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Words In the Bucket

“The idea is that we are building our own MIT here,” says Roya Mahboob, founder of Digital Citizen fund, and one of the first Afghan women to become CEO of a tech company in the country.

The project she is referring to is something she has envisioned since she began her work.  Ada-AI, a newly launched nonprofit working to ensure that artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies are developed and adopted in inclusive and equitable ways, is working with Mahboob to make that vision a reality. The organization recently launched a fundraising campaign to open a STEM school in Herat, Afghanistan.

Organizations like Ada-AI are key to ensure a more inclusive future in this white male-dominated industry.

An industry dominated by young white males

Doctor Virginia Dignum from Delft University, who is working on creating models that ensure that AI systems behave according to a set of ethical parameters, is keen to highlight that the way AI systems are being developed needs to have a strong “human” perspective, rather than solely an economic one. The way algorithms are fed, she says, should be adaptable to other cultures. 

Although the bias is not intended, say Doctor Dignum, it is a fact that most AI work is done by white young males and only a small portion of the population is involved in producing AI algorithms and responsible for organizing and using the data that is available.   

Her work focuses on making sure that in the future there will be more representation of cultures, genders,  disabilities, and races in AI growth.

Inequality today

A recent report by Oxfam shows the current state of inequality globally, where last year, 1 per cent of the global population earned 82 per cent of wealth generated. With an already existing digital divide, the risks are that AI could make this worse.

In terms of AI, Porter says you could almost draw a parallel with a child in terms of the cognitive stage, and, like a child, AI can pick up existing biases from the people who manoeuvre them.

Examples of this are numerous. A report by ProPublica, for example, showed this when a software used to predict future criminals predicted that 61% of these criminals would be black. When a white man and a black man were incarcerated, a program predicted that the black prisoner was more likely to commit a future crime, despite the criminal history of the white man being more serious. The machine was proved wrong later on.

Existing inequalities in access to healthcare, as well as education, could also be exacerbated. The same goes for existing inequalities between wealthy and poorer countries.

Sarah Porter and Roya Mahboob on stage at World Summit AI. Photo by: Inspired Minds

Porter says that if AI learns in a non-inclusive way, the equal treatment of people will be more in jeopardy than it is now. A non-inclusive growth of AI technology could destabilize society through rapid automation and have ripple effect consequences that could exacerbate conflicts and inequality. 

Tech in developing countries

Andrew Schroeder, Founder of WeRobotics, an organization focusing on creating sustainable tech projects in developing countries, is optimistic, saying that we can “build new conversations off of (this) history” and learn from it.

During his experience working in the development sector, and in tech, Schroeder notes that many tech projects that were done in developing countries had very little continuity after the project was finished.

A common thought would be that the capacity to develop the technology is limited in developing countries, but Schroeder’s work at WeRobotics proves that there is a capable and experienced force that can participate in AI development and implementation in developing countries.

For example, one of WeRobotics ‘Flying Labs’, local innovations centres that aim at accelerating and scaling the impact of development projects locally, is being led by a local force that is currently in the process of making the centre a Tanzanian entity recognized by the government.

This proves that the potential is there, and that “it could be just that the business model is not developed yet,” says Schroeder.  

Afghanistan as a leading example

Mahboob supports this vision and wants to bring her country to the forefront of the global discourse on AI. Just a year ago, Mahboob, who sponsored an Afghan girls’ Robotic team to compete in the US, found herself in a difficult position when the girls were not allowed a visa to US under the Trump travel ban.

The girls were eventually given a visa after the fact caused outrage in the media, but it did more than that. As the girls gained their “celebrity status,”as Porter says, experts in tech and AI business saw this as a blatant example of non-inclusion in AI for the future.

“It’s just about giving [them] the right tools and education”

The girl’s team recently won a competition at the Estonian Robotics Festival, says Mahboob, for building a prototype of an agriculture robot using solar energy to support small-scale farmers.

“They proved that it’s just about giving [them] the right tools and education” she continues, pointing out that after they won the competition in Europe they returned to find the support of the Afghan President and their community.

The Afghan Robotics Team on stage at World Summit AI. Photo by: Inspired Minds

“(AI) will be the future, and I want Afghanistan to be part of it” adds Mahboob. For Ada-AI, the launch of the school project is the first stepping stone, but they hope to continue their work in creating bodies that can regulate this growth.

“The future of AI will be as inclusive as we make it”

Schroeder agrees, saying it’s really important not to only think about development and implementation of the technology, but to think of all the processes around it, from access to the technology to the setting up of new institutional models able to build tangible projects, to inclusion of communities in decision making.

The challenges are not scarce. The biggest challenge, Porter says “Is in countries where we’re battling with culture change”  for example in countries where girls’ access to education is limited, like Afghanistan, “and where families risk being ostracised from the community for allowing their daughters go to school.”

People like Schroeder, Porter, Dignum and Mahboob are starting fundamental conversations which will write our future.

There is a possibility to reach more stakeholders, Porter says that her organization has until now had a lot of support from white males, who are very aware of the risks.

“The future of AI will be as inclusive as we make it” concludes Schroeder.


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.


Words In the Bucket

The Nuba Mountains are situated in Central Sudan, in the South Kordofan state, and it is one of the most remote and inaccessible places in the country. This is probably one of reasons why there has been so little coverage of these atrocities, which have been going on for four years. Kristof and his colleague, photojournalist Adam B Ellick, had to cross into the region through rebel lines, facing dangerous road conditions and risking their lives. Thanks to their work, they have documented one of the worst atrocities that the world has never heard of. The video also documents the story of Dr Tom Catena, who has been in the region for eight years and is the only doctor in the hospital (hosting 435 beds) as well as being the sole responsible for the lives of half a million people. Dr Catena has to work in treacherous conditions, finding inventive ways to cure his patients with what he has available, as the government is blocking the area from accessing medicine and aid. Sometimes working with no water and no electricity, he does what he can. He makes 350$ a month.

The tragic history of this four-year war began in 2011 when Ahmed Haroun, indicted for crimes against humanity and genocide, was elected governor of the South Kordofan region in the general elections. Local leaders claim that the vote was constructed, and shortly after this election, fighting began in the region. Although the fighting is between the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N)- a rebel army with many thousands of soldiers that is strongly supported by local people- and the government, it is civilians that pay the highest price.

The Sudanese government is purposely-targeting civilians in villages and hospitals, apparently to make the area uninhabited so that there is no one left to support the rebels. In January, the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Nuba was targeted and bombed, causing a suspension of all medical activities and the evacuation of medical staff. Repeated bombings in the region are preventing the safe operation of medical activities, and depriving the population of their right to life saving care. Dr Catena’s hospital was bombed 11 times since he began his work in the region. In addition, reporting of the conflict is illegal in Sudan, as the government has closed off the region from any contact with the rest of the country, and the world.

Interviewed by Nuba Reports– an organization of local journalists reporting the conflict and providing content for many international news agencies-Shadia Omar Osman , a woman living in a populated village in the Nuba mountains blames Omar al-Bashid (who is also indicted for crimes against humanity and genocide) for the bombings, stating:

“I think he is angry at the army, but the civilians have nothing to do with it”

Her village was bombed by the government with cluster bombs, which luckily did not work and did not explode. The bombs would have likely killed her and her neighbours, as they hid in fox holes which they built to protect themselves from the bombings. According to Nuba Reports, 3740 bombs have been dropped on civilian targets since 2012.

Left to deal with the situation by themselves, the Nuba people are enduring persecution by the Sudanese government, but enough is enough. It is time for international governments to step up and condemn these atrocities, as mentioned by Mukesh Kapila in 2012:

“The United Nations could initiate a more serious political process on Sudan to tackle the underlying causes of the conflict. Instead, its desultory and fragmented efforts play straight into the hands of Khartoum, which is adept at divide and rule tactics. The UN, African Union, and Arab League could join together to put pressure on Khartoum. Meanwhile, more African countries could follow Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi in showing their disapproval of Bashir, and the African Union could toughen up its act. In addition, all countries with ambassador level diplomatic presence in Khartoum could withdraw this, sending a strong signal that they will not do business as usual with a regime headed by an indicted war criminal.”

Not much has been done since the war has begun, and civilians keep on dying. A most touching part of the NYT video was to see children, hiding in caves during bombings, able to reproduce the sounds of different bombs with too much precision. Children are not supposed to know these things.

Watch the video here

A/N: Please click on this link to donate to Dr Catena’s work, and spread the news.

originally posted in Words in the Bucket


Words In the Bucket

Charlie Hebdo has become the face of freedom of expression worldwide. The hashtag “Je Suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” was used millions of times and spread around the internet like wildfire. It expresses solidarity and support for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but it primarily represents support for freedom of speech and against armed attacks. Together with the solidarity and unity that this horrific event has brought, there has also been a lot of hypocricy. World leaders from Qatar, Israel, Russia, Germany, US marched in the name of freedom of expression at the Charlie Hebdo rally in Paris. Many of these countries imprison and harass journalists and bloggers: there are hundreds of Charlie Hebdos in the world, and their story must be told.

In 2014, even before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the western world was forced to wake up. The public beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff and the imprisonment and sentence to 10 years of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste had already attracted attention on the issue of freedom of expression and press freedom. However, mainstream media arbitrarily covers stories because of their appeal and there are many stories that do not make the headlines.


Pedro Canché, Mexican, imprisoned since August 2014

In the last three years, journalism has become an extremely dangerous job: journalists, bloggers and cartoonists all over the world are harassed persecuted and sometimes killed for doing their job and trying to document facts. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 91 journalists and media workers were killed in 2014. In the last month only, more than 40 journalists were either killed, imprisoned or persecuted because of their profession.

Just a few days ago Raif Badawi , a Saudi blogger facing a 10 year sentence, received the first 50 of the 1000 lashes he is to obtain as punishment. Other than lashing being a completely medieval method of punishing a human being, it is unthinkable that Badawi is facing such a sentence all because he called for open debate on the way the Saudi society is evolving. The flogging will resume on Friday.


Amanuel Asrat, Eritrean, in jail since 2001 with no charge

On the 23rdof December, Marco Debarros Leopoldo Guerra, a Brazilian blogger who was critical of local authorities and accused them of corruption, was gunned down whilst returning to his home in the evening.

On the 3 January in Northern Nigeria 2000 people, mostly women children and elders, were killed by Islamism extremists group Boko Haram. Other than the fact that the world was concentrated on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, another reason why there was barely any coverage of the massacre is that the group has been targeting journalists, and therefore they were not there to report the facts.


Yang Tongyan, Chinese, imprisoned since 2005

A few days ago in Cuba, a group of Cuban dissidents were arrested before participating to a demonstration for freedom of expression in their country.

Yang Tongyand, a Chinese freelance journalist, has been in prison since 2005 on the anti-state charge. Yang was a well-known writer and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. He was a frequent contributor to U.S.-based websites banned in China, including Boxun News and Epoch Times. He often wrote critically about the ruling Communist Party and advocated for the release of jailed Internet writers.

Last August, in Ferguson, journalists from the Washington Post were arrested and harassed by police.

The list could go on and on.

It is important that between a hashtag and another, people gain as much knowledge as possible about the cause they claim to be fighting for, and take action by signing petitions or demonstrating amongst other things, to defend this sacred human right they hold so dear.

For more information:

To sign the petition to stop the flogging of Badawi:


Words In the Bucket

Today marks the 37th year since Steve Bantu Biko’s funeral. On this day, in 1977, more than 10000 people attended his funeral – including diplomats from 13 countries. The attendance number would have been higher if the police had not stopped many who were attempting to enter the funeral to pay their respects.

A revolutionary, a father and a doctor, Biko was 30 years old and one of the pioneers of the Anti- Apartheid movement. He died in prison because of brain damage caused by the beatings he received by the prison officials. The official cause of death declared by the racist government in charge at the time was that he died because of a hunger strike. He was one of many to die in prison by the hands of the officials since the 1962 ‘Detention Without Trial’ convention was introduced.

The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), of which Biko was a leader, was a movement that urged black people to be aware of the value of their humanity, and to feel pride in being black. Part of the idea was that a ‘psychological’ liberation  was an essential step towards black liberation. A fight for the political and social change alone, were not enough to bring liberation forwards.

Years of oppression and injustice had inevitably resulted in a huge inferiority complex felt by many black people in South Africa, even though they were the majority. The movement stimulated many to confront the cultural and psychological realities of the Apartheid regime, seeking black participation in society and in political struggles. For example, whilst many movements looked for whites to cooperate with them to achieve civil rights, the BCM wanted blacks to lead in the elimination of the regime and obtain rights for the black South Africans.

The movement was often criticized as having very little impact on policies and laws, and therefore often labeled as ineffective. However, I think it is a mistake to underestimate the significance of the intellectual aspect that comes with wanting change; in a society where most trails of identity and pride for black South Africans were trashed by the racist government, it was a crucial first step in regaining consciousness and an identity.

A movement with a similar approach is the Gay Pride, which has taught us that true change comes when people are not afraid to speak up, when people are aware and conscious of their human and civil rights. Until the first half of the 19th century, homosexuality was closeted. Homosexuals were individuals without a collective conscience. To declare one’s homosexuality, or to be ‘outed’ meant serious consequences in the workplace, at home and in society.

Women’s rights movements have also grown from women’s collective awareness of their own rights. Not to be underestimated is also the huge importance of the feeling of support that people get in being part of a movement.

Yesterday, I saw a documentary following the biggest climate change march in history that happened just a few days ago. In it, the power of people’s collective action and solidarity was highlighted as a huge catalyst for change. People all over the world marched to show that they are aware of what is happening to our planet, and that they demand change. If we become aware of what we can do, then there is no stopping us.

In a country that offered black people very few opportunities, Steve Bantu Biko managed to raise his voice and urge black people to be proud of their ‘blackness’, to expect respect and freedom and to be conscious of what they deserved. It takes courage and perseverance to follow the pursuit of justice in a society where you are given barely any space, and it takes much more to have thousands of people respect and follow you through that path.

History has taught us that humanity is capable of changing the unchangeable. We are the ones responsible for the way the world is now (good and bad) and we are the ones responsible for changing the things we want changed.

If you want to change the world, first change yourself. The rest will follow.


Words In the Bucket

“Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too”. Emma Watson’s speech at the launch of the campaign ‘He for She’ has gained a lot of attention in the last month, and it seems the 24 year old has managed to put the point across.

The point of the campaign is that men should also be involved in the fight for women’s rights, plain and simple. The Gender Equality movement has had women as its main advocates since it started; it is only natural that, as women, we feel more strongly about defending our own rights, I definitely don’t blame the men for their lack of participation.

Only recently, men have started participating in the discourse and played a more active role, but to a very limited extent. It seems like Gender Equality is an issue many men don’t feel they should be talking about: especially those who believe in women’s rights often think that having a strong opinion about it, or an active role in defending them, would be overstepping the ‘one thing’ that women are actually leading. Around me for example, I have not seen a huge interest by the men in my life to actively participate in the fight for ‘Gender Equality”, and I know its not because they don’t believe it is right or have no interest in it at all, but because they think it’s “our thing” and they shouldn’t intervene.

Undoubtedly, this defeats the purpose. If we want equal rights, then we should have equal opportunities to participate in this social and political activity, and we should stop trying to define roles, or place pedestals everywhere. We are all on the ground. I think the idea tackled in the campaign is of great importance, and that men should stand up for this.

Now, this can be taken in two ways. The first is to think that this is an outrageous misinterpretation of the gender equality fight, that it sends the message of excluding women, rather painting a picture of a man telling a woman “I’ll take it from here, sweetheart” as quoted by a journalist in the Guardian. However I think this interpretation simply doesn’t grasp the point.The point has with no doubt been understood, so much that on the 29th of September, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Iceland, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, announced that Iceland will host a ‘Men Only” conference on gender equality, with a special focus on violence on women.

The second way of interpreting this would be to think that this is a delightful way of making sure that men are ‘physically’ introduced in the discourse. They will have to sit in a room and discuss these sorts of issues; there will be no escaping. Moreover, let’s presume that of the people that will attend the conference, many will have to prepare themselves before the event, as gender might not be an area of their expertise (who wants to go to a conference unprepared?). This will mean more men will have more detailed information on the issues that surround gender equality, gender violence and women’s rights, and therefore they will have a fuller understanding of what we women have been talking about all these years. Exposing men so directly to these issues is an important step towards a successful and equal fight towards gender equality.

If this is the case, whether this will be a successful conference all depends on the actual logistics and agenda of the event, my questions for now are: Will women be in the panel? Will there be women giving talks and telling their stories? Will women experts lead the conference on the issues and only have men participate?

I think it’s a great initiative and I hope it will bring men to actually find a true interest in gender issues and to spread the word to other men. This is not just our (women) fight; it is your fight too.


Words In the Bucket

Feminism is often branded in the wrong way: many think of women who grow their armpit hairs really long, have loads of meaningless sex (what is that anyways?) and are extremely angry with men. They are misled.

In the last few days I have been hearing the word feminism more often than usual. Just yesterday on ‘The Guardian’ there was an article on the words, such as nag and whine, which have stigmatized girls for decades and “that we do not want to hear no more”. Or in the past few days, when the ‘celebrity nude scandal’ that has sparked discussions on how women’s bodies are objectified, and that woman are never going to be left alone.

When I hear all this talk about feminism, I always wonder whether people really understand what it means. I think every once in a while, we need to remind ourselves what it is we are fighting for to avoid other ideals and emotions from getting in the way and take us away from the main aim.

Usually, people that fight for too long end up often saying they forgot what it is they started fighting for. This should be avoided at all costs.

The meaning of feminism is extremely confused. Doing a simple Google research, one can find hundreds of different interpretations of what feminism is, has been and will be. It is a hot topic.
I decided to stick with this one definition: “Feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. I would like to highlight the word EQUALITY, as I think it is the main point of feminism.

During my university years we had a “Feminism” module in one of our international politics courses. I had to read about all the different facets of feminism, from the extremists to the moderate and that is when I started building a stronger and more conscious opinion of the subject. I admit it, I found most literature on feminism very boring. I was often annoyed, and thought that some of the actions done in the name of feminism are an exhibitionist exaggeration and simply shift the point away from what it really stands for.

Take FEMEN for example, a Ukrainian- founded feminist group which has made topless protests and drastic actions the “new thing” in the feminist wave. There is no denying that these women have courage and that their protests definitely stir things up. I never understood, however, why they had to get topless and write things like “ Pope no more” or “F**k your morals” on their breasts in public places. It seems to me that this derails the attention away from what feminism stands for and actually gives bigots and opponents of feminism more justifications .
Undoubtedly, it creates chaos and media upheaval, but just like every extreme act, they create a hurricane that dies very quickly. I do not think it is the most effective way of bringing the message of equality of the sexes. I believe everyone should express their views in whichever way they believe, but I choose to stick with another representation of feminism.

Chimamanda Adichie, whose books I love and whose person I respect, gave a speech on TedEx in 2013: “We should all be feminists”. With unprecedented elegance she manages to explain what living as a woman in this world is, focusing on African (Nigerian in this case) society. Other than describing the discrimination that women receive, she makes the very intelligent argument that women are often taught by their mothers and fathers not to “intimidate the man”,  to shrink themselves, make themselves smaller so as to protect the man (from what?) and make him think that he is ‘stronger’ and ‘better’. How we are educated and how we educate is something that we must consider in the gender discourse.

This is to say that, as many other social attitudes, this can be also considered a cultural problem, and we can do something to change that. I do not want to get into the religious discourse, as this would shift you from the point of this article. Adichie intelligently quotes:

“Culture does not make people, people make culture”

This is a phrase that points out something we tend to forget. We have the power to modify the way we live, and the way other people live.

By changing the way we educate the next generations, and by behaving differently in our daily lives (at the store, at the gym, in school), we can change the way of living of future generations and feminism will be a word we do not even have to look for, as it will be defined in our daily lives.


Words In the Bucket

Gender is at the top of the agenda in International Development.

“ Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women” is the third Millennium Development Goal (MDG)[1], announced in 2000 by the Secretary General of the UN. The promoting part of the goal has been tackled, now it is time to act.

International news and press releases from pressure groups like Amnesty International constantly share news of women suffering abuse, of different kinds. In India, there has been a  case on the link between lack of access to hygiene and rape; women and girls are raped on the way to find a clean place to use the toilet.  Another story is the one of Meriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death for apostasy because she married a Christian man in Sudan. She was arrested and forced to give birth in a dirty prison, in chains. Not to mention the 200 million children that are estimated to be victims of sexual abuse every year. The situation worsens when there is an ongoing conflict, as protective networks usually collapse during this time. This was one of the biggest topics at the world summit to end sexual violence during conflict a few weeks ago in London. Most of the victims of rape during war are women, so gender-based violence was big on the agenda too.

As we approach the New Year many international organisations are pushing for women and girls to be at the top of the post 2015 MDG agenda. The Nike funded “girl effect” has for example released a Girls Declaration which is a call for action linking women empowerment to poverty alleviation.

The Guardian Global Development recently featured an interactive graph showing Women’s rights by country (please see below- it’s worth a watch). It gives a great overview the legal side of the topic (which often is what actually changes things) showing country by country, what laws and legislations prevent or allow women’s rights.

Gender is everywhere.

A few weeks ago I received a notification from a discussion group on LinkedIn that discusses gender issues. The discussion started with the question:

“How do you define empowering women in few words? All women want to be empowered but a few women seek power”

I was baffled. I did not, and still do not, think that there is a way of defining “women empowerment” in a few words. I also don’t agree with the second statement on women not seeking power -what does seeking power mean anyways?

As I expected, a series of clichéd explanations started coming up in the comments to this question. Some suggested that empowering women was giving them self-confidence, others mentioned equal treatment within the law, others suggested economic independence, and some spoke of access to health care and quality education, the list goes on. All valid points, but they still were not a holistic explanation of what women empowerment really means.

As I read on, it became clear that finding one sentence was probably not possible, the definitions – or indicators-  that define women empowerment are too many.

Ruth Alsop and Nina Heinsohn describe empowerment as the ‘capacity to make effective decisions and convert them into desired outcomes”.  This made me think that perhaps though it was not possible to use one sentence to describe women empowerment, ironically it would have been possible to use one word: CHOICE.

When an individual is able to choose – socially, politically and economically- they are free and therefore become empowered. Having the possibility to express your religious or political views, to be able to wear what you want, and to choose your own path is what we should aspire for every human being to have.

Just yesterday the European court for Human Rights ruled the French ban on veil as not being a violation of human rights.  Yet another example of taking away women’s choice.

With the deadline of Beijing +20 and many women around the world still not enjoying basic human rights, now is the moment to spur recommitment on women rights.

Although I don’t undermine the importance of definitions, having worked in the development sector and in an emergency context, I think the time has come – after years of promoting and defining gender-related words –  to stop trying to give words a meaning and Give Women a Choice.