Monday, 30 May 2011

Women's Views on News

 At a recent Women in Journalism seminar, I’ve met the founder of, a women’s daily online news and current affairs service.

Alison Clarke founded WVoN in 2009 because she “was fed up with the male domination of the news.” She wanted a platform where all women’s voices and experiences could be heard by all.

According to the most recent survey by the Global Media Monitoring Project (March 2010), women feature in only about a fifth of the world’s news headlines and just ten percent of all news stories.

“Literally thousands of stories about, by and for women are never told.  This sends a message that women’s experiences and opinions are just not as important or as valid as those of men. We challenge that approach and aim to redress the imbalance in women’s favour,” Clarke says.

The site provides up-to-date news on all the major national and international stories of the day, in much the same way as any newspaper or online news service, but the stories they feature are always about women.  They also run feature articles and opinion pieces from time to time, but the focus is on news. Topics covered include arts and entertainments; business/employment;  feminism;  health; politics; science/technology;  sport; violence and world.

WVoN gives women a voice in two ways – by publishing stories that the mainstream press ignores; and by acting as a central point for stories that they do publish about women.

They source their stories from a range of online global, daily newspapers, press agencies, charities, magazines (weekly and monthly), social justice organizations and assorted blogs.  And they publish exclusive features by WVoN co-editors, as well as external guest editors who have a particular expertise.

Today’s featured articles, for example, include stories on growing protest against New York cops rape acquittal (sourced from,  women noticing other women’s weight first (sourced from the Daily Express),  the pitfalls of teaching abstinence (sourced from The Guardian) and Kandahar girls risking everything for an education (sourced from The Canadian Press). There are also original pieces on women urban planners and on living dolls written by WVoN co-editors.

WVoN is a volunteer collective made up of women journalists from different parts of the world including the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland and India.

They work on a rota basis with at least one journalist allocated to post stories up onto the site six days a week (Monday to Saturday). They post on average between 15 and 20 news stories every day.

The “duty” volunteer searches the sites from an extensive list of sources, looking for stories about women (they steer clear of ones about celebrities). The volunteer then writes a short description of each news story that she (or he) has decided to post onto the site and then links it to the original source.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, click here, and if you want to find out more, get in touch.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ursula Sladek – mother of five leads green revolution

Ursula Sladek/Courtesy of the Goldman Environment Prize

 I wrote a piece for the Guardian this Saturday about Ursula Sladek, who created one of Europe’s first green energy companies, owned by the people for the people, while raising five kids. What interested me in this story is that she was just an ordinary person without any scientific or business training – and already more than busy with her large family – yet, she decided she had to do something after the Chernobyl meltdown 25 years ago. 

Sladek, 64, never planned to create a power company, but felt compelled to act when radioactive residues from Chernobyl some 2000 km away were found on the playgrounds, gardens and farmlands of Schönau, the small Black Forest town where she lives with her family.

“I had to think about whether my children could eat our spinach and lettuce or drink our milk, and whether they could play in the sandpit. I also knew I needed to look at the broader picture and question the use of nuclear energy.  You cannot have five children and not care about the world they have to live in,” she says.

So Sladek, her husband, a GP, and a group of like-minded parents began researching the energy industry in Germany to see if they could limit their community’s dependence on nuclear power.

They started small, researching how energy was produced and how they could save it. Then they tried to motivate the whole town into saving energy by running campaigns and competitions. Later, when the regional power company refused to increase renewable energy and reward efficiency, they decided to take over the grid themselves.  “It was a crazy idea because none of us knew how to run an electricity company.”

Sladek and her group created Schönau Power Supply (EWS), a citizen-owned cooperative, and launched campaigns to be allowed to manage the grid and raise the necessary funds. “We had to learn how to act politically, how to campaign, how to run a company and an awful lot about electricity. When I started, the only thing I knew was that electricity was coming out of the socket. But learning all this was not too difficult. If you really want something, you can learn what you need,” she simply says.

From providing one million kilowatt hours to 1,700 customers in 1998, EWS now provides over 400 million kilowatt hours to over 100,000 customers throughout Germany.  And Sladek is hoping for one million customers by 2015.

And with a flurry of new customers wanting to switch to EWS after Fukushima, Sladek is busier than ever. “I would have liked to have more time for my children and now my grandchildren. But actually, I am doing what I do for them, and they know it. It is their future I am trying to protect and so I really think it is worth it.”

Last month, Sladek was named European winner of the 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize, a sort of Nobel Prize for environmental heroes.

You can read my Guardian article here.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

AI global report urges support for historic changes

As Amnesty International launches its annual report on human rights on the eve of its 50th anniversary, the world stands on the threshold of historic change.


Courageous people are standing up and speaking out in the face of bullets, beatings, tear gas and tanks. This bravery is sending a signal to repressive governments that their days are numbered. But they are fighting back.


The international community, including the UK Government, must decide if they stand on the side of reform or repression.

AI report on “The state of the world’s human rights”, released on Friday, says that growing demands for freedom and justice across the Middle East and North Africa and the rise of social media offer an unprecedented opportunity for human rights change – but this change stands on a knife-edge.

Says Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General:  “Not since the end of the Cold War have so many repressive governments faced such a challenge to their stranglehold on power. The demand for political and economic rights spreading across the Middle East and North Africa is dramatic proof that all rights are equally important and a universal demand.

…The call for justice, freedom and dignity has evolved into a global demand that grows stronger every day. The genie is out of the bottle and the forces of repression cannot put it back.”

Unprecedented access to information, means of communication and networking technology, as social media networks, are fuelling this new global activism.

But government are fighting back. Governments in Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen have shown a willingness to beat, maim or kill peaceful protestors to stay in power. Even where dictators have fallen, the institutions that supported them still need to be dismantled and the work of activists is far from over. Repressive governments such as Azerbaijan, China and Iran are trying to pre-empt any similar revolutions in their countries.

The Amnesty report, a global overview that exposes abuses in 157 countries, indeed reveals restrictions on free speech in at least 89 countries; torture and other ill-treatment in at least 98 countries; cases of prisoners of conscience in at least 48 countries; and documents unfair trials in at least 54 countries.

AI is urging the international community to seize the opportunity for change and ensure that 2011 is not a false dawn for human rights.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

New York 9/11

As the world is pondering the implications of Osama bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan (and I feel very uneasy about it, wishing that he could have been put on trial instead), I was reminded of the poem Iranian poet Majid Naficy (who now lives in Los Angeles) wrote on 9/11. Here it is:

 New York

                        by Majid Naficy

New York bent down
And cried
In the Atlantic waters

She sustained a wound
To her spine

Then she remembered
The old wounds of her kids
From the Netherlands and Ireland
From black Africa
From Poland and the Ukraine
And the oases  of the Holy Land

No! She will rise again
And let the sun
Shine on her face
And her children
Will hold hands
And come back to dance
Around her whirling skirt

                        September 11, 2001

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Avaaz changes the world in a click

Over the months, I have posted several entries about the online activist network Avaaz’ various campaigns, and asked you to support some of them and sign their petitions - and I have done so myself. But I have often wondered if activism by merely clicking a button was enough and if these petitions made any significant changes.

Well, it seems that the answer is a resounding YES.  Avaaz, which means voice in Farsi and several other languages, now counts an astonishing 8.2 million members and is growing by 1000,000 people a week, according to the organization.  Working in 14 languages, it is the world’s largest online activist community with members in all 192 UN countries, including Iran and China, where the site is illegal.

An annual poll of 10,000 members help decide which issues they should focus on - and the range is enormous. Some of their demands are simple, such as  closing Guantánamo, or  very broad, such as fighting climate change.

Avaaz was founded only four years ago by 34-year-old Canadian Ricken Patel to “close the gap between the world we have and the world most people want.”  He and his team are doing so by galvanising public opinion online and using it to influence those with the power to implement change.  They work by collating monumental petitions and dropping them into the inboxes of their targets.  If more convincing is needed, they stage sit-ins, rallies, phone-ins and media stunts. And at the last resort, they launch hard-hitting advertising campaigns in the media and on billboards.

Avaaz' sheer numbers make them a force impossible to ignore. Two weeks ago, 650,000 Indians joined the group’s campaign for a powerful new anti-corruption bill, and they won.  Their recent causes include fighting political corruption in Italy, media-corruption in the UK and Canada, environmental destruction in Brazil and more. And across the Middle East,  democracy activists are getting vital equipment and communications support funded by donations from almost 30,000 of its members.

And the press is taking notice. The Times (London) called Avaaz:  'One of the most important new voices on the global stage' and hundreds of stories have been written about their work.

So keep signing Avaaz' petitions and join in their actions….