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Last May, Iranians re-elected president Hassan Rouhani, a reformist leader, in hopes he will slowly edge Iran toward a more open and progressive sociopolitical culture.

In a country where 60 percent of the 80 million population is under 30 years old, the mobile-savvy, VPN-using youth in Iran have been resisting government control. Telegram, the encrypted messaging service, has become a popular form of communication for political expression, for example. But young people are also up against internet censorship, moral policing and fundamental religious clerics. Even with a relatively more liberal leader like Rouhani, Facebook and Twitter are still banned.

“Iranians are techy, they are ready.”

In their quest for expanded civil rights, some Iranians are taking ideas from Silicon Valley to the streets of Tehran and channeling them into apps that fill the gaps in health, education and dialogue. Built by Iranians both at home and abroad, there is hope that these mobile solutions could work where protests and advocacy has not.

“They want Iran to open up, it’s very clear,” said Firuzeh Mahmoudi, co-founder of United 4 Iran (U4I), a US-based non-profit that is working to advance civil liberties in Iran through technology. “Iranians are techy, they are ready.”

At the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF), an annual human rights conference, Mahmoudi told me how technology in her country is being wielded as a tool for political dissent. Mahmoudi herself is an Iranian, though raised mostly in the US. She said the Iranian government now deems her an “anti-revolutionary fugitive” because of her work and political views.

But with around 20 million smartphone users, and a million new smartphones being added to the market every month in Iran, it’s clear she is not the only one looking to technology for change. The spate of new apps targeted toward Iranians and their rights reveal their priorities.

Avoiding the Moral Police

One app that sparked success upon its release was Gershad, which helps users protect themselves from the Gasht-e Ershad (guidance patrol), the so-called “morality police” of Iran. This de facto police force identifies and arrests anyone deemed to be inappropriately dressed, or in violation of Islamic cultural values, as reported by Iran Wire. Inevitably, women are more persecuted than men, as one of the main responsibilities of the morality police is to make sure women wear the hijab according to Islamic law.

Read whole article here. 


Blog Post, Women in the World

“I come from the same blood as Taliban,” Maria Toorpakai Wazir said in a recent speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference that happens every year in May.

When asked how it was to live among terrorists, Toorpakai Wazir explains that in her area “the system is so conservative that you don’t know who is a Taliban and who is not.” There is a gun and drug culture, she continues, that has spread like wildfire in the recent decades. Because of the lack of government presence and infrastructure (mainly schools and hospitals), there is not much left for inhabitants to do. “These are lawless areas.”

Toorpakai Wazir was born in Waziristan, Pakistan, a semi-independent tribal region spreading across the border with Afghanistan. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, mujahidin escaped to Waziristan, which became a sanctuary for terrorists. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 also pushed many al Qaeda and Taliban elements into the region. The area is considered especially dangerous for women, both because of the presence of terrorists and the prevailing culturally conservative mindset. Women’s education, for example, is considered a vulgarity.

Also contributing to Waziristan’s tattered image is the fact that to those who aren’t residents, the region is difficult to enter. NGOs, human rights activists and media are seldom present. “It’s a restricted zone, so how can you hear the voices from those who want change, or don’t want to be terrorists?” she wonders.

A liberal family 

Toorpakai Wazir’s strong sense of freedom is rooted in her upbringing. She grew up in a different kind of family. Her father, Shamsul Qayyum Wazir, brought Toorpakai Wazir and her siblings up with exposure to liberal views; the women of the family had the same rights as the men. She explains that she grew up in a household where everyone could question everything, and no questions went unanswered. She touched on her home life last year during her appearance at the 7th Annual Women in the World New York Summit. Speaking with  Financial Times managing editor Gillian Test, Toorpakai Wazir said, “My father is very supportive and he believes in equality.”

Read the full story here


Al Jazeera

Ngongongeri, Nakuru County, Kenya – Kenya’s Ogiek, an indigenous minority of hunters and gatherers, have won a historic case against the Kenyan government, close to a decade after they began their legal battle. 

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights, a continental court established in 2006 by African countries, on May 26 delivered its verdict in Arusha, Tanzania – ruling in favour of the Ogiek and recognising their right to Kenya’s Mau Forest as their ancestral home, and their role in protecting it.

The court ruled that the Kenyan government had violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, of which Kenya is a signatory, and which is intended to protect basic freedoms and human rights.

The verdict recognises the Ogiek’s indigenous status and their right to reparations from the Kenyan government for the suffering they have endured through forcible evictions. It recognises the Ogiek’s “strong attachment to the forest”, their legal right to live on the forest land, their freedom to practise their traditions and deemed evictions to be disproportionate to conservation aims. The Kenyan government in court said it accepted the judgment. 

“The room has never been so full. It was packed to the brink,” said Lucy Claridge, legal director of Minority Rights Group International (MRG), a campaign group working closely with the Ogiek. She has been working on the case since April 2010.

Speaking from Arusha, Claridge said around 75 Ogiek attended the court hearing, dressed in their traditional clothes. After the victorious judgment, the Ogiek broke out in celebratory singing and dancing. 

It is an unprecedented legal victory for an indigenous people in Africa. The ruling marks the first judgment from the highest institutional human rights body in Africa to favour the cause of indigenous peoples.

“This sends a message to governments of the standards around indigenous people’s rights in Africa,” says Claridge. “It’s a very clear message for governments that they need to respect indigenous people’s rights.”

The victory could set a precedent for similar cases across the continent.

Read the full article here



Most questions that international nongovernmental organizations get from refugees and migrants sheltering in Greece these days have to do with how they can get out. Aid officials working on the ground told Devex they often are asked, “How long will I be here? When can I get out of Greece?” or “ What is going to happen to me and my family?”

Now several years into the refugee crisis in Europe, basic humanitarian needs such as food and shelter are no longer the primary concern. Instead, many of the 60,000 migrants and refugees in Greece need legal help. Protection, including counseling, dissemination of information and legal representation have now become a fundamental requirement for the refugees. Asylum-seekers need to learn how to file and support their claims, which can take years to process. Victims of crimes need to know how they can seek justice. Nearly everyone needs to know what rights they have to move on from Greece.

“We all see the situation now evolving more towards being a protection crisis, rather than a humanitarian crisis,” Kiriakos Giaglis, director of Danish Refugee Council Greece, told Devex. “There are not enough possibilities to give individual refugees access to free legal aid, if they need one.”

For organizations seeking to help, legal aid poses an enormous challenge. NGOs must confront language barriers, limited funding, logistical obstacles, and an overwhelmed court system. In that context, many are focusing their efforts on appeals alone, hoping to pick up the most difficult or needy cases.

A difficult context

Refugees in Greece are scattered across camps and cities throughout the country, each settlement with a different social, political and legal scenario. There are currently over 60,000 persons of concern in the country, spread out between approximately 50 sites.

The crisis has been subject to major political changes. In March, the European Union signed a deal with Turkey in hopes of stemming the inflow of migrants to the continent. Arrivals intensified in the months leading to implementation of the deal and some NGOs pulled out in protest, removing their support from the Greek authorities.

Migration and asylum policies changed as a result of the agreement, but the decentralized Greek geography impeded the information from flowing out systematically. Many migrants and refugees didn’t have access to information about how the deal would impact them.

There is also a different understanding about the asylum processes in each island as well as on the mainland. “You have many sites, but many of them don’t have the right capacity to provide legal aid and information”, said Giaglis.

Claire Whelan, protection and advocacy adviser at Norwegian Refugee Council, offers one example of the variation: there are almost 3,000 refugees in Chios, where she is based, and only seven lawyers, not including volunteers.

Read more.


Blog Post

Last night I woke up at 4am and checked my phone to know what the hell was happening with the US election. I don’t know why I was so anxious, I am not from the United States, but I have grown up in a society that considered US the greatest and most powerful country in the world. So wanting to know whether the ‘most powerful individual in the world’ was going to be a masochistic, racist buffoon was well justified. The alternative was a woman who did not represent any major change in the country’s political nature, except maybe the fact that she was a woman.

This morning I woke up with the news that Mr GrabYourPussy had won. I was shocked, but I was not that surprised. What I was surprised about was a recurring phrase I was seeing on social media comments and posts: “America is the greatest country in the world”. Whether it was to reassure sad people who wanted to leave the country after the result, or in support of the new President-elect (“America will now be the greatest country in the world”) , it made no difference.

American exceptionalism
, essentially the thought of the United States as a uniquely free nation based on democratic ideals and personal liberty, rages through the country, and it has spread all over the world as a consequence. The thought that USA is the land of freedom and opportunity, economic prosperity and equal rights, is intrinsic in American society. Politicians use it to convince voters that they should vote for them, everyone has done it, left and right.

What has been deemed as ‘patriotism’, looks more like putting your country and your people on a pedestal higher than everyone else, and that constant need to repeat that phrase becomes redundant.

The result of this rhetoric being intrinsic in politics and society? A massive brainwash of a people that in reality live in what essentially is the biggest hypocrisy of the 21st century.

To quote Ian Tyrrell, “Many aspects of American history may be left out or distorted in the traditional narratives–particularly the histories of Amerindian peoples and the contribution of other ethnic groups that preceded the Anglo-Americans, e.g. Hispanics. Race and slavery are seen as tragic exceptions, and the abolition of the latter was viewed as a partial resolution, encompassed in Lincoln’s idea of a “new birth of freedom” in the Gettysburg Address.”

USA is a country driven by political and economic interests. It is a country where black people receive 10% longer sentences than whites, where black mothers have to give “the speech” to their children to avoid them getting killed by the police. It is a country where gun laws make it possible for a 20-year-old to walk into an elementary school and massacre 20 children (yes, fucking kids) and 6 teachers, and this happens over and over again. A country where lobbies control politics and politicians, essentially transferring the power to rich corporations, and narrowing the space for smaller businesses to have any influence. And again, a country that has made of interventionism a way forward, bringing the white savior complex to a whole other level. This does not look to me like “ The greatest country in the world”.

The United States alone contributes to large percentage of the world’s carbon emission, leading to global warming, perhaps the greatest problem of our time.

So maybe it is time to look at the big picture and step back a little bit, and get real. There is no more hiding behind that phrase anymore, because shit just got real.

Maybe, some people had already woken up to the idea that US is not the greatest country in the world, and were tired of politicians playing that card over and over again. A while ago Trump said about American exceptionalism: “I don’t like the term, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think it’s a very nice term, we’re exceptional, you’re not … I never liked the term.”.

I am more than sure that this election has woken many people up. Who thought that the greatest country in the world would vote their president, the most important person in the world, to be a buffoon who said this at one of his rallies: “Its freezing here, and they talk about global warming, its freezing”.

You get what you deserve, always.

note: This piece is not meant to say that other countries are better than the US, nor is it an attack on the myriad of people who believe in change and truth. It is meant to be a point of reflection, and it is my own and personal opinion.

originally published on Medium


Al Jazeera

Roya Mahboob knew that she wanted to build a career in technology from the first time she set her eyes on a computer in the only internet cafe in Herat, Afghanistan, when she was 16 years old.

In 2010, at the age of 23 she became the first tech chief executive in Afghanistan when she founded Afghan Citadel Software (ACS) with the aim of involving more women in her country’s growing technology business.

“We are not thinking, we are not supposed to do critical thinking,” says Mahboob, discussing the way she and many women grew up in Afghanistan. 

Mahboob was born in Iran to Afghan parents as one of seven children. Her parents had travelled to Iran during the Soviet invasion, and the family moved back to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban government in 2003, where she began her university studies and learned English.

Along with some of her siblings, including her sister Elaha as her partner, Mahboob established ACS shortly after. 

“I think digital literacy can give women a voice in our global conversation. Then, they can find different skills and get their financial independence,” she says. Read More


The Guardian

“Am I a girl, or a mother?” Rachana Sunar opens her speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum quoting one of the child brides she has been supporting in the past four years. It is poignant to think that a 15-year-old girl could be confused about such things, but in Nepal, 40.7% of girls are forced into early adulthood by getting married by the age of 18.

The law says that the minimum age to get married is 20, therefore child marriage in Nepal cannot be tackled from a legal perspective, but by changing cultural norms and traditions. According to Sunar: “Dialogue is a process to break the silence.”

Sunar was born in 1994 in a village in mid-western Nepal, where she grew up with her six sisters, mother and father. At 15, while still in school through a scholarship programme, Sunar was told by her parents she would marry a man she had never met before. She escaped child marriage by tricking her parents into thinking that if she dropped out of school they’d have to pay the past three years of her scholarship.

“The greatest inspirations were the challenges I experienced in my own life,” Sunar says. She witnessed years of abuse by her father to her mother for giving birth only to girls. Her experiences made her determined to show her father and the community “girls are just as valuable as boys”.

In Nepal, she explains, many girls lack ambition and determination because they have seen generations of women passing from dependence on their fathers to dependence on their husbands: “They have no will to be independent, to study or to get a job and they don’t know about their career, because the authority of their lives is in someone else’s hands.” Read More



Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit next week, discussions are ramping up within the aid community about how to open up to smaller, local actors. High-level politicking may make wholesale change difficult, but experts tell Devex that there are ways of putting reforms into practice at the grass-roots level, where programs are unfolding every day.

As the eyes and the ears of their organizations, aid workers have the power to re-orientate and reorganize things from the ground. Devex spoke with three humanitarian professionals, including the author of a recent report, to suggest six practical steps aid workers can take to work toward reform.

Christina Bennett, co-author of the Overseas Development Institute’s report “Time to Let Go,” suggests one simple tweak: drop the words “development” and “humanitarian” and think in terms of short-, mid- and long-term instead. Madara Hettiarachchi, head of humanitarian programs Asia and Middle East at Christian Aid, believes that preparedness is the key to a more inclusive response. Saman A. Majed — general director of REACH, a local NGO in Iraq working with refugees in the area with partners such as UNHCR, Christian Aid and Oxfam — thinks that it is fundamental that the relationships between local and international organizations become sustainable and reciprocal. Read More. 


Words In the Bucket

In a recent article about Independent Journalism, Libyan Freelance Journalist Ayat Mneina said in a that she was driven by one idea: that the truth would speak for itself and she simply had to deliver the facts. When working in a risky environment, many journalists are driven by the willingness to get the truth out there, to give a voice to those who do not have one because they live under oppressive governments and corrupt politicians. Journalists who report under dictatorships, oppressors and authoritarian rulers risk their lives every day to do their jobs.

Sudan is ranked number 174 out of 180 countries in the press freedom index, making it one of the most oppressive places to work as a journalist. President Omar al-Bashir, who has been ruling the country for almost 30 years, is indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) harasses journalists with threats and censoring articles or closes down editorial offices, as recently happened to daily newspaper Al-Sudani. As theCommittee to Protect Journalists reports, agents of the NISS “appeared at the newspaper’s printers in Khartoum last March and seized all copies of the daily, which had just been printed and was being prepared for distribution”.

In light of the World Press freedom day, thanks to the help of our partners atNuba Reports, Words in the Bucket talked with a journalist based in Khartoum about what it means to do this job where press freedom is so low and the risks to reporting are so high.

Why did you choose to become a reporter and why do you think reporting matters?

I chose to become a reporter because I’ve always wanted to work in this field. At the university level, I studied journalism because it is the only thing I’ve ever imagined myself doing, and worked for the student newspaper. Writing and recording stories is a passion to me. Coming from a country like Sudan, I believe that reporters have a huge role to play. They can tell many underreported stories, especially that the country is in a state of conflict. Documentation, as well as revealing the truth, is part of my role as a reporter in the peacebuilding process.

In a country where press freedom is extremely low, what are the main challenges you face as a reporter/journalist?

There are many challenges that impact the work environment as well as the livelihoods of Sudanese journalists. Firstly, the government continues to confiscate newspapers and, after tedious work on our part as journalists, censor our stories before they are published. Confiscation of newspapers hurts publishers economically, and this leads them to fire the journalists who are seen as daring. Journalists also lose their livelihoods and are forced out of the market when Sudan’s security apparatus bans them from writing in all print newspapers. Some are lucky enough to take on administrative roles at their former newspapers.

Secondly, journalists have a very difficult time when it comes to accessing information, as most information is considered “a security threat.” This means that it is very dangerous to access public records, and it makes reporting more difficult since sources are very scared of talking to journalists. Many journalists are now in court or facing charges for trying to reveal information that the government considers as ‘crossing the line’ — which can be anything from reporting on the conflict to writing about sexual harassment.

Thirdly, the repressive environment impacts the morale of journalists. It hurts their ability to produce quality work, and many are working other jobs to make ends meet. Many in the field have spoken about the current low standards of journalism.

What are the main punishments inflicted by the government? How do they keep you from doing your work?

Other than having their work censored, journalists are vulnerable to losing their livelihoods if they pursue any topic deemed controversial. Newspapers are punished for hiring daring journalists when the government confiscates printed copies and advertising suffers. In fact, over ten newspapers have been shut down by the security apparatus over the last five years, and this means that dozens of journalists were out of work almost overnight.

Moreover, they are distracted from their profession as they are summoned for questioning, subjected to trials, etc. Security agents summoned dozens of journalists last year, subjecting some of them to harassment and intimidation. Sudan is also known for imprisoning journalists. In 2013, Amel Habbani (winner of the 2014 Ginetta Sagan Award by Amnesty USA) was detained by the security apparatus for over ten days for covering an anti-government protest. Journalists have faced imprisonment almost every year in Sudan and the time spent in detention ranges from a few hours to a few months.

How has Nuba Reports helped in your work?

Nuba Reports is of great help because it is one of the very few venues available for journalists from Sudan to tell underreported stories or stories that will never be published in Sudanese and non-Sudanese media outlets. Nuba Reports is also an inclusive news source as the writers are very diverse. It is also inclusive because the sources interviewed, unlike other media outlets, are not just experts or politicians, but normal citizens who get to have their voices amplified.

There are mixed allegations on press freedom from within Sudan, some say it has gotten better, and some do not. Do you think that things are changing for journalists in Sudan? And why?

I would say that it has gotten much worse since the 2011 secession of South Sudan for a number of reasons.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was instrumental in opening up space for civil society and journalism. Many independent newspapers were established and there was a lot of room to write and learn in the journalism field. After the CPA ended and South Sudan separated, the Sudanese government turned more dictatorial as it had shaped a better image in front of the international community through the 2010 general elections and facilitating the referendum without any conflict. The attention of the international community left Sudan and shifted to South Sudan, leaving the government with the chance to return to the way things were in the 1990s. Many newspapers were quickly shut down, journalists were arrested and many were forced to flee Sudan.

The ongoing conflicts in Sudan have also contributed to less press freedom. In 2011, instead of one conflict, the government of Sudan started fighting on three different fronts (Darfur, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan) and this meant that a large part of the country was under “emergency laws.” The conflicts led to more political repression and polarization. Any journalist who wanted to write about the conflict was labelled as a “rebel affiliate.” This polarization meant that newspapers could not properly cover the conflict and that the whole media landscape came under the tight grip of the security apparatus.

Another factor that has contributed to declining press freedom is economic deterioration as a result of the secession and the ongoing conflicts. It has led to rapid deterioration in all aspects of life, especially social services. The main impacts are:

  • The economic woes has made it difficult for independent newspapers to survive as the running cost becomes impossible to meet. Newspapers were pushed to increase their prices, making them “expensive” for the majority of the public and with no advertising revenue, many journalists are underpaid.
  • The economic situation of journalists have made them vulnerable to corruption as some have started receiving bribes from the government to write about specific issues and so on.
  • Deterioration of social services means that dissent has been on the rise. For the past few years, Sudan has witnessed a protest movement and journalists have been increasingly intimidated to not cover such events. In fact, in 2013, when over 200 protesters were killed over a period of three days, independent journalists announced a strike saying that they cannot stay silent and they face too much censorship to tell the truth.

Sudan is one of many countries where journalists risk their livelihoods and their lives to give a voice to those who do not have one, and to deliver the truth about their governments and societies. Today, we should honour all journalists and respect the incredible effort that they make to stay confident and driven by their beliefs and passion.

Author’s notes: The identity of the journalist interviewed remains anonymous for security reasons.

Originally published at on May 3, 2016.



Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the World Food Program announced a landmark agreement that centers on smallholder farmers, a group that represents half of the 80 million people the agency serves each year.

In partnership with stakeholders from public and private sectors, the WFP’s Patience Procurement Platform aims to connect 1.5 million smallholders to commercial markets and supply chains, rendering them more independent.

How does the platform work? To find out more, Devex met with Mahadevan Ramachandran, deputy director of procurement within the WFP supply chain division, who is overseeing the platform’s development. Read More