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Community empowerment vital for sustainable development

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Dawn, The Newspaper’s Staff reported today on how ‘Community empowerment vital for sustainable development’. This story is reproduced here for its vital importance for a well balanced and above all serene future.

ISLAMABAD: Leaders and political workers must break through political, ethnic and regional divisions and unite to raise their voices against exploitation of natural resources in mountainous areas of the country along with social and livelihood challenges faced by people.

This was expressed by participants of a webinar who also urged the federal and provincial governments to use collective wisdom and develop a mechanism for social development.

The webinar, ‘Working Together to Empower Mountain Communities’ was organised by Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan).

Being far away from the centres of decision-making, mountain communities, in totality, suffer from inadequate decision-making, they pointed out, adding that voices and concerns of people from the community along with other stakeholders must be taken into account while the government prepared plans for conservation and development.

Ill-planned infrastructure development and environmentally-unfriendly interventions in the name of tourism promotion and livelihood are proving to be natural hazards.

Climatic conditions are worsening and communities are on the verge of socio-economic collapse.

Conservation adviser from Ev-K2-CNR, an Italian research organisation, Ashiq Ahmad Khan highlighted that unfortunately there was no culture of working together, even though it was necessary for sustainable development.

“Sometimes people have lesser abilities but they do not invite better skilled persons to work on community-based initiatives. They feel reluctant in empowering communities as perhaps they believe that after empowering communities, they would become irrelevant,” he said, adding that the federal and provincial government should develop an inclusive platform with support from the private sector to continue development initiatives.

Well-known mountaineer Nazir Sabir said mountainous areas lack basic amenities and social infrastructure which is the prerequisite for empowerment of communities.

“We need to provide them facilities at their doorsteps. Women in the region are disadvantaged in many ways. They lack health, education and equal rights.

“In addition to the challenges of living in the mountains like harsh climate and inadequate infrastructure, they experience unequal treatment based on traditional gender relationships that deprives them from equal access to health, education, property and well-being. Focusing on women empowerment will ultimately improve social and living conditions in the mountainous parts of the country,” he said.

Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed said: “We need to look into the factors that explain why several non-governmental organisations and donor-driven government projects could not generate desired results of community empowerment.

“The vulnerability of communities is increasing due to climate impact, indiscriminate deforestation, over exploitation of natural resources and shrinking livelihood options. Life is also under stress because of rapid social changes, local political conflicts and natural disasters.”

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2021

International Day for Tolerance

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The International Day for Tolerance is an annual observance day declared by UNESCO in 1995 to generate public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. It is observed on 16 November.

“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” UNESCO’s 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance.

In 1996, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 51/95 proclaiming 16 November as International Day for Tolerance.

This action followed the adoption of a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance by UNESCO’s Member States on 16 November 1995. Among other things, the Declaration affirms that tolerance is neither indulgence nor indifference. It is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. People are naturally diverse; only tolerance can ensure the survival of mixed communities in every region of the globe.

In 1995, to mark the United Nations Year for Tolerance and the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO created a prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence. The UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence rewards significant activities in the scientific, artistic, cultural or communication fields aimed at the promotion of a spirit of tolerance and non-violence. The creation of the Prize has been inspired by the ideals of UNESCO’s Constitution that proclaims that “peace, if it is not to fail, must be founded on the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind”. The prize is awarded every two years on the International Day for Tolerance, 16 November. The Prize may be awarded to institutions, organizations or persons, who have contributed in a particularly meritorious and effective manner to tolerance and non-violence.

MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL

“At a time when extremism and fanaticism are unleashed too often, at a time when the venom of hatred continues to poison a part of humanity, tolerance has never been more vital a virtue.”

 — Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
on the occasion of the International Day for Tolerance

Download the full message in PDF format
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WHAT DOES UNESCO FOR TOLERANCE

HOW CAN INTOLERANCE BE COUNTERED?

1. Fighting intolerance requires law:

Each Government is responsible for enforcing human rights laws, for banning and punishing hate crimes and discrimination against minorities, whether these are committed by State officials, private organizations or individuals. The State must also ensure equal access to courts, human rights commissioners or ombudsmen, so that people do not take justice into their own hands and resort to violence to settle their disputes.

2. Fighting intolerance requires education:

Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance in individual attitudes. Intolerance is very often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown, of the other, other cultures, nations, religions. Intolerance is also closely linked to an exaggerated sense of self-worth and pride, whether personal, national or religious. These notions are taught and learned at an early age. Therefore, greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating more and better. Greater efforts need to be made to teach children about tolerance and human rights, about other ways of life. Children should be encouraged at home and in school to be open-minded and curious.

Education is a life-long experience and does not begin or end in school. Endeavours to build tolerance through education will not succeed unless they reach all age groups, and take place everywhere: at home, in schools, in the workplace, in law-enforcement and legal training, and not least in entertainment and on the information highways.

3. Fighting intolerance requires access to information:

Intolerance is most dangerous when it is exploited to fulfil the political and territorial ambitions of an individual or groups of individuals. Hatemongers often begin by identifying the public’s tolerance threshold. They then develop fallacious arguments, lie with statistics and manipulate public opinion with misinformation and prejudice. The most efficient way to limit the influence of hatemongers is to develop policies that generate and promote press freedom and press pluralism, in order to allow the public to differentiate between facts and opinions.

4. Fighting intolerance requires individual awareness:

Intolerance in a society is the sum-total of the intolerance of its individual members. Bigotry, stereotyping, stigmatizing, insults and racial jokes are examples of individual expressions of intolerance to which some people are subjected daily. Intolerance breeds intolerance. It leaves its victims in pursuit of revenge. In order to fight intolerance individuals should become aware of the link between their behavior and the vicious cycle of mistrust and violence in society. Each one of us should begin by asking: am I a tolerant person? Do I stereotype people? Do I reject those who are different from me? Do I blame my problems on ‘them’?

5. Fighting intolerance requires local solutions:

Many people know that tomorrow’s problems will be increasingly global but few realize that solutions to global problems are mainly local, even individual. When confronted with an escalation of intolerance around us, we must not wait for governments and institutions to act alone. We are all part of the solution. We should not feel powerless for we actually posses an enormous capacity to wield power. Nonviolent action is a way of using that power-the power of people. The tools of nonviolent action-putting a group together to confront a problem, to organize a grassroots network, to demonstrate solidarity with victims of intolerance, to discredit hateful propaganda-are available to all those who want to put an end to intolerance, violence and hatred.

RESOURCES

New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon

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Arab women outnumber men in pursuing university degrees, but since it seems there is still a lot to do, this initiative is more than welcome. It is the New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon that could help to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes in particular in the Levant region of the MENA.
To this end, a sizable grant from The U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative will cover a full semester for up to 900 students per an article of Zawya of July 8, 2020, elaborates on how Students to profit from new U.S.-Middle East partnership initiative tomorrow’s leaders’ program.

Press Release

The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has awarded LAU MEPI-Tomorrow’s Leaders (LAU MEPI-TL) a grant of $10 million for a new Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars (TLS) Program to strengthen undergraduate student awareness, preparedness, and skills in gender education and activism. For the last 12 years, MEPI has been providing scholarships to promising students from across the MENA region to study at either the Lebanese American University or the American University of Beirut.

The grant aims to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes because of discriminatory laws, social stereotypes, institutional obstacles, and in particular, to promote inclusiveness at a time when women’s active involvement is pivotal during the current crises across the MENA region.

By supporting pedagogic interventions in higher education and endorsing the delivery of gender studies courses to increase the awareness of university students on gender disparities, MEPI’s objective is to build a culture of inclusiveness and foster an environment for women’s success in the workforce, leadership positions, and policymaking arenas.

This substantial grant covers up to two academic years starting in the Fall 2020 and it targets students who have demonstrated strong academic performance and a need for support towards their tuition fees.

Up to 900 students will benefit from full tuition for at least one semester provided they enroll in and complete a gender course, as well as engage in a relevant conference where they present their subject-related papers, and publish on their scholarly achievements in academic journals such as LAU’s own Arab Institute for Women’s flagship journal Al-Raida. To this end, the School of Arts and Sciences at LAU has designed a bespoke program, a Gender Series of courses, that consists of multidisciplinary sets of problems relating to national, regional and global issues around Gender and its manifestations in the social, economic, political and cultural lives. 

The grant is extended to students from the School of Arts & Sciences, Adnan Kassar School of Business, the School of Engineering and the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing.

“We are proud of our affiliation with world-renowned academic institutions like LAU,” said US Ambassador Dorothy C. Shea. “You are recognized around the globe for the top-tier education you provide.  That is a source of pride to the Lebanese people, and to us at the US Embassy. We are your partner, and we welcome this opportunity to strengthen our partnership and, fundamentally, to help Lebanese students.”

Thanking Ambassador Shea and the American people LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra said: “Your continued generosity and support of students in the Arab world gives them hope to attain their aspirations to improve their lives, and the lives of their loved ones and their community. The belief that education is the only answer to the ills that afflict society in Lebanon and the Arab world remains at the heart of our mission.”

The news comes at a crucial time as the university and the country wrestle with the growing needs of families in dire financial distress, as a result of the deepening economic crisis.

“At a time when Lebanon is undergoing such acute social and political change, coupled with economic distress and a pandemic to boot, it is heartening to receive such substantial support from MEPI to promote gender equity in the region,” said Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management Elise Salem. “The grant will make a big difference in raising awareness and instituting policy change to achieve gender equality, while encouraging female leadership amongst students.”

In its twelfth year, the LAU MEPI-TL Program in AY 2019-2020 welcomed 36 new scholars from seven different countries. Earlier this year, the program celebrated 13 TL students who presented capstone projects focused on pressing social, economic, and cultural issues in their home countries.

“Indeed, MEPI continues to give hope to the youth of Lebanon and the MENA region,” commented Director of International Services and MEPI-TL Program Director Dina Abdul Rahman. “I dare to say that the Tomorrow’s Leaders Program is ‘lifesaving!’ It transformed the lives of hundreds of underprivileged talented young women and men for over a decade and continues to open up new horizons for our youth into a world of opportunity, prosperity, and success.”

The grant falls within LAU’s drive to alleviate the financial burden placed on students and their parents by Lebanon’s economic crisis. To that end, the university last year implemented a set of measures which included a yearly financial aid budget in excess of $50 million, and the launch of the Emergency Financial Fund last October.

Black Lives Matter in the MENA region

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Dnyanesh Kamat, Political analyst in Columns on Black Lives Matter across the MENA region states that From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region. Here it is :

Black Lives Matter: Racism in the Middle East and North Africa — and how to combat it

29 June 2020

While much of the Western world remains convulsed with Black Lives Matter protests, the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region should use this moment to address its own anti-Black racism problem. From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region.

In the Mena region, it is mostly the consequence of centuries of slavery, with Black Africans enslaved and sold in slave markets across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf. Indeed, in some parts of the Gulf, slavery was abolished only as recently as the 1970s. This is also why racial insults hurled at Black people in these countries often refer to them as “slaves” or “servants.”

This racist mindset also leads to widespread systemic discrimination against Black people throughout the region. Basra in southern Iraq is home to the majority of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Black population. Black Iraqis have long complained of systemic racism, with limited access to housing, education, healthcare and all but the most menial jobs.

While Black communities in some Mena countries grapple with the legacy of slavery, others still face modern-day slavery or conditions akin to it. Mauritania is one of the last countries on the planet where slavery continues to this day. The Global Slavery Index of 2018 estimates there are approximately 90,000 Black Mauritanians, or roughly 2.4 per cent of the population, bound to a caste system that is a form of modern-day slavery, with their enslavement inherited from ancestors and passed down to their children. Slavery was abolished in 1981 but it was not until 2007 that it was made a crime, and that too in response to international pressure, with successive governments failing to eradicate the scourge.

A similar caste-like Black community exists at the margins of society in Yemen. They call themselves the Muhamasheen (“the marginalized”), but other Yemenis refer to them pejoratively as the Akhdam (“the servants”). Many survive by begging. Needless to say, this community has borne the brunt of Yemen’s ongoing civil war.

While countries like Mauritania and Yemen grapple with centuries-old practices, others have seen slavery rear its ugly head in modern times. Black Africans have long used Libya’s long Mediterranean coast as a staging post from which to attempt to reach Europe. Several migrants have been enslaved and tortured by Libyan militias, and subsequently sold in open-air slave markets.

Popular culture in the Mena region is also rife with anti-Black racism, from caricatures of Black people used for comedy to erasing them completely from depictions of national culture. The national media in countries like Tunisia portray the country’s citizens as light-skinned. It might come as a shock that 15 per cent of Tunisians are black.

Iran has a sizeable Black population living along the country’s southern coast. Their contribution to the culture of that region – whether in terms of cuisine, spirituality or to the unique bandari music – is immense. But Iranian popular culture would have us believe the country is populated only by fair-skinned Persians. This comes largely from the “Aryan myth” of Iranian nationalism. Depictions of Black people are limited to stereotypes or pale-skinned people in “blackface” – theatrical make-up used to portray racist caricatures of Black people. Indeed, early Iranian theatre often featured a type of comedy performance known as Siah Baazi, a term meaning “playing black.”

In the Arab world, more recently, several Arabic-language networks have come in for criticism for their racist depiction of Black people in hidden camera-practical joke reality television shows.

Almost a year ago, protesters marched through cities in Israel calling for an end to anti-Black police brutality and discrimination in housing, healthcare and education. One of the most horrifying examples of anti-Black racism in Israel occurred in 2016 when the government admitted to having given Ethiopian-Israeli women long-term contraceptives without their consent. The community’s birth rate has halved over the past decade.

Perhaps the most egregious form of institutionalized racism in the Mena region is the kafala system of hiring migrant workers in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, which has been described as a modern-day form of slavery. The kafala system, which is not covered by regular labour laws in Lebanon, gives employers total control over the legal residency of “their” workers. Every so often, horrific kafala-related stories emerge of migrant workers, most of them African, being made to work long hours without pay, tortured, sexually abused and even murdered, with little or no recourse to the law for help. Racism also pervades the tourism and hospitality sector in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, with African and South Asian tourists complaining of being denied entry to trendy bars and clubs.

If there is to be any impetus for change in the Mena region, it is likely to come from civil society. For example, recent protests against Lebanon’s corrupt political class were led by the youth of the country and included calls to abolish kafala. In 2018, Tunisia became the first Mena country to pass a wide-ranging anti-racism law.

But much more needs to be done. Mena countries need to rethink their concept of nationalism, redefine the meaning of citizenship and re-negotiate the social contract between citizen and state. If there is to be any hope of dismantling racism and every vestige of slavery in the region, those are fundamental imperatives. Let the Black Lives Matter movement be the catalyst.

In arrangement with Syndication Bureau

Empowering Creative Youth and Local Designers

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Mirna Abdulaal in Egyptian Streets suggests that only some ‘Radical’: Empowering Creative Youth and Local Designers in the Arab Region could awaken the currently dormant creation movement, particularly that in the art and design.


There’s one thing that unites generally all creative youth in the MENA region: their lack of representation and trouble in finding a platform that documents their story for others to see, hear and share.

Act 1 featuring Malak El Husseiny. Captured and Edited by Maryam Nafie.

Most media platforms and magazines in the region often fail to represent creatives, and particularly creative youth, through visual and imaginative presentations that help to truly capture their story. The concept of creative journalism and using art, aesthetics, powerful images and podcasts to brand a particular designer or artist is very much absent, with most resorting to mere commercial and celebrity-focused features rather than stories and dialogues to push the creative scene forward.

Nour Hassan, writer and founder of the platform ‘Radical Contemporary’, is the first to recognize this gap and introduce new understandings of how we can represent creatives in media and journalism. “When I started radical, I didn’t have any reference or any online magazine that gathers all creatives together, and it takes a lot of research. So I wanted to help people avoid what I faced in the beginning through this platform,” she says.

“If you want to know who is the best designer in Saudi Arabia, where would you look or who would you ask?”

Initially founded in 2017 as an online magazine that speaks about fashion, art and culture, Hassan began to branch out and do further projects, such as photoshoots, production, and podcasts. Eventually, she expanded into PR and creative consulting, growing from a magazine to a platform that also helps build and market brands.

For her, it is more than just representation, it is also creation – a ‘radical’ and creative process that aims to fundamentally change something in society or culture. In one of her projects, ‘Runaway Love’, she combines storytelling and visual journalism in an attempt to touch upon certain issues, such as the pressure of marriage for young girls. “It was shot on a Felucca boat and it talked about how young girls are pressured to get married, and how she is trying to escape that pressure by riding the Felucca. The photoshoot is a story that is also relevant to the culture,” she notes.

‘Runaway Love’ by Radical Contemporary. Photographed by Ahmed Gaafar

“I am making sure we have conversations, and this is important because there isn’t really any dialogue on creatives in the region.”

Coming from Egypt and growing up in Saudi Arabia, she noticed that there also aren’t any important dialogues and conversations being done on the work of young creatives across the region, which led her to launch ‘The Radical Contemporary Podcast’, allowing several creatives to speak about their creative process and provide a space for others to learn and grow. “I am making sure we have conversations, and this is important because there isn’t really any dialogue on creatives in the region and their work,” she tells Egyptian Streets, “If you want to know who is the best designer in Saudi Arabia, where would you look or who would you ask? And so, this is where I come in and bring them to let them talk in the podcast.”

In times of fast-paced communication and the growth of digital media, consuming content for longer periods of time has become even more difficult, which is why it has become ever more imperative for platforms to push creative journalism ahead and utilize podcasting effectively. “Podcasting is the future of content, it is the new radio,” Hassan says, “Right now, we cannot consume content for more than 15 seconds, so a podcast is like an alternative that helps you listen to the conversations even while you’re busy doing other things. It’s a different way of learning.”

“CLUB KIDS”, a Radical project in collaboration with Bardo Clubhouse.
Photographed by Mohsen Othman.

“Podcasting is the future of content, it is the new radio”

It is also a way to introduce more critical conversations in the creative industry, particularly as the fashion industry continues to grow exponentially and young designers are entering the scene. “Our biggest problem is that we don’t have critics. We don’t have someone who critiques the work that is being produced, which is really important in helping young creatives grow and reach their potential. We need to work on being more critical and having critical conversations so we can develop,” she adds.

While it is easy to compare this to other magazines such as Vogue Arabia, Radical Contemporary goes even beyond that, as it is focused on building the creative soul in the region. It is expressive, visual, critical, and communicative – providing creatives an opportunity to learn and document their work. “I think we are the first generation telling our story. From the times of Umm Kalthoum up till now, there is this huge gap, and I don’t think there was a generation before us that really documented their work for others to find and look at.”

“I think we are the first generation telling our story.”

On top of that, it is also supporting local and regional brands, concerning that there is a lack of access to platforms that represent them. “At a time right now where it can be very hard for brands to survive, it is important to support our platform and in turn support these regional brands,” Hassan says.

For future writers, designers, artists, photographers and just about every creative in the region, Radical Contemporary represents the heart of their growth and expression in the rapidly changing region of the Middle East. It represents the face of a new generation, and a new region.