer, I was of course very grateful for my good health as well. It is the single most important thing in life, I believe. At times, it was also difficult to see the light in my healing journey, after having been raped at the age of 16 by my first boyfriend. But when I was at my weakest, I found strength in therapy and an online community of survivors who did wonders for me. For that, I will always be grateful.
You wrote your book South of Forgiveness with your perpetrator, can you tell us what the reactions have been from friends, family, and fans in terms of this unique form of healing?
The reactions from friends and family have been unwaveringly supportive, for me. My parents and my husband were naturally concerned when I told them that I wanted to embark on this highly unorthodox journey to try to make amends with myself and my past. But they understood why it was important to me and I couldn't have done it without their support. The public has also been supportive for the most part. There have been those who feel threatened by the idea of a perpetrator being given space to tell his side of the story, and I understand their hesitation. But our collaboration is not intended to lessen the impact of violence or normalise it in any way - on the contrary - we decided to tell our story together to underline how serious sexual abuse is, and how important it is that men and women come together to fight this issue that has been wrongfully classified a 'women's issue' for far too long. It's a human issue that we should all be working towards solving.
When you finally told your family and friends? How did that play out in your relationships and, for your son, what do you tell him now about what you do for a living?
When I told my friends and family, they were kind and supportive, but some of them didn't know what to say. I find that very understandable. The silence surrounding sexual abuse has been thick for a very long time, and as a result, many people don't know how to talk about it. But nobody shamed me or blamed me, which is the most important part.
My son is 8 years old and he knows that I write and speak publicly for a living. I've given him an age-appropriate version of my story, so he knows that once upon a time, his mother had a boyfriend who hurt her. He knows that I was asked for forgiveness and that we've written a book together about our past. As he grows older, I will tell him more.
For any women out there who may feel like they cannot speak up about their trauma and who feel shame about what may have happened to them - what can you say to them?
I can say this: You're not alone. There are many people out there who understand what you're going through and have experienced something similar. Don't let anybody tell you what your path to healing should look like. You alone know what your needs are, there's no magic formula that works for everyone. Remember that you did not deserve what happened to you. Nobody deserves to be abused, no matter what. The shame was never yours to carry. There is light at the end of this tunnel and you deserve to get there.
What is your version of a gratitude attitude?
To count my blessings and remind myself how privileged I am, not only with my wonderful family and my good health, but because I have a voice in a world where so many of my fellow survivors are silenced. With the privilege of having a voice comes the responsibility of using it. Thank you for giving me a chance to use my voice here, now. That is my gratitude attitude today.
To learn more and support the amazing work that Thordis is doing, check out her website.