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February 08 2014

A Video That Made 50 Schools Safe

Video Volunteers Community Correspondent Amit Topno from Torpa Block, Jharkhand talks about making a video that brought about a positive change that had potentially saved the lives of 5000 people across 35 villages in his state. When his video explaining the problem of lightning strikes and the inaction of the authorities was screened to villagers, journalists and local government officials, the rest was easy. They pressurized to secure permissions to install lightning conductors in 50 schools across Torpa Block.

February 07 2014

Pakistani Superhero Ms. Marvel

It's a comic book. And yet, while I did a lot of laughing [it's got a lot of funny moments] I also couldn't stop the tears. Because I was so happy to see a version of myself reflected before me, not sensationalized or stereotyped.

Blogger Aisha Saeed posts a review of the Pakistani American comic hero Ms. Marvel, who was featured in the latest book of Marvel Comics.

The French Expatriate Perspective on France's Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

Total of french citizens abroad as compiled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry - Public Domain

Total of French citizens abroad by continent as compiled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry – Public Domain

The immigration debate has increasingly polarized public opinion in France over the past few years. The rise of the far right, such as the National Front party, in recent elections catalyzed an anti-immigration rhetoric that seems to permeate into the more moderate conservative parties. The most notorious stories involved the “pain au chocolat” [fr] (chocolate croissants) affair, in which the leader of the opposition JF Copé stated that he was distraught knowing that children in some districts get harassed by Muslim youngsters [fr] for eating chocolate croissants during Ramadan.

The push for more restrictive immigration policies that would limit unqualified (without high school diploma) candidates to migrate to France has found echoes [fr] in the current progressive government. In fact, a book published by philosopher Alain Finkelkraut called “L'idendité malheureuse” (The Unhappy Identity) attempts to justify imposing more strict regulations on immigration in order to protect the French identity [fr]:

Les autochtones ont perdu le statut de référent culturel qui était le leur dans les périodes précédentes de l’immigration. Ils ne sont plus prescripteurs. Quand ils voient se multiplier les conversions à l’islam, ils se demandent où ils habitent. Ils n’ont pas bougé, mais tout a changé autour d’eux. […] Plus l’immigration augmente et plus le territoire se fragmente.

The “original” French people have lost the status of cultural reference, a status they held in earlier periods of immigration. They are no longer the normative reference. When they see increased conversions to Islam, they wonder where they live. They have not moved, yet everything has changed around them. [...] The more immigration increases, the more the nation becomes fragmented.

Frederic Martel, director of IRIS, a research institute on international relations, explains why Finkelkraut's discourse is misguided [fr]: 

 Il y a, c’est certain, une forte anxiété dans la France d’aujourd’hui. Mais pourquoi caricaturer tous les «étrangers» comme s’ils ne voulaient ni s’intégrer ni accepter le passé de la France? Que sait-il des Français de deuxième et troisième génération? De leur langue, de leur culture? De l’énergie créatrice des quartiers? [...] L’identité française, pourtant, n’est pas malheureuse. Elle bouge, elle change, elle se cherche, elle fait des allers-retours avec son passé. Et tous ceux qui pensent qu’exalter «l’identité nationale» permettrait de sortir des difficultés sociales et économiques que nous traversons se trompent.

There is certainly a lot of anxiety in France today. But why caricature all foreigners as if they do not want to fit in nor accept the history of France? What does [Finkelkraut] know of France's second and third generation of immigrants? Their language and their culture? The creative energy they bring to their neighborhoods? [...] The French identity is not an unhappy one.”It moves, it changes, it goes forward, backward towards the past, then forward again. Anyone who thinks that exalting  ”national identity” would solve our social and economic challenges is just kidding themselves.

The natural counterpoint to the rising anti-immigration policies is the fact that there is a rising number of French citizens who have chosen to live abroad. Christian Lemaitre from think tank Français-Etranger (French Abroad) points out that the total number of French citizens outside of France is quite important and might be larger [fr] than the official total shared by the French Foreign Affairs Department: 

En dix ans, la population française établie hors des frontières se serait accrue de 40% soit une augmentation de 3 à 4% par an et un total de plus de 2 millions de Français installés à l'étranger. Estimation seulement car l'inscription au registre mondial n'est pas obligatoire. Le think tank francais-etranger.org pense que ce chiffre serait beaucoup plus proche de 3 milions. Pourquoi sont-ils partis ? 65% des expatriés affirment rechercher une nouvelle expérience professionnelle et près du tiers, une augmentation de revenus. Le désir de découvrir un nouveau pays est évoqué devant les motivations professionnelles ou linguistiques.

In ten years, the French population abroad have seen an increase of 40 percent, an increase of 3 to 4 percent per year, and a total of more than two million French now live abroad. This is only an estimate because sign up in the consulate's register is not mandatory. The think tank French-etranger.org thinks that number would be much closer to three million people. Why have they left France? 65 percent of expatriates say that they were looking for new work experience and nearly a third of them wanted a better income. The desire to discover a new country is also mentioned first, before any professional or linguistic motivations.

Indeed, the viewpoint on immigration differs when seen from French citizens outside France. 

In fact, despite the popular belief that French citizens living abroad were mostly conservatives, their votes have increasingly leaned towards the left in the past decade. Cécile Dehesdin [fr] explains:

Depuis 1981, elle a gagné plus de vingt points chez les Français de l'étranger, et l'écart avec son score national y était de moins d'un point en 2007 (46,01% contre 46,94%)  

Since 1981, [the left] has won more than 20 points in French from abroad voting and the gap with the national score there was less than one point in 2007 (46.01 percent against 46.94 percent). 

Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, an analyst, adds [fr]:

C’est un public qui est plutôt au centre-droit qu’à droite et pas du tout à l’extrême-droite, plutôt droite humaniste que Droite populaire, et l’écart avec la gauche est de moins en moins important

This is a voting group that is more center-right and right, but not attracted at all to far-right views; it is rather leaning towards progressive right than radical right, and the gap with the left has become less and less important

Additionally, the experience of living abroad seem to have given many French citizens a different perspective. Etoile66, in Toronto, opines [fr]:

Ma France pourrait regarder vers ces pays où les habitants parlent plusieurs langues sans aucun problème et circulent à l'aise dans le monde, alors qu'elle a dressé ses habitants à avoir peur de ce qu'ils appellent la “mondialisation”. La peur ressentie pas bon nombre de mes compatriotes devant “l'étranger” en général et la “mondialisation” en particulier, ne serait plus s'ils avaient confiance en eux. Celui qui a confiance n'a pas peur de l'autre ni de l'étranger, ni du monde, bien au contraire, il échange dans le respect mutuel. 

The France I want to see should look to those countries where people speak different languages ​​without any problems and move at ease in the world. So far, France has only taught its people to be afraid of what they call “globalization”. The fear felt by many of my countrymen of “foreigners” in general and “globalization” in particular, would vanish if they had confidence in themselves. People who have self-confidence do not fear the “other”, “foreigners”, nor the world. On the contrary, they interact with them with mutual respect.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 06 2014

Moscow School Shooting: Firsthand Accounts and Mistaken Identities

PioneerBarrels

Tragedy struck a Moscow school Monday morning when a straight-A student brought two hunting rifles to class and killed his geography teacher, also shooting two police officers that tried to apprehend him (one of them later died). As is often the case in the modern era, some of the tragic story played out online.

One girl, who attends the same school, wrote a post [ru] on the social network VKontakte about what happened:

Сегодня в моей школе было вооруженное нападение, утроенное одним из учеников 10 класса. Убит учитель географии – Кирилов Андрей Николаевич (светлая память !!) [...] У Андрея Николаевича 5-ти летний сын. Мне бы безумно хотелось, что бы эта ПАДЛА оказался на месте сына учителя. Имя террориста – Гордеев Сергей. Предположительная причина – 4 в четверти по географии. Парень шел на золотую медаль. Теперь парень пойдет в тюрьму.

Today there was an armed attack at my school, perpetrated by one of the 10th grade students. The geography teacher has been killed – Andrey Nikolaevich Kirillov (bless him !!) [...] Andrey Nikolaevich has a 5 year old son. I really want that ASSHOLE do end up in the place of the teacher's son. The name of the terrorist is Sergey Gordeev. Suspected reason – a B in geography last quarter. The guy was aiming for a gold medal [valedictorian - A.T.]. Now the guy will go to jail.

Another girl, who apparently goes to a nearby school posted an Instagram selfie [ru] (later deleted) of students making faces at the camera, commenting: “f*ck.” Later that day an alleged first-hand account by one of Gordeev's classmates was was published [ru] by former Kremlin PR guru Gleb Pavlovsky on his Facebook page. The source is anonymous, and gives gory details of the murder:

Вдруг кто-то стучиться в дверь.[...] Появляется лицо Гордеева. [...] Андрей Николаевич не успел ничего сказать, как Серёга стрельнул ему в лицо. Андрей Николаевич сделал пару оборотов, сбил у художника с парты вещи и упал на пол, хлестая кровью. [...] Серёга говорит:”А теперь вопрос на оценку, почему он ещё не сдох? Я же его убил” Потом говорит:”всем два балла” и стреляет ещё пару раз в Андрея Николаевича.

Someone knocked on the door. [...] Gordeev's face appeared. [...] Andrey Nikolaevich didn't have time to say anything, Sergey shot him in the face. Andrey Nikolaevich turned a few times, knocked some art materials from the desk and fell to the floor, bleeding. Sergey said: “And now a question for a grade, why isn't he dead? I killed him” Then he says: “everyone gets a D” and shoots Andrey Nikolaevich a couple more times.

According to this student, Gordeev then took the class hostage and started talking to them about his life and his belief in god. When his mother called, he talked to her, calling himself a “psycho” and saying that he wanted to die. Later, Gordeev's father showed up, and after some negotiation managed to disarm him and free the students.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student - we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students. Anonymous image found online.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: “The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student – we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students.” Anonymous image found online.

Later it became known that Gordeev's father is an officer in Russia's security forces, a fact that was pounced on by opposition bloggers. Alexey Navalny tweeted [ru] that this probably meant that the beat policeman didn't check Gordeev-elder's gun permits and storage safes. Other bloggers referred [ru] to the shooter as the “son of an FSB agent” or “son of a secret policeman,” and jokingly wondered [ru] if this mean the parliament would ban security officers from owning personal weapons. At the same time, yet more [ru] bloggers [ru] wondered [ru] why no one is mentioning the fact that the father is allegedly affiliated with the security apparatus. This led Sultan Suleymanov, an editor at Tjournal (a tweet aggregator), to sarcastically tweet:

Whew, good thing that the student's father turned out to be an FSB agent. Before that people didn't know what to hate him for — he wasn't a migrant, a nationalist, or gay

A case of mistaken identity caused some of that hate to be wrongly aimed at a different Sergey Gordeev, for a time. Journalist, blogger, and notorious internet troll, Maxim Kononenko (f.k.a. mrparker) found a VKontakte photo [ru] of a Sergey Gordeev which he posted on Facebook and tweeted. He caveated the photo, saying it was “preliminary.” Other twitter users, and later mainstream Russian media, picked it up [ru] without fact checking and ran it in publications (likely illegally because the individual is a minor). The Gordeev in question later posted a picture of himself holding a newspaper [ru] with his face on the front page, as a way to prove that he wasn't the guy. He wrote:

Ребят, вы извините дурачки 1) Я Сергей Гордеев это правда!!!!!! 2)Я не стрелял не кого (просто ошиблись, тоесть ТВ врет) 3)Если это был я я бы сейчас не фотался с газеткой!!!(Кстати сегодня был в “Комсомолькой правде” Там все прихуели когда меня увидели…….)

Guys, sorry but you are idiots 1) I am Sergey Gordeev, that's true!!!!! 2) I didn't shoot anyone (it's just a mistake, the TV is lying) 3) If it was me I wouldn't be taking photos with a newspaper right now!!!(By the way, I was at Komsomolskaya Pravda [newspaper] today, they all sh*t their pants when they saw me……)

Kononenko later apologized [ru] for his faux pas, reiterating, however, that he wasn't the one to publish the photo in mass media.

“I was so brutal because of computer games” says Stalin. Anonymous image found online.

Meanwhile, Russian members of parliament, eager as ever for something to blame, blamed [ru] guns, violent movies, video games, and American influence. RuNet funny man, poet and journalist Ivan Davydov tweeted in response:

The MPs are thinking small. To avoid school shootings, you shouldn't ban guns, you should ban schools  

February 05 2014

Youth Orchestra ‘Jafraa’ a Bright Spot in War-Torn Syria

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Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

Shakespeare once said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” But what if this “food of love” risks the player's life? This is case for the young musicians who make up the Jafraa orchestra at the Palestinian returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Led by music teacher and children's coach Amer Shanati, the band counts 45 to 55 children from ages seven to 17 years. Though music is often described as the language of the world, it pays a heavy price in war-torn Syria to survive. Most of their “relatively expensive” instruments are either borrowed or donated due to the poverty of the residents of the camp. Their music is a welcome distraction from the noise of bombardment and fighting that takes place outside besieged Homs.

Jafraa is 100 per cent dependent on social media to broadcast their performances as Syria lacks any kind of public musical activities since the government prohibited musical productions at the provincial and state levels. Shanati mainly uses Jafraa.Music on YouTube and Jafraa.homs on Facebook to post the band's work and to show the world that beyond the horror in Syria, there are still talented people who deserve not to be forgotten in the chaos. 

In the few emails that I exchanged with Shanati, he expressed his enthusiasm and pride for Jafraa, which performs “committed art”, a term that in Syria means the music of classic singers and musicians who enriched the Arab world's musical culture for generations, like Mohamed Abdel WahabFairuzUmm Kulthum, and Wadih El Safi, among many others. These young players are making magnificent efforts to underscore their talent by playing the 1969 classic song by Um Kulthum “Alf Leila wa Leila” (One Thousand and One Nights):

Shanati introduces the band on Facebook page as follows [ar]:

فرقة_جفرا_للفن_الملتزم فرقة موسيقية غير تابعة أو مموّلة من أي جهة حكومية أو مؤسسة من مؤسسات المجتمع المدني أو جمعية
أو مشروع على اختلاف انتماءاتهم..
فرقة جفرا أُسّستْ منذ عام 2007 بجهودٍ ذاتية متواضعة لتغني اللحن والفن الأصيل
تتألف من مجموعة كبيرة من الأطفال و الشباب يقوم الأستاذ “عـــــامر شناتي” بتدريبهم في غرفة صغيرة في مخيم العائدين/حمص/سوريا.

ولكل من هؤلاء الأطفال حلمه في الحياة العملية سيجتهد ويدرس لتحقيقه , ولكن ستبقى جفرا هي ركنهم الدافئ والخاص يحلقّون مـن خلاله في فضاء اللحن الأصيل والكلمة الملتزمة لينثروا عبرهما معاني الحب والسلام والجمال لكل من حولهم ..

وعليه تقبل فرقة جفرا للفن الملتزم فقط تبرعات و إحياء حفلات برعاية أشخاص أو مؤسسات لغايات إنسانية و ثقافية أخلاقية بحته
دون أي شــــــــروط تُفرض على الفرقة …

The Jafraa band of “committed art” is an orchestra which is not affiliated nor funded by any party, civil community institution, association or any other project.

The Jafraa band was established in 2007 with modest intentions to perform melodies and original art. It consists of a large group of children and young people led by Amer Shanati, a music teacher who trains them in a small room in the returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Each of these children has a dream for his future; however, Jafraa will remain their warm and private corner from which they fly into space, with melody and committed music to spread the meaning of love, peace and beauty around them.

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Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

The Jafraa band accepts only donations and concerts sponsored by people or institutions for humanitarian and cultural purposes, purely without any conditions imposed on the band.

The band takes its name from a famous poem about a pretty young Palestinian girl named Jafraa (or Jafra) who captured a poet's heart. Despite uncertainty around the story, generations considered Jafraa an icon of beauty and love in the Palestinian culture from which Shanati and many of his little heroes are descended. 

Answering a few questions about how Jafraa is operating, Shanati responded modestly:

I use social media to ease the delivery of the voice of children to the world where is no media coverage exist in our neighborhood. Our followers reactions are significant, give us hope and we feel happy to know that they are waiting every new video we upload.

Nevertheless financial aid is very tiny, but it is important, even though I know the reason of material lack and extreme poverty. We are still looking for more funds so that we can own our musical and audio equipment and become more independent with a spacious room to accommodate a larger number of children. We are suffering from the slow Internet connections and power outages which complicate our communications and hamper our future plans; however, we aim to continue despite the difficulties.

Our work is a message to show that we insist on living our lives, although it seems impossible, and despite the restricted potential for growth we need to show to the world our talents to help us grow instead of being defeated.

I dream of developing this band to a higher level of fine musicians and of finding more talent to help the children overcome the recent crisis that has affected them psychologically.

Back to Shakespeare's quote: “If music be the food of love, play on / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting / The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

It's doubtful that he was talking about physical death. I wish all talent of the world better circumstances than those of the little Syrians in the Jafraa band, who give hope, a tiny light at the end of Syria's dark bloody tunnel.

February 04 2014

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

February 03 2014

Four short links: 3 February 2014

  1. How In-App Purchases Has Destroyed the Games Industry — fantastic before-and-after of a game, showing how it’s hollowed out for in-app-purchase upsell. the problem is that all the future generations of gamers are going to experience this as the default. They are going to grow up in a world, in which people actually think this is what gaming is like. That social engineering and scamming people is an acceptable way of doing business.
  2. Making Makers — kid-tested curricula for kids learning to code, to 3D print, stop motion animation, and more. (via BoingBoing)
  3. 555 Footstool in the Wild — awesome furniture in the shape of the ever-popular timing chip.
  4. What a Brand Knows About You When You Log In With Facebook (Twitter) — good lord. (via BoingBoing)

January 31 2014

Teaching of “Religion and Morality” In Bangladesh Schools

Blogger Bhaskar comments in Mukto Mona Blog about the newly introduced subject ‘religion and morality’ in school curricula of Bangladesh:

In Bangladesh, teaching of ‘religion and morality’ in secular schools, we are talking about, is an extension of Maktab, Madrasa [Muslim religious schools] and dictatorial position held by Ulema in Bangladeshi Muslim society.

January 30 2014

Four short links: 30 January 2014

  1. $200k of Spaceships Destroyed (The Verge) — More than 2,200 of the game’s players, members of EVE’s largest alliances, came together to shoot each other out of the sky. The resultant damage was valued at more than $200,000 of real-world money. [...] Already, the battle has had an impact on the economics and politics of EVE’s universe: as both side scramble to rearm and rebuild, the price of in-game resource tritanium is starting to rise. “This sort of conflict,” Coker said, “is what science fiction warned us about.”
  2. Google Now Has an AI Ethics Committee (HufPo) — sorry for the HufPo link. One of the requirements of the DeepMind acquisition was that Google agreed to create an AI safety and ethics review board to ensure this technology is developed safely. Page’s First Law of Robotics: A robot may not block an advertisement, nor through inaction, allow an advertisement to come to harm.
  3. Academic Torrentsa scalable, secure, and fault-tolerant repository for data, with blazing fast download speeds built on BitTorrent.
  4. Hack Schools Meet California Regulators (Venturebeat) — turns out vocational training is a regulated profession. Regulation meets disruption, annihilate in burst of press releases.

January 29 2014

Samsung Withdraws Controversial University Quota Policy in South Korea

Image of Info Session/Recruitment Scene

A recruitment and information session in South Korea for Samsung. Uploaded by Flickr User Samsungtomorrow (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

South Korea isn't notoriously nicknamed “The Republic of Samsung” for nothing. 

Amid harsh criticism, Samsung has withdrawn a new hiring policy [ko] that would have allowed applicants recommended by their university's presidents to skip ahead in the recruiting process. The change would have also put a cap on the number of students from each university using that recommendation.

Although the recommendation does not guarantee a position in Samsung, it gives a significant head start by allowing students to skip the résumé screening process – a big deal in a country where Samsung, one of the most coveted employers, receives several hundred thousand applications each year. There is even a market for books and costly crash courses [ko] on how to get high scores on Samsung's standard exam. 

Pointing out the quota was given disproportionately against [ko] women and colleges in certain provinces, net users on Samsung's home turf lashed out not only at the corporation, but also at universities, which were either elated or depressed by the quota dictated to them by Samsung. Two tweets below may best reflect one of the most frequently seen reactions from South Korea's Twittersphere about the Samsung's university quota:

The company are now acting as if they were the university's overlord and can do such an arrogant thing like “setting a quota for a university”. This shows that a monopolistic economic system has formed, prevailed and held a tight grip on our society. Additionally, it also reflects that hope is scarce in our current situation.

The moment that universities accept Samsung's proposal, the universities are no longer the place for academia, but they will have become a docile supplier manufacturing disposable goods for the company. 

Sports as a Vector of Peace in Burkina Faso

The National Department of Sports and Entertainment in Burkina Faso published a report on the role of sports as a vector of peace and development in Burkina Faso [PDF in fr]:

Les programmes sportifs bien conçus renforcent les capacités humaines de base, créent des relations interpersonnelles et inculquent des valeurs fondamentales et des aptitudes à la vie pratique. Ils constituent un précieux outil de promotion du développement et de renforcement de la cohésion sociale. Collectivement, les avantages de ces programmes constituent un puissant moyen pour combattre l’exclusion sociale.

Sports programs that are well-designed can strengthen human capabilities, they create human bonds and instill core values ​​and skills needed to face daily life. They are a valuable tool to promote development and strengthen social cohesion. Collectively, these programs are a powerful tool to combat social exclusion.

Coursera Online Courses Blocked in Syria, Iran and Cuba by US Sanctions

Hit by US Sanctions, online learning platform Coursera is no longer available for students from Syria, Iran and Cuba. Those effected were surprised to have the following message on their screen as they tried to access their courses:

“Our system indicates that you are trying to access the Coursera site from an IP address associated with a country currently subjected to US economic and trade sanctions. In order for Coursera to comply with US export controls, we cannot allow you to access to the site.”

Iranian student Navid Soltani immediately expressed his outrage on Coursera's Facebook page:

2014-01-29 01_41_59-Navid Soltani - Photos of Coursera

Blogger Leila Nachawati shared his sentiments:

Syrian blogger and developer Anas Maarawi criticized the US sanctions on his blog [ar]:

وبين مطرقة النظام السوري الذي يحجب مئات مواقع الإنترنت، وسندان “العقوبات الأمريكية” يزداد الخناق على الشباب السوري الراغب بالتعلّم، أو بالأحرى من تبقى من الشباب السوري القادر على الوصول إلى ما تبقى من الإنترنت في سوريا.

“Between the censorship imposed by the regime, which includes blocking hundreds of internet sites, and the effect of US sanctions, it has become nearly impossible for the remaining youth in the country to have access to online learning.”

Editor-in-chief at Wamda Nina Curley was more pragmatic in her approach and asked if it was inevitable:

However, one of Coursera's professors, Rolf Strom Olsen, couldn't understand why non-Americans are affected as well:

January 28 2014

Colors from the Zaatari Refugee Camp

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

The impact of the escalation of violation in Syria on a whole generation of children has become a priority for many Syrian activists and organizations. Colors from the Zaatari Camp is one of the many initiatives focusing on the future of Syria by trying to improve the life conditions of refugee and displaced children.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp Facebook page.

 

The Zaatari camp, located on the Syrian-Jordanian border, is the largest Syrian refugee camp, hosting more than 100,000 refugees, many of them children. According to Dima al-Malakeh, who works for the Dubai-based association For Syria:

“We chose Zaatari for this project because it is a place where many Syrians live together now, one where we can start working together in the field of schools and education.”

She added:

The Colors of Zaatari project throws light at the work of children to highlight their voices, their talents and their dreams, in an attempt to reach out to international organizations and institutions so that they can help them go back to school. Going back to school is what the children dream of, and so do we.

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp Facebook page

 

The idea was born after activist Mahmoud Sadaka saw a number of drawings that children living in the camp had made. “The drawings were beautiful, powerful and revealing, and I thought it was a shame that they stayed in the camp and no one else could see them”, he explained to Syria Untold. 

In coordination with For Syria and other Syrian journalists and activists such as Milia Aidamouni, they decided to highlight Syrian talent through these children’s creations. They collected the best works and organized their first exhibition in Amman on January 16-17, 2013. A total of 60 art pieces, properly framed with the help of artist Lina Mohamid, were exhibited.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

INNOVATION: Containers as Student Housing at European Universities

“Containers” at DTU Campus Village in Kongens Lyngby, Denmark via wikipedia CC-BY-SA-3.0

In order to alleviate the lack of student housing available across Europe, a few universities in Denmark, Germany, France (Le Havre) [fr] and Spain have tried to turn containers into student dorms. Containers appear to be the structure of choice because they are less costly and readily adaptable to include the necessary amenities. However, a few associations have already raised a few issues [fr] regarding thermal isolation and safety in the containers. 

Supporting the Rights of Malian Youth to Education

While Mali is trying to reunite in its large territory strained by a prolonged internal conflict between the north and the rest of the country, its young people are impatient to move forward to build Mali's future. My Rights, My Voice, Mali is a project led by Malian youth and supported by Oxfam to promote their rights to education and sexual and reproductive health.

Image from Facebook page for the My Rights, My Voice project. Used with permission.

Image from Facebook page for the My Rights, My Voice project. Used with permission.

The context

Although 80 percent of Mali’s children enrolled in primary school in 2010-11 school year, the system struggles to give them a quality education. Almost half abandon their schooling early, while many complete school without basic reading, writing and mathematical skills. The education system is also plagued by a lack of schools in rural areas, as well as shortages of teachers and materials.

High school students in Kati, Mali via wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

High school students in Kati, Mali via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Laya Diarra, a blogger for Afribone in Bamako explains that finishing primary school is often not enough to solve the literacy issue [fr]: 

Il a été constaté que les enfants qui terminaient le 1er Cycle de l’Enseignement Fondamental retombaient très vite dans l’illettrisme. Cet enseignement ne garantissait pas le minimum éducatif que le système se donnait comme objectif.

Statistics show that many children who completed primary school fell quickly back into illiteracy. This formation did not guarantee the minimum objectives that the educational system aims for.

Additionally, the gender gap in access to education is still a major subject of concern. In 2008, more than 80,000 students passed exams to enter secondary schools, yet around 17,000 — 40 percent of whom were girls — were denied placement in secondary schools. Marianne Opheim, an education researcher, explained that the gender gap is not as large as it may seem [fr]:

Tout en reconnaissant l'importance des facteurs particuliers au statut de la femme, je pense que la sous-scolarisation des filles est étroitement liée aux grands défis généraux de l'école malienne, tels que l'écart linguistique et culturel entre l'école et le foyer

While it is important to recognize the importance of specific factors linked to women status, I think the under-enrollment of girls in school is closely linked to the general challenges of the Malian school system, such as the linguistic and cultural gap between their school and their home.

Some solutions

Mali faces a shortage of teachers (only one per 100 pupils in some areas), poor teacher training, a lack of classroom materials and an outdated curriculum. Still, some schools are rising to the challenges, like the Mohamed Diallo Primary School. In the following French-language video, the director argues that despite many challenges, the school was able to meet its goals thanks to the dedication of the teachers:

The education authorities’ lack of accountability and transparency in financial management means legal standards are not upheld and policies such as the national girls’ education policy are not implemented.

Working with partners in Mali such as the Education for All coalition, My Rights, My Voice is advocating for an improved national curriculum, including life skills and sexual and reproductive health rights. They also train youth groups to monitor policy implementation so that they can hold the government accountable to its commitments to provide quality education for all Mali’s children and to promote girls’ schooling in particular. 

Calypso, Race & Political Allegiance in Trinidad & Tobago

The 2014 Carnival season in Trinidad and Tobago is heating up in more ways than one. The song “False Papers” by the calypsonian “Bodyguard” has been banned from the Kalypso Revue calypso tent by leader and veteran calypsonian Michael “Sugar Aloes” Osuana.

“Aloes” justified his move by explaining that he considered the lyrics to be offensive to Indians. Bodyguard, whose real name is Roger Mohammed, has countered that he was merely responding to a statement by head of the Maha Sabha, Satnarayan “Sat” Maharaj, that while “Africans were beating pans, Indians were beating books.”

Ironically, “Sugar Aloes” has, in the past, been a vocal supporter of the Peoples National Movement (PNM), one of the two major political parties in the country and traditionally voted for by Afro-Trinidadians; he publicly switched his allegiance to the People's Partnership in 2012 by appearing on a platform to serenade the Prime Minister, who heads the predominantly Indian-supported United National Congress (UNC), the main party in the coalition government. As a result, it has been suggested that his shift in political support is responsible for his decision to ban the calypso. Indeed, many have even pointed out that “Sugar Aloes” made a career out of singing acerbic, controversial songs – and that “False Papers” fell well within the tradition of social and political commentary in the calypso genre.

The first verse of “False Papers”, a song no doubt inspired by the increase in instances like this, goes:

It easy to say Sat will be Sat
And try to ignore people like dat
But Sat Maharaj controls a large group in society
So when he makes a definitive declaration
It carries a lot of clout
We feel he know what he talkin bout
But time has a way
Of recycling the tings we say
And holding them up against logic and reason
So when Sat say ‘Indian children beating book
While black children beating pan’
No cousin! Is better yuh didn’t say nuttin

The chorus follows:

‘Cause recently, one setta Indian people get caught
Wid false papers, false papers
I’m yet to see, one single African in the lot
And not one of them fraudsters ever face a court
So yuh theory have more holes than a water can
Like is better some ah dem Indian did beat a pan
When yuh feel dey was beating more book than the African
Dey was fabricating degrees, defrauding the land

Acclaimed calypsonian David Rudder had some fun with the situation:

There is a rumor coming through the African Fed Ex pipeline that claims that Sugar Aloes has declined the services of a Bodyguard. Hahahah! Is that true?
Ah mean,lol! I just had two.

Rudder continued with a parody of one of Sugar Aloes’ most famous songs:

I'M JUST BEING ME. (By Later Or Sooner)

I don't look like PNM, for your information
PNM doh look like me
So when come to survival,
I'm just being me

And I didn't get from PNM, for your information
Deh eh getting from me
So when come to survival, don't have no objection
I'm a UNC.

Kareen Stuart suggested that the song could inflame racial tensions:

This song, while the lyrics in it may point to truthful stories (fabrication of certificates), it can also lead to increased racial tension in Trinidad. If people are going to be concentrating on the lyrics of a song on its prejudiced approach as opposed to the melody, arrangement etc., the real message of the song will definitely be lost in a hoopla of controversy that will make…race…an even bigger issue

Wendy Howell felt that if calypsonians were to start pulling punches, it would damage the relevance of the art form:

By people not singing in calypso, what is actually occurring in the country would be to go against what calypso was created to convey. It highlights and pinpoints all that the citizens are experiencing and has (sic) to deal with daily. It gives them a voice that they would normally not have. To sing about only light stuff and not address the real issues that is (sic) eating away at the hearts of the ppl would be a terrible injustice to the artform that is our calypso.

Others, like Marla Dial Walker, condemned the song outright:

I do support culture; pan etc., but not Racisms’ (sic). And for those of you who commented on some of the songs that Sugar Aloes sang it’s all in the past. In this day and age we have no place for such behaviour. There is so much going on in Trinidad at this current time, why could he [Bodyguard] not sing a song about all the Killings, Rapes, and Druggies?

Bryan Dickson maintained that calypsos were meant to be provocative:

I thought the tent is where you go to hear the controversial, the smutty, political rhetoric, the hard facts. It is not where we look for the politically correct…we have enough censorship on the radio and elsewhere. Toughen up people!

Twitter was also rife with discussion:

@NotoriousDRE_H quipped, tongue firmly in cheek:

Stacy Raphael defended the freedom of the art form:

Finally, referring to one of the biggest calypso competitions in the country, which traditionally takes place in South Trinidad at the open air venue of Skinner's Park, and where the discerning and often tough audience often throws toilet paper at performers who don't meet their high standards, Jeffrey James pleaded:

January 26 2014

China Sentences Citizens’ Movement Icon Xu Zhiyong to Four Years in Prison

A number of petitioners expressed their support of Xu Zhiyong outside the Beijing court early this morning. Photo from Zhu Chengzhi's Twitter.

A number of people expressed their support for Xu Zhiyong outside a Beijing court early 26 January 2014. Photo from Zhu Chengzhi's Twitter.

Xu Zhiyong, a prominent Chinese citizens’ rights activist and an icon for the New Citizens’ Movement, was sentenced to four years in prison by a Beijing court on 26 January 2014 for disrupting public order related to two small demonstrations for equal education rights in 2012 and 2013.

His arrest and imprisonment is part of a crackdown by new Chinese Communist Party leadership under President Xi Jinping against political liberals who have been trying to advocate for constitutional reform to protect individual citizens’ rights. More political liberals will be put on trial in coming weeks. 

To defend himself against the political prosecution, Xu wrote a long court statement on 22 January to explain his political beliefs and practices, in particular related to the New Citizens’ Movement which has been a main target of suppression since early 2013.

Xu explained the spirit of New Citizens’ Movement in the opening of his statement:

新公民運動倡導每個中國人堂堂正正做公民,把公民身份當真。我們是公民,是國家的主人,不是臣民,順民,草民,暴民;把公民的權利當真,那些寫在《世界人權宣言》和中國憲法裡的選舉權、言論自由、信仰自由等神聖的權利不能永遠是一張白條;把公民的責任當真,中國是我們每個人的中國,良心正義的底線在我們每個人的腳下,電要我們每個人去堅守;新公民運動倡導自由,公義,愛的新公民精神。

The New Citizens’ Movement urges every Chinese to become an upright citizen, to believe in and enact their citizen identity. We are citizens and the masters of the country, we are not the empire's subjects, nor their obedient servants, nor the rights-deprived grassroots, nor rioters. We have to enact our citizen rights. Those sacred rights including election rights, freedom of speech and religion written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Chinese Constitution cannot remain an IOU. We have to enact our citizen responsibility. China belongs to every Chinese person. The baseline of conscience and justice is where we stand and we have to stand firm to protect [our values]. The New Citizens’ Movement advocates the citizen spirit of freedom, justice and love.

Peaceful gatherings or disruption of public order?

The two incidents that were referred to by authorities as disruptions of public order took place on 5 July 2012 and 28 February 2013, when Xu and other activists gathered to pressure education authorities for equal schooling opportunities for migrant workers’ children.

In China, because migrant workers do not have household registration in cities, their children couldn't enter local schools and many of them were deprived of education opportunities. The New Citizens’ Movement's campaign for equal education began in 2009 with demonstration aimed at education authorities in Beijing, and the following year, authorities granted permission to Beijing schools to admit migrant students.

The second stage of the campaign was to press the Ministry of Education to change its policy and allow migrant students to take university entrance examination according to their schools’ locations. The ministry agreed to introduce a set of new policies by mid-2012, and a small protest was organized on 5 July 2012 to follow up on the promise, which was fulfilled by the end of 2012.

But Beijing was not covered in the new policy guidelines. To press Beijing authorities to adopt the new policy, another small protest was staged outside the office of the Beijing Education Committee on 28 February 2013.

Xu explained why the two demonstrations did not disturb public order:

7.5 和 2.28請願,我們去的是教育部門,是公民到國家機關表達訴求,我們去的不是法律意義上的公共場所。刑法對公共場所界定得很清楚,是除國家機關、社會單位、公共道路之外的公共空間…

We were petitioning outside the education authority on 5 July 2012 and 28 February 2013 as citizens. The organizations are government-related authorities, not public spaces in a legal sense. According to the penal code, the buildings of government authority, collective units, highways and roads are not considered public space…

Many Chinese human rights observers believe that the two occasions are pretext for China to suppress the New Citizens’ movement, which has been vocal in putting forward citizen agendas for social and political reforms, such as pushing for officials to disclose their properties and advocating constitutionalism, a political stand that brought Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo an 11-years prison sentence in 2008. Similar to Liu Xiaobo, Xu's New Citizens’ Movement also stressed the peaceful transformation of the political system in China:

你們不用恐懼新公民運動,我們是新時代的公民,理念上,徹底告別了敵人、江山、推翻、打倒的專制意識,堅守自由,公義,愛的信仰,行為上徹底告別陰謀,暴力等野蠻模式,以和平改良方式推動社會進步,在陽光下健康成長。公民群體的使命不是作為反對黨存在,雖然建立憲政民主,是未來中國實現政治文明的必然趨勢。我們的使命,是和中國所有進步人士一道,共同推動中國實現政治文明轉型。

Don't be afraid of the New Citizens’ Movement. We are citizens of the new era. We say farewell to enemies and authoritative ideas such as the “emperor's landscape”, “overthrow”, “take over”. We believe in freedom, justice and love. We give up brutal actions such as “conspiracy”, “violence” and uphold peaceful and transformative acts to push for social progress under the Sun. The mission of citizens’ groups are unlike opposition parties. We believe constitutional democracy is the ultimate means to the future of a civilized polity and our mission is to promote the political transformation of China with other progressive sectors.

The four-year sentence has caught many by surprise. Liu Xiaoyuan, a Chinese human rights lawyer, expressed his frustration about the harsh reality for political moderates in China on popular microblogging website Sina Weibo:

Sources say Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison. This is much more than I predicted. I know that imprisonment was inevitable, but this is a heavy sentence. On second thought, in a country where there is no rule of law, such a heavy sentence is not that surprising.

Liu Xiaobo, who does not have any enemies, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for political charges. Xu Zhiyong, who advocates for non-violent acts of civil disobedience was sentenced to four years in prison for disrupting public order. What does this tell us?

Teng Biao, another prominent human rights lawyer, believed the people's struggle will never cease:

The four-year sentence of Dr. Xu Zhiyong treads on law and citizens. The public security organs, the procuratorial organs, the court and the authorities behind the scene had to be responsible for this. Prison will not destroy the people's will to resist, but will light up the people's passion to fight.

[One political prisoner is too many] The important role of Dr. Xu Zhiyong will manifest itself slowly. In the near future, authorities’ suppression of civil society will be more heavy-handed, but there will be more grassroots resistance. There will be more and more conflicts and more political activists, citizen rights activists and people with a conscience put in jail. We can lose our battles many times, but it takes only one battle to beat them.

January 23 2014

The Online Presence of Puerto Rican Women: Gender, Creativity, and Equality

In 2013, the Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres (Women's Broad Movement) painted a mural with the intention of creating awareness of gender-based violence. In 2010, the municipal government of San Juan, then under the administration of Jorge Santini, ordered the work to be stopped and imposed fines on some of the women. With the recent change in administration, the municipal government has accepted that the prohibition was unconstitutional, thereby permitting the completion of the mural. Image taken from the blog Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres.

In 2013, the Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres (Women's Broad Movement) painted a mural with the intention of creating awareness of gender-based violence. In 2010, the municipal government of San Juan, then under the administration of mayor Jorge Santini, ordered the work to be stopped and imposed fines on some of the women. With the recent change in administration, the municipal government has accepted that the prohibition was unconstitutional, thereby permitting the completion of the mural. Image taken from the blog Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres.

All links lead to Spanish language pages unless otherwise specified.

Many people today still don't understand why it is necessary to talk about women's (hi)stories. The short answer is that only by studying, acknowledging, and valuing women's experiences and contributions to society in all of their diversity can we really talk about the history of humankind. This is why the focus of this post will be on some of the online spaces Puerto Rican women have created to express ideas, creativity, exchange information, or provide resources that further education on women's issues and equality.

Culture and History

The history of the women of Puerto Rico is long and complex, making it impossible to get into here with detail, suffice it to say that it is full of many hard-won conquests that continue to be contested in a still patriarchal society such as Puerto Rico. The following video offers the views of different women about gender-based violence, labor rights, and health in an electoral context.

To learn more, one can check out the online compilation of articles that focus on women found in the social sciences journal Homines, published by the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, which contains many excellent pieces about women in Puerto Rico. Feminist scholar and journalist Norma Valle Ferrer also published a brief history of women in Puerto Rico “Las mujeres en Puerto Rico” that offers a wealth of information. 

Puerto Rican women have a rich legacy in many fields, but we will focus on the arts, particularly literature. From the poet Julia de Burgos (whose 100th anniversary is celebrated this year) to authors working today such as Mayra Santos-Febres and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, to authors in the diaspora such as poet María Teresa Hernández, better known by her artistic name, Mariposa [en], women have made an enormous contribution to Puerto Rican letters that been studied in depth mostly since the advent of the feminist movement.

</p> <p>In order to encourage more women to find their voices as writers, the blog <a href="http://www.ovariosdeacero.com/">Ovarios de Acero</a> (Steel Ovaries) was set up to provide a place where women could publish their poems, short stories and essays in a safe and supportive environment. They also have a very active <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ovariosdeacero">Facebook page</a>. The <a href="http://www.ovariosdeacero.com/p/por-que-ovarios-de-acero.html">about section</a> of the blog states:</p> <blockquote> <p>Es un espacio que no juzga o requiere que seas una escritora profesional, solo debes ser mujer y tener el genuino deseo de crear y compartir. El concepto del blog, mayormente recoge una sola voz, pero Ovarios de Acero propone recoger todas las voces posibles. De esta forma creamos una antolog&#237;a de lecturas maravillosas y una diversidad sin l&#237;mites.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote class="translation"><p>It is a space that doesn't judge or requires that you be a professional writer, only that you be a woman and have the genuine desire to create and share. The concept of the blog mainly deals with just one voice, but Ovarios de Acero proposes to gather as many voices as possible. This way we create an anthology of wonderful readings and limitless diversity.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Empowering Women</strong></p> <p>The blog&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mujeresenpuertorico.com/">Mujeres en Puerto Rico</a> (Women in Puerto Rico), by VeronicaRT (<a href="https://twitter.com/MujeresenPR">@MujeresenPR</a>), offers news, commentary, and links to other content on the web that create awareness about feminism and to empower women. It also has a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/MujeresenPR/feed">YouTube channel</a> with content that complements what is posted on the blog.&nbsp;In a similar vein, the blog <a href="http://podercuerpoygenero.com/">Poder, Cuerpo y G&#233;nero</a> (Power, Body, and Gender) by Nahomi Galindo also offers news, commentary, and content from around the web. The blog of the feminist coalition <a href="http://movimientoampliodemujeres.blogspot.com/">Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres</a> is also an important online resource.&nbsp;</p> <p>An important effort that has greatly contributed to the empowerment of women is <a href="http://proyectomatria.org/">Proyecto Matria</a>, which seeks to help women survivors of gender-based violence and women who are the head of a family with very little income become financially independent and self-sufficient individuals. This non-profit organization operates an array of services in Puerto Rico that include psychosocial services, assistance in starting a microenterprise, and help in getting an education, among others. Its innovative approach transcends the still prevalent notion of casting women as passive victims that receive charity, focusing instead on helping women become not just successful entrepreneurs, but fully accomplished human beings.</p> <p></p> <p><strong>Stoping Gender-Based Violence</strong></p> <p>Gender-based violence is still, sadly, something that costs many women their emotional and psychic wellbeing, and their lives every year. That is why Ada M. &#193;lvarez Conde decided to start an organization that would help educate teenagers and college-age women and men about dating violence, something rarely discussed in Puerto Rico. The <a href="http://www.loquenodije.com/Home_Page.html">Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio</a> (Stop Silence Foundation) organizes group talks in schools all over Puerto Rico to create awareness and gathers resources from around the web on its webpage, <a href="http://loquenodije.lacoctelera.net/">blog</a>, and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/FundacionAltoAlSilencio">Facebook page</a>&nbsp;that not only provide information on the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and how to get help, but also statistics, news, and a training program for other people interested in getting involved. &#193;lvarez Conde <a href="http://www.loquenodije.com/Home_Page.html">shares</a>&nbsp;how the Foundation started:</p> <blockquote> <p>Comenz&#243; la inauguraci&#243;n de la fundaci&#243;n con un entrenamiento a m&#225;s de 150 personas en la Convenci&#243;n Anual de la Coalici&#243;n Nacional en Contra de la Violencia Dom&#233;stica, en donde hay personas de los 50 estados que trabajan con v&#237;ctimas y est&#225;n encargados de los refugios a mujeres entre otros programas comunitarios. Alto al Silencio es la primera organizaci&#243;n dedicada a tratar el tema de la violencia en el noviazgo (se&#241;ales, relaciones saludables, autoestima, organizaci&#243;n comunitaria) &nbsp;en espa&#241;ol y para la comunidad latina como enfoque principal.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote class="translation"><p>The foundation got its start with over 150 people getting trained at the Annual Convention of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where there are people from all 50 states [of the U. S.] that work with victims and are in charge of shelters, among other community programs. Alto al Silencio is the first organization that deals with dating violence (signs, healthy relationships, self-esteem, community organization) in Spanish and with the Latino community as its primary focus.</p></blockquote> <div id="attachment_451407" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=234063466747517&amp;set=pb.151874638299734.-2207520000.1389637559.&amp;type=3&amp;src=https%3A%2F%2Ffbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net%2Fhphotos-ak-ash3%2F1235295_234063466747517_500446761_n.jpg&amp;size=640%2C357"><img width="640" class=" wp-image-451407 " height="357" alt="One of the talks offered by Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, to 200 students. Image taken from Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio's Facebook page." src="http://globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Charla-Alto-al-Silencio-Cabo-Rojo.jpg" /></a><p class="wp-caption-text">One of the talks offered by Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, to 200 students. Image taken from Fundaci&#243;n Alto al Silencio's <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=234063466747517&amp;set=pb.151874638299734.-2207520000.1389637559.&amp;type=3&amp;src=https%3A%2F%2Ffbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net%2Fhphotos-ak-ash3%2F1235295_234063466747517_500446761_n.jpg&amp;size=640%2C357">Facebook page</a>.</p></div> <p><strong>Some Parting Words on Feminism</strong></p> <p>Though the women of Puerto Rico share a rich and fascinating history, full of many contributions and victories in the endeavor to forge a more equitable society, much work still needs to be done. More men and boys need to take responsibility and understand that they are necessary components in these efforts and to feel that they, too, can also be considered part of the feminist movement. Because ultimately, feminism is not just about liberating women, but also about creating the awareness that men must also work against patriarchy and sexism. Human rights activist Am&#225;rilis Pag&#225;n, <a href="http://www.brujasyrebeldes.blogspot.com/2013/11/el-lobo-feroz.html">in one of the posts</a>&nbsp;from her blog Brujas y Rebeldes (Witches and Rebels), says:</p> <blockquote><p>Cuando las mujeres que trabajamos por derechos humanos hablamos del machismo, lo hacemos con plena conciencia de qu&#233; implica el t&#233;rmino y qui&#233;nes son los que mueven la rueda de la violencia. &nbsp;Reconocemos, inclusive, c&#243;mo el machismo tambi&#233;n oprime a los hombres al castrar su capacidad de sentir emociones, de amar libremente, de elegir qu&#233; hacer con su vida sin ser estigmatizados por renunciar a los privilegios que su sexo les otorga al nacer. Tambi&#233;n reconocemos las implicaciones econ&#243;micas del pensamiento machista y c&#243;mo esa rueda de violencia tritura a hombres y mujeres que viven en pobreza, en desigualdad racial y de orientaci&#243;n e identidad sexual. &nbsp;Por eso seguimos apostando a la educaci&#243;n, al activismo, pero muy en especial al amor que nos sostiene en tiempos de p&#233;rdida o cuando se recrudece la violencia institucional y social hacia nuestros grupos m&#225;s vulnerables.</p></blockquote> <blockquote class="translation"><p>When we the women who work on behalf of human rights talk about machismo, we do it fully conscious of what the term implies and who are the ones that move the wheel of violence. We acknowledge, in fact, how machismo also oppresses men by castrating their capacity to feel emotions, to love freely, to choose what to do with their lives without being stigmatized for renouncing the privileges given by their sex at birth. We also acknowledge the economic implications of male chauvinist thought and how that wheel of violence crushes the men and women who live in poverty, in racial and sexual identity inequality. This is why we keep our hopes in education, activism, but most especially in the love that sustains us in times of loss or when institutional and social violence flare up towards our most vulnerable groups.</p></blockquote> <p class="gv-rss-footer"><span class="credit-text"><span class="contributor">Written by <a href="https://globalvoicesonline.org/author/angel-carrion/" title="View all posts by &#193;ngel Carri&#243;n">&#193;ngel Carri&#243;n</a></span></span> &middot; <span class="commentcount"><a href="https://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/01/23/the-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality/#comments" title="comments">comments (0) </a></span><br /><a href="https://globalvoicesonline.org/donate/" title="read Donate">Donate</a> &middot; <span class="share-links-text"><span class="share-links-label">Share: </span> <a id="gv-st_facebook" href="http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F" title="facebook" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">facebook</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_twitter" href="http://twitter.com/share?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;text=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality&#038;via=globalvoices" title="twitter" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">twitter</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_googleplus" href="https://plus.google.com/share?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F" title="googleplus" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">googleplus</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_reddit" href="http://reddit.com/submit?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;title=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality" title="reddit" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">reddit</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_stumbleupon" href="http://www.stumbleupon.com/submit?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;title=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality" title="StumbleUpon" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">StumbleUpon</span></a> &middot; <a id="gv-st_delicious" href="http://del.icio.us/post?url=https%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F01%2F23%2Fthe-online-presence-of-puerto-rican-women-gender-creativity-and-equality%2F&#038;title=The+Online+Presence+of+Puerto+Rican+Women%3A+Gender%2C+Creativity%2C+and+Equality" title="delicious" target="new"><span class="share-icon-label">delicious</span></a></span> </p>

January 21 2014

How Cartoon Character ‘Meena’ Changed South Asian Attitudes Towards Girls

Screenshot from the cover of Meena Comic Book. Courtesy Unicef

Screenshot from the cover of a Meena comic book. Image courtesy UNICEF

Only two decades ago, the status of many women in some South Asian countries was low. Many girls in rural areas were not allowed to study. Girls were inevitably married off as soon as they grew up, so what good was studying? Boys would get the best of the households’ food, the girls the leftovers.

But this discriminatory mindset has changed tremendously, in part thanks to a cartoon character.

The fictional character Meena stars in the South Asian children's television show of the same name. Promoted by UNICEF, Meena and her TV show is very popular in the region. UNICEF developed the Meena Communication Initiative (MCI) as a mass communication project aimed at changing perceptions and behavior that hamper the survival, protection and development of girls in South Asia.

Bangladesh was the first country to meet Meena when a film about her struggle to go to school aired on Bangladesh national television (BTV) in 1993. The secondary characters of her stories include Meena's brother Raju and her pet parrot Mithu.

Meet Meena. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Meet Meena. Image from Wikimedia

According to an old report of UNICEF:

Since her inception 14 years ago she has shown millions of women and girls what can be achieved. She has delivered messages on issues as far reaching as solving the problem of bullying through to challenging the stigma of HIV/AIDS through to girls’ right to play sport. The Meena stories are highly entertaining and fun, but also reflect, at their core, the realities of girls’ lives in South Asia.

Meena has spread messages to stop child marriage and the practice of dowry and promote healthy toilet use, sending girls to school, equality between boys and girls and the right to education for the domestic workers. Her shows highlights the potential contributions to society that girls can make if provided an equal playing field.

How can a message spread by a small cartoon girl be so empowering that it has helped change the society radically? Housewife Naznin Rahman told the Daily Prothom Alo [bn]:

আমার মা জোহরা বেগম তাঁর দুই ছেলের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নিয়েছেন। তখনো টিভিতে মীনা দেখাতে শুরু করেনি। তারপর যেই তিনি মীনা দেখতে শুরু করলেন, তাঁর চরিত্রে মেয়েদের প্রতি আলাদাভাবে একটা সহানুভূতি কাজ করতে লাগল। তারপর যখন তাঁর ছোট ছেলের বিয়ে দিলেন, তখনই আমরা বুঝতে পারলাম তিনি মীনার দ্বারা কতটা প্রভাবিত। আম্মা আমার ছোট ভাইয়ের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নেননি।

My mom Zohra Begum has taken dowry for her two elder sons. In those days, Meena was not aired. Since she started watching Meena, she had developed a special sympathy for girls in particular. When she had her younger son married, we realized how she was affected by Meena. She did not take any dowry for my younger brother.

Shuvo Ankur wrote on the BDNews24.com's kids page about the positive changes Meena has provoked:

প্রচার হবার পর থেকেই মীনা পেয়ে যায় দারুন জনপ্রিয়তা। এবং এর ফলে আসতে থাকে বেশ কিছু পরিবর্তন। আগে গ্রামাঞ্চলে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে স্কুলে যেতে না দিয়ে বাড়ির কাজ করানো হতো। মীনা কার্টুন প্রচার হবার পর থেকে আস্তে আস্তে ঘটতে থাকে পরিবর্তন। কারণ মীনা কার্টুনেও দেখানো হয়েছে যে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হতো না। কিন্তু কিছু ঘটনার পরে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হয়। এবং মীনা বিভিন্ন বুদ্ধিমত্তার পরিচয় রাখতে থাকে। সে লেখাপড়া শিখে তার বাবাকে ঠকে যাবার হাত থেকে রক্ষা করে। আবার বাড়ির গরু চুরি ঠেকায়। এমনি সব কাজের জন্য মীনা হয়ে যায় সবার জনপ্রিয় এবং সার্কভুক্ত দেশগুলোতে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে অবহেলাও কমে যেতে থাকে।

Meena achieved popularity from the start. The changes were visible soon after. Earlier, in rural areas girl students dropped out of school and ended up working as a housemaid. But the situation changed after Meena's show began airing. On screen, Meena was also not allowed to go to school first. But she changed her lot and got permission to go to school. Meena's wit and intelligence allowed her to learn to count and other essential knowledge to save her father from the deception from other people. She saved their cows from a thief. Her intelligence became popular, and the negligence of girls in South Asian countries slowly started disappearing.

Sohanur Rahman [bn] wrote on Kishorebarta that there is a lot to learn from the cartoon show:

[...] মীনার কাছ থেকে আমরা অনেক কিছুই শিখেছি। সেই ৯০ দশক থেকে আজকের দিন প্রযন্ত প্রায় ১৭ বছর ধরে মীনা আমাদের সমাজের প্রতিটি মানুষের মনের মনিকোঠায় একটি উজ্জ্বল চরিত্র হিসেবে স্থান দখল করে নিয়েছে।

We have learnt a lot from Meena. From the '90s till today, Meena has become a star and a special character in our society.

Meena is also broadcast on radio. Farzana Islam Tithi, 24, who voices Meena, told The Daily Star:

Everyone loved Meena from their childhood and everyone, regardless of age, watched the cartoon eagerly. I also used to watch it. May be Meena’s accent struck to my mind since then and I believe that feeling helped me in my voice over for Meena.

Twitter user Bengalithings deemed Meena a role model:

The UNICEF Bangladesh Twitter account (@UNICEFBD) reminded that:

Every year on 24th October “Meena Day” is observed in Bangladesh to promote social awareness on 100% enrollment of kids in school, avoid dropouts and ensure proper education.

According to reports [bn], Meena has also become popular outside of the South Asian region. It has been dubbed in more than 30 languages such as Arabic, Burmese and Chinese. You can download free Meena comic books from here.

Four short links: 21 January 2014

  1. On Being a Senior Engineer (Etsy) — Mature engineers know that no matter how complete, elegant, or superior their designs are, it won’t matter if no one wants to work alongside them because they are assholes.
  2. Control Theory (Coursera) — Learn about how to make mobile robots move in effective, safe, predictable, and collaborative ways using modern control theory. (via DIY Drones)
  3. US Moves Towards Open Access (WaPo) — Congress passed a budget that will make about half of taxpayer-funded research available to the public.
  4. NHS Patient Data Available for Companies to Buy (The Guardian) — Once live, organisations such as university research departments – but also insurers and drug companies – will be able to apply to the new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to gain access to the database, called care.data. If an application is approved then firms will have to pay to extract this information, which will be scrubbed of some personal identifiers but not enough to make the information completely anonymous – a process known as “pseudonymisation”. Recipe for disaster as it has been repeatedly shown that it’s easy to identify individuals, given enough scrubbed data. Can’t see why the NHS just doesn’t make it an app in Facebook. “Nat’s Prostate status: it’s complicated.”
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