‘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.

 

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!

World Recycle Week and H&M

There’s a lot being said about fast fashion and the negative impact of our big clothing brands. With the Fashion Revolution also making headlines this year, H&M’s World Recycle Week comes at an exciting time.

The idea is for people to take in their used and old clothes, accessories, shoes and fabrics to their nearest H&M store, for recycling instead of throwing it away. (The fact that people would throw away clothes rather than donate or recycle is in itself still shocking. Surely there’s enough information available about the impact of all of this waste? But that’s possibly a post for another time.)

The idea is to prevent the huge amount of waste the fashion industry generates. Almost all our clothing, footwear, etc can be recycled into something new, rather than going to a landfill as much of it does.

Recycling just one t shirt saves 2,700 litres of water (the carbon footprint of producing a new one).

Watch this video to see what H&M plans to do with it:

I decided to try out this idea at my local H&M store – all of them are participating, which is great. The timing couldn’t be better for me, since I’m going through a huge spring clean, and also need a few work clothes.

For every bag of clothes you take in, the Hungarian branch gives you a 500 forint (roughly 1.5 Euros) discount voucher.

I have to add here that I haven’t bought new clothes in at least a year and a half. It just so happens that my beliefs in being a conscious consumer align well with my hatred of going into various shops, trying everything on in a small and badly-lit room, and lugging it around a mall. I would much rather pick something out online (in my PJs) or at most, while meandering around a nice vintage or second-hand shop.

So this in itself was an adventure, but an exciting one since it’s not a traditional shopping trip.

Do some preliminary digging into H&M’s ethos and you’ll definitely notice some red flags. We’ve all seen their ad campaigns for their Conscious Collection, and know they try to use organic cotton where possible. This is several steps ahead of many other cheaper brands out there, of course.

Their latest Sustainability Report shows a mixed bag of impact and results. The growth rates of their sustainable cotton use (out of their total cotton use), and the share of sustainably sourced materials (out of all their materials) has shown a strong rate of increase from 2011 and 2012, respectively. However, the rates themselves, when compared with the goal of 100%, is too weak for their impact to be significant enough in terms of their overall carbon footprint.

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

 

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

 

H&M’s carbon emissions for 2015 however, when compared to the previous year, show an impressive drop of 56% – and this compares to a tiny fall of 4% in 2014, and increases the two years before.

There’s a push for external certification of these credentials – all of H&M’s denim products are now scored well by Jeanologia’s Environmental Impact Measurement Tool – a software which helps brands increase the sustainability of their supply chain in denim.

On the other hand, various links in their supply chain show that while the group’s intentions may be good, their progress in the past few years (reports go back to 2009) has not been as strong as it could be – or as the group would like.

The progress in factory sustainability globally has risen by only 6% in four years, and the percentage of sustainable raw materials of their total raw materials is very low. Along their value chain, impact is mixed; where they have a low climate impact (12%), the social impact is high – as in the raw materials stage. Their fabric and yarn production, with a high social impact, shows one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. H&M doesn’t work directly with the producers of their fabric, but through intermediaries such as the Natural Resources Defense Council to help improve performance. However, the environmental impact is still significantly high, with greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution in the production of cotton startlingly high, and largely unchanged (the group has had a 6% impact on their own water usage in 2015).

It’s important to also recognise that not enough high street brands care about their production enough to measure their impact and their value chain’s ethics. There’s certainly great room for progress and the fact that H&M still produce cotton instead of more conscious alternatives like hemp in their clothing, is an example of this. But as a whole, and measured against their competitors, H&M is still doing more to raise awareness of the industry’s carbon footprint. With World Recycling Week as well, buying new clothes at a time like this, from a company that at least tries to counter its harmful impact, is better than choosing other brands.

Charlie Hebdo

Thankfully I haven’t yet seen any retards talking about how Islam is apparently the only religion which has extremists or terrorists, and trying to blame an entire religion for the acts of a few horrible people. This is an excellent article. Read.

Reblog: Original articl from The Guardian, Wednesday 7 January 2015 14.36 GMT

Charlie Hebdo: Now is the time to uphold freedoms and not give in to fear

Terrorists can kill and maim, but they cannot topple governments. We must not hand them victory by treating this massacre as an act of war.
A general view shows firefighters, polic
The scene in Paris: ‘Charlie Hebdo was testing the boundaries of taste and religious tolerance.’ Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Why does it happen? Whenever a political outrage is committed, the sensible question is to ask: what does its perpetrator want? What reaction does he seek, and what does he not seek?

Twelve dead cannot go unremarked. Those journalists who confront violent intolerance, even in the supposed security of a city office, need every support. When, very rarely, they die in that cause, they must be lauded and mourned.

Those who comment through satire are peculiarly bold, more so than those who deploy argument. Ridicule is the most devastating and wounding of weapons. It reaches parts of the political and personal psyche that reason cannot touch. It is one of democracy’s most effective weapons, and the price those who wield it have to pay is sometimes as high as any other.

There can be no doubt that the magazine Charlie Hebdo was testing the boundaries of taste and religious tolerance. But that is the burden freedom of speech in a democracy has to bear. The US bore it recently with its satire on North Korea’s leader; it was the risk Charlie Hebdo took, and knew it was taking.

If satire reaches places argument cannot touch, should terrorism now be allowed to do the same? All authorities on terrorism agree, as its student Richard English has written, that the question has “no easy solution”. The reason is that it is a technique of conflict, not a cause. It is merely a weapon, not an ideology.

In murdering so many, we can assume the terrorists sought to achieve two things. They sought to terrify others and thus to deter continued criticism, and they now seek to reduce the French state to a condition of paranoia. They want to goad otherwise liberal people to illiberal actions. To them, western democracy is skin deep in its freedoms, while the simple disciplines of their form of Islam are more powerful, more courageous, more lasting.

For the past quarter-century, the west has misread and misplayed the upsurge in fundamentalist sentiment across the Muslim world. The anti-western thrust was manifest in movements as diverse as Sayyid Qutb’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran’s ayatollahs, Bin Laden’s al-Qaida and, more recently, Isis in Syria and Iraq. But it has almost always been cultural, directed at the states of the Middle East, at keeping them to some concept of religious purity.

Some of these movements sought caliphates and toppled secular regimes, notably those of the Ba’athists. But the insurgencies were mostly contained within the region. The threat to the west was negligible. The threat to western commercial interests was more substantive, but it was likely to be short-lived. Oil would always need to be sold, as has proved to be the case.

Osama bin Laden’s attacks on the United States, culminating in New York in 2001, were exceptional. Since he could not hope for an American capitulation, the intention must have been to scare the US into a hysterical reaction. As a result, all advice at the time was for America not to universalise its response to 9/11, let alone characterise it as a “war”. This would merely fuel the flames of horror, and lead on to God knows where. As Tom Paine warned: “Sanguinary punishment corrupts humankind.”

That advice was ignored, and years of war ensued, years that realised al-Qaida’s wildest dreams. Western nations plunged into battle, at a cost of some $3tn. Thousands of lives were lost and regimes were destabilised across the region. Democratic governments lurched towards authoritarianism. Almost willingly, it seemed, governments tore up many of the central tenets of their liberties. In the more belligerent states – the US and Britain – habeas corpus, private communication, legal process and even freedom of speech were curtailed or jeopardised. The forces of state repression suddenly found themselves singing the best tunes.

Bin Laden was handed his triumph. For a decade he was able to rally supporters to his cause. He boasted at the vulnerability of this supposedly superior society. He taunted democracies that claimed immunity from the devious tactics of militant Islam. American presidents and British home secretaries alike became al-Qaida’s useful idiots.

Today’s French terrorists want a similarly hysterical response. They want another twist in the thumbscrew of the surveillance state. They want the media to be told to back off. They want new laws, new controls, new additions to the agenda of illiberalism. They know that in most western nations, including Britain, there exists a burgeoning industry of illiberal bureaucrats with empires to build. This industry may be careful of public safety, but it is careless of the comfort and standing it offers the terrorist. There will now be cries from the security services and parliament for more powers and more surveillance.

Few would be so foolish as to want any group, in this case journalists, to be left unprotected from acts such as those that have occurred in Paris. Huge resources have already been allocated to forestalling terrorist acts, and that is appropriate. But these acts are crimes and should be treated as such. They are for assiduous policing, at which Britain has so far been reasonably successful. They are not for constitutional deterioration.

Only weakened and failing states treat these crimes as acts of war. Only they send their leaders diving into bunkers and summoning up ever darker arts of civil control, now even the crudities of revived torture. Such leaders cannot accept that such outrages will always occur, everywhere. They refuse to respect limits to what a free society can do to prevent them.

Britain has never been free of acts of violence. The 20th century saw bombs in London from anarchists, Fenians, Palestinians and Irish nationalists. Now we have so-called jihadists. The last is the only group seriously to threaten Britain’s custodianship of freedoms handed down by centuries of the rule of law. This very week parliament considers stripping British citizenship from those merely “suspected” of going abroad in pursuit of terrorism. Anyone visiting London at present – with its blast barriers, armed police, alert notices, even train announcements – senses a government in thrall to terror, unable ever to say enough is enough.

Terrorism is no ordinary crime. It depends on consequence. It can kill people and damage property. It can impose cost. But it cannot occupy territory or topple governments. Even to instil fear it requires human enhancement, from the media and politicians.

That is why the most effective response is to meet terrorism on its own terms. It is to refuse to be terrified. It is not to show fear, not to overreact, not to over-publicise the aftermath. It is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror, and leave the perpetrator devoid of further satisfaction. That is the only way to defeat terrorism.

27 Myths about the Developing World

I found this article on Global Citizen and wanted to share it. There was a lot here that made me think, but many of these myths have been debunked by most academics and professionals in development. Aid effectiveness is still a hotly contested debate topic, certainly – but are we really still in the mindset that aid leads to overpopulation (myth 24)?

Have a look and tell me what you think. It surprised me to see there are still those who hold on to these views.

1.) There is an agreed upon way to decide what is a developing country

Flickr: Sudhamshu Hebbar

There is no agreed upon metric for deciding which countries are considered “developing”. The standard of living for a given country can be calculated a dozen different ways with different factors. There is even debate as to whether the term should still be used because it assumes a desire for Western style economic development.

2.) When people say “developing world” or “third world” they mean Africa.

Wikipedia Commons

Yes, there are many developing nations in Africa. And yes, most of the myths on this list apply to how people think of Africa. There are developing countries in North America, South America, Asia and Europe. And Africa isn’t a monolith of poverty. This myth feeds into a lot of misconceptions about Africa like…

3.) Africa is a country.

Flickr: US Army Africa

It’s not as though people don’t know that Africa is a continent not a country. The problem is that people make sweeping generalizations about Africa. Whereas most people in the Global North have a clear idea about the differences between Germany and Italy, African nations often get painted with the same brush. In fact there are 54 different African nations all with different cultures, ethnicities, and economic statuses.

4.) Poor countries are just short of natural resources.

Wikimedia: Alexandra Pugachevsky

This is one of the most damaging myths because it makes people believe that there isn’t much that can be done to help. But it’s simply not true. For example, about 400 billion dollars worth of resources leave the continent of Africa every year. There are a lot of reasons why developing nations can have a lot of poverty, but a lack of natural resources is rarely a big factor. This myth also leads people to conclude that…

5.) Developing nations don’t have their own cultures or histories (because they have always been poor).

Wikimedia: Cordanrad

This one will probably seem obvious but there is a misconception that developing nations have no culture or history because they’ve always been poor and cut off from the rest of the world. Aside from the racist assumptions about poverty in tribal civilizations, this myth ignores the rich and powerful cities, kingdoms and empires that have existed in areas that are now impoverished. Look into the Malian Empire or the Mughal Empire if you don’t believe me.

6.) The people in developing nations are all poor.

Flickr: Christophe

There are clearly poor people in developing nations. But there are also poor in developed countries. Worse, the belief that a developing nation is entirely populated by poor people erases the many success stories of the rising global middle class people. Only focusing on those in desperate poverty makes for ineffective policies and leads to false assumptions about how people live in other countries.

7.) All people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas.

Wikimedia Oxfam East Africa

Most of the world’s poor, about 75%, do live in rural areas and rely mostly on farming. However like most things on this list, facts become myths when people replace the word “most” with the word “all”. The 25% of the world’s poor that live in urban areas need different types of aid, and different kinds of policy change, than those in rural areas. They shouldn’t be ignored.

8.) Developed nations spend a lot of their budgets on international aid.

Wikimedia: Russavia

How much do you think the United States spends in international aid every year? It’s probably less than you think . When asked how much of the national budget was spent on foreign aid the average American responded with 25%. The actual amount is less than 1%. Even the most generous nation in the world, Norway, gives less than 3% a year. When asked how much the United States should spend on foreign aid, the average response was 10%.

9.) Relying on aid hurts developing nations.

Flickr: Bread for the World

The argument usually goes like this: “If developing nations rely on foreign aid, they will never develop their own economies.” However, it is important to remember that the aid that directly saves lives, such as medicine and food, is really an investment in the nation’s future. Without a strong and healthy population there is truly no hope for independence from aid.

10.) Volunteering in a developing nation is the best way to make a difference.

Wikimedia: Elitre

A common misconception, although a valiant one! However, volunteering in a developing country usually benefits the volunteer more than locals, unless you have specific, applicable skills like medicine or engineering. The volunteer will learn a lot but will likely have little impact on community development. The best aid is the kind that gives locals the ability to craft their own instituions that can continue on long after the trickle of aid money has come to an end. Traveling to teach English for a month is not near as impactful as funding the local schoolteachers who will live and work there for their entire careers.

11.) Pictures of starving people, or sad children, are a great way to motivate people to make a difference.

Wikimedia: Oxfam East Africa

There is a name for the type of imagery that is supposed to shock people in developed nations with the realities of extreme poverty: “poverty porn”. While there is a time and place to document suffering, it is important to make sure the person in the photograph is aware of what the picture will be used for, and that the image is presented with context. When photos of children with distended bellies are used as symbols instead of portraits of living people, they are erased as individuals. Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and presented with dignity: as a person with their own dreams, character, and motivations. Although these images undoubtably work at provoking sympathy, advocacy efforts need to be motivated by accurate information and these images don’t tell the whole story.

12.) People living in extreme poverty are poor because they made bad choices.

Wikimedia: Ton Rulkens

This rumor has been around as long as poverty has. The world’s poorest are often stigmatized as stupid, lazy, dirty, and violent. Structural inequality can be subtle and difficult to understand, but these types of assumptions poisons the efforts made to change the systems that keep people poor. Just because a person is successful, it shouldn’t give them the right to shirk responsibility to address structural inequality.

13.) There just isn’t enough food to feed everyone.

Wikimedia: Elitre

This is usually the conclusion people make when they hear that so many people all over the world go hungry. In fact, there is enough food to feed the planet one and a half times over. People who can comfortably afford food usually waste a staggering amount. Hunger is not a supply issue, it’s a distribution issue.

14.) Developing nations are all corrupt, and aid just supports that corruption.

Wikipedia Commons

First of all, let’s not pretend that developing nations are the only ones with corruption at the government level. When a mayor in the developed world is found to be corrupt, no one suggests that we cut off services to the city in question. It is important to ask ourselves if we are willing to sacrifice the lives of people who rely on aid until we are sure that every incident of corruption is removed. Of course institutions and governments should be transparent and accountable, but the cost of corruption usually only accounts for a small percentage of total aid.

15.) We should focus on poverty in our own countries before trying to help anyone else.

Flickr: Franco Folini

There is poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness in developed nations. No one is suggesting that these problems should be ignored. However, the fact remains that less than 1% of most developed nation’s budget goes to foreign aid whereas large portions of their budget address domestic health and infrastructure. The type of poverty in the developing world is objectively different from the type of poverty exerienced in developing countries.

16.) Future technologies will solve all of the problems of global poverty.

Wikimedia: Reynold Brown

Though it’s refreshing to see some optimistic myths about global poverty, the fact remains that relying on future innovations is not a viable plan and it does nothing for those living in poverty today. Which leads to me to another myth…

17.) Developing nations are technologically backwards.

Flickr: Tanalyn Dollar

There are places where there’s a lack of access to digital technology but it isn’t like developing nations are cut off from the tech boom. In fact, many times technology has spread faster in developing nations than developed ones. Cell phones are widely used and they have contributed to many innovations and has led income increases. Ignoring the use of technology in developing nations ignores how important it can be as a part of strategies for ending global poverty. This myth also ignores the innovations in digital technology that originate in the developing world.

18.) Developing nations are violent and unsafe.

Flickr: Ian Hasley

Wars are certainly one of the biggest causes of poverty and displacement, but not all developing nations are unsafe. Parts of highly developed nations can be less safe than parts of developing nations. The assumption that all parts of developing countries are torn by violenceprobably comes from movies and the kinds of news stories that come out of some developing nations.

19.) The decline of poverty is all due to international aid (especially celebrities contributing to charity) 

Wikipedia Commons

This myth ignores the strides made by the people within developing nations. The fact that the work Western nations are doing is the most visible doesn’t mean that Western people are doing the most. Aid is important to empower those living in poverty to lift themselves out of it. By giving them access to the basics: food, water, health, sanitation and education etc. Economies won’t boom just from aid, aid can give millions of people access to basic needs, allowing them to be entreprenurial and participate in the market.

20.) Any kind of aid is helpful to a developing nation.

Wikipedia Commons

There are some kinds of aid that can end up taking more resources from poorer communities than they contribute, especially when you consider the cost of shipping, storing, and distributing certain donated goods. For example, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami thousands of useless items like winter coats, high heeled shoes, and expired canned food were donated to effected nations. Though this was a generous act, donators didn’t research what was actually needed by the people effected.

21.)  If people in developing nations started acting like people in Western nations, they wouldn’t be so poor!

Wikimedia: Valter Campanato

There is a long tradition of people saying that poverty is a cultural problem. Though there can be facets of a culture that slow economic growth, such as human rights violations, women’s equality etc. But a culture that happens to have a greater incidence of wealth is not a better culture because it is political history that’s the biggest factor in determining who is poor. People believed that Irish culture was at fault for their poverty during the 19th century.

22.) Developing nations are dirty.

Wikimedia: Russavia

There is no nation that can be considered as a whole “dirty”, just as there is no nation in which all of the people are poor. In fact, developed nations produce far more trash and waste than developing nations. Calling developing nations dirty is disrespectful and trivializes the real issue of sanitation for those living in extreme poverty.

23.) People are poor because they are having too many kids they can’t afford.

DVID: Sgt. Ken Scar

This myth is a classic misunderstanding of cause and effect. Putting aside that “too many” usually means “more than I think these people should have”, studies show that people aren’t poor because they are having too many kids. Rather they can’t choose to have fewer kids because of poverty.  Without access to contraception or sex education to use it effectively, people in extreme poverty have limited choice in family planning.

24.) Aid just leads to people in developing nations having more kids, contributing to overpopulation

Flickr: Todd Huffman

This is simply untrue. There is a belief that since aid is increasingly effective at saving lives, i.e. children that would have otherwise died from preventable disease, aid will cause a population crisis. Some people believe that with the extra resources from aid those living in extreme poverty will decide to have more children. Studies have shown the exact opposite results. The combination of girls staying in school longer and families having access to family planning causes birthrates to go down. 40 years ago, women in Bangladesh had an average of 7 kids and expected a quarter to die; now women in Bangladesh have an average of 2 children and only 1 in 20 don’t make it to their 5th birthday.

25.) All developing nations are near the equator. 

Wikimedia: Taylor Weidman

Believing that most people living in poverty live in hot climates is probably related to the assumption that the developing world means Africa. However, poverty is also a real issue in incredibly cold climates like those found in Central Asia, where staying warm is a top concern. Bonus fun fact: there are climates in sub-Saharan Africa where it snows.

26.) If living in a developing nation can be so hard, people should just leave. 

Flickr: Vicki Francis/Department for International Development

Most people living in extreme poverty don’t have the money to move somewhere else. Often enough people do leave their nations to go where there are better opportunities. However those leaving are typically those with some education and/or wealth. This ends up being another important resource leaving developing nations.

27.) Nothing ever gets better and aid doesn’t make a difference.

Wikimedia: Joseph Jude

This myth is probably the one that is the most important to bust. Listing how many things have improved in the last 20 or so years would need a whole other list entirely. In fact, here’s one. The fact is plain: aid makes a huge difference, and has already saved millions and millions of lives, with your help, it can continue to do so.

8 Women who made the World a better place in 2014 (Reblog)

Happy International Women’s Day! It’s a day we celebrate the women and girls in our lives and also look to others around the world. Today in Budapest, I was out with my boyfriend and was amazed by the sheer number of flower vendors and florists which had just popped up over-night!

As Andrew quipped, the difference between love and lust can really be seen in places like this. We stopped at a florist where I was treated to a beautiful bunch of tulips and he saw a man staggering under the weight of what must have been 30 or 40 long-stemmed red roses. Whereas I was told “not to go too mad and buy the whole shop”!

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But I digress – I want to talk about International Women’s Day, not just my Saturday!

Quite often, news outlets and NGOs are quick to share links about the tragedies faced by girls around the world. Malala Yousafzai’s face and story is all over the internet today, alongside stories about the ongoing global struggle against child marriage, rape, torture and abuse.

But this year, I wanted to look at some positive examples of female empowerment and some cheerier stories.

I found this on the Huffington Post and have shamelessly stolen it. I find this is a much more life-affirming way to celebrate women. Let’s look at what has been achieved and what we have to proud of as a global society, because if we keep looking at all the terrible atrocities faced by women every day, we’ll never want to try fighting the fight. These are the sort of stories which keep me motivated to keep writing about women’s rights so I hope you get something out of it too!

1. Afghanistan’s first female police chief showed the world what courage looks like.

Col. Jamila Bayaz was appointed to run security in the Kabul’s District 1 in January, becoming the first woman in such a senior frontline role. The mother-of-5 is responsible for policing an area of the Afghan capital that includes the presidential palace, government ministries and the central bank. “This is a chance not just for me, but for the women of Afghanistan,” she told NBC. “I will not waste it. I will prove that we can handle this burden.”

Women in Afghanistan have faced a steep battle to reenter the workforce and public life after the end of the Taliban’s restrictive rule. They still face considerable obstacles including discrimination from an ultraconservative society and the threat of militant attacks. Afghan policewomen have been targeted by insurgents and several women in public office were assassinated in 2013, according to the Associated Press. Bayaz is undaunted: “I am ready to serve, I am not scared nor am I afraid,” she told AP.

jamila bayaz
Col. Jamila Bayaz talks on the phone at her office in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

2. Xiao Meili put a taboo subject back on the map.

Xiao Meili set off the remarkable journey in late 2013 to walk more than 1,200 miles between her home in China’s capital Beijing and the southern city Guangzhou to raise awareness of sexual abuse in the country. The 24-year-old woman told Time Magazine she hopes the unusual sight of a female backpacker on China’s roads will draw attention to how authorities handle abuse and will break the social stigma victims often face. At each town along the way, Meili and her supporters post letters to local officials urging them to investigate abuse allegations, screen teachers and improve sex education.

Meili’s journey has developed a popular following on social media and she asks women in each town to walk with her or offer her a couch for the night, according to Global Voices. “China’s traditional idea is that it is dangerous for females to travel alone outside. But conversely, so many sexual abuse cases take place in places we thought were safe like schools and buses,” she told China’s Global Times. “This is not an arduous walk. Each step represents a female protest at society.”

aziza yousef
Xiao Meili explains her “feminist walk” in a social media post. (Youku.com/screenshot)

3. Azizah Al-Yousef began a campaign to end Saudi Arabia’s oppressive male guardianship system.

Azizah al-Yousif has been a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia’s conservative establishment since she launched the October 26 Women’s Driving Campaign last year. In a bid to end the Kingdom’s ban on female drivers, women posted YouTube clips of themselves driving online. “We are sick and tired of waiting to be given our rights,” al-Yousif told CNN at the time. “It’s about time to take our rights.”

Now al-Yousif is pressuring authorities to end the country’s male guardianship system, which forces women to ask the permission of male relatives to travel, work, complete education, get medical treatment or a passport. The Saudi Gazette reports that together with a group of activists, al-Yousif sent a petition to the Kingdom’s Shura council to demand reform. “This petition renews our demands as women. We want our issues to be put on the top of the Council’s priority list,” she said.

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Screenshot of a video posted by the Saudi women driving campaign shows Azizah al-Yousif at the wheel. (YouTube/screenshot)

4. The Central African Republic’s interim president Catherine Samba-Panza gave a violence-stricken nation new hope.

Catherine Samba-Panza, a women’s rights activist and reconciliation advocate who is known in the Central African Republic as “mother courage,” was selected to lead the country in January amid devastating ethnic clashes that forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes. As CAR’s first female president, she pledged to lead the country away from the circle of bloodshed. “At the very heart of the people, I felt this desire to elect a woman who could bring peace and reconciliation,” Samba-Panza said of her presidency, according to The Guardian. She has a formidable task ahead of her. This week the UN warned of “religious cleansing” and immanent danger to civilians trapped amid the fighting, Reuters reported.

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President Catherine Samba-Panza sits in the parliament building before taking the oath of office in Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

5. Ukrainian pop icon Ruslana became a champion of the country’s protest movement.

Ruslana is one of Ukraine’s most famous pop singers and brought the country to victory at the EuroVision song contest in 2004. She is also a passionate social activist, so when protests against President Viktor Yanukovych erupted last November, Ruslana became a nightly fixture on stage at the protest camp in Kiev, according to Newsweek. “A public person, musician or artist should exercise their civic activism to be the voice of the people,” she told the magazine. The Washington Post reported that some of her performances at the EuroMaidan protest hub lasted up to 10 hours.

When the protest movement was met with brutal repression, eventually leading to Yanukovych’s downfall, Ruslana was devastated but defiant. “We no longer sing or dance, despite the severe cold. We understand that today the fate of the country [that has taken] several decades to come hangs in the balance. Instead of singing, we pray,” she wrote in an email to Newsweek in February. With Yankovych now in exile and tensions high as Russian troops flood Crimea, Ruslana called for the country to join together peacefully. “Ukrainians are strong enough to unite, we understand that propaganda is designed to divide us,” she told the BBC.

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Ruslana performs on an anti-government barricade in central Kiev on Feb. 10, 2014. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

6. Mehrezia Labidi helped enshrine gender equality in Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring constitution.

As vice-president of Tunisia’s constituent assembly, Mehrezia Labidi led the tumultuous debates over the country’s post-Arab Spring constitution. Labidi is the most senior female politician of the ruling Islamist part, Ennahda, and took a firm line for women’s rights throughout the debates, often to the disappointment of her own party. “It’s like giving birth: painful, but in the end everyone is happy when the child arrives,” she told Deutsche Welle.

The constitution that passed in January was celebrated as a breakthrough for women’s rights. Labidi helped push through key gender quality provisions by allying with secular politicians, the BBC explains. “I have always achieved everything I wanted myself. Sometimes I wonder whether men could compete with me,” she told the network.

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Mehrzia Laabidi speaks during a Tunisian National Constituent Assembly session in Tunis on Jan. 17, 2014. (FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

7. Lena Klimova gave Russian gay teens a voice online.

Just days before the Sochi Winter Olympics opened in February, young journalist Lena Klimova was charged under Russia’s controversial ban on “gay propaganda.” Authorities targeted Klimova because of her incredibly popular “Youth-404” website (404 designating “page not found”) where gay teens write about their struggles with homophobia in the country.

Faced with a stringent fine, Klimova was most concerned about Russian youth losing access to the forum, according to The Guardian. “If it will be closed, LGBT teenagers will lose the only place where they can openly speak about themselves and receive advice they need to live. It will be a catastrophe,” she wrote on Facebook. But with the world’s attention on Russia during the Olympics in Sochi the case was haltedand Klimova’s website was able to give a voice to outcast teenagers for at least a while longer.

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Lena Klimova pictured in a handout photo. (Elena Klimova)

8. Zainab Bangura pushed countries to recognize that sexual violence in conflict has to stop.

As the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Bangura has seen first-hand the devastating effect of rape used as a weapon of war. Bangura, who lived through the 1991-2002 civil war in her native Sierra Leone, told Reuters: “For me, one rape is too many.”

Since she took up the role in 2012, Bangura says she has seen “a political momentum that is unprecedented” to combat sexual violence in conflict, including a U.N. declaration in which 140 member states have committed to ending rape in conflict, Buzzfeed reported. In February, Bangura’s office struck another victory when the U.N. and African Union signed an agreement to prevent and respond to conflict-related violence in Africa.

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Zainab Bangura gives a press conference at the United Nations office in Nairobi on April 4, 2013. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Profile: Alexia Webster

Alexia Webster, a freelance photojournalist based in South Africa, spoke to the World Service this morning. She shared some fantastic stories about the work she has done, her motivation and what photojournalism means to her.

Check it out, I thoroughly enjoyed it (she starts speaking from 46:00 onwards) And have a look at her blog too.

Announced International Peace Day every year, the Artraker Award, for which Alexia is one of five nominees,

provides visibility and financial support to artists working on art and conflict. It recognizes new ways to raise awareness, communicate, stimulate debate and transform our understanding of war, violent conflict and social upheaval.

Alexia’s latest project explores issues of identity and belonging through family photographs

She’s been working on it for the past two years, and has worked on these portraits on street corners. She’s invited people to come in, have their photograph taken with family and gives them free prints. She does this because they wouldn’t normally have access to such resources and says the project has been really well-received.

It’s a luxury but it’s also something incredibly precious and something that people really respond to.

 

The BBC also made an important point – family portraits are one of those items that people protect and take with them, particularly if they are displaced, in a conflict zone or are forced out of their homes.

It gives you a sense of identity and a sense and hope for the future, a sense of connectivity to your ancestors.

 

She’s visited conflict zones, refugee camps and other areas of social conflict and has felt that after so many years of taking photographs and “taking from them”, she wanted to “give something back.”