Social Justice, Democratization and Social Movements

Brazilian Democracy on the Brink

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


After years of corruption scandals, economic malaise, and deepening political polarization, Brazilians have lost faith in the promise of democracy, and could soon elect a dangerous authoritarian to the presidency. Before going to the polls on October 7, Brazilians should understand exactly what a vote for Jair Bolsonaro would mean for the future of their country.

RIO DE JANEIRO – With Brazil’s presidential and state elections just days away, the country’s citizens are frustrated, disillusioned, and angry. Many are taking to the streets, disgusted by years of cynical politics, breathtaking corruption, economic stagnation, and obscene levels of crime. Although roughly 85% of Brazil’s 147 million voters agree that the country is heading in the wrong direction, they are more polarized than ever, both online and offline. These deepening divisions threaten to squeeze the life out of democracy in South America’s largest country.

Not since the restoration of democracy in 1985 has a Brazilian election been so contentious and unpredictable. At stake is the presidency, but also positions for 27 state governors, 54 senators and nearly 1,600 elected officials. Although 69% of Brazilians have faith in democracy, more than half admit they would “go along” with a non-democratic government so long as it “solved problems.” Despite efforts by a new generation of young leaders working to restore faith in democracy, Brazilians are ranked as the least trusting and most pessimistic people in Latin America today. And now, the rise of digital propaganda and fake news is making a bad situation much worse.

Still, the suffocation of Brazilian democracy is not inevitable. While hard to imagine at the moment, its revival will require a combination of foresight, self-awareness, humility, and the courage to confront seemingly insurmountable class and racial divisions, and even rifts within families.

Among the crop of presidential candidates in this cycle, a few thrive on division, while most – including Marina Silva, the only woman in the race – advocate a middle ground. Unfortunately, the populists are ascendant, and the pragmatists have struggled to break through. Opinion polls suggest that the election will most likely come down to a second-round contest between the ultra-right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro and the left-wing Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, a former São Paulo mayor.

Despite spending 27 years in government, Bolsonaro is campaigning as a “drain the swamp” outsider. With the blessing of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the jailed ex-leader of the Workers’ Party, Haddad is promising to restore economic prosperity. Although at least a third of Brazilians appear to be rallying around Bolsonaro, an even greater share of the electorate, including a growing coalition of women, adamantly opposes him.

Bolsonaro has gained a surprisingly wide, and in some cases fanatical, following. Some of his base – 60% of whom are men aged 16-34 – share his worldview. Many Brazilians, including women, also like his “tough on crime” message. And many of the country’s business elite see Bolsonaro – along with his running-mate, the retired army general Hamilton Mourão, and his Chicago School financial adviser, Paulo Guedes – as a bulwark against the return of the Workers’ Party.

It would be naive to dismiss Bolsonaro as a “useful idiot” for the conservative establishment. His turn to economic liberalism flies in the face of a long record of support for state-driven development. And, like US President Donald Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Bolsonaro is an expert at sowing division. Following the populist playbook, he portrays Brazilian society as comprising two homogeneous and antagonistic groups: the “real people” and the “elites.” As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University have shown, this attack on “mutual toleration” strikes at the foundation of democracy.

Brazil’s three major political parties also share blame for the country’s deepening divisions. Faced with mounting corruption scandals, both Lula and former President Dilma Rousseff, also of the Workers’ Party, routinely invoked us-versus-them rhetoric. They dismissed damning evidence unearthed during the “Operation Car Wash” investigations as an elitist conspiracy against a popularly elected government. The country’s other two main parties, meanwhile, confirmed Workers’ Party supporters’ fears when they voted to impeach Rousseff in August 2016. What Workers’ Party loyalists described as an illegal coup reinforced Brazil’s divisions. The new government was itself soon ensnared in corruption scandals, and its popularity plummeted.

For almost three decades, first as a city councilor and then as a congressman, Bolsonaro waited in the wings for precisely this moment. Promising “clean government” and “law and order,” and casting himself as the champion of the military and police, he has the credentials to lead an authoritarian backlash. Bolsonaro has repeatedly supported the military dictatorship that reigned from 1964 to 1985, when the government tortured and murdered its opponents. As far back as 1999, he called for the National Congress to be shuttered, and lamented that the dictatorship had not killed 30,000 more people, starting with former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Moreover, in a country with the world’s highest number of police killings, Bolsonaro has openly supported expanding official impunity, saying that police who kill “bandits” should be awarded medals, not penalized. Despite soaring gun violence and 45,000 firearm-related homicides in 2018, he objects to all gun regulation and is the only candidate calling for repeal of the country’s Disarmament Statute, which is credited with saving more than 160,000 lives. And in a country that already has more than 725,000 people in jail, he wants to reduce the age of criminal liability from 18 to 16 – or even 14 – and, not surprisingly, wants to restore the death penalty.

Having secured support from several influential evangelical leaders, Bolsonaro also supports religious interference in public life. Last year, Bolsonaro declared that Brazil is a Christian country; that there is no such thing as a secular state; and that those who disagree should leave or bow to the majority. He also adamantly opposes gay marriage, condones hate speech against LGBTQ people, and has been sanctioned no fewer than 30 times since 1991 by the Brazilian Bar Association for racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. In 2011, he said that he would rather have a dead son than a gay one.

Bolsonaro also routinely taunts women about rape and expresses misogynist views. He once told a female fellow legislator, “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it,” and he is on record calling a female journalist a “whore.” Furthermore, Bolsonaro is openly hostile toward Afro-Brazilian communities, indigenous populations, and members of landless movements, whom he has described as terrorists.

Lastly, Bolsonaro fundamentally rejects climate science and favors Brazil’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, claiming that climate change is a “fable” and nothing more than a “globalist conspiracy.” Brazil’s Congress, unlike the US Senate, actually ratified the Paris agreement, making withdrawal less likely. Even so, Bolsonaro and his three eldest sons – all of them elected officials – regularly describe global warming as a fraud.

Bolsonaro is frequently characterized as a comical character or a “Tropical Trump.” But if one takes his record at face value, it should be clear that his candidacy is no laughing matter. Like Trump, he is more a symptom of division than a cause. Like Trump, he has said he will reject the election’s outcome if he does not win. But he is also potentially more destructive than Trump, and Brazil’s democracy is much younger and more fragile than that of the United States. He was not considered a serious contender until quite recently – just as few saw Trump coming until it was too late.


Robert Muggah is the co-founder and research director of Instituto Igarapé and a co-founder and principal of the SecDev Group.


By            :               Robert Muggah

Date         :               October 5, 2018

Source     :               Project Syndicate


Education professors integrate education and Latin American social movements

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — John Holst and Rebecca Tarlau are exploring social movements, education and sociology with their work in South America and the United States. Their work is both international and interdisciplinary; it is inspired by Italian philosophers and Brazilian educators and made possible through collaboration of colleagues from multiple disciplines.

Holst and Tarlau, who work together within the Department of Learning and Performance Systems in the Lifelong Learning and Adult Education program, have focuses in adult education and both have ties to South America. Before they even knew each other, the two contributed to the same book.

Inspired by the work of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, the book “Antonio Gramsci: A Pedagogy to Change the World” includes chapters from an international group of scholars in education, linguistics, political science and philosophy, including Holst and Tarlau.

Gramsci, whose work is used across many disciplines, isn’t necessarily considered an educator, although many in the field of adult education consider him to be one.

“Whenever we work on topics related to Gramsci or use any of his concepts, we end up running into, or working with, people from multiple disciplines,” Holst said, “I think that book is a good example of folks in education, particularly in adult education, working in an interdisciplinary manner.”

The book, according to Holst, is interdisciplinary in the sense that a number of educators worked on it, alongside people working in linguistics, philosophy, political science and sociology.

“Working with co-editor Nico Pizzolato we brought together these chapters from multiple disciplines, from multiple countries around the world, all dealing with Antonio Gramsci from a pedagogical, or educational standpoint,” Holst said. “Some of it is more philosophical inquiry, some of it is based on empirical research.”

Although Holst and Tarlau have been at Penn State for only a short time, they already have integrated themselves into a community of people from many disciplines, specifically by joining a social movement working group.

The group, run by John McCarthy, distinguished professor of sociology, has members from multiple colleges, including political science professors from the College of the Liberal Arts and faculty in the Smeal College of Business.

In an effort to bring together more people from a variety of disciplines, Holst and Tarlau are looking to create an initiative that would focus on combining sociology, social theories and social movements with education.

“I think John and I being at Penn State is a unique opportunity for us to reach out to other faculty across the University and heighten this interest,” Tarlau said. “We think that Penn State could be a center point for students across the country and the world who are interested in studying social movements and education.”

Not only is their work interdisciplinary, but it is international. Tarlau’s forthcoming book with the Oxford University Press, “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How The Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education,” is an account of how a major social movement in Brazil has succeeded in transforming the rural public education system to promote more collective and social values.

After spending many years studying social movements and education in Brazil, Tarlau believes the United States could learn a lot from the approaches that are being taken in the South American country.

“We often think about the United States as teaching the Global South, teaching poorer countries how they should do things,” Tarlau said, “But I think Brazil and the way that social movements [there] use Freirean education gives great examples to how our social movements could incorporate education in a deeper way.”

Holst and Tarlau also are interested in Paulo Freire, an educator from Brazil. Freire was one of the most important educational theorists of the 20th century, according to Tarlau. He was also a major inspiration for the social movement that is the focus of her aforementioned book.

Holst was introduced to Freire through his involvement with a community center in Chicago, and has impacted many with his work based around Freirean concepts. More specifically, an article Holst wrote about Freire is used in the social justice program at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Also, a book he co-wrote impacted study groups in Bellingham, Washington, during the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Holst, and his wife María Alicia Vetter, who is Chilean and a researcher herself, recently returned from Chile. There, they spent time strengthening their connections to Chilean academic and research institutions. Their overall goal is to develop a larger network of people in that region.

Tarlau’s extensive work in Brazil, and Holst’s connections to Chile, are two factors that motivate the two to continue with the work they are doing.

Holst and Tarlau applied for and received a Global Programs Faculty Travel Grant from the Office of Global Programs and plan to use the money to create a yearly study abroad program focusing on education and social movements in Latin America.

“The idea is that it would be a yearly, short-term, summer, study-abroad trip,” Holst said. “We would like to begin with a trip to either Chile or Brazil and then expand it to include Cuba, Mexico or El Salvador.”

With the goal of visiting a different country every year — or even two countries per year to do a comparative study — Holst and Tarlau are working to merge education and sociology with the help of scholars from multiple disciplines continue to make a difference in the way social movements and theory are viewed in connection to education.


By            :               Jessica Buterbaugh

Date         :               September 19, 2018

Source     :               Penn State News



Nike’s Kaepernick ad is what happens when capitalism and activism collide

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


There aren’t many entities in our lives that have voices as loud as those of corporations. They buy up air time between the shows we watch, or sometimes placement within them; elbow their way into our social media feeds; and plaster their ads all over our physical spaces.

While their encroachment into ever more aspects of our daily existence has been underway for decades, it’s worth remembering that only in the last couple did they really start to make their voices heard on contentious political and social matters.

“When I first began studying the interactions between social movements and corporations 25 years ago, it was rare to see business take a public stand on social issues,” Jerry Davis, a University of Michigan professor of management and sociology, wrote in a piece for the Conversation, detailing the rise of corporate social activism. They may have publicly voiced their opinions on topics like taxes and regulations, but remained “scrupulously neutral” otherwise, he explained, because they had little, if anything, to gain by speaking out.

That has all changed, of course, as Nike recently demonstrated when it chose to include former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in its ad campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the slogan “Just Do It.”

Kaepernick has been the figurehead for a movement of NFL players kneeling during the US national anthem in protest of police killings of unarmed black Americans. Reactions to those protests have been heated and sharply split down political lines. Though neither the ad nor the Kaepernick-narrated commercial Nike released explicitly mentions the protests, police shootings, or anything controversial, Kaepernick has become so synonymous with his kneeling that the two can hardly be separated. The tagline also alludes to his allegation that he remains unemployed as a quarterback because the NFL has colluded to ban him: ”Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Calls for boycotts of Nike predictably ensued, including from police organizations and at least one town mayor.

Still, many saw Nike’s ad as a shrewd business move. About two-thirds of Nike’s core customers are under 35, according to research firm NPD Group, and they tend to side with Kaepernick. Those young consumers, it’s said over and over, increasingly want to know that the values of the brands they’re buying align with their own, a desire that appears to have only grown stronger since US president Donald Trump’s election. In the aftermath of the campaign, wearing Nike practically became a political statement.

In that regard the episode highlights a change in the role corporations play in public life, particularly when it comes to politically sensitive subjects: Where once they feared to speak up, now it can actually be a liability for them to remain silent. But when for-profit enterprises insert themselves in issues like these, they invariably raise questions about their motivations and how much of the spotlight they should or shouldn’t take. They can wield a great deal of power with those big, far-reaching voices they have, and it matters how they use them.

For justice and profit

Even people who support Kaepernick and the NFL protesters may not love the idea of Nike using him in its marketing. One criticism is that it dilutes and commercializes Kaepernick’s message. Another is that it conflates buying Nike products with genuine activism. Among the most incisive to make the point was Hemal Jhaveri, who wrote in USA Today’s sports blog, For The Win:

Just as the beauty industry co-opted female empowerment and body positivity to sell soap and eyeliner, Nike’s ad creates a disturbing correlation between Kaepernick’s act of political protest, which required immense personal sacrifice, and the act of buying shoes and workout gear. For all their good intentions, this is the inevitable result of tying a political movement to a brand. Supporting Nike isn’t the same thing as supporting Black Lives Matter, but Nike certainly would be OK if you thought so.

Nike may well have been sincere in its support of Kaepernick. The company, which employs a notably diverse staff, has a long history of speaking out against racism, and Nike CEO Mark Parker has directly addressed the violence faced by black Americans too. In 2016, he sent a letter to Nike employees denouncing the persistence of racial discrimination, and concluded it with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. (Nike declined to comment for this story.)

But the New York Times also reported (paywall) that Nike was on the verge of dropping Kaepernick before it abruptly decided to include him in the Just Do It campaign. Nike had signed him to an endorsement deal years ago, but once he was out of the NFL, the company wasn’t sure it had any use for him. There were no team jerseys to put his name on. An internal debate reportedly ensued, and ultimately Nike renewed its deal with him and put him in the new ads.

Kaepernick still has little to do with any product Nike sells, but his attractiveness to Nike isn’t really about moving more units of a specific jersey or sneaker. It’s about branding, a discipline that has been a growing preoccupation of corporations. At least since mass manufacturing led businesses to search for ways to distinguish their own products from a growing sea of similar choices, companies and their ad agencies have swayed shoppers with brand images, made up of associations that go far beyond the usefulness of a product.

The author and activist Naomi Klein describes the evolution of the abstract but emotionally charged brand in her influential polemic No Logo. ”The search for the true meaning of brands—or the ‘brand essence,’ as it is often called—gradually took the agencies away from individual products and their attributes and toward a psychological/anthropological examination of what brands mean to the culture and to people’s lives,” she writes. “This was seen to be of crucial importance, since corporations may manufacture products, but what consumers buy are brands.”

It’s the reason perfume commercials are so strange. And why advertisers set rules about what sorts of stories their ads can run next to in the media. And why they pay to see their products appear in movies and television shows.

Nike may make its money designing and selling sneakers, but even Nike co-founder Phil Knight has acknowledged that, at this stage, Nike is a “marketing-oriented company.” An indisputable part of what made it the immense success it is today is its ability to make itself synonymous with athleticism and transcendence through sport. Rebellion has been a key ingredient in that image making, animating ads like the Charles Barkley “I am not a role model” spot from 1993, or its 1987 ad promoting Nike Air with the Beatles song “Revolution” (devised by the agency Wieden+Kennedy, the same that created the new Kaepernick ad).

The Kaepernick ad recasts the struggles he has personally faced in his fight against a serious problem in American society—the continued killing of black Americans by police—as a rebellious act of transcendence that Nike absorbs into its own brand image.

Debates about whether corporate advertising tied to social causes is shameless profiteering or represent genuine efforts to effect change go back a long way. In No Logo, Klein points to examples of companies, including Benetton and The Body Shop, and their apparently heartfelt marketing campaigns that promoted progressive ideas.

An ad, of course, also lets the corporation share the spotlight with the cause it’s promoting and any associated virtues—far more so than if it were to quietly give money or assistance in other ways. Corporations frame these efforts as a way to use their powerful megaphones to amplify valuable social messages. And it’s true that in a capitalist democracy, where access to consumers is bought and sold, they can play a huge part in promoting worthy causes.

Representation through advertising

Whatever the problems inherent in marketing like the Kaepernick ad, it can’t be denied that Nike’s including him in the campaign has meant a great deal to a great many people, and in particular to black Americans. Black Lives Matter formed partly in response to the feeling that violence by US law enforcement had gone on without change or consequences for years. History by then suggested that the pleas of black Americans were just not being heard.

When Nike put Kaepernick, who had dared to draw attention to the issue on a national stage, in its ad, it affirmed that a powerful force in American life was listening and willing to publicly amplify the message.

“I think it’s a tremendous ad, personally as an African-American,” says Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director and co-founder of the Perception Institute, which works to reduce bias and discrimination across various fields. “[A] corporate brand taking a stand to say, ‘Yes we see you, and yes black lives matter,’ I think that’s just incredibly powerful.”

Actress Jenifer Lewis, one of the stars of Black-ish, embodied this feeling when she chose to wear Nike at the Emmy Awards recently.

Johnson is fully aware that Nike might have financial motivations, but to her, that’s just part of how America operates. “We live in an ecosystem of capitalism, and so social justice is living in a very complicated structure of capitalism,” she says.

She believes it was an appropriate use of Nike’s platform, in contrast to Pepsi’s ill-conceived commercial with Kendall Jenner, which critics condemned as trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement. That ad featured Jenner amid a protest that looked noticeably similar to recent ones against police brutality, only it reached its climax with Jenner emerging from the protesters to hand a police officer a Pepsi, miraculously establishing peace between the two sides.

That business considerations were probably involved in Nike’s calculus about its ad also doesn’t bother Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, an online social-justice organization. “Of course it was a business decision,” he says. Nike, he points out, is a corporation in service of its shareholders.

“I think this says less about Nike and more about how much Colin Kaepernick and so many others have moved the needle in terms of how the public views him,” Robinson notes. “The fact that supporting [the NFL] protesters, supporting people speaking out, is considered good business shows how far the protests have come in terms of their acceptance and where the American population is at.” The lunch-counter protesters of the Civil Rights movement, by contrast, took much longer to turn from villains to heroes.

It’s an important point. The capitalist ecosystem doesn’t just cycle in one direction; the fact that brands need our dollars also lets us exert our influence on them. Johnson points to the highly effective boycotts of the Civil Rights movement as an example, and adds, “At the same time, when somebody does something right, it’s important to reward it and say, ‘I want to see more of this.’”

The pressure to be “authentic”

Corporations find themselves on very unfamiliar ground compared to a few decades ago. In a report last year, A.T. Kearney, a global consulting firm, argued that a fundamental shift is taking place in the balance of power between corporations and customers. In the past, it said, corporations sat at the center of the marketplace. Information and influence traveled, for the most part, in one direction, from businesses out to shoppers, whose self-worth was tied to what they bought and how much of it they owned.

Today, though, that dynamic has changed because of demographic shifts, changing values, and the hyper-connectivity offered by the internet and social media. Consumers can collectively be as loud as brands online, where they form communities based largely on shared values and beliefs. Information and influence don’t move in one direction, but several. Brands aren’t dictating the terms any longer, which means it’s become more important for them to draw in consumers by talking to them personally, earning their trust, and being authentic.

And in the politically polarized US, explains Aaron Chatterji, a professor of business and public policy at Duke University, to be authentic generally means taking a stance on contentious topics. “We’re so divided in this country, and these issues are so clearly partisan on both sides,” he says. “Well, if you don’t have an opinion, you must be trying to have it both ways.”

Even if a corporation does have an opinion, the accusation remains a risk. Nike, for instance, has been called out for promoting itself as progressive with the Kaepernick ad, even as it faces a lawsuit from former employees over widespread gender discrimination within the company and donates large sums of money to Republican committees and candidates.

Chatterji says CEOs and companies in the US really started to get much more vocal with their activism around 2015. That was the year Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke out against (paywall) legislation allowing discrimination against gay people in the name of religious freedom. Often these corporate leaders do it out of real conviction about an issue. But they’re also expected to more than before, now that many CEOs are essentially celebrities with a direct line to the public via social media (see Elon Musk).

Though Chatterji notes that CEOs and companies do still face criticism for speaking out. “What’s interesting is it tends to come from different parts of the political spectrum, depending who you’re talking about,” he says. Liberals don’t want to hear brands espouse conservative viewpoints anymore than conservatives want brands taking liberal stances.

It puts brands in a difficult situation. They have the money and the ability to broadcast their message to a large audience that demands to know what their values are, but in staking a position they risk alienating a lot of the population in the process. Ultimately they have to weigh the risks, and decide the best route, financially and morally.

Nike built its business with the steady support of black Americans, including the extraordinary athletes it has signed over the years as well as the fans who have long bought up its sneakers. It has benefited from the creative energy of America’s rich and influential black culture. There is little debate over Colin Kaepernick among black Americans, and their many allies. There’s only right and wrong.

“I think it was a huge brand risk for them, obviously given the climate that we are in,” Johnson of the Perception Institute says of the chance Nike took putting Kaepernick in an ad. “But I think what they were doubling down on was the fact that if they stood on the right side of justice, and affirmed the humanity of black Americans, and the work that Colin Kaepernick is doing, that they would be rewarded.”

Those rewards aren’t guaranteed. They have to be earned, which means companies will keep wading into issues of politics and social change. “Every company talks about their corporate values and their culture,” Chatterji says. “But now with what’s going on in the political world, they’re being forced to figure out whether they actually stand for that stuff or not.”


By            :               Marc McBain

Date         :               September 29, 2018

Source     :               Quartz



#MeToo movement sweeps into India’s newsrooms

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


Most media managers fail to recognize sexual harassment as an abuse of power, and a conspiracy of silence keeps the devastating problem hidden

Finally, the tsunami of the global #MeToo movement has hit newsrooms in India, as scores of women have taken to social media to expose their alleged harassers.

As I write this, a colleague calls, crying on the phone as a past harasser sends her an apology after five years. Another male colleague calls to reflect on his past behavior. The #MeToo movement is just beginning to have consequences, some intended, and most not.

For decades, allegations were only whispered, with women quietly alerting colleagues of predatory bosses who assaulted or forced them into uncomfortable positions. But a horrific gang rape on December 16, 2012, opened the floodgates for a deeper conversation around sexual violence against women in India, and the Congress-led UPA government immediately formed a committee under a former Chief Justice of India, Justice J. S. Verma.

The Justice Verma Committee looked at issues of rape, sexual assault and harassment and produced a comprehensive report which formed the basis for reforming existing rape laws and ushered in a new law. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, was introduced to close a major loophole in the law that failed to address the rampant harassment that female employees faced almost daily. The Verma Committee even listened to  women working in informal sectors, ensuring that even the marginalized had a voice.

While newspapers and TV stations gave these events back-to-back coverage, they forgot to look in their backyards, leading to a rush of cases that remained under wraps.

The conspiracy of silence

For decades, the media was seen as the only institution in India that could hold truth to power and interrogate those in government and industry. Seen as an instrument to gain independence from colonial Britain, many media houses became institutions that took on power structures and expose corruption.

But sexual harassment remained beyond the purview of any institution or statute and many non-profit organizations created to uphold media ethics also ignored the problem.

As a case in point, a couple of years ago when an accusation of sexual harassment was brought against one of the senior members of the non-profit Foundation for Media Professionals, the group refused to accept the victim’s complaint. She called for the individual to step down as the position was supposed to uphold ethics in the media. However, one of the office bearers wrote to her describing the episode as “…a micro scrutiny of one member” who had been accused. They dismissed her narrative as a non-issue.

All that changed on Friday when a group of women took to social media to post claims of harassment and inappropriate advances. The law is clear that even inappropriate advances are actionable and an internal committee must investigate every incident brought to its notice.

Rama Dwiwedi, a young journalist in Delhi, called out the founding editor of a small Kashmir-based magazine called The Kashmirwalla. In her Facebook post she alleged that Fahad Shah had molested her and a friend at a party. She also tagged her friend Akaknsha Narain, who was also at the party. In her post she claims that Shah “touched” her  “inappropriately” and then proceeded to lock himself in the washroom with Narain. She said he later explained his behavior as being “too drunk”.

A news report on the website Firstpost also named Prashant Jha, the political bureau chief of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest newspapers, for sending inappropriate texts to his junior colleague, Avantika Mehta. While Mehta was initially unidentified in the story, she took to Twitter a day later, to out Jha’s text messages to her and tell her story. She told how she tried to remind Jha that he was married and that the texts from him in the middle of the night were making her uncomfortable.

Others also came out to name Gautam Adhikari, the former executive editor of The Times of India, and K.R. Sreenivas, the paper’s resident editor in the Hyderabad city edition as harassers. But the response so far has only ended up highlighting the serious depth of the problem.

Problematic response

Most of the editors who head the news organizations where employees  were named and accused, remained silent after their colleagues were outed. The few official responses that came out were unsatisfactory.

The general counsel and company secretary of HT Media, which owns the Hindustan Times issued a statement to The Wire website stating: “We will start an investigation immediately and follow our policies to the core.” He also said that had Mehta flagged the incidents during her time at HT “action would have been taken.”

The response indicates that newsrooms have not been able to provide safe workplaces for women, or an environment where they can freely  come forward with complaints. Even though a law exists, along with detailed procedures to deal with such issues, it is up to the editors and the managements to ensure safe workplaces. Mehta’s case exposes this reality.

Most media organizations have also failed to recognize that sexual harassment is an abuse of power. Senior editors have managed to get away with past abuses because investigations focused only the extent of their transgressions, if at all. In most cases, they would be dismissed as “harmless flirting” while the victims would be eased out of their positions. This blatant misuse of authority has never been recognized institutionally.

Ironically, the media, which is supposed to offer a voice to the voiceless, has instead become a tool to suppress the voices of thousands of women who have suffered in silence for decades.


By            :               Saikat Datta

Date         :               October 7, 2018

Source     :               AsiaTimes


Why Latin America Should Recognize Venezuelans as Refugees

By SOCVS | Published: OCTOBER 12, 2018


Latin America has one of the world’s most advanced approaches to refugees, yet it is reluctant to apply it to Venezuelans. Expert Luisa Feline Freier argues that the Venezuelan displacement crisis is a crucial test for the Cartagena Declaration

An estimated 3 million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years. According to their refugee laws, most Latin American countries ought to recognize these Venezuelan migrants as refugees. Yet they have been reluctant to do so.

The region developed one of the world’s most advanced approaches to refugees in a 1984 declaration in Cartagena, Colombia. Going beyond the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, the Cartagena Declaration defines refugees as people who flee their country “because their lives, security or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.”

The Cartagena definition, then, not only focuses on the well-founded fear of being individually persecuted but also includes adverse circumstances that a country may go through that would cause large groups of people to flee.

Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay have all included the Cartagena refugee definition in their national refugee legislation.

In private conversations, many officials and representatives of international organizations share the assessment that the forced displacement of Venezuelans falls under the Cartagena definition. Yet the political cost of being the first and potentially only country to recognize this publicly is high. Governments fear this could lead to a further influx of Venezuelans to their countries, putting more stress on already underperforming public services and stirring xenophobic sentiment.

There thus exists an official consensus in the region that Cartagena does not apply to the Venezuelan displacement crisis. “The situation in Venezuela is not as bad yet,” a high-ranking official of Peru’s refugee department declared at an event in Lima on World Refugee Day on June 20.

Somewhat surprisingly, only a small fraction of Venezuelans have filed asylum claims. Many do not know that they can apply for asylum, while others do not want to be recognized as refugees because they feel it comes with a stigma attached.

Even so, asylum applications by Venezuelans have almost tripled each year since 2014. Numbers worldwide rose from 3,975 in 2014 to 113,428 in 2017. In 2018, 126,998 Venezuelans had applied for asylum in Peru by mid-June, 72,722 in the U.S. by the end of June and 57,575 in Brazil by the end of July, according to the latest data compiled by UNHCR.

However, Latin American governments are processing only a small number of applications. For example, from 2014 to 2017, Peru decided only 971 cases, accepting 239 and rejecting 548. The large number of claims left pending – whether through lack of capacity, deliberate policy or both – leaves Venezuelans without adequate protection.

The low levels of refugee recognition come despite Venezuela’s socioeconomic, political and humanitarian crisis meeting three of the Cartagena criteria: generalized violence, massive violation of human rights and other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order.

Regarding generalized violence, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), Venezuela is the second most violent country in the world, with a homicide rate of 89 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017. While the Venezuelan government did not release any official figures on crime for 2017, unofficial statistics indicate that most categories of crime increased that year.

The government’s countermeasures of militarizing public security and the increasing participation of civilians in armed groups and “colectivos” have worsened the situation. According to the Committee of Relatives of Victims (COFAVIC), the number of extrajudicial executions grew by 37 percent in 2015 and by 70 percent in 2016. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the deployment of the military and armed civilian militias seriously compromised the state’s duty to ensure its citizens’ security and safeguard their human rights.

Concerning the massive violation of human rights, the government led by President Nicolas Maduro represses any form of opposition. Those who disagree with the government run the risk of reprisals, including arrest and dismissal from public office. IACHR has declared that Venezuela’s practice of requiring authorization for any public demonstration is incompatible with inter-American standards, violating the right to protest and freedom of expression.

Thousands of people have been arrested without a warrant based on the mere suspicion that they are supporters of the opposition. Protesters have been prosecuted under military criminal jurisdiction and prisoners have become victims of torture and sexual violence. The right to freedom of expression is further curtailed by censorship and the shutdown of media outlets, harassment of journalists and criminalization of information opposing the regime.

Finally, regarding other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order, as referred to in the Cartagena Declaration, Venezuela is going through a severe humanitarian crisis. At the end of 2017, 87 percent of the population in Venezuela lived in poverty, with 80 percent affected by food insecurity. In December, aid group Caritas said there were close to 300,000 malnourished children at risk of starving, with six dying every week in the Venezuelan capital Caracas alone. Ninety percent of households could not afford children’s daily meals, and 33 percent of children showed irreversible mental and physical developmental delays, according to the charity.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan health system has collapsed, with a severe lack of medicine and materials for medical treatment. Venezuela’s education system has also been compromised by the lack of teachers and materials.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the IACHR consider that the broad circumstances leading to the outflow of Venezuelans fall within the definition of Cartagena and see its application as a potential solution to the Venezuelan displacement crisis.

Given the potentially high cost of being the first or only country to apply Cartagena, regional cooperation is essential to reach a joint response and adhere to the spirit of Cartagena.

This would be the first time that Cartagena is applied as a definition to groups of people prima facie and would significantly strengthen the region’s progressive protection framework. If countries continue to resist applying Cartagena, they run the risk of reducing their heralded legislation to mere words and window dressing.


Luisa Feline Freier is assistant professor of social and political sciences at the Universidad del Pacifico in Peru. She holds a PhD in government from the London School of Economics. Her research focuses on immigration and refugee policies in Latin America.


By            :               Luisa Feline Freier

Date         :               September 28, 2018

Source     :               NewsDeeply