Rights defenders

The Good Life

South China Morning Post, 9 May 2015

Dubbed the most influential philosopher alive, Peter Singer is loved and loathed for his controversial views. Now he wants us to give away a lot of our money. Jo Baker reports

For a man who sparks volcanic public debate wherever he goes, Peter Singer comes across as remarkably mild mannered.

“I do cause some controversy, but there are also misunderstandings,” acknowledges the renowned moral philosopher, softly, as we plumb a few of the inaccuracies that have tainted the public reaction to his work. Although dubbed by The New Yorker magazine as “the most influential philosopher alive”, Singer, known also as a bioethicist and activist, has been maligned during his career for tolerance or support, from a moral standpoint, of euthanasia, abortion, the rights of animals over some humans, infanticide and forms of bestiality – not to mention his calling “the whole edifice of Judaeo-Christian morality” terminally ill. And these charges have now swollen to include the belittling of wealthy philanthropists. This is a serious charge-sheet indeed.

[Original article at the South China Morning Post]

An academic, with appointments at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, and Princeton University, in the United States, the Australian visited the University of Hong Kong recently to publicise his new book on the ethics of giving charitably, parts of which have also managed to cause indignant emissions from the public. The Most Good You Can Do is a challenge to the affluent (and not so affluent) people around the world who might consider themselves to be “good”. In it he argues that many of us, if we were truly good, could afford to give about a third of our income to charity.

Yet as a proponent of the “effective altruism” movement, certain good deeds and charities rank much higher in Singer’s book than others – which is where the belittling comes in. In an interview earlier this year, the philosopher criticised the donation of US$100 million by an American tycoon for the renovation of a concert hall at New York’s Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts, which would later be named after the philanthropist. Singer pointed out that just US$100 can restore the sight of a blind person. The basic needs of people around the world must take priority, he said. “Then help people listen to concerts in beautiful concert halls.” In certain circles, hackles were raised.

But Singer has supported his moral argument with another one. Effective giving is not only the hallmark of an ethical person, he says, but a happy one, too. “I think a lot of people do want to find more fulfilment, do something that is more worthwhile than just displaying their wealth,” he says, having noted that, according to studies, a sense of wellbeing is not increased by wealth accumulated beyond about US$75,000. In a city that is home to 732,000 millionaires, and in which around one in five children lives below the poverty line, this in itself is a racy statement.

SINGER WAS BORN IN MELBOURNE, Australia, to a family of Austrian Jews that had been decimated by the Nazi genocide. This legacy prompted his preoccupation with ethics and morality, he says, although less so an investigation of them as a philosopher (which was more because he “liked to have a good argument”).

Told by his father that he would never earn a living as a philosopher, Singer nevertheless rejected law in favour of philosophy, and after taking bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Melbourne, he won a scholarship to Oxford University, in Britain.

It was there, as a postgraduate student and a lecturer, that he developed and refined his adherence to utilitarianism – the view that the greatest happiness for the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong – and set about popularising and applying this perspective in modern society. He developed a knack for presenting compelling – though not always pleasant – arguments in both academic circles and the public eye.

“If you are utilitarian you work on the basis that we should minimise suffering and maximise happiness,” says Singer. “Obviously, a lot of other people think that you must minimise suffering, too, but they may believe, for example, that there are moral rules that you shouldn’t break, that there are independent principles like justice and equality, which weigh independently of whether they reduce suffering or produce wellbeing.

“Utilitarians don’t think this – they think these things are desirable when they are a means to an end.”

Singer’s views have seen him confronted by baying mobs, receive reams of hate mail, likened to Hitler’s deputy and described as “the most dangerous man on Earth” by his most vehement critics, including The Wall Street Journal and disability rights activists. And yet his starting point, he says, is compassion.

“The topics I want to influence the public on are ones where I think there’s a great deal of unnecessary suffering that could be prevented, if only we did a few things differently – things within the ability of individuals to do in their own lives and that don’t require government [intervention],” he says, in his soft-spoken manner.

It was in 1975 that the philosopher began to prove his father wrong by publishing Animal Liberation, which gained considerable public attention. In the book, he argues that the suffering of animals is comparable to human suffering, and that because some animals are smarter than young children and severely impaired adults, they should be given greater consideration. It became a founding text of the world-wide animal-rights movement.

“I’d say we don’t really know enough about how we compare the tragedy of a family losing a child with the suffering of chickens confined for a year in a crowded space [where they] can’t stretch their wings,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

At the root of Animal Liberation – and Singer’s theories on euthanasia and abortion, among other issues – is the belief that the welfare and value of beings should be measured by their capacity to have self-aware experiences and hold preferences, rather than a supposed innate right. Singer has argued, for example, that the life of a chimpanzee or an elephant is of more value than the life of a severely impaired human.

“I don’t think that if you’re a member of the species Homo sapien, your life is more precious than if you’re a member of any other species, irrespective of other capacities or abilities,” clarifies the philosopher. It similarly makes no sense, he has argued, that while there are more differences between a great ape and an oyster, compared with those between a human and a great ape, the former two are lumped together as “animals” while we are “human”. He famously challenged this boundary further in 2001, when he suggested that “mutually satisfying activities” of a sexual nature between humans and animals should not necessarily be opposed.

Similarly, Singer argues that fetuses and newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood, including self-awareness, which means that the killing of either can never be equivalent to killing an aware being that wants to go on living.

“I think it’s reasonable to say that compassion, empathy and concern for others underlie my ethical position. I think the most vehement critics of my views of the sanctity of life are people who come from a religious foundation, usually a conservative Christian foundation, and think that all human life is sacred in the way that non-human animals can’t be.”

In 2012, when the philosopher became a Companion of the Order of Australia, the nation’s highest honour, the response was predictably split, and predictably fiery. On one side were those who consider Singer an advocate of genocide. On the other were those, such as the leader of Australia’s Greens party, Christine Milne, who applauded “his global reputation for challenging people to reconsider their views on ethical behaviour, animal welfare and the human condition”.

For some, the philosopher’s latest focus on charitable giving may be no less confronting than his previous topics of inquiry. This is particularly so in a city that is famous both for its wealthy tycoons and its impoverished rubbish collectors aged well into their 70s and 80s. Singer remains optimistic.

“Obviously, there’s great wealth in this city now,” he says. “When countries are struggling to establish themselves at a certain level of economic security, philanthropy is less prominent, but once they get to that point, then people who made a lot of money start to ask themselves, ‘What am I going to do with this, what am I doing it for?’ They sort of realise that the ninth Ferrari doesn’t make any difference to their happiness.

“It’s questionable whether the first did.

“That’s something that, if you haven’t had money, is exciting for a while and gives you some kind of status, but I think a lot of people tire of it.”

Singer points to the rise of effective altruism as a movement, which has been influenced by a small core of moral philosophers including himself, and grown fast in the past few years. Now, more than ever, believes Singer, people are transforming their lives to have the biggest impact on changing the world for the better, whether through donations, lifestyles or the careers they choose.

“In the US, you find people who made a lot of money quite early in life, much before they thought they would, through IT stuff, start-ups, working for hedge funds. So they’re thinking, ‘I’m 25, I’ve already got tens of millions, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ Somebody said to me, ‘I could travel the world and stay in luxury hotels for years, but after that, what?'”

Singer believes that the difference between the conventional forms of giving charitably and this new movement lies in information technology. We now live with considerable awareness and data about the inequalities of our world. Where it was once difficult to feel certain that donations would be well spent, now a reliable group of independent organisations investigate, calculate and then rate charities for the impact of their work. This has shown that some charities are hundreds, or even thousands, of times more effective than others.

“There are excellent websites that you can now go to, to find organisations to donate to,” he says, mentioning Give Well, which was set up by a group of donors employed full-time in the hedge-fund industry, and The Life You Can Save, which Singer himself set up.

In a 2013 TED Talk, viewed more than a million times online, Singer underscored his controversial style with images of two-year-old Wang Yue, who was run over by a van in Foshan, Guangdong province, and later died of her injuries, having been ignored by passers-by as she lay on the ground.

“How many of you said to yourselves, ‘I would not have done that; I would have stopped to help’?” he asked, as the majority of his audience raised their hands. Then he gave the statistic that in 2011, 6.9 million children aged under five died from preventable, poverty-related diseases, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Now that we can be connected within seconds to organisations that can save them, he argued, the location or the nationality of these 19,000 per day makes them no different, morally, to a child you pass in the street.

Singer applauds the clear rise in effective philanthropy among the millionaires and billionaires of the start-up and tech era. Warren Buffett, and Bill and Melinda Gates have saved 5.8 million lives and improved the health of many millions more, he says, with no one – not even renowned American philanthropists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller – having come close to any one of them in impact. Yet Singer is more focused on the hundreds of thousands of others who are making the change.

At a Hong Kong International Literary Festival talk last month in Wan Chai, Singer spoke of Australian academic Toby Ord, who, on a modest salary, calculated that he could give enough throughout his career to cure 80,000 people of blindness in developing countries and still have enough left for a good standard of living. Ord later founded Giving What We Can, an organisation that unites people who want to do the same. The organisation now has more than 1,000 members and has pledged more than US$350 million to “evidence-based global poverty interventions”. Singer spoke of those who have saved numerous lives by making simple sacrifices – forgoing a new car, a holiday or even bottled water in countries where tap water is safe. And he spoke of Matt Wage, a Princeton philosophy graduate who decided the best thing he could do was not to go into development and aid, but to work in finance – which he currently does in Hong Kong – and give a six-figure sum each year to effective charities.

“Because, if you earn a lot of money, you can give away a lot of money, and if you’re successful in that career, you could give enough to an aid organisation that it could employ, let’s say, five aid workers in developing countries,” says Singer, explaining why that would be so much more beneficial than volunteering yourself.

The philosopher has largely lived by his own moral code. He has been a vegetarian for 45 years and, for the past four decades, has donated to charity between 10 per cent and 33 per cent of his income, and aims to eventually reach 50 per cent. As a father of four, he remembers bringing up his children to inquire in a similar manner.

“[Their upbringing] can’t have been too bad because we’re still a close family,” he says. “Sure, we talked about ethical issues; there was a bit of a … philosophy for children movement, which prepares educational materials for primary-school-age kids, and I remember reading them with my children. I think we did a couple of classes in their primary school.”

His wife, he says, has been supportive of many of his choices – although she did suggest, on his turning vegetarian, that he start cooking a little more.

More serious has been Singer’s grapple with issues surrounding his mother, who died of Alzheimer’s disease – a condition that largely robs its victims of the qualities, such as self-awareness and autonomy, by which the philosopher measures a life’s value. Singer did support her financially while she was ill and has admitted that the decision to end a person’s life feels “different” when that life belongs to someone close, which resulted in charges of hypocrisy. Yet other family members, including Singer’s sister, shared the decision-making and care, and, he says, with difficulty, his mother would probably have died six months earlier than she did had he been in sole charge.

Yet what comes through most clearly, overriding the Australian’s zeal as an activist and his knack for hitting the human heart where it hurts, is the distinctive and too-rare calm of someone who is at peace with his place in the world. When he dies, he says, his tombstone will make for a modest read.

“It would say something like, ‘He did what he could to make the world a better place’,” he says, after some thought. “You know, I don’t see myself as somebody who’s transforming the whole world, I see myself as part of a long tradition that dates back to Socrates, that has always been trying to make the world a more human, more compassionate place.

“If I’ve helped a little bit to move things forward, that’s enough.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: The good life

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Building alliances: Indigenous women leaders unite against development-based violence

UN Women, 23 November 2012

The sound of helicopters still makes Soi Tonnampet shake, years later. It takes her back to the first time she and others from her indigenous community, the Karen, fled from an operation to clear areas of national parkland in Northern Thailand. She recalls that during their first three-day escape through the forest – one of many – an elderly woman died and another woman miscarried.


Indigenous women shared their concerns about development-induced violence,
and the strategies they have used to address it during the four-day meeting.
Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker

 

For Lori Beyer, who is helping indigenous women contend with mining operations in the Philippines, gender-based violence has a different face. “Many of the male campaigners have to go into hiding,” she says. “It makes the women more vulnerable to sexual harassment, intimidation and sometimes worse.”

Although they come from villages far apart, indigenous women’s network members from across Southeast Asia found shared ground during a recent consultation on violence against indigenous women, which focused on forms of violence that are worsened or caused by economic development projects.

 



Soi Tonnampet and Kruemebuh Chaya, both members of the Karen tribe from Keng Kra Chan, Thailand, share their experiences of violence and displacement with the group during a story-telling session. Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker.



 

Organized by the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact and supported by UN Women, the meeting is part of work to connect indigenous women with each other, rights experts, and the skills they need, to define and respond to pressing issues. As decisions on the sustainable development framework are made, and countries – particularly ASEAN members – open up economically, the need to battle their invisibility and lack of public voice has become increasingly important.

“The impact of the violence on indigenous women that comes with militarization of indigenous territories, with the destruction of our natural resources and with the consequence of displacement, affects them not just as individuals but as a collective – through the social-cultural dimension of their identity and dignity,” says Joan Carling, AIPP Secretary General. “If  are not participating in any decision-making where it concerns them, then this issue is not being addressed”.

Although often found in areas of natural wealth, indigenous groups make up 5% of the world’s population, but 15% of the poorest worldwide, according to the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Many contend with extensive damage, marginalization and human rights violations as a result of aggressive development processes.

For women, these harms can take on different forms. The influx of non-indigenous workers and security personnel into indigenous areas has seen prostitution increase, for example, along with sexual harassment and rape. As indigenous livelihoods are altered or destroyed, levels of gender-based violence often rise, and economic, social and cultural harms can affect women differently as their burdens shift or increase. Yet with lower levels of education, and held back by multiple layers of discrimination, indigenous women can struggle to highlight their concerns and lead change.

 
Despite language and cultural barriers the women found solidarity –
and lighter moments – during the consultation.
Photo credit: Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

 

 

Nevertheless, with support, women leaders are emerging as effective advocates.  The Chiang Mai consultation connected twenty-nine indigenous women from eight countries in Southeast Asia  with regional and international human rights experts, women’s rights and indigenous peoples rights advocates – including representatives from the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, and the UN’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).  “At this workshop I can hear other country’s cases, and how they have overcome  so that I learn from them,” says Seng Mai, who has been helping indigenous and rural people to respond to development projects in Myanmar, through the Kachin Development Networking Group. “And I can hear about international law, such as customary law and CEDAW.”

Participants also shared positive progress – whether cases pushed into and through their criminal justice process, interventions triggered from the UN Human Rights Council, or in the case of the Philippines recently, a military court martial successfully campaigned for, for soldiers suspected of extrajudicial killing.

Other network members, with support from UN Women and others, spoke of meeting with decision-makers on international platforms like the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), or the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20).  Many spoke of placing force behind their lobbying using the women’s and collective rights frameworks, found in international instruments such as the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  and CEDAW, known as the Women’s Convention.


Indigenous women from three areas of Indonesia meet with women from
Thailand’s Akha hill tribe, during the participants’ trip to a tribal village in
Chiang Mai. Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker

 

At the conclusion of the meeting, participants agreed on an action plan - a series of research, advocacy and capacity building steps for the coming year. For women like Soi, Lori and Seng Mai, the solidarity and the strategizing are a source of knowledge, but also critical encouragement and moral support.

This is a chance for me to bring this information to my country, my village and the women there,” explains Seng Mai.

UN Women, 23 November 2012

The sound of helicopters still makes Soi Tonnampet shake, years later. It takes her back to the first time she and others from her indigenous community, the Karen, fled from an operation to clear areas of national parkland in Northern Thailand. She recalls that during their first three-day escape through the forest – one of many – an elderly woman died and another woman miscarried.

Indigenous women shared their concerns about development-induced violence,
and the strategies they have used to address it during the four-day meeting.
Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker

 

For Lori Beyer, who is helping indigenous women contend with mining operations in the Philippines, gender-based violence has a different face. “Many of the male campaigners have to go into hiding,” she says. “It makes the women more vulnerable to sexual harassment, intimidation and sometimes worse.”

Although they come from villages far apart, indigenous women’s network members…

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Around the ASEAN Summit, the region’s women rally

UN Women, 20 November 2012

As world leaders meet in Phnom Penh to discuss the future of the region at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on 16 – 20 November, diverse civil society groups have been working to keep their fingers on the pulse and their voices at high volume.

Particularly vocal among these have been women’s rights groups, for whom the Summit and its People’s Forum are emotional rallying points – a chance to amplify issues being discussed by women in homes, civic spaces and workplaces across Southeast Asia. These range from gender-based violence to sustainable development priorities and the scarcity of female decision-makers.

At the Cambodian Women’s Forum, held in the lead up to the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, a  member of the Cambodian Women’s Caucus takes notes as a campaign statement is drafted.  Credit: UN Women/Jo Baker

For one dynamic network, preparations have been long in the making. The Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN, a…

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Where violence and HIV meet: Intersections are explored at this year’s International AIDS Conference, and the Kolkata Conference Hub

Say NO UNiTE (link), 26 July 2012

Held every two years, the International AIDS Conference is the world’s largest conference on HIV, and plays a fundamental role in shaping the global response to HIV, and keeping HIV and AIDS on the international political agenda.

While the global climate for this year’s event in Washington DC (22-27 July) has seen  funding for the global HIV response diminish, important achievements are emerging on, among other areas, most-at-risk populations, the intersection of violence and HIV, parent-to-child transmission, and treatment as prevention. Attending for the first time as an official co-sponsor of UNAIDS, UN Women has been working to champion gender equality and women’s empowerment in the global response to HIV.

Among the week’s discussions, UN Women convened and moderated a panel of women leaders to highlight achievements in women’s leadership that are driving change and transformation of the HIV response; and co-sponsored events focused on…

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Five Questions for Catherine Smith

Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, 14 May 2012

In 2011 Catherine Smith, an Australian mother of six, saw her former husband jailed on 17 charges, among them: attempted murder, assault, sex without consent, and detaining with intent to obtain advantage.

It had taken her 30 years of  appeals and petitions to the authorities, during which she and her family suffered repeated brutality. Smith was herself tried during this time (and acquitted) for attempted murder. Her case highlights the barriers that women in Australia face, particularly those living in rural areas, when seeking protection and redress for violence within the family.

Smith and her daughter Vickie spoke at the United Nations in March at the  56th Session of the Commission on Status of Women in New York, where their story resonated with many women from rural areas across the world.

Say NO- UNiTE spoke to Smith about her experiences, her advocacy, and the advice that she gives other survivors. Elizabeth…

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On World Press Freedom Day – What Hope for Reconciliation and Free Expression in Sri Lanka?

Historical Justice and Memory Research Network, 3 May 2012 *

Many countries emerging from conflict have relied on the free media to involve the nation in its inquiry processes, and therefore help to validate them. From Kenya to Peru, the press has broadcast televised sessions, disseminated reports in different languages and formats and, while often divided on issues, has catalysed critical commentary and debate.

This has not been the case in Sri Lanka.

According to Sri Lankan NGOs public interest in the report of its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission is low. Five months after its release it has yet to be translated into Tamil or Sinhala, and with the exception of state-sponsored editorials and maverick English language platforms online, media analysis of its findings has been rare.



Mentions of the Commission, along with most other issues pertaining to national security, minority rights and human rights, are framed largely by the nationalist rhetoric being led by the government.

Reasons for this are not difficult to identify. State officials and state-owned media outlets have for years conducted smear campaigns and issued threats of violence against dissenting voices, often while questioning their national loyalties.

The Minister of Public Relations was quoted in pro-government papers this year saying he will ‘break the limbs’ of Sri Lankan journalists overseas who have ‘made various statements against the country.’ An editorial in the state-owned Sinhala-language daily, Dinamina, denounced journalists by name, before referring to state critics as ‘degenerates.’ The author opined that in some countries, such ‘bastards’ would be stoned to death.

These sentiments are not softened by Sri Lanka’s reputation for targeted killings and disappearances.

The 2012 Impunity Index, just released by Committee to Protect Journalists, has placed it among the four worst nations in combating journalist murders. During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time in power none of the nine killings committed against journalists critical of the regime have been resolved (nor adequately investigated according to many human rights groups). This includes the high profile murder of vocal government critic and Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in 2009.

The Alliance of Media Organizations marked ‘Black January’ this year on behalf of Sri Lanka’s journalists. For many in the country, self-censorship has become a matter of physical as well as professional security.

Further restrictions indicate that the government’s grip on democratic space will continue to tighten.

These range from its scheme to register websites, to the outright banning or blocking of dissenting sites such as the Sri Lanka Guardian. The latest clench, in March, involved text message alerts from news sites; any related to national security must now be state approved.

Expressions of concern have surfaced from EU heads of mission in Colombo, international watchdogs and NGOs.

During my last visit to the country in late 2009, low spirits and disheartening forecasts coloured my interviews with NGO staff, journalists and editors. They stood in stark contrast to the post-war triumphalism in the public at large.

Three years on, despite the LLRC’s published recommendations for reform and investigation, there is little hope to offer them; public interest in or tolerance for accountability or human rights issues remains low.

As highlighted by the resolution passed at the UN Human Rights Council in March this year, a clear national picture of the roots and content of the conflict has not emerged, nor is one being pursued.

With a free press, Sri Lanka, with its vibrant democratic history, could have utilised the LLRC as a cathartic learning exercise – or at least the start of a road to accountability and recovery. There seems no greater sign of its absence than the call from Geneva this March. Far better, surely, for the call to have come from Sri Lankans themselves.

For more information: See Free Media Movement, Groundviews, Freedom House; Transcurrents; and the blog of exiled Sri Lankan journalist, Sunanda Deshapriya.

*The Historical Justice and Memory Research Network News appeared fortnightly between February 2011 and January 2013.

Historical Justice and Memory Research Network, 3 May 2012 *

Many countries emerging from conflict have relied on the free media to involve the nation in its inquiry processes, and therefore help to validate them. From Kenya to Peru, the press has broadcast televised sessions, disseminated reports in different languages and formats and, while often divided on issues, has catalysed critical commentary and debate.

This has not been the case in Sri Lanka.

According to Sri Lankan NGOs public interest in the report of its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission is low. Five months after its release it has yet to be translated into Tamil or Sinhala, and with the exception of state-sponsored editorials and maverick English language platforms online, media analysis of its findings has been rare.

Mentions of the Commission, along with most other issues pertaining to national security, minority rights and human rights, are framed largely by the nationalist rhetoric being led by the government.

Reasons…

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Q&A with Hanan Abdalla, director of a new film that explores the lives of Egyptian women since the Arab Spring

UN Women, 9 April 2012

This week, “In the Shadow of a Man”, a film commissioned by UN Women, is taking the compelling stories of four Egyptian women to the Istanbul Film Festival, as part of a string of international screenings. The documentary premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, and will be followed soon with a second film by the director on women candidates in Egypt’s 2011-2012 parliamentary elections. In an interview with UN Women, young British-Egyptian director Hanan Abdalla weighs in on the issues the film addresses, and its relevance as the women’s movement gathers momentum in the country.

What drew you to the subject of women’s needs in the aftermath of the Eyptian revolution?
I’ve always known that there is a wealth of stories waiting to be told by women in Egypt. But, the truth is that after the revolution I had mixed feelings about making a film that focused on women: I felt that it was a subject matter that was being…

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Five Questions for Shishir Chandra: Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women (MASVAW)

Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, 28 March 2012

Shishir Chandra is a community organizer with Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW) in Uttar Pradesh, India, an alliance of individual men and organizations that are committed to reducing gender-based violence through education and advocacy. Here he talks about the struggle to challenge gender roles for both men and women in India, and why he believes that young men can and should step up to the challenge.

 

1. Why do you think it’s important for young people to get involved in these issues?

Although gender equality is such a burning issue, not many youth in India get an opportunity to get involved in advancing gender equality. Young men and boys all over India have had many difficult experiences regarding gender inequality and sexual violence but traditional societal structure discourages them to be open about these issues. Youth join MASVAW because this network provides an outlet for…

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‘You have to tolerate a little bit of torture’

In part one of a two-part interview Colombo based Attorney-at-law Ranjan Mendis explains how the Sri Lankan police continue to influence the outcome of torture trials taken against them, resulting in a mere handful of convictions since the domestic anti-torture law was passed sixteen years ago.

“Torture by police is the order of the day”

“As a regular practitioner in criminal courts I know the day-to-day. We meet a large number of people belonging to various walks of life; torture by the police is the order of the day – the order of the day. I want to emphasize that. In India torture is very common by the police as well as by the army, but in Sri Lanka torture by the army and other armed forces like the navy is not really common – other than in the theatres of war.  Here the police have the monopoly.”

I must say in fairness to everybody, immediately after a law is passed the authorities or the general public do not come to terms with this law. It takes a little…

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Man on a mission for women’s justice

 March 8, 2009, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

 

Nasir Aslam Zahid has led the struggle for equal rights in Pakistan, where women remain in chains. But the former judge vows to fight on.

For a free man, Nasir Aslam Zahid spends a lot of time in jail. “It does sometimes baffle callers,” says the Pakistani in clipped, wry tones, at the Asian Legal Resources Centre in Hong Kong. “Most of my phone calls these days are taken from prison.”

The former chief justice runs LAO, a legal aid organization based out of Central Prison Karachi, which helps women and children incarcerated across his home province, Sindh. These days he is more worried about the renovation of toilets, administering of medicine and arranging of bail than passing judgments, but both roles  have exposed him to the glut of problems facing women in his country: from honour killings and sweatshops, to drug use and the high rate of domestic violence.  Also director of the Hamdard School of Law, Zahid has taught…

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