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?


18
Mar 19

Swedish gender equality in the streets

by Caroline Ulvros

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I join the feminist party Feministiskt Initiativ, or ”Feminist Initiative” in English, for a demonstration in central Malmö. Different left oriented national party groups organize the protest together with leftist Iraqi and Chilean organizations and the global focus becomes obvious when I arrive at the square.

”International solidarity”, the slogan for the demonstration, is written on many banners including the main banner for Feministiskt Initiativ. Signs with Swedish slogans intermingle with international hashtags. I catch sight of #niunamenos, from the international movement ”Ni Una Menos” protesting violence against women, and signs written in English and Arabic. Like so many other speakers of the evening, the first orator for Feministiskt Initiativ puts emphasis on global inequalities and international unity.

The protesters, estimated to a thousand by a participating party while the police say five hundred, march towards another square where concluding speeches are held. After trying to listen to the speeches on both squares, it is clear that the global theme is central for all participating groups. I would argue that another common feature of the speeches is a will to connect broad gender issues to race, capitalism and a global power balance determined by colonial heritage.

The ideological foundation is evident which makes me wonder whether the political statements make the protest less appealing than causes presented within new types of social protests. As new kinds of protest often center around subject perceived as detached from traditional political stances, does the political context discourage potential protesters from participating?

While calls for international solidarity echoes of global justice objectives found within new social movements, the creativity within the event also agrees well with new forms of protest. One organizer is an institution for adult education that offers courses in comic art and creative writing. A panel discussion set up after the demonstration is mixed with poetry reading and musical performances. These artistic ambitions of the event could hint at a will to include cultural jamming, a characteristic of new social movements, in the event. The protesters are nevertheless reminded of a divide between different protest movements when the extra-parliamentarian demonstration arrives at the square during the final speeches.

Reaching out

So how did the evening reflect on social media? On Facebook, the most used social media site in Sweden, the smaller extra-parliamentarian demonstration gained a limited response. Three arranging groups received between 20-70 likes on their pictures and two groups affiliated with the protest did not post anything afterward to induce feedback. When looking at all groups protesting this evening, the most palpable response was directed towards the most established and numerous participant, which is also represented in Parliament. The Left Party received about 4,6 thousand views on one of their demonstration videos on Facebook and over 330 likes on their photo album of the evening. Their most liked picture on Instagram received more than 500 likes compared to the around 70 likes given to Feministiskt Initiativ.

However, Feministiskt Initiativ got 1,6 and 4,3 thousand views respectively on two Facebook videos of speeches and over 600 views of their video of the panel discussion. Neither the youth section nor the educational section of the Left Party posted on Facebook directly related to the demonstration and received around 120 likes and 40 likes respectively on Instagram pictures. If this reach could indicate agency in social media, Feministiskt Initiativ is proportionally more influential than other participants.

banner for the extra-parliamentarian protest

As neither the largest local newspaper nor the most influential news sites in Sweden covered the demonstration, the reach in traditional media was very limited. The only serious news coverage is a short text on the site of the largest tv news network in Sweden. This could reflect the problems Feministiskt Initiativ has had with gaining political legitimacy in traditional media, as the party is often either depoliticized or described as extremist.

Since five of the ten most influential Twitter accounts in Sweden belongs to traditional news channels, traditional media actors are still very influential in the media landscape. Among the top ten Facebook pages regarding national influence, three represents traditional news channels and one represents ”alternative” news sites. This ”alternative” site together with two traditional news sites are the only societally oriented actors among the top ten most influential actors on Swedish social media.

As the means for influence as well as the issues and narratives of Feministiskt Initiativ can be compatible with new forms of social movements, the party can hardly be unequivocally categorized as a traditional political movement. Since the group however also contain a traditional party structure, no total dichotomy between traditional and new or alternative politics seems evident.

The ambiguity of the movement does not end there. The small size of the party could indicate that trends in new movements for gender equality cannot be derived from it. At the same time, it is very successful in an international comparison of feminist political parties. Even a skin-deep understanding of feminist movements clearly needs more than an early evening march through central Malmö.


16
Mar 19

#WhatIsMyName and Other Questions

by Abigail Drane

What do you think of when you think of Afghanistan? It is war? Osama bin Laden? Explosions making headlines, or not making headlines anymore as the case may be? Maybe it’s the heavily photographed blue burqa; a small strip of mesh allowing the wearer to look out upon the world yet stops the world from looking in? Or perhaps it’s a younger generation rising up against traditional gender norms entrenched in Afghan society?

As I travel the across Afghanistan, at times from behind a strip of blue mesh myself, it becomes apparent that after the Taliban regime was brought to an end in 2001 and access to digital telecommunications became a reality for many Afghans, parts of the country began embracing a social shift to engaging in socio-political discourse in response to growing communications infrastructure. Buzzing mobile phone stores selling credit line the bazaar streets as we pass through, reinforcing a 2017 survey which found an estimated 67% of the total population now carry mobile phones. In remote villages, tucked into Afghanistan’s famed sweeping mountainsides, satellites dot the rooves of mud houses beaming television channels and providing internet access into homes reliant on solar power.

Yet amongst growing access to information and seemingly progression, gender relations in Afghanistan remain a source of tension within society. Hussain and Amin (2018) argues that women in Afghanistan are experiencing both the expansion of opportunities as a result of the technological shift and entrenched resistances due to traditional societal roles. For those who advocate for a change to women’s roles in Afghan society, such as Tahmina Arian and Laleh Osmany of the #WhereIsMyName movement, access to social media has provided a means to do so.

Activism for women’s rights, against a backdrop of ongoing violence, is often too dangerous within the public arena, as demonstrations are often targeted by those fundamentally opposed. It is therefore clear that social media, as a mobilizing platform for socio-political discourse, is an asset for activists within Afghanistan. Social media provides an opportunity to express opinions, converse with others around the world, and mobilize others all with potential anonymity of the internet; actions which could be life-threatening in an off-line world.

In the Afghan context, it is rare that women can join together outside their homes to express themselves. Even the minority of women who were able to attend, who are in the minority, were rarely given space to reflect more broadly on the consequences and further implications of unequal gender norms. While humanitarian and other iNGO actors have actively worked to mobilise women to advocate for their rights through peer support groups, social media has provided a means for women to empower themselves via existing structures.

#WhereIsMyName was developed by Arian, Osmany, and other new university graduates in the summer of 2017. The campaign began online, fighting for a woman’s right to have her own individual identity rather than only being identified in relation to their spouse or male relatives. Considered dishonourable, men avoid saying the names of their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives; rather they are called “sister of” or “wife of”. The group behind #WhereIsMyName says it believes “giving women back their names is the first important step in encouraging them to assert their rights in a society where violence and abuse against women remain major problems”.

The hastag #WhereIsMyName doubled not only as the name of the movement, but also as online marker on Facebook and Twitter, which gained substantial traction both in Afghanistan and overseas. “We launched the campaign in cyberspace and we made good use of it,” Osmany said. “The issue is now being debated in the real world — people and media are now talking about it.”

As an activist movement raising women’s awareness gender inequality and the denial of rights, #WhatIsMyName demonstrates fundamental feminist theory. Hooks (2000, p7) argues that “feminists are made, not born. Like all political positions one becomes a believer in feminist politics through choice and action”.

Almost two years on, gender inequality with Afghanistan continues to spark debate across political and public spheres. Has #WhatIsMyName brought about a drastic change to traditional gender norms? I would argue not. Afghanistan is still remains one of the most dangerous places to be a woman, with many confined to responsibilities for the home and family. However, it has exemplified something important; women are no longer restricted to their immediate physical circle, they are able to engage in discourse online, mobilize one another and proactively challenge such gender norms peacefully against a background of violence. In essence, every woman with a social media account has the possibility to be an activist; a possibility that did not exist 15 years ago. It is this possibility, coupled with the growing new media infrastructure, that suggests there is a hope Afghanistan’s future narrative does not have to be about war, Osama or burqas and rather, about a group of young Afghan women who defied the odds.

 

 


16
Mar 19

Non Una di Meno – the reason why Italy striked

By Zandra Nilsson

For the third year in a row Non Una Di Meno organized a strike and demonstration on the international women’s day on the 8th of March. Public transports, schools, health services and hundreds of other public and private workplaces got affected in Italy by the strike. People travelling to Italy from abroad got affected too since pilots, flight attendants, airport ground staff, ferry employees and employees of train companies were joining the strike which delayed the international traffic. Non Una Di Meno, a women’s movement, was organizing the strike action and the so called grassroot trade union responded to their call. In the evening hundreds of thousands gathered in the bigger and smaller cities across the country to demonstrate against gender discrimination, violence against women and the unequal working conditions. And many directed their anger to the vice prime minister Salvini and the government’s anti-feminist policies. According to the organizers themselves more people are joining for each year and the demonstrations are getting better and better organized.

Non Una Di Meno translates to not one woman less, that indicates that not one more woman should be murdered by men. The group originated from the Argentinian group Ni Una Menos that started in October 2016 after the murder of the 16-year-old Lucía Pérez. The group spread around South and Central America: Mexico, El Salvador, Chile and Brazil and also further international. The Italian organization spreads their messages and reaches out to their supporters through blogging, social media and using the hashtag #nonunadimeno. Their Facebook account has over 85 thousand followers and almost 40 thousand users have used their hashtag on Instagram.

“We strike because they kill us, at home or on the streets. We strike because they pay us less, because they exploit us and discriminate against us” specified activists from Non Una di Meno.

 

Violence against women

In 2017, 121 women got murdered and 59 % of the cases showed that the killer was a current or former partner. 44 % of adult women in Italy have experienced sexual harassment and 4 261 cases of sexual violence got reported in 2017 – where 54 % of those took place on the street or in a car. And those are only the reported cases…

Unfortunately, the injustice does not end with the statistics. How are men punished for the violence against women? A couple of days ago two convicted rapists were cleared of their charges in Ancona, Italy. The men were convicted in 2016, but Italy’s highest appeal court ordered a retrial of the case. During the investigation several doctors had clear evidence that the victim’s injuries were consistent with rape and in her blood, they found traces of a date rape drug. The judges still found a reason to free the men – the victim was ”too masculine” and therefore not attractive. “The photograph present in her file would appear to confirm this” one of judges said during the trail. The men were free to go.

Non Di Una Meno also fights for the right to access a safe and legal abortion. Abortions in Italy are not illegal, but the doctors have the right to deny to carry out the procedure. According to Italy’s health minister over 70 % of Italy’s doctors are objecting abortions and in some areas the rate is over 90 %. Looking at other countries in Europe the rate for denying abortions is very different: 6 % in Germany, 3 % in France and it is 0 % in Sweden and Finland. One case was reported where a woman in Padua got turned down from 23 hospitals! The Italian General Confederation of Labour describes the abortion process as dangerously long because it forces women to turn to private structures or do unsafe abortions.

 

Low gender pay gap – but women need to be working to get paid

Italy can proudly say they have the second lowest gender pay gap in Europe – with “only” 5,3 % lower hourly pay for woman than men. But if we take a closer look at the Italian gender equality there is nothing to be proud of. The truth behind the good number is: Italy has fewer women in the workforce than almost all the other developed country – less than half of working-age women in Italy has an employment. Lack of education is clearly not the excuse for this since 59 % of bachelor’s graduates and 52 % of PhD grads were female in 2017.

If we keep looking at the statistics it gets clearer and clearer that the low gender pay gap has nothing to do with gender equality in Italy. Only 16 % of decision-making bodies around the country was made up by women. The board members of companies are 33 % today, after Italy introduced a new ration that demands 33 % of the board to be female. Just 31 % of the last parliament was female. Furthermore, when asking women about sexual harassment, 9 % answer that they have been sexually harassed or sexually blackmailed at their working place.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2017 Italy is placed as the 82nd most gender equal country out of 144. And looking closer at the economic participation and opportunity it is ranked as the 118th. Unfortunately, the situation for the women in Italy is only getting worse – 2016 it was ranked in 50th place. Therefore, Non Di Una Meno is more important than ever before and their strikes and demonstrations are helping to bring attention to women’s rights – in a country that is considered among the most economically developed, but still has such a long way to go before reaching a true gender equality.

 

 


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.

 

 


07
Mar 19

#todossomosyalitza

By Vesna Vukoja

PHOTO: NETFLIX – COVER FROM “ROMA” MOVIE

Yalitza Aparicio, first indigenous woman nominated for an Oscar for the Best Actress.

Alfonso Cuarón’s film “Roma” (2018) recently won three Oscars at 91st Academy Awards, for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film. “Roma” was also nominated for seven other awards, including for Yalitza Aparicio as Best Actress. Nonetheless, Yalitza was first indigenous woman nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, and though she didn’t win, she’s still a winner in the eyes of her fans and she continues breaking barriers.

Yalitza Aparicio, starred as Cloe, a domestic housekeeper for a Mexico City middle-class family living in a neighborhood where director Alfonso Cuarón was raised. Aparicio speaks in the Mixtec language[1] and in Spanish, and navigates through different worlds for her own survival. In other worlds, Aparicio is playing different roles; she is an indigenous housekeeper in a rich white middle class family, migrant worker, and single pregnant female looking for better future.

After Oscar nominations were announced, Sergio Goyri, a Mexican telenovela[2] actor, criticized Aparicio’s Oscar nomination. While having a private chat with his friends, Goyri appears calling Aparicio “pinche india” [3] in a live Instagram video, who, in his opinion, throughout the whole movie keeps saying, ‘Yes, ma’am, no, ma’am’.

This caused social media reaction, where Mexican-American Aparicio’s fans started sharing #todossomosyalitza[4] tweets and Instagram posts, accusing Goyri for being racist and commenting online their excitement about Aparicio’s Oscar nomination.

 

This careless social media stream against Aparicio’s Oscar nomination coming from a non-indigenous man does not only represent Mexico’s long history of discrimination against the indigenous population, but reveals something deeper: the reality behind closed doors in America.

However, it is interesting to note that Aparicio, among Mexican-American women is receiving strong support while in Mexico she’s being backlashed because of her indigenous roots.

While in theory of film industry there is demand for better representation of marginalized “other”, in praxis reality looks completely different. Although, Aparicio does not represent all indigenous individuals, in white world she will get these responsibilities as it happens to many non-white people in similar situations. Hence, her role is very significant as she is challenging and breaking the borders of discrimination, both in Mexico and globally.

Mexico has a long history of discrimination against the indigenous population. Its route can be traced back in the period of Spanish colonization where white was defined as beautiful, and dark skin relegated to invisible. Today, Mexican media follows similar patern, having primary focus on white/lighter-skinned Mexican TV presenters, actors and actresses, while marginalizing indigenous people and focusing on promoting outdated stereotypes. Aparicio’s Oscar nomination can be seen as signal of shift in Oscar’s nomination, especially after #oscarssowhite tweets in recent years, but sadly Aparicio in “Roma” plays indigenous housekeeper of the rich white family just as it is very often seen in Mexican telenovelas.

PHOTO: VOGUE MEXICO

There is a gradual increase in representation of indigenous people in Mexico´s media. Aparicios efforts to represent those who look like her is visible on the cover of the Vogue Mexico, where she received positive response from her fans but also some negative just as she received from her colleague Goyri. Just as there is positive example, another negative comes: one of the Mexico´s most popular fashion magazine Hola! decided to light-up Aparicio´s skin tone on the main photo cover.

Although Aparicio didn´t win the Oscar she is a symbol of hope for indigenous people, what indigenous representation could potentially be. The fight for equal representation of marginalized communities will continue and Aparicio is one among many forces for indigenous Mexican rights.

[1] Mixtec is an ancient Indigenous language composed of a variety of dialects that are spoken in villages in an area known as “La Mixteca” in southern Mexico.

[2] Soap opera

[3] Damn indigenous

[4] We are all Yalitza


04
Mar 19

Mobilizing Swedish gender equality

by Caroline Ulvros 

On a rather windy Thursday night in February, I drop by the campaign start-up for a March 8 demonstration organized by the party ”Feministiskt Initiativ”, or ”Feminist Initiative” in English. In a cozy community hall in Malmö, activists offer pamphlets and hot meals under banners and balloons in the trademark bright pink color scheme of the party.

The party was founded in 2005i, and in a time of social media on the rise it aimed to deviate from traditional political scales by stating feminism as its ideological foundation. It was the very first party to gain a seat in the European Parliament based on this ideology. In a rather standard approach to social media for modern Swedish political parties, both the main and local party sites link to very active Facebook pages and accounts on Twitter and Instagram. The hashtag ”#metoo” is the theme for the cover photo on the main Facebook page. The party describes itself as sprung from a grassroots-movement and takes pride in its ability to reach out to different demographic groups, but how does the party spread its message in an era of new political movements?

After all, it has more traits of a traditional political organization using social media than of a new social movement. Unlike the loose networks based on shared identities, values and lifestyles that characterize new social movements, the party is organized like a traditional political party, presenting a party program with a clear ideology and using established ways of mobilizing action just as earlier feminist movements did. Although feminist activism is typical for new social movements, this party is clearly to the left on a traditional political scale.

But if a traditional political party framework is formed in an era of new social media, how does it perceive mobilization? I wonder while helping myself to a vegan stew and joining the activists that wait for the first presentation of the evening. The party has met setbacks. In the last election, its popularity fell to 0.46% of votes and the party has never reached the 4% limit to win seats in Parliament, while however remaining the largest party outside of Parliament.

The first item of the evening is a film from the feminist organization ”Parir y Nacer” in Argentina, sending a greeting to their partners in Feministiskt Initiativ. Feministiskt Initiativ’s broad collaboration with different international organizations for gender equality may resemble the transnational cooperations around common issues that distinguish new social movements, while I suspect that this cooperation is not as continually reorganized.

The main speaker of the evening is Gudrun Schyman, one of Sweden’s most prominent politicians with a political career going back to the seventies. This symbol for Swedish feminist politics was a very popular leader for the Left Party before partaking in the formation of Feministiskt Initiativ, which she has led until she stepped down this year. Her role in the spotlight does not chime with new social movements that, although arguably not totally without leadership, relies on narratives of broad, bottom-up movements which require leading figures to keep a low profile.

Gudrun Schyman has reached the level of fame where t-shirts are printed with her motif

Schyman describes the effects of this small party on politics through reactions from other political parties, an emphasis is also put on how some issues for equality remain the same and on their global characteristics. This depiction of the political landscape and recurring political clashes is thereby within a rather traditional understanding of political movements. Although not mentioning the party’s stagnation, the account echoes of her earlier explanation for the declining support as consistent with general trends of shrinking political and nonprofit movements, while not highlighting alternative political mobilization. She has also used the physical presence of companies in offline platforms for political parties as a sign of capitalist impeding of dialogue. Does this rhetoric indicates a preference to focus on traditional forms of mobilization? Or is it important to point out how the trend towards company ownership obstructing communication through governing of social media platforms has offline equivalents?

On a question from the audience about working with non-party groups, Schyman supports toning down party promotion when this can facilitate collaborations.

-We don’t need more internal development of our policies, we need to reach out!

A lack of coverage from traditional media due to the size of the party is presented as an impediment and as a remedy, the audience is reminded of a demonstration in April. To focus on offline, traditional activities in a meeting with this purpose seems logical, but my first impression is of a traditional understanding of mobilization where social media is basically yet another tool for spreading the party message. Is this impression fair?

After this speech, I get a chance to quickly mingle with the audience. When I ask about the role of social media in contrast to traditional political meetings, an activist points out that the party is doing rather well on social media. Later that night, I look up the online activity concerning local demonstrations on March 8.

The largest political gathering in Malmö on March 8 is the demonstration arranged by Feministiskt Initiativ in collaboration with other party organizations. While 362 people have marked themselves as going,1.4 thousand are interested in demonstrating. The considerable number of intended participants compared to the participants in the physical start-up meeting could reflect the contingent, event-based participation of new social movements, while the great disparity between the number of respondents intending to actively participate and those merely being interested could reflect how modern movements often are structured around a small core of activists connected to a larger periphery, which nonetheless are not just ”slacktivists” but is expanding the audience for the group.

To compare to an alternative collective action, the next largest mobilization for a demonstration in the city is described as an ”Extra-parliamentarian March 8” with 135 people intended on going and 385 marked as interested. The event is organized by extra-parlamentarian groups such as the Syndicalists and Anti-Fascist Action that contain elements of traditional ideological standpoints, but their emphasis on politically marginalized content and unconventional action while protesting against established politics could indicate a protest role associated with new social movements.

Of course, the attention gained by the demonstration organized by established parties could reflect how both International Women’s Day and collective action through demonstration is closely tied to traditional movements. It could also reflect how Facebook is more useful as a marketing tool than as a mobilization tool. However, my first impression of collective action through established channels does not seem to give the whole picture.