‘Touch of Care’

 

I saw this video this morning, and I’m filled with optimism and joy.

I’ve shared posts before about encouraging movements from south Asia, targetting women’s rights, beauty standards and feminism. This is the first time I’ve come across a nation-wide campaign normalising transgender people and their lives.

I knew what to expect when I saw the article accompanying it on NPR, but it was still a wonderful surprise that the video didn’t preach, or generate a rallying call to arms, or worse yet, and as is often seen in south Asia, portray transgender people as caricatures or as objects of ridicule.

It’s a normal story about a girl on her way back to university, thinking about her childhood and her parent. Only at the end do you realise that her mother is transgender, though it’s hinted throughout the video through the partial shots of her mother.

The woman playing her mother is Gauri Sawant, an activist and head of Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust, an NGO based in Bombay which works with transgender people. The story in the video is based on Gauri’s life raising Gayatri, the daughter of a sex worker friend of Gauri’s. Many articles have sprung up in the past few days talking about it, Gauri’s work, and that’s generating even more discussion around the reality of transgender rights and equality in India – which gives me a lot of hope.

I’m buoyed by the fact that the social media response has been overwhelmingly positive, despite the – legitimate – cynical critique of Vicks. The link between the product and the video isn’t clear, this could just be PR stunt, etc. To me though, it’s not really an ad for Vicks in the way this was an ad for Tanishq, for example. So I’m treating it almost as a short movie, independent of the brand. It doesn’t matter to me if the ‘caring for families for generations’ super is accurate or not. This is an equally bold move for Vicks, and similarly to the Tanishq ad, makes a topic that’s either taboo or at best, marginalised, something for everyone to talk about. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

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Celebrate International Women’s Day differently

Today is International Women’s Day, marked around the world in many different ways.

It’s also the 100th anniversary of the start of the Russian Revolution – on 8 March 1917, female textile workers protested in Petrograd, forcing the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and Russian women won the right to vote.

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Cast a look on social media today and you’ll be inundated with photos, videos, memes, statistics, quotes and a host of other visuals commemorating women’s achievements through the ages, the further struggles that lie ahead, the reality of women’s oppression around the world today, or – sometimes – funny jokes. Many of these are informative, heart-breaking, inspiring and/or important to share.

But so many are mere platitudes, which illicit a response for all of five seconds before they’re gone from your mind. Like these ones, from Instagram and the official IWD page:

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This will form the bulk of most people’s contributions today; a simple message (sometimes with grammatical errors) saying ‘Happy Women’s Day’, and a few cheerleader-esque platitudes, and fin.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, simply because that’s the way most of us mark a special day/holiday on social media. I wanted to take the chance today to write about what it means for me, and why some of the ways in which IWD is ‘celebrated’ make me uncomfortable.

First of all, a cursory glance at social media or at the many protests taking place globally today (check out #DayWithoutWomen on Twitter and Instagram for some truly powerful photos and symbols of resistance) will show you that most of those partaking are women. That’s antithetical to a movement as powerful as feminism.

Feminism is about equality, opportunity, choice and freedom.

That’s universal, so I don’t like to see that mostly women are sharing these posts, or wishing each other, or being the most visible participants.

However, that’s an issue of the feminist movement as a whole, not necessarily with today – but it’s one of the many glaring examples of where we need to ensure we’re a more inclusive movement. During the Budapest Women’s March in January for example, about 95% of those attending were women, despite the organisers being men from Greenpeace. What’s wrong with today, and with the movement, that it’s seen to involve or target women, rather than address fundamental issues about opportunity, freedom and justice?

Secondly, these platitudes. What do they say of our struggle to date, of the millions of women around the world who have given their lives, freedoms and rights so we’re allowed the rights we have today (and so I can blog about it right now?)

It feels cheap, somehow, to quote a Beyoncé song or post a tokenistic picture of super-heroines. If we’re going down the diversity route, where is the Maori Wonder Woman? Where’s the tall, fat woman? Where’s the Native American, the south Asian, the hijab-clad Muslim Wonder Woman?

Attempts to get shares on social media, or reblogs of zippy soundbites, are not what we need. We need today to be about more than that, and for an actual commitment from more than just women to the longer term causes.

Feminism:

My dad, one of the first real feminists in my life and a constant source of strength and inspiration (fine, I may be a little biased) shared a series of Tweets which perfectly encapsulates the day and how we ought to think more about our movement.

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Third, I notice that people speak about women’s rights, opportunities and achievements only on this day. The struggle for equality and freedom is ongoing, and we can’t reserve all our activism, passion or anger for just one day. We should champion achievements, highlight the road ahead and speak about these issues constantly if we’re to make any impact.

We’ll post a picture, maybe share an article or two, and for the most part, I see so many people leave their activism there – it’s called clicktivism for a reason, and it’s not enough.

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So to that end, I’ve thought about ways we can make our dedication to the issues underlying today’s celebration more relevant and lasting – the easiest way is to donate to an organisation near you, volunteer time, arrange campaigns and join coalitions in your area. I’ve trawled the internet and my own database of resources, and here are some ideas for ways in which we can be of service to our global sisterhood beyond today.

 

CAF America shares this inspiring set of ways to educate yourself on the issues facing women, and the work done to combat it, here.

UN Women’s focus this year is ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 505-50 by 2030.’ Read more about their campaign here, the events they’re hosting and the wealth of resources to support representation in the work place.

Women in the global workforce

Courtesy UN Women

Womankind UK shares this page of resources, with links to their global partners.

You can filter by geography, and learn more about the work of each of these incredible groups. Here are some examples:

Afghan Women Resource Centre (AWRC)

AWRC strives to help women improve their economic and social well-being and enables them to become active in decision-making processes. They encourage them to stand up for their rights and be active and confident members within their families and communities.

The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (Gender Centre)

The Gender Centre is committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of women. It works with both women’s groups and other organisations providing support and training in areas such as implementing women’s rights, project planning and campaigning. The Gender Centre was established in 1995 to make sure women’s rights were included in development programmes in Ghana.

WHR Nepal campaigners

Courtesy Womankind UK

Here are some excellent globally-focussed groups working on women’s empowerment, access rights, championing leadership and representation, or working towards equality and justice:

 

Women for Women International

A nonprofit that works with women who have experienced war, civil strife and other conflicts, providing them with the tools and resources to become financially independent and self-sufficient, WfWI was founded in 1993 and has helped more than 351,000 women through direct aid, rights education, job skills training and small business development. They currently operate in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. Women for Women International offers a one year program that teaches job skills and business training to women in conflict, in addition to facilitating group therapy sessions for war survivors.

 

Every Mother Counts

An advocacy and mobilization campaign to reduce maternal mortality, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of women and girls worldwide by educating and supporting maternal mortality reduction. Hundreds of thousands of women die each year from pregnancy complications or childbirth difficulties, 90% of these deaths are preventable. No Woman, No Cry is a documentary by Christy Turlington that shares the stories of at-risk pregnant women from around the globe. The film spreads the message of the need for  resources and education to reduce maternal mortality. The nonprofit also collects old mobile phones to be donated to health care providers in rural areas to provide better communication and medical services.

 

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

The Association of Women’s Rights in Development is an international, feminist, membership organization committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. AWID provides comprehensive information and analysis on women’s human rights and global issues.

 

Samahope

Millions of people worldwide lack access to basic surgical care. Local doctors and resources are stretched thin to provide medical care on a large scale. To address this issue, Samahope enables supporters worldwide to fund these doctors through crowdfunding. Donations underwrite treatments for birth injuries, burns, birth defects, blindness and trauma-based injuries. The platform has activated more than 3,000 donors to impact the lives of over 6,000 patients.

 

Dressember

In 2013, Dressember’s fifth year, the organization aligned with International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works to rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. That year, 1,233 registered participants around the world rallied to collectively raise over $165,000. Participation doubled the next year, and the campaign raised more than $465,000. Starting in 2015, the campaign will increase its partnerships with other anti-trafficking organizations.

 

Girls Who Code

Seventy-four percent of middle schools girls express interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but only 0.4 percent of high school girls choose computer science as their major. Girls Who Code aims to empower girls with the computer science education and skill sets needed to pursue 21st century opportunities. The deputy public advocate of New York City, Reshma Saujani, the organization’s founder and CEO, started Girls Who Code to close the gender gap in technology. In 2014, its programs served 375 girls in multiple cities. Some 90 percent continued to pursue computer science or a closely related field as their major or minor, and 77 percent changed paths because of their time with Girls Who Code. By moving toward gender parity in computing fields, more girls will be equipped with the tools they need to innovate and incite social change.

 

Ultraviolet Edge Initiative

The Ultraviolet Edge is a global initiative of Urban Decay Cosmetics to empower women. By helping to fund organizations that fight for the rights of women everywhere, Urban Decay encourages all women to embrace their individuality in everything they do.

 

Women’s Partnership Market

Women’s Partnership Market supports grassroots organizations like Women’s Global to empower female entrepreneurs through access to business training and microfinance to address the root causes of poverty.

 

 

Bustle’s list of groups also includes some international organisations, such as:

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Courtesy Camfed

Camfed

International nonprofit Camfed has been pioneering girls’ education programs in sub-Saharan Africa since 1993. According to its website, the organization’s programs have directly supported more than a million students through primary and secondary school. To donate, head over to the Camfed website.

Engeder Health

Family planning is a pressing issue for women, and that’s the focus of global nonprofit EngenderHealth, along with STI prevention and maternal health. Check out the organization for yourself and donate here.

Pro Mujer:

Founded in Bolivia in 1990, Pro Mujer is a women’s development organization distributing small loans to women in Latin America. Since its creation, Pro Mujer has loaned out more than $2.8 billion, $340 million of which was distributed last year. Donate here.

Pathfinder: 

According to its website, global nonprofit Pathfinder “envisions a world where everyone has access to contraception, where there are zero new HIV infections, where no woman dies from preventable pregnancy-related complications, and where everyone leads a healthy sexual and reproductive life.” The organization is dedicated to worldwide sexual health using a groundbreaking community-based model. Donate here.

Hungarian Artisan Christmas Market

My office recently held a Christmas fair, inviting the NGOs and craftspeople we support to sell handmade crafts and food. It was an incredible chance for us to meet groups from across Hungary working on many different issues, and to learn more about what drives them. I had the chance to speak to some of the sellers about their work, and thought I’d share their stories and some photos with you. If you’re looking for traditional crafts from Hungary, made by hand and with care for their communities, look no further!

 

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These candle holders are made out of recycled paper, by workers at Búzavirág Alapítvány (Cornflower Foundation). Búzavirág works with visually-challenged communities in rural Hungary, to enable them to live independently, since they receive little support from the local authorities.

They’ve been working towards self-sufficiency for the visually impaired since 1997, with the goal of providing financial independence and the self-confidence that earning your own money provides, through promoting traditional craftsmanship and teaching self-sustainability to its artisans.

They make pottery, baskets and carpets, and provide the necessary marketing and business skills to their artisans, enabling them to sell these goods at different craft markets. Find out more about the group’s mission, and the beautiful items they sell here.

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (Real Pearl Foundation) has been working towards community development in eastern Hungary since 1999, and provides members of one of the most disadvantaged regions of the country with art education, vocational courses and builds community cohesion through family care. The organisation is split into an art school and a foundation, which works directly with the entire community while the art school is for children from the 12 nearest municipalities.

Children of all ages, from municipalities in Hajdú-Bihar county learn graphic design, handicrafts, enamelwork, painting and dance. All proceeds from sales of art school goods go back into the foundation’s work to provide community development to families, many of whom are also Roma and face multiple layers of discrimination and exclusion, particularly in this region of Hungary.

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Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Zsuzsa Formanek, an artist and founder of Budai Rajziskola, designs and creates unique decorative and practical works of art using recycled glass. Check out more of her work here.

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Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

What do you think? Everything available in the market was beautiful, made with love and gave back to their communities. This is part of the reason I love Christmas – the push for meaningful, ethical presents for loved ones is strongest towards the end of the year, and it’s always great fun to wander around a market!

Reblog: Eight Signs Life is Improving for Africa’s Children

It’s so rare these days to get a piece of good news about children’s economic development, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. I came across this article today, which has made my day.

Yes, there is still a lot of work left to do, but it’s good – and necessary! – every now and again to stop and remind ourselves of why the fight is worth it.

 

Children in many African countries have a better shot at a healthy life than ever before. We’re marking the International Day of the African Child on June 16 by taking stock of the encouraging if uneven progress Africa has made in the past two decades in improving the odds of survival for children.

There is still a long way to go. But the overall picture for Africa’s children includes bright spots, promising trends, and the prospect of a future when all children have an equal chance to live full and healthy lives.

1. Africa is making strides against the top killers of children.

Group of children standing next to a blue building.

A half-million fewer African children under age five died between 1990 and 2010 from diarrheal disease and lower respiratory infections such aspneumonia, two of the leading child killers. Premature death and disability from diarrheal diseases fell 34 percent in that period, and death and disability from lower respiratory infections dropped 22 percent, according to theInstitute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

2. A global effort to stamp out malaria is saving children’s lives.

Woman and toddler sitting on bed with bednet.

The scale-up of proven malaria interventions saved an estimated 3.3 million lives between 2000 and 2012—90 percent of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

3. Innovation is driving a sharp decline in child deaths.

Young woman holding an infant, with a child standing next to her, as a health worker fills a syringe with vaccine.

In sub-Saharan Africa, deaths of children under age five dropped 39 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to the United Nations. Even better news: Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in 2000, the rate of decline has accelerated in 90 percent of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to IHME. Globally, new vaccinesdrugsdiagnostics, and other health innovations led to 4.2 million fewer child deaths in 2013 compared to 1990, according to IHME.

4. More mothers are surviving pregnancy and childbirth.

Woman holding her baby and smiling broadly.

Maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa began a rapid decline following the adoption of the MDGs. Between 2005 and 2010, maternal mortality dropped by 11.4 percent, in part because of the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy for HIV and AIDS, according to IHME. The odds of survival for children rise sharply when their mothers can care and provide for them.

5. More children—especially girls—are going to school.

Two children standing next to a chalkboard, one pointing to the writing on the chalkboard with a stick.

The primary school enrollment rate for African girls jumped from 47 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2011, with the rate for boys rising from 58 percent to 79 percent in the same period, according to the UN. That’s an especially promising sign for Africa’s efforts to drive down child mortality because maternal education is a key driver of child survival.

6. More children are gaining access to clean water.

Young boy pumping water

Since 1990, more than 2.1 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the UN estimates that the proportion of people using improved water sources rose from 49 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2011.

7. Better nutrition is improving the odds of child survival.

Man feeding a spoonful of orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes to a baby sitting on her mother's lap.

Risk factors like suboptimal breastfeeding, vitamin deficiencies, and childhood underweight are on the decline in Africa, according to IHME, leaving children less vulnerable to illness and disease.

8. More children are getting lifesaving vaccines.

Toddler sitting on a woman's lap receiving a vaccination in the left arm.

Vaccination coverage has steadily improved in many African countries over the past two decades, according to UNICEF and WHO. Vaccines save an estimated 2 to 3 million young lives per year worldwide.

Indian NGO becomes country’s first HAP-certified organisation

Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP), a multi-agency initiative working to improve the accountability of humanitarian action to people affected by disasters, has certified India’s first disaster relief organisation.
SEEDS Asia (Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development) has branches in Japan and India, the latter of which has become India’s first HAP-certified organisation, further lending credibility to local institutions for disaster management.
SEEDS India offers assistance to those affected by natural disasters and those living in disaster-prone areas, as well as providing ongoing support to these communities during normal times. SEEDS builds shelters and uses local technologies and approaches to mitigate the risk of further disasters eroding the standard of living.
The organisation was founded in 1994 in India’s capital New Delhi. Since its creation, SEEDS has protected families against the effects of earthquakes, floods and cyclones. It has helped rebuild schools and homes and advocates among various local communities for support and assistance, as well as showing communities how to manage the risk of these disasters in the future.

Image courtesy SEEDS Asia

Malala Yousafzai’s surgery is successful

[This is an update of a post dated 9 October]

Doctors have confirmed that they have removed the bullet from Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl shot by the Taliban earlier this week. She was flown to Peshawar in critical condition after being sent to hospital in Mingora.

Gunmen from the Ehsanullah Ehsan terrorist group attacked Malala and two other girls as they left school on Tuesday, in an attack which has prompted a huge global backlash – from politicians, rights activists and the general public.

Malala first drew international attention three years ago when, encouraged by her father,  she blogged for BBC Urdu about life in the Swat Valley for about four months, starting in January 2009.

When the Pakistani government launched an attack against military groups in Swat, Malala and her family moved to Shangla.

She would later become the youngest recipient of the National Peace Award.

Private schools in Pakistan’s troubled north-western Swat district have been ordered to close in a Taleban edict banning girls’ education.

Militants seeking to impose their austere interpretation of Sharia law have destroyed about 150 schools in the past year.

Five more were blown up despite a government pledge to safeguard education, it was reported on Monday.

Here a seventh grade schoolgirl from Swat chronicles how the ban has affected her and her classmates. [Source: BBC Urdu Online]

Ehsanullah Ehsan took control of the strategically-important logistics base for the Taliban in 2007. Since their capture, the Swat Valley has become home to pro-Taliban fundamentalist Muslims, who supported the implementation of Sharia law in 2009.

Prior to the global ‘War on Terror’, the Swat Valley was a popular holiday destination, known affectionately as the ‘Switzerland of the region’. It is populated mainly by Pashtuns, from Afghanistan.

Malala Yousafzei. Source: I Tribune.net