CGCS Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Emad Khazraee discusses his research project with Alison Novak on socio-political activism and women’s rights in Iran, featuring My Stealthy Freedom as a case study. Emad and Alison presented their project at the ICA on May 25, 2015.
It is likely most Facebook users have come across a Facebook page supporting a socio-political cause. The popularity of these pages reinforces the need to better understand their affordances for socio-political activism. In an effort to address this issue, a recent research project I undertook with Alison Novak studied campaign pages on Facebook advocating for women’s rights in relation to the dress code in Iran. One of the pages we analyzed, My Stealthy Freedom, acts as a strong case study. My Stealthy Freedom’s (MSF) page was created in April 2014 by Masih Alinejad, an expat Iranian journalist based in the United Kingdom. In an effort to digitally protest hijab laws that restrict women’s right to choose their own cover, Alinejad first shared a photograph of herself online, riding in a convertible without hijab, and then encouraged women inside Iran to share pictures of their own “stealthy freedom.” Soon women from inside Iran shared their own photos taken in a public space without hijab. These photos were often accompanied by a message providing the background stories, grievances, or opinions of the user. In the weeks that followed, MSF became an internationally recognized page and was followed by 500,000 users on Facebook, resulting in reactions both outside and inside Iran.
Activists are under attack in India. Columns such as this one on how misguided activism has created a “mess (that) will take some time to be sorted out” are not uncommon in the popular press these days. Part of this is mainstream journalists trying to make sense of a field where the motivations and incentives of the primary actors is hard to fathom. It is far easier to paint everyone as disruptive and regressive.
I am not an activist myself. However, the space for constructive activism in India is one that I care about. I will therefore, attempt to present a contrarian argument, advocating for greater space for activism in India.
It is still fashionable to present growth and development as a dichotomy. This is at a time when income inequality qualifies as possibly the biggest threat to India’s future. An aspiring global super power, we have the unenviable burden of literally hiding our poor behind make-shift screens every time we organise an international event or an important dignitary visits us. Many of those who are left out of the growth story also simultaneously suffer from disadvantageous social status and lack basic capabilities, due to an inability to access quality education, healthcare and the like. The experience of the past seven decades has shown that neither the state not the market on their own can empower citizens to exercise “individual preferences” that will pull them out of the vicious cycle of poverty.
Watch the film to find out what Agha says about his life and what he thinks about terrorism. Then reconsider what you think are Pakistan’s greatest problems.
At the basis of communication and public policy are assumptions about human beings- their rationality or irrationality, their foibles, wants and preferences. A lot depends on whether these assumptions are correct. In this feature, we bring you fascinating examples of human behavior from across the globe.
A recent article in The New York Times, “Divining Why One Film Spurs Activism, While Others Falter” highlights the work of Participant Media, an entertainment company that produces film, television, publishing and digital content that inspires social change. According to Participant Media’s website, the company “launches campaigns that bring together government entities, foundations, schools, and others to raise awareness and drive people to take action on issues from each film or television show.”
But all of this begs the question: are these films successful in doing what they set out to do? Do people learn from the films and change their ways? What pushes us beyond social media activism to stand up and do something about our outrage?
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Behind a Pattern of Global Unrest, a Middle Class in Revolt
For months now, protestors have gathered in the capitals of many developing nations—Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Cambodia, among others—in demonstrations united by some key features. In nearly all these places, protestors are pushing to oust presidents or prime ministers they claim are venal, authoritarian, and unresponsive to popular opinion. Nearly all these governments, no matter how corrupt, brutal, and autocratic, actually won election in relatively free polls. And in nearly all these countries the vast majority of demonstrators hail from cosmopolitan areas: Kiev, Bangkok, Caracas, Istanbul, and other cities. The streets seem to be filled with the very people one might expect to support democracy rather than put more nails in its coffin.
Where Did Press Freedom Suffer Most in 2013? Online.
PBS Media Shift
This month the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual analysis of Attacks on the Press, including a “Risk List” of the places where press freedom suffered most in 2013. As you might expect, conflict areas filled much of the list — Syria, Egypt, Turkey — but the place on the top of the list was not a country. It was cyberspace. In the past, the list has focused on highlighting nations where freedom of the press are under attack, but this year CPJ wrote, “We chose to add the supranational platform of cyberspace to the list because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet a critical sphere for journalists worldwide.” Including cyberspace is a recognition that, at least in terms of press freedom and freedom of expression, the web is not virtual reality, it is reality.
World Press Freedom Index 2014
Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE
Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE
There is much to be discouraged by in Transparency International’s recently-released 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, the biennial global survey that gauges popular perceptions about the extent of corruption in public life. More than half of 114,000 people in 107 countries polled for the 2013 survey believe that corruption has increased over the last couple of years. And 27 per cent of the respondents reported having paid a bribe when accessing public services and institutions, an increase from the 10 per cent that reported similar incidents in the 2009, 2007, and 2005 surveys.
The intransigence of the challenge might not be news to international agencies, but it is certainly a cause for introspection. For a few decades now, aid agencies (including the Bank following the 1997 Cancer of Corruption speech by then President Wolfensohn), have aimed to help stem corruption through regulatory tools such as codes of conduct, access to information laws, standards for procurement and public financial management, conflict of interest and asset disclosure regulations, and by establishing oversight institutions such as anti-corruption agencies, audit institutions, and parliamentary oversight committees. More recently, in response to a recognition that such technical fixes are only half a solution, the “demand side” of governance has received much attention, and there are several examples of successful programs, as chronicled, for instance, by retired Bank staffer, Pierre Landell-Mills, in a recent compendium.
I’ve often wondered if Oxfam or other large INGOs could include the option of sponsoring an activist, either as something to accompany the goats, toilets, chickens etc that people now routinely buy each other for Christmas, or instead of sponsoring a child. I had vague ideas about people signing up to sponsor an activist in Egypt or South Africa, and in return getting regular tweets or Facebook updates. Alas, I’ve never managed to persuade our fundraisers to give it a go.
Now it’s come a bit closer to home. My son, who is a community organizer for the wonderful London Citizens, is currently looking to raise funds to work with a bunch of institutions in Peckham, South London. I couldn’t help him much as I’m rubbish at fundraising, (sure I’m a huge disappointment to him) but it did start me wondering whether there is an activist equivalent to the kind of crowdsourcing sites that are all the rage for small businesses (Kiva, Kickstarter etc). So, inspired by the feedback to my Monty Python bleg, I tweeted a request for sites.
What emerged was a (for me) previously invisible ecosystem of crowdfunding options for radicals. Here’s the list of the links people sent it:
The recent massive streets protests against the brutal and deadly assault on a young woman in a private bus in India capital, New Delhi, have been likened to the Arab Spring of India, a definitive turning point in the country’s political evolution. Clearly, in both its composition and content, the protests resonate with, not only the revolutionary street demonstrations in early 2011 in many countries in the Middle East, but also with a number of other movements that have burgeoned in countries across the world over the last couple of years. In the wake of the Arab Spring, and supposedly drawing inspiration from it, demonstrators occupied the financial centers of the US and Europe, conjuring up images of the 1960s. Unrest over austerity measures in European capitals hit by the global financial crisis continued. In the UK and Chile, students took to the streets protesting against high university fees. And in India itself, the anti-rape protests came on the heels of an anticorruption movement, unparalleled in its mass participation, media attention, and longevity.
There’s nothing like a lecture tour to bring home just how many bright young people are desperate to work in development, and how hard we make it for them (is this a deliberate form of institutional Darwinism, in which only the most determined survive?) So I’ve gone back over a few previous bits of advice from me and others, to produce this revamped FP2P guide to throwing your life away getting a job in development.
I won’t give advice on what to study – if you’re reading this, it’s probably too late anyway. But in any case, qualifications are not enough – you need to get involved in organising relevant activities at your university, depending on your interests (e.g. Engineers Without Borders, Amnesty International, assorted International Development committees). You’ll learn a lot, make great contacts and friends, and develop skills that NGOs prize (organisational abilities, putting on events, writing, debating etc).
Then, decide what kind of work you are interested in. Research? Programme work on the ground? Emergencies (conflict refugees, disaster reconstruction etc)? Advocacy and lobbying? Public campaigning?