CELEBRATING 5 YEARS
CONTENTS SPECIAL WORK
IPF PARTNERSHIP CREATIONS Escape from war
A first-hand account of fleeing from Syria
From the ground up
Time for something new
The young Venezuelans improving their homeland
The Democratic Party’s loss and future
Depictions from within
Owning our movement, owning our future
A DJ’s answer to club-scene problems in Bristol
Africa as locals see it
Amplifying LGBTQ voices in the Middle East
Female film critics speak out
An appetite for interconnection
Three examples of increasing regional integration
India’s green start-up revolution
Allison Declercq-Matthäs Priyanka Mogul Catarina Demony
Andrea Thompson Arpita Atkins Catarina Demony Claudia Gonzalez Joe Corry-Roake Lorin Kasso Priyanka Mogul Rima Amin Ruth O’Leary Simon Fraser Yaerin Ku Zoe Large
Soviet practices harming disabled children
Daniel Medina Chloe Henderson Corinna Bahr Allison Declercq-Matthäs
FOUNDER LETTER // NATASHA LIPMAN The International Political Forum was born when I became too sick to complete my MA. My friends and I loved international politics, but lacked a space online to share the stories we found important. In the span of a few months I had dozens of writers from around the world and the IPF was developing quickly outside of my friend group. It was proof that young people had so much to say, but didn’t feel they could make their voices heard. We launched an internationally recognised project in Libya, giving young people the chance to share their experiences of the revolution. The idea won me a trip to India to meet Richard Branson. Since then hundreds of writers have joined us, deeply affecting stories have been told, awareness has been raised for amazing causes and we’ve highlighted the work of amazing youth across the globe. I genuinely never expected the IPF to grow so quickly—or in the way it did. We seemed to catch a wave of passionate young people who wanted to gain writing experience and cared deeply about the world around them. I’m so proud of the work that has been produced by our young journalists. The IPF was such a passion project for me, and I’m indebted to Priyanka and Catarina who took the reigns when I became too unwell to focus on it. To see the talent, skill, and dedication of the team is fantastic, and I’m honoured to say we played a role in helping shape some tremendous young journalists. Thank you everyone for your support over the years and thank you to all the amazing writers who cut their teeth with us. I can’t wait to see what you all do!
MAGAZINE EDITOR NOTES // ALLISON DECLERCQ-MATTHAS It is bitter-sweet to have been at the head of this magazine. On the one hand I am so very proud to have had the chance to gather and curate the stunning work within these pages. This publication truly is a celebration of the inspiring ideas, ideals and relationships the IPF and its young contributors have fostered over the last five years. On the other hand, tragically, this budding idea is to be the final salute to the innovative news site that went from forum to International Press Foundation. It will be a sad end, but I think everyone who’s worked within the IPF can agree we all came away with something special: be it new skills, contacts or something as essential and basic as confidence. And it is not goodbye. History is full of rising and setting civilisations, trends and ideas. Something always follows. I look forward to all the new discoveries we will set our sights on.
IPF EDITOR-IN-CHIEF NOTES // PRIYANKA MOGUL In June 2016, I stood in the Shard, one of Europe’s most iconic buildings, and welcomed 150 young people to what would be the best debate I had ever heard on the EU referendum. That was the day I realised how brilliant, in every way, the IPF’s contributors and followers are. On days when I have wanted to give up entirely, new articles would come in and blow me away. There is no doubt that the IPF has been home to some of the best youth journalism in the world for the last five years. So yes, this is a bittersweet ending. But the passion, curiosity and their drive to tell stories doesn’t go away when the IPF does. And that’s what makes the future of journalism so incredibly exciting. Today is a day to celebrate our contributors. You guys made the IPF what it was and we remain forever grateful for your words.
IPF PARTNERSHIP CREATIONS // RIMA AMIN At the International Press Foundation (IPF), we’re proud to have created meaningful partnerships with brilliant organisations. And as the IPF’s Partnerships Manager I have been lucky to learn about the work our partners do and the lasting positive impact they have on others. One of our partners is the independent organisation “Hikayetna”, which translates to “Our Story” from Arabic. Hikayetna is a non-political organisation dedicated to telling the stories of Syrians through art and culture. They are a community of Syrians challenging the negative stereotypes of refugees. In our meetings with Hikayetna we identified their social media as an area of development we could provide support on. It was also an opportunity for one of our correspondents, Isabela Vrba, to gain experience with developing and setting a social media strategy. We created a six-week programme for her to work with Hikayetna’s social media channels and developed a strategy document for it to retain for future use. During our work with this inspiring organisation we recognised an additional chance for our relationship to strengthen. The work of our partners is important and pertinent for us all so we are excited to share with you the story of Lorin Kasso, a refugee who fled Syria in 2014.
ESCAPE FROM WAR A FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF FLEEING FROM SYRIA // LORIN KASSO welve million Syrians have fled their homes since March 2011. And more than 470,000 people have been killed. Life for Syrians has become too difficult to live. They have lost everything: homes, jobs, safety, education and their future. The only remaining option is to leave their homeland and move to neighbouring countries or Europe. Many people have died while trying to cross the borders and oceans—one of whom was Aylan, the threeyear-old Kurdish boy who died trying to reach Europe. I was one of the people who tried to cross the border and this is my story. It was 25 June 2014. This day held the biggest change in my
life. I left Al Derbassiya in Syria—my country, my home. On this day, my family and I tried to cross through Kobanî — the border between Syria and Turkey — to get to London, where my father was waiting for us. We started our terrible journey at noon when the temperature was at its hottest. In the rush to leave we forgot our water to drink. We walked for about two hours before reaching the border. It was too difficult to cross— because the border between these two cities is not like the borders between Europe’s cities and you have to cut the spiky wires with pliers to get through. We started to search for a gap in the barbed wire to cross it. My family was so tired.
Finally, after three long hours on the border, my mother found a space where it appeared somebody had crossed before. We weren’t happy when we found the gap, because we were leaving our family and homeland, but we knew how lucky we were to be safe. As we were passing the border I injured my wrist and hand trying to assist my family. The Turkish soldiers were watching, but we didn’t know—and they came and they pointed their guns at our heads. My younger siblings were scared, but I knew I couldn’t be because at that time I needed to be strong to help my family. This overrode the fear. I didn’t know what we could do, but we never looked back. Going back to Syria wasn’t
an option. My mother tried to convince the Turkish officials that we had sold everything and that my father had died in the war. They let us enter. We were taken to a large camp with around thirty to forty people, fellow Syrians who had crossed the border before us. We waited until the next day in the camp. My father’s friend came with his wife to take us to their house in Amîd. We spent three days there
and then we took the bus to Istanbul. We spent one day on the bus and we arrived in Istanbul in the morning, then we got on the plane. The journey to London lasted about three and half hours and we arrived on 30 June. My father was waiting for us there and he took us to my uncle’s house for the first week. Soon after we went to our new house. The weather was so cold, people were different, the food
was terrible and our new house was too small for us. But we were safe. My life is getting better. I’m studying the English language and I’m working to be a pharmacist. At the beginning, I didn’t like being here at all. It is difficult without our homeland, friends, places and family who were part of my life. My grandmother, my aunts and uncles are still in Syria. I miss them.
FROM THE GROUND
THE YOUNG VENEZUELANS IMPROVING THEIR HOMELAND // CLAUDIA GONZALEZ uring the last two decades Venezuelans have experienced a significant decline in their living, social and economic conditions. The crisis has reached unprecedented levels recently with 2016 seeing 82% of households in poverty, according to the latest National Survey of Living Conditions. This positions Venezuela as the poorest country in Latin America, right after Haiti. According to Bloomberg’s Misery Index, Venezuela tops the list with 499.7 points, followed by South Africa’s significantly lower 32.2 points. These statistics may be shocking to foreigners, but for those living within the country it only takes one day in Caracas to witness how extreme the food shortage is—as a common sight is people eating out of garbage cans. Despite his extravagant
promises, former President Hugo Chávez’s brand of 21st century socialism failed to meet the basic needs of Venezuela’s people. And to its citizens’ deep dismay, the colossal political cost to admitting guilt is too great for the current government—even though it means continuing to deprive them of basic goods. Food is one of the critical issues in Venezuela right now, but medicine shortages follow right behind it. According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report from 2016, in which they interviewed health professionals and visited facilities, “doctors and patients reported severe shortages – and in some cases the complete absence – of basic medicines such as antibiotics, anti-seizure medication, anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants, painkillers and many others”.
A network of more than 200 doctors in August 2016 found that 76% of public hospitals lacked basic medicines, including many from the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. That’s up from 55% in 2014 and 67% in 2015. In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, it is hard to imagine there have been no initiatives to alleviate the situation. According to the same HRW report, to date there have been no large-scale health-assistance programs run by any international non-government organisation (NGO). This has allegedly been caused by the fact that offered aid is barred from entry by significant obstacles. For the current administration it would be beyond bad publicity to admit the failure of the revolution. After all, one of its greatest accomplishments
was receiving awards from the Food and Agriculture Organization and other United Nations bodies. Nonetheless, a tiny ray of hope may be found in Venezuela’s youth. Throughout the crisis the student movement have proven to be one of the central groups fighting the government’s poor decisions. Among the many stories of young exemplary citizens, the following three shed light on how civil society can support people in a country when international humanitarian aid has been deterred.
The young entrepreneur
Victor Navarro, 21, is a Mass Communications student who references Gandhi, a famous Indian lawyer and protester who promoted non-violence. Victor also works for a business incubator and is engaged in a project aiming to build the first eco-friendly hostel in the Archipielago Los Roques. For his age, this young adult is quite accomplished. His drive to work for the community comes from growing up in one of Caracas’s largest slum, San Augustin Del Sur, he said. Crime statistics were his front-door reality and by time he was 15 he had lost his father to the hands of violence. Two months after his father died, he joined a local NGO called Embajadores Comunitarios (Community Ambassadors), where – in his poetic words – “the rupture of paradigms began, along with a personal transcendence which intertwined with the development of an immense passion for volunteer work”. From then on, Victor’s determination to achieve things had two last names: resilience and entrepreneurship.
With a full scholarship he gained access to private university resources. He joined Model United Nations – where he was awarded several distinctions – and an organisation of civil society which supports and motivates young students.
“The more I learned, the more I gave back to the country.” Last year, he joined another NGO called Caracas Mi Convive (Caracas My Partner), which promotes coexistence through the creation of support networks throughout Caracas communities; their main goal being to diminish crime and violence.
The young leader
Carlos David grew up in Caricuao, another of the vast slums in Caracas. Today he is 23 and a journalist, graduated from the Catholic University of Caracas. He grew up in a household which always pushed him to strive for education; he is the first university graduate from his family. For him, the impulse to dedicate his young years to political and social activism grew from the students’ movement in Venezuela. From 2013-2015 he was one of the main leaders of the student movements within the university and nationally. Carlos was part of the political turmoil in 2014, when Leopoldo López – one of the main political leaders in Venezuela – was incarcerated. Opposition leaders relied a lot upon the student movement at the time.
“People no longer believed in politicians as much as they believed in us, the students.” He described this experience with great detail as he remem-
bered how the student movement’s leadership had specific demands for the government. In 2014 the first four months of his tenure as leader were immensely difficult. His friends were persecuted and incarcerated; some even losing their lives to state police violence. Looking back, he recognises it as a hard time. They were students guiding a political fight against a 16-year-old system— one revealing its totalitarian shades. As time went by there was more persecution and less protest. Carlos never grew quiet though. In 2015 he had the opportunity to attend the Summit of the Americas as a representative of the students’ movement and shared testimony of the current situation. He also briefed his peers on his homeland’s humanitarian crisis at the Youth Summit in Istanbul. Taking the lessons he learned as a protester and leader, Carlos continues to seek solutions at home too. “Through all this time of protest, the protest was not seen at the slums; it was too distant,” he said as an example. This realisation led to the proposal of Caricuao Propone (Caricuao Proposes), an initiative for students to work with communities and grow awareness in human rights topics, which Victor eventually led as its director. Today, Carlos is also a member of the Red of the Americas – an organisation supported by the Young American Business Trust of the Organisation of American States (OAS) – and an investigation assistant for the Catholic University.
The young humanitarian
Six years ago, Cristina Laguna joined a small NGO called >>
Acción Solidaria (Action With Solidarity) as part of her mandatory hours of community service in school. Today, she is 24 and the volunteer coordinator of the organization—which has shifted its focus from solely providing HIV assistance to a larger scope of humanitarian support. As previously mentioned, it is extremely challenging to find medicines in the country, due to import constraints. As a result Acción Solidaria shifted its recruitment efforts from sourcing only HIV medicines, to finding any type of medicine the public requests. “It’s not only that we work with medicines, we also treat aspects of human rights which made me fall in love with the organization,” she said. When asked whether gender imposed a particular barrier for volunteers in Venezuela, Cristina affirmed: “Whoever wants to help can do it, you just have to want to do it”. There are challenges, but they are mostly
related to providing sustainable assistance. “The real challenge is to continue, because everything is so hard over here.”
The youth of Venezuela
The current crisis continues to push Venezuelans to flee the country in the hopes of finding better livelihoods elsewhere. Unfortunately, official figures are difficult to track as the government continues to portray emigration as something perpetrated by the elites who disagree with their project. Nonetheless, there have been reports –by the New York Times and Washington Post – of people fleeing the country in boats toward any Caribbean island with better conditions. As well, neighbouring countries have considerably eased their border control for Venezuelans. Peru, for example, extended a permanent visa which requires little paperwork. These young activists are three remarkable examples of
the talent and resilience still left in Venezuela, a small reflection of all the hope there is in rebuilding the country. Even though their experiences have mostly been adverse, they are striving to fill the holes in a broken system. In Carlos´s words: “This situation is not normal, but we are still not in jail and I am not giving up just yet, because I continue to want to work for the people.” In spite of the hardships, Cristina said she would still be helping people if born in another country. For her, seeing the face of satisfaction, hope and relief in the people is what makes her feel human. She believes empathy is something that has been lost lately in Venezuela and is all the more reason to keep working. As for Victor: “The crisis has been the best teacher of resilience for Venezuelans—particularly the youth, who just like me, continue to bet in favour of this land.”
TIME FOR SOMETHING NEW
THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S LOSS AND FUTURE // SIMON FRASER onald Trump’s electoral victory was greeted by great surprise, beating all estimates that he would suffer a humiliating defeat. The Democratic Party’s plans for the White House were instantly knocked aside and they are bristling to overcome this unexpected loss. There will be a re-examination of core policies and strategies in the hopes of conjuring a new, real, winning formula. Indeed, young democrat and independent voters are
already discussing what went wrong and what must change for the Democratic Party to return to power. Democratic Hub forum user “Schmidt” cast the blame for Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s loss on the James Comey Effect, the theory that says the actions of FBI Director James Comey had a massively negative effect on Clinton’s campaign. He also referenced Russian hacking; the Wikileaks release of DNC emails; and Clin-
ton’s base turning out in smaller numbers than for Obama. He added that Republican smear efforts contributed to the overall defeat. When asked what his ideal candidate would be in 2020, he seemed satisfied with a political dopplegänger of Obama or Clinton: “He was better at presenting himself… She was a policy wonk… They complimented each other.” He further indicated that genuine grassroots campaign-
ing at state and national level mixed with good proactive policies were vital for future successes. Additionally, Schmidt believes the media must hold Trump accountable for his lies. Another user of the site going by the username “wwjd” said the media should act as a strong check on the President and, as long as they get their facts correct, Trump “will be proven to be the emperor with no clothes”. They too said external factors were largely to blame for Clinton’s defeat, however, wwjd acknowledged that Clinton made mistakes in the campaign. “She is not a charismatic politician,” they wrote. For wwjd an ideal candidate would be different from the archetypical Washington D.C. politicians. “[This person] should be far more practical and truly understand both conservative and liberal perspectives, and both sides must feel that he or she represents them.” Morgan Smith, an undergraduate at the University of Colorado and member of the Roosevelt Institute, also wants big changes. From his perspective the Democrats did not account for general disenchantment and anger over how Washington D.C. is run.
“Clinton was seen as untrustworthy or corrupt.” “And there hasn’t been any impactful solutions that have alleviated the economic problems where they [voters] live.” Clinton was unpopular with independent swathes of Americans and Morgan voiced a personal disdain for the generic Democrat strategy of top-down, government-knows-best approach to governance.
“The federal government must solve all these things and… it just didn’t feel inspired.” Doubling down on this and applying it to the jobs lost to automation in states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan could well backfire. “There’s a fair share of families, especially in the Rust Belt, where the dad is the main
breadwinner and the mom stays home and takes care of the kids—and for a policy maker, especially a Democrat, to come in and say ‘well that job is not going to come back, but we’ll pay for you to get training in something else’ may not go over well.” One major solution could be to prioritise the discussion of economic issues over social ones when it comes to policy making. “We’ve had the debate on abortion since the 1970s…there’s definitely an exhaustion around that; we have better things to focus on. The fact is that in the US students on average graduate with over $30,000 (USD) of student loans. To a lot of young people, that’s a lot more press-
ing than whether some politician is going to make a stand on social or controversial issues… don’t get me wrong it [abortion] is an important issue, I just think that there’s space for new things to be discussed.” Scott Gago, a 26-year-old software engineer from California, recommended a focus on educating the population in spotting false information. “Show them tyrannical governments downplay the validity of the media,” he said. This coupled with “letting Trump have free reign” in his factual stumbling would provide enough fodder for the Democrats to gain political capital. While finding little appeal in Clinton’s generic toeing of the Democratic Party line, at least “she wasn’t Trump,” said Scott. “Clinton stood for business as usual, there was nothing exciting about her message.” And yet, considering his ideal candidate would be “a true leftist who is convinced that progressive values will make our country better and will not compromise on their values,” Clinton wouldn’t make the cut either. With all this in mind, the gears behind the Democratic Party’s 2020 campaign will have to really focus on understanding the American people, adjusting to their demands and bringing them a messenger who will stand up to their promises—even against an onslaught of “fake news”. There will be many chances to showcase what the Democrats have improved on when they target House and Senate seats in 2018. Hopefully the hard lessons they’ve learned by this unforetold defeat will drive them to step beyond their tired, traditional ways of thinking.
INTERVENTION A DJ’S ANSWER TO CLUB-SCENE PROBLEMS // RUTH O’LEARY
Yewande tweets @yewandeadeniran
riving the sweaty, thrashing bodies of modern club revellers—the heavy beats of Bristol’s techno music emerged from a legacy of migrant sound-system culture. Rooted firmly in Caribbean and African diaspora communities, the music evolved through gatherings of disc jockeys, engineers and MCs hoping to lift themselves and their neighbours above the racism and state violence in their lives. Following this inspiring dream to its present, Bristol paints itself as a multicultural harmony full of people who “don’t see colour”. But the realities of the local nightlife tell a story of tokenism, appropriation and sexual violence — particularly against people of colour (PoC), especially feminine ones. However, a counter resistance is rising. Artists are using their music to suppress and surpass these oppressive forces. Among them, one woman is using her DJing skills to inspire women, PoC and queer folk to express themselves through music. Her name is Yewande. “I hear a lot of women of colour (WoC) and queer individ-
uals saying that they’ve always wanted to DJ, but never took the plunge and this is something that I want to change,” she says.
”I want to make sure that there isn’t a struggle for marginalised individuals to break into Djing.” “It took me quite a few years before I began to DJ. I’ve always been involved in music in one way or another but I never saw myself as being the person that decides what music is played.”
Not just a face in the crowd
Known as Ifeoluwa in the scene, Yewande always understood the world of DJing is dominated by cis, white, heterosexual men who routinely use racism and sexism to promote their work and secure gigs across the world. She fostered her passion in a scene dominated by an uncomfortable whitewashing, ultra-masculine and heteronormative “white bro culture”. But this did not dissuade her. Immersing herself in the music scene with striking excitement, Yewande is dedicated to two monthly shows on Noods
radio called “Intervention” and “Curly Lies,” and a podcast for French-based electronic music website, Midi Deux. Her passion can be seen in her offline work too. After only practicing her DJing skills four times she secured a gig at Rye Wax in Peckham. Considered a natural talent who became conscious of her oppressions at a very young age, she wants to see the music world become more diverse. “I think people — regardless of race, gender and sexuality — find solace in repetitive music because it enables you to zone out and ‘lose yourself’ in the music. So for a brief few hours you forget your worries and how s*** society is.” Music has been a form of escapism for many WoC who face intersecting oppressions within society, explains Yewande. It has historically been used to express the pains of being told one’s physical presence and body is a problem. “Dancing is also very therapeutic… A lot of the music I listen to is very heavy and has a lot of energy, techno is very similar to grime in a lot of
ways. There is a lot of anger and frustration being released that calms me and also reassures me that I’m not alone in my experiences of wanting another means of self-expression that is distinct from the white normativity that’s essentially been pushed down my throat my entire life.” Despite the healing potential of music, it’s tough to relax when your presence is frequently targeted and questioned.
Problems in the spotlight
“Going out is extremely anxiety inducing for me. I get asked a lot of daft questions to do with my race and gender, and I am sexually harassed,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt comfortable when going out, but it’s something I do because I love the music I’m going to see.” She mentions “misogynoir”, a term used for WoC who face misogyny and racism at the same time.
“If you see something that you know is unacceptable happening you have to call it out.” “I’ve seen plenty of people stand idly by while PoC are being subjected to racism, while women are being groped and it’s this passive mentality that allows all the bulls*** within the music industry to continue unquestioned.” From Yewande’s perspective, the music industry profits too much from the exploitation of marginalised groups to want to change, so it’s up to white, straight men to help challenge the status quo. Women need to be supported even before studies show “definitive” proof of harassment. Because reporting gropes
and unwanted kisses is difficult – especially when club staff brush it off – many women choose not to, instead trying to discourage it themselves. The result is studies quoting a lack of reporting, an unclear representation of the issue and a lack of action. Encouragingly, Yewande notes the appearance of exclusive events proactively discouraging harassment – for example by Siren and the Resis’Dance collectives in London, and Yeboah nights in Bristol – but there is still a gap she aims to fill.
As part of a group of female and femme rising stars refusing to quietly accept “white bro culture,” Yewande has decided empowerment will be her cause. Intervention, a group for marginalised aspiring DJs, is her answer to the music scene’s symptoms. In its safe and supportive environment members are encouraged to celebrate their identities without fear of persecution, appropriation or violence. Individuals are invited to one-on-one tutorials with no time limit and encouragement by all. “Intervention started off as a DJ workshop primarily aimed at encouraging women, especially WoC, and non-binary/queer individuals. We’re moving into production workshops now as well, with local DJs supporting the cause,” Yewande says. “Intervention is completely free as it is normally those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have a harder time accessing basic equipment and spaces. So by keeping it free we’ve had a lot of people that have wanted to start DJing and now could come along to
the sessions and have enough confidence to carry on the skills they’ve learned into different environments.” With her connections growing Yewande is weary of the mistakes she’s seen in other groups. While many others recognized the problems experienced by marginalised individuals, most previous “liberation” movements for music ended up only minimally addressing them, she says. “I’ve even noticed that some of the leaders of these other collectives regularly engage in different forms of cultural appropriation and exploitation, regardless of PoC saying countless times that this actively excludes them.” In the end many of these leaders shifted from attacking structures of oppression to utilising them so they could elevate themselves at the cost of other marginalised groups.
“I think the most important thing is that the responsibility relies on curators and promoters.” “There are plenty of talented PoC and queer individuals out there, the thing is they’re usually ignored or their art is considered ‘other’. There is definitely the attitude where, because it has become the norm to be surrounded by white and male faces, anything else is automatically dismissed as not being worthy or mocked.”
The future of music
In Bristol the underground music scene never left its political roots and, just like the days of sound-system culture, marginalised people continue to use it to express themselves outside of the mainstream’s limited scope. >>
With this tool of empowerment queer folk, women and PoC can dominate spaces safely without fear of violence or ridicule. The future of music lies in an understanding that it has always been explicitly tied to its contemporary political climate. “It’s no secret that the art of black women and even black men is continuously vilified and then white-washed to be commodified. But what is concerning is that dance music has a long and rich history stemming all the way back to both slavery and colonialism, but this has been ignored and the focus is primarily on hedonism where people would rather separate politics from dance music, when the two are inextricably linked,” Yewande says. Intervention is the perfect initiative to celebrate the raw connection between politics and music. “Although dance music is very political, it is also very fun and DJing allows you to play what you want and have everyone dance along with you to your favourite tracks... there isn’t anything in the world better than that.”
Search Yewande Adeniran for her music mix on Mixcloud Heteronormative: the theory that society benefits heterosexuals and considers other forms of sexuality as abnormal. Cis-gendered: those whose gender identities match their sex at birth. Non-binary: those whose gender identities do not fit the male and female binary. They may identify as both masculine and feminine, neither or another gender identity.
DEPICTI FROM WI AFRICA AS LOCALS SEE IT // ARPITA MITRA
or a long time it has been an uncontested claim that photography captures reality. As renowned photographer Tina Manley believes, photography is the language to translate other cultures. “Africa” – as the subject of photography – opened vast avenues to explore the multicultural aspects of its diverse regions and peoples. Yet the lens’ of outsiders only saw a continent of “black people”, wild animals, drought-stricken poverty, diamond mines and vast swaths of mystery. What happens then, when you remove the Eurocentric biases of foreign photographers? What Africa will emerge? The IPF gathered five young photographers from Ghana to Morocco and asked them to lend their lens’ and voices to these questions. The resulting collection of images beautifully documents similarities among differences and explores the fantastic in the commonplace. As local photographers these youth focus on various facets of the countries they call their homes. It is an essential role; they encourage the incorporation of greater cultural appreciation, but at the same time bear the significant responsibility of depicting a transforming Africa in tandem with its diversity of timeless nuances. This is their Africa.
ROCHELLE DE ABREU, 22 CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Rochelle is a freelance photographer based in South Africa who uses photography to explore new places, cultures and lifestyles. Combining this with her love of travel, she develops narratives around geographical spaces, political groups and people’s living-environments. “I tend to open conversations that are difficult to have or topics that we are somewhat afraid to question. I look at young South Africans and their role in how we are being portrayed to the rest of the world. The othering and animalistic notions that have been forced on our appearances, that are still notions of how the world perceives Africa”. With a Visual Communication degree from the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography, Rochelle undertook the depicted project to showcase the inconsistencies in the representation of South Africans internationally. “I tried to show that we [people from South Africa] keep to our culture and ways of doing things, and let our past inform our future. At the same time, we have decided to portray ourselves on our own terms and become creative warriors, or positive rebels, in how we want the world to perceive us,” she says. Inspired by the life and advocacy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Rochelle thinks young African photographers have the potential to thrive on differences, to bring forward conversations around race relations and develop strong collaborations in mending racial barriers. These youth, she says, “see the beauty in what we have always been ridiculed for”.
TOP & BOTTOM
RAJAE HAMMADI, 23
For Rajae, images speak louder than words. Drawn to photography at the early age of 14, Rajae’s camescope allowed her to move beyond the clichés and stereotypes Africa is often associated with. “Once people think of Africa, they see the ‘black starving kid’. It is easy to see that in people’s eyes when I go abroad and say that I’m from North Africa—their immediate reaction is ‘then why aren’t you black’? In a similar way, photography as part of the international media contributes to the promotion of stereotypes in Africa.” In her work as the Communication and Design Manager for cultural NGO Racines, Rajae’s interest lies in street photography— which allows her to capture moments of daily life the way she sees them. Her photographic works reflect the dual, often contradictory lifestyles of Morocco. “I’m very fond of mixing two opposite things, objects or situations, in the same context. For example, in Casablanca just by walking into the city you can find a very well-made skyscraper and suburbs right behind it…two completely opposite worlds living together on a daily basis.” In an age of mass circulation, Rajae trusts young African photographers to bring forward a different image of “what Africa is” outside of mass media commodification.
MIDDLE & NEXT TOP
KHADIJA FARAH, 26 NAIROBI, KENYA
Inspired by her high school teacher, Khadija explores the inter-relations between oral cultures, ethnography and photography. “It is always the same thing— sweeping views of the savannah, or ‘exotic’ tribes removed from any modern advance-
ments. Not much context is provided with the images…it seems as if Africa is stuck in a time vacuum waiting to be ‘discovered’,” she says. “When people tell African stories, they either belong in the ‘Africa rising’ or ‘Africa falling’ narratives. We still have journalists and
photographers coming in and producing ethnocentric works that do not accurately portray the reality on the ground.” Khadija values the African oral tradition of passing information through poems and songs. She uses photography as an artistic tool to visually docvv
ument the history and cultures of the continent. Her project, Refugees in Dadaab, is a reflection on the limiting narrative around being a refugee. “The problem with some journalists is that they lump the refugee experience into one narrative without exploring what else comes with being a refugee. And that is what the
public ends up seeing. To be sure, these are people who have known incredible pain and loss. But they deal with it by retaining some semblance of normalcy. They open businesses, have sports teams, join youth groups, engage in camp politics, etc.” Viewing refugees as productive members of the African society in Kenya, Khadija notes:
“To view Dadaab only through the lens of idleness and misery is to sorely misunderstand a camp that is pregnant with untapped potential. This is what I want to show through these images—that refugees should not be seen as a burden or liability, especially if they have been in the country for over 20 years”.
CORNELIUS CHELLAH MULENGA TUKUTA, 30 LUSAKA, ZAMBIA
“We want to document ourselves,” says Chellah, a photographer based in Lusaka, Zambia. After receiving training at the New York Institute of Photography, Chellah was drawn to documentary photography as a storytelling medium. His inspirations – Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita from Mali – helped him understand the nuances of photographing Africa. “I was inspired by them… they began to tell our stories differently from western photographers. I [too] wanted to tell the stories of my continent as an African because the interpretations are different when these stories are told by other people. How can a guest or foreigner tell a story of the family she/he is visiting?” Chellah’s photograph is a part of his project Africa In My Time, which seeks to document the memories of the continent in situ, while capturing the essence of African identity in transition. Chellah explains: “If I die today, people will have memories of the time that I lived as a photographer. The photo-project is about who we are as Africans, in the context of the modernisation of our cultures and beliefs”.
RIGHT & BELOW
ERIC GYAMFI, 26 GHANA
For Eric, Africa is home. “This is what I know. This is what I would like to know more about,” he says. Having studied at the University of Ghana, Eric explores geographical and emotional connections through photography by tapping into its unique storytelling ability. He has been inspired by the works of Nii Obodai Provencal, Benedicte Kurzen and conversations with other artists from and around the field. Eric’s work seeks to expand notions of identity and develop an in-depth understanding of history. The Witches of Gambaga, partially displayed here, was inspired by ideas of universality among some human experiences. ”Witches are a worldwide story… they have been found in history in almost every place and still are in others,” he says. “I can only talk about the camp I visited [in Gambaga] and the realities that surround it. I first learned about the camp in primary school in social studies and then later in college.” His interest in presenting human sameness has continued into recent projects, namely Just Like Us, which encourages a dialogue about queer lives in Ghana. The project furthers the idea of oneness, yet equally explores the paradoxes around the idea of separation. He hopes local people will take authorship of African stories.
OWNING OUR MOVEMENT OWNING OUR FUTURE AMPLIFYING LGBTQ VOICES IN THE MIDDLE EAST // ZOE LARGE hen your lifestyle is dismissed as a foreign import and your community forbidden—when your very existence is corralled into the shadows, how can you advocate for change? How do you communicate, educate and build solidarity when any visibility is illegal, even life threatening? These are the vital questions shaping the work of many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and queer (LGBTQ) activists across the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region. Wherever LGBTQ people face systematic oppression, discrimination and persecution the need to find power in community must be reconciled with that of maintaining safe anonymity. Here, three of the Arab world’s most visible LGBTQ campaigners speak to the IPF about the challenges and triumphs of activists bridging the gap between privacy and activism. All are innovators, using media to amplify and connect underrepresented voices in increasingly creative ways.
“I wanted to create something local, that we could control and lead.” – Amir
Amir Ashour founded the grassroots organisation IraQueer two years ago with the aim of addressing the stigma around gender and sexuality in Iraq. Today the movement reaches an average of 11,000 readers every month, has direct connections with over 200 LGBTQ individuals and has been featured in some of the most influential media outlets in the world. It’s also the first activist network of its kind to emerge from a country where homosexuality remains punishable by death. All of IraQueer’s leadership and member base identify as Iraqi, with the organisation successfully avoiding Western intervention. Explaining the significance of the local base, Amir says foreign governments often misuse their power to falsely portray themselves as “saviours” fighting on the behalf of a victimised, passive Middle Eastern LGBTQ community. At the same time, these powers remain selective about how they respond to other local human rights violations—many of which, Amir points out, “were caused by Western governments themselves”. “If they [civil society organisations in the West] really want to support these movements, they have to trust the local grassroots organisations and the local activists who know what’s needed and what ap-
proach should be taken.” By making LGBTQ Iraqis visible and amplifying their call for change, IraQueer addresses one of the most damaging side-effects to result from foreign interventions—the belief that homosexuality is itself a Western export. In Iraq, this is a misconception which is “often used to discredit any effort in promoting LGBTQ rights, as they are placed in opposition to local values”. For Amir, who now lives in Sweden and makes frequent fully-identified appearances on national and international news, personal visibility has been extremely important.
“I want to share my experiences to show others that [Iraqi LGBTQ people] are just like them; that we get angry, hurt and sad when we face violations on a daily basis.” Nonetheless, that visibility comes with a cost. Due to the dangers many other activists in the movement remain hidden, resulting in the media describing Amir as “the only queer activist in Iraq”—a title he dislikes. “I don’t feel comfortable when I’m given that title, as it’s not an accurate one. I am the only visible one, which puts a lot of pressure on me personally… but there are other activists with me in the organisation who contribute to the work a lot and are vital to the development of the movement.” >>
The work of Bahraini human rights campaigner and digital innovator Esra’a Al Shafei is driven, like that of IraQueer, by her ambition to amplify voices ordinarily marginalised by the Western LGBTQ agenda in the MENA region. “We come from different circumstances, cultures, political and social contexts, so it’s difficult to stomach how some Western organisations or reporters wish to dictate our every move,” she says. Esra’a’s award-winning projects include CrowdVoice – a user-powered, open-source service that tracks voices of protest around the world – and MidEast Tunes, a web and mobile app showcasing underground activist musicians in the Arab world. She has now also gone on to found Ahwaa, an online network where LGBTQ young people in the MENA region are able to connect anonymously. “It didn’t take me long to realise that the internet was going
to be the gateway to freedom of speech,” she says. But risks accompany the potential from the anonymity afforded by the internet—particularly when users can volunteer to share personal information with no guarantee of the recipient’s identity. Despite using her real name and holding public titles reflecting her service to the LGBTQ community, Esra’a prefers to remain physically unidentifiable for the sake of her security, with no photos of her face available online. Trust, therefore, is at the heart of the website’s relationship with users. Each of Ahwaa’s members is rated on their helpfulness and supportiveness by others on the website, and only by accumulating a certain number of points can they earn the right to create their own chat rooms and access advanced features. Operating in Arabic and English, Ahwaa uses data encryption and personal avatars to protect the identities of users. As an additional precaution the site constantly emphasises the importance of security guidelines regarding photos or identifying details.
“The region lacked a common platform through which LGBTQ youth could connect to share their thoughts, fears, and concerns regarding their sexuality and identity.” – Esra’a
“We are still trying to gain the West’s recognition of LGBTIQ Syrians as a group.” – Mahmoud
Looking at his own work, Syrian journalist and film editor Mahmoud Hassino concludes that it is “almost impossible” to fully reconcile both safety and visibility in the MENA region; “a few people do need to sacrifice their privacy for the need to promote LGBTIQ topics”. Indeed, now living in Berlin as a gay refugee and working for an LGBTQ support organisation, he has sacrificed his own privacy for the cause. Nevertheless Mahmoud continues to find the voices of most grassroots campaigners for LGBTQ rights in the MENA region obscured by Western intervention. “Whenever we speak about LGBTIQ Syrians, most people associate them with being either victims or refugees—it seems that everyone is ignoring the fact that there still many LGBTIQ people living in Syria,” he says. Mahmoud created Syria’s first LGBTQ magazine, Mawaleh, after witnessing the breakout of war in Syria. “I did not need convincing,” he says. Having worked with Iraqi LGBTQ refugees before the war, Mahmoud predicted that gay killings in Syria were not far off. “I wanted to have a Syrian LGBTQ voice amidst all the violence, and reach out to those people in besieged cities and towns so they didn’t feel alone.” Mawaleh is printed entirely in Arabic, with writers and readers inventing terminologies to facilitate the discussions of LGBTQ topics rarely broached in
their regional language. “When we wanted to come up with an Arabic word for ‘trans’,” Mahmoud recalls, “the trans* audience suggested a term we are using now—the Arabic equivalent of ‘gender correction’”. In light of Mahmoud’s intention to diversify portrayals of Syrian LGBTQ people in the media, it is significant that Mawaleh takes its name from the collective word for “nuts” in Syrian dialect. Not only are Mawaleh trees central to Syrian culture – growing indigenously and commonly much-loved by the population – but importantly, “the name implies diversity”. “Mawaleh have different tastes, shapes and colours. LGBTQ people are different and diverse as well.” In spite of the dangers and difficulties, all three campaigners share a view that the needs for safety and visibility are not totally irreconcilable. “It is difficult, but not impossible,” says Esra’a.“The key is persistence in finding ways to manage bullying harassment and threats through the help and strength of our network and communities.” Living in Berlin, Mahmoud continues to meet Syrian refugee clients who encourage him to continue printing the magazine, despite new obstacles.
At certain points, it was the one thing that gave me hope.
“Some of them say, ‘at certain points, it was the one thing that gave me hope’. This continues to inspire me to try harder to keep Mawaleh alive and active.” Amir similarly remains “realistically optimistic” about the future for LGBTQ rights in the Middle East. “Maybe the faces are not visible, but the stories are—and continue to be.”
THEY’RE HERE FEMALE FILM CRITICS SPEAK OUT // ANDREA THOMPSON t’s funny what escapes your notice, especially when you’re immersed in a subject on a daily basis. When I set out to write about female movie critics I had a little revelation. And it was unpleasant. Out of the blue I realised my professional network was severely limited. In fact, every female critic I knew worked on the same website I did. Aside from some brief online interactions I’d rarely communicated, or collaborated, with the broader realm of my gender’s opinion. The terrible truth was that despite reading the work of other women extensively this feminist movie critic had never really stopped to consider the authors. This shook me. I’d been writing about gender issues for years. I’d prioritised my feminist beliefs in my reviews, written about the role of women in the industry and published several lists ranking female cinematic achievements. I’d openly, loudly, applauded people finally acknowledging not only the lack of female filmmakers, but female film critics as well. I’d even founded a film festival to promote films made by and about women! Yet, somehow, I never realised how little I’d reached out to my peers, even as I’d insisted on being acknowledged as a young feminist writer. Why hadn’t I made more of an effort to connect? These were the people most likely
to relate to the struggles I had experienced after all! When I carried this realisation to my peers and set it before them, their answers were surprisingly uniform. Almost to the letter, they all brought up institutional bias; they simply weren’t taken seriously because a male perspective is still considered the default. Statistics back this up: a study by San Diego State University found that only 27% of the “top critics” on Rotten Tomatoes were women. “I’ve been questioned if I’m sure of my opinion rather frequently, and it’s always guys who level this question at me. I like debate, but I think there’s a real second-guessing of women’s opinions on movies at an almost wholesale level,” muses Willow Maclay, who’s written for the Village Voice and Movie Mezzanine. “I’ve had this question asked of me by peers and strangers alike whenever I talk about movies. Even within my own family, they’ll ask my husband what he thinks of a movie before they ask me, and I’m the one who is a film critic, so I think there’s a lot of situations where we have to justify our opinions and fight for our convictions on cinema with more fire than most consider.” Fariha Róisín, a critic and cohost of the podcast Two Brown Girls, sums it up best.
“The world is misogynist. That’s it. The world is insanely misogynist.”
You get what you settle for
The problem is that the stubborn perpetuation of misogyny can’t solely be pegged on men. Women play an active part in giving it strength too. “Women pretend to be all feminist, using girl-power and other amazingly impressive slogans, when in real life they refuse to extend a helping hand,” says Jaylan Salah, an Egyptian critic and author. “Even big names in the industry who claim to be spokespeople for feminism and women’s rights, have certain ‘assets’ in mind when it comes to supporting non-Western feminists, and it certainly wouldn’t include a feminist Egyptian woman with no political agenda.” I could only lend my experiences to the perspective of being marginalised as far as attending critic meetings and discovering I’m the only woman there. But the non-white women I interviewed spoke of an additional layer of prejudice undermining their opinions; a burden caused by being a degree farther from the whitewashed halls of mainstream entertainment. “I’m Egyptian, and some feminist critics ultimately expect you to burst into an opinion based on your oppressed upbringing. Generalising women’s experiences is more toxic than any other aspect of living in a male-dominant universe,” adds Jaylan.
Should I get out and push?
For some women the answer to being preemptively judged is to refuse to play the game of justification. Justine Smith, a regular contributor to sites like Little White Lies, Vice, and RogerEbert.com is one such woman. “I don’t find it particularly interesting to justify my opinions. I write my personal brand of criticism, which I find is reflective of both the text and my experience of it and I leave it at that,” Smith relates. “I understand though, there is sometimes a bit more pressure on women who prefer things that are not canonically macho. I think, in general, most women critics are a bit more open to differing tastes than men. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the forced experience of having to live most of your cultural life
through experiences unlike your own.”
It is a truth universally acknowledged...
Even with their wider interest in genres, women are often challenged—specifically when critiquing certain types of films. “This really comes down to genre, especially ones that have been widely dismissed critically, like romantic comedies and women-centric films,” says Gabrielle Bondi, co-founder of the site The Young Folks. Not all genres are critiqued equally, it seems. When the San Diego study looked at reviews by genre—men wrote, on average, about 77% of the critiques in almost every category: horror, docs, comedy, action, drama and animated fare. However, it was in sci-fi where the gulf was the widest, with men compris-
ing a staggering 84%. Even in romance, an area traditionally considered female, men were still the majority at 57%. “I think there’s a real limitation to being assigned topics based on a gender binary, because topics typically defined as women’s interests are considered niche and if we’re only getting assigned topics based on gender then isn’t that limiting? Isn’t that making us a niche as film critics?” says Willow. That’s the annoying thing about stereotypes. If enough people believe them, they tend to live forever. “I’ve been critical of horror movies – which is actually a genre largely pioneered by women – in the past when I felt like they used sexist and racist elements,” says Charline Jao, who writes for The Mary Sue. >>
“Almost inevitably, I’d get a response accusing me of being ignorant of the genre, prudish or I just ‘don’t get it’.” Charline continues: “Sometimes people don’t fully comprehend that you can ‘get’ what a film is going for and still feel like it doesn’t achieve that. You can criticise the way a film approaches a certain kind of violence and not think that the topic is completely off-limits in film.”
The good the bad the female The fact is, the male-dominated nature of Hollywood means women are very dependent on men to tell their stories. That’s not to say men are incapable of telling women’s stories. Male filmmakers have given us several iconic female characters (Ellen Ripley, Sarah O’Connor, Leia), as have women (Hermione Granger, Scarlett O’Hara, Elizabeth Bennet), though more often in screenwriting rather than directing. Neither I nor the women I talked to felt remotely dismissive of the many ways men have successfully told our stories. But all of us felt women need to tell their own tales; something different from the usual “strong female” and “likable” tropes we usually see. Men could also stand to benefit from this new perspective, maybe they’d be imagined as something other than stoic machines. “I think the ‘female character’ with a capital F is beginning to change,” says Jaylan. “I think talking about how to change female characters made us forget that male characters are the ones who need to change. We should be allowed to see different forms of male characters with different forms of the so-called masculinity.”
I am Moana of Monotui
There was a certain hope that seemed to unite my coworkers and I. I never got the sense that our obstacles or relationships to men defined us. But our commitment did. As Fariha puts it: “[I’ve been] overlooked, misunderstood, mansplained and silenced. But, I’m still here.” We all believe that if we keep at it, things will get better. It’s an optimism that’s needed. It’s not only stereotypes that perpetuate themselves, our expectations do too. If we feel that something is hopeless, chances are it’ll never change. We have a long way to go – the vast majority of female leads are still straight, white women – but we are heading towards a more equal place. And with this new generation firmly committed to social justice, we might get there quicker than expected. Gabrielle says: “I feel hopeful about the future of women in film. I truly believe that the new generation of female critics and filmmakers will bring big and important changes to the industry.”
AN APPETITE FOR INTERCONNECTION THREE EXAMPLES OF INCREASING REGIONAL INTEGRATION // JOE CORRY-ROAKE ntil recently, there was a general consensus that the global and the national were not opposed—they were intertwined and becoming increasingly so. However, 2016 saw a growth in the potential for “taking back control”, according to American political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama. This surge in nationalism was best displayed in the recent election of an American President who desires to physically, economically and morally isolate the country to “protect” it. Against this backdrop, with the addition of the Brexit vote and increasing uncertainty in many European Union (EU) member states, it is easy to imagine we are entering an era of isolationism. But when we broaden our scope much of the world continues to become more globalised and integrated. The growth and maintenance of intertwined economic, political and free-movement zones around the world suggest an
appetite for regional collaboraIs it because they have tion. Regional organisations are younger populations? increasingly playing a key role During the United Kingdom’s in the security, social aspects EU referendum former Prime and economic prospects of Minister David Cameron called nations. on young people to vote. OpinAn example was the recent ion polls suggested youth were action by the Economic Comone of the bastions of support munity of West African States for remaining in the EU, as they following the Gambian general identified with its idealism. election, where they stated they Maybe such thinking is true in were willing to “undertake all Brazil, Thailand and Korea? necessary action to enforce the Unfortunately, it’s not that results”. simple; these countries have Shifting the spotlight away similar percentages of youth from the Western big-stage within their population (Table 1). players, we take a look at three There must be another reason countries which are continuing for their optimism. >> to pursue collaboration: Brazil, Thailand and the Republic of PERCENTAGE OF YOUTH WITHIN TOTAL POPULATION Korea (for economic details see sidebar on page 27). When economic and political experiments like the European Economic Area and EU are currently threatened with insecurity, what is driving Table 1: Numbers sourced from the CIA World Fact Book 2017 this interest?
Strength in numbers?
If we look at economic health, Asia has seen a massive rise in imports and exports since 2012, while South America has only recently reached a pre2012 level of exports, according to the 2016 World Trade Review. Thailand, Korea and Brazil seem to exhibit two different reasons for pursuing greater regional integration, both of which stem from the concept of strength in numbers. In the case of Korea and Thailand, part of their continued belief in regional cooperation could be attributed to economic strength, while for Brazil it seems more about the quest for, and continuation of, strength in the form of power.
Korea and Thailand sharing trade
In 2015, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reported an increase in its total volume of merchandise exports and imports, and 55.1% of its trade was conducted with its +3 countries: China, Japan and Korea. This suggests that while the total quantity of trade is increasing, better intraregional economic links have encouraged more goods to stay within the region. A 25-year-old employee at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Thailand, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The growth in interconnectedness between countries in Southeast Asia does gives them a bigger say… as the economic superpowers want a slice of the action and want to set up trade deals. By creating a stronger bond between smaller
nations, ASEAN is then able to come to the negotiating table with a strong political, territorial and economic strength which would be impossible if they were trying to negotiate individually.” Table 2 shows that both ASEAN – of which Thailand is a main player – and Korea are outgunned in terms of GDP, while Table 3 illustrates Korea’s minor share in East Asia’s trade. It would be difficult for Thailand or Korea to compete with regional partners independently, but by creating stronger bonds with their bigger partners, China and Japan, they are prospering from more beneficial trade terms and negotiated trade deals. Another reason for Korea’s interest is stability. While historically wary of cooperating with regional nations, it began seeking connections for economic protection following the economic crisis of 1998. “After the Korean War, Korea developed extremely quickly and became a developed country. Unfortunately, space meant that growth could only go so far. Korea is such a small country, and with very limited natural resources, which means our industry relies on imports and exports,” explained Sungchul Kim, a 29-year-old Korean anthropologist. “It is impossible to keep our country going steadily with the domestic demand market and so we must look abroad.”
Brazil’s struggle to maintain power In the 1990s the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) saw
a huge increase in regional trade, with some estimates as high as a quintuple increase. However, many are beginning to believe the bloc is no longer fit for purpose. Internal free markets only contributed to 14% of the overall global trade in 2014 – of which just 10% was Brazil’s – with smaller countries relying on intra-Mercosur trade. Brazil’s economy is currently in a dire position, with GDP estimated to have fallen more than seven percent in two years, causing the unemployment rate to nearly double from 2015-2017. To Brazilian journalist Maria Eduarda, people are no longer seeing the benefits of Mercosur. “Brazilians are really worried with all of the economic and political problems we currently have, and people cannot see an end in sight or a sign that it is improving,” said the 22-year-old. “People are losing their jobs and companies are closing. At the moment, regional relationships are not helping our economy.” Most analysts are predicting little economic growth in 2017, so Brazil must have another reason for its persistence. Maria Moeira, an observer of international relations in Brazil, suggested the country’s citizens consider their continued participation a sign of power. “Half of Brazil doesn’t actually know what Mercosur is; but the ones who know, at least a bit, like it. It’s no longer so much about getting money and goods via imports and exports, but Brazil is at the centre of it. It maintains a position as the most powerful country in South America and we cannot afford to let another country take that
place,” said the 19-year-old. “Indeed, in many instances, Mercosur acts as a protection for Brazil, Argentina and their industries from global competition.” The same could be said for the BRICS grouping. While it has receded in the Brazilian public consciousness over the past few years due to the ongoing recession and internal corruption investigations, there is still an understanding that Brazil’s membership allows it to follow its national, regional and global objectives. For Brazil the economic benefits of increased regionalism are outweighed by the diplomatic and strategic position it gets as a leader of a regional body, which as a bloc can engage with big players on a more even footing.
Trouble ahead for the isolationists?
Many nations lack the capacity to deal with global challenges to national interests. In the case of Brazil, Korea and Thailand the driving force behind increased regional integration may not be ideology, but instead practical considerations. In the EU, there are a number of countries which have either forgotten or ceased to value, the economic or power-related benefits facilitated by being part of a larger regional body. If the United States and countries in Europe are eyeing the dismantlement of such trade and political agreements, they may find themselves struggling to keep up with the strengthening collective punch of blocs across the world.
Table 2: Numbers sourced from the ASEAN Secretariat
Table 3: Numbers sourced from World Bank Data
While quite disparate, all three countries are in the top 30 in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and have high or very high human development, according to the Human Development Index (HDI). Brazil is a key player in the increasing regional integration of South America as well as within the BRICS grouping (Brazil, Russia India, China and South Africa), an association of five major emerging national economies. The past 20 years have seen the creation of two economic and political blocs with Brazil at their core: The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and Mercado Común del Sur or Southern Common Market (Mercosur). These three groups allow Brazil to connect with 16 countries, more than 3.2 billion people and an estimated GDP PPP of $41 trillion (approximately 30% of the global total). The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) helps Thailand compete on the world stage. It is comprised of 10 member states and considered the organisation which started regional cooperation in East Asia. In January 2017, it promoted itself as “a model of regionalism and a global player”, according to Thailand-based newspaper, Bangkok Post. This agreement allows Thailand to connect with more than 625 million people, an estimated GDP PPP of $2.8 trillion (USD) and 10 countries excluding relations to ASEAN’s +3 countries. Today the Republic of Korea pursues and negotiates regional trade agreements, particularly in the form of free-trade agreements (FTAs), with trading partners within and without the region. It also joined ASEAN’s +3 circle, alongside China and Japan. Along the same lines as Thailand, Korea can connect with 13 countries, more than 2.16 billion people and an estimated GDP PPP of $34 trillion.
GREEN ECONOMY INDIA’S GREEN START-UP REVOLUTION // PRIYANKA MOGUL s countries around the world choke on their carbon footprints, India’s decision to invest in its population’s ideas is producing green solutions. From smart solar-energy grids to oil detection systems to upcycled high-street handbags this start-up revolution is full of fantastic ideas from youth across the nation. In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Startup India, Standup India scheme, which included an array of new measures that will make it easier for entrepreneurs in the country to get their startup off the ground. India’s youth appear to have jumped head-on into this economic revolution—many putting their innovative energy toward solving the nation’s environmental problems. Their enthusiasm fits the demand as 91% of young Indians think their government should be spending more on renewable energy. Among them two-thirds believe solar power should be the prioritised future energy source for their country.
So it’s no surprise that Yashraj Khaitan started working on his company, Gram Pow-
er, when he was only 19 years old. He was in the middle of his postgraduate programme at Berkeley when he dropped out and started Gram Power, an initiative to enable village residents to produce and store renewable energy through solar powered microgrids. “The Gram Power story has not been a one time ‘ah ha’ moment. The idea originated from my travels to rural India. I realised how big of a problem the lack of energy access was and how that fundamental lack of energy was creating this major divide between rural India and urban India. It’s been an evolutionary process,” said Yashraj. By implementing their solar powered microgrids, Gram Power is not only producing energy through environment-friendly means, they are also eliminating the cost of grid extensions. In addition, they have developed a technology that allows people in villages to monitor their energy consumption and digitally recharge their metre when needed—allowing them to budget and be mindful of consumption. Today, Gram Power is one of the fastest growing smart-metering companies in India and has won awards from the University of Berkeley, the World Wildlife Foundation, Stanford University and NASA. Having made his company a success, Yashraj has advice for fellow green entrepreneurs: “The biggest entry barrier to starting anything in India is
India itself. You have got to be insanely persistent to be able to cross that entry barrier.”
“If you’re able to persist for long enough and if you’re constantly seeing that you are creating value for your consumers, then you will be able to succeed in India. It’s important to hang in there for long enough.” Looking beyond the struggles, Yashraj recounted one of the proudest moments of the company so far; when they were able to successfully set up a microgrid in a village that had not been powered for years. Going forward, the young entrepreneur hopes to completely digitise India’s power infrastructure, addressing energy access needs across the country through his startup’s technology.
Gram Power isn’t the only one making waves within the green tech industry in India. Detect Technologies was developed by a group of ambitious students to detect pipeline oil leaks in the River Ganga. Their work is vital. The Ganga absorbs more than one billion gallons
of waste every day—with three quarters of it composed of raw sewage and domestic waste, while the rest is industrial waste. Crucially, it is one of the ten most polluted rivers in the world. Detect Technologies was started by five students at IIT-M University. Using Guided Ultrasonic Monitoring of Pipe Systems to detect oil leakages, they have created a stir in the oil and gas industry. “There are a few projects and problems that we believe we can solve for industries and we hope to tackle them when the situations are conducive,” Daniel Raj David, co-founder of Detect Technologies said. The 22-year-old is currently in his final year of mechanical engineering at IIT-M.
a lively market packed with plastic-wrapped products, the country’s consumers generate thousands of tonnes of plastic waste every day. Amita Deshpande is the Founder of Aarohana, a startup that upcycles plastic bags into beautiful handbags, purses and other handicrafts. India produces 60% of the plastic that finds its way into the world’s oceans. Additionally, 60 cities in India generate more
“[The technology] acts as an artificial nervous system, continuously monitoring a huge network of pipelines and alerting the plant of any impending leaks.” He added: “The biggest challenge has been the production of the technology from its technically-sound stage to its commercially-sellable industry-certified stage. Oil and gas refineries have some very stringent certification for electronics due to the risk of sparks.” Nonetheless, the young group was able to pull it off and are now hoping to sell their technology to countries around the world. India’s environmental woes aren’t exclusively caused by its energy sources though. With
than 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily. It’s companies like Aarohana that are finding ways to curb our wastage of plastic. This green startup is not only led by a powerful young woman, it’s empowering other women too. Aarohana provides tribal women with a source of livelihood, employing them to weave the plastic into cloth while the office takes care of the designing and stitching of the bags.
The journey to Aarohana’s realisation started when Amita was just an IT engineering student. During treks with her friend Nandan Bhat, the pair noticed the high amount of plastic items littered across the ground.
“We started with the aim of environment conservation, employment generation and overall development through that.” “We were thinking along the lines of recycling plastic, but the idea was too abstract,” Amita said. When, a few months later, Amita came across a group of weavers who were utilising plastic waste, she knew this was the solution she and Nandan had been searching for. Since August 2015, Aarohana has been collaborating with the weavers to turn plastic waste and crisps packets into beautiful handbags, clutches, wallets, coasters, table mats and pencil cases. “These are all called eco-social products, because there’s no harm to the environment in the process of upcycling,” Amita said. “It doesn’t even require electricity! That’s the reason why it’s possible to pursue this kind of an enterprise in villages as well.” Should the best minds from Gram Power, Detect Technologies and Aarohana ever come together, there is no doubt that their innovativity would be able to tackle some of India’s biggest environmental issues—ones that the government continues to grapple with every day.
INSTITUTIONALISED SOVIET PRACTICES HARMING DISABLED CHILDREN // CATARINA DEMONY n the Soviet Union, disabled people were often neglected, locked up and sent to isolated institutions. Those with physical and mental disabilities were made “seemingly invisible” during this period, found Sarah Phillips, Director of the Russian and East European Institute at Indiana University. “The Soviet state had a policy of ‘care and control’ of the disabled population,” she said. “People with disabilities were ‘sorted’ according to their level of ‘function’ and were housed, employed, and supported with state pensions according to that calculation.” Jane Buchanan, Associate Director at Human Rights Watch, shares a similar view. She said: “The leadership used to claim that there were no people with disabilities in the Soviet Union. People were hidden away in big state institutions. “It was seen as something to be ashamed of as an individual and as a family.” Long-term institutionalisation for disabled children was “very common” at the time. Although society’s perceptions of disability have improved, the legacy of the Soviet era still affects the lives of thousands of children with disabilities in the Russian Federation. Even though the country ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person
with Disabilities in 2012, some of the realities of the Soviet era are still very much present today. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in 2015, many children are still placed in institutions, including orphanages and “special
schools”. The reason children are sent to institutions is unclear, but Buchanan believes prejudice towards disabled people can often lead medical staff in Russian hospitals to encourage families to “give up” their babies.
“Sometimes they [doctors] say the children will not live long or will be a burden on the family.”
When sent to institutions, children rarely have access to education, and if they do it is “very limited”. The lack of education also has a negative impact on children’s abilities to seek employment in the future—often leading to poverty and other disadvantages, explained Buchanan. “Education is about developing literacy skills, but it is also about developing important social and life skills. If they [disabled children] are not in a school environment and certainly if they are living in an institution, they are just not getting the range of skills that are needed to be successful.” But lack of education is not the only challenge experienced by disabled children in the motherland—human rights abuses are far from uncommon. Caregivers who work at state-owned institutions often use physical restraints to limit the child’s movement. Additionally, there is an “overuse of sedation to control children’s behaviour beyond what is medically necessary”, added Buchanan. Caregivers also struggle to give appropriate attention to children. “They [caregivers] receive some training, but they should learn more about managing certain types of behaviors that arise in conjunction with disabilities,” said Buchanan.
“Behavior should not be an excuse for punishment.” Some of Russia’s disabled children are sent to mainstream schools in their local communities, but these schools are often not accessible. This means children with less mobility are not able to enter the school and, if they manage to go to school, they are often segregated into separate classrooms with separate teachers. Buchanan said: “They are not receiving the reasonable accommodations to support their education, which they are entitled to.” Russia is starting to recognise the need for inclusive education, but Buchanan believes more needs to be done to “make this a reality” for children.
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“Even though the government has put forward some commitments and has taken some important steps, there are lots of obstacles still in place.” For Buchanan and other activists, disabled children should not be placed in state institutions at all. “To the greatest extent possible the state should be supporting families and community-based services to allow children to stay at home and be raised by their families to get the attention, care and support—all of the benefits, that even the best equipped institutions will not be able to provide.”