Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Female Bloggers in India: the importance of language

In my blog post, Nigeria: pidgin and culture I described the social, political and even economic aspects of language. To conquer a people, take away their language and impose your own, as the US did with Native Americans, along with the British in India, the French in Indochina and the Australians and the Aboriginals. One can be fluent in a second language, but it is the speech of home, the nuanced way we learn our expressions that help us create identity.

In India, their are women who blog in English and those who write in any number of other languages spoken throughout that country. According to a recent article in the the New York Times, "Indian Women Bloggers Find Their Voice, In their Own Language," author Nilanjana S. Roy describes how women who blog in English tend to be in their 20s and write about "city life, dating and relationships, and workplace issues" while those who blog in Tamil, Hindi or other languages in South Asia are older and steer towards more personal issues and keep politics local.  Very interesting read. For the full article from the New York Times click here or continue reading below.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sex and Citizenship

In Jordan, the foreign born husbands of Jordanian women and their children can never be Jordanian citizens. Even if they live their entire lives in Jordan, they will always be 'outsiders,' unable to enjoy basic social rights. Conversely, the foreign born wives and children of Jordanian men automatically receive citizenship. Jordanian law also states that the children of male Jordanians inherit their father’s nationality no matter where they are born, even if they’ve never set foot in Jordan. Unfair? In the past, similar views on women, race/ethnicity, citizenship and marriage existed in the US - but here, I will briefly address only women.

In 1855, the US Congress declared that foreign born women married to US citizens or naturalized aliens automatically acquired US citizenship, but only if they were qualified as white. Indeed, the Supreme Court in 1868 held that only white women be allowed to gain citizenship upon marriage to a US citizen. If they did not meet racial restrictions, men too were denied naturalization, which meant that even if they were white, foreign born women married to men not considered white could not gain citizenship for themselves, regardless of their qualifications.

Congress legislated in 1907 that any woman married to an alien would have her citizenship terminated. In 1922, Congress partially repealed the act, but continued to strip citizenship from any woman married to a non-citizen racially barred from naturalization. Also in 1922, Congress ended automatic citizenship for women upon marriage to a citizen or naturalized alien. Moreover, many courts in the US took away a woman's citizenship if she married a foreigner. This law was repealed in 1931.

While non-white women faced restrictions on citizenship based on their sex and race, it should be noted that others too were unfairly subjected to US citizenship laws. It was not until 1924 that Congress passed an act granting US citizenship to all Native Americans in the US. (This meant, interestingly, that legendary all-American athlete and Native American Jim Thorpe was not legally a US citizen when he successfully competed in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden.) Additionally, it was not until 1940 and the Nationality Act that all persons born in the US automatically became citizens of the US. Of course, the racial component of citizenship is still alive and well in states (AZ, CA, TX for example) with large numbers of illegal/undocumented immigrants. But that's another blog.

For the full article by Laurent Zecchini, "Jordan: Mixed Marriages, Geopolitics And A Gender Double Standard" printed in Worldcrunch from Le Monde, click here.

(Information for this blog was taken from, "Racial Restrictions in the Law of Citizenship" by Ian E. Haney Lopez in "White by Law: the legal construction of race," NYU Press, 2006.

Bangladesh: Rights of Indigenous People

Members of indigenous communities demanded their recognition in the constitution as “indigenous people” instead of tribal or proposed “minority ethnic group” at central Shahidminar in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Abu Ala, Copyright Demotix, 29 April 2011.
I found the following post from the blog, Third World View. The 1972 constitution names Bangladesh the land of Bengalis with no mention of traditional or indigenous peoples. These indigenous communities want to be recognized as such, but government officials feel that rewriting the constitution to include their indigenous status may lead to the idea that 'Bengalis' are "invaders" or "intruders" to Bangladesh. The ethnic minorities who mainly reside in the hill tracts of Bangladesh have been subject to human rights abuses for many years. This classification has great importance in the eyes of the indigenous peoples in terms of their cultural identity, rights and status in Bangladesh. Read their history and their words (in English and Bangla) in the original post "Bangladesh: Indigenous or Not Indigenous, That is the Question" here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

International Day of the World's Indigenous People

In honor of all indigenous people today, representing 5% of the Earth's population but 15% of those living in poverty, speaking 4,000 of the 7,000 languages in use worldwide and often suffering injustices simply because of where they live, I am posting a one-minute video about K'iche' Rigoberto Menchu from Guatemala, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize.

You can find her autobiography, "I, Rigoberta Menchu" on Amazon.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

'The Interrupters:' Stop the Violence

I have three words, 'watch this trailer.' Then - this is important - go see the movie.

The Interrupters is a documentary about the efforts of CeaseFire to stop the violence on Chicago's streets by enlisting the aid of people from the community. The movie was directed and produced by Steve James, director of "Hoop Dreams" and produced by Alex Kotlowitz, writer and author of There Are No Children Here who first wrote about CeaseFire for the New York Times Magazine in 2009. CeaseFire's founder and executive director is Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist for almost 30 years who began his work on the U.S. violence epidemic in 1995.

With histories similar to those of the people they are trying to help - associations with gangs, familiarity with jail, drugs and interpersonal violence - the interrupters go to street corners, they go door-to-door, they speak with authority in a voice that cuts through the anger, they tell people who feel invisible that they are worth something, that they can change.  As reported by Amy Lee of the Huffington Post, Tio Hardiman, the Director of CeaseFire Illinois and a former drug addict and hustler, remembers early skepticism from whose who questioned whether such an organization could possibly make a difference. "You got to talk as if, 'Man, I know, I been there," he says of the interrupters. "Save yourself brother -- I'm not preaching to you."

Click here to read the Amy Lee's review, "The Interrupters:" Documentary Deals with Violence on the Streets of Chicago.

The Interrupters Documentary
The "interrupters"

In Brazil: Surfing Away from Favelas

Some members of the FSC at their Cantagalo headquarters
The Favela Surf Club aims to make a real difference to its members' lives
 In Rio de Janeiro, some young favela residents are using their skills as surfers to not only earn money but to help other children growing up in the favelas have a sense of purpose and accomplishment - and hope. Living in shantytowns rife with drugs and crime, the Favela Surf Club provides children with boards and lessons for free, offering an alternative to the violence they see everyday. Living far from Rio's beaches in hillside slums, kids practice their surfing on skateboards. Competitions also give them a sense of pride.

Some instructors also grew up in the favelas, like Jefferson Cardoso da Silva who joined the Favela Surf Club as a child. Now 21 years old and a college student, Jefferson earns money by giving tourists surfing lessons saying "Bad things were going on in the favela so I would come down to the beach and go surfing instead." Many of his friends are dead or in prison. He feels good about helping other kids "ride the wave of hope." I admire their entrepreneurial spirit: home grown sustainable aid to the poor!
To read the full article from BBC News, "Rio Surf Club Gives Hope to Shantytown Children," click here.

Related posts:  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brazil: Radio Mulher

After a year of training local women, Radio Mulher aired its first programme on July 2 [IPS]
I've become a major fan of Al Jazeera news.  They recently posted an article about a female-run radio station whose messages, delivered by women, focus on gender issues, social and health matters, local environmental problems, employment and women's rights. While the police have been aggressively trying to empty the favelas or shantytowns of gangs and drug dealers and stifle crime and violence, women still face sexual abuse and limited employment options. They women want to bring these issues to the forefront. One woman is Ivanir Toledo, who left home at the age of nine and suffered homelessness and sexual violence. Now married with a grown daughter and an active member of Women of Peace, Toledo says: 

"If you ask a man for a plate of food, you know the first thing that will pop into his mind. I started suffering violence as soon as I left home (at age nine). I'm talking about rape and abuse. And not just at the hands of one or two or three guys, but more. You're there against your will, at that person's mercy." 

Toledo's husband has pride in his wife's work and states she is happier than before. Women of Peace also want to address employment opportunities for women who most often serve as heads of households in their poor communities. 

I urge you to read the entire article, "Women in favelas broadcast peace," here.

World Breast Feeding Week

This week newspaper headlines are filled with tragic stories of people dying of hunger in Somalia. Caused by droughts but exacerbated by politics, in southern Somalia the Al-ShaBab insurgent Islamist group is blocking the escape of starving people to feeding camps. The Al-ShaBab leadership feels it is better to starve than accept food aid from the West, distrusting aid workers as spies. Those who have escaped to refugee camps in Kenya face overcrowding conditions and even violence. More than 800,000 Somalis are now living outside Somalia, while nearly 1.5 million are internally displaced. Having stopped Western humanitarian aid to the region, they are widely blamed for the scope of the current devastation where tens of thousands have died and 500,000 children are on the brink of starvation.

Last month, Nicholas Kristoff wrote about the role of breastfeeding as a part of the cure for global poverty in his post, The Breast Milk Cure, in the New York Times. He reported that a 2008 study in Lancet said 1.4 million child deaths could be averted each year if babies were breast-fed properly. That’s one child dying unnecessarily every 22 seconds.

A low-cost solution?
This is World Breastfeeding Week. Begun in 1991, WBW is now celebrating 10 years August 1 - 7. When mothers breastfeed their children they promote good health by passing on antibodies, stave off malnutrition and diarrhea in poor countries and create social and psychological bonds beneficial to survival. However, it is not just the mother's who need to be educated about breastfeeding. The website states it best:

When we look at breastfeeding support, we tend to see it in two-dimensions: time (from pre-pregnancy to weaning) and place (the home, community, health care system, etc). But neither has much impact without a THIRD dimension - communication! Communication is an essential part of protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding. We live in a world where individuals and global communities connect across small and great distances at an instant's notice. New lines of communication are being created every day, and we have the ability to use these information channels to broaden our horizons and spread breastfeeding information beyond our immediate time and place to activate important dialogue. This third dimension includes cross-generation, cross-sector, cross-gender, and cross-culture communication and encourages the sharing of knowledge and experience, thus enabling wider outreach. 

Certainly, in an ideal scenario (as in the case with Somalia), it is imperative first that mothers be cared for, then their babies can have increased odds of survival.

 Related posts:
Improving Infant Survival: Midwives and Mother's Milk
The Culture of Breastfeeding.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Germany and Egypt: graffiti, art or vandalism redux

Sam Tarling for The International Herald Tribune
An Egyptian street artist who goes by the name Keiser works on a stencil that depicts an ant in an underpass in the Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek.
 While writing about graffiti is perhaps a long way from humanitarian travel, it can be linked to an aspect of human rights - or can it? Is graffiti, as I've read many many times in the past few months, art or vandalism? In Brazil, it's an emblem of cultural identity promoting tourism while in Afghanistan it promotes political solidarity and protest artists are encouraged and supported by foreign donors. This week, two news articles addressed graffiti. In Germany, an artist, while famous, was jailed. In Egypt, the proliferation of graffiti has 'revolutionized' a country where tolerance for all kinds of street art symbolizes not just political protest and a regime change, but freedom of expression.

On Friday, a judge in Hamburg, Germany, dealt a 14 month prison sentence to 61 year-old street artist OZ (aka Walter F.) whose been painting graffiti for 20 years. According to the article reprinted in Worldcrunch from Die Welt, Walter F. , or OZ,  has been saying he’s half-Jewish since the 1990s, which is why – in his opinion – “Nazis and the squeaky-clean brigade” are after him. Since 1992 he's been at times arrested and medically evaluated, but for now he is simply jailed as way to keep the peace.Not everyone finds his work a nuisance. Sometimes referred to as “The Wizard of OZ,” a coffee table book called Sprühling features his 'sprayings' the Spiegal has described him as a hero in the hip-hop scene, while in Hamburg and Berlin you can find his work on gallery walls. Asks author of the article, Martina Goy, "Is OZ a pioneer who, after a long career, can now be considered a recognized graffiti artist, or a stubborn maniac using spray painting as a way to get attention that – were he to lead a socially acceptable and unremarkable life – would not otherwise be forthcoming."
Graffiti-Sprayer "OZ"
Foto: dpa  Walter F. in Schanzenviertel in Hamburg

In The Maturing of Street Art in Cairo, New York Times writer Josh Wood recognizes emerging graffiti artist with the pseudonym Ganzeer, a 29 year-old graphic designer. According to Ganzeer,  “After the revolution broke out, I think there’s just a wider, just a general reception for seeing people doing something on the street.” Wood notes that a thinning of police forces and a "more tolerant atmosphere among residents toward the public art" has allowed graffiti to flourish. Beginning with slogans supporting the overthrow of Mubarek, the writings and the art itself have become more sophisticated and it is not always political, for example, “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.” The article states that in May, Ganzeer created what he called his "freedom mask." It is described as "a sticker depicting a head in a gimp mask, the mouth gagged and the eyes covered. Arabic text relayed greetings from the military council that rules Egypt and announced that the new freedom mask was now available." Frustrated with the military assuming the role of a figure of authority and governing powers — and basically doing everything we’ve been protesting against,” together with other artists, Ganzeer  created a  tank facing off with a bread seller under a bridge in Zamalek. 

Perhaps, like all things cultural and subjective, historical, social and political contexts need be considered. So what's your take, vandalism or art? 
For "OZ," Germany's unrepentant graffiti artist is going back to jail" click here.
 For the Maturing Street art of Cairo click here.

Graffiti: At 'Home' and in the Street
Graffiti: vandalism or art?