Monday, November 19, 2012

Conflict and Cause: children lost in the rubble

Children in Gaza, 2009, from UK Guardian
The documentary film, Gaza Strip, by James Longley was released in 2002. The New York Times review says that "it provides a grim, upsetting glimpse at the lives of some of the 1.2 million Palestinians who live in the crowded cities and refugee camps of Gaza." Seen mostly through the eyes of a thirteen-year old newspaper vendor, Mohammed Hejazi, and absent an Israeli perspective, it gives a one-sided view of this very complex situation. Shot with a hand-held camera in the "cinema verite" style ("truthful cinema") it is powerful piece, particularly in light of current events. Along with the equally insightful, Promises, about a group of Arab and Israeli children living separate and unequal lives within 20 minutes drive of each other, these films help us clearly, but sadly, understand the role of violence in the social construction of hate and discrimination as seen through the eyes of middle school children in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

 ( See also, Palestinian Children's Relief Fund, politics aside )

In July, 2011, I mentioned both of these films in a post entitled "Soldiers, Children and War,"  about a report describing Palestinian children detained and jailed by the Israeli army over a five-year period, some as young as eight and nine years old (Guardian UK "Hundreds of Palestinian minors jailed for throwing stones, says report"). The films, the report, the news, and now the current escalation of hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis, all give evidence that children raised amid violence may well grow up normalizing violence.

Moreover, when sixty years on journalists are reporting from "Maghazi Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip" the very meaning of the words "refugee camp" (prominent in the film Promises), defined by Collins online dictionary as "a camp for sheltering and protecting people who have fled from some danger or problem, especially political persecution," and understood by most accounts to be a temporary solution, needs to be reexamined.  The United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) defines today's Palestinian refugees as "those who are descendants of the original Palestine refugees" and "whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict." In 1950 when they began, the UNRWA was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, five million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services and "one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.4 million, live in 58 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem."

This morning, in an article in New York Times, "Today Brigades Fire on Israel with a New Discipline," we see how, in their everyday lives, children raised under occupation are socialized towards violence. Read together with Sarah Mousa's first person narrative in Al Jazeera, "Notes from Gaza" (she graduated from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 2010 and was a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar in Egypt), we see how violence becomes a regular part of day-to-day living, leading to the emergence of a military force that is described as inseparable from the social fabric and lived environment of the refugees in Gaza. The New York Times reports that "Most Qassam fighters have day jobs — as police officers, university professors, ministry clerks." They live in a "150-square-mile strip with 1.5 million people who know one another’s business, and parents are proud when their sons enlist." Civilian soldiers fighting in communities where they work and raise their families. Sounds familiar.

From the time he was a boy, Ali al-Manama dreamed of joining the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Hamas movement. His commitment intensified when his father, a Qassam fighter, was killed by an Israeli drone in 2001 as he fired mortar shells over the border. Ali joined up at 15, relatives said, and by 23 had risen to be a commander in this neighborhood in the midsection of this coastal Palestinian territory. 

His wish to die fighting and become a martyr — and the honor it would bring in his community — was fulfilled Saturday morning at 7:30, though the missile struck him not while he was in active combat, but while talking on a cellphone that Israeli intelligence might have used to track his whereabouts. 

“He had been telling us all week about all the achievements of Qassam,” Mahmoud said. “When he heard about the rockets in Israel, he would be very proud.” 

In a quote reminiscent of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War (I am not comparing the political aspects of these two groups) who hid their arsenals in barns on family farms, we learn that in Gaza "military storehouses are woven into residential neighborhoods." 

The article continues:

. . . .most fighters join at the age of 16 or 17, and spend about a year in religious indoctrination, security education, and finally combat training before secret induction ceremonies in which they take an oath on the Koran.

Sarah Mousa's "Notes from Gaza" is a personal account of the bombings in Gaza.  In this piece she also compares the current situation to the 2009 invasion. Below, her words could be describing footage from Gaza Strip filmed, in 2001 or Promises, filmed between 1995 and 2000, or any other hostility in Gaza in the last 45 years. The Arab children featured in the aforementioned films living in refugee camps, if they are still alive, could be the young adults mentioned in today's news.

From the moment I entered Gaza, the blockade and destruction were apparent. Barbed wire fences line the territory's land border with Israel, navy ships are visible off the shore, and drones occasionally hover above. Gaza is indeed a prison, with tight controls on entrance and exit. Although nearly four years have passed since the last major incursion into Gaza, buildings were still left destroyed, as prohibitions on construction materials leave rebuilding nearly impossible.

When I arrived at the home of my friend Jeje, a young college student majoring in English, her demeanour made me almost forget where I was. Her friendly greeting and her mother's fish and spicy salads stood in contrast to the scene around us. As I drove up to Jeje's home, I passed by a crater-sized hole, which when prompted she later told me was from a missile that had barely missed her home in the 2009 invasion and shattered her windows, which are yet to be replaced due to restrictions on glass. As we walked through Gaza City, my friend pointed to the destroyed homes of a few of her classmates, no longer alive.

Throughout my time there, I continued to see contradictions. Children played joyously in the rubble of destroyed buildings. Young students, well-informed and outspoken, self-professed "tweeps", refused to surrender to their circumstances. When asked what the "outside world" (that is what Gazans call everything outside of the territory, land that is for many of them beyond reach) should know about Gaza, they insisted that they not be portrayed as humanitarian victims, as people starving in need of aid. Instead, they wanted light to be shed on and action to be taken against the daily violations of basic rights which they endure.

Much better writers with more experience and knowledge of this conflict will continue to analyze unfolding events in Israel and the Gaza Strip. As an outsider, I am in no position to offer insight or opinion to match first person accounts or political, military and academic expertise.  However, I want to point out, as presented in the news and other media, how children living generation after generation in refugee camps, their homes patrolled by a well-trained and heavily armed military, their communities secured by armed guards at check-points, their routines subject to question at any time, the air they breathe and the streets in which they play filled with the sight and smell of gunfire, will find their own ways to give meaning to their lives when other avenues are denied, even if that means the possibility of violence or death.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Little Girls in the (Boxing) Ring

Last night in class I screened a film about child slavery called Stolen Childhoods. It shows heart wrenching footage of children working in the carpet industry in Nepal chained to their looms; kids picking coffee in Kenya, hands burning from the chemicals on the plants; and eight-year-old girls, bonded laborers, making bricks and working in stone quarries in India. Around the world today, there are a quarter million children today working for wages that amount to peanuts - if they receive wages at all after their meager food, housing and penalties for mistakes have been subtracted and interest added to their daily life of toil. Even in the United States, children as young as ten can legally do farm work in Texas. Then, this morning, while checking out the latest news from the Asia Society I learned about the film Buffalo Girls  (see clip above) about child boxers in Thailand: there are 30,000 of them in the ring all over the country.

(See also Child Labor ).

The movie highlights two: is it ethnocentric of me to judge families that encourage their eight-year-old daughters to fight? The film maker takes a more balanced view, read below. From their official web site, the inside story of Buffalo Girls:

In rural Thailand, the buffalo is a revered animal to the farmers who work with and care for them. They are symbols of Hard Work, Patience, Strength and Loyalty.  In the big cities of Thailand the word has taken on another meaning. It's now also a derogatory way of describing someone from the rural provinces; someone who works hard and doesn't think or talk too much.  
Let's take a closer look at Stam and Pet's lives, and see which category they, and the 30,000 kids who fight for their families,
fall into.

BUFFALO GIRLS is the wrenching, sometimes heartbreaking story of two eight-year-old Thai girls seeking their country’s national Muay Thai championship and a cash prize that could change their families’ lives forever. BUFFALO GIRLS has its world premiere at the 2012 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

BUFFALO GIRLS will undoubtedly provoke widely varying responses from audiences. To westerners, the participation of children in Muay Thai may appear reprehensible and indefensible. Fighting without headgear and incurring bruises, bloody noses and even broken bones, there is certainly a physical toll on the children. But in a country where the per capita income is less than 10% of that of the United States, there are other harsh realities to consider. The impoverished farming communities of rural Thailand offer few opportunities for people to better their lives and boxing is one of the few alternatives to the country’s commercial sex trade as a means of escaping the extreme poverty. There are some 30,000 chidren under the age of 15 fighting in the rings of rural Thailand

Muay Thai itself is a 700-year-old martial art with a long, cherished history in Thailand. In ancient times, it was accepted as the area’s best defense against invaders. Today, the sport retains a spiritual element and the combatants perform a series of rituals and blessings as they prepare to fight. Only in recent years has it become acceptable for females to be near the action, let alone enter the ring. For the villages involved, an evening of boxing becomes a communal event with farmers and laborers enthusiastically betting on the matches. With their limited incomes and little or no access to affordable credit, gambling is viewed as a viable part of the local economy and a means of increasing their meager resources.

For Pet and Stam, the eight-year-old protagonists of BUFFALO GIRLS, boxing is an opportunity to help their parents supplement the family income and improve their standard of living. Child boxers in Thailand can often earn as much as half of a family’s monthly rent from a single bout, sometimes taking home more than what a farmer or factory worker earns in a month.

The girls work with professional trainers, doing sit-ups and push-ups, lifting weights and running in preparation for upcoming fights. Although petite, both Stam and Pet exhibit a lean, powerful athleticism in the ring. As a younger child, the earnest, studious Pet was often sick and has a scar on her chest from heart surgery. Her parents credit boxing with improving her health. The more exuberant, animated Stam glows with confidence from her participation in the sport.

“When I first saw the children boxing, I absolutely thought it was horrible,” states director Todd Kellstein. But after spending two years in the rural Thai provinces documenting this world, Kellstein admits that his overall perspective has changed. His initial anger with the parents of the children for putting them in the ring gave way to a resigned empathy for their circumstances. “It is difficult to understand the economic circumstances that lead to child boxing, but what now angers me is economic inequalities in the world. These circumstances exist and we should think of ways to make it better for everyone. Not just in Thailand, but everywhere.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Medical School and Marriage in India

The Times of India reports that today women make up 70% of medical school students in Andhra Pradesh, India. While that appears to bode well for proponents of gender equality in the sciences, it seems the prestige associated with with a doctor in the family is not the driving force behind parents' supporting their girls in medical careers. Instead, the status and prestige of medical school means the girls are more marriageable. The families of boys seeking wives believe that if there is money for an elite medical school there is certainly money for a big dowry.

Explaining the social trend, a senior doctor said: "If a girl wants to study, parents do not think twice about the repercussions such as dowry and marriage expenses. And, when they are prepared to pay Rs 50 lakh for an MBBS seat, they will also be prepared to loosen their purse strings for the marriage." 

Doctors say that while parents usually go by the interests of their children, there are some who also put pressure on their kids to take up the profession. "Till the undergraduate level, girls do very well in studies. However, by the time they finish house surgeonship, a good number of them are already married," says Dr AY Chary, dean of Dr VRK Women's Medical College, the only medical college in the state exclusively meant for women.

This sounds like something out of the 1950s in the US, perhaps as portrayed in the Julia Roberts film, Mona Lisa Smile. In that film girls went to college not to earn university degrees and get good jobs, but to "snag a husband."

To read "The reality behind rising number  of women medicos in Andra Pradash," click here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gender and Islamic Law in Malaysia

The New York Times just published an article, "Seeking the Right to Be Female in Malaysia . Under Islamic law, it is illegal in Malaysia for men to pose as women. Those men who have undergone sex-change operations in neighboring Thailand and who now dress and live as women face arrest and "may be sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined as much as 1,000 ringgit, about $325, or both" according to the article. Homosexual acts are also outlawed and violators face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
For the complete article, click here or continue below. For related blogs see:
In Malaysia: Religious, Social and Legal Claims on Gender

Rahman Roslan for the International Herald Tribune,
Adam Shazrul Bin Mohammad Yusoff dressed in her room in Seremban, Malaysia.

Seeking the Right to Be Female in Malaysia

SEREMBAN, MALAYSIA — The feminine figure dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, makeup carefully applied, drew little attention from other customers at the fast-food restaurant in Seremban, a city about an hour’s drive south of Kuala Lumpur. 

The 26-year-old began wearing women’s clothing at age 13. Thanks to plastic surgery in neighboring Thailand, a daily dose of hormones and a feminine nickname, she is able to present herself as female to the outside world. But her official identification card — which Malaysians must produce in dealings like job interviews — declares that her name is Adam Shazrul Bin Mohammad Yusoff and that she is male. 

The discrepancy between her appearance and her officially recognized gender presents much more than just awkward moments in Malaysia, where Shariah, or Islamic law, bans Muslim men from dressing or posing as women. Penalties differ in individual states, but in Negri Sembilan, where the 26-year-old lives, convicted offenders may be sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined as much as 1,000 ringgit, about $325, or both.

Tired of living in fear of prosecution, the 26-year-old — who has been arrested twice and was once fined 900 ringgit — and three other transgender people are challenging the law in the secular courts, arguing that it violates the Malaysian Constitution, which bans discrimination based on gender and protects freedom of expression. A verdict in their case — the first time anyone has sought to overturn the law — is expected next Thursday. “It’s for freedom — to be like everybody else, to wear what we like,” said the 26-year-old, explaining why she is taking part in the case. “This shouldn’t happen. It’s an unjust law. We are just human beings. We are not doing anything wrong.”

Transgender people — those who act like, dress as or feel themselves to be the sex opposite of what they were born — say they are often ostracized in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country where homosexual acts are also banned and punishable by caning and as much as 20 years’ imprisonment.
Some states also have laws that bar Muslim women from dressing as men, but activists say the religious authorities focus mainly on those born male who wear women’s clothes.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, transgender people are subject to discrimination, harassment, and verbal, sexual and physical abuse within their families, at school, in workplaces, in the provision of services and in society more broadly, according to a report released in May by the U.N. Development Program. The report states that there could be as many as 9.5 million transgender people across the Asia Pacific region and that “alarming numbers” of transwomen — men who identify or present as women — are H.I.V. positive.

Support groups say transgender people in Malaysia face considerable discrimination. They say they often struggle to find work, prompting some to turn to sex work, and that they often face abuse, sometimes by the authorities. The 26-year-old and the three other litigants in the court case — Mohammad Juzaili Bin Mohammad Khamis, Shukur Bin Jani and Wan Fairol Bin Wan Ismail — have all been arrested on accusations of dressing as women. Two of their cases are continuing, pending the outcome of the judicial review. The four are arguing not only that the law is unconstitutional but also that it should not apply to them because they have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder.

The 26-year-old, who supplements the money she earns as a makeup artist with sex work, said religious officers groped her when they arrested her. “They were very rough,” she said, adding that she is fortunate that her family accepts her, unlike the case for some of her friends. She said that she turned down a job offer at a bank when its managers insisted that she cut her hair short, and that she turned to sex work because it helped pay for the “monthly maintenance” required to keep her looking female, including hormones, and allowed her to dress as she liked.

One of the other litigants, a 25-year-old makeup artist who has been fined 1,000 ringgit on three occasions for dressing as a woman, said religious officers had once punched her in the face.
She said she wanted to officially change her name and gender, because it was stressful knowing that she could be arrested at any time and jailed. “This is not just for me,” she said of the court case.
“It’s also for the community. This is something that needs to be done. We need to highlight the existence of transpeople in this country,” she said. The Negri Sembilan State and central government departments responsible for Islamic affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

Thilaga Sulathireh, an independent researcher and rights advocate who has helped the four take their case to court, said that there were no publicly available figures indicating the total number of Malaysian men who have been prosecuted for dressing as women but that arrests were not uncommon. “It’s unfortunate that there are Shariah laws to do moral policing,” she said, adding that two transgender people in Malacca State have also filed for a judicial review of the law since finding out about the Negri Sembilan case. Ms. Sulathireh said that non-Muslim men who dress as women have been fined under a civil law governing public indecency but that this was less common.
She said that although Shariah judges could exercise discretion, they generally seemed to follow a “three-strike rule,” under which people are jailed after being arrested three times. But that is not always the case.

Nisha Ayub was jailed for three months after her first arrest for dressing as a woman 14 years ago. Ms. Nisha, who was 20 at the time, said prison wardens forced her to walk naked in front of the male inmates. “It’s something I can’t forget until today,” she said. Ms. Nisha, who now works as the transgender program manager at the PT Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that provides counseling and health support for transgender people, said many were often afraid to go to hospitals because they feared discrimination from medical staff.

Support groups say a fatwa, or religious edict, issued in the 1980s that forbids Muslims from having sexual reassignment surgery has led many Malaysians to travel to Thailand for surgery.
While the current case is the first legal challenge to the law that bans men from dressing as women, several other Malaysians who were born male have sought to be legally declared women.
Last year, a court in Terengganu State rejected an application by a 26-year-old man to be legally declared a woman. Horley Isaacs, a lawyer, said the court rejected the application of Mohammad Ashraf Hafiz Abdul Aziz to change her name to Aleesha Farhana Abdul Aziz, on the basis that “since she didn’t have a womb she doesn’t qualify to be a woman.” Ms. Aleesha, as his client was known, died about a month after the verdict. The local news media gave the cause as heart problems, but Mr. Isaacs said he had been unable to obtain a copy of the death certificate from the hospital.
“All she asked me was ‘please give me a chance to live,”’ said Mr. Isaacs. He said that although several similar court applications had failed, in 2005 a Kuala Lumpur court allowed a man who was not a Muslim to change his identity to female on his identification card.

Aston Paiva, the lawyer representing the four in the judicial review, said that if the court finds in their favor, it would mean that they, and other transgenders in Negri Sembilan, could no longer be arrested for dressing as women. Mr. Paiva said the decision could have implications beyond Negri Sembilan because transgender people arrested in other states could use the verdict to argue their case. Despite the Islamic law prohibiting her from dressing as a woman, the 26-year-old from Seremban says she remains a practicing Muslim. She fasts during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and sometimes visits the mosque, where she wears men’s clothing. She said while she knows that, according to Islam, men should not dress as women, “this is something that is in me. This is how I feel.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

(Mis)understanding Islam

The blog, Muslim Voices, Voices and Visions: Islam and Muslims from a Global Perspective, promotes "intercultural dialogue and understanding between Muslims and Non-Muslims through podcasts, videos, public events, art exhibits, and discussions." Based at Indiana University, their web site states:

Voices and Visions: Islam and Muslims from a Global Perspective is a project of Indiana University comprised of various initiatives and activities that are all dedicated to promoting understanding and dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. The project aims to:
  • Increase intercultural understanding by providing access to the voices and visions of Islam and Muslims locally and around the world.
  • Inform and promote dialogue as it tackles the complexities of Islam and the often complicated relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.
  • Replace misinformation, mistrust, and oversimplifications with awareness, consideration, dialogue, and a diversity of voices.
  • Promote accessible scholarship, forthright communication, balanced viewpoints, and the value of the many voices and visions of Islam
I want to thank them for featuring a post about Humanitarian Travel Abroad's 2012 trip to Kolkata and our volunteer work in Dhaksindari slum. The visit was organized by Empower the Children and the amazing Roslie Giffoniello.

Here is the current featured video from Muslim Voices, "What Do You Think People Misunderstand Most About Islam?"

Also read, Volunteer India.

Smile Bangladesh

Smile Bangladesh was founded by Dr. Shahid Aziz of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark, NJ. As a volunteer medical administrator for Healing the Children, NE, Inc. I conducted the initial site visit for Dr. Aziz in advance of his first cleft lip and palate mission to Bangladesh in 2006 with Impact Foundation Bangladesh. Now, Aziz and his team of volunteer surgeons, nurses and anesthetists travel twice a year to operate for free on children born with cleft deformities. In 2005, I was told that in the entire country of Bangladesh had only eight doctors specializing in plastic surgery, this in a country of $150 million people.

While born in the US, Aziz's father was from Bangladesh and instilled in his son the idea of service to others. He has passed that along to the benefit of children whose smiles would, without Smile Bangladesh, perhaps forever have remained less than perfect, their lives stigmatized, their nutrition compromised, by this deformity. Here are two videos highlighting the wonderful work of Smile Bangladesh volunteers. Above is an overview of the trip with a close look at the need for this type of skilled intervention. Below is the story of one young woman from Bangladesh, Shenjuti, born with a cleft lip who was able, as a dental student from Columbia University, to give back to her community.

Shahid Aziz Brings 'Smiles' to Bangladesh

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

City Streets Art

Artist: Bob Heironimus<br>
Location: Greenmount and Venable avenues<br>
Year: 1996
Street art in Baltimore, Maryland

Just because I love public art. Check out this post from the Baltimore Sun about the fifty best murals in Baltimore (see above and below).

Artist: Helen Glazer<br>
Location: 1224 W. Lombard St.<br>
Year: 1993
More street art in Baltimore.

Then go to the Brooklyn Street Art blog, Living Walls Atlanta. 

See related: 
Urban Art Kabul
Graffiti: At Home and in the Street
Germany and Egypt: graffiti, art or vandalism redux

Here is a reprint of the wonderful blog about the Atlanta photos from Brooklyn Street Art:


Atlanta just finished the Living Walls festival, a collection of 30 female Street Artists who came for 10 days to create 18 new works around the city. The third festival in as many years, the event is equal parts inspiration and perspiration, and with a team of about 60 volunteers and 30 local businesses all working together to support the artists in whatever capacity is needed, it is largely non-commercial.

“You really don’t need much money to do this, just lots of heart and dedication. Taking back your public space, humanizing it, and reactivating it without selling anything to the public, is something that money can’t buy,” bemuses co-founder Monica Campana, and the point couldn’t be a finer one if it were a razor tipped Sharpie.

Hyuro (photo © Martha Cooper)

Hyuro’s mural from afar. (photo © Martha Cooper)

While Street Art festivals are seeming to blossom in cities around the globe that want to enliven the local cultural values (and possibly real estate values), more scrutiny is beginning to be paid by the watchers of the Street Art scene to see if mainstream acceptance will simply mean an enhanced currency stream for opportunists. In some cases Street Art festivals are looking like they’re getting ready to start moving some serious “lifestyle” product as events are being branded by sneakers and energy drinks. Of course, we’ve seen this movie before, along with it’s accompanying feelings of confliction.

Fefe (photo © Martha Cooper)

Living Walls has always had as a core component a series of lectures and panels dedicated to education and discussion about the role of art and artists in the public sphere. But that’s not the focus of everyone who throws one of these shindigs.

“I believe that there are some festivals that want to promote the scene, the street artists, and who  want to engage their communities via art. I also think that there are a whole other set of street art festivals that are using this movement to market a product and capitalize on it,” says Campana.

Fefe (photo © Martha Cooper)

Occasionally a wall in one of these festivals runs afoul of local tastes, as was the case for Street Artist Hyuro, whose line up of a female figure in various stages of undress brought at least one ornery feller out of the woods, or the recent depiction of two bears by ROA in Rochester that reminded some observers of a sexual position known best by it’s numeric moniker. Often you can look at these aesthetic flare-ups as a welcome opportunity for sophomoric jokes by teenage boys, selective umbrage by self appointed morality guards who rush passed the soup kitchen line to wave an angry finger, or the animated outrage of a story-hungry local newsreader reporting live on the scene. For a large part, surprisingly, many of the artists tell stories of Atlanta neighbors bringing food, their kids, sometimes a paintbrush.

For Alexandra Parrish, one of the festivals small army of volunteers, Living Walls and all of the raw youthful enthusiasm of the new D.I.Y. Street Art scene represents hope in an American city that she sees as having been abandoned, drained dry in the face of lowered economic prospects. “Since the 1990s, there’s been an overwhelming creative void in the city, as sort of ‘art-flight’,” says Parrish. “Many who galvanized the art scene in Atlanta left when it got too rough. Then, something like Living Walls comes around – with no money, no rhyme, no reason, in the midst of an urban sprawl least likely to care.”

Tika (photo © Martha Cooper)

In an economy that also feels abandoned and ever shifting downward in search of a new baseline, you can see a certain jadedness in the Millenial generation you wouldn’t have seen a few years ago, but here is a new ruggedness too.  Alexandra looks at the attitudes and the relentless efforts that a loosely woven group of art kids have made with little funding to create a genuine lifeblood. “Three years later, with the help of countless local businesses, foundations and individuals, it is overwhelmingly clear to us that yes, people do care.”

Here’s the evidence, an onslaught of walls shot by the dear Ms. Martha Cooper and expressly picked by her for BSA. We’re happy to share the bounty with you and this small interview with Monica. Ultimately these are fruits of labor by some who didn’t wait for permission to create a scene. It should be a surprise that they are accomplishing something that many urban planners and masters of industry have found illusive in cities during these harrowing economic times.

Says Parrish, “Our scrappy organization has somehow put Atlanta back on the map.”

Tika atop her double walled portrait (photo © Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: Because you worked closely with the community and a large team of volunteers, do the artists feel welcomed to the event?
Monica Campana: Living Walls is an all-volunteer organization of about 60 people who act as staff or artists assistants – whatever role is needed. There are also about 30 different local restaurants that helped feed the artists during their 10-day stay in Atlanta, not counting the sponsors who hosted the artists and events during the conference. So many people are a part of each conference every year that it truly makes it a community project.

The whole city wants to welcome the invited artists, and during production week everyone will try to make an effort to make the artist feel welcome. Sometimes they show up to the events we are hosting or stop by the walls with water or food. During a giant family-style dinner given by a friend, one artist told me that she had heard we were nice in Atlanta but she was really not expecting this level of nice… I guess we really reinforce the “Southern Hospitality” concept here.

Sten & Lex (photo © Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: How are festivals like this going to affect the greater Street Art scene, given that they are large, organized, and authorized?
Monica Campana: Festivals of this kind are definitely affecting the street art scene, positively and negatively. I believe that as long a street art festival works with its community, educates, promotes conversations in their communities about street art/graffiti origins and its motivations, as long as it reactivates spaces and helps create community, then it’s all good. Street art should remain illegal, but I also believe that organized street art festivals can help as a platform for dialogue about this craft.

Sten & Lex (photo © Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: Organizers spoke initially of this being the first and largest organized festival of female street artists together. Does that include festivals like the ”B*Girl Summit” in 2005 and the rest of the “B-Girl Be” events of the late 2000s ?
Monica Campana: When we decided to mainly focus on female street artists for this year’s conference, we researched as much as we could to see if this had been done before. We found art shows, showcasing only girls in the street art world - we found graffiti jams only showcasing female graffiti writers- we found b-girl festivals - but we were not able to find a street art conference that showcased only women.

This was a conference with 5 days of events, the creation of 18 pieces of public art, and lectures discussing urbanism and gender roles in public spaces. Living Walls 2012, focusing on only female street artist, was the first of it’s kind as of yet – and hopefully it’s not the last one.

Members of the Atlanta community helped with a number of murals, like this one by Olive 47 (photo © Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: Having primarily women on the scene this year, how was the work and the environment of Living Walls Atlanta affected?
Monica Campana: Working with primarily female artists gave LW a very different sensitivity. I don’t want to sound stereotypical, but in the past the guys have been more wild than the girls. This year it was amazing to see how the girls would wake up early, stick to their schedule, would be more aware of keeping things cleaner and safe.

The work on the streets also had a different feel and artists experimented with new materials, like yarn, colored powder, balloons and even hair weaves. Some murals even continued from their walls onto the ground. I feel like this year the artists wanted to push themselves more and experiment with their space in new ways.

Olive 47 (photo © Martha Cooper)

Brooklyn Street Art: Are you up for another year of Living Walls?
Monica Campana: Yes! This is the first year that I finished the conference wanting to start the next one right away. Every year it is so hard and so much work but we really are a family, and I cannot wait to continue working with everyone and planning for the next conference. I’m motivated by so many motivated and talented. We’re already planning to have next years desired lineup by this October.

Mon Ellis (photo © Martha Cooper)

Molly Rose Freeman (photo © Martha Cooper)

“Every day I wake up thinking about all the art we are putting on the streets, all the conversations being sparked by the art, all the love and hard work each artist puts into leaving something so great in our city.” – Monica Campana

Molly Rose Freeman (photo © Martha Cooper)

Martina Merlini (photo © Martha Cooper)

Martina Merlini (photo © Martha Cooper)

Jessie Unterhalter and Katie Truhn (photo © Martha Cooper)

Jessie Unterhalter and Katie Truhn (photo © Martha Cooper)

Indigo (photo © Martha Cooper)

Indigo (photo © Martha Cooper)

“It is a great feeling to know that we might be inspiring others. Here is the thing though…what Living Walls does for Atlanta, it can be easily done in any other city. I encourage everyone that wants to promote street art and the creation of new public spaces in their communities to do something like Living Walls.” – Monica Campana

EME (photo © Martha Cooper)

EME (photo © Martha Cooper)

Art Hs (photo © Martha Cooper)

Miso (photo © Martha Cooper)

Please note: All content including images and text are ©, unless otherwise noted. We like sharing BSA content for non-commercial purposes as long as you credit the photographer(s) and BSA, include a link to the original article URL and do not remove the photographer’s name from the .jpg file. Otherwise, please refrain from re-posting. Thanks!

Justice Sought for Native American Women

One in three Native American women in the US is a victim of domestic violence. Al Jazeera published the following, Justice Denied Native American Women examining the complex cultural, legal and political reasons these women seldom receive justice - either from the US court system or under tribal law on reservations. The article states:

In the US, Native American women are facing an epidemic of sexual assault and violence. One in three reports being the victim of a rape or attempted rape and Native American women are also 10 times more likely to be murdered than other groups of women in the US. Most of the attacks are also reported to be perpetrated by a person of another race. 

Here is a selection of information reported by Al Jazeera. To access the full article, click here.

On September 5, Lauren Chief Elk published an article for the Women Under Siege project detailing what she considers a "hidden epidemic": the prevalent problem of sexualised violence directed towards Native American and Alaska Native women.   

The video below from Native sketch group the 1491s lays out the most prominent statistics:

According to the 2010 US Census, there were approximately 5.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the United States. Of those, 78 per cent live outside of native lands, 20.5 per cent live on reservations or trust lands, and 1.5 per cent live on Alaska Native Village areas. These populations belong to 566 federally recognised tribes. These tribes maintain "a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government", often in the form of tribal councils. 

According to the US Department of Justice, in 86 per cent of cases of rape or sexual assault reported by Native women, the perpetrators are described as non-Native men. Under a 1978 US law, Native tribes have no authority to prosecute non-Native people, rendering tribal courts unable to try and prosecute offenders in these cases. For offenders who are Native American, tribal courts are often restricted with limited sentencing power. 

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA), which was meant to streamline efforts between Indian Health Services, the Department of Justice, Native tribes and tribal organisations to standardise sexual assault policies. The act also contained provisions intended to strengthen tribal governments, giving them authority to prosecute federal crimes.

At the time the TLOA was lauded as a step forward for tribal governments. However, under the act, tribes are required to meet certain governmental standards in order to begin prosecuting federal crimes. A 2012 report from the US Government Accountability Office found that none of the tribes surveyed in the report were excercising their new sentencing authority and most cited funding limitations. And although certain segments of Native land do fall under US state jurisdiction, most filed cases involving violence against Native women are dropped before reaching a formal hearing. 

Similarly, US state and local law enforcement have checkered records of investigating reports of sexualised violence. From a 2006 audit of the Duluth, Minnesota police department:The audit found problems with the systemic response to Native women who report sexual assault to the Duluth Police Department (DPD) from evidence collection to investigation to prosecution. The audit team reviewed approximately 35 police reports from the DPD. The manner in which they were investigated by patrol was highly inconsistent, few received follow-up contact from investigators and none resulted in prosecution.

This year, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs called the violence against Native women a human rights "crisis" and legal access for Natives in the US as an "unworkable and discriminatory race-based system". 

A letter from the US Department of Justice, written by US Attorney Deborah R. Gilg, underscored the UN statement: 

"Domestic violence, which includes assault, manslaughter, and murder, is so pervasive, intrusive, demoralizing and destructive to the fabric of our Native American communities, that it is one of our most challenging human rights issues. It is the right of every Native American woman to be free of fear, to be free of violence and to be free of ever having to be a victim."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

GLOW Ever After

A message from one of our supporters at Arete

A heart felt thanks to all of the volunteer counselors, Peace Corps workers, American volunteers from WCSU and especially the campers who made Leadership Academy GLOW so spectacular this year in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. A special thanks to Johanna, a Peace Corps volunteer working with Roma integration in the schools, for the video.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Volunteers GLOWing in Bulgaria

Leadership Academy GLOW counselors, from 2011

In a leadership session this morning with Leadership Academy GLOW (girls leading our world), I learned that a good leader is one who inspires others to accomplish a goal. I guess I’m a good leader!
In June, 2013, the Peace Corps will leave Bulgaria and no longer participate in the GLOW program, which they founded in 2000 to teach adolescent girls about good communication, leadership,  and health. Last summer, after learning about their departure, I had the idea to bring American volunteers from WCSU to replace the Peace Corps volunteers. Along with Dr. Darla Shaw and two students from WCSU, Thea Tragni and Rafael Bastos, and three current Peace Corps volunteers, I am outside of Veliko Tarnovo at Leadership Academy GLOW with 80 girls from across Bulgaria.

The campers  range in age from 14 to 18 years-old. This year was particularly competitive, as 120 girls completed applications for just 50 positions. Along with approximately 20 counselors and assistant counselors and project leaders, we began our stay with three days of training before the campers arrived. We are now halfway through the first day of our first week of camp.

The days are long, but fun is emphasized along with learning. The day begins with a 15 minute ‘energizer’ (outdoor games that help the girls bond) and there are lots of hands-on activities and role playing opportunities (anyone for building s straw tower with a blind-folded 'construction engineer?). There is also fun stuff that encourages the girls to get to know each other. For example, today we ate lunch with our wrists tied to the person on either side of us. Each day too and evening there is a theme. Today, we all wore something red and tonight there is a Hawaian Night and Beach Party (without the beach!).

Actually, only the first part of my goal was accomplished! When we return to the US, our group has plans to write grants, fund raise and recruit volunteers for next year. Well, I already have a list of volunteers for next year, so that part is under way.

I will continue to write updates about our GLOWing adventures. You can follow the GLOW girls on Facebook and visit their web site at Leadership Academy GLOW.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is Straight Innate?

From the Atlantic, Are Straight People Born that Way? This article makes a good companion piece to Beyond Sports: summer camp for gender variant children from the New York Times.  Both examine behavioral clues children exhibit and try to consider the correlation with adult sexual orientation and gender expression. Both articles too, give evidence of the impact of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) on adult females. From the Atlantic:

In other words, do children give us clues about whether they're going to ultimately be sexually attracted to males, females, or both? To a certain extent, yes. That's why plenty of gay and lesbian adults can point to childhood clues that they were "born this way." Most straight people could do the same, although typically no one asks straights when they knew they were straight. Behavioral patterns in childhood do show some correlation with adult sexual orientation.

Vilain points, for example, to the evidence from girls born with a disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), including that gathered by the University of Cambridge psychologist Melissa Hines. CAH results in naturally increased levels of androgens (a "masculinizing" type of hormone), and females with CAH show relatively high early interest in male-typical childhood activities as well as relatively high rates of bisexuality and lesbianism as adults.

Many of the points articulated in the Atlantic piece have been addressed here in earlier posts. Regardless, in the argument of nature vs. nurture in terms of gender expression, there does not appear to be a hard line dividing the two.

For more information read:

Gender and the Company We Keep

Designer's Choice: Transexual Models

In Malaysia: Social and Legal Claims on Gender

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Beyond Sports: summer camp for gender variant children

The New York Times just published an article on a summer camp for gender variant children: boys and girls who sometimes or always want to dress like the oppisite sex. I've written a lot about gender issues here, and this article is a good contemporary take on how parent's struggle with making the correct decisions for their children, one's that let their kids be themselves yet may put them in harm's way, vis-a-vis bullying and rejection. 

While it is OK for girls to be 'tom boys' when young, boys who want to wear pink face obstacles. For example, the piece begins with a story about Alex:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).” They explained that Alex had recently become inconsolable about his parents’ ban on wearing dresses beyond dress-up time. After consulting their pediatrician, a psychologist and parents of other gender-nonconforming children, they concluded that “the important thing was to teach him not to be ashamed of who he feels he is.” Thus, the purple-pink-and-yellow-striped dress he would be wearing that next morning. For good measure, their e-mail included a link to information on gender-variant children.

The article is acconpanied by a photo essay, including a fashio show.  For the complete article, click here. Also check out, Pink is for Boys.

Friday, June 22, 2012

To Reduce HIV, Circumcision and Solidarity in Zimbabwe

A research study in Africa showed that circumcision for males can cut their risk of AIDS in half.  At the time of the study, the New York Times reported:

The two trials were carried out among nearly 3,000 men in Kisumu, Kenya, and nearly 5,000 men in Rakai, Uganda. None were infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS; they were divided into circumcised and uncircumcised groups. They were given safe sex advice — although many presumably did not take it — and retested regularly. 

The trials were stopped by the National Institutes of Health’s Data Safety and Monitoring Board this week after data showed that the Kenyan men had a 53 percent reduction in new H.I.V. cases and the Ugandan men a 48 percent reduction.

Today, we see the results of this study put into action to save lives. First, MPs in Zimbabwe underwent testing recently for HIV.  Now, MPs in Zimbabwe are getting circumcised as part of a campaign to reduce HIV. About 120 officials expressed interest and a make-shift clinic was set up in Parliament House, Harare, to perform the procedure. By midday, four had had the surgery with more expected, including possibly President Robert Mugabe.

In Zimbabwe, more than a million people are HIV positive. Given the same scenario, I wonder how many other politicians in other countries - particularly in the West - would do the same. That is, would they support better health for their citizens by personally participating in a body altering procedure to promote health and reduce the spread of a deadly disease? 
See the full article below or click here.

Zimbabwe's MPs to be circumcised in bid to fight HIV

A group of Zimbabwean MPs is getting circumcised as part of a campaign to reduce HIV and Aids cases. A small makeshift clinic for carrying out the procedures was erected in Parliament House in the capital Harare.

Blessing Chebundo, chairman of Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against Aids, said his main objective was to inspire other citizens to follow suit. Research by the UN has suggested the risk of HIV infection is lower among men who have been circumcised. More than a million people in Zimbabwe are believed to be HIV-positive, with about 500,000 receiving anti-retroviral treatment.

Mr Chebundo said more than 120 MPs and parliamentary staff had shown an interest in the circumcision programme. The BBC's Brian Hungwe, in Harare says that by 12:00 local time (10:00GMT), four had had the procedure performed, with more expected later. There was a possibility that some members of the executive may also attend, including President Robert Mugabe, he added.

The circumcision programme had attracted a lot of attention in Zimbabwe, and had divided opinion, our correspondent said. The issue was raised in parliament in September 2011, when Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe made a plea to her fellow politicians. At the time, many MPs shunned the idea. As well as a clinic in parliament, the initiative has seen a tent set up across the road from parliament, where counselling sessions will be held.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Child Labor

Every semester I ask my class to define childhood. What do children DO? What is their 'job'? The response: they play, they go to school, they are taken care of by their parents. Around the world are other children whose childhood is defined by hard labor. Whose 'job' it is to help provide for the family's welfare. Their education and health is not a top priority - for anyone.

June 12 was Child Labor Day. Here are images from Reuters showing us what that means.
Mithun, 11, poses for a photo at a laterite brick mine in Ratnagiri district, about 360km (224 miles) south of Mumbai, April 14, 2011. He is paid two Indian rupees ($0.04) per brick and carries an average of 100 bricks out of the mine per day. Each brick costs between 10-14 rupees ($0.22-$0.31), and weighs around 40 kg.
REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Josue Alexander Chavez, 9 years old, uses a hammer to break stones as he works near the road to Mazatenango, about 165 km (102 miles) north of Guatemala City, June 11, 2012, ahead of World Day Against Child Labor. Chavez works with his parents, breaking stones for the construction of houses. He works from 7am-5pm and makes 20 quetzales ($2.50) per day.
REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
Josue Alexander Chavez, 9 years old, carries a hammer as his father Mario Chavez gathers stones near the road to Mazatenango, about 165 km (102 miles) north of Guatemala City, June 11, 2012.
REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
Josue Alexander Chavez, 9 years old, uses a hammer to break stones as he works near the road to Mazatenango, about 165 km (102 miles) north of Guatemala City, June 11, 2012.
REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
A girl covers her face near the road to Mazatenango, where she fills holes in the road with earth in exchange for money, about 165 km (102 miles) north of Guatemala City, June 11, 2012.
REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
A boy yawns as he waits for customers at his roadside apple stall in Kabul August 6, 2008.
REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Seven year old Wasim works in a bakery workshop on outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 10, 2012.
REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
Naser, 7, works at a metal workshop which makes propellers for ships at a ship-building yard next to Buriganga River in Dhaka, January 8, 2012.
REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
A boy works in a traditional factory producing coal about 30 km south of the city of Taiz, Yemen, December 12, 2011.
REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
Waste collector Dinesh Mukherjee, 11, uses a magnet attached to a wooden stick to collect pieces of loose metal at the Ghazipur landfill in New Delhi November 10, 2011.
REUTERS/Atish Patel
Twelve-year-old Nepalese, Sirjan Rai, rests on the mountain footpath while carrying goods towards Dingboche, Nepal, April 30, 2011. Earning approximately 3000 Rupees ($66) per month, Sirjan helps works as a porter to help provide for his family in Pangboche.
REUTERS/Laurence Tan
Boys pan for gold on a riverside at Iga Barriere, 25 km (15 miles) from Bunia, in the resource-rich Ituri region of eastern Congo February 16, 2009.
REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
A boy tries to sell a hand made hat to tourists at a public beach in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, April 10, 2011.
REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
An Indian child laborer arranges bricks at a brick factory in Tharvai village, about 35 km (22 miles) from the northern Indian city of Allahabad, February 21, 2006.
REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash
A child worker picks coffee beans from coffee plants at a plantation in El Paraiso, Honduras, February 4, 2011.
REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Child laborers sit on their wheelbarrows while waiting for work at a local market early in the morning in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 19, 2011.
REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
Riffat, 8, splashes water on his face as he works at a vehicle spare parts store in Dholaikhal, Dhaka February 29, 2012.
REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
Simon, 12, holds a light to assist his supervisor working on a motorcycle engine at a workshop in Islamabad January 31, 2011. Simon earns 20 Pakistani Rupees ($0.22) a day working as a helper at the workshop.
REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood
Czoton, 7, works at a balloon factory on the outskirts of Dhaka November 23, 2009. About 20 children are employed at the factory and most of them work for 12 hours a day. The weekly wage is 150 taka ($2.14) for the children.
REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
Tota Miya, 10, shows his hands after preparing soil to make bricks in a brick field on the outskirts of Dhaka November 21, 2009.
REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
A boy poses as he stands in front of a shop selling scraps in the old quarters of Delhi May 12, 2011.
REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
An illegal immigrant boy from Myanmar collects plastic at a rubbish dump site near Mae Sot December 22, 2009. Despite terrible living conditions and the fear of being sent back to their country, several hundred illegal immigrants from Myanmar live and earn an average of $1 per day collecting plastic at the rubbish dump near the border town of Mae Sot.
REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Children working as rag pickers search for scrap at a garbage dump in the northeastern Indian city of Siliguri November 14, 2008.
REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
A boy carries rubbish for recycling outside Kabul December 15, 2010. About 1.2 million Afghan children carry out part or full time work, the government says, in a country where war, poverty, widespread unemployment and a preference for large families have created a huge underage labor market.
REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
A boy works at a brick-making factory outside Kabul July 15, 2010. Laborers, most of whom work barefoot and without gloves, earn from $3 to $8 a day depending on their working hours and the number of bricks they make.
REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
Afghan boy Abdul Wahab works in a blacksmith's shop in Kabul December 14, 2010.
REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan boy Abdul Wahab rests after work in a blacksmith's shop in Kabul December 14, 2010.
REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Siddiqullah,12, carries a basket of potatoes to nearby vegetable and fruit vendors in Karachi September 27, 2009.
REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
A cobbler walks in a closed market during a partial strike called by traders against power cuts in Lahore March 31, 2012.
REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
Ahsan, 12, stands looking over an oven at a brick yard in the outskirts of Islamabad November 23, 2010. Ahsan works with his family members at the brick yard and earns about 300 Pakistan Rupees ($3.5) per day.
REUTERS/Mian Khursheed