Arab Spring 2.0

The Second Arab Spring has risen, but this time it is much more peaceful, democratic, and youth-centered than the first. Why is this important?

2011 was quite the year for everyone except me. I still attended elementary school, could not ride a bike or swim, and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Although nothing great happened to me, the world had changed drastically for those in the Middle East, especially the youth. That event, which changed the way many Arabs and Middle Easterners viewed their governments, was called the Arab Spring. Fast forward to 2019, I’m a freshman at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Middle Easterners are fighting for equality and a democratic style of government. Then and now, human rights violations such as inequality and representation serve as focal points for protest and revolution, allowing for them to stand up for what they believe in and fundamentally change their government.

So, what exactly was the Arab Spring?

Basically, the Arab Spring consisted of many pro-democracy protests that took place in many majority-Muslim countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Bahrain. Like many other social movements, the Arab Spring started with a “single act of defiance.”

In December of 2010, a street vendor, Mohammad Bouazizi, from Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the seizing of his vegetable stand by the police due to him not getting a permit. Bouazizi’s sacrifice set aflame the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, where the many protestors fighting for more social freedoms caused Tunisia’s authoritarian president for 20+ years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to renounce his position and flee the country. This revolution in Tunisia had caused the country to become more socially democratic and involve the people in its political process due to Tunisia’s first elections occurring in 2011.

Such a great change in government by a country in the Middle East had caused others in the region to also protest, with protests occurring in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, although many succeeded and others failed.

Although Bouazizi’s death served as a catalyst for the spreading of pro-democracy fervor, the death of Egypt’s Khaled Said by police officers became another martyr in the fight for democracy. Through his death, an Egyptian Google Executive from Dubai by the name of Wael Ghoneim became a prominent activist, creating a Facebook group called “We Are All Khaled Said,” bringing in thousands of members.

Egypt’s Arab Spring, springing from Said’s death, called for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, then President of Egypt. After resigning, he was “charged with ordering the deaths of protesters,” of which “more than 800 people were killed.” Once Mubarak stepped down, a former political prisoner by the name of Mohamed Morsy came into power democratically. Although he was chosen by the people, Morsy made it so that no court could overturn his decisions, solidifying him as an autocrat. After many protests and conflicts with the Egyptian military, Morsy “was ousted in a military coup,” leading to the establishment of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s former military chief, as President through 96% of the vote.

Images of Protests in Cairo, Egypt; Tunis, Tunisia; El Beïda, Libye; Sana'a, Yémen; Damas, Syrie; and Karrana, Bahreïn
SCREENVILLE: Iranian Dissidence in Real Life Peril. Source: screenville.blogspot.com, Creative Commons

Was the Arab Spring ultimately successful across the Middle East?

Unfortunately, no.

Although there were some democratic successes in both Tunisia and Egypt through electing leaders democratically, other countries in the Middle East, such as Libya and Yemen resulted in continued conflict and war many years after the Arab Spring.

Libya, though ousting Muammar Gaddafi from his reign, remains in conflict. Libya has essentially been divided through the many militias and political factions that exist today, fighting endlessly to grab power. The situation has been so rampant that many “migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are forced” to dangerously travel to Europe through the Mediterranean, all in an effort to flee human trafficking and violence.

At first, Yemen successfully removed its President of 30 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, instead of a democratic response, an “armed uprising and foreign military intervention” caused Yemen to undergo a brutal civil war. It is through this war that Yemen experienced the worst cholera outbreak, large-scale famines across the country, and the killing of many civilians through bombs and landmines. These issues continue to be present, with no end in sight as to when it will end.

So, the Arab Spring, although deadly, resulted in some Middle Eastern countries to move towards democracy and others toward chaos and autocracy. It’s not like there’s going to be any other event like this soon, right?

Again, no.

In recent news, there have cumulative instances where protesters are fighting for the same issues. However, they “have learned from their mistakes, and are seeking new goals and using new means to achieve real, lasting, regional changes.”

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, there are three distinct characteristics for this new Arab Spring, otherwise called Arab Spring 2.0:

  1. The protesters do not trust any political leader. They believe that current leaders have not kept to their economic promises and reforms. And as such, many want to start over and introduce new politicians and parties.
  2. The protests are peaceful. Unlike protests from before, many current protests lean pacifist, even through brutal responses from the military. It is through these protests that widespread support is achieved and that countries are willing to listen.
  3. The protesters are rejecting sectarian divisions. In Lebanon, for example, religion and ethnic identity form a crucial part of how the government is formed and how people are treated. These protesters have essentially decided to do away with these divisive tactics and move towards equalizing all in government.
An image of the Peace sign
Peace Logo Wallpapers – Wallpaper Cave. Source: wallpapercave.com, Creative Commons

These characteristics directly coincide with many Algerian protests that began on February of 2019. During a panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Doha Center in partnership with Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, Haoues Taguia, a researcher for the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, described how Algerians are distancing themselves from being a parallel to the Arab Spring. He noted that these protests are relatively peaceful, combined with the fact that a large portion of the population from “all walks of life” came to participate, legitimizing the movement. Due to a lack of leadership within the movement, these protests will be initially successful, but chaos would ensue in the years to come without a solid and stable leadership structure. During the same event, Shafeeq Garba, a professor of Political Science at Kuwait University, also advised that other civilians of MENA countries should follow Algeria’s example in order to create dialogue for change. He noted that “in the violent alternatives to this, civil wars, everyone loses, and that if these revolutions don’t succeed, they will ultimately lead to failed states.”

Lebanon is another interesting case where protests are fundamentally changing the way that a legitimate government should operate. These protests came to fruition on October 17 due to new taxes on WhatsApp calls, which caused protesters to light “fires on main roads and [block] highways, while banks, schools, and universities closed.” This new tax became the tipping point for those agitated with the Lebanese government and how their politicians are manipulating the wealth and resources that Lebanon contains. Protesters have gone so far as to create a human chain across the country as a form of protest while also involving more and more students into the fray. According to Fatima al-Sheikh, a freshman student protester, many students thought that the sectarian leaders “looked out for [their] interests, even though [the students] knew they were corrupt and oppressive. But now [the students] feel that with our hearts, and we can’t go back from that.” These protests have raged on for more than a month. With elections soon, only time will tell whether or not these protests will ultimately succeed or rather be only one of many protests in the MENA region that result in chaos and a fractured country.

Arab Spring 2.0 may only seem like a relatively new phenomenon for the MENA region now, due to the rippling effects the first Arab Spring had and still has to this day in countries like Yemen and Libya. However, rising protests against a corrupt and unfair government have spawned all over the world, from Latin America (my recent post concerning Chile’s protests) to the Middle East. Since many of these protests have been led by students it just really comes to show how concerned many college-aged people are about whether or not their respective government will be able to fairly implement policies that benefit the entire nation rather than just the ruling class. In terms of Lebanon and Algeria, both countries are fighting to revamp their respective governments. By fighting to create fair elections that emphasize the importance of the people and not just the ruling elitist class, protesters in the MENA region symbolize the importance of human rights values such as equality in a government through democratic and fair elections.

Hashtags and Human Rights

A picture of nine hands each with different words on them. On the red, Freedom. On the second red, Trust. On the orange, Justice. On the limeish green, Love. On the green, Rule of Law. On the sky blue, Peace. On the darker blue, Prosperity. On the pink, Dignity. On the purple, Equality.
PSHRC – Punjab State Human Rights Commission. Source: Punjab State Human Rights Commission, Creative Commons

Throughout the history of humankind, the way in which people transmit news has evolved exponentially, from the word of mouth in the olden days to a simple click, swipe, and 240 characters. It connects you and I to events happening around the world, from concerts to social movements concerning human rights. But, to what extent does the hashtag, only a recent medium for communication, bring people together around a common goal or movement?

The hashtag originated in 2007 by Chris Messina as a way “to provide extra information about a tweet, like where you are or what event you’re referring to.” Later that October, during the San Diego wildfires, Messina simply created the hashtag “#sandiegofire” and included it with tweets, allowing others to engage with the conversation and gain an awareness of current events.

In terms of human rights, the hashtag has also been influential in bringing people together under a common cause, be it international crises, sexual harassment, or even just helping organizations raise money to cure diseases. Hashtag activism, as this is called, “is the act of fighting for or supporting a cause that people are advocating through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other networking websites.” It allows people to “like” a post and “share” a post to another friend, thus spreading awareness about the issue at large.

Where and How has the hashtag been influential?

As you might recall in 2014, many people around the world took part in the #ALSIceBucketChallenge, where participants would dump a bucket or a container of ice water on their heads. This challenge went so viral that a “reported one in six” British people took part. It also went so far as involving celebrities like Lady Gaga, which demonstrated its far reach and effectiveness. Despite many calling this challenge a form of slacktivism, (where one would simply like the post and involve very little commitment), the ALS Association raised over $115 million USD. Due to this striking number, the Association was able to fund a scientific breakthrough that discovered a new gene that contributed to the disease.

An image of a woman reacting to a splash of water from the top of her head. Basically a standard reaction from when someone does the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Free Stock Photo of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Source: Pixabay, Creative Commons

Then in 2017, the #MeToo movement sprung from the shadows, calling out sexual predators and forcing the removal of many high-profile celebrities, namely Harvey Weinstein. It went way beyond Turkana Burke, the founder of the MeToo movement from more than a decade ago, expected. It was through the use of social media that made #MeToo movement as large as it is today. As of 2018, the hashtag was used “more than 19 million times on Twitter from the date of [Alyssa] Milano’s initial tweet.” This effect, known as the Harvey Weinstein Effect, knocked many of the United States’ ‘top dogs’ from the limelight, revealing what could be behind the facade of power, wealth, and control that they hold. From Weinstein to George H.W. Bush to even U.S. Senate Candidate for Alabama Roy Moore, their reactions varied as much as the amount of people accused. Weinstein was ultimately fired, H.W. Bush apologized for his actions, and Moore denied the accusations. Through increased awareness and the ability to connect to virtually everywhere, women and men began to tell their stories and call attention to the actions of sexual predators.

An image of six people holding up a sign that spells out #METOO.
Pink Letters Forming the Word #MeToo. Source: Rawpixel, Creative Commons

Both the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the MeToo Movement allude to key human rights concerns, with ALS involving the life of a person through a disease and MeToo involving sexual harassment charges and claims. By eliminating the one thing that threatened the life or sanctity of a person (Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), a push towards human rights became realized. This demonstrates how hashtags are effective at promoting human rights issues among the general public, allowing these concerns to be confronted and resolved.

But where has the hashtag been limited in practice?

In April 2014, “276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the remote northeast Nigerian town of Chibok by Boko Haram.” Soon after this event, #BringBackOurGirls shot up to the trending page of Twitter, and was shared more than four millions times, making it one of Africa’s most popular online campaigns. Alongside massive support from the public also came backing from famous individuals such as Kim Kardashian, Michelle Obama, and many others. Even though this campaign helped bring to light the domestic conflict that “claimed at least 20,000 lives,” it only resulted in limited support and is, arguably, an indicator of ‘slacktivism’. With a majority of support coming from Twitter users residing in the United States, Nigerian politics dismissed this outrage as some sort of partisan opposition against the Nigerian president of the time. As Ufuoma Akpojivi (media researcher from South Africa) said, “There is a misconception that embracing social media or using new media technologies will bring about the needed change.” Even with the global outrage at the kidnapping of teenagers, not much action took place because of partisanship and US disconnection with Nigerian citizens.

An image of former First Lady Michelle Obama holding up a sign saying #BringBackOurGirls.
MJ-UPBEAT Bring Back Our Girls! Source: mj-upbeat.com, Creative Commons

Following, in 2018, hashtags such as #NeverAgain, #MarchForOurLives, and #DouglasStrong emerged as a response to the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, where teen personalities and activists Emma Gonzáles, David Hogg, and others began campaigning against the accessibility of guns. Such a movement gained considerable support, with over 3.3 million tweets including the #MarchForOurLives hashtag and over 11.5 million posts related to the March itself. Through the use of social media, the movement was born; however, one of the key things that March For Our Lives disregards is the bureaucratic system that the government embodies. Even though activists want rapid and sweeping changes to the system, Kiran Pandey notes how “there is only the trenchant continuation of political grandstanding, only this time it’s been filtered through the mouths of America’s youth.” Even with such declarations facing our bureaucratic system, alienating people with diverse viewpoints have made the movement weak and ineffective. It does not help when many people, including our friends and family own a gun. By attacking these owners and not focusing on saving lives, this movement has been, and will arguably be, stagnant until bipartisanship is emphasized and utilized.

An image of three kids surrounding a sign that says No Guns No Violence.
WR Nonviolence — Nonviolence makes the world a better place. Source: Waterloo Region Nonviolence, Creative Commons

Though both #BringBackOurGirls and #MarchForOurLives caused widespread protests and promoted awareness about the key issues of the time, it failed to generate support due to its limited field. In #BringBackOurGirls, many of the mentions came from U.S. Twitter users. Because the conflict was and is taking place in Nigeria, many of these tweets and protests have little to no say in the matter of forcing Boko Haram to return the kidnapped Nigerian girls. In the case of #MarchForOurLives, the movement failed to gain traction simply because of its push to call out those in support of having guns and the NRA caused the issue of safety and security of the person to become a partisan issue. Both issues are key human rights issues, however, they fail to capitalize on actual support and exclude those who have diverse views on the issue at hand.

How exactly could someone make a hashtag go viral?

Well, according to ReThink Media, an organization that works to build “the communications capacity of nonprofit think tanks, experts, and advocacy groups,” building a hashtag campaign for social impact includes three key areas to manage a hashtag campaign:

  1. Having a List of Your Supporters
    • Having influencers and connectors can help in a great way. By using a specific hashtag to a broad fanbase or following, having those influencers can help jump-start a movement and gain awareness rapidly about key issues of the time.
  2. Using the Right Terms at the Right Time
    • “Take too long to decide and the news cycle might pass you by.” By using terms that appeal to everyone and using them during critical news-worthy moments, it is easy to be able to attract everyone quickly. For example, if there was some type of crisis going on in the United States, having a relevant hashtag that appeals to everyone could allow more people to support that movement. Using terms that solely appeal to a political side may only be limited in scope.
  3. Have Supplemental Support Once the Hashtag Gets Posted
    • By using certain graphics or memes, combined with the regular posting of the hashtag overtime, during mid-day, more people could potentially get involved and push the movement towards social impact. It also allows people to gain awareness and spread that message to more people in their following.

Overall, hashtags can be effective when incorporating supplemental supporters and a non-partisan central focus. By supporting the movement through influencers and spreading awareness, such a movement could gain traction and provide real-time results, such as the removal of sexual predators from positions of power and gaining funding in order to cure a disease. However, a hashtag’s reliability is solely dependent on the users that spread it. Thus, social media can help people gain a social consciousness and support pivotal human rights issues when they matter most to those affected.

Providing Equal Justice for All

By Pamela Zuber

“We have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.” – Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy

Inside of a jail, a dark hallway with green jail cells on either side
Source: Pixabay

Money can’t buy happiness, but does it buy justice? Or, more accurately, does it help people avoid justice? Does money provide unfair advantages?

Athlete and actor O. J. Simpson famously assembled a team of some of the most prominent lawyers in the United States to defend him after he was accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend. Dubbed a legal dream team, these defenders helped Simpson win acquittal on criminal charges in 1995, although he was convicted of civil charges in 1997.

Wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein could have been convicted of federal sex crimes involving teenagers in 2008 but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a Florida state court. During his sentence, he was allowed to leave prison for up to twelve hours every day for six days a week. Epstein also had private security and his own psychologist while staying in a private wing of a Miami prison.

After serving thirteen months, Epstein traveled frequently to New York and the Virgin Islands while he was on probation. Epstein committed suicide in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. The trafficking trial continued after his death.

Did Simpson and Epstein’s money, power, and connections help them avoid justice? If so, what does that mean for the average person and can we do anything to change it?

Understanding poverty and imprisonment

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy … the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution

“If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you.”
– Description of Miranda warnings issued to suspects

According to the U.S. Constitution and the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Miranda v. Arizona, people accused of crimes have the right to obtain an attorney for their defense. Wealthier people have the financial resources and social connections that allow them to hire experienced private attorneys. If people cannot afford such legal assistance, they may defend themselves or receive the help of court-appointed attorneys.

Although court-appointed attorneys are sorely needed, the system that employs them has experienced major problems. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “[p]oor people in most jurisdictions do not get adequate legal representation. Only 24 states have public defender systems, and even the best of those are hampered by lack of funding and crippling case loads.”

Even if they secure representation at trials, poor people often cannot afford attorneys to represent them at appeals and other legal system procedures. Well-heeled suspects, meanwhile, can often better afford experienced representation throughout the judicial process and other benefits of such representation.

“People in prison and jail are disproportionately poor compared to the overall U.S. population,” noted the Prison Policy Initiative. “Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration; it is also frequently the outcome, as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates debt, and decimates job opportunities.” Even after poor people leave prison, their punishment continues. Poor people who are convicted of crimes often find it difficult to find jobs, housing, and other opportunities after they serve their sentences.

Much of this prosecution and imprisonment relates to drugs. “Over 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year on a drug law violation,” reported the Drug Policy Alliance.

While some people turn to selling drugs when they feel they have few other economic opportunities, that is not the case for many people arrested for drug violations. People may face severe penalties just for possessing drugs for their own personal use. If they’re poor, they’re less likely to have access to effective addiction treatment, so they have a greater chance of staying addicted. There is a greater likelihood that the police will catch them with drugs in their possession.

Once arrested, poor people face medical and psychological problems relating to their addiction. They face criminal and financial problems due to their arrest, incarceration, defense, and trial. Such problems often make poor people even poorer.

Making the legal system fairer

Picture of a judge's gavel
Source: Pixabay

Some areas are looking for ways to make justice fair for all, not just the more financially secure. Writing for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Wisconsin Public Radio, Emily Hamer and Sheila Cohen stated that “[t]he Wisconsin Constitution states cash bail can be used only as a means of making sure the accused appears for the next court hearing — meaning judges are not supposed to consider public safety when making decisions about bail.”

Similarly, in 2018, former California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 10, a measure that would have abolished cash bail in the state. The state’s bail bonds industry struck back. It collected enough signatures to make this measure a 2020 ballot referendum so voters could determine its validity. Between the 2018 bill signing and the 2020 referendum, some California courts and reformers worked to promote changes to California bail practices and courts.

Representation may be becoming fairer as well. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) investigated legal representation in the state of Michigan and found it wanting. In response, the state created the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission in 2013. The commission pays for staff members and training for cases and creates standards for court-appointed attorneys.

Michigan’s commission also includes a useful FAQ section on its website to help people understand and navigate the court-appointed attorney process. It describes how court-appointed attorneys must visit clients who have been jailed within three days, for example, and explains other rights of the accused.

Investigating laws and how they impact people

U.S. states are also investigating laws to determine if they’re fair to all of their residents. Many states have mandatory minimums, which are mandatory minimum sentences that people must serve if they’ve been convicted of certain crimes. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, during the 2016 fiscal year, African American and Hispanic people were more likely to be convicted of offenses that garner mandatory minimums.

The conviction rates of these groups don’t match their overall representation in the U.S. population. While Hispanic or Latino people accounted for 40.4 percent of the people convicted of mandatory minimum crimes in 2016, U.S. Census estimates from 2018 placed the Hispanic or Latino population of the United States at 18.3 percent. The U.S. census estimated the African American or black population as 13.4 percent in 2018, but people in this group accounted for 29.7 percent of mandatory minimum crime convictions.

Black and Latinx people traditionally have made less money than white people and continue to do so. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2017, the median average income for households who identified as white and not Hispanic was $68,145. For Hispanic households, the median income was $50,486, while the median income for black households was $40,258.

Lower incomes have traditionally meant that people were less likely to afford adequate legal assistance. They were forced to turn to overworked, underfunded legal defense programs for assistance, assistance that may have not had the time or financial resources to investigate and defend their cases. If their legal representation faced better financed opposition, accused people may have been more likely to lose their cases, serve lengthy prison sentences, and endure unbreakable cycles of poverty after their releases.

Changes such as bail reforms in Wisconsin and California and the creation of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission hope to end such unfair outcomes. They strive to make legal representation accessible to all. They aim to make justice truly just.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about various topics, including human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

Considering the ERA

by Pam Zuber

a photo of Alice Paul sewing the Suffrage flag
Alice Paul and the Suffrage flag. Source: Public domain

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Twenty-four words that may mean so much. The above words are the text of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Long discussed, the U.S. Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1972 but it has stalled since then. Not enough states have ratified this proposal to make it an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a basis of comparison, on the international level, the United Nations (UN) sponsors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The UN body adopted this convention five years after it was written. Do these differing timelines indicate different perspectives on women’s rights?

What’s the history of the ERA?

The ERA’s journey has indeed been long. Suffragist and feminist Alice Paul, who was instrumental in adding the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave American women the vote, proposed a version of the ERA as early as 1923:

“Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”

Feminists proposed this amendment to the U.S. Congress several times, although it did not pass. In 1943, Paul and her supporters revised the language of this proposal and pitched it to the U.S. Congress several times. Spurred by gains in the civil rights movement and the work of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other second-wave feminists, the proposal began to garner more support. Such support was from U.S. first ladies, presidents, various politicians, and other prominent people as well as much of the American public. The proposal also generated equally prominent criticism that contributed to its undoing. Conservative activists such as Phyllis Schlafly decried the ERA as unfeminine and threatening to the social order.

After passing the U.S. Congress, thirty-eight states needed to ratify the proposal by 1979 to make it a constitutional amendment. Legislators extended the deadline to 1982, but it didn’t help since only thirty-five states ratified the ERA by that date. Nevada and Illinois ratified the amendment in the 2000s, but Congress would have to pass legislation that extends the deadline to recognize the latest two ratifications. If this deadline is approved and if one more U.S. state approves the deadline, thirty-eight states will have ratified the amendment, although some states have rescinded their previous approval of the ERA. These rescissions make a complicated matter even more complicated.

Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter ERA
Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter ERA. Source: Public Domain

What could the ERA do?

If the ERA becomes an amendment on the U.S. Constitution, it could mean so much. On a very basic level, the amendment would be a formal, written statement of rights. While the U.S. Declaration of Independence states that all people are created equal and the Constitution makes it illegal to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” various authorities have not followed these directives. They capitalized on the vague nature of the language in those documents to create circumventing loopholes or ignored the language entirely.

By addressing the rights of women directly, the ERA is more specific. The U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts could judge individual cases based on this amendment. Legislative bodies could make laws using this amendment as a guide. The ERA could create precedents to follow or to dispute, precedents that would not be subject to the whims of the political considerations of presidential administrations or legislative bodies such as the U.S. Congress or U.S. Senate. Adding the ERA to the Constitution codifies rights for women, especially for women who work in government. It could help define their rights and assist them if they have grievances. It could help them secure better pay to close the wage gap, promote fairer conditions in the workplace, and help women find equality and attain opportunity in general. As a precedent, the ERA could serve as a model for other federal, state, and local laws to grant and protect women’s rights.

What’s the history of the CEDAW and what does it do?

Women’s rights are also a primary interest of the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). According to its text, governments that adhere to this convention must “commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including

  • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • to ensure the elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.”

Compared to the long, arduous journey of the ERA, the passage of the CEDAW was considerably quicker and less complicated. Working groups of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) created the text for the CEDAW in 1976. The General Assembly adopted it by a vote of 130 to zero in 1979. After the ratification of twenty member states, it became a convention in 1981. According to the UN, this passage occurred “faster than any previous human rights convention.” One notable country that hasn’t ratified the CEDAW is the United States. U.S. critics of the commission say that such international agreements threaten the sovereignty of the United States. Given the stalled progress of other pro-women initiatives such as the ERA in the country, this failure is disheartening but perhaps not that surprising.

Why isn’t the ERA the law?

While international organizations and governments CEDAW were able to draft, approve, and agree to the conditions of CEDAW (although they haven’t always abided by such conditions), the passage of the ERA continues to stall and generate debate. Why? Some people say that women don’t need the ERA. According to this perspective, U.S. women already have the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and other laws, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, to protect their civil rights. Others vehemently disagreed that the Fourteenth Amendment covers women’s rights, notably late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Current laws are inadequate to provide equal rights, say some scholars. Legal scholar and professor Catharine A. MacKinnon observed, “If we’re sexually assaulted if it isn’t within the scope of Title VII as it understands an employment relationship or Title IX in education, we don’t have any equality rights.” The ERA may help provide such rights. Given the current political climate, it is not surprising that the ERA has not passed. In fact, it seems amazing that Nevada and Illinois have ratified the ERA at all. Ideological impasses have prevented other types of political action in recent years. For instance, in 2016, members of the Republican Party refused to host hearings on whether Merrick Garland was suited to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court because Garland was a nominee of President Barack Obama, a member of the Democratic Party. Since the results of 2018 elections meant that the Democrats controlled the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate remained in the hands of Republicans, will political deadlocks continue and possibly become even worse? Some people fear that the ERA would expand abortion and create other conditions less favorable to conservative values, so they may be loath to ratify the ERA on a state level or vote in favor of laws that extend the deadline for the ERA on a federal level. They should consider ratifying the ERA and extending its deadline. Measures such as the ERA provide legal protection.

With this legal protection, women would have the security of knowing that they have legal recourse to address any conflicts that arise. Even better, this protection may prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place. No document is perfect. But adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides rights, opportunities for growth and advancement, and peace of mind. Not bad for a mere twenty-four words.

Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

 

The Power of Animations through Pixar

a picture of a praxinoscope
Praxinoscope. Source: joegoaukiffi3, Creative Commons

The beginning

Many of you have grown up watching animated films. They have a special place in our hearts and often cause us to reminisce on our childhood. Animated films have been around for hundreds of years, dating back to 1877 when the praxinoscope was invented. This device would allow you to see an animation by having pictures in a moving wheel. Thus, it would seem as if the pictures are moving due to a slightly different frame. Animations are not necessarily a genre, but instead a film technique. It becomes complicated when trying to determine when the first color animation came out since many films have been lost, although people presume it was around the 1920s. Shortly after, in 1928, Disney developed Mortimer Mouse, which turned into the iconic Mickey Mouse we all know.

Pixar

Pixar is a well-known company that produces numerous animations and is a branch of the Walt Disney Company. Pixar creates an environment where individuals can work together creatively. In fact, they have a meeting every couple of months called Braintrust, which is where employees can discuss ideas, progress, and struggles with their movies, stressing the importance of honesty. This ensures an environment where people can be flexible in their creativity.

“Creative culture can be created when you find people that are willing to level with you and make you grow. Once you see them, hold them close. – Eugene Eşanu

The first short film that Pixar Animation Studios produced was in 1986 and was called Luxo Jr. Due to the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), it was ahead of its time. What took people by surprise was how the objects could shed light and shadows on themselves, depicting three-dimensional imagery as more alive and realistic. Furthermore, this short film was able to connect to the audience through “emotional realism”, which is where animated characters portray feelings and emotions that resemble human experiences, so we the audience can relate. It was innovative, not just for Pixar but the entire industry. Luxo Jr. went on to win Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and inspired the creation of many other films such as Toy Story and Cars. As a result, Luxo Jr. was chosen to be preserved at the National Film Registry due to its “cultural, historical and aesthetical significance”. Without this film, who knows where the animation industry would be today.

a picture of Woody from Toy Story in the driver's seat
Pixar Motorama 2009. Source: Ben Ramirez, Creative Commons

Pixar Addresses Diversity

Becoming a director, in general, can be difficult. It becomes more complicated when you are a woman or person of color, especially in animation. During the span of seven years, only one major animation, across several companies such as Disney and Dreamworks, was directed by a woman (Jennifer Yuh Nelson directed Kung Fu Panda in 2011). In fact, Women in Animation found that “60% of all animation and art-school students are women, yet only 20% of creative jobs in the industry are currently held by women”. In order to address the inequality towards women and people of color, Pixar decided to launch a new program called SparkShorts.

This new program encompasses a series of short animated films that are meant to create more leadership opportunities for women and people of color.

Three of SparkShort’s films were released in February through YouTube with two of the directors being women:

  • The first SparkShort was called Purl and focuses on a pink ball of yarn who feels out of place amidst the humans. The film shows what it feels like for a woman, Purl, to be working in a predominantly male office. The reviews were stellar. Instead of focusing on the quality of the animation (which was excellent in its own right), compared to previous films, people are focusing on the narrative of the story.
  • The second film, Kitbull, sets the scene for an abused Pitbull becoming friends with a stray kitten, hence the name of the film. It sends a powerful message of love, corruption, and friendship. It brings about the controversial topic, the No Kill Movement that advocates for stopping the killing of healthy and treatable animals due to convenience.
  • The third released film, Smash and Grab, tells the story of two robots by the same names who are best friends. Smash’s job is to break rocks and to pass them to Grab who throws it into a furnace. Their routine is the same every day, with an occasional break for playing catch with the rocks. However, the robots cannot leave because they are restrained by a long cable but Smash notices that there is a world where robots could be free and together they decide to escape. This film is unique in that it does not contain any dialogue. However, the theme of friendship is clear.

What Lies Ahead

The films do not end there. In the upcoming year, three more are expected to be released. The first film, Wind, will be directed by a Korean American director, Edwin Chang. The genre is magical realism film about a grandmother and her grandson. The second film will be the first of its kind to have Pinoy characters. Bobby Rubio is the director of Float, a story about a father protecting his son. The third film, Loop, will be directed by Erica Milsom, which will portray a non-verbal autistic girl. These films pave the way for future films by creating narratives that touch on the representation of all people and is not afraid to shed light on stigmatized topics. Furthermore, it creates discussions on the characters and their representation, fatherhood and masculinity, and people with disabilities. The films are not afraid to portray the difficult issues that affect people worldwide. This is just the beginning; these short films can change the industry and people’s perspectives on important topics.

Why it matters

In reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all humans have equal rights. It is not dependent on one’s gender, race, or religion. People have the right to work without experiencing discrimination and the film industry has a past at doing this. When underrepresented people see themselves in film it creates a chain reaction. Films have the power to shape how audiences perceive the world and it has the potential to instill empathy by breaking through barriers such as race, geography, and gender. Pixar is breaking the typical standards of the animation industry. In fact, their ideas are breaking the mold for people; it has the ability to normalize commonly stigmatized topics. It can lead us to the idea of inclusivity. I leave you with one final message, “To infinity … and beyond.”