TIBET: A 58 YEAR PROTEST

The nation and people of Tibet are hardly on anyone’s radar during most of the year because the atrocities here remain overshadowed by the happenings in other places like Syria or Sudan. Ven. Geshe Lhakdor, translator to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and directory of the library of Tibetan Works and Archives, lectured here last Tuesday. Using the Compassion in Exile DVD as the basis for this blog, I will shed light on the plight of Tibetans.

a picture of a Tibetan Lhasa man
Tibet – Lhasa. Source: Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn), Creative Commons.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has systematically eradicated the people of Tibet since 1950. The invasion of Tibet by the PRC army, under the guise of liberation, took place in 1950 because of its natural resources, wealth, and geopolitical high ground; an invasion meant the doubling the land mass for the Chinese empire. Sixteen year-old Tenzin Gyatso assumed leadership responsibility of the Tibetan people, culture, and traditions as the 14th Dalai Lama. For eight years, he attempted to protect the Tibetan identity. However, in 1959, the intimidation tactics and brute force of the Chinese, overtake the land and push the Tibetans–known for their peaceful and gentle nature–to flee to India.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader and head of state of the Tibetan people. He is also a refugee. Living in exile in Dharamsala, India with millions of Tibetans desirous of the maintenance and preservation of their identity, he is the source of their hope. The flood of refugees continues into India where the people can practice religion, maintain culture, and glean from their cherished leader. A faithful followers says, “When His Holiness fled to India, it was as if the sun went down in Tibet… we were living in darkness.” His manner is one of humble laughter. His thoughts are on the consciousness; many believe he is the incarnation of compassion. He is a man seeking to fix thing. Tendzin Choegual, his younger brother, claims, “His Holiness has moral power, which the world used to have before but, right now it is overshadowed by political power. And whatever he does it is based on goodness of maximum number of human beings; so it’s based on altruism.” Michael C. Davis assigns peaceful resistors as a characteristic of the people and government. Tibetans, following the example of His Holiness, are nonviolent and compassionate people despite their oppressive struggle. He asserts the notion that many indigenous cultures, particularly Tibet, sustain periods of repression, resistance, and resilience as they pursue identity.

The PRC signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (DRIPS) in 2007. Articles 1-3 of DRIPS guarantees autonomy, self-determination, and the right to enjoy all human and fundamental freedoms. Tibet has a government in exile. An exiled government possesses the power of governing and leading, but has no authority to legitimacy because there is no territory over which to govern. For more than 50 years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama symbolizes resistance to an authoritarian regime. This nonviolent protest spawned a “conspiracy of silence” that generated rejection of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a political leader, for more than 30 years. The conspiracy of silence–fear of Chinese government backlash if/when recognizing the people, traditions, and culture of Tibetans—created a vacuum of turning a complicit blind-eye, allowing China to continue the human rights atrocities against the Tibetans. “Our only hope is to rely on the outside world, and people from free countries”, the Dalai Lama revealed.

US Foreign Policy has participated in the conspiracy of silence, yet a change seemed to arrive in the early 90s. During a 1991 visit to US Congress, the Dalai Lama pronounced, “Here I enjoy the freedom of speech, the freedom of thought, and the freedom of movement. When I was about 15, I lost that freedom”; freedoms identified within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because they are universal, inalienable, and indivisible. Kent Wiedemann of US State Department Head of the China desk, stated, “Official US policy has consistently regarded Tibet as a part of China, although an autonomous region within China. We have no evidence at this point that the Chinese government is engaged in any policies or any actions aimed at wiping out the Tibetans, or in short, reflecting a policy of genocide, either against the Tibetan people themselves or against their culture.” When asked about self-determination for the Tibetan people, he stared blankly at the camera before smiling without an answer. No country possesses a policy of genocide. Genocide, as noted in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. When reflecting on genocide, most people know of and point to Rwanda, Cambodia, and the Holocaust. The filmmakers attribute genocide to the behaviors of the Chinese towards the Tibetans, while the international community has not. Ellen Bork, in her 2012 article, “Will Washington Take a Stand”, questions Washington’s commitment to the plight of the Tibetans because of its relationship with China. She argues that the past is a representation of the future when it comes to the US’ failure to champion Tibet against China.

a picture of Tibetan monks
Monks. Source: Andrew Dyson, Creative Commons.

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann stresses there are three key contributing elements in the complex subject of human rights: criticism within the field, identity politics and their expression, and the volatile nature of violations as a precursor to genocide. First, criticism is located, specifically, in the habit of denying the universality, indivisibility, and interdependent nature of human rights. Second, identity politics, particularly in terms of a Western versus non-Western dichotomy, utilizes time as the unseen factor to frame the past, the present, and the future. Lastly, genocide is a byproduct of the symptomatic human rights violations, compounded by criticism and inadequate remembrance of time. The combination of these components permits the complication of Western and non-Western human rights discourse to fail in recognizing rights as universal. This failure, she contends, leads to habitual and unaccountable violations, that if unchecked, have the potential to manifest in genocide.

“Each time I talk of what I saw in Tibet, I have to be in tears.” – Jetsun Pema, the younger sister of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Human rights violations began following the Dalai Lama’s visit with Chairman Mao Tse-tung in China, first in the form of religious prosecution. At 19, His Holiness argued for the fate of Tibet. Mao believed religion was poison and damage for the country, plaguing the population and potential material development. The Chinese sought to destroy religion through the destruction of monasteries, which were also schools and universities, libraries and hospitals. The goal was to abolish the depths of understanding that comes from training the mind. His Holiness affirms that Tibetan Buddhism is not simply about the religious aspect but the technique of training and settling the body and mind, as a method and tenet that can benefit humanity. One believer cries, “Although the Chinese say there is freedom of religion, they don’t allow us to practice our faith.” The practice of Tibetan Buddhism is safe outside of Tibet.

In the film, His Holiness cites two things–immeasurable human rights violations in the form of torture, beatings, and killings, and population transfer in the form of birth control—as most pressing for Tibetans. Imprisonment and torture is the judgment for Tibetans expressing a strong cultural identity. Rape is a weapon of intimidation against Tibetan women and girls, and sterilization as a means of forced birth control, including on women pregnant in their final trimester. Additionally, due to the decimation of monasteries, Tibetans parents, living in under occupation, often send their children over the Himalayas into India in order to have a chance at living in freedom and gaining an education. In an effort to continue cultural identity with a modern understanding of the world, school lectures consist of music, drama and philosophy, in addition to the rituals and religious ideals of Buddhism. It is a similar education path to His Holiness, who achieved his degree while leading a nation under occupation.

Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the wind
Les chevaux de vent. Source: So_P, Creative Commons.

Fang Lizhi in a 1991 speech remarked that Tibetan culture continues to survive because of the resilience of the people, and a mutual respect “between fair-minded people” on a personal level, though not on a political one. “Even though many Tibetans see the Hans as being responsible for the destruction of Tibetan culture and religion, mutual respect is still strong on a personal level… we all want democracy. We both need democracy and human right if we are to find a way to live together peacefully, but something more is needed.” He continues by explaining the positives and negatives of nationalism, stating that commonality is located in a true comprehension of nationalism. Negative nationalism is suppressive, extremist, and leads to distrust and hatred, while positive nationalism is cohesive, cooperative, and leads to dialogue.

To Davis, the window for dialogue is closing on the Chinese. In March 2008, Tibetan demonstrators and rioters “offered a middle way” in the form of Tibetan Memorandum that sought negotiation for the restoration of independence and autonomy. An uninterested China refused to come to the table, arguing, “Tibet has always been an inseparable part of China”. Bork points out self-immolations have brought attention to the plight of Tibetans, providing a measure of symbolic and unwavering commitment to the restoration of Tibet. “China’s policies have provoked rather than crushed Tibetan resistance”, she proclaims.

Masahide Tsujimura states when His Holiness retired from politics in 2011, a unique expression describing the unity of polity and compassion was coined. Chos srid zung ‘brel has several definitions but ultimately boils down to the duality of religion politics manifest through compassion and nonviolence. “To the Dalai Lama, nonviolence and compassion are synonymous… Compassion is one of the most important concepts of Buddhism as a ‘religion’…[he] considers that compassion is common to all religions, and that everyone can be compassionate because no one wants to suffer. Compassion is also a ‘secular’ concept that implies mutual tolerance and respect for all faiths, as well as for those of no faith.” Tina Lauer points out political activism among second-generation Tibetans is seemingly second nature, some seeing it as a means for both preserving culture and identity, and cultivating commonality. Additionally, unlike their parents or grandparents, many second-generationers respect the Dalai Lama as a man—a political peacemaker like Mandela or Gandhi, rather than a ‘god’. The nonviolent ethic of Tibetans challenges the international narrative of normative strategic power-grabs without compromising their personal integrity,religious beliefs, and cultural identity.

 

Additional Resources:

The Lost World of Tibet

The Reality of Climate Change and its Effects on Human Rights and the Refugee Crisis

Photo of Earth
Earth: A simple model of Earth using Autodesk Maya. Source: Kevin Gill, Creative Commons

What is climate change? To understand climate change, we must first know what climate is and how it is different from the weather. Weather is what we see change on a day to day basis. We can see and feel the changes in weather: sunny one day, rainy the next, and back to sunny again. Weather also is the change in temperatures: sometimes it is hot, and sometimes it is cold, depending on the time of year or the place that you are in. Climate,  on the other hand, is the usual temperature of a place. For example, a regional climate may be wet and cold in the winter, but warm and dry in the summer. There have been anomalies–extremes where it has snowed year round. Not all climates are the same. The global temperature has been rising each year; however, climate change is much more than just that. In addition to the climates of individual places, there is also Earth’s climate, which is the result of combining all of the climates around the world together. Climate change is often referred to as global warming. Climate change is defined as changes in the usual weather found in a place. This could be a wide range of changes like how much rain a city gets in a year, snowing in places it does not usually snow, or most commonly, changes in a place’s usual temperature. Earth’s climate is also subject to climate change. The planet can experience rising temperatures, or it is possible for rain and snow patterns to shift, causing it to do so in places it would not usually.

Simply put, weather changes in a matter of hours or less, whereas climate takes hundreds of years to change.

In the past 100 years, Earth’s temperature has increased about one degree Fahrenheit. This may not seem detrimental on the surface, but minute changes in Earth’s climate has had massive effects. While Earth’s temperature rises independently, humanity plays a contributing role in speeding up the process of rising temperatures that influence the stasis of the Earth’s atmosphere, at an alarming rate. The Earth’s atmosphere consists layers, made of nitrogen , oxygen, argon, neon, helium, carbon dioxide, and methane. Key components in climate change like greenhouse gases contribute to the dismantling of the atmosphere, a term coined “the greenhouse effect” because of the absorption and transmittance of infrared radiation. Greenhouse gases impact the ozone layer. When it comes to climate change, the ozone layer is a layer in the Earth’s stratosphere that contains high amounts of ozone. Ozone absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation emitted from the sun, and prevents it from reaching Earth. Since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a 40% increase in carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. The largest contributing factor of the emissions of greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuels by factories and industries, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Doing so pollutes the air, and releases these harmful gases into the atmosphere, counteracting the Earth’s natural greenhouse process. As it stands, the Earth’s surface temperature could reach record-breaking temperatures by 2047, which would cause ecosystems to fall apart and the livelihoods of people worldwide would be effected. If humanity continues to emit the amount of greenhouse gases into the air as we currently are, there could be dangerous consequences.

Factory emitting pollution into the air
Factory. Source: タロイモ, Creative Commons.

Man-Made Causes

Natural Causes

Consequences of Climate Change

Emissions of greenhouse gases

Variations in the Earth’s orbital characteristics Higher temperatures

Deforestation

Volcanic eruptions

Droughts

Sulfate aerosols

Variations in solar output

Changing rain and snow patterns

Soot particles – otherwise known as black carbon

Natural aerosols

Wilder weather

Less snowpack

Melting glaciers

Shrinking sea ice

Thawing permafrost

Increases in ocean acidity

Warmer oceans

Rising sea levels

Acid rain

Figure 1

Based on Figure 1 (above), it is easy to see that the causes of climate change are far outweighed by the consequences. There are very few man-made causes, but they each have many effects on Earth’s climate.


The Clean Air Act
is known as the most successful act in place to protect the environment. Passed in 1970 with the purpose of reducing the air pollution in the country  by limiting  the amount of pollution put into the air by industries, like chemical plants and steel mills. Under the Obama Administration, the Clean Air Act was used to help reduce the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to take into consideration the environment when making important decisions, such as building a highway or deforestation. It requires agencies to prepare an Environment Impact Statement to report how the actions may affect the environment. This act also assembled the Council on Environmental Quality to advise the President on environmental issues. While these laws have been effective in reducing the damages on the Earth’s ozone layer put out by the United States, the integrity of the ozone layer is still at stake. Recent studies have found that the ozone layer shows signs of healing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its relation to Climate Change

Under Article 22 of the UDHR, everyone has the right to security and economic welfare. The effects of climate change infringe upon this right because it jeopardizes environmental integrity. Climate change effects us all, and is supported by scientific evidence around the globe. It transcends political parties, race, and social class.

Everyone on Earth shares the same climate.

In the wave of executive orders issued out by President Trump, he re-initiated the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a controversial project that was halted by the Obama Administration. The DAPL was originally routed through Bismarck, North Dakota, but after the mostly-white residents refused to allow construction on the grounds of “polluting their water supply”, it was rerouted through Standing Rock. The pipeline’s construction threatens to destroy the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s historic, religious, and cultural sites. It also contributes to climate change and may cause untold damage to the environment, such as water pollution–presently acknowledged by the Bismarck community–and explosions. The DAPL effects the health and security of the Sioux Tribe.

Protesters standing up against the DAP
Protesters oppose Dakota Access Pipeline in Music City. by Lee Roberts

Another prime example of climate change infringing upon the health of people is the smog currently plaguing China, which is a result of burning massive amounts of coal. The emissions coming from China’s most industrialized areas were five times the national average in 2016 compared to 2015. Citizens of China are having to wear face masks to combat “serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; serious risk of respiratory effects in general population.” While measures have been taken to reduce the pollution, such as wind-mill farms, the smog still continues to get worse because of the amount of coal being burned. Schools have been shut down, flights are being cancelled, and people are afraid to leave their homes because of the smog.

There have been many observable effects of climate change on the environment. Endangered species, both animal and plant, across the globe are dwindling in numbers due to the fluctuating temperatures in their habitats. Lakes and rivers are drying up or reaching low levels. The glaciers are melting, ocean levels and temperatures are rising. Here in Alabama, we suffered a drought this past summer and an oil leak this fall. The effects that scientists had predicted would happen due to climate change have started to occur.

Climate Change Effecting the Refugee Crisis

According to the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC), climate change has been noted as the “greatest security threat of the 21st Century”. The council has also said that climate change will cause a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, as the effects of climate change have already pushed many refugees into Europe. There are claims that a lack of natural resources due to climate change may have been a contributing factor in the Syrian War, namely oil. Despite the abundance of oil in the Middle East, the over-excavation of oil brought about a ecosystem collapse, resulting in the dispersion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The land began losing its integrity which affected the economic output as Syrians were unable to produce goods due to the ill-suited climate.

If the Earth’s temperature continues to rise causing the glaciers to melt, causing a rise in sea levels, 20% of Bangladesh will flood, creating additional climate refugees. The potential is over 30 million people forced to evacuate and relocate their lives and families as a result of climate change. In light of this potential threat, Bangladesh is asking wealthier countries to be ready to accept millions of displaced families.

“Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal.” – Brig Gen Stephen Cheney, member of the US Department of State’s foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project

The United States’ impact on the Earth’s climate is profound. As an industrial country, we have a notable carbon footprint. In other words, what we do largely impacts those around the globe as it effects Earth’s climate, just as what China does impacts us and others even if they are across the globe. It is important to be aware of the growing concerns stemming from climate change, whether it is down the street or thousands of miles away. As I mentioned, we all share the Earth’s climate, so we are all effected by the changes in some form or another. Lives and families are being torn apart across the world due to changes in the climate. We as humans are responsible for destroying families’ homes, land, and countries. We must prevent the refugee crisis from growing at all costs. Climate change is not a “hoax”, it is a reality, and it is effecting us all. It is killing people directly and indirectly. It is killing our planet. This is why it is very important for us to all take part in slowing the effects of climate change. When the US began to reduce its waste, other countries followed suit.

Climate change is more than an environmental issue. It is a public health issue. It is an economic issue. It is a security issue. It is a racial issue.

Chalkboard reading: "Dare the World to Save the Planet"
“Dare the World to Save the Planet” chalkboard located in Starbucks, photo taken by Tyler Goodwin

There are many ways to reduce our carbon footprints and slow the climate change process; I will focus on four. First, reduce fossil fuel use. this may be something more for factories, it is important to know the effect that burning fossil fuels has on the environment, and the small things we can do to help reduce it. It can be reduced on the domestic level by using less electricity, and using more energy-efficient appliances. Converting from gas-powered appliances to electric can also have a large impact. Second, plant trees. Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas. Planting trees or any kinds of plants can aide in the conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen. By planting trees, we are combating the effects of deforestation. Third, reduce your waste by recycling. The decomposition of garbage in landfills produces harmful gases like methane, which absorbs the sun’s heat, and increases the Earth’s temperature. Reducing your consumption habits and reusing or recycling items when possible largely decreases your carbon footprint, as it reduces the need for new items to be made, and prevents items from being placed into landfills. Recycling metals, plastic, glass, and paper helps decrease the greenhouse gasses from being emitted into the air, as it takes less energy to make an item from recycled materials than it does as opposed to making materials from scratch. In Birmingham, you can order a recycling bin by phoning 205-254-6314. Additionally, in Birmingham, the recycling center is located at 4330 1st Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35222. Lastly, conserve water. The conservation of water is essential to the reduction of climate change. Water purification requires a lot of energy to complete, which in turn increases the mission of greenhouse gasses. By saving water, less energy is used. Turn off water at home when you are not using it, and pay close attention to pipes that may leak to ensure that unnecessary amounts of water are not used.

For more tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint, please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website at: https://www.epa.gov/

 

Additional resources: 

Naomi Klein

Before the Flood documentary

Wangari Maathai

 

Bringing Regime Change to the Hermit Kingdom North Korea: A Recap

Jung Gwang Il with translator Henry Song.
Jung Gwang Il with translator Henry Song. Photo by Marlee Townsend.

Jung Gwang Il sits in front of a room of twenty people with his translator and colleague, Henry Song. He begins to tell his tale, beginning with his birth in China.

Persecuted for their beliefs in China, Jung’s family fled to North Korea in the 1960’s when he was only seven years old. As an adult, Jung was in the North Korean military for ten years, and then found work with a trade company. The 1990s, when Jung was working as a businessman, was a particularly hard time for North Koreans. Following the death of Kim Il-Sung in 1994, the country experienced four years of famine and despair. Jung recalls seeing “twenty fresh bodies killed by starvation every day,” during this period, known by North Koreans as the Arduous March. Seeking extra revenue in such a difficult time, many traders looked for money in any avenue they could find. These business wanderings ultimately lead to Jung’s arrest and imprisonment, as unapproved foreign dealings were taboo. In 1999, Jung was reported by a colleague for meeting with South Korean businessmen and was subsequently arrested for suspected espionage.

Pigeon torture at Yodok sketched by defector Kim Kwang-Il, part of the report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Pigeon torture at Yodok sketched by defector Kim Kwang-Il, part of the report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Jung, following his arrest, underwent a ten-month period of water, electric, and pigeon torture. He went from 170 pounds to 80 pounds during these months and was unable to walk without clutching a wall. After ten months of enduring constant torture, Jung finally falsely confessed to espionage simply so that the torture would stop. He was then sent to an infamous prison camp known as No. 15, or Yodok concentration camp. Jung says that there were around seven-hundred other political prisoners, some imprisoned for offenses as contacting Christianity or criticizing the regime. He recalled one inmate whose offense was accidentally ripping a newspaper with Kim Jong-Il’s face on it—which was reported by his wife to the authorities.

Life at the camps were not very different than the initial months of torture, according to Jung. Inmates were forced to work sixteen hour days with only one daily meal of 600 grams of ground corn (equivalent to around 2.5 cups). This small portion of food was only awarded if an inmate finished their work quota; many did not, and consequently died of starvation. Jung believes he buried as many as three hundred prisoners himself during his three years at Yodok. This comes with a heavy emotional toll— every time Jung speaks of the horrors at Yodok, he says he can never sleep the following night because of the nightmares.

Poster for "Yoduk Story," a musical about North Korean human rights abuses by futureatlas.com
Poster for “Yoduk Story,” a musical about North Korean human rights abuses. Source: futureatlas.com, Creative Commons.

On April 12, 2003, Jung was released. Although he only spent three years in the camp (a relatively light sentence in American prison) Jung says it was “hell on Earth that felt like an eternity.” Twelve days after his release, Jung fled to a series of countries. After swimming to China through the Tumen River, Jung traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and finally settled in South Korea. It was in South Korea that Jung realized he could never forget the faces of the inmates in Yodok, and vowed to become an activist in their names. He wrote a comprehensive list of everyone and everything he could remember, which was later used as evidence in United Nations resolutions against North Korean human rights violations. His activism did not stop there; he wanted to deliver news and information to the North Koreans to inspire social change and revolt. To achieve this, Jung formed a non-governmental organization entitled No Chain, inspired by the idea of breaking the chain that binds the North Korean people. No Chain specializes in sending information-packed CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, and micro SD cards to the North Koreans via drones. Predominantly using micro SDs, they are disguised with brand-new packaging but are filled with movies, documentaries, South Korean dramas, k-pop, and other forms of media. No Chain initially used a human network, but now uses drones after Kim Jung-Un ordered guards to shoot civilians crossing the river on sight in 2014. North Korea is trying to cover up their efforts by labeling Jung as a “terrorist” and “human scum,” claiming he uses his helicopter drones to destroy statues of present and past leaders.

statue of kim il sung
Statue of Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang. Source: Stephan, Creative Commons.

Today, the goals of No Chain are to gain help in their efforts to disseminate information to the North Korean people. Jung and Song have been traveling to universities and festivals across the world to share Jung’s story along with No Chain’s platform. Jung urges students to send in personal video messages and any other media they possibly can to send to North Korean youth. In regards to the real threat of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, Jung advises “not to fear,” because information dissemination is what the regime is most afraid of. If their mission is successful, Jung hopes the North Koreans will be able to wake up and subdue the dictatorial regime and end the nuclear threat. Jung ends the speech with a rallying cry: “UAB, help us!”

To get in contact with No Chain, you can follow their Facebook page or contact their director, Henry Song, at (202) 341-6767 or henry@nknochain.org.

Female Empowerment via the Internet

The Internet is a veritable minefield of content for women. For adolescent girls, as they begin to explore their freedom and independence, this boundless online environment contributes to their ability to educate themselves on women’s rights earlier than ever before. Online articles on topics from personal health to social change grant a generation of young girls access to an increased knowledge base for advocacy and protection. The Internet also empowers adult women through professional education, resources for help in dangerous situations, and access to communities that may be inaccessible in their areas. The United Nations’ Guidelines on Women’s Empowerment states, “‘Advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women, and the elimination of all kinds of violence against women, and ensuring women’s ability to control their own fertility … are priority objectives of the international community’.”  Empowerment at any age is vital to women in a time where sexism is still very much alive. In communities that may be lack gender equality, girls can find ways to adapt and thrive.

picture of a girl at a laptop
Source: StartupStockPhotos, Creative Commons.

The internet equips adolescent girls with accurate information about puberty, sexual health, and reproduction in cultures where discussing reproductive health is forbidden. Menstruation, a taboo topic in many cultures, is often punishable by death. In Nepal, a practice called “chaupadi” has resulted in the deaths of many young women. Though outlawed, the practice involves banishing menstruating girls from their homes because they are viewed as “impure and treated as untouchable,” according to the New York Times. Forced to live in tiny, poorly constructed sheds for the duration of their menstrual cycle, girls often die from animal attacks, exposure, or suffocation from lighting a fire without proper ventilation.

In an example more familiar to Americans, Donald Trump recently commented on a female reporter by saying, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Though he later claimed that he was referring to her nose, the implication that periods contribute to irrationality garnered notice by much of the audience. Periods have long been used as evidence to block women from certain professions and fields. Some may recall a similar quote by Edgar Berman, claiming women were incapable of wielding political power because of “the raging hormonal imbalance of the periodic lunar cycle.” In direct response to Trump’s comment, social media created a campaign called #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult to empower menstruating females and erase the stigma of periods.

The online availability of domestic violence resources as proven crucial in the empowerment of women. The resources help save the lives of women in abusive relationships, including finding an escape from dangerous situations. Women are empowered to use  resources like the “safety exit” feature on many sites, which exits the site with a click of a button if their abuser is nearby, as exhibited on the National Coalition against Domestic Violence’s website. The ability for victims of abuse to find a support network is invaluable. In cases of those escaping situations where abusers left them isolated and degraded, many victims felt helpless and alone until they find an online outlet. At the same time, these websites also offer help to victims of human trafficking. Online tip centers and hotline databases can bring justice to numerous women.

a picture of a girl asking the audience to help prevent domestic violence
Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons.

Online resources have been an avenue in providing an education outside of a traditional classroom. Women, previously hindered and halted in completing a college degree, now have the opportunity to enroll and graduate from online universities. Online education contributes to the empowerment of people with disabilities and social disorders. People with disabilities can find relief from an unaccommodating and inaccessible university through online classes. Women living with anxiety or sleep disorders can obtain educations without worrying about attendance or overwhelming social environments.

Finally, universal access to online communities is perhaps the most significant contribution to empowerment across genders, races, cultures, abilities, and sexualities. In societies that often silences minority voices, the ability to share your voice and connect with like-minded individuals is invaluable for both community and individual well-being. For example, the platform of Twitter has been a vital resource to the black community. According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of young African Americans online are on Twitter — more than 12% higher than the rate reported by young white Internet users. Jenna Worthan of Smithsonian Magazine writes an illuminating article on the relevance of Black twitter, saying in part that “black Twitter—and the Black Lives Matter activists who famously harnessed it—have created a truly grassroots campaign for social change unlike anything in history.” Beyond the activism aspect, a subject I wrote about in an earlier blog post, the beauty of Black Twitter is the visible, dynamic communal dialogue that allows white Americans a insight into the humanity and brilliance of a minority population.

The LGBTQ+ community also offers a vibrant insight into their culture through their online presence, while also extending support to people who are exploring their identities. Media platforms such as Tumblr gave rise to a vigorous culture of support for disabled people, giving hope and survival tips to afflicted individuals. Searching for the terms “disabled,” “chronic illness,” or “spoonie” (referring to spoon theory, which refers to a disability metaphor of how energy is dispensed through the day for chronically ill people) results in a plethora of supportive and potentially life-changing results. Increased visibility for these marginalized communities improves both how society perceives the group overall and each individual members’ well-being.

a picture of four Black women with t-shirts that read respect me, protect me, support me, and hear me.
Source: Flicker, Creative Commons

I am personally familiar with how valuable the Internet can be in advocating for and understanding human rights. Growing up in Alabama, where Southern culture can be particularly toxic to young girls, it was on social media sites that I was exposed to new viewpoints and gained access to social justice-related literature. I followed accounts and blogs run by marginalized members of society that I never had met in my predominantly white, able-bodied, middle-class hometown. I was able to discover my own identity and find how I fit in within these communities. Without access to the online communities where marginalized people freely and comfortably discussed their issues, I might be the same socially ignorant person that I was before I found online educational resources. I am certain that having access to the voices of people of color, LGBTQ individuals, persons with disabilities, and other groups has made me the person I am today: a passionate activist for all marginalized communities, whether I am a part of them or not.