Blog #7 UN Humanitarian Aid Work in Liberia

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“You are a UN Humanitarian Aid worker who has recently been sent to Liberia to provide aid to women, men and children in surrounding IDP camps…What steps do you think the UN must take to ensure the safety, health and well-being of these communities. What information must be recorded and why? What services must be delivered, and how?”

Liberia : Montserado refugee camp ©ECHO/ Sophie Vanhaeverbeke

Liberia : Montserado refugee camp ©ECHO/ Sophie Vanhaeverbeke

It is imperative that as a UN aid worker, I realize that I cannot impose my ideals on the Liberian people and that I understand the reasons and effects of the internal armed conflict they experienced. As fellow blogger Christine Galotti stated a “transnational” approach is needed to serve the Liberians. This can be achieved responsibly and effectively by the United Nations in establishing a relationship with community leaders and hear the grievances of Liberians. Many camps that hold internally displaced populations (IDP) face adverse effects of war as there are no social service infrastructures such as health clinics, schools, water filtration systems, etc. that can allow the community to sustain itself. The first step is to ensure the health needs and security of IDP’s.

In the post-war period, the violence does not end once arms are laid down. The effects of war are numerous and effect women, men and children differently.  From Ashford’s The Impact of War on Women, women are disproportionately affected by war experiencing “violence, rape and extortion in camps” (197). Liberian women suffered and survived the abuses and human rights violations committed by the anti-terrorist unit of Charles Taylor as well as the insurgency group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). It is important to accommodate the current President of Liberia, Ellen Johnsons Sirleafs’ plan to investigate human rights abuses and tend to the people who have survived the war. These reports can encourage the international community, particularly Nigeria, Sierra Leone and other countries involved in ousting Charles Taylor to create a case for the injustices that he has committed.

The expansive issue of rape committed during the internal conflict in Liberia would also require UN forces to perform medical check-ups for the IDP’s and screen them for sexually transmitted diseases.  Raised in a blog by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), UN aid workers and peacekeepers are not trained on how to stop sexual violence, which causes many of them to avoid reporting it.  Patrick Cammerat, former commander of the UN in the Democratic Republic of Congo has begun the first steps in training UN workers to search for signs to prevent rape as well as not evade it. He feels exposure to the topic can enable UN workers to intervene, stop and/or prevent sexual violence. Building health clinics would ensure that the IDP residents would have medical attention when facing dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, malnutrition, fevers and other health risks that could become deadly if not treated. Access to safe water, proper shelter, sanitation and food distribution are also steps needed to be taken to ensure the health of IDP’s.

In a segment of the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I remember the Women’s Liberation Movement went to the areas in which disarmament was taking place and acted as a monitoring agency for the process. One woman activist in particular mentioned that Liberia had in the past both successful and unsuccessful experiences with disarmament and therefore they knew what worked in their country and what did not. However, the UN peacekeeping forces dismissed their presence and expertise by emphasizing their authority in the process by stating that they were the professionals. To dismiss local guidance in a peacemaking process requires that an agency like the UN work with the people of Liberia, especially prominent members in the community that organized resistance towards Ex-President Charles Taylor.

The steps that are required to serve IDP camps effectively are expansive. It extends from taking care of the physical well-being of people to ensuring their security and stability. As a UN humanitarian aid worker, it is a difficult job to pursue and fulfill. International aid offers assistance to IDP camps in need; it unfortunately does not offer panaceas to the many issues that exist in these camps but I believe it exists to promote hope, activism and empowerment to these communities.

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The Problem in Taking Refuge

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On my trip to Afghanistan about two years ago I remember crossing a barren park, with one swing set. In the blazing heat of the summer, I remember looking back and witnessing a line of women, but more specifically widows, waiting for basic food rations distributed at what looked like a UN tent. Each woman was given two containers of cooking oil and a bag of rice. Before thinking if that was enough food to last them a week, I thought about how they were going to carry these supplies to home. From what I could tell all these women either came by foot or by taxi and they did not have men to accompany them; a norm that developed out of the many years of war. This description that I am giving exemplifies the effects of war and poverty on women.Credits from  occhiogrosso-math.wikispaces.com/Refugee

Credits from occhiogrosso-math.wikispaces.com/Refugee

Put in groups in my Feminism Health and New Media class, each group was given a picture where we were to examine any sign of power relations from the scene. My group was given a picture of an Afghan Refugee camp in Peshawar and all we could see were endless tents and a clear blue sky and men. Where were the women in these refugee camps? As analyzed by my group and Professor Morgane Richardson, these women were inside the tents and built an indoor community for themselves; fearing sexual assault and also taking care of the elderly and vulnerable. This is the gendered experience of displaced women in refugee camps.

Using “gender as a lens to uncover hidden power relations,” as stated by Charli Carpenter, I also analyzed the experiences of women in a Syrian refugee camp shown on the news. The men who were most often approached by the news crew were raising the issue of political instability in the country and gave their opinions about the current events while the one woman who was interviewed talked about the health disparities in these refugee camps. She raised important points on the distance of health clinics from the refugee camp as well as the many people suffering from diarrhea and vomiting. Could these differences in concerns and responses to their experiences as refugees reflect their gendered perspectives?

Video Blog # 4

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Assignment:

Produce a campaign video directed to United States feminist communities explaining at least two (2) effects of war/violent conflict on women, why these issues need our attention and what resources might be used in order to address these effects and create a more stable life for women living through conflict.

Systematic Vulnerability

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I was shocked to find out that in 2008 the UN Security Council declared rape as a weapon of war. The history of war is filled with women as victims and survivors during wartime as well as in the post-war period. But it’s better late than never for violence against women in times of war to be recognized. It is a stepping stone for the international community to acknowledge that in order to end rape as a weapon of war, women must become “…full participants in their nation’s national security sector and post-war negotiations and full participants in international peace-keeping missions.”

As analyzed by Mary-Wynne Ashford in The Impact of War on Women, the health effects of war are endured well after the war is over. Recognizing the many factors that contribute to making women vulnerable in wartime, Ashford argues that in regions where women do not have “basic rights of autonomy” they are most vulnerable during times of conflict. Making them more dependent on men for security, institutionalized patriarchy diminishes the autonomy of women’s economic, political and social roles in society.

Google Images search: UN rape as a weapon of war

Google Images search: UN rape as a weapon of war

The health disparities faced by women are also extensive. Ashford raises attention to the spreading of HIV/Aids as a result of systematic rape in many war torn countries. In the Rwandan Genocide, which is projected that between 200,000 and 500,000 women were raped, there was evidence that “weaponization of HIV” was used as a tactic by combatants. In some cases it was found that women were specifically taken to HIV positive soldiers to be raped. The horrific sexual exploitation of women is an act of exercising power over the “enemy”. In a highly patriarchal society, where women are treated as commodities, socially handicapped from being active citizens, these limitations placed on women are worsened. Unable to travel to health clinic and lacking sufficient medical supplies and care, are just some of the hostile effects of war on women.

Addressing systematic gender based violence towards women, non-profit organizations like MADRE aid women internationally by building health clinics, educating and “equipping women with tools to prevent sexual assault in war and in the aftermath of disasters.” Ensuring that rape and sexual violence should not be an expected occurrence in war zones, transnational organizations, women peace movements such as the one in Liberia led by Leymah Gbowee, and human rights activists have contributed to combating the long trend of sexual violence against women in times of war.

Image from ilga.org

Image from ilga.org

No More Misrepresentation of Women says film “Miss Representation”

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Inspired by the words of Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director of the film Miss Representation, I wanted to bring to light the increase in women’s positive representation in the media. I am proud to be part of the ever growing culture of women that are vocal about women’s misrepresentation in the media and how it affects our consciousness as a whole. Addressing the root reasons and solutions on how the media stereotypes and categorizes women “into boxes” that hinder our agency in society. This is an issue of gender inequality that is crucial to women worldwide.

Aimed at changing the status quo of patriarchy and sexism existing in the media, Newsom raises surprising statistics “where in leadership less than 18% of women [are]… in positions of leadership despite being 51% of the US population and despite giving birth to 100% of the population.” We as women should recognize our power as citizens and consumers, especially with the fact that in the US and similar stats worldwide, women are 86% of consumers and are active members of the global economy. Using this to our advantage, we have the power to strategically challenge and change this status quo. Media disempowers women by commodifying their bodies to sell their products ranging from magazines, to alcoholic beverages, to airline services and many other examples seen in advertisements. The same source of exploitation can also be a source of empowerment as represented by Geena Davis and her role in the movie A League of Their Own. She stated in Miss Representation that many young girls were approaching her and expressed how they began to join sports teams after watching her in the film. This proves that women in the media shown in an active and positive light can remind women of their potential in reality. This goes with the saying that we sometimes do not envision what we do not see. Her role in the film impacted the lives of many women and girls.

Increasing women’s agency is imperative in bridging the gap of gender inequality. I too have become an active producer using media by creating a short video with my fellow classmates that raises the problem and challenges women misrepresentation in the media. Blogs like feministteacher.com (that integrate feminist discourse and social justice in the education of elementary to high school students) and womensmediacenter.com work as outlets that highlight strong women leaders taking action in policy making, educational discourse, etc.

The media can be used to challenge the status quo, it just depends on where you are looking.

Video BLog #3

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Video Blog Assignment:  In groups of two or three, produce a creative 1- 3min web video that challenges and/or demonstrates resistance towards some of the negative representations of women of color’s bodies online.

Here is my group’s analysis and response to racist discourse and how new media tackles it!

Real vs Virtual Advocacy

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The narratives of transgender individuals expressed through new media challenges and debunk the myths placed against them. Anne-Fausto Sterling in her piece The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not Enough boldly states that in trying to maintain a norm of a two sex binary and heteronormative culture, society exerts biopower and governmentality that police the bodies of transgender and intersex individuals. Using new media as a mode of social change, trans-blogging has given the lived experiences of the LGBT community visibility in the blogosphere. While promoting visibility, I also agree that new media is not the only solutions or mode of caring out a social change. As a strategy used by the LBGT community and networks, it has its advantages and disadvantages.

From Google Images (creative commons)

Elisabeth Jay Friedman’s The Reality of Virtual Reality: The Internet and Gender Equality Advocacy in Latin America explores how the “information and communication technology” (ICT) has empowered socially marginalized individuals to broadcast their ideas. The first LGBT blog I found, “Stuff Queer People Need to Know” has a blog entry that spread the word on the Transgender pride rally and picnic that took place in Chicago. This form of consciousness-raising gives visibility and stimulates activity within the marginalized community. Queer and Trans-blogging is using the internet as a method for promoting civil society advocacy. Yet a concern for merely examining the LGBT community’s activity online for advocating political change is raised by Friedman. It is definitely necessary to view how the community utilizes technology to increase their presence in new media but as Friedman stated “they provide only a partial view of the relationship between technology and political change.” For instance although a “Lesbian Health Fact Sheet” has been developed and shared on the internet by the National LGBT Cancer Network, it does not reflect the treatment, exclusion and discriminiation experienced by the LGBT community. The rate between change in the material world vs. the virtual one can be uneven.

The complications of ICT can be counterproductive and create instances of misinformation and miscommunication. It can also place pressures on established NGO’s and other vehicles of social change to utilizing the internet in order to be considered a vital resource in campaigning for gender equality (Friedman 4). As the blogosphere has much to contribute to gender equality campaigns, it can also be frustrating in areas where there is a “digital divide”. Not having access to the internet and computers as well as not knowing how to use these tools counteracts the “fluid” and “horizontal” production and distribution of knowledge and ideas within the LGBT community and other gender equality groups and NGO’s. As inspiring the argument is on ICT developing as a vital resource to the LGBT community, whether if it with the low cost that ICT aids in consciousness raising (via emails as opposed to printing flyers), I argue that it does not reveal the diversity and complexity within the LGBT community as fluently as some might argue. Both field and cyber activism are viable ways of enhancing gender equality.

Giving general visibility to the LGBT community online, ICT has helped promote interconnectivity and crucial information for gender equality campaigns. Also providing a form of online autonomy, new media has given the marginalized LBGT community many alternative media outlets.  Some examples are Kate Bornstein, Jen Jack Gieseking, and Huffington Posts’ “Gay Voices” blog page. Providing visibility for the LGBT community is one of the main elements credited with new media. Not undermining the physical and field activism that has occurred and is still happening, but in the 21st century, visibility via the web is often equated to providing autonomy and independence to these communities from mainstream media outlets.

With collective action taken by NGO’s and other groups advocating for social change in the LGBT community, there have been benefits gained from technology as well as drawbacks. It has decreased the distance between common initiatives  on an international level, promoting regional and local awareness on violations against the rights of women and the LGBT community. Although much controversy follows the NGOization of feminist agendas, on an individual level it has allowed for a healthy does of self-expression.

What Did You Expect

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Discussing the topic of stereotypes and internalized racism has allowed me to realize my experiences with narrow-minded commentary on my ethnicity. As an Asian-American and more specifically an Afghan-American, I have been commonly told that I look Hispanic. This becomes problematic when the response to my true ethnicity is look of surprise, denial or confusion. Numerous times I have had that uncomfortable conversation with people (who share the reaction mentioned above) in regards to my ethnicity. I respond by explaining how my appearance is common within my ethnic community and that just like any other ethnic group we have very diverse features. We not have one static identity. That leads me to think what they expected me to be…darker? Wearing what the west has deemed as the oppressive burqa?  Some people confuse my explaining with antagonism and ease off the subject. But my awkward and mostly ineffective ways at explaining the diversity among my ethnic community gets answered with “…ok. But you look Hispanic”.  As my cousin once told an individual who commented that she did not look Afghan, “what did you expect? Someone with horns and a tail.”

I always wondered if the common reaction to my ethnicity is rooted to the concept of internalized racism. Through the media, especially the news, these geographic regions have been the face of poverty, war, oppression and anti-American sentiment. Seen as those who have not adopted “liberal individualism” and the capitalist culture that the West has, is a root source which stereotypes form. The dichotomy of the East vs. West rhetoric which leads to prejudgments is critically analyzed by Edward Said’s critical analysis of Orientalism and the cultural ideas that formed its foundation. Being non-western in the west there is a desire to assimilate or “pass” as a privileged citizen in order to avoid being stereotyped. I was even once told that it might be a good thing that I could pass as Hispanic in order to avoid being harassed (especially during the post 9/11 against Afghans, Arab, Muslims and other groups blamed for starting the War on Terror).

Nadine Naber, my favorite writer on gender and cultural politics also exemplifies the stereotypical portrayal of non-westerners. She delves into how imperialist racism has constructed the identity of the Orient as “uncivilized” and “backwards”. The generalized, artificial attributions created by colonial European forces have been and are being portrayed by media and other cultural envoys ever since the Crusades!  The “othering” of marginalized ethnic groups in society enforces the desire of assimilation as an attempt to resist the stereotypical representations of ourselves by the culture defining us.

Other resources that draw on the theme of this blog post!

Bell hooks’ Killing Rage is a must read

Watch the film Amreeka by Cherien Dabis which draws on the 9/11 backlash stimulated by prejudiced stereotypes of Arab Americans

That’s Not Racist!

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Watching the video Sh*t White Girls Say to Black Girls brought a refreshing illustration of internalized racism. Out of the many common series of “Shit Girls Say” videos pouring on the internet, Franchesca Ramsey nails the hardly discussed racist comments towards people of color. This video should make you uneasy about the interpretations and stereotypes made for being a person of color. Through TV shows such as Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne”, these stereotypes placed on people of color are exaggerated and the media used to represent people of color are limited. As fellow blogger Kerishma Panigrahi pointed out, “no ethnic group is a monolith, yet the media insists on representing them in that way.” Racial diversity in the media has a long way to go.

bell hooks in her chapter “Black Beauty and Black Power” examines the solution that black activists developed against internalized racism. By creating a movement of “self-love” in the 70’s, black activism worked on interpreting black as empowering and going against the color caste hierarchy which lauded and gave privileges for having lighter features (122). An example of the revolutionary and politicized practice that halted in this movement was the use of chemical straighteners among women of color. Detaching away from the traditionally racist interpretation of natural hair being deviant among women of color, the natural texture of hair was more commonly worn and seen as a political and social effort to destigmatize the offensive attachments labeled on it. This form of reclaiming racial integrity can allow us to move forward from what is deemed beautiful and strip away the deviance assigned non-whites in society. The idea that the body that one was given at birth is not good enough is disproportionately adopted among women of color.

hooks also illuminates the problem that arose with the process of assimilation among people of color into mainstream society. Referring to this practice as “embracing liberal individualism”, she expands on how this worked to weaken black activism on beauty standards after the civil rights movement. Although people of color were “free” to choose how they wanted to carry themselves, especially in the aesthetics sense, it did not stop the self-policing and internalized culture against racist notions of beauty and the self. With current TV media discourse failing to positively shape our perspectives on beauty norms which connect to self-awareness and self-love, we can place our faith in cyber media and independent artists to encourage racial diversity.

Fifty Shades of Black- Huffington Post live

“We just want you to be healthier”- Scene from movie Knocked Up

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When I finally got power after Hurricane Sandy, the second thing I did was turn on my TV and see what Sunday movies were playing. I have always watched parts of the movie Knocked Up, but never the whole movie so I decided to watch it! Still bearing in mind this weeks topic on the “War on Obesity” I had to post one of the most iconic lines in the film related to this topic. Enjoy!