The State of Incarceration in Alabama

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Organized Radical Collegiate Activism (ORCA) Conference organized by the UAB Social Justice Advocacy Council on January 24, 2020. Various important and interesting social justice issues were discussed and presented by talented UAB students throughout the day. The presentation that stood out the most to me was “The State of Incarceration in Alabama” by Eli and Bella Tylicki. The brother-and-sister duo did a great job bringing attention to a very important human rights issue right here in Alabama.

Eli Tylicki and Bella Tylicki Source: ORCA 2020

The presentation started out with some questions for the attendees, such as what they thought were their odds of getting incarcerated at some point in their life? After some interesting responses from the audience, the presenters revealed that White men have a 7% chance of getting incarcerated at least once in their life, Hispanic men 17%, and African American men have the highest (32%) chance. However, women account for only 7% of the U.S. prison population. It was also revealed that the cost to imprison one person for a year in the U.S. is $36,299.25, or $99.45 per day.

As compared to other developed countries such as Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and the U.K, the United States has the highest number of incarcerated people per 100,000 population, almost three times more than these countries. The United States makes up roughly 5% of the world’s population but holds about 25% of the world’s prisoners. Shockingly, 31 U.S. states also have higher incarceration rates than any country in the world, and Alabama is among the worst in the country. Alabama exceeds national averages in virtually every category measured by states and the federal government, making the state’s prison system one of the most violent in the nation.

Source: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2018.html

Now the question arises, why is the state of incarceration in the U.S. uniquely outrageous, and why is Alabama among the worst in this aspect? Many factors are responsible for such staggering statistics, including our economy built on slavery, poverty, tradition-based culture, fear and insecurity, systemic racism, educational inequity, and punitive cultural attitudes just to name a few. Focusing on Alabama, the presenters showed that Alabama’s prisons were revealed to be the most crowded in the country in 2017, with the prison suicide rate being three times more and the homicide rate ten times more than the national average. On April 2, 2019, the U.S Department of Justice Report concluded that “there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the men’s prisons fail to protect prisoners from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse and fail to provide prisoners with safe conditions.” Note that the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the infliction of excessive, cruel, and unusual punishment.

The presenters then went on to show the various horrific accounts of prisoner violence, sexual abuse, homicide cases, and extreme physical injuries during a single week in 2017 as reported by the investigation. It was extremely shocking to learn about the various instances of such abuse and violence that took place in just a single week in our prisons. Those examples were used to illustrate the gravity of ongoing issues in state prisons and are not mentioned here due to their disturbing and triggering nature. Additionally, overcrowding and understaffing are some very important issues that contribute to the worsening situation of prisons in Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), the state houses approximately 16,327 prisoners in major correctional facilities which are designed to hold only 9,882. Moreover, prisons like Staton and Kilby hold almost three times the number of prisoners than their capacity. As for understaffing, Alabama’s prisons employ only 1,072 out of the 3,326 needed correctional officers according to ADOC’s staffing report from June 2018. It also reported that three prisons have fewer than 20% of the needed correctional officers. This illustrates the increased threat to the safety of both the staff and the prisoners in those facilities due to the lack of required personnel in case of an emergency.

Source: Yahoo Images, Creative Common

The Department of Justice also reported the excessive number of deaths due to violent and deadly assault, high number of life-threatening injuries, unchecked extortions, illegal drugs, and the routinely inability to adequately protect prisoners even when officials have advance warning. The report also threatened a lawsuit within 49 days if the state does not show that it is correcting what is said to be a systemic failure to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse.

In response, Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey has proposed a public-private partnership to lease three “megaprisons” from a private firm as a solution to the understaffing and cost-ineffective conditions in state prisons. Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said that “we are convinced now more than ever before that consolidating our infrastructure down to three regional facilities and decommissioning the majority of our major facilities is the way to go.”

Bella and Eli Tylicki gave an overview of the potential pros and cons of the megaprison proposal. Some advantages may be that the upfront costs will be covered, and it may prove as a quick fix with less red tape (a reduction of bureaucratic obstacles to action). However, privatized prisons may lead to a decreased quality of life, is economically inefficient, and there is no change in cost for taxpayers. The Equal Justice Initiative explains how building new prisons will not solve the state’s prison crisis:

Alabama’s primary problems relate to management, staffing, poor classification, inadequate programming for incarcerated people, inadequate treatment programs, poor training, and officer retention. None of these problems will be solved by building new prisons, nor does a prison construction strategy respond to the imminent risk of harm to staff, incarcerated people, and the public.

Therefore, the presenters proposed an alternative to this solution in the form of decarceration and rehabilitation of prisoners. This aims at fixing overcrowding and understaffing, decreases the inside violence, and costs less for taxpayers. Additionally, there is no change in crime rate outside the prisons and rehabilitation leads toward GDP growth and a more productive society. Studies have shown that incarcerated people who participate in correctional education programs are less likely to recidivate and have a higher chance of finding employment when they are released. Plus, these valuable educational and rehabilitative programs cost the state nothing while having significant positive effects on successful re-entry of prisoners and protecting public safety. Of course, there will need to be more done other than just an emphasis on decarceration, such as fixing the infrastructure, improving healthcare, and incentivizing an increase in Correctional Officers. Low-cost reforms such as effective use of video surveillance cameras, implementation of an internal classification system, skilled management, and other basic management systems such as incident tracking systems, quality control, and corrective action review can result in significant improvements in conditions for both the staff and the prisoners. These low-cost reforms helped the nation’s worst women prison, the Tutwiler Prison for Women, become a model for reform.

The Tylickis ended their presentation with a call for action by urging the audience members to call their state representatives and senators to take responsible action, as they will be voting on this issue in the coming weeks. Additionally, they asked us to volunteer with reentry organizations and educate ourselves and others on the issue. Some initiatives that we can support include The Dannon Project, Alabama Appleseed, and the Equal Justice Initiative. We, as responsible and active citizens of this state, need to play our part in making our society safe, just, and productive for all.

Examining Period Poverty

A worker trims and stacks sanitary pads before they are lined and sewn at the Afripads factory.
A worker trims and stacks sanitary pads, Source: Yahoo Images.

Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and or waste management. The term also refers to the increased economic vulnerability that women and girls face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies. In least-developed and low-income countries, access to hygienic products such as pads, tampons, or cups is limited. This means that girls will often resort to using proxy materials such as mud, leaves, or animal skins to try to absorb the menstrual flow. As a result, such women are at a higher risk of developing certain urogenital infections, like yeast infections, vaginosis, or urinary tract infections. This becomes an issue because while the majority of women are of reproductive age, the majority of these women and girls are unable to practice proper hygiene practices. Consequently, women and girls around the world, especially in developing countries, face numerous challenges in managing their menstruation. Furthermore, some/many women are forced to approach this normal bodily function with silence due to stigma, as some communities consider menstruation to be taboo.

What causes period poverty?

One cause is that pads and other supplies may be unavailable or unaffordable. This means that women are often forced to choose between purchasing sanitary pads and different basic needs, or they may live in areas where there is no access to hygiene products at all. More importantly, young girls may lack access to toilet facilities with clean water to clean themselves while on their periods. In addition, discriminatory cultural norms make it challenging to maintain good menstrual hygiene as women often have to hide, or the community may not put enough effort into establishing hygiene facilities or practices around them. Also, some women and girls lack the necessary education and information about menstruation and good hygiene practices because topics around menstruation and proper hygiene practices are rarely discussed in families or schools.

What is more, other girls may experience menstruation with little or no knowledge of what is happening. This makes it harder for women to adopt sanitary practices because most remain unaware of recommended hygiene practices. In many communities, menstruating girls and women are still banned from kitchens, crop fields, or places of worship. There is also the issue of forced secrecy in communities where girls are exposed to ‘menstrual etiquette.’ This etiquette encourages the careful management of blood flow and discomfort and the importance of keeping menstruation hidden from boys and men.

A Human Rights Issue.

It is important to consider gender inequality, extreme poverty, and harmful traditions as the source of menstrual hygiene deprivation and stigma. This often leads to exclusion from public life, heightened vulnerability, and creates barriers to opportunities such as employment, sanitation, and health.

Some of the human rights that are undermined by period poverty include,

  • The right to human dignity– When women and girls cannot access safe bathing facilities and safe and effective means of managing their menstrual hygiene, they are not able to manage their menstruation with dignity. Menstruation-related teasing, exclusion, and shame also undermine the right to human dignity.
  • The right to an adequate standard of health and well-being Women and girls may experience negative health consequences when they lack the supplies and facilities to manage their menstrual health. Menstruation stigma can also prevent women and girls from seeking treatment for menstruation-related disorders or pain, adversely affecting their health and well-being.
  • The right to education  Lack of a safe place or ability to manage menstrual hygiene as well as lack of medication to treat menstruation-related pain can all contribute to higher rates of school absenteeism and poor educational outcomes. Some studies have confirmed that when girls are unable to manage menstruation in school properly, their academics and performance suffer.
  • The right to work  Poor access to safe means of managing menstrual hygiene and lack of medication to treat menstruation-related disorders or pain also limit job opportunities for women and girls. They may refrain from taking specific jobs, or they may be forced to forgo working hours and wages. Menstruation-related needs, such as bathroom breaks, may be penalized, leading to unequal working conditions. And women and girls may face workplace discrimination related to menstruation taboos.
  • The right to non-discrimination and gender equality Stigmas and norms related to menstruation can reinforce discriminatory practices. Menstruation-related barriers to school, work, health services, and public activities also perpetuate gender inequalities.

What is being done?

In spite of the issues presented, it is essential to acknowledge that a lot is being done around the world to help eradicate period poverty.

For example, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), has various approaches to promoting and improving menstrual health around the world. Some of them include,

  • UNFPA reaches women and girls directly with menstrual supplies and safe sanitation facilities. In humanitarian emergencies, UNFPA distributes dignity kits, which contain disposable and reusable menstrual pads, underwear, soap, and related items. (In 2017, 484,000 dignity kits were distributed in 18 countries.)
  • The UN organization also promotes menstrual health information and skills building. For example, some UNFPA programs teach girls to make reusable sanitary napkins. Others raise awareness about menstrual cups.
  • Furthermore, the organization aims to improve education and information about menstruation as human rights concerns. This is done through its youth programs and comprehensive sexuality education efforts, such as the Y-Peer program.
  • UNFPA also procures reproductive health commodities that can be useful for treating menstruation-related disorders. For instance, hormonal contraceptive methods can be used to treat symptoms of endometriosis and reduce excessive menstrual bleeding.
  • Similarly, UNFPA is helping to gather data and evidence about menstrual health and its connection to global development. For instance, UNFPA supported surveys provide critical insight into girls’ and women’s knowledge about their menstrual cycles, health, and access to sanitation facilities. A recent UNFPA publication offers a critical overview of the menstrual health needs of women and girls in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.

 Further Recommendations

While there exists a lot of support to help end period poverty, there is still a lot that can be done to improve access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and, or waste management. Human Rights Watch and WASH United recommend that groups which provide services to women, evaluate their programs to determine whether a woman or girl has,

  • Adequate, acceptable, and affordable menstrual management materials;
  • Access to appropriate facilities, sanitation, infrastructure, and supplies to enable women and girls to change and dispose of menstrual materials; and
  • Knowledge of the process of menstruation and options available for menstrual hygiene management.

Practitioners engaged in programming or advocacy related to menstrual management should also,

  • Have an awareness of stigma and harmful practices related to menstruation in the specific cultural context where they are working.
  • Support efforts to change harmful cultural norms and practices that stigmatize menstruation and menstruating women and girls;
  • Address discrimination that affects the ability to deal with menstruation, including for women and girls with disabilities
  • Be aware of and incorporate human rights principles in their programming and advocacy, including the right to participate in decision-making and to get information.

Moreover, women and girls must have access to water and sanitation. This will allow the establishment of private areas to change sanitary cloths or pads, clean water for washing their hands and used fabrics, and facilities for safely disposing of used materials or drying them if reusable.  It is also imperative that both men and women have a greater awareness of menstrual hygiene. This means that training and learning courses should be made available for women and young to teach them the importance of menstrual hygiene and the proper practices. Likewise, educating boys on the challenges and struggles girls face could help reduce stigma and help them become more understanding and supportive husbands and fathers. Less work has been done in this area, but the benefits of educating boys about adolescence for both themselves and female students are increasingly being recognized.

It is essential to acknowledge that there is still limited evidence to understand women’s use of sanitation and menstrual management facilities. Therefore, there is a need for individuals to pay special attention to the needs of women and girls all over the world.

Predatory Preparers: Exploitation Through Tax Returns

2 tax return forms, a 2018 tax return form and 2017 tax return form, black glasses and a calculator.
2 tax return forms, a 2018 tax return form and 2017 tax return form, black glasses and a calculator. Source: DPP Business And Tax https://www.dpp-businesstax.com/, Creative Commons

For most adults in the United States, the year starts with the tax season.  During this time, they have their tax returns prepared and filed and either pay any taxes they owe or receive a refund if they overpaid their taxes throughout the prior year.  This year, the tax season began on January 28 and continues until April 15.  There are a few different ways one can go about filing their tax return.  One way is to purchase an IRS-approved tax preparation software, like TurboTax or TaxSlayer, and file their return on their own.  One could also prepare their return manually, but the IRS prefers that people file electronically to decrease potential errors.  The last method is to seek out the help of a professional through a commercial tax preparation organization or a non-profit one.  Commercial organizations often take advantage of the low-income filers whose returns they prepare and who often qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which results in a larger refund. 

The Earned Income Tax Credit 

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides a subsidy to households with low incomes.  It was created in 1975 with the intentions of temporarily lessening the tax-burden for the working-poor after the 1973-1975 recession.  In 1978, the Revenue Act turned it into a permanent credit.  Since its creation, the EITC has been adjusted many times to make it more effective and requires tax-filers to meet certain criteria to receive it.  Since being implemented, the EITC program has distributed about $67 billion to about 28 million families. 

Qualifications for the credit include being a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year, not being married while filing separately from one’s spouse, having an investment income of $3,500 or less, not being a qualifying child of someone else, and having a valid Social Security Number by the due date of the return.  The amount of money that qualified individuals receive for the EITC depends on factors such as “earned income, gross adjusted income, filing status and whether or not they have a qualifying child.” 

The Problem 

Many people choose to file their taxes through for-profit tax-prep organizations.  These organizations are often concentrated in areas where a large percentage of the population is made up of people with lower incomes who qualify for significant refunds through the Earned Income Tax Credit program.  They prey on the people who need the money from the EITC the most.   

In order to increase their profit, they put a great deal of effort into publicizing their services in a way that overshadows the far less expensive, sometimes even free, methods of filing tax returns.  Paul Weinstein, who co-authored a study on tax preparers with the Brookings Institution and the Progressive Policy Institute, suggests that most taxpayers could “have their taxes prepared for less than $100.”  According to Weinstein, tax-filers spend an average of $275 on the preparation of their taxes during the filing season.  The authors of the study found that individuals filing for the EITC spent $309 in Washington D.C. and $509 in Baltimore.  This means that these individuals were spending between 13 and 21 percent of their return to cover the cost of tax-preparation. 

There has also been evidence that suggests that individuals who qualify for the EITC and file through professional tax-preparers are more likely to have errors in their tax return than those who do not qualify for the EITC.  According to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office in 2015, about 60% of all professionally prepared taxes had errors, while between 89% and 94% of filers who qualified for the EITC had errors in their professionally prepared taxes.  This is a problem of significant concern, since people with low incomes are more likely to be audited by the IRS.  For people who receive the EITC, this could result in their refund being withheld until the end of the auditing process. 

Predatory tax-prep organizations may often go unnoticed, but many are recognized and forced to face the legal repercussions of their actions.  For example, Laquinta Q. Fisher of Lawton, Oklahoma was found guilty of a tax fraud scheme on January 24, 2017.  After lying to her clients and telling them that they could receive a refund for simply having a dependent child, she added fake income and fake dependents to their returns to increase their EIC.  She “was sentenced to 18 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $133,955 in restitution to the IRS…” 

Scrabble pieces spelling out "Earned Income Tax Credit."
Earned income tax credit stock photo. Source: Simon Cunningham, Creative Commons

Signs of a Predatory Tax-Prep Organization 

There are a few warnings signs you may want to look out for if you are concerned that a tax-prep organization may be predatory.  Since these groups target low-income tax return-filers, they often tell potential clients that they can promise them a large refund.  One red flag to watch for is if a preparer is being paid based on a percentage of the refund their client receives.  They have a clear source of motivation for trying to increase the refund.   

It is also possible that such an organization would have false credentials.  Every tax preparer is legally required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).  The IRS has a directory of PTINs that can be used to look up a preparer with their name and location.  The PTIN can tell you if the preparer is “a certified public accountant, enrolled agent or a lawyer.”  It is also important to note that the directory does not prove that a preparer is qualified.  It is also a red flag if an organization suggests that they are endorsed by the IRS, as the IRS does not endorse any tax preparers. 

Another warning sign is if a preparer does their work in “temporary pop-up shops” that will be gone after the tax season ends.  In that case, there is no office for you to go to if any problems arise with your tax return.  It is a red flag if the preparer says that they will deposit you refunded into their bank account or asks you to sign a return that is incomplete.  

Why Is This A Human Rights Issue? 

In addition to being ethically questionable, the actions of commercial organizations that prey on low-income households also have the potential to negatively impact people’s access to their human rights.  For many people who are targeted by these organizations, every single dollar counts.  Every penny of the tax refund they receive is used to pay for the necessities, like food, water, power, rent, and clothing.  According to Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…”  Many households rely on the refund they receive to access this right.  It is important that we spread awareness of this issue so we can prevent as many people as possible from being exploited by tax-prep organizations and connect them with the resources they need. 

Impact America: SaveFirst 

Impact America, originally Impact Alabama, is a non-profit organization that was founded to develop “substantive service-learning and leadership development projects for college students and recent college graduates.”  SaveFirst is one of Impact America’s programs, which provides free tax preparation services in communities which are often targeted by predatory tax-prep organizations.  College students who volunteer with SaveFirst are trained and IRS certified to prepare tax returns.  In 2018 alone, SaveFirst was able to prepare tax returns for 13,713 families and saved those families $5.5 million in fees.  Since 2007, they have prepared returns for 76,867 families and saved them $26.2 million.  The work done by Impact America helps to decrease the number of people that are being exploited by predatory organizations by giving them access to much better resources and services. 

If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with SaveFirst at one of their many tax-prep locations, you can do so here. 

 

The Plight of China’s Migrant Workers

by Dianna Bai

a photo of a Chinese shoemaker
The shoemaker’s children always go barefoot. Having an issue with one of your shoes? No problem, the old cobbler on the sidewalk corner can help you. There are less and less street workers like that now in China, but is some places of cities, we can easily found plenty of them. They are mainly old people, who I guess has always been doing this, in this place, from winter to summer, even when it is raining. The price is still attractive for clients who prefer deal in the street rather than in shops… but for how long. This is China. Source: Gauthier DELECROIX, Creative Commons

China’s newfound economic prowess since the reform and opening has been shouldered by its massive population of migrant laborers. A significant surplus of unskilled workers and a lax regulatory environment has given Chinese factories, like those in many developing countries, a competitive edge over their counterparts in the Global North. In this troubling “race to the bottom,” a great number of Chinese factories overwork and underpay their rank-and-file employees, at times subjecting them to sordid and dangerous conditions. Although brands such as Nike, Walmart and Apple have been pressured by the international media and human rights organizations to take responsibility for labor rights within their supply chains, it is difficult to separate the profits of these corporations from their habitual exploitation of the weak human rights standards and ineffective enforcement of regulations in countries like China.

For most of China’s 131 million migrant workers, leaving the village and traveling to the city to find gainful employment is the greatest opportunity as well as the most harrowing journey of their lives. The freedom and ability to leave their rural hometown are points of pride for migrant workers, yet the enormous surplus of labor in the urban areas has led to fierce competition in the market, forcing them to accept low wages, no benefits, poor working conditions, strict work regimes, and little job security. In the documentary China Blue, we see employees of the blue jean factory worked for pennies an hour, less than the minimum wage, and are often forced to work overtime – even overnight – to meet shipping deadlines. Some are so exhausted by continuous hours of labor that they fall asleep at their workstations, risking reprimand by their supervisors. Factory workers often do not get paid on time and new workers lose their first month’s paycheck as a “deposit,” a sum of money they never receive if they choose to quit. Furthermore, migrant workers have no access to healthcare or education in the city as a result of the discriminatory hukou system that binds them legally to their rural hometowns. China has a comprehensive set of labor laws including minimum wage, but local and provincial officials rarely enforce them in order to attract foreign businesses and boost their regions’ economic growth. As a result, migrant workers are exploited on dual levels, by the factories that employ them and the state that fails to protect them.

Most migrant workers do not understand their legal rights; they have no organized way to defend them. Workers have some inkling of their rights when it is most obvious. However, they lack knowledge of the comprehensive but unenforced regulations protecting them. In China Blue, the workers at the blue jean factory held a haphazard strike after their pay had been delayed for three months. There have also been some success stories of migrant workers taking legal actions against their employers. Lawyers like Zhou Litai have made triumphant careers from helping injured workers litigate with their employers for rightful compensation. Yet a string of individual cases won by workers has not changed the basic conditions of factories. Because of an authoritarian government that fears the rise of civil society, the Chinese government has not allowed independent labor unions to form in China. In developed countries, these types of organizations undergirded the labor rights movement during the industrialization process. They educated workers, negotiated with factory owners on their behalf, and organized strikes when necessary. If Chinese workers are not empowered to speak up for themselves, then who has the luxury to speak for them?

One might argue that Western consumers have the luxury to speak up for these exploited workers by demanding corporations to “clean up” their supply chains. The anti-sweatshop movement has gained great momentum in the past two decades. Due to negative media attention and pressure from NGOs, many multinational corporations that source overseas have devoted significant resources and efforts to audit the factories in their supply chains, even establishing social compliance divisions solely dedicated to this goal. Brands such as Nike at first defended the conditions in its Indonesian factories, contending that their corporation has created thousands of jobs for people who lack better opportunities. Philip Knight, the founder of Nike, pointed out: “People argued that we were taking advantage of the poor Japanese workers 20 years ago. Now Japan makes no Nikes and imports $100 million of them.” Nevertheless, Nike soon followed cues from other corporations and drafted a code of conduct for its factories.

a portrait of a Chinese farmer
Happy Farmer. Farmer after working in the morning – getting ready to deliver vegetables to town for lunch. Jiashan, China Source: DaiLuo, Creative Commons.

The global movement for labor rights has brought international attention to the plight of workers in developing countries and put the issue on the table for multinational corporations. However, there is a serious inherent problem in letting corporations police themselves: a misalignment of incentives. The primary aims of private corporations are to make profits, satisfy customers, and reward shareholders. They accomplish these goals by constantly trying to improve cost efficiency, which is what attracts them to developing world factories. Apple, for example, produces its products in China because of the huge economies of scales that can be achieved there as opposed to the United States. The speed and flexibility of the Chinese manufacturing sector has drawn in companies like Apple, but it comes at the price of poorer labor conditions. Cost efficiency puts the corporations’ incentives in misalignment with social compliance divisions. Because social compliance divisions do not usually cooperate with buying departments, multinational corporations are essentially asking factories to improve the conditions for their workers while still demanding the same low prices. This disjunction has led to massive falsification of records by factory owners, undermining the integrity of the audit process. The audit profession itself is also plagued with human capital problems and instances of bribery. Corporations, in turn, have little incentive to investigate fraud so long as they can present a picture of compliance to concerned consumers. They can essentially pay lip service to the human rights movement by going along with the records presented to them. In the case of mass falsification, concerned consumers cannot even be certain that a brand which claims to buy from only factories with good labor conditions is, in fact, doing so.

Instead of simply paying attention to better audits of factories from corporations, consumers who are concerned about the labor conditions in China should also demand “responsible prices” at the manufacturing level. Currently, the prices that brands pay to factory owners in China are so low that they face the dilemma of improving labor conditions and losing business or falsifying records to comply with labor standards. Timberland, for example, will pay only $20 per shoe that it buys from a manufacturer, while selling it to the retailer for $50, which then sells it to consumers for $100. In the $80 of revenue gained after the product has been purchased from the manufacturer, there must be some room to offer the manufacturer a better price without passing on the cost to consumers. Consumer groups should scrutinize the profit structure of brands and retailers and buy goods that pay manufacturers better, so that manufacturers can pass on the generosity to their workers. This requires the buying department and the social compliance division to work together to establish an agreeable price for products that takes into account favorable labor conditions. This doesn’t necessarily have to come with a loss of profits for the brands and retailers. Favorable corporations will gain the loyalty and goodwill of a growing number of consumers who are concerned about emerging market labor conditions.

However, a consumer can only do so much on the demand side. Much of the work to be done on labor rights must come from the workers themselves. NGOs working in this field must continue educating workers on labor rights, encouraging them to organize, and advocating for the establishment of true, independent labor unions. China’s official labor union, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), functions more as a peacekeeping organ between workers and management rather than a labor union truly representing the interests of workers. Although the ACFTU has considerable political clout at the national level and lobbies for labor protection laws, its chapters at various factories rarely make demands on behalf of workers. ACFTU union leaders are generally chosen by the factory management and remain beholden to the management. Chinese workers need unions with democratically elected leaders who will truly represent their interests rather than serving as a “bridge” between workers and the management. Without autonomous labor unions representing them, workers cannot bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Their rights enshrined by Chinese law will go unheeded.

From one perspective, multinational corporations that choose to manufacture their products in China are giving thousands of Chinese workers opportunities they would never have had in the countryside. Although migrant workers often face laborious conditions in factories, they are earning far more than their rural counterparts and gaining more consumption power. As China becomes wealthier as a result of the economic growth driven by the export-oriented manufacturing sector, workers will naturally begin to demand more rights and better living standards. This process has taken place during the industrialization process in many former developing countries. In the meantime, however, multinational corporations are keen to exploit – for as long as they can – an inherently broken legal system and a profoundly undemocratic culture that has relegated millions of Chinese migrant workers to second-class citizenry. When China introduced in law in 2006 to give labor unions more concrete power, multinational corporations were the first to protest by implying they would move their factories elsewhere. Rather than relying on a social compliance scheme that often tolerates the falsification of records during audits, consumers should also urge corporations to offer responsible prices for manufacturers so that they can give workers better treatment without losing business. Most importantly, the Chinese and international human rights movement must continue their efforts to educate workers on labor rights and promote a political environment that will allow the formation of independent labor unions.

 

Dianna Bai is a Birmingham-based writer who currently writes for AL.com. Her writing has been featured on Forbes, TechCrunch, and Medium. You can find her portfolio here.

Moving Beyond ‘Victim’

The normative value of universal human rights is constantly scrutinized both within the academy and in the field alike, as has been previously featured on the Institute for Human Rights Blog. Universal human rights, codified in international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, are writ large by a group of representatives operating at the international level and are ideally enjoyed by everyday citizens on the societal level. Human rights are both universally created and culturally applied. Problems arise when specific, codified human rights directly contradict cultural norms of a particular society. Examples of this contradiction include female genital cutting, the right to return of refugees, and international tourism.  The underlying tension is this: how can the local / global communities reconcile cultural beliefs with universal norms? Can human rights activists and scholars find a third way- marrying the universal with the particular? To evolve the conversation surrounding these issues, this blog uses the incidence of human trafficking in Benin to illustrate the discursive dimension of human rights advocacy and to counter the notion that universal human rights are incompatible with culturally particularistic beliefs.

Picture of a harbor in Cotonou, Benin
Shubert Ciencia, Creative Commons

Benin & the US: Bound by Cotton

Benin, formerly known as the Kingdom of Dahomey, is located in western Africa between Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo. Benin’s capital is Porto-Novo, official language is French, and has a population of almost 10 million individuals. And finally, according to the United States’ annually published Trafficking in Persons Report (US TIP Report), Benin is grappling with a human trafficking crisis. According to the 2017 TIP-Report, vast numbers of Beninese girls and boys are:

“… subjected to domestic servitude or sex trafficking in Cotonou and across Benin’s southern corridor. Some families send children to wealthier families for educational or vocational opportunities, a practice called vidomegon; some of these children are subjected to domestic servitude.”

(Emphasis in original document)

However, before we may contextualize human trafficking trafficking in Benin, the political motivations of the TIP-Report must be unpacked.

Every year, the US compiles all available data on the incidence, prevalence, and efforts to combat human trafficking worldwide. This information is provided from policy analysts, field researchers, first-hand testimony, and a vast array of informants working with or for the US State Department (among other national agencies). Once this information is analyzed, the US labels each country a 1, 2, 2-Watchlist, or 3 Tier ranking. The lower a country’s rank, the more successful efforts a country is undertaking to prevent trafficking in general, protect trafficked persons, and prosecute traffickers. Once a country reaches the Tier 2-Watchlist (in some cases) or Tier 3 designation, the US has precedent to curtail or eliminate monetary aid and other diplomatic exchanges with the state. Danger occurs when political instrumentalism and lack of awareness of cultural beliefs thrust themselves into this ideally ‘objective’ designation process.

As an example of political gaming,  China receives low rankings, despite a sprawling human trafficking plight, to maintain polite integrity of US-China relations. In the case of Benin, ignorance of cultural mores and beliefs fundamentally redefine what trafficking is and looks like on the ground; this fact is not internalized by the US State Department. Hence, Benin’s designation of Tier 2-Watchlist.

This designation means the US believes Benin is making active strides to combat trafficking, but these efforts do not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking within the country as a whole. Massive structural issues complicate Benin’s anti-trafficking process, including: sweeping inequality, crumbling infrastructure, political corruption, and a national economy unable to withstand price gauging from foreign actors. The last issue is particularly germane to the incidence of trafficking in Benin, as Howard (2012) explains:

“In Benin, cotton is the major cash crop. It accounts for around 5 per cent of the GDP and almost 40 per cent of the country’s export receipts… [I]t is a household industry and provides income for thousands of families… When prices are high, people benefit… [C]otton prices have been at record lows for over a decade, in large part due to illegal US subsidies.”

(Emphasis added; Howard, 2012)

According to Oxfam, the US raised cotton subsidies, which decimated many economies in Western African dependent on cotton production from local farmers. Benin’s economy in particular is crippled; many rural and agrarian workers are unable to sell their cotton products at a fair cost. Therefore, they must turn to alternate means of income – in some cases, trafficking. This oft-unexplored antecedent of trafficking cases is the pressing economic demands of both the trafficked person and others (such as the trafficker, buyer of services, etc.) involved in the process (Bales, 2012). Here is the paradox: the US classifies Benin a Tier 2-Watchlist country on the TIP-Report (a supposed human rights-promoting mechanism) when US economic policy vampirically saps Beninese resources, thereby increasing the occurrence of trafficking in the Beninese state. The US indirectly causes trafficking in Benin and simultaneously uses diplomatic pressure to punish Benin for its trafficking “problem”. So what does this disingenuous relationship look like to human rights activists in Benin and the populations they wish to serve?

Politics in Trafficking Discourse

In his ethnographic portrayal of the lives of working Beninese adolescents, Howard (2012) explores the motivations and incentives of young Beninese persons attempting to make a livelihood for both themselves and their families. He interviews young men who often work in gravel pits in western Nigeria and young women who opt to work for families in major coastal cities within Benin itself. According to Howard’s interviews with anti-trafficking NGO workers, two concerning issues surround the designation of these young men and women as ‘trafficked persons’:

  1. The young men and women seeking employment are underage. International law decrees childhood ends and legal consent begins (for most individuals) at age 18. In Benin, societal tradition prepares adolescents for work before age 18, and many adolescents (highly aware of their dire economic need) opt to work to support themselves their families. Due to these definitional inconsistencies, one persons trafficking survivor is another’s entrepreneur.
  2. Many of these young men and women do not consider themselves as trafficked persons, despite using 3rd-party cooperation to cross borders to find work. Here is a conversation that exemplifies this issue:

 

(Howard): Have some of you ever been away to do holiday work?

(Young Man): Yes, every single one of us! This is what allows us to continue at school! You can go to Nigeria or Savé and earn 30,000 or 40,000 FCFA in a summer!

(Howard): Do NGOs, white people or the government come here and say that’s bad?

(Young Man): Yes, loads.

(Howard): Why?

(Young Man): Because they can see that it can be hard, but they offer us no alternative.

(Emphasis added; Howard, 2012)

The young man in this exchange, in addition to others interviews by Howard (2012), expresses frustration the Beninese government cannot aid employable citizens to find livable wages and jobs in their home communities. These individuals now must make long and arduous journeys to find work to sustain themselves and their families. This complicates the ‘victim-mentality’ all too common of anti-trafficking efforts; in many cases, anti-trafficking NGO’s see trafficked persons in need of ‘rescue’. However, via testimony from these so-called ‘trafficked persons’, these Beninese adolescents are exercising agency and ingenuity to pursue economic stability. They are not ‘victims’ of trafficking; they are victims of structural violence, in part propagated by the US government. In one fell swoop, the US government not only crippled the Beninese economy but also victimizes many Beninese workers through human rights discourse. What does the discursive process mean for human rights research and advocacy?

Notes on top of the written text of Michel Foucault
James Shelley, Creative Commons

Discourse, in a Foucault-ian sense, describes the process of transferring one’s worldview to another via communication (Howard, 2012). When we engage in dialogue, we construct a momentary reality for the person with whom we are engaged. They do the same. These conversations are laden with our worldview, power (a)symmetries, and culture; each of us brings these elements to the table. Therefore, the way in which we speak about a subject not only tells us about the subject itself, but it also of speaker(s). To speak of someone as a victim in need of rescue is to deny them agency and autonomy. This tactic may additionally heighten the moral authority of the speaker. This power asymmetry is epitomized by the dyad of the Beninese worker & US government.

Returning to the young man’s quotations above, we may infer he is an individual seeking agency and economic independence within a state that is unable to provide these opportunities. The state, Benin, is laden with political and financial woes; in part from price gauging by the United States. The US, also according to Howard’s ethnographic research, finances and sends NGO humanitarian aid workers to Benin to aid in anti-trafficking efforts. These aid workers, when pressed about why their Beninese ‘trafficking survivors’ were unable to find work within their homeland, often had no idea about the cotton subsidies or other reasons why the Beninese economy is suffering (Howard, 2012). Without a nuanced understanding of the structural barriers compelling Beninese adolescents to seek work in foreign lands, US aid workers revictimized Beninese citizens through discursive patronage and an inability to shoulder the burden of the US’s involvement in crippling the Beninese economy.

A Beninese woman balances a gourd above her head
AdamRogers2030, Creative Commons

A Challenge for Human Rights

Human rights are universal. The notion that all persons, irrespective of religious creed, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other identifying characteristic, deserve their dignity and personhood honored and protected is a key mainstay of modernity. The protection of human rights should be implemented by transnational actors such as the United Nations. Human rights should also be protected by states, such as the United States of America and Benin. Finally, human rights have to be guarded be ordinary people living in societies all over the world.

Conversations about human rights inform us about the speaker and how they conceive of rights. In the case of US aid workers in Benin, they considered Beninese adolescents in need of saving and as involuntary trafficking survivors falling prey to a malicious trafficker. And indeed, this is the case for many Beninese. From the other perspective, through the eyes of impoverished Beninese young women and men, earning a livable wage to support their family is paramount. They do not see themselves as victims; they see the aid-workers as misinformed. This begs the question: how do human rights activists and the communities they wish to serve negotiate power-sharing in discourse and social / economic / cultural equality within the doctrine of human rights?

A fundamental challenge within the realm of human rights is the negotiation between two groups of people who have (sometimes radically) different interpretations of what human rights mean. Eastern vs. Western, secular vs. religious, North vs. South, these are illusory differences propagated by individuals who directly benefit from antagonistic discourse between these (and many other) groups of people. Sometimes, is it not the conversation itself that is the important part; it is what each speaker is bringing to the conversation.

We see a conflict of interest between aid-workers in Benin and Beninese adolescents looking for jobs. Neither is wrong in their pursuit; both are merely taking radically different approaches to protecting the rights and fortunes of themselves and of those they care about. These differences of opinion on the interpretation of rights do not, as my colleague has written, weaken the foundational argument for the existence of universal human rights. These differences throw down the gauntlet for human rights activists and researchers to expand the table large enough for all vested parties to have an equal opportunity to negotiate a culturally-practical implementation of universal norms. It is a challenge to dismantle structural barriers to human rights (such as the US’s involvement in Benin’s cotton industry). It is a challenge to marry non-Western and Western conceptions of justice and peace. Human rights as a normative prescription of beliefs and behaviors is still in its infancy. These ideals still need an anthropologically-informed ethic, a moral system steeped in cultural pluralism through a globalized mechanism of implementation, in order to realize the full potential of universal human rights and a shared global identity of what it means to be human.

 

References

Bales, K. (2012). Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Press Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Howard, N. (2012). Accountable to whom? Accountable for what? Understanding anti-trafficking discourse and policy in southern Benin. The Anti-Trafficking Review, 1, 43-59.

Partnership & Peace: Riane Eisler Visits UAB

Disclosure: The author is currently enrolled in Professor Eisler’s UAB course, “Cultural Transformation Theory” through the Department of Anthropology. Some statements in this post result from class session discussions and personal interactions between Professor Eisler and Nicholas Sherwood.

Riane Eisler signs "The Power of Partnership". Source: Nicholas Sherwood

Riane Eisler is a peacemaker. She is an attorney. A researcher. A mother. A grandmother. She is also a Holocaust survivor. On October 26th 2017, UAB’s Department of Anthropology and Institute for Human Rights hosted Eisler to deliver a keynote address to the annual Peace and Justice Studies Association conference held in Birmingham, Alabama. Eisler’s address to the UAB, PJSA, and Birmingham communities served as a call-to-arms for the audience members to embrace a complex and nuanced understanding of peace-through-partnership. Eisler posited the normative value of peace can only be internalized and implemented once a systemic understanding of peace has been embraced by intellectuals, activists, and advocates alike.

Eisler’s analytic framework is housed within the intellectual school of systems theory. In her case, a systemic approach to culture makes room for the total sum of human interactions, from the micro intrapersonal level, the intermediary levels, to the the macro transnational level. This interdisciplinary approach encourages integrative research from many fields of study to understand cultures themselves and how to transform cultures of domination towards cultures of partnership. To study partnership and dominator societies, Eisler and other researchers affiliated with the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS) utilize a vast array of academic disciplines, including biology, functional neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and political science. Eisler’s most prolific work, The Chalice and the Blade, marked the beginning of her scholarly oeuvre, and first introduced Cultural Transformation Theory (CTT) to the world-at-large.  The central concept of CTT is the “partnership-domination” continuum, whereby any given culture may be ranked according to specific identifying markers: family / childhood relations, gender relations, economic relations, and cultural narratives / language. A culture’s placement is influenced many factors. However, a fundamental differential between these two absolute points is the relative equality (or lack thereof) of both primordial halves of humanity: male and female.

Cultures with gender inequality lean towards a domination orientation, whereas cultures with gender egalitarian values lean more towards a partnership orientation.  Furthermore, dominator societies are also marked by authoritarian ranking in all social relations (from the family level to the international level) and a high degree of accepted abuse and violence (again, from the familial to the international levels; Eisler, 1987). By contrast, partnership societies are noticeable by gender equality, egalitarian and democratic relations (from the family to the national level), and a low degree of built-in violence (Eisler, 1987). To orient a culture towards partnership and peace, four cornerstones of society must be addressed: 1) family / childhood relations, 2) gender relations, 3) economic relations, and 4) narratives / language (Eisler, 2017). Observing how a culture embodies these cornerstones offers the culture’s placement on the “partnership-domination” continuum, and any attempt to transform a cultures towards partnership must simultaneously attend to these four markers of a society’s norms and values.

Riane Eisler delivers the keynote address to PJSA 2017. Source: Nicholas Sherwood

First, family and childhood relations. Eisler’s book The Power of Partnership (Eisler, 2002), explores key relationships in every person’s life and how these relationships fundamentally orient an individual towards patterns of behavior aligning with partnership- or domination-based behaviors. For any individual, family and childhood relations set the template for relationships for the rest of her or his life. As children grow, they consciously and unconsciously adopt the behaviors they learn from their parents and family members. Values held by a family, such as embracing diversity or quashing the questioning of authority figures, can and do impact the socialization of a child.

Partnership societies typically socialize children to be empathic of others, tolerant of diversity, and explore the world with curiosity instead of fear (Rando, 2010). By contrast, dominator societies instill in children an unquestioning loyalty towards authority figures (typically the patriarch of the family), suspicion of Otherness, and a generalized fear of acting dis-concordantly with the norms of society. To create peace from the bottom-up, families must socialize their children to understand diversity is a ‘given’ of the human condition, empathy is a powerful tool to be used for good, and respect for authority may also mean resisting abusive or unfair treatment.

Eisler’s second cornerstone, gender relations, explores how cultures treat the fundamental difference between two halves of humanity: male and female. In dominator societies, conventionally feminine traits (such as caring and nurturing) relegated as being ‘lesser to’ conventionally masculine traits (such as aggression and violence; Eisler, 1987). Partnership societies tend to view genders as equal in right and measure (Eisler, 1987). This question of gender equality, according to Eisler, is critical to understanding how society views Otherness. Gender identity and expression are among the first identifiers a person assesses when meeting someone else, and how a society ranks (or chooses not to rank) this difference is critical to understanding conflict and peace within culture. Why do some cultures actively repress one gender in favor of another? Are rigid stereotypes socialized and expected in men and women? And what does this gendered system of ranking mean for other kinds of relationships? Eisler believes peace is impossible without taking a critical look at gender disparity across all cultures and societies.

The Real Wealth of Nations (Eisler, 2007) explores Eisler’s third cornerstone, economic relations. For a culture to move towards or sustain a partnership orientation, their economic system (whether socialist, capitalist, etc.) must promote caring policies that reward consumers and producers alike to engage in industries that promote our innate human capacities, such as creativity, care-giving, and sustainable development (Eisler, 2007). Economic systems featuring rampant inequality between classes, the devaluation of caring work (such as caring for the elderly, traditional “house work”, and the empowerment of marginalized populations), and mechanisms of suppression are dominator-based.

Caring economics, a partnership approach, features the reward of caring work not only by capital, but also policies such as: paid maternity / paternity leave, universal healthcare, educational standards, and just treatment of employees in any job sector. The benefits of moving towards a caring economic system are mighty, including: gender equality in public and private sectors, reports of higher life satisfaction, higher profit margins for for-profit companies, higher customer satisfaction, and higher GDP; Eisler uses the successes of Scandanavian countries to support her economic hypothesis (Eisler, 2007). Companies that have adopted a partnership-orientation in their business model include: First Tennessee National Corporation, New Age Transportation, Johnson & Johnson, and Berrett-Koehler (Eisler, 2007).

Finally, with respect to the partnership-domination continuum, the particular narratives of a culture offers insight into the normative ideals enshrined in a society. Myths such as the “Original Sin”, a narrative common to many religions, espouse a dark view of human nature that features an underlying belief in a fatal flaw (or flaws) inherent to all members of humanity. Idioms such as “survival of the fittest” imply the human condition is typically competitive and warlike. These two examples belong to the domination paradigm of culture. Rewriting cultural narratives that sanctify norms such as love, acceptance, and mutual aid would reorient a society towards partnership. Anthropologists have long attempted to glean lessons from the myths and symbols found in societies; these same lessons can and should be applied in a modern context. Repeated stories become narratives. These narratives can become myths. While no myth deserves to be destroyed, as cultural erasure is a gross human rights violation, a reframing and re-contextualizing of dominator myths will serve to move a society towards peace.

An Eislerian peace process entails a cultural shift towards partnership values, with emphasis on four cornerstones of society: family / childhood relations, gender relations, economic relations, and narratives / language. Her systemic approach to peace promotion covers broad swaths of the human condition, and requires a working-through at all levels of society, from the macro, to the micro, and between. Eisler’s insights provide a new and necessary approach to peace promotion: peace is systemic.

Peace requires a conceptual breadth that transcends typical disciplinary lanes. Finally, to orient a society towards peaceful partnership will require a reconfiguration of the most basic elements of a society, from interpersonal relations to the global political system. Given our human potentials for domination and partnership alike, the choice to create and sustain peace is firmly ours to make.

References

Eisler, R. (1987). The Chalice and the Blade. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Eisler, R. (2002). The Power of Partnership. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Eisler, R. (2007). The Real Wealth of Nations. San Fransisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Eisler, R. (2017). Building a caring democracy: Four cornerstones for an integrated progressive agenda. Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies, 4(1).

Rando, L. M. (2010). Caring & Connected Parenting. Pacific Grove, CA: The Center for Partnership Studies.

The Matter of Belonging

a picture of the Grand Canyon. It is a UNESCO site
Grand Canyon. Source: Alan Eng, Creative Commons

The United States formally withdrew from UNESCO last Thursday, followed shortly by Israel. The decision, called “a brave and moral decision” by Binyamin Netanyahu, hinders on what the Trump administration labels “anti-Israel bias”, a claim that seemingly stems from the recent designation of Hebron as a World Heritage Site. This is not the first time the US has withdrawn support from the organization. During the Reagan administration, the withdrawal occurred over “mismanagement and political implications”; the US rejoined in 2003 under Bush, but commenced withdrawing financial dues under Obama in 2011 when the organization included Palestine as a member. The Israel and US alliance began during the Truman presidency, around 1948. The purpose of this blog is not to delve into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict debate but to elucidate the power of collaborative relationship as an aspect of peace at the global level.

The purpose of UNESCO is to contribute to international peace and security through the cross-cultural collaboration of education, science, and culture, in accordance with the UN Chapter. The Constitution was signed into agreement in 1945, and came into force after twenty countries ratified it in 1946. UNESCO’s mandate lies in the removal of ignorance, mistrust, and suspicion from the minds of humanity, given that “wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” War, they assert, is propagated through ignorance, prejudice, and inequality; thus, denying democratic principles including “dignity, equality, and mutual respect” to all. Peace requires solidarity of humanity, both intellectually and morally.

Lines Drawn The ‘creation’ of the Green Line resulted in the 1949 Armistice and the lines of demarcation for Israel and her neighbors, specifically Jordan, and the designation of the West Bank. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel “annexed the eastern part of the city and its holy sites”; annexation did not include parts of Jerusalem, Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus), or Hebron (the burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Judeo-Christian faith). Citizens of Israel and Palestine live on both sides of the Green Line. Palestine remains stateless, considering the requirements of Treaty of Westphalia, yet in 2011, the UN agency granted membership to the Palestinian Authority despite the full international recognition as a nation-state. Obama, in a May 2011 address, concluded a two state solution based upon the 1967 lines, presented the most viable option for peace in the region:

“What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace… We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”

Given that Obama’s speech took place in May and the withdrawal funds from UNESCO in November, it appears all signs point to a divided Obama administration. However, the legislation to withdraw American funds from any UN agency, admitting Palestine as a full member, has origins in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidencies.

a picture of the Sydney Opera House. It is a UNESCO site
Sydney Opera House. Source: Steve Collis, Creative Commons

A physical symbol of the UNESCO mandate materializes in the classification of world cultural/heritage sites. The designation of cultural sites in Israel began in 2001 and Palestine in 2012. In 2016, two Jewish sites in Jerusalem, geographically located in the West Bank, proved contentious for Israel and UNESCO. As a diplomatic entity, UNESCO introduced and regarded the sites by exclusive Arabic names, drawing the ire of Israel, who ascertained the move as “attempts to deny our heritage, distort history, and disconnect Jewish people from our capital and homeland”. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, neither of the Temple Mount locations are on the established or tentative list. Thereby positing the question aimed at the accusation of bias – where is the evidence of bias when it comes to UNESCO and the establishment of heritage sites?

“Anti-Israel bias” Netanyahu, during his 2011 speech to the US joint Congress, declared Israel and the US “stand together to defend democracy… to advance peace…and to fight terrorism”. He continued with an acknowledgement of the right to protest, the demand for dignity, and the desire for liberty. If coupling this speech with the decision to withdraw, the US-Israel alliance takes on an ‘us vs them’ mentality when considering the collaborative nature of the UN family of agencies. Therefore, what is the value of peace, liberty, and justice for all when two nations position themselves against the rest of the world?

It is a matter of social control versus social solidarity, or a matter of isolation versus belonging. Irina Bokova stated regret over the decisions by acknowledging the withdrawals are a “loss for multilateralism”. Robarchek asserts the problem with social control lies in the emphasis on control rather than the social. He concludes, “…the willingness to give society’s interests precedence over one’s own wishes and impulses is largely rooted in individuals’ relationship to the community”. In terms of US-Israel relations with other nations, UNESCO, and other UN agencies: the US and Israel determined their parts are greater than the whole. US-Israel allowed their own interest to trump the superordinate interest of the community (the world, in this instance), thereby, discarding democracy and peace because of unresolved conflict. Fry suggests ‘us vs them’ contributes to intergroup hostility because of a failure to cultivate a common identity. He proposes peace has two essential variables: interdependence and cooperation. Interdependence and cooperation bring about peace through the development of values that inform behaviors.

Calhoun hypothesizes the practicality of belonging is problematic for some because “intense group commitments and claims to group rights can threaten individual liberties…” and an individualist democracy does not hold value in belonging and denies its importance. He implies belonging is imperative to the fulfillment of “multilayered, multilateral polities” so democracies flourish rather than become empires. Put another way, belonging keeps democracies from getting too big for their britches. The US and Israel, both possessing strengths and weakness, conflated financial investment as responsibility and a single alliance as partnership. They fail to recognize that “neglect[ing] social solidarity… neglecting social bases of their own efficacy, while others are all too aware of the limits of their individual capacity are clearly in need of collective support in relation to the challenges the world throws at them.” It is imperative for the US and Israel to recognize their fates are interconnected with other nations. The days of selfish thinking and isolationist behavior are gone as the world is uniting around a common identity with a common goal, and the US and Israel are the odd ones out.

Belonging matters.

The Economic and Social Impacts of Climate Change

The United States has been plagued with natural disasters in the past few months. With Hurricane Harvey in August, Hurricane Irma in September, and Hurricane Maria hitting US territory Puerto Rico last week, recovery will be a long process. Unfortunately, the damage comes not just from hurricanes. On the West Coast and southeast Alaska, wildfires run rampant. Outside of the US, Central America has been under a tsunami advisory; landslides and droughts in Africa; monsoons in South Asia; floods in China, and the list goes on.

Photo of the earth from outerspace
earth. Source: Medrawtchina, Creative Commons

Why is this happening? The answer to this question can be summed up in two words: climate change. NASA defines climate change as gradual changes in a region’s regular weather pattern over many years. Examples of these changes can be temperatures being higher or lower than what is normal in the area, or it can be an increase or decrease in annual precipitation. Climate change is not a sudden change in weather, such as a sunny day turning into a cloudy day in a matter of hours. The biggest factor is the rise in the globe’s temperature. Since 1970, the global temperature has risen around 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit each decade. While 0.3 does not seem like a big change, imagine your body’s internal temperature rising 0.3 degrees every ten days. Your body would go into shock trying to adjust, which is essentially what is happening with our planet. Small changes in the globe’s climate have large impacts.

Scientific evidence shows that climate change is real and happening, and the earth’s climate is warming. As a result, the ocean’s temperature is also rising. A hurricane’s strength depends on three factors: water temperature, wind shear, and moisture in the atmosphere. According to Vox, “Warmer water and atmospheric moisture give the system energy. A low wind shear — i.e., sharp changes in wind directions as you go higher and higher in the atmosphere — keeps a hurricane from dissipating.” In an interview with Vox, meteorologist Klozbach claimed that he found the Atlantic Ocean, where Irma formed, is two degrees warmer than the ocean usually is this time of year. The strength of Hurricanes Harvey and Maria are substantially impacted by changes in the climate, as they too originated in abnormally warm waters.

As another result of the earth’s temperature rising, scientists have concluded that wildfires are “occurring about five times more often than in 1970…burning more than six times the land area as before, and lasting almost five times longer.” Wildfires can be caused by humans unintentionally by dropping a cigarette, or by natural causes such as lightening. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, every state in the western US has seen an increase in numbers of annual wildfires. The duration of the fires and their intensity are also a result of climate change. Because the earth’s temperature is rising, the soil becomes drier, droughts occur, therefore making chances of a wildfire increase.

What are other consequences of climate change? Aside from the damage to communities, mass displacement, or even death in extreme cases such as the 1,200 deaths caused by the monsoons in Asia, there are other long-lasting effects as well. After Hurricane Harvey flooded a large portion of southeast Texas with a record-breaking 51.88 inches, there were over 150,000 jobs created that were dedicated to post-flooding clean up and construction. However, the trio of climate change-powered hurricanes have potentially destroyed job growth for September and October by taking out over 80,000 payrolls. In addition to that, CSNBC Market Insider claims the damage caused by Hurricane Maria is predicted to keep citizens of the territory jobless until November. According to Diane Swonk, CEO of DS Economics, “We’re creating an average 175,000 jobs a month … The problem is it looks like the hurricane disruption will overwhelm those job gains in September to get them close to zero, and we’ll likely see a negative reading in October because of the sheer number of people that were affected in Puerto Rico. We really have a humanitarian crisis there.” As a usual result of hurricanes, gas prices shot up. Forbes reported that Texas had the highest gas prices it had seen since 2014 at almost $5 per gallon in Fort Worth.

Storage building photographed with Hurricane Irma in the background
Spent Hurricane Irma outside. Source: Concrete Connection, Creative Commons

Wildfires can also have positive and negative economic effects. Similar to the hurricane clean-up crews, the beneficial effects come either from rebuilding after a wildfire or fire suppression. Counter to that, Diaz found in a study conducted in 2003 that California had lost over $43 million in wildfire expenses that year. It was also estimated that about 5,000 fire-related jobless claims were filed in the same year. Due to the wildfires this year, parts of Texas have lost roughly $21 million in agricultural costs – without accounting for costs of damages on equipment. Wildfires also contaminate water supplies and produce air pollution. The largest concern with the drinking water supply is sediment filling reservoirs or basins, and sediment going into the air supply can result in long-term damage to lungs.

Arguably, the most important impact of these disasters is the social impact. When Hurricane Irma was destined to hit Florida, 6.3 million people were told to evacuate. Roughly 800,000 Texans have filed claims for help in after Hurricane Harvey. Over six states have seen damages to their agriculture because of wildfire damage. These cases of displacement and infrastructure damage can also have psychological effects. Thompson asserts that people show high levels of “anxiety, stress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more signs of depression” when displaced after a natural disaster. Food security is also a factor in measuring the social impact. With damages to agriculture, this should come as no surprise. While the US is effected by droughts and agricultural damages, in less developed countries, such as the seventeen countries in Africa that have suffered from drought this year, food security is a much larger issue.

Photo of a flower being grown in a bottle cap
Recycling. Source: Marian Kloon, Creative Commons

The true question is: where do we go from here? Earlier this year, President of the United States Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement to combat climate change and reduce the United States’ pollution: the Paris Climate Accords. While the climate changes due to natural causes, without proper attention to the environment, scientist have warned that the earth’s temperature will continue to grow at an accelerating rate due to human activity. With one of the world’s leaders pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, that intangible threat is encouraged to be a tangible reality. Some US states have pledged to continue practicing proper environmental safety techniques. However, without a legal force coercing large factories to control their pollution emission, the US will become a large factor in contributing to the acceleration of climate change. It is our job to take care of the earth in any way that we can. If you would like to know how you can help slow down climate change, refer to Prevent Climate Change’s website.

Famine: The Political Overlook of the Right to Food

a picture of Halima Bare and one of her children
Halima Bare (40) and one of her children in Elado village, Wajir District. Source: Oxfam East Africa, Creative Commons.

South Sudan, Somalia, Northeast Nigeria, and Yemen are currently experiencing what is being recognized as an international famine crisis. The lack of food in these countries has resulted in twenty million individuals suffering from extreme hunger, caused by agricultural and civil misfortunes. Starvation is expanding at an overwhelming speed; within the last three months, three million citizens from these regions are experiencing extreme food shortages. Famine has officially been declared in South Sudan, while the United Nations (UN) warns that the food shortages in Nigeria, Yemen, and Somalia are only a few months away from reaching similar extremities. At this rate, these regions could face societal and economic challenges for an extraneous period. The UN has requested a total of $4.4 billion, in attempt to reverse famine in the affected countries. The purpose of this blog is to bring awareness to the global issue of starvation and famine, with regards to the collapse of civil structures and ecological factors that have severely influenced the rise of famine.

Famine refers to a wide-ranging and life-threatening food insufficiency in a specific region of the world. The issue can be created by drought, epidemics, population imbalances, inflation, and government instability. The UN determines an official famine crisis through evaluation of the food shortage margins. The official United Nations website mandates, “A famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.” Natural and man-made catastrophes have worked hand-in-hand for the reasons behind the current famine issue. As political conflict and resource deprivation create an overpowering effect on a region’s agriculture and cost of food, individuals are stripped of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This declaration was created by fifty-six international representatives in 1948 as a universal agreement to essential human rights. The document was put into action only three years after the 1945 Vietnamese famine, which killed roughly two million citizens within six months. Article 25 of the UDHR states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

a picture of a Yemini boy on a donkey with gerry cans for water
Yemen: Access to water. Source: European Commission DG ECHO, Creative Commons.

YEMEN What was already the poorest Arab country is now considered to be experiencing one of the world’s worst hunger crises. Two-thirds of the Yemenis population are suffering with food insufficiency. Eighteen million individuals are facing severe food and water shortages in Yemen, and seven million of these deprived citizens are classified as starving. Conflict is to blame for Yemen’s nearing famine crisis. Yemen’s former president’s, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, failed attempts to provide adequate fuel subsidies to the Yemenis people resulted in the Houthis driving him out of the city of Aden. The clash between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and President Hadi’s soldiers has resulted in a violent civil war, and citizens’ food accessibility and resources have become targets. OXFAM, an international union for poverty assistance, has stated, “Ports, roads and bridges, along with warehouses, farms and markets have been regularly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition, draining the country’s food stocks. The Houthi led de-facto authority on the other hand, is delaying the delivery of life-saving relief, and sometimes detaining aid workers. This, coupled with a flattened economy, has created an abyss of hunger and a serious threat of famine.”

SOMALIA Drought plays a prominent role in Somalia’s excessive hunger issue. Minimal rain fall has disrupted Somalia’s society three times in nearly twenty-five years. Nearly three million Somalian citizens are suffering from starvation, while 6.2 million citizens are experiencing food and water shortages. This drought has created a spiral of decline for the population’s malnourishment, physical health, and educational standing. An Islamic militant group,  Al-Shabaab, has restricted Somalia’s access to resources after gaining political control of the country in 1991. The previous Somalian government, ruled by Mohammed Barre, was instructed to flee the capital, Mogadishu, after being overthrown by the terror group. During the conflict, the United States cut off their contributions to Somalia, due to the objection of Al-Shabaab. No official government has been established since Barre’s departure. For many years, the militants have blocked access to food and water resources and have required external contributors to pay ten thousand dollars, before allowing them to assist the citizens. The charge was lifted during Somalia’s 2011 food and drought crisis, but the general regulations of Al-Shabaab continue to affect Somalians’ resource abundance. This lack of food and water has caused severe consequences to the victimized citizens, resulting in cholera, measles, malaria, and other fatal diseases. Office for the Coordination of Human Rights recognizes the malnutrition of the Somalian children by stating that 185,000 children are in fatal condition and need of immediate aid. The rebellious leaders have displayed little to no concern with the victim’s current situation, presenting a correlation between Somalia’s political power and failed assistance.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been made irrelevant to the countries’ current leaders, but Anthony Lake, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s Executive Director, asserts, “We are making a difference in the areas we can reach. With the World Food Programme and other partners, we are treating acutely malnourished children. We are vaccinating children against measles and polio. We are providing safe water and sanitation services. But this is nowhere close to enough. Without adequate resources and without safe access, we and our partners will be unable to reach children whose lives are at imminent risk.What is already a crisis can become a catastrophe.”

NIGERIA Northeast Nigeria’s 2.5 million food deprived individuals are experiencing food and water disadvantages, stemming from both extreme drought and political injustice. 100,000 Nigerian citizens are facing fatal consequences of undernourishment and are expected to die from starvation this year. Boko Haram, and Islamic insurgent group from the northeastern region, have spent seven years destroying agricultural resources in Northeast Nigeria and restricting access and assistance to the state of Borno. The radical group not only rid citizens of their right to food and well-being, but also committed violent crimes of kidnapping, suicide bombings, and militant attacks. Although access has improved since the Nigerian army cleared numerous villages in Borno of the militant group, many human rights established by the UDHR continue to be violated today. UNICEF released a statement that claims, “Fews Net, the famine early warning system that monitors food insecurity, said late last year that famine likely occurred in some previously inaccessible areas of Borno states, and that it is likely ongoing, and will continue, in other areas which remain beyond humanitarian reach.” Anthony Lake believes that the lack of food assistance is expected to impact the health of 400,00 children in Nigeria, leading to the possibility of fatality for one in every five kids. This translates to an incomprehensible 246 fatalities in children each day in only one of the famine-potential countries. The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recognizes the detracted human rights of the Boko Haram victims by stating, “In newly accessible areas vulnerable host populations are in critical need of humanitarian interventions including food, water, sanitation, protection, education, shelter and health services.”

SOUTH SUDAN As of February 20, 2017, the world’s newest country has officially declared famine in several locations. The crisis encompasses 4.9 million citizens in need of food and water assistance, including one million individual’s reaching famine. South Sudan’s famine is man-made and could have potentially been avoided. Political opposition between South Sudan’s President Salva Kirr Mayardit and Former Vice President Riek Machar led to an eruption of violence between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 2003. The hostility spread past the political supporters to groups and communities throughout South Sudan. Agriculture has been disrupted by this civil war and by severe drought, leaving the majority of South Sudanese citizens with a life-threatening shortage  food and water. The Sudanese government has not only created the chaos that has led to a famine catastrophe, but has failed to consider and abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With consideration of South Sudan’s short six-year span of independence, the country’s political and agricultural downfall has brought awareness of the current crisis across the globe. The United Nation’s Secretary, General Antonio Guterres claims, “Despite the alarm sounded by the United Nations and the international community over this crisis, the Government has yet to express any meaningful concern or take any tangible steps to address the plight of its people. On the contrary, what we hear most often are denials – a refusal by the leadership to even acknowledge the crisis or to fulfil its responsibilities to end it.”

Collecting Clean Drinking Water. DFID, Creative Commons

United State’s Evolving Contributions The current amount of support going towards the United Nations request of $4.4 billion could take longer than originally anticipated. President Donald Trump has obstinately planned to minimize The United States government’s contributions to the sufferers of these countries, cutting the amount of foreign aid from the United Nation by nearly twenty-nine percent. He calls this “America First.”

The United States is expected to decrease the budgets for all international developments by approximately thirty-seven percent. These revised budget plans constructs a message that greatly contradicts the United States previous assistance, created to specifically minimize the issues of starvation and famine across the globe. Trump’s attempt to decrease funding costs is anticipated to target the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, originally created by the former senators Bob Dole and George McGovern in 2003. The program has gained a positive reputation for its provided assistance to multiple countries each year. This assistance is focused on agricultural needs, financial donations, and technical advancements. The priority of the McGovern-Dole is to distribute food aid to the countries most effected by hunger and food shortages. Trump’s proposition for eliminating funds for the McGovern-Dole Food has been established through the “America First” budget blueprint, stating that the program“lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.” If this elimination is successful, $200 million dollars in food contributions will no longer be an option for the countries currently experiencing famine.

In comparison to the Trump administration, the Obama Administration assisted in United Nations starvation crisis by providing thirty-five million dollars worth of food to Sudan in May of 2016. Similarly, the US provided the United Nation’s World Food Programme  (WFP) with $125 million for food in the countries of Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey. The WFP “is the leading humanitarian organization fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience.” The United States contributed over three times more than any other country to the WFP in the year of 2015. The WFP raised a total $10,979,000,000, within the years of 2015 and 2016, from donors and funding sources in response to global hunger. The US set the bar high with the generous contributions of approximately $2,015,000,000 each year. Following behind are the United Kingdom, European Commission, and Germany, who’s individual contributions amounted to less than half of the United State’s total. While this amount continues to lead the donations across the world, the proposed cuts will undeniably affect today’s starving victims. Denying contributions and assistance to individuals and countries in need challenges the support to the UDHR.

Famines are preventable UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien has spoken of the extremity of the famine catastrophe currently impacting the globe. O’ Brien estimated the food shortages can be overturned by raising $4.4 billion by July in his statement to the United Nations Security Counsel. One thing O’Brien expresses passionately- preventibility.

“It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes.”

 

Stephen O’Brien Meets Displaced People in Uganda. DFID, Creative Commons.

O’Brien’s travels and experiences among the victims of starvation bring about an alertness that is impossible to overlook. O’ Brien states, “For all three crises and North-Eastern Nigeria, an immediate injection of funds plus safe and unimpeded access are required to enable partners to avert a catastrophe; otherwise, many people will predictably die from hunger, livelihoods will be lost, and political gains that have been hard- won over the last few years will be reversed.” His plea for awareness and support based off of both his experiences and current data has been globally recognized by the world, but has lead to unexpected predicaments. Watch UN’s humanitarian chief communicate the issues being faced by the citizens of Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, and Northeast Nigeria.

Every Contribution Makes a Difference Inevitably, the internet has provided motivated individuals with an outlet for creating contributions for the United Nation’s multi-billion dollar request. Social media has provided increased awareness to the starvation crisis affecting the Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan. Celebrities including Ben Stiller, Colin Kaepernick, Casey Neistat, Juanpa Zarita, and Chakabars have raised over two million dollars to hep the cause occurring in victimized food shortage countries, specifically Somalia. This contribution began when Jerome Jarre, a French social media celebrity, identified Turkish Airlines as the only accessible commercial airline that flies to Somalia. Jarre utilized Twitter to promote his idea of filling a plane with food and water, and sending the supplies to the Somalians in need. His videos immediately caught the attention of Stiller, and within hours the topic was on Twitter’s Trending Topics. The campaign group’s original goal of one million dollars was reached in less than twenty-four hours of their social media. Turkish Airlines has expressed positive reactions to the campaign, as well. The airline company has announced their willingness to send 60 tons of humanitarian aid, and are expected to send out their first transfer of food on March 27. They have also announced their plan to continue the food transfer through as many commercial flights as needed. Read more information and get involved with the “Love Army For Somalia” GoFundMe page.

The celebrities’ motivation to provide assistance has been viewed as an inspiration around the globe. Our world is in an eye-opening and critical period of humanitarian need. Article 25 of the UDHR may have been overlooked by the government officials of South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Northeast Nigeria, but during times of crisis, our established human rights must be aided by each other.

“We will not enjoy security without development, we will not enjoy development without security, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.” –United Nations Secretary, General Kofi Annan

 

 

A Maasai Experience: Come to Kenya

a group of Maasai schoolchildren
Maasai schoolchildren. Source: Stacy Moak.

Traveling to Africa as a volunteer in orphanages and schools is a highlight of my life experiences so far. Witnessing people who possess so little compared to American standards, yet who are so happy and full of hope, is a life changing experience which calls into question all of our values and priorities. Many children in America often walk away from their opportunity for an education, while African children strive to be able to afford an education. Young women have additional struggles that may contribute to a lack of school, whether forced marriages and other family responsibilities, dating back in time so far that we cannot conceive of the cultural history driving them. Seeing stagnate water being used as the water source for families and communities and to see that in the 21st century, entire families dwell in primitive housing is something I will not soon forget.

We have much to learn from other cultures, just as we have much to share. While we can share a more modern understanding of women’s rights and women’s role in an educated society, and as we promote social justice and equality for all people, we can also learn from the generosity and spirit of hope evident in the smiles of these children. The one act of generosity that will stay with me forever is from a young Maasai girl named Liemon. My oldest daughter met this child on the trip last January (2016) and sent a letter with me to give to the child. I finally found her, or rather she found me. She came up to me from a crowd of children and took my hand. I asked her name and she told me she was Liemon. I was so excited to meet her and deliver the letter from my daughter. In return for the letter and pictures, this sweet child took off the necklace that you see her wearing in this picture, put it around my neck, and fastened it. She gave it to me as a gift. I have so much and she has so little, but this gesture of generosity will forever remind me of the gentleness of humanity that exists in all of us that connects us to each other no matter how different our cultures or our lives. This simple gift from a pure spirit, imprinted on my heart forever.

Liemon and Stacy’s daughter. Source: Stacy Moak.

Kenya is home to numerous tribal populations, including the Maasai people. The tribe has a long preserved culture in the way that they live and dress which makes them a sign of Kenyan culture. Easily identified by their traditional style of dress, the Maasai usually red or green plaid clothing tied across their bodies. Maasai live in both Kenya and Tanzania. Maasai lands include the great game reserves that overlaps with the Serengeti plains, an area famous for the great wildebeest migration that takes place every year. Although Maasai game reserves bring considerable amounts of money to the Kenyan government, Maasai people still live on as little as $1 per day. Entrepreneurs from the Maasai people are working to change that into a more equitable arrangement and volunteers can help support those efforts. One such project is that foreign owned hotels located on Maasai land now buy their soap products from Maasai women who make the soap. This provides sustainable income to the women and allows the community to benefit from tourism.

Swahili is the native language of Kenya but the national language is English. Most Kenyan students study English in schools, whereas Maasai children speak the Maa language–a Nilotic ethnic language from their origin. Language barriers can prevent Maasai people from full participation in events outside of their tribal community; therefore, Maasai children need to understand three languages to participate in the greater Kenyan society. Maasai children now have access to education. Education remains expensive for those who continue to live a traditional lifestyle. Kenya requires that children wear a uniform before they can attend school. The combination of school fees and uniform costs make education difficult for many Kenyan families, including Maasai families.

Women are truly the fabric of the community in the tribal culture of the Maasai. They build the traditional circular houses using mud, grass, wood, and cow-dung. Women also cook for the family, create jewelry to sell to provide for their families, and handle all child-rearing responsibilities. Despite their role in the community, girls as young as eight are at risk of their families trading them for livestock, and forcing them into marriages with much older men. When this happens, girls no longer attend school, are subject to and endure female genital mutilation, and forced into a life of a wife and mother. Many times, they are the second wives who have less standing in the community, less rights, and experiences of extreme levels of abuses.

The government of Kenya has passed laws against these types of human rights violation, but the practices go largely unregulated in tribal cultures. The Maasai people are leading the way to stop these practices by producing dramas for elementary and secondary schools. Further, they are building libraries, schools, and rescue centers to encourage young women to assert their legal rights and stay in school. Times are changing, and I remain thrilled to be a part of the change. Volunteering to provide education, clean water, green houses, and other sustainable solutions has truly been an amazing experience. Collaborating with Kenyans, specifically the Maasai people, and making a difference in their communities provides a life changing opportunity.

With My Own Two Hands, a nonprofit organization located in Laguna Beach, California, organized my trip to Kenya. Owner and Director, Lindsey Plumier raises funds to support local efforts of sustainable solutions that work to provide education, shelter, food, and fresh water to children in Kenya. With My Own Two Hands organizes volunteer trips to Kenya at least once a year, usually in January. More about the organization, ongoing projects, and opportunities to serve can be found at http://www.withmyown2hands.org.  My goal is to take students from UAB to Kenya over spring break of 2018 for them to participate in some of these projects. Their educational experience will be enhanced and their worldview forever changed by these experiences.

 **Dr. Stacy Moak will host an information session regarding this opportunity on Tuesday 7 March, 1230-130pm in the Institute for Human Rights