Thursday, 19 May 2016

Dementia Awareness Week - I am still there

On Our Radar's hand-held device giving a voice to people with dementia





This week is Dementia Awareness Week (15/05/16-21/05/16) and many charities and organizations come together to raise awareness about the condition, tell persons touched by dementia that they don’t have to face it alone and encourage people to remember the person behind the dementia. 

The person is more than the dementia. “Even whilst the 'wall of dementia' is in front of them, they should be held in the same regard, and treated in the same manner as they were, before they had this condition," urges the Alzheimer’s Society. "Even at an advanced stage, people with dementia can sometimes indicate they are aware of those around them; they are still ‘there’. 

 Paul Hitchmough from Liverpool couldn’t agree more. “…Suddenly because you’re diagnosed with this thing called dementia, in some shape of form you become an alien,” he said recounting how an old work colleague recently avoided him at the supermarket. “I really do think it needs to be opened up, this thing.…Just to let people know that you are still the same...” 

Paul’s words are part of the Dementia Diaries, a national project funded by Comic Relief, which brings together people’s diverse experiences of living with dementia as a series of audio diaries. I love this project because it gives a voice directly to people living with dementia.

The Dementia Diaries were launched in January 2015 by On Our Radar, a social enterprise which uses technology to give a voice to marginalized communities. So far, the On Our Radar team has trained 31 people living with dementia across the country to use simple 3D printed mobile phone handsets to record their thoughts and experiences as they occur.  The team then edits and transcribes the diary entries and uploads them onto the Dementia Diaries website, where they can be listened to and shared. 

In their entries, the diarists, who are all part of the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP), document their daily experiences of living with different forms of dementia.  They talk about their frustrations and joys, what they have lost, what they can still do and what they want people to know.
You can read an entry’s transcript, look at the photo of the diarist and listen to the audio. It is a moving and very powerful.

You can read a story I’ve written about the Dementia Diaries for Positive News here.

And here is short extract from a diary entry by Anne McDonald from Glasgow:

“Why do you call me victim? No one attacked me. Many people live with this condition. We’d rather not have it, but we just get on with it. Language is not difficult…But please remember, this is real life for us. None of you know the shifting sands we walk on daily. None of us know what is ahead. Seize the day and be kind to each other. Thank you.”

If you're worried that you, or someone close to you, might have dementia, call the Alzheimer's Society's National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 1122 or email helpline@alzheimers.org.uk for advice and support.

 

Monday, 9 May 2016

2016 World Press Freedom Index: Deep Decline in Media Freedom





This is great for censorship. Putin, Erdogan and other authoritarian leaders are celebrating.  We need to fight back the “deep and disturbing” decline in media freedom across every continent, at both the global and regional levels. 

The 2016 World Press Freedom Index, recently published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), shows that every continent has seen its press freedom score decline. The Americas have plunged 20.5%, mostly as a result of the impact of physical attacks and murders targeting journalists in Mexico and Central America. Europe and the Balkans declined 6.5%, mostly because of the growing influence of extremist movements and ultraconservative governments.  The Central Asia/Eastern Europe region’s already bad score deteriorated by 5% as a result of the increasingly glacial environment for media freedom and free speech in countries with authoritarian regimes.

This matters enormously because if journalists are not free to report the facts, denounce abuses and alert the public, how would we resist the problem of children-soldiers, defend women’s rights, oppose injustice or preserve our environment? In some countries, torturers stop their atrocious deeds as soon as they are mentioned in the media. In others, corrupt politicians abandon their illegal habits when investigative journalists publish compromising details about their activities. Still elsewhere, massacres are prevented when the international media focuses its attention and cameras on events.

The reasons for the decline in freedom of information documented by RSF include the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of governments in countries such as Turkey and Egypt, tighter government control of state-owned media, even in some European countries such as Poland, and security situations that have become more and more fraught, in Libya and Burundi, for example, or that are completely disastrous, as in Yemen. 






The survival of independent news coverage is becoming increasingly precarious in both the state and privately-owned media because of the threat from ideologies, especially religious ideologies, that are hostile to media freedom, and from large-scale propaganda machines. Throughout the world, “oligarchs” are buying up media outlets and are exercising pressure that compounds the pressure already coming from governments. 

Published every year since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It offers a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country.

You can find more about the report here


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

What drives young Syrians into ISIS?



Young Syrian refugees in Lebanon/Russell Watkins DFID




More than ideologies, it is poverty, desperation and desire for revenge that drive young Syrians into extremist groups.



A new study by the peacebuilding NGO International Alert shows that the key factors that push young Syrians into joining extremist groups are the need to earn a basic living, regain a sense of purpose and dignity, and the belief in a moral duty to protect, avenge and defend their people.



The study, titled Why young Syrians choose to fight: Vulnerability to recruitment by violent extremist groups, draws on interviews with 311 young Syrians, their families and community members in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, to understand what drives both vulnerability and resilience to recruitment by the groups ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria).



Adolescent boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 24 were found to be most at risk, along with children and young adults not in education, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees without supportive family structures and networks.



The findings suggest that radicalisation is not an explanation for joining a violent extremist group per se. For many young Syrians, belief in extreme ideologies appears to be, at most, a secondary factor in the initial decision to join an extremist group. 



Instead, vulnerability is driven by a combination of extreme trauma, loss and displacement, lack of alternative ways to make a decent living, the collapse of social structures and institutions including education, and the desire to get revenge against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. According to respondents, armed groups also provide a strong sense of purpose, honour and self-worth.



As one young Syrian man in Lebanon said: “People can find a new meaning to their life in extremism. Extremism opens a door to a new life where they are wanted.”


In Syria more than 6,000 schools are out of use, having been attacked, occupied by the military or turned into an emergency shelter. The collapse of the education system, with some two million children out of school, has also greatly contributed to young people’s vulnerability to joining violent extremist groups, who are filling this gap by providing their own forms of education, the report says. These ‘schools’ are highly segregated, exploit sectarian divisions and support divisive narratives.


UNICEF, which today unveiled details of a major new fund (Education Cannot Wait) to help get children back in class during emergencies, also stresses the crucial role of education in countries affected by wars and disasters.  


"Education changes lives in emergencies," said Josephine Bourne, UNICEF's education chief, in a statement. "Going to school keeps children safe from abuses like trafficking and recruitment into armed groups."


Yet, only 2 percent of global humanitarian appeals are on average dedicated to education.  "It is time education is prioritised by the international community as an essential part of basic humanitarian response, alongside water, food and shelter," Bourne added.


Offering comprehensive, inclusive and quality education, which also incorporates trauma healing and psychosocial support, was one of the four key factors identified by the report that can prevent recruitment.  The others were: providing alternative sources of livelihood, better access to positive social groups and institutions, and avenues for exercising non-violent activism.


The report stresses the need to integrate these social cohesion efforts into humanitarian aid projects, regional policy objectives and diplomacy aiming to reduce discrimination against refugees, which can also drive recruitment.


Note: The study was conducted five years into the conflict in Syria, which has claimed an estimated 300,000 lives, displaced 6.5 million people internally and prompted 4.8 million people to flee to neighbouring countries. 

You can find out more about International Alert's work in Syria here.


 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Remembering Berta Cáceres

Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River in the Rio Blanco region of Western Honduras. The river is a source of water, food, medicine and spiritual identity for the indigenous Lenca people/Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize


Berta Cáceres, the vocal and brave Honduran environmental and indigenous rights activist, was gunned down last week at her home in La Esperanza, Intibuc. Her murder has prompted a flood of tributes and an international outcry, as well as investigations supported by the United Nations and the FBI. 

Cáceres, who is a member of the Lenca indigenous group, the largest in Honduras, was one of the leading organizers for indigenous land rights in Honduras. In 1993, she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH. For years, the group faced death threats and repression as they stood up to mining and dam projects that threatened to destroy their community.

Last year, Cáceres, 44, won the Goldman Environmental Prize, a sort of Nobel for grassroots environmental activists, for her work opposing the Agua Zarcao dam, one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects.

Since the right-wing coup against Manuel Zelaya in 2009, activists have been  persecuted by the Honduran government, making Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an activist or community organiser.
 
This was certainly true for Cáceres.
 
Police said the killings occurred during an attempted robbery, but the family said they had no doubt it was an assassination prompted by Cáceres’s high-profile campaigns against dams, illegal loggers and plantation owners.

“I have no doubt that she has been killed because of her struggle and that soldiers and people from the dam are responsible, I am sure of that. I hold the government responsible,” her 84-year-old mother said on radio Globo at 6.

Cáceres stood up to corporations and helped delay the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, which, if built, would destroy her community's land and the Gualcarque River in Honduras. 

“She was a fearless environmental hero. She understood the risks that came with her work, but continued to lead her community with amazing strength and conviction,” said John Goldman, President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation.

“We mourn the loss of an inspirational leader, and will honor her life’s work by continuing to highlight the courageous work of Goldman Prize winners like Berta,” said Goldman. “She built an incredible community of grassroots activists in Honduras, who will carry on the campaign she fought and died for.”

I’ve been interviewing Goldman Environmental Prize winners for many years and, like Cáceres, they are truly amazing people. Most are ordinary men and women, full of energy and passion, who are totally committed and take great personal risks to protect the environment. The Prize amplifies their voices and affords them some protection, although sadly not enough in Cáceres’s case.

Cáceres’ death should not be in vain. You can join COPINH and call on the FMO (a Dutch Development bank) to withdraw financial support for this project immediately.  Pressuring the largest investor to pull out of the dam will encourage other backers to divest.

To support their call for justice in Honduras, you can donate to COPINH via their trusted partner, Rights Action (scroll to the bottom of the page). This fund will also support Cáceres’ family at this difficult time.


Thursday, 25 February 2016

Trouble in Paradise: Solomon Islands’ traditions foster inequality




Solomon Islands/ credit: olli0815 /bigstock.com
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Solomon Islands, the string of paradise-looking green islands tucked away in the South Pacific, is a place of exotic beauty where life flows at a gentle pace.  But it also a country with one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world.  And the violence is widely accepted as "the way things are".


A new report by the Equal Rights Trust shows that strong traditions, such as Kastom (Pijin for custom) and Wantok ('one talk') reinforce clan ties, but also emphasise differences and foster discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, disability and sexual orientation.


In particular, the report highlights widespread discrimination against women, which is directly connected to Kastom - in this case, the patriarchal attitudes and gender stereotypes typified by the Bigman culture, whereby communities look to a strong male figure to provide leadership and consider women as inferior to men.


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Members of Solomon Islands YWCA march during International Women’s Day in Honiara by DFAT/Credit:Jeremy Miller


“We found that women are effectively second-class citizens in Solomon Islands; they are invisible in all areas of politics and government and do not participate equally with men in any area of life. Violence against women is alarmingly widespread and widely accepted by both men and women,” said Executive Director of the Equal Rights Trust, Dr Dimitrina Petrova.



Statistics highlighted in the report are startling: more than half of all women experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner and 64% of women between 15 and 49 suffered violence at home.



During a focus group discussion for the report, one woman summarised male attitudes towards women in these terms: “You women are here on earth to give birth and work for us men, and we are your bosses; so do as we say.”



In travel guides, the former British protectorate south-east of Papua New Guinea is presented as a friendly melting pot of cultures and traditions, but the report found serious discrimination between those of different Wantok, community groups based on shared linguistic and cultural heritage.  “Our research found compelling evidence of concern amongst Solomon Islanders that those in positions of power abuse their authority and make corrupt decisions in favour of their Wantok group,” says Petrova.



In addition, the report found that people with disabilities are perceived as “cursed” and denied equality of participation in education, employment and healthcare. And lesbian, gay and bisexual persons are subject to severe social stigma.



The report argues that if Solomon Islands is to move on from the civil unrest, which brought the country to the brink of collapse between 1998 and 2003, its people must stand up and fight traditions which exacerbate difference on the basis of ethnicity, gender, disability and sexual orientation. 



Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Women refugees face assault, exploitation and sexual harassment journeying through Europe







These women and girls have fled war in Syria and Iraq, walked for days across  hostile terrains, put their lives in the hands of ruthless traffickers, crossed seas on flimsy dinghies and finally made it to Europe.  Safe at last? No, these women and girls who have fled some of the world’s most dangerous areas, faced assault, exploitation and sexual harassment at every stage of their entire journey, including on European soil, according to a new report by Amnesty International released this week.

Amnesty interviewed 40 refugee women and girls in Germany and Norway last month. They had travelled from Turkey to Greece and then across the Balkans. All the women, who had endured the horror of war in their countries, said they felt threatened and unsafe during the journey. Many reported that in almost all of the countries they passed through, they experienced physical abuse and financial exploitation, being groped or pressured to have sex by smugglers, security staff or other refugees. 

“Nobody should have to take these dangerous routes in the first place. The best way to avoid abuses and exploitation by smugglers is for European governments to allow safe and legal routes from the outset. For those who have no other choice, it is completely unacceptable that their passage across Europe exposes them to further humiliation, uncertainty and insecurity, says Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan said:

Women and girls travelling alone and those accompanied only by their children felt particularly under threat in transit areas and camps in Hungary, Croatia and Greece, where they were forced to sleep alongside hundreds of refugee men, according to the report. In some instances women left the designated areas to sleep in the open on the beach because they felt safer there. 

Women also reported having to use the same bathroom and shower facilities as men. One woman told Amnesty that in a reception center in Germany, some refugee men would watch women as they went to the bathroom. Some women took extreme measures such as not eating or drinking to avoid having to go to the toilet where they felt unsafe. 

It is shameful that governments and aid agencies cannot give basic protection to these women and girls who have risked everything to find safety in Europe. It seems extraordinary that they cannot provide at the very least single-sex toilets and safe sleeping areas.  



Monday, 4 January 2016

2015 - another deadly year for journalists





The passing year has been another deadly one for journalists, with at least 109 journalists and media staff killed in targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents, according to the annual report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).   Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’ annual round-up puts the figure at 110 – in addition to 27 citizen-journalists also killed in 2015.  In total, 787 journalists have been killed since 2005, according to RSF.


The very high number of journalists killed in 2015 (although there was a slight drop from 2014) reflects the increasingly deliberate use of violence against journalists. It is also indicative of the failure of initiatives designed to protect journalists and of the near absolute impunity for such crimes.


2015 was marked, in particular, by an increase in targeted terrorist attacks against journalists. French journalists paid a disproportionately high price when terrorists gunned down media workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. In the United States, the killing by a disgruntled ex-employee of two former colleagues at US TV WDBJ in Virginia took place in front of a global TV audience during a live transmission.

The IFJ 2015 list names the 109 journalists and media staff killed across 30 countries, together with 3 who died of accidental deaths.


This year, the killing of journalists in the Americas topped the toll, at 27 dead. For the second year in a row, the Middle East comes second, with 25 deaths. Asia Pacific comes third, with 21– a drop on last year due to the big fall in violence in Pakistan. Africa is in fourth place with 19 dead, followed by Europe with 16.

In response to the increasing violence against journalists, Jim Boumelha, IFJ President, is calling for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of UN agencies to enforce international laws protecting journalists. “The attacks in Paris shocked the world and put on the world stage the tragedy of the drip-drip slaughter of journalists worldwide, which are today the only professional group that pays so dearly for just doing the job… Journalism is put daily to the sword in many regions of the world, where extremists, drug lords and reckless warring factions continue murdering journalists with impunity.”

The Federation is urging the UN to take concrete measures through its Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists and take a strong stand against impunity for crimes targeting journalists. The IFJ ran a three-week campaign this year to hold governments accountable for the lack of investigation of crimes against journalists, which leads to the erosion of freedom of expression across the world.