Fair Trade and Millennials

I came across this article today, and was intrigued. It quotes this NPR piece from earlier this week, which (full disclosure) discusses the findings of a Hersheys-funded survey.

In essence, millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 1996) don’t practice what they preach when it comes to ethical consumption. This is interesting for many reasons, not least of all because of the social media onslaught we’re responsible for, talking about the importance of buying goods that are handmade, organic, ethical, eco-friendly, recycled, etc etc. As it turns out, we may care more about being seen to talk about it than actually putting all that concern into action.

Let me add here, this isn’t altogether surprising. I care deeply about the story behind the goods I consume, and it bothers me that our electronics still can’t be sourced ethically, without harm to or loss of life. But I can’t afford to put that care into all aspects of my life, either because of practicality – no one makes ethical computers – price, or availability. So I’m typing this on a MacBook, despite the fact Apple has been accused of exploiting child and bonded labour in their Asian factories. They’re working on it, but progress is slow.  

In a survey of participants ages 18 to 35, millennials reported caring about ethical issues like environmental sustainability and social responsibility in chocolate production. But when choosing chocolate privately, these self-proclaimed ethical shoppers were all chocolate bark and no bite. (Sorry.) Most showed little preference for labels advertising ethical sourcing and instead preferred labels with ingredients they recognized — items like “chocolate” and “butter,” rather than “tertiary butylhydroquinone.”

We can’t see the survey itself, so we can’t see the wording, but let’s not presume to think ours is the only generation that’s ever cared about environmental sustainability and social responsibility. If you believe in climate change and know that we are responsible for most of the increases in greenhouse gases in recent decades, and that our thirst for faster and cheaper goods has led to a significant drain on the livelihoods of other humans, it’s only natural you’ll want to turn to goods that try to counteract that.

(Tertiart butylhydroquinone, by the way, is a preservative used with unsaturated vegetable oil and animal fat. Thank you, Wiki.)

Young hypothesized that millennials also set aside ethical concerns when choosing to indulge, despite a reputation in the food industry for caring about responsibly sourced food.

With funding from The Hershey Co., Young set out to test his hunch. First, the researchers conducted eight focus groups, each consisting of eight to 10 millennials. They found that younger millennials ages 18 to 20 expressed little concern about anything other than taste in their chocolate preferences. But older millennials expressed concern about whether chocolate was organic, fair trade, GMO-free and environmentally sustainable.

I’m guessing the older millennials are more likely to be those who absorb global news more often, read more, travel more, and likely also work in the countries producing the goods we consume. Information is the first of many steps to being able to do something about a situation you find oppressive, so this again is no surprise. I’m not discriminating against these high school/university groups either. I remember what I was like at that age. In between essay deadlines, parties, MUN meetings and just enjoying being young, how many of us set aside the time to go into the backstory of all the goods we consumed, how they were produced and the rights of those who made them?

Then the researchers presented another group of 214 millennials with unbranded, unpriced labels varying in traits — such as ingredients used, fat content, and ethical endorsement (for example, a label indicating Rainforest Alliance certification). Each millennial was asked to choose between side-by-side label comparisons of varying chocolate products — roughly 400 times. Most participants consistently paid attention to whether or not they could pronounce the ingredients in a bar, but only a small, socially conscious group — representing 14 percent of participants — showed strong preference for ethical labels.

The findings “confirmed what I thought,” says corporate sustainability specialist Sandra Rousseau from the University of Leuven, Belgium, who was not involved in the research. She cautions that the study disproportionately sampled college students but says the findings make sense. “You interview young people, and they tend to be quite aware of social issues and environmental issues. But if you push a bit harder, it’s a lot of talk, but not always action.”

That’s not to say that millennials are secretly truffle-munching, Nietzsche-reading nihilists.

Young says millennials are likely more concerned about ethics when buying goods that aren’t as indulgent as chocolate. Millennials still care more, he says, about ethical food production than older generations, who grew up before many of these issues were mainstream concerns.

Time to also remind ourselves that these younger groups are less likely to be employed full-time (especially in the samples the survey used, in the US), which makes their disposable income that much smaller than people my age, who are more likely to have a full-time job, and who can afford to implement their philosophy in their everyday lives.

This is by no means a defense of my generation, or a condemnation. I firmly believe that anything anyone does to consider the sources of our consumption, or to even think about why we buy certain things from certain companies or countries, is a step forward and more progress than we were making 30-40 years ago.

We can’t all afford to buy organic coffee, but if yours is drunk at home and not out of a disposable cup, that’s one less plastic-coated paper cup that will end up in the throat of a sea turtle.

Growing your own herbs at home cuts down on the carbon footprint of importing them from distant countries, who may not pay their farmers adequately, transported in climate-controlled freights.

Buying second-hand or vintage clothes can help reduce our dependency on sweat-shop labour.

See what I mean? It’s not all about going to the organic aisle, or being seen to do something. Who knows what these younger millennials do in their non chocolate-eating time to care about other people, or the planet?

There is a very important fact to consider here. The first Fairtrade coffee landed on supermarket shelves over 30 years ago (in the Netherlands via Mexico) – a number that nicely fits in with the millennial generation (defined as people born 1980-1996).

This means that for millennials, the concept of fair trade has been on the radar their entire lives. They came of age with the organic and local movement. Ethical buying is not an add-on, it’s not a marketing ploy, it’s an expectation.  And for many of them, the travails of coffee farmers have been well-documented.

What’s important to note is that this study shows that the millennial generation cares more than others about the social and environmental implications of our consumption. You could argue that caring alone isn’t going to do anything, but I’d say it’s enough.

Young university students who care grow up to become young, informed people who have the power to do something. I’d always rather err on the side of optimism here, rather than dismissiveness. Every generation looks down on the one following, and I’m probably more likely than most my age to do this; but let’s not ignore the potential of awareness and information-sharing to translate into more responsible decisions.

 

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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.

Guest Post: What Ethical Consumerism means to me

I’m thrilled to share my guest blog for ‘Hands Producing Hope’ on what ethical consumerism means to me, resources and ideas for thinking about our lifestyles in a more equitable way. I would love to hear your thoughts! ‘Hands Producing Hope’ is a great company which not only works with artisans to make beautiful products ethically, but also actively work to counter the poor conditions their artisans live in, to live healthy and full lives. Their aim is to bring about change in the lives of their producers not only through the sale of their products, but also through educating us as consumers about the need to make more ethical purchases and activate others to do the same.

They go beyond this responsibility to also provide social protection to their workers, some of whom have been rescued from being sex workers against their will. The program focusses on marginalised individuals, providing education to their children – and sometimes to the artisans themselves – and develop skills in the community which can be used in other trades, providing a sustainable livelihood.  Have a look at their incredible website and beautiful items! Without further ado, here’s my post:

It might sound glib, but one of the most powerful things we can do as humans is to decide how we want our world to look – whether that’s by voting, picketing, raising awareness, joining an NGO, etc – and one of the most interesting ways to do this is to choose how you spend your money and what you spend it on. There’s nothing particularly new about ethical or sustainable living, but what I love to see is the huge number of creative ways we can live with respect for others and our planet.

There is nothing special or unique about me – no,  I’m not fishing for compliments! I am an ordinary person with a normal life and income. I am not trying to preach about how to be a better consumer, because I’m still navigating through that myself. I’m in no real position to tell you how or what to buy, but I can share some ideas of where I look and how I started thinking my consumption. We are all capable of making ethical consumption choices – it’s not just for the fabulously wealthy, or for the hemp sandal-wearing, dreadlocked hippy. I’m wearing second-hand clothes as I type this and my tea comes from an organic plantation in southern India. But I’m writing on an Apple MacBook – don’t even get me started on their carbon footprint. It’s all a balancing act.

It’s important to stop and really think about whether you need the thing you’re lusting after (even if it’s the most beautiful scarf in the world). If you do, consider getting it second-hand, or repurpose an object for something else – I use chopsticks from takeaways as reed diffusers around the house – which may not directly benefit another person, but it reduces your carbon footprint and is one less set of items we need our planet’s finite set of resources to make.

If it has to be new, try thinking about who would have made it and under what conditions. If it’s likely to be mass produced in a factory by someone earning less than or just about minimum wage, I always have to think about whether it’s really necessary. For some items, like smartphones, it really can’t be helped. (There is a Fairphone, but the market is quite small and the phone itself is rather expensive – plus reviews are mixed.)

I’m also conscious of the cost of making a complete lifestyle change by buying solely Fair Trade-certified produce, or entirely handmade goods. I often tell people that we don’t need to completely envelop ourselves in a cocoon of ethically-produced goods, but it is important to try to make small changes, since they inevitably lead to bigger ones.

Simply switching to Fair Trade-certified coffee, or buying vegetables from a farmers market (or better yet, growing your own), can lead to larger leaps of changing the way we consume.

You can buy furniture from Ikea, but if the throw you use while watching TV was handmade for example, that’s fantastic – and the company you buy the throw from might have other ideas for your home that you like, so you slowly build up this habit of label- and background-checking.

I’ve learned that ethical living doesn’t mean you have to buy a lot and it doesn’t mean you have to surround yourself with ethical products either. Reducing consumption is often one of the best ways to start. You can live ethically by composting your food, growing your own herbs, recycling plastic bottles to make greenhouses, making some of your own furniture and breathing new life into everyday objects. Ethical living means not only keeping the needs of other people in mind, it also means living with respect for the planet which gives us so much already, while also forcing us to think honestly about our own needs. Look around you now and think honestly about what you could not live without – then think about creative or ethical ways you could have bought those things. I really like this flow chart:

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Since I spent some of my childhood in India, I have seen what poverty looks like and what it can do, to children my age, their families and the society around them. Seeing girls your own age drinking water from a puddle on the street, in tattered clothes, playing mother to their younger siblings instead of enjoying childhood the way I was able to, is not an easy image to shift. My own family was always aware of this imbalance and like many around us, we did what we could. My first experience of an ‘ethical business’ as such is an incredible shop called Fabindia, where my mother got many of her clothes. Fabindia use traditional methods to make their beautiful clothes, often using natural dyes, and also contribute financially to the communities they support.

There are plenty of documentaries, news stories and books about the cost of mass production on people – on children, vulnerable groups like the extreme poor, or even the working classes in seemingly far-away countries.

With the collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, many people started asking serious questions about where our clothes come from and why we need to constantly buy from the same companies known for exploiting sweatshop labour.

A great deal of much-needed publicity went to ethical companies like People Tree out of this horrible disaster. I would recommend reading some of these books or reports and watching some of the incredible documentaries available, since they will often have tips and ideas for being an ethical consumer without needing to break the bank or significantly alter your way of shopping or thinking. If you are a blogger, join this incredible Facebook group to share resources and information.

It’s because of our position as consumers with money, access to information and resources, that we have to cast this sort of vote for a more equitable future. Think about it this way – who else is going to do it? We shouldn’t ignore this moral requirement. We enjoy the lifestyles we do because someone else has worked around the clock in abysmal conditions to mine tungsten, copper and other minerals for our iPhones. Our responsibility to other people and to our planet extends beyond the money we pay for these goods. We need to go beyond that and think deeper about our power as consumers. Even if you don’t agree with the moral imperative of giving back when we take so much, we need to consider the effect of our cheap, exploitative lifestyles on the planet – it just isn’t sustainable.

But it isn’t all dismal news – there is a lot we can still do to correct the mistakes of this exploitation. I love how creative this journey has allowed me to become with regards to my lifestyle choices. Social media makes it so much easier. I started my blog in 2008, which introduced me to the marvelous wonderland of Pinterest, Etsy and Ravelry – and let’s not forget the power of a Facebook group to gather like-minded people. Even in Budapest, there are second-hand furniture groups, from which I got six hand-painted silk pillows for a steal, and met a fascinating Croatian woman.

We have recently moved into a much larger flat so I’m going a little Pinterest-mad with redecoration ideas – some of which can be bought and some of which are going to be hobby-work challenges for both of us. I stumbled upon a tutorial to make pillow covers and even though I’ve never come close to making one before, I found a fantastic fabric shop in Barcelona, got hypnotised by the owner’s stories of the hand-weavers and dyers they work with and now there’s a pile of fabric waiting to be turned into something beautiful. How exciting is that?!DSC_0092

So get creative – if you think you could start making some of the homewares you covet from Anthropologie, there is a wealth of information on the internet so just jump in and see how it goes. Blogs like this, and companies like Hands Producing Hope, are a great resource for starting this journey – and as you read and learn more, new and creative ways to live more responsibly, ethically and sustainably will come to you. Tap into social media networks too – we are all interested in this stuff and enjoy helping each other, so I hope to see you online!

About Sanjukta: 

 

Sanjukta was born in India and grew up in Europe and the UK. She has been involved in political activism since her teenage years and is passionate about fostering a global culture of respect for each other and our planet. She has been blogging since she was an angry undergrad and would love to connect via Pinterest, Etsy or Instagram!

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.

Gloria Steinem on Miley Cyrus

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem weighed in on the whole debate around Miley Cyrus’ behaviour at the VMAs and her video for ‘Wrecking Ball’. Check out her response here.

Fantastic. This ends the debate.

Miley Cyrus at the VMAs was shocking because it looked like she and Robin Thicke and her entire entourage were on acid and had abandoned common sense. Nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman. It’s weird because it’s weird.

I know I wasn’t the only one shocked by it, and I know I wasn’t the only one for whom her gender didn’t even enter the discussion.

What does it matter if she’s a woman? Are women not allowed to do insane things? It disturbed me because it was weird – nobody wants to see giant teddy bears dancing around to a bad song!

But then when you look at peoples’ reactions, it starts to get really weird, and very quickly. Many are berating her because she had an off-moment. Maybe she wasn’t thinking it through, maybe she thought it was interesting or cool, or maybe she just flat out wanted to get attention. Mission accomplished!

It gets worrying when you listen to people who try burdening her with the load of always being ‘on’ and always being a responsible role model for young girls. That’s too much pressure for anyone, never mind a young woman.

We then enter the territory of whether or not celebrities should even be considered role models for your children, rather than the entertainers that they are. Why should your child aspire to be like her, rather than like her mothers or aunts, or the other real women in her life?

And why can’t she just let loose and get weird, without a whiplash reaction like this? Let her be disturbing if she must; we can judge her for it, of course, but we shouldn’t try and stop this kind of performance because people are worried about what little girls everywhere will think.

Then there’s another issue: where are the debates and hatred over Robin Thicke’s behaviour? Or are we focussing only on the woman because they’re the only ones capable of ‘behaving badly’ and out of the line we’ve created? He’s a married father – so Wikipedia informs me – grinding on a woman 16 years his junior. Why is that not called out for being inappropriate? Why are parents not complaining about his failure to be a decent role model for their kids?

And so on and so on. I’m outlining these arguments because I haven’t so far.

But what Gloria Steinem said really does end the debate – there’s a disgusting disparity in the genders here. We have created lines for what constitutes acceptable behaviour for a woman, but none for men, and we expect women to adhere to these ridiculous rules while just letting the older, married father continue being lewd and provocative. Why?

I’m not defending what she did. It freaked me out and it’s weird. But I will absolutely defend her right to do so without condemnation being centred around her gender. By all means take her apart for looking like she’s high and abandoned reason, but leave her gender out of it. Or, if you’re going to lampoon that, start attacking the man in his mid 30s acting out sex scenes in front of a live audience!

No Comment: The Turkish Spring?

I found this interesting Op/Ed piece in Hurriyet Daily, one of the most well-read English-language papers in the Turkish press.

It addresses the issue of whether the latest rounds of protests, demonstrations and, yes, violence, in Taksim Square in Istanbul has anything to do with the Arab Spring which swept through the Middle East two years ago.

Let me know what you think, I found his perspective interesting. The English may not be that great, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.

Why is it not a ‘Turkish spring’?

MURAT YETKİN

murat.yetkin@hurriyet.com.tr

The five day wave of protests which started to claim for the last green spot in the Taksim square of Istanbul and spread across Turkey marked a few points:

– For the first time in 11 years of Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) rule in Turkey, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan had to retire a project that he was very keen on due to a national scale wave of protests resulted on June 1. Erdoğan is no more keen on building a big shopping mall as a part of the historical artillery barracks (which he did not paddled back), but raised the bar on another sensitive issue as to build a mosque there. That could be an indication that he will never forget Taksim example and will ‘not remain silent’ as he said on a TV show on June 2.

– The Taksim move by government has been perceived by the public opinion as Erdoğan’s personal will, perhaps as a matter of accumulated reaction, despite the fact that it was a collective decision by Istanbul’s municipal assembly. Erdoğan doesn’t hide his anger that he was called to resign by demonstrators for days and denounced as a ‘dictator’ by both protestors and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. He made this a point three times on June 2 on three different occasions of addressing people.

– The fears that the protestations could escalate and blood could be shed because of though police stance and growing reaction of the crowds on June 1, faded out in a few hours whan police withdrew from the Taksim square with its pepper gas and water cannon squads, following President Abdullah Gül’s telephone call to Erdoğan and then his official statement mainly calling the police to tone down and to protestors to hear what the government was saying. In the same framework, Kılıçdaroğlu who had cancelled a CHP demonstration planned for the same day and asked his supporters to join Taksim protestors, did not show up in Taksim, as a gesture of not trying to hijack it.

– That will have consequences in politics as Turkey is getting prepared for the Presidential elections in 2014 and Erdoğan has been eyeing to get elected, but with more powers and less checks and balances over the executive powers of presidency. Gül and Constitutional Court (which composed of judges appointed by Gül) as being the two bodies who have the capacity to turn down legislations made clear that they were against weakening of checks-and-balances to give superior powers to president.

– That is why the ‘Turkish Spring’ analogy of the Taksim protests in reference to the Arab Spring was too quick and over-stretching of reality in Turkey; democratic actors have still power in power here to intervene in and contribute for a settlement which can be effective in a short period of time. It is true that the Taksim protests demonstrated the ‘other 50 percent’s’ worriers regarding not only about a secular way of life but also about a less pluralistic society and politics.

Those points will definitely have an effect the local and presidential elections in 2014 and perhaps on the Parliamentary elections in 2015.

Op/Ed: Vivienne Westwood’s Climate Revolution – call to arms or empty gesture?

She’s famous for being daring, innovative and for giving fashion a well-deserved makeover during the 70s and 80s. But Vivienne Westwood’s latest collection of Menswear Autumn/Winter 2013, showcased in Milan on Sunday, stunned audiences.

The 71-year-old ‘punk’ designer has been an outspoken voice for the environment and sustainable practices in an industry that has been slow to adopt change.

Her fashion notes for the show read:

Climate revolution is the only means toward a sound economy. When the general public massively switches on to this fact we will win.

Inspired by global warming, and in connection with the United Nations International Trade Center Ethical Fashion Program.

Her message was simple – buy less, choose well, make it last.

But is this more of a symbolic gesture rather than a way to get the fashion industry to pay attention to climate change impacts?

For example, where is the talk of responsibly-sources, sustainable fabric? Or of reclaimed materials, donations to charitable causes, or the root issues behind climate change?