On Monday, November 12, the Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored an event with local education, faith-based, and law organizations at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), titled Addressing the Global Refugee Crisis – Part 2: Focus on the United States. The panel discussion, moderated by Anne Ledvina ( Associate Director at BSC – Ellie and Herb Sklenar Center for International Programs), included Yanira Arias (Campaign Manager at Alianza Americas), April Jackson-McLennan (Attorney at The Law Office of John Charles Bell, L.L.C.), Sarai Portillo (Executive Director at Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice), Roshell Rosales (Member at Adelante Alabama Worker Center), and Jessica Vosburgh (Executive Director at Adelante Alabama Worker Center), addressing the Central American migrant caravan, definitions of immigration law, and Alabama’s role in the current refugee crisis.
Arias and Portillo first addressed the audience by speaking about the recent events in Mexico City where many Central American caravan refugees were staying in a stadium serving as a makeshift camp. Here, many tenants camped on the field or slept on the bleachers, received medical attention and waited in line for basic resources, such as water, that had limited availability. Not only does Portillo assist migrants in her birthplace of Mexico but heads the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ), a grassroots network of six non-profit organizations and various individuals dedicated to protecting and advancing immigrant rights by developing leadership, aligning with other justice causes, encouraging civil participation, and advocating for just policies. Arias’ organization, Alianza Americas, which is a national network serving Latino communities, is currently facilitating donations for Central American caravan refugees through the Refuge for Families Campaign.
If you’re interested in participating in the advancement of immigrant rights, both locally and globally, please mark your calendar for March 4, 2019 for the third installment of this series which will be held at Samford University and focus on a community action plan. Please stay tuned for more details.
Two things, seemingly unrelated, have the ability to impact and reshape people’s lives.
Toni Shapiro-Phim worked at a refugee camp in Indonesia and Thailand, where a lot of people came from Vietnam and Cambodia. In Vietnam, many went through a horrific journey to arrive in Indonesia, while in Cambodia they were fleeing genocide. Something that connects these two countries is the ability to enlist in the arts as a way of survival and endurance. Many were drawing, painting, creating poetry, and dancing. You may ask yourself, what do the arts have to do with social justice? In regards to Cambodians, dance has to do with the “spirits of the land”; it is a way to connect to the “earth of Cambodia”. Dance is able to coexist during hardships and violence. They chose to find something beautiful amidst the chaos. Dance is a way to connect individuals with their community, create conversations, provide resources, and, most of all, create a sanctuary.
In Chile, there was a dictator by the name of Pinochet who managed to make people who were “enemies of the state” disappear. Women would go into the streets and dance the cueca sola, the country’s national dance as determined by Pinochet. The dance is traditionally known as a couple’s dance. However, the women altered the meaning of this dance by dancing alone. On their clothes, they had pictures of their loved ones that had disappeared. This bold statement led way to the end of the Pinochet regime. Dance has the ability to make a change and speak in a way where words are not needed.
In some countries, dancing is believed to be too influential and as a result, has been banned. Some of these countries include Japan, Sweden, and Germany. Many people are surprised to hear that Sweden has a dancing ban. You are not allowed to spontaneously dance. Bars and pubs have to get a license in order for people to dance. Japan had a similar ban which forbade dancing unless the venue had a license up until midnight. However, the ban was recently repealed. Dancing on Good Friday is forbidden in 13 of the 16 states in Germany. The dancing ban is called “Tanzverbot”. Although, in the three states where it is not illegal, there is still a ban until 9 pm on Good Friday. People found dancing will be fined. Specifically, in Baden-Württemberg, dancing is banned from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday at 3 am. Dancing is also banned from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day at 3 am.
FLEXN Evolution is an improvised dance performance that addresses racial equality and social justice. Their production, called “bone breaking”, focuses on being broken physically or emotionally and rebuilding yourself. Not only do these dancers use dance to express their pain, but they also use dialogue and photography. Before every performance, they have an event with a panel consisting of Common Justice (an organization that works with racial equality and crime survivors), scholars, and community leaders to hold conversations on the issue they are trying to advocate. In addition to the performance, there is a photo series of portraits of all the dancers. The purpose of these photos is to show people what it feels like to be in America – the good and the bad.
A topic that often comes up in the news is climate change. Here are three choreographers and their inspiring story on how they integrated dance with climate change.
Davalois Fearon choreographed a piece on water scarcity. Something that set her apart from other choreographers was how she used dance as a way to interact with the audience. Two dancers hand out cups randomly to some audience members, while a third dancer pours water in some of the cups. Fearon’s goal is to give the audience members an idea of what it feels like to be “denied a resource, overlooked and ignored.” The message doesn’t stop with the performance but continues on with a discussion. The discussion is meant to create a safe environment where people can talk about the issue and try to understand it.
The next artist, Jill Sigman, created a piece on disposability called the Hut Project. Her project focuses on creating hut that is made out of scavenged materials. She wants to go against societal norms of prizing things that are new and shiny and tossing out things that are old. By creating huts from materials deemed as old and useless, she shows people that there is beauty in things that we deem as disposable. She tells you to not be so quick to throw out things simply because they are old and goes on to reveal how things we discard have a story and are complex. Additionally, she hosts a conversation after the performance to talk more about the issue.
The third choreographer, Rulan Tangen, also uses dance as a platform to raise awareness about disposability. She creates discourse on how climate change is a symptom of injustice and people not respecting all forms of life. Currently, she is creating a piece on renewable energy from different perspectives such as cultural and practical. She even goes on to discuss the sustainability for the design of her dance production.
In Los Angeles, street dance activism is on the rise. In 2014, Ezell Ford, a black man with mental illness was shot by the police. Activist, Shamell Bell, camped out by the police department for days to request that the officers involved in the shooting be fired. She invited her friend Dashawn Blanks, a noted street dancer, to instruct social dances that were generated in black communities. Protestors, while there for an important cause, were also able to be cheerful while dancing because they were dancing for a cause but also for themselves. Another example is in 2012 when Trayvon Martin’s killer was found not guilty where people headed to Leimert Park to express themselves through dance. Eventually, the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter was produced and, in the following years, there have been numerous fatal shootings so Bell would orchestrate dance as a way to show a different way to protest. She also went on to form a group, called the Balance Collective, of both dancers and artists who fight “racism, police brutality, sexism, and homophobia”. “I teach because it’s not about me. I wish I could fade into the background,” Bell says. “This work is about us using art as a platform to save ourselves so we can save others.”
Dance is where people can use movement to portray inequities. Different social justice issues ranging from the environment to racial inequality can be addressed through dance. Never underestimate how powerful dance can be.
“But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult.” – Christine Blasey Ford, 2018
Christine Blasey Ford spoke these words during her opening statement during a September 2018 hearing before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. The purpose of the hearing was to determine if nominee Brett Kavanaugh was fit to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Blasey Ford said that when she and Kavanaugh were both teenagers, an extremely drunk Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her by groping her and trying to remove her clothes. When she tried to scream, he covered her mouth, and Blasey Ford said she was afraid that this action would suffocate her.
This testimony illustrates how many women have experienced physical and sexual violence. This testimony joins the many heartrending stories we’ve heard as part of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns. The repercussions of this violence can linger long after the violence has ended. They can affect women for the rest of their lives and affect their loved ones and acquaintances. Violence thus creates a ripple effect that touches all parts of society, not just the women directly harmed by the acts of violence.
To address this violence, the United Nations (UN) sponsors the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women every year. In 2018, this day occurs on November 25, 2018. This day is part of the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women.
What is violence against women?
Sadly, there are many types of violence against women. Violence can be physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or a combination of these. It can be the threat of violence, such as threatening violence against women if they do or don’t do certain things. Violence can be against ciswomen (people who were born biologically female and identify as female). It can be against trans people or nonbinary individuals and sometimes occur because of their trans or nonbinary statuses. Women, nonbinary people, and trans individuals of color also might also encounter violence. This article refers to all women, nonbinary people, and trans individuals unless otherwise specified.
Violence can occur in public or it can occur in homes, schools, or workplaces. It can occur among strangers or among family members, coworkers, classmates, or teachers and students. Some people and groups use violence against women as a weapon of war, raping women and girls because they think the violence will serve as a sign of dominance and power. In this perspective, any pregnancies that result are an added bonus because the pregnancies perpetuate the dominant/violent lineage instead of the groups they’ve vanquished.
Some people commit violence against women simply because they feel that they can. They feel that they can get away with such behavior without suffering any negative repercussions. In this view, their feelings and physical needs are more important than the feelings of the women in their lives, even though, as we’ve seen, such actions can create lifelong consequences for the women and the people who know them. Such feelings of entitlement might partially explain the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford incident. After all, when examining cultural problems, it helps to examine the cultures that created them.
How does culture contribute to violence?
Violence against women – or any violence – does not exist in a vacuum. Cultural forces often help to create and perpetuate violence against women. Even today, we hear the excuse “boys will be boys” in discussions of sexually aggressive behavior by men and boys. People still question whether women are inviting sexual aggression by their choice of clothes, their behavior, their decision to go places alone, and their drinking habits. While such attitudes exist in the United States, they are sometimes even more pronounced in other countries. Honor killings are a sadly common occurrences in some parts of the world. There were about 1,100 such murders in Pakistan alone in 2015.
In honor killings, people kill their female relatives because they believe that the females’ actions have shamed their families. In this view, shameful actions include dancing, working outside of the home, appearing on social media, dating, not marrying the families’ choices of suitors, or even being raped (even though rape is obviously not a person’s fault). People also worry that women will falsely accuse their sons of rape, even though their daughters are far more likely to experience sexual violence. And this is only for reported incidents of violence. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that people report 35 percent of sexual assaults to the police. This means that people do not report almost two-thirds of all sexual assaults.
Why? One only has to observe what happened to Christine Blasey Ford. Because she recounted her experiences, she
Received death threats.
Moved with her family from their home because she feared for their safety.
Faced intense scrutiny from politicians, the media, and the U.S. public.
“I have had to relive my trauma in front of the entire world, and have seen my life picked apart by people in television, in the media, and in this body who have never met me or spoken with me,” Christine Blasey Ford admitted. Meanwhile, the man she accused, Brett Kavanaugh, still became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Is it any wonder why women and trans and nonbinary people are often reluctant to report violence against them? Even if they speak out, do people really listen? Are people really willing to take actions to deal with such violence or prevent such violence in the first place?
How does violence affect women and society at large?
If people don’t listen to women’s stories of violence, take action to remedy them, or try to prevent violence, there are repercussions. Violence harms women, the people around them, and society at large. Ending the culture of violence against is the responsibility of societies and the governments that represent them. On a political level, such efforts protect and encourage half of the population, a population that votes and can support governments that support them (or withhold their support for unsupportive politicians and governments).
More importantly, such efforts are imperative on a human rights level. Ending a culture of violence against women ensures that all of a society’s citizens are respected and can fully experience society. It allows people to advance instead of holding people down. Violence causes immediate physical and emotional harm. It also can also create long-lasting consequences. For example, women who have been raped might
Contract a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV/AIDS.
Face unwanted pregnancies.
Struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health conditions.
Develop a drug addiction or a dependence on alcohol because they are using substances to try to forget the attack.
Encounter problems at school or work because the attack led to absences or made it difficult to concentrate.
Experience shame and stigmatization from people who believe that they were responsible for the rape.
Find it difficult to begin new relationships or manage existing ones.
Deal with fear, anger, and other emotions.
These consequences are complex and require extensive professional help. Help is also necessary to address other aspects of violence. That’s because violent attacks hurt more than just women. They hurt their families because the families see how much the women in their lives are struggling. The women may also be unable to engage with others because of such attacks.
Violent attacks prevent women from contributing to their homes and workplaces. But, more importantly, they stifle women and violate their human rights. They could make women fearful of doing things that they might feel trigger such attacks, although violence is not their fault, but the fault of perpetrators. They might be afraid to do anything because of such attacks. This fear could paralyze them, prevent them from living full lives, and deprive society of their contributions.
How can people prevent such violence?
It’s imperative, then, to prevent violence against women. Governments, people, and organizations are working to do just that. UN Women, part of the United Nations, has discussed the commitments and efforts of several countries around the world who have pledged to end violence against women. Such efforts include general commitments to investigate violence and work with groups to end and prevent it. UN Women also discussed specific actions, such as the country of Senegal’s creation of a hotline to help women and the country of Australia’s creation of a public campaign promoting respectful relationships and a project to promote workplace safety for women.
The annual United Nations-backed International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women are examples of such efforts. The Center for Women’s Global Leadership’s Global Leadership Institute originated the 16 Days of Activism in 1991.
From the start, the organization and its work were inclusive. According to a website for the 16 Days of Activism campaign, the first participants in 1991 came from different countries in all of the world’s regions and were drawn from a variety of fields – lawyers, policymakers, teachers, health care workers, researchers, journalists, and activists. These women were local civil society leaders with at least two years of experience in women’s organizing who were also interested in building the global women’s human rights movement.
While this antiviolence campaign has always been global, it is interesting that it began at a time of great debate about violence against women in the United States. That’s because 1991 was also the year that law professor Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Clarence Thomas, like Brett Kavanaugh, was a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Thomas, like Kavanaugh, became a justice of the court despite the accusations against him.
Is it any wonder why organizations continue to sponsor efforts to end violence and harassment against women? For example, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25, 2018, inaugurates these 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2018, ends these 16 Days of Activism.
The timing of these days illustrates how the United Nations and other organizations consider violence not just a women’s problem, but a human rights issue. It sends the message that violence against women is a blight on humanity that concerns us all, not just the people immediately affected. Orange Is the World: #HearMeToo is the theme for 2018’s 16 Days of Activism campaign. This campaign builds on the momentum of movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up. The UN Women and the Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign says that the color orange is intended to “symbolize a brighter future without violence. For us, the ‘orange’ comes from the fire ignited by the many women’s groups dedicated to combating violence against women around the world.”
To combat this violence, #HearMeToo has championed inclusiveness. It has encouraged people to share their stories of violence and created spaces for people to share them. It has shared their stories through digital and print media. It has sponsored listening events that included voices from all sectors, aiming to “create opportunities for dialogue between activists and policy makers, private sector organizations and the public.”
Other organizations are speaking out about violence. The NoVo Foundation founded the Move to End program to end violence against women and girls. The Move to End program’s On the Move blog contains several stories about efforts to end violence and encourages people to contribute as guest bloggers. Several other sites also feature blogs that encourage contributors, such as Ms. magazine. These blogs provide information. They provide a forum for people to share this information so they can speak and others can listen. Listening may sound simple, but it’s a vital step. Violence uses power to silence victims. Letting voices be heard helps dispel fear, secrecy, and uncertainty.
Pam Zuber is a writer and editor who has written about a wide variety of topics, including politics, addiction, and gender.
People often view the countries in Africa as poor. While 218 million individuals live in extreme poverty, 1 in 3 Africans are considered middle class. Additionally, not all people in Africa live in “huts”. About 43% of individuals in Africa live in urban areas. In fact, there are more than 50 cities with a population of over a million people. Also, approximately 70% of Africa’s population is under the age of 30. So, when you combine this young demographic with diversified urban centers, you generate the possibility of innovation throughout the continent. Furthermore, their economy is expanding – out of the 10 fastest growing economies, 6 are in Africa. It is not possible to apply one concept to the entirety of Africa. Yes, some countries are poor, especially in sub-Saharan Africa; however, there are countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt that are fairly wealthy. Nigeria exports the majority of the world’s oil, has a GDP of over $594 billion, and is projected to be one of the world’s largest economies in just a couple of years. While South Africa is a well-known tourist location, it also has the 18th largest stock exchange in the world. Egypt is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa.
In terms of landscape, Africa is quite diversified. While the Saharan desert covers one-third of the continent, there are also rainforests, mountains, and lakes. Africa’s largest vegetation zones do not comprise of deserts or rainforests, but, in fact, savannas which are tropical grasslands. There is a myriad of ecosystems in Africa. For example, the Sahara desert is the world’s largest hot desert and has over 300 species of wildlife such as the cheetah, ostrich, and hyrax. On the flip side, the Congo and the Nile are the world’s deepest and longest rivers, respectively. Africa is also home to numerous wetlands, specifically in the Botswana which includes saline lakes, freshwater forests, and massive floodplains. There are also tropical forests in Central and West Africa such as the Congo rainforest.
Afghanistan has had a long history of being a patriarchal society. Cultural customs that have suppressed the rights of women have been popularized and justified on the basis of morality. With these customs largely targeting women behavior, Afghani women are faced daily with gender inequality. One of the most brutal threats is the risk of a barbaric practice called virginity testing. Many women at some point are forced to go through the painful examination. The procedure involves a medical professional forcing two fingers inside of the women’s vagina, often forced and against her wishes, in order to determine if the women’s hymen is still intact. One might ask why anyone would force women to endure an assault on their most private areas. The terrible answer is that virginity testing is done to ensure that the woman has not had sexual relations with any man.
In Afghanistan and other countries such as India that widely practice virginity testing, a woman’s virginity is highly coveted. It is a symbol of modesty and purity. The societal expectation is that it is never okay for women to have any sexual experiences outside of marriage. Women’s actions are extremely regulated and controlled by the men of the family. Having a virginity test is often required for many basic rights such as the option to go to school, obtain a job, or get married. Faced with limited choices, many women see no other way than to submit to the test out of fear of the repercussions.
The punishments for defying these unfair gender inequalities is severe. In fact, an Afghan woman found to have had sex before marriage is subject to prosecution and imprisonment under what is known as a ‘moral crime.’ The societal penalties extend much further than jail time. Girls are thought to have had premarital sex are publicly humiliated after word spreads of their failed virginity test. They are often ostracized by their families for bringing shame upon them. Some families will go so far as to commit honor killings which is the murder of a woman by her male family members for bringing shame upon the family. For a society to criminalize female sexuality and even threaten death is an egregious violation of female human rights.
The United Nations, World Health Organization, United Nations Women, and the United Nations Human Rights Council have all called for a global ban on the practice. However, this will not do these women much good. These organizations have no ability to enforce their will and can only hope to draw attention to the issue. There are many reasons to campaign for an end to virginity testing; for the purpose of this blog, I will highlight three. The first and most obvious reason is the disregard for a women’s right to say no. A woman should be allowed to deny any medical procedure that she does not wish to have for any reason. Any vaginal procedure done without consent is sexual and physical assault.
The second reason to outlaw this practice is that it continues unfair gender inequality and enforces unhealthy stereotypes. Why are only women required to undergo testing for sexual ‘purity’? Why is it that it is considered immoral for women to be sexually active and not men? This problem extends far beyond Afghanistan and is a worldwide issue. There is a clear gender bias against women having sex. On the other hand, men are often complimented for their sexual prowess. If gender equality is to be realized, then there needs to be a cultural cleansing of the many double standards placed on women.
Lastly, the most damning reason why vaginal testing shouldn’t be used is that it doesn’t work. The World Health Organization has found that there is no scientific basis for the claim that a torn hymen is evidence that a woman has had sexual intercourse. In fact, they have found that there are many nonsexual ways that the hymen can be damaged. For instance, the use of a tampon or being physically active in sports like gymnastics can cause the hymen to break. The sole reason for subjecting women to this painful test is to confirm that they are virgins. If a virginity test can’t prove whatsoever that they are or aren’t virgins then there is no logical explanation to continue this practice.
Currently, there are several thousand women, many as young as 13, imprisoned for failing one of these inconclusive virginity tests. On top of being imprisoned with faulty evidence for an unjust crime, these girls are subjected to terrible prison conditions. Farhad Javid is in charge of Afghanistan’s division of Marie Stopes International, an organization focused on protecting women’s sexual rights. Javid recently visited the Mazar-i-Sharif prison where many women convicted of ‘moral’ crimes are held. He found that these women face severe overcrowding, lack of access to proper healthcare, and constant, daily sexual assault. Women falsely convicted of having sex have reported being frequently forced to have sex with prison guards and staff. Due to the lack of reliable evidence of these women’s alleged crimes and the inhumane treatment these girls are facing in prison, Javid is campaigning for the immediate release of all women being imprisoned for ‘moral’ crimes.
Unfortunately, even after being released from prison these women will have lasting problems. For the rest of their lives, they will have to deal with the trauma and memories of the forced virginity test as well as the sexual abuse they underwent in prison. On top of this, they will likely have a hard time finding stability. Despite being falsely convicted with invalid evidence, their reputations have been permanently and irreparably stained. For most of these girls, their families have already disowned them. They have no intention of taking back a daughter who they believe to have committed ‘moral’ atrocities that have brought shame upon their family. Also, these girls have been imprisoned at young ages and have not completed an education or have been married. With no family, husband, or education to support themselves with and nowhere to go these women’s future outlooks are grim. There aren’t many resources available to women in Afghanistan without a family or support system. The majority will end up at overcrowded and underfunded women’s shelters. Without proper protection, they are in constant threat of violence or rape. Their lives will be constantly haunted by this ordeal like being branded by a scarlet letter.
It is astounding how easy it is for these women’s entire lives to be turned upside down. Simply walking down the street with a boy or getting a ride home from a boy is enough to get reported to the police by family members or neighbors. The authorities waste no time ordering a virginity test. Despite the girl having done nothing wrong, there is a real and terrifying chance that she will fail the unreliable test and be imprisoned. It is obvious that much change is needed to prevent this same tragedy from happening to more innocent young girls.
The solution to this problem lies at the local level. If the people are well-informed about the test’s ineffectiveness, then they will stop requesting the examination take place. A massive public relations campaign could be used to accomplish this task. Local governments need to partner with the many nonprofit organizations committed to helping improve the rights of women. By doing so these local governments will have the necessary funding and manpower to launch a public relations campaign with individuals well qualified to teach the public about the ineffectiveness of virginity testing. Another solution is proposed by Javid and the Marie Stopes Afghanistan. Recently Marie Stopes helped the Afghanistan government to create a new policy that discourages doctors from pursuing these tests. The policy states that virginity tests have no scientific credibility and should not be administered by health care professionals for the purpose of determining if a girl is a virgin. Marie Stopes is sending out doctors to both train hospital staff and ensure the new policy is carried out and taken seriously at each hospital in Afghanistan. This initiative aims to tackle the problem by reducing the credibility of virginity testing. If no licensed doctors are willing to perform the procedure due to official public policy, then the hope is that law enforcement will stop requesting and in some cases pressuring doctors to conduct virginity testing on suspected girls. Law enforcement will be forced to subject girls to exams by unlicensed non-professionals if they wish to continue the use of virginity testing. This will lower the integrity of their claims of proving the state of a girl’s virginity and will surely aid in gaining local support to end the barbaric practice.
If the work to accomplish this solution is continued, then real progress will be made. If the government and culture of Afghanistan can be open to a small amount of change then thousands of other girls can be saved from such terrible experiences. While there are many other unfair gender practices common in this region, this campaign will be a large step towards the path to gender equality. With continued public relations campaigns and pressure for governmental action, an Afghan society that treats women fairly and empowers them to be in control of their lives will be enacted.
On Tuesday, November 13, the Institute for Human Rights and Consulate General of Switzerland – Atlanta co-sponsored a showing Sonita, a film based on a 15-year-old girl from Afghanistan who immigrated to Iran in order to flee the Taliban. Over the course of the three years Sonita is filmed, she is able to receive assistance at a center for refugee children in Tehran, Iran where she works on her dream of becoming a rapper by performing for her classmates and pursuing a place to record her music.
What many people are unaware of is the Afghani tradition of forcing children into marriage, with Sonita’s family setting her price as $9,000. Without intervention from the filmmaker, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghamim, who paid her family $2,000 to postpone her marriage, Sonita might have not made it to where she is now. To make matters worse, women are not allowed to sing in Iran. So, in order for Sonita to continue her dream of becoming a rapper, the shelter could no longer be affiliated with her. Maghami then managed to take Sonita to the United States, without her parent’s permission, to pursue a career in rap.
Maghami started filming this documentary to help her cousin who worked at the refugee center, while her cousin just wanted to help Sonita find some training for her music. However, these selfless acts dramatically changed a young woman’s entire life.
Sonita shares the story of one young woman’s strength, perseverance, and the ability to use music as a vehicle to confront social injustice. This film not only gives the audience an inside look to both a tradition and country many are unfamiliar with, but also provides Sonita with the voice she needs to have her story heard.
Despite the many different viewpoints that exist on the political spectrum within the United States, one of the few things we all seem to be able to generally agree on is the importance of protecting children. Their life and well-being completely rely on adults actively working to keep them safe and nurture them. On September 2, 1990, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was put into effect by the United Nations to aid in the protection of these most vulnerable members of society.
What Is Included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
The CRC does exactly what the title suggests: it outlines the rights held by children. It covers the rights to parental guidance, survival, development, nationality, identity, freedom of expression and thought, privacy, education, healthcare, and much more.
It states that, above all else, adults should be focused on ensuring that all their actions have as positive an impact on children as possible. Governments are responsible for protecting children’s rights in all situations, and any legislation that affects children should support their development and well-being. The CRC also addresses government responsibility in trying to keep families together (so long as it is the best thing for the child) and the fact that child refugees, children with disabilities, indigenous children, and children of minority groups have the same rights as any other children. Governments should take any extra action necessary to see that these rights are fulfilled.
Article 42 states that adults and children should be made aware of the rights put forth in the Convention. It emphasizes the importance of adults teaching children about their rights.
The United States and Violations of Children’s Rights
The United States is currently involved in the violation of many of the rights set forth in the CRC, but if it were to ratify the CRC, it would then be expected to begin working towards fixing them.
We are also violating the CRC because there are around 10,000 children in the United States who are being held in adult prisons and jails. This fact within itself violates Article 37 of the CRC, which states that children should not be kept in prisons with adults. This also violates Article 34, which states that “Governments should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse,” as children are five times as likely to experience sexual assault in adult prisons than juvenile detention centers. Children are 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being held in adult facilities than those who have been held in juvenile facilities. This violates Article 27, which states that children “have the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs.”
Trump’s Zero Tolerance Immigration Policy
The United States has also recently violated the CRC through the “zero tolerance immigration policy” that The Trump Administration put in place earlier this year. As a result of the push for prosecution of undocumented immigrants caught crossing the border and “rules on holding children in either criminal or immigration detention,” thousands of children were separated from their parents. This violates Article 9 of the CRC which states that children should be remain with their parents unless it is more harmful for them to be together than separated.
Despite the rules that relate to holding children in criminal or immigration detention, the children who were separated from their families were held in what were essentially cages: holding areas surrounded by “chain-link fences,” with 20 children being held in each of them and “few comforts besides foil blankets.” They were kept in inhumane conditions, violating Article 27 of the CRC, which describes the right to an adequate standard of living. It is difficult to see how these conditions could possibly have had a better impact on the children than finding a way to allow them to remain with their parents.
The United States’ withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council makes it difficult to be optimistic about the possibility of ratifying the CRC any time soon. It is a country that is self-proclaimed as being one of the most progressive in terms of human rights, yet we have not even ratified the document created to protect the vulnerable members of society whom we all agree need to be protected. At this point in time, the actions of the United States do not match its claims, and that needs to change.
Childhood is a time in life that should be filled with joy and imagination, and free of fear and any serious responsibility. However, for many people, this not their reality, as abuse and trauma have warped their experience of it. In 2014, about 702,000 children were found to be victims of some form of abuse in the United States – this number does not take into account situations of abuse that went unreported. It is estimated that 1,580 children died “as a result of abuse and neglect” in that same year, though it is possible that this number is actually much higher due to “undercounting of child fatalities by state agencies.” The general impact and potential trauma caused by abuse can have a significant harmful influence throughout childhood development and adulthood.
What is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is “when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm, or risk of serious harm to a child.” This includes many different forms of abuse, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect:
Physical abuse is “when a parent or caregiver causes any non-accidental physical injury to a child.”
Emotional abuse, which is recognized less often, is “when a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development or causes severe emotional harm,” and can include (but is not limited to) isolating a child, terrorizing, ignoring, and humiliating them.
Sexual abuse is “when an adult uses a child for sexual purposes or involves a child in sexual acts,” but it does not have to involve physical contact with a child. In addition to “contact abuse,” it can also include inappropriate sexual language, “making a child view or show sex organs,” and forcing a child to watch a sexual act.
Neglect is “when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection, and support needed for a child’s health, safety, and well-being,” and it occurs when an adult fails to meet even the most basic requirements for taking care of a child that they are responsible for. Neglect can physical, emotional, medical, or educational.
Physical neglect relates to reception of “care and supervision.”
Emotional neglect relates to reception of “affection and attention.”
Medical neglect relates to “treatment for injuries and illnesses.”
Educational neglect relates to a child’s “access to opportunities for academic success.”
Treatments for coping with PTSD and CPTSD include individual and group therapy, medications (such as antidepressants) that help with some symptoms, and the establishment of a reliable support system. Dealing with trauma is a life-long process. Healing is possible for survivors of child abuse, but the impacts of their experiences will never fully disappear.
The Cyclical Nature of Child Abuse
The presence of abuse can be seen as a cycle with the potential to perpetuate itself throughout the generations of a family. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, around one in three of all survivors of child abuse will “subject their children to maltreatment”. This is because many survivors who become parents believe that the way they were treated as a child is the correct way to parent. In other cases, parents believe that if they simply treat their children better than their parents treated them, then they are not being abusive. This way of thinking is incorrect, because abuse is abuse, even if one example of abuse is not as overtly severe as another. By spreading information and reporting incidences of child abuse we can help to interrupt the cycle.
Child Abuse is a Human Rights Issue
There are numerous ways in which child abuse can be clearly seen as a violation of human rights. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” and Article 25 states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.” How can someone utilize these rights while living in fear (whether it be as an adult or as a child)?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child also deals with child abuse as a violation of human rights. Article 19 calls for States Parties to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation…” Article 24 states that children have the right to “the highest attainable standard of health,” which is a right that cannot be fully enjoyed in an abusive situation. Article 27 describes the right “to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral, and social development,” and abuse is a known hindrance to childhood development. Article 34 relates specifically to sexual abuse, stating that States Parties should do everything they can to “protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.”
It is important that we remember that children are limited in what they can do to help themselves in any given situation. It is the responsibility of the adults around them to protect and nurture them. Adults should be attentive toward the well-being of the children they contact. Adults need to be able to recognize and report abusive situations when they witness them and/or are aware of them.
Of the identities that together form the full rainbow of the LGBTQ+ community, the “B” is one of the least visible despite its sizable population. Per the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, “self-identified bisexuals make up the largest single population within the LGBT community in the United States.” LGBTQ+ refers to all of the people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (a reclaimed term used to refer to all other identities not represented by the ones listed). However, not all people feel represented by the word “queer,” and the plus sign is meant to be inclusive of those communities.
To understand the experience of bisexual people, one must first understand the basics of gender and sexuality. Gender is a term that describes the social representation of biological reproductive processes, while one’s gender identity is based on personal identities, or the “internal perception of one’s gender” (SafeZone Project). Gender is what most people attach words like “man” and “woman” to, but can encompass a variety of identities such as agender (one who does not experience gender identity), polygender (one who experiences multiple gender identities), and genderfluid (can experience a combination of gender identities depending on the day). Sexual orientation is the “sexual, romantic, emotional/spiritual attraction” that one experiences, often depending on which gender/genders that they are attracted to. Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual are all examples of different sexual orientations, though a wide variety exists in addition to those listed.
Bisexuality (bi) does not have one all-inclusive definition, but the term “bisexual” generally refers to a person who experiences attraction to people of their own gender as well as people outside of their gender. The experience of bisexuality can be shared by pansexual people. The two terms overlap, as pansexual people experience attraction regardless of gender. Typically, one differentiates between the two identities with respect to how an individual identifies themselves; some bisexual people could technically be called pansexual (and vice versa), but the most inclusive practice is to respect each individual/community as they define their own experience.
Semantics aside, bi people have faced a long history of adversity with very little notoriety. Bisexuality as an identity has been chronically invalidated, demonized, and even blatantly ignored. Discrimination towards bisexual people has long been enforced by a heterosexual society, but many bi people have experienced discrimination from within the LGBT community as well.
According to the oldest bisexual advocacy organization in the United States, bisexual people are more likely to live in poverty, have higher rates of sexual and intimate partner violence, and report higher rates of poor physical/mental health than lesbian, gay or straight people. Research from the same source reveals that “bisexuals are six times more likely than gay men and lesbians to hide their sexual orientation,” and nearly one-quarter of bi people have never shared their orientation with anyone.
One might expect a stronger community backlash to this level of inequality, but biphobia is so pervasive that few dare to speak out. Biphobia, or the aversion to bisexuality, is experienced frequently by bisexual people while in the company of others who assume that they are either heterosexual or homosexual (depending on the bi person’s partner). Bisexuality is a unique identity in that a bi person is not defined by the gender of their partner, and this heteronormative invisibility is what makes the bi existence so difficult. UC San Diego’s LGBT Resource Center puts it this way:
“Lesbian, gay, and heterosexual people are invested, and find a sense of security in being the ‘other’ to each other, and unite in the fact that they are only attracted to either the ‘same’ or the ‘opposite’ gender/sex. This sets up another ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ dynamic which effectively marginalizes bisexual people as ‘other.’ Integral to this dynamic is the automatic assumption people can be defined by the gender/sex of their current or potential romantic interest.”
An openly bisexual person often experiences the condescending attitudes of those who think that it’s just a phase. Straight people assume that bisexuals will eventually revert back to heterosexual “normalcy,” while LGBTQ+ people may assume that the bi identity is merely a “half-gay, half-straight” phase that will culminate in a homosexual identity later on. However, research provides data to the contrary – a longitudinal study found that 92% of bisexual women still identified as bisexual over ten years later. To be clear, sexual orientation is not validated or invalidated based on its fluidity. This data only provides evidence that bisexuality can be a stable orientation. These attitudes are reinforced by the assumption that society is separated into a heterosexual norm and a homosexual other, leaving little room for the huge spectrum of sexuality that falls between gay and straight.
The statement “I’m bisexual” can also lead down a different but equally terrible path – the inevitable, half-joking “That’s hot!” or “Oh, so you want to have a threesome?” The stereotype that bisexual people are hypersexual is both degrading and exhausting. “Hypersexual” stereotypes assume that certain people are more likely to frequently engage in sexual activity with a lesser degree of moral restraint; this stereotype is applied to many identities other than bisexuals, and is particularly common for black and Latina women. Far too often, the experience of coming out as bi in addition to the perception of hypersexuality ends in an unwanted sexual invitation that can be traumatic, particularly considering the high rate of sexual violence among the bi community. The can permeate and negatively affect bisexual relationships, as their partner may struggle with trust issues resulting from this widespread misrepresentation. Some people may even avoid relationships with bisexuals altogether for fear of infidelity.
Each of these experiences results in the invalidation of bisexuality. Being bisexual is valid in itself, not as a stepping stone to a different sexual orientation or as a prop to spice up your heterosexual love life. Additionally, bisexuality is not the easy way out. An assumption exists that, even if the bisexual orientation is valid, bi people will eventually settle down into an opposite-gender relationship in order to bypass social discrimination that accompanies an LGBTQ+ identity. However, bisexual people in heterosexual-passing relationships are still equally affected by discrimination, biphobia, and invalidation; “passing” as straight does not negate the hardships that are tied to the bisexual experience.
Biphobia, invisibility, and discrimination are some of the most subversive yet malicious tools that are used to maintain the societal fabric of heteronormativity. Limiting or invalidating the bisexual orientation only strengthens the gay/straight dichotomy that holds us all back from freely experiencing the full spectrum of sexuality and gender. It’s easy to proclaim that the system should change, but realistically, what can we do to reduce injustice for bi people? First, you should examine your own thoughts and attitudes towards bisexuality. It’s easy to be complicit in biphobia and erasure if you aren’t aware of your unconscious bias. If you find and acknowledge any prejudicial tendencies, challenge those thoughts. Don’t assume a person’s sexual orientation based on their partners – ask them! If you witness a casual biphobic joke, call it out instead of being silent. Make room for bisexual people within the LGBT community. Above all, respect everyone’s identity enough to support and validate the terms that they choose for themselves.
In human rights, journalists usually are seen as chroniclers: reporters on the front lines of a conflict zone letting the world know of events as they unfold. As such, they also may serve as agents of human rights, since their reporting provides advocacy groups and committed global human rights leaders with vital information. Tragically, though, journalists often become the targets of human rights abuses unto themselves. Until recently, little attention had been paid systematically to this last point but shifting global events have underscored numerous threats to members of the media. In an era of politicians condemning the media writ large as “enemies of the people,” deteriorating discourse, extreme politicization of what constitutes “news,” and the polarization of both governing elites and societies at large have made the humanity and the human rights roles of journalists both more important and, troublingly, threatened.
On October 2, 2018, Washington Post contributor and journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after heading into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Shortly thereafter, Turkish officials leaked that Khashoggi had been murdered, with grisly details suggesting he had been cruelly tortured before his killing – a “brutal silencing of a prominent journalist,” and an event which “was met with outrage from journalists” and politicians around the world.
One notable exception to the global outcry, however, was President Donald Trump. While the President’s “business dealings with Saudi Arabia” leave him “personally conflicted,” regardless of his conflicts, Joel Simon flatly stated that the President has utterly “failed to articulate a coherent response” to Khashoggi’s murder whatsoever. The non-response is galling, in particular because of Khashoggi’s identity and profession. As Kyle Pope wrote for the Columbia JournalismReview:
The Khashoggi case has brought Trump unusual global blowback, though, for a distinction that the president plainly does not see. We care about the Khashoggi case, at least in part, because Khashoggi was a journalist.
Yes, his killing was horrific and barbaric and yes, it came at the hands of an American ally, which then lied about it. But the world has also been moved to respond because Khashoggi, as a journalist, represented something bigger than the man himself, something that leaders around the civilized world have come to value. He was a stand-in for a value we wanted to protect.
Pope continues, “We journalists, as individuals, are not special people. We have no unique right to support or sympathy. But the point is that we, collectively, represent something that our society has decided is worthy of protection.” Pope’s point goes directly to a growing subtext in present debates about “fake news” and risks to journalism as a profession, a recognition of its societal importance.
Our society, through the First Amendment to the Constitution (“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”), surely had decided to protect the worthy contributions of journalists from governmental interference – and the individuals themselves. And journalists globally have begun pushing for international collaboration to expand guarantees more widely, such as a proposed UN-promulgated International Convention on the Safety and Independence of Journalists and Other Media Professionals, led by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The IFJ’s proposal responds to the realities of a fraught few years for the profession. In Yemen, some 35 journalists have been killed since the country’s civil war began in 2011, and eight so far this year alone. At least 45 journalists, globally, have lost their lives in the first 10 months of 2018, among whom 27 were confirmed as murdered. To wit, the IFJ’s proposed Convention would include various protections aiming to deter violence, threats, and politically motivated intimidation of journalists, extension of humanitarian law concepts to ensure reporters’ safety in conflict zones, and similar measures.
The humanity of journalists—and their own individual rights—often remain overlooked. While the gruesome murder of the Post’s Khashoggi’s in Istanbul catalyzed global attention, the sentencing of two Reuters reporters to seven years’ hard labor on dubious grounds, following their later-verified reporting on a massacre of Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State, Myanmar, barely registered. Other recent politically motivated arrests of journalists include Austrian Max Zirgast, arrested by “anti-terror” authorities in Turkey, adding to the “dozens of journalists” earlier arrested following the “failed military coup attempt” against Turkish President Erdogan in 2016. At least eight journalists were arrested in late September in Uganda for covering the return of an opposition leader, MP Robert Kyagulanyi, “the latest incident of Ugandan security personnel assaulting, harassing, or arresting journalists covering political tension” in the country. Four journalists, including the deputy editor-in-chief of Xinjiang Daily, were arrested in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region the same month, accused of “publishing ‘two-faced’ articles,” a “vague term” indicating content “allegedly secretly [opposing Chinese] government practices.” As The Atlantic’s Krishnadev Calamur summarized, Khashoggi’s death was a signal of “a larger pattern of violence inflicted on journalists around the world … Year after year, reporters are detained, abducted, and, with some frequency, killed.” Calamur’s colleague, David Graham, decried the U.S. government’s at-best tepid response as “the end of American lip service to human rights.”
Unfortunately, all the foregoing trends appear present in the United States as well. In July 2018, Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene was “detained for ‘interfering’” with the police in Denver, Colorado, not far from the Colorado State Capitol. In May 2017, Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte attackedGuardian reporter Ben Jacobs after the reported “asked the then candidate a question about healthcare.” (Gianforte later pleaded guilty to assault, but nevertheless won his election.) And in late June 2018, the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland—which left five Gazette reporters dead and two others injured—triggered mass responses from law enforcement agencies nationwide “to provide protection at the headquarters of media organizations.” From last week’s high-profile pipe bombs, sent to CNN headquarters along with noted Democratic politicians and backers, to the multimillion-dollar libel verdicts against The Raleigh News & Observer in October 2016, the world’s reporters face risks both legal and lethal.
Each of these cases—and especially the still-unfolding story of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder—highlights Kyle Pope’s earlier commentary on the importance of journalists to all societies. But each of these cases, of course, reflects an actual individual – a human being behind a byline or photo credit, with their own individual worth and singular humanity. These two understandings of journalists are not mutually exclusive, but instead are, or should be, mutually reinforcing. And policymakers and political leaders, perhaps following or building upon the IFJ’s proposed framework for a journalists’ human rights convention, must take seriously the risks facing the media at home and abroad.
Many reporters and photographers have lost their lives in crossfire, victims of the very conflicts they gave everything to shed light on. Many more have faced harassment, criminal charges, assault and, again, even death, far from the front lines. Our discourse—not to mention our laws, our policy priorities, and our foreign relations—must recognize and respond to these threats.
Authoritarian regimes have long threatened free media and free expression, as well as those who exercise those vital social functions. Today, however, we must be cognizant in all societies of these threats. Even if these values are enshrined in the First Amendment to the American Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union—all, in principle, inviolable—they must be vindicated and reaffirmed continuously. Revoking publication or television licenses remain obvious aberrations but preventing the dehumanization of journalists entails the same underlying concerns.
Again, as Kyle Pope eloquently noted, the murder of Khashoggi shocked global consciences because, “as a journalist, [he] represented something bigger than [himself], something that leaders around the civilized world have come to value.” That is, journalism and journalists reflect our commitment to information, to expression, to understanding governments and governance, as well as our commitment to seeing problems in the administration of our societies. The individual journalist, then, must be protected as an individual, endowed with human rights as much as any other. But as the guarantors of knowledge and understanding of human rights beyond themselves, journalists’ safety and capacity to work must be ensured – and we all must act vigorously whenever their safety and capacity are threatened, however overt or furtive the menace may be.
Andy Carr is a third-year law student at U.C. Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, California. Previously, Andy extensively studied and researched in political science, receiving his BA and MA degrees at Christopher Newport University and Pennsylvania State University, respectively, and plans to return to complete his PhD beginning in fall 2019. In addition to human rights, media and journalism, and constitutional law, Andy is most interested in questions of democracy and democratic theory – what makes for a truly democratic society, what risks confront representative governments. In addition to his academic training, Andy has worked for a boutique campaign compliance law firm and two global human rights nonprofit organizations, in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
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