24
May 19

What’s the future for human rights activism?

A beer garden. That is the perfect spot for a political discussion according to Feministiskt Initiativ (FI). People sneak in front of the panel consisting of party members and activists opposing antiziganism to order in the bar indoors. The audience is sipping beer and coffee while listening to the discussion. Antiziganism and the upcoming European election are the main themes of the evening. While the election for the European Parliament, where FI has a seat, is on May 26, the current date, May 16, marks 75 years since the Romani rebellion in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.

This historical date gives a serious tone to the otherwise rather lighthearted conversation. Concrete goals for the coming term in the Parliament are overshadowed by core beliefs and personal journeys, as well as reflections over the commonalities between the stances of the party activists and the antiziganist activists. A common goal seems rather easy to identify: they fight for human rights.

This may seem like old news in most political parties. But the true significance of human rights becomes apparent by listening to the stories of the panel. Unlike many parties where members have a long background in political youth organisations, the speakers of the evening share roots in local activism and small-scale projects.

”I didn’t even want to become a politician”, says Soraya Post, the member of the panel who currently holds a seat in the European Parliament. ”I think we all rather share a background as activists. ”

While traditional political parties struggle with declining membership, the starting point far away from politics can hint at how a future political landscape may look like. Rather than an ideological awakening, these activists talk about hands-on experiences of human right work that they did not perceive as political to begin with. They do not identify themselves foremost as politicians.

Rather than national organisations, their activism sprung from a micro-level where friends or local communities focused on helping groups of people in rather concrete ways. What they are doing here tonight just followed as an extension of activism. Could this be an alternative to traditional political engagement? When the focus shifts from the divide between left and right on the political scale and the spotlight is turned towards the struggle between right-wing populism and liberal strivings for human rights, the view on political activism should change accordingly. Political engagement in the everyday fights for values and beliefs should not be overlooked.

Even though most contemporary parties embrace human rights, this party states human rights as their main foundation while it also plays a big role in its supporter’s struggles. The party is hard to separate from activism, something many parties probably envy. But is this an upcoming trend? Although hard to tell, many of the activists and supporters of the party are quite young.


22
Mar 19

Taking it to the Streets; Protesting Pakistan

by Abigail Drane 

‘Let’s take it to the streets’ isn’t just some cheesy line from a 00’s hip hop battle film. In fact, Pakistani women have been taking it to the streets long before Step Up 2 hit cinemas. Women’s right activist Leena Ghani recounts the famous demonstrations during military dictator Zia ul-Haq’s martial law in the 1980s, “many women before us have paved the way for us. There is a tradition of women being politically progressive in Pakistan.” International Women’s Day 2019 was no different; the streets across Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad were filled with a rallying cry, as women with bright sloganed placards marched along them. Under the banner of ‘Aurat March’, women gathered to show solidarity with their fellow women to push for accountability and restorative justice against violence, harassment, and injustice.

In Pakistan, women face discriminatory laws in many aspects of life, including child marriage, divorce, law of inheritance, while often vulnerable to violence such as acid attacks or honour killings, which are practiced in parts of Pakistan. Of the 22 million children who do not attend school, the significant majority are female, while the World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan as the second worst in its 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, with one of the lowest rates of female labour market participation in the world. Such discrimination has led to a wave of social media safe spaces for women, those identifying as women or non-binary. “Given the issues the average Pakistani woman faces – sometimes with nowhere to go – creating a space that recognises a woman’s right to be there is integral,” says Kanwal Ahmed, the founder behind the Facebook group Soul Sisters, with almost 150,000 group members.

 

IWD 2019 marked the second Aurat March, yet it took place among a tense geo-politcal backdrop. In February a suicide bombing took place in Kashmir, setting of a series of military and political escalations amongst India and Pakistan. Therefore, in addition to advocating for the rights of women through the march, and while ensuring not to detract from this, another call of the march was added to end tensions between the two countries, invoking a feminist opposition to war.

Subsequently, in the days leading up to IWD, Sehyr Mirza, a peace activist based in Lahore, began using a hastag #AntiHateChallenge to challenge terrorism and conflict within the region, and soon it went viral. “The #AntiHateChallenge campaign was solely led by women from Pakistan to express solidarity with Indian friends. We were the first ones to break the silence and talk about peace,” says Mirza. “We mostly get to see such campaigns initiated and led by men.” The use of social media allowed those involved in the movement to share their protest and thoughts directly with the government, but also crucially, connect with the other side; India. In fact, Mirza found many Indian women who were just as vehemently opposed to the escalation of conflict as she was.

 

Social platforms during such a tense time helped bridge the divide between feminists seeking peace; a divide which the diplomatic reasoning seemed to be unable to do. The digital platforms have also allowed for a fostering of dialogue amongst likeminded women; a channel which has not be used prior. Furthermore, it is a tangible representation of women able to occupy both the physical and digital space to promote and give a voice to their values. Immediately, Pakistan’s IWD march went beyond advocating for women’s right’s within the Pakistani public sphere, giving means to inject a women’s voice into diplomatic engagement; a voice that is not heard often enough.


22
Mar 19

Femvertising – for women or for profit?

By Zandra Nilsson

After the international movement #metoo the world has opened its eyes for women and their gender-based challenges. Many other movements and hashtags have started to support women’s rights after the campaign. People are now talking about feminism more than I ever heard or experienced before. Feminism has become more mainstream and appealing to a wider audience –which is a benefitable in marketing purposes.

Have you seen Nike´s “Dream Crazier” or Gillette’s “The best men can be”? I have to admit that both of those adverts gave me goosebumps. But just after seeing them I started analyzing my feelings. I felt emotional and happy that these adverts highlighted women’s rights. Nonetheless, what in the world does that have to do with Nike and Gillette? If I buy their stuff, how will that help the society to become more equal? Nike and Gillette are far from the only brands who are using the so called “femvertising”. Other brands such as Always started the campaign #Likeagirl, CoverGirl launched the campaign #GirlsCan and Dove #RealBeauty. Marie Clair, Brewdog, Vodafone, Bodyform, Always, Smirnoff and Spotify, Dove and Wrangler just to mention a few others.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whpJ19RJ4JY[/youtube]

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYaY2Kb_PKI[/youtube]

“Feminism is not about individual women, it’s about a collective and communities. Advertising can’t speak to collective politics because it’s about the individual consumer,” – Sarah Banet-Wesier, author and professor of media and communication at the London School of Economics. She spent five years researching about ”popular feminism”.

Feminism has become a tagline. Profiting from this idea and ideology could be seen as misuse – not empowering. Especially since consumers from the Millennial generation prioritize “a good cause” when they choose their brands. But, could the commercial advertising bring some good? Even if their main purpose is for consumers to buy their goods, could they bring us one step closer to a more equal society after all? Watching advertisings about female power will get people talking and maybe give hope. I believe the first step towards change is to talk about it.

On the other hand, if the companies actually want to make a change shouldn’t they act differently? How about: instead of spending incredible sums of money on commercial production make a change for the long term. Change your suppliers to a company ran by females? Give a percentage of the profit to feminist organizations? Make sure that all female employees get the same salary as the male employees? A good example of a brand that I think has succeeded with this is the Swedish Coffee brand Zoegas. Since 2011 they have been buying all their coffee beans from female farmers in different African countries. They use the hashtags #changingcoffee and #coffeebywomen.

In conclusion, I believe the use of female power in a commercial use could be good as long as it really makes a difference for women. If it only gives profit for the brand, it’s just misuse of an ideology because feminism happens to be “trendy” now. Even if the advertising gives me goosebumps.

 


21
Mar 19

Peace, Politics and Pens

by Abigail Drane

Afghanistan at peace. Can you imagine it? If you are anywhere near my age range (hovering ambiguously around the 30 age bracket), your first understanding of Afghanistan may have been when two towers went crashing to the ground in 2001. Suddenly, Afghanistan, and the prominent figures in it, were thrust to the forefront of my worldly knowledge. Since then, scores of photos from war photographers have become synonymous with a google search of modern-day Afghanistan, while stories of Taliban insurgency and rule have become both the reality for war rooms across the world, and the plot lines of numerous Hollywood films. But imagine for just a minute, headlines void of suicide attacks and threats, and instead, Afghanistan’s Band-e Amir topping the ’10 Places You Must Visit In 2020’ list.

Afghanistan’s Band-e Amir National Park

‘Can I imagine it?’ I ponder while sitting in Afghanistan, scrolling through todays messages on my phone; security alert after security alert. No, I can’t imagine it right now.

But some people can imagine it, and they are making sure we know about it. “We want to see an end to the war” says Farahnaz Forotan, a female journalist and activist for women’s rights in Afghanistan. After 25 years of civil war, peace talks between the United States, Taliban and Afghan government are under way, and never before has the promise of peace has never been so tangible. Splashed across international and local media outlets are the latest Peace Talk updates, while in tea houses, men sit and discuss the potential for change. They have lost family, friends and much of their youth to the ongoing conflict. Some cannot see another way from what they have always known, but many of the younger generation have hope. Yet, amongst the public debate, a key voice is missing; Afghanistan’s women, like Farahnaz.

Activists at the People’s Peace Movement urge the Taliban to denounce violence and seek peace.

Activism for peace in Afghanistan is not a new concept. While demonstrations and social movements have been a well-documented, though targeted, part of civil society since the ousting of the Taliban from political power in 2001, much was relegated to geographically specific locations, gender restrictions and ethnic boundaries. Social media activism has allowed for the bridging of these divides, most popularly seen in the People’s Peace Movement (PPM) from Helmand to Kabul in 2018. The movement gained significant traction on social media, given the route which the subsequent march took, through Taliban held areas. Providing updates through a Facebook page with 40,000 subscribers, activists ‘won the hearts and minds’ of a nation tired of war, as more and more people learnt of the movement via social media and joined alongside. While women were physically present at the sit in events, they were discouraged from joining the march to Kabul due to gender restrictions, subsequently rendered silent yet again in the ongoing national peace debate. If women couldn’t show up physically, it was time to take on an online presence.

Women in Helmand were only allowed to take part in the sit in, not the ongoing march

“In no other time since I was born, has peace ever been so close. And in no other time have I felt the urge to take part in shaping the future of a country that knew only war for as long as I know myself, the country I call home – Afghanistan” says Farahnaz. “But at what price will this peace come? Will women still have to pay a price? Isn’t once more than enough?” Amongst the ongoing Peace Talks, which have only notably featured two women among a sea of men, the term ‘Red Line’ has been regularly referenced; a point of which the negotiating party is unwilling to compromise. In response, just last week Farahnaz launched #MyRedLine, a social media acitivism movement to to inject the voices and desires of herself and other women into the negotiation process, to represent Afghan womens rights.  Where women can not have a physical presence (40 women were denied visas with no explanation to attend the Peace Talks), Farahnaz is using social media to create an online presence for a collective women’s voice)

“This is what “MyRedLine” is about, voicing collectively what we are not going to go back to, regardless of the regime that will rule this country. Because I only see Afghanistan peaceful and prosperous if its future is built on social justice for everyone. And I am not alone. In the face of atrocities, we, the people of Afghanistan stand for our rights. We decide on our future. We will remain here to shape the future where all of us can live together. The time to be louder as ever, stronger as ever, united as ever and supported as ever is now”.

Social media activism provides an alternative avenue for those forced out of a physical representation. In Afghanistan, this could radically change the cultural and political landscape, and with activists like Farahnaz representing the voices of those who have been disregarded, the future is an exciting one.


21
Mar 19

Mujeres Creando: The writing on the wall

by Vesna Vukoja

Neither the earth nor the women are territory of conquest. Photo by David Ozkoidi

Mujeres Creando is a Bolivian anarcho-feminist group movement focused on deconstructing “machismo”, anti-gay prejudice and neoliberalism

Grafitty says: “The femicide it’s a patriarchal state crime”. They don’t consider themselves artists but rather street activists as they explain that creativity belongs to human, women and men, and art can’t be dispossessed by turning it into something that elite can enjoy only.

They don’t consider themselves artists but rather street activists as they explain that creativity belongs to human, women and men, and art can’t be dispossessed by turning it into something that elite can enjoy only.

Mujeres Creando (Women Creating) started with three friends – Maria Galindo, Julieta Paredes and Monica Mendoza back in 1992 at that time when openly being lesbian activist was not easy at all. In Bolivia, at the time, there was very little talk on feminism, especially radical feminism of the streets where Mujeres Creando started.

 Taking art back to the streets

What made Mujeres Creando known in public is their communicative form. They started with reaching people on the street and communicating their messages through street art by painting graffiti called las pintadas. Graffiti – Las pintadas – from the beginning of their collective action was a tool that irritated those on power and provoked their reactions. Painting murals in the streets started as their response to Left and Right parties’ posters often flyposted on the street walls during campaign and elections. Their graffiti messages were written on the same street walls but criticizing both Left and Right, reaching people through poetry and creativity and targeting all kinds of oppression forms. They represent the other missing half in Bolivia, emerging opinions on racism, gender, xenophobia and human rights in general.

According to Mujeres Creando, in a conservative and machist society like Bolivian, art should be feminist. Streets need to interact with people so they use what street offers, empty walls to paint graffiti, to provoke emotions, whether it is laugher, anger or annoyance. For them street is an empty canvas where everything can be said and everyone’s opinion counts, including of those indigenous feminists.

From racism and dictatorship, Vatican and Catholic Church, abortion and birth control, reproductive rights and motherhood, Mujeres Creando, as part of Bolivian society, are provoking both men and women. Since its beginnings, the group has been part of international gatherings, dialoguing with different feminist tendencies and thus being able to build its ideological identity within the autonomous feminism in connection with global struggles. In this sense, Mujeres Creando do not only fight for women’s rights, but against other problems that affect Bolivian and global society.

In Global North everything is controlled and more or less everyone knows, whether or not you can protest, march or even sell things on the street. The only free of control space left is the one on the Internet and most of today’s social movements emerge online. In Bolivia, global South, streets still belong to people and they show it by participating in all the demonstrations, both small and large, local or national. Where they are often seen together with unions, social and cultural groups demonstrating to change their country, protect human rights and nature and demonstrate that despite cultural conservatism, in Bolivia there is another reality that desires and deserves to be respected. Although Mujeres Creando are mostly communicating their messages on the streets – where they origin stays, with new media and online activism they started to be aware of the Internet potential and they don’t miss a chance to spread their word.

Mujeres Creando Blog

In addition to their graffiti and public performances, Mujeres Creando dedicates itself to social justice in many forms. Mujeres Creando publishes its own magazine Mujer Pública (Public Woman), produces a weekly radio show, and like The Emerging Half, uses their blog to express their ideas and reach their public. Their blog is at the same time their official website where they document all their actions and creative street art. Their street graffiti are getting online attention via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and Mujeres Creando are becoming part of a broader global movement, travelling to many parts of the world to exchange ideas about non-institutionally sponsored feminism.

Mujeres Creando continues their fight against patriarchal system, colonialism and neoliberalism and apart of expressing through graffiti, creativity and ongoing public debates, they fight for a voice and participation on online and offline public sphere so the women in Bolivia and around the world can continue creating new world.


20
Mar 19

16 days of activism against gender-based violence

by Zandra Nilsson

During the recent years voices of victims of sexual violence and abuse have been heard through movements such as #MeToo #TimesUp and ”NotOneMore and many others. One might say that we finally have reached a point in history where women no longer will be silent. Because of stigma and shame many women have not shared or reported their experience before, even though violence against women is very common – one out of three women worldwide from different age groups, class, race and social status experience gender-based violence. Their stories need attention.

Orange the World: #HearMeToo

Since 1991 a yearly campaign called “16 days of activism against gender-based violence” has spread worldwide. These campaigns are ongoing from the 25 November (the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women) until the 10 December (the Human Rights Day). Behind the campaign are UN Women (UNiTE) and Women’s Global Leadership Institute. The campaign of 2018 considered how big impact social media and hashtags have made and therefore focused on a hashtag and the importance of sharing a story. 2018’s campaign was called “Orange the World: #HearMeToo”.

The Orange the World: #HearMetoo campaign have 95 000 followers on Twitter and more than 203 500 followers on Facebook. And on Instagram more than 29 000 have used the hashtag. Additionally, the campaign offers more sharing online than social media. On the campaigns webpage anyone can easy share their own story – with only using 8 words. It results in small, poetic “postcards” for the readers to share.

Just as the previous years, the color orange is part of the concept throughout the campaign. The color is symbolizing a brighter future and a world free from violence against women. This means that people are encouraged to ware orange and buildings will be lit up and decorated in the color.

Purpose and result of the campaigns

During these 16 days partners to UNiTE are encouraged to host events for local, national and global feminist movements, women human right defenders and create opportunities for dialogue between activists, the public and policy-makers. Moreover, the purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness about gender-based violence all over the world and establish a clear link between local and international work to end gender-based violence. Plus, create tools to pressure government to implement commitments to eliminate gender-based violence. And also, to demonstrate solidarity of women around the world protesting against violence against women.

In total more than 6000 organizations in approximately 187 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaigns since they started in 1991 – and reached over 300 million people.


19
Mar 19

Struggling farmers go online

by Zandra Nilsson

In the last year farmers have been protesting all over the world. In November 2018 tens of thousands Indian farmers were marching outside the parliament in Delhi to mark the agrarian crisis – it was the fourth farmer’s protest in the past one year. Half of India’s population works on farms even though farming only contributes to 15 % of the country’s GDP. The past years the productivity has declined and now the demonstrators asked for a higher crop price and loan waivers. At least 300,000 farmers have killed themselves since 1995 because of the crop failures in combination with struggles to pay back debts to banks and money lenders.

“Due to social media, there has been an increased awareness about farmers’ issues in Delhi,” says Monami Basu, a Delhi University professor who is also participating in the march.

Not only in India are the farmers unhappy about how much the government pays for their goods. Shepherds in Sardina, Italy, have in the past month been posting on social media how they pour out milk in the streets. A young farmer started the hasttag #iostoconnando (translated to I am with Nando) after he posted a video online spilling liters and liters of milk on the ground in a protest over the fall in prices. Together with the video the viewers could read the common motto “I’d rather dump it than sell it for next to nothing”. The video spread virally, and many other farmers started pouring out the milk and post about it. Last year the price for sheep milk dropped from 0.85 € per liter to 0.60 € per liter and now are the farmers protesting to get the price up to at least 0.70 € per liter.

Also, in June 2018 farmers in South Africa were protesting and marching on the streets. For five months the tariff for sugarcanes had been cancelled and 85 000 sugarcane farmers were scared of losing their jobs. The Department of Trade and Industry did not want to re-instate the sugarcane fare. This would resolve in a lower price for importing cheap sugarcanes instead of using the ones produced locally.

Female farmers suffer the most

Oxfam International is right now doing a campaign to highlight the farmers situation. They write:

“Behind the food we buy are millions of people who grow, catch and process it, passing it along a supply chain until it ends up in our homes. But in a global food industry worth trillions of dollars, far too many of the women and men behind our food are being forced into lives of hardship and suffering, working long hours in inhumane conditions for little reward.”

Women are the ones suffering the most from these inhumane working conditions, because they have most of the lowest paid jobs with the least security and are exposed to gender discrimination. About 80 % of the world’s food productions are made by small-scale farms and out of those 43 % are women in developing countries. In some countries, for example in South Asia, women are even the majority. Women get less access to land, loans and machineries and on top of that women are many times also taking care of the domestic activities such as cooking and cleaning.

Technology for Africa’s agriculture

Agriculture is Africa’s biggest economic sector and the producing is getting close to the same level as South America. Around the continent farmers want to boost their harvests and make the labor less exhaustive. Therefore, the tech companies are investing and developing apps for the agriculture industry. According to experts half of Africa’s population will have Internet access by 2025 and that could increase agricultural productivity with 3 billion dollars a year. Some of the apps focuses on helping the farmers to increase productivity, while others help them to connect with other farmers or suppliers without any middle hands. Others help them to access information about market prices, so they won’t be tricked by companies who try to offer them less money for the crops.

“The benefits of using the farmers’ app include the empowerment of women and the marginalized and the production of more and a more diverse array of produce. We can give farmers extension services, market information and a clear open trading platform for the value chain” says Mwila Lando, a young Zambian entrepreneur who designed the app Farmers Basket. 

Downsides with apps

The idea of technology helping farmers in developing countries – especially female small-scale farmers – sounds like a great tool and aid. But there are downsides that still needs to be considered. First of all, in six years half on the population will have access to Internet. That simply means that there still many, many farmers without Internet access. In order to understand the statistics better we can compare Africa’s access to Internet with Europe’s: were already 87 % of all house hold had access to Internet in 2017. Secondly, women are not at all taking part of this technology the same way as men for several reasons. Almost two thirds of the worlds 781 million illiterate adults are women. To be able to use most apps, you must be able to read. Additionally, recent studies show that women are 10 % less likely than men to own a mobile phone and, in some regions, such as South Asia, women are 26 % less likely to own a mobile then men and therefore 70 % less likely to have access to Internet.

In conclusion, even if the apps can be helpful, we still need to keep searching and fighting for a better answer to the gender equalization for the female farmers in the developing countries. If the world could equalize the number of crops produced by women to the same as men produce, the world hunger would decrease by 17 %.


19
Mar 19

She For Us?

by Abigail Drane

One viral video: Check

One catchy hashtag: Check

One likeable celebrity activist: Check

Ready to launch a social movement online? Yes.

Ok, ok, I know this may sound incredibly cynical, but please let me play the devil’s advocate (excuse the pun) for just a moment. When Emma Watson, famed British Actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, took to the stage 2014 at a UN event for the newly formed HeForShe, she charged men and boys with actively participating a solidarity movement for gender equality. In case you were sleeping under a rock at the end of September 2014, or were not engaged on any social platform (cue Millenials gasp of horror), then chances are you caught some of Emma’s speech and those that followed, or at least the reactions of others blowing up across the internet.

 

The pulling power of celebrity is something that has been used and some may argue, exploited, by both humanitarian and for-profit sectors for many years. Celebrities continue to front campaigns and advertisements for a plethora of reasons, from Comic Relief to the UN to Revlon. New media platforms have offered organisations and companies the celebrity’s pre-established social network, instead of relying on solely their own also resulting in the rise of online ‘influencers’. While marketing or raising awareness via celebrity is not a new concept, the use of new media platforms is consistently reshaping the process of and providing new avenues for engagement with the public.

So why does celebrity matter when talking about activism? In my previous post, I noted how social media and other online platforms have provided a virtual space for women to debate, challenge and advocate for their rights in Afghanistan, and in essence, in virtual arenas around the world. These are sometimes-organic, grassroots, local level discussions born out women experiencing events or seeing an issue in their every day and determining to resolve it through being a catalyst for change. HeForShe was about gender equality for all women, in all places. So where were the voices of the global south in this movement?

The most predominant faces associated with the HeForShe movement, as were plastered across social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, included actors, politicians and recognised social leaders. While Emma is an activist for gender equality, and has been on the receiving end of inequality, her speech highlighted her noticeable privilege and in doing so, consequently noted her difference from many other women around the world:

My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day.”

So where are the voices of other female activists who have been loved less, unable to go to school, or were undervalued? Well, it turns out they have been there all along, on the same media platforms but without the same reach.  Furthermore, as also seen with cases of celebrity humanitarianism, Western celebrities mainly appeal to Western spectators, hence the style of production is catered for the intended style of Western consumption.

Reflections of the #MeToo movement pin point Alyssa Milano as the key instigator for the global phenomenon it became, but often fail to mention Tarana Burke’s founding involvement. Are we to assume that social media + celebrity activist = the only way to develop a successful movement? I sincerely hope not. Social media activism provides a means to negate traditional power structures, state boundaries, and political institutions. Time and time over we have seen this – particularly in the global south – continue to challenge the norm. However, there are limitations, and regardless of the scope for social media activism to take place, the preestablished networks which celebrities hold certainly help grow and build momentum often far more so than any other individual. The intentions are the same; both voices are trying to form collective action on the same platform, yet the power structures are the different. Perhaps it’s time I changed who I’m following on social media?


18
Mar 19

#SaveRahaf: Twitter changed everything

by Vesna Vukoja 

Hero for some and target for others; while she received a massive online support from people all around the world, back home she is considered unwelcome and is threatened to be killed

On 5th of January, unknown Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun became global news as she on her newly created Twitter account pleaded for help.

While trying to reach Australia via Thailand she was held at Bangkok airport and was meant to be out on a flight to go back to her family. Rahaf, who fled her family alleging abuse got stranded at Bangkok’s main airport and from airport hotel room started unravel her situation. Her passport was confiscated by Saudi diplomat, which prevented her from continuing her trip to Australia, where her plan was to claim asylum. She barricaded herself in her airport hotel room and started publishing series of tweets, attracting international attention and asking for humanitarian protection from UNHCR. She said she had renounced Islam, punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, and that she will be killed if returned to her family. In one day her Twitter followers grew to 45 thousands and with #SaveRahaf hashtag gathered strength by each hour. As Rahaf was posting live updates on her situation, thousands were sharing her story with hopes of making a difference. Soon UNHCR declared her a refugee status and within 72 hours she left Thailand for Canada, which has granted her asylum.

Young and social-savvy, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was able to take things into her own hands by successfully mobilising a solid online campaign to protect herself. In a series of tweets she posted online, al-Qunun said she decided to share her story on social media because she no longer had anything to lose. She has come out of this agony with 126 thousands followers on Twitter in only five days her account has been active.

Although there is considerable sympathy for the plight of Saudi women, critics point out that the refugees fleeing horrible persecution worldwide are left behind. Asylum seekers spend months, and often years, stuck in detention centres while their cases are considered. During this long and painful decision period asylum seekers cannot work and very often their paperwork gets lost which creates delays in asylum decision-making.

In recent history we witnessed how smartphones and social media have helped tens of thousands of refugees reach the safety of Europe during the Syrian war. It offers a relatively cheap and easily accessible means of communication but their use is not without challenges for asylum seekers as some EU governments are starting to extract data from asylum seekers’ phones and use it against them.

This is one example of powerful use of social media by one savvy Saudi teenage girl but is this going to change peoples attitude towards asylum seekers feeling abusive families or regimes is hard to tell. While Rahaf was successful in getting asylum and with her social media campaign saved her life, many asylum seekers might feel angry and frustrated at the back of the long asylum queue.

Will social media become future passports and one of the tools to claim asylum or will it change the terrain of access to it?


14
Mar 19

Women´s Strike

By Vesna Vukoja

Wales Women´s strike day poster 2019

International Women’s Day this year has been linked with the Global Women’s Strike, a global movement coordinated across over 50 countries calling for solidarity between women of different race, religion and cultural backgrounds.

On 8th of March women and men in Cardiff, joined worldwide demonstrations, engaging in strike and demonstration, and other collective actions to draw attention to women’s labor— both in the workplace and in the home.

The manifesto was read in front of the Cardiff Central Library.

If striking is the weapon of those who work, then the Global Women’s Strike is a weapon to challenge to the belief that women’s labour should be underpaid or performed for free and with a smile.

As part of its International Women’s Day celebration, Cardiff hosted the Women`s Strike at Trinity Centre. The event presented a varied programme of music, banner making, women’s art and self-care workshops as well as food and opportunities for debate. Self-care refers to the idea that caring for yourself is not luxury, but a necessity to keep going and looking after anyone else. For women, who often are in the position of nurturers and carers, practicing self-care is essential.

The rain didn’t stop all age people to attend the demonstration.

Women´s Strike day, led by women but open to all individuals and community groups, provided Cardiff’s women’s movement and activist scene with a temporary home and the opportunities to make connections, build relationships and take action on the many issues affecting women in Wales and worldwide. The response of both women and men running workshops, offering to exhibit their work and as well as those attending was a true reflection of Cardiff’s diversity and hugely positive.

Recent online #MeToo movement showed epidemic proportion of sexual harassment and abuse against women. But there is still need for offline need for physical spaces that empower, protect and connect human beings in community. This is particularly true for women, who are not only disproportionately affected by austerity as well as sexual and gender-based violence, but who are also socialised into and take on much of the caring for others. Wales continues to have need for more vibrant community-led spaces to educate, celebrate and empower people to make real connections. Women´s Strike day was an attempt to make activism accessible to a variety of groups including parents, refugees, carers and other groups underrepresented in the women’s and activist movements through creating affordable and inclusive and family friendly events. The success of the Women´s Strike day and the overwhelming positive response from those who participated and attended made a powerful case for long-term, accessible and affordable community spaces.

The Global Women’s Strike is only the beginning of a fight for sustainable community development and empowerment of Welsh women and communities worldwide to make real and lasting change. Despite the immense opportunities of social media to educate and raise awareness and connect people across the world, the #MeToo movement being one example, online activism requires real-life action to have a lasting impact.

Universal Credit requires couples to nominate a single bank account and there is a concern that Universal’s Credit single payment has implications for women and for survivors of domestic abuse. The single payment could result in less equal couple relationships, and risks further financial abuse. The reduction of women’s financial autonomy could result in main carers (usually in practice mothers) losing clearly-labeled child payments, which sometimes provide a lifeline to survivors of domestic abuse.