Monday, 31 October 2011

First Universal Human Rights Logo - by the people, for the people

Do you know that we now have an internationally recognized symbol for human rights? It is a dove-like hand – a simple logo, elegant and easy to understand everywhere in the world.

The first universal human rights logo was designed by Predrag Stakic in the largest ever crowdsourcing event in the world. The 32-year-old Serb said he was inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that human rights are the foundation for creating a free, just and peaceful world.  

“I’ve put that in the design, using two universal symbols – a hand and a dove – to make something new," explained Stakic at the unveiling ceremony alongside the UN General Assembly in New York in late September. 

Stakic unveiling his winning logo
 While there are widely recognized symbols or logos for almost anything from companies like Nike and McDonald’s to peace and the anti-nuclear movement, until now there were none for human rights.

A non-profit initiative, backed by governments in Europe, North and South America, and Asia, and prominent activists, launched a massive online campaign in May to find a logo that would overcome "language barriers to communicate this universal bond symbolically."   The organizers allowed entrants to design their logos with computer technology, a simple pen and paper, paints, or even just a stick in the sand.

In the course of three months, 15,396 logo designs were submitted from participants in 190 countries. From these, a jury of international design experts an prominent human rights activists selected the ten best. They included designer Erik Spiekermann, the Chinese activist and artists Ai Weiwei, Nobel Peace Prize winners former US president Jimmy Carter, Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, economist Muhammad Yunus and former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev - to name just a few.

Here are the shortlisted logos:

The list was put online, so people from all over the world could vote and select their favourite  logo, sparking some heated debate on the initiative's website.

Stakic's entry won the most votes in the public online ballot. The graphic designer from Belgrade, who received €5,000 ($6,745) said: "No single logo can change the world - including this one. But a logo is a symbol that people can rally around - and they can change the world.”

The logo was produced by the bigger ever exercise in crowdsourcing - a process where  large, unspecified groups of people can contribute to a common goal.  The scheme attracted criticism, but the organizers said it was the best way to create a logo "by the people, for the people." 

The logo is now free to use by everyone, everywhere without restrictions - for the purpose of promoting human rights. You can download it here.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Behind Magnum Ghana ice cream

Cocoa pods harvest/Fjona Hill
Apparently last week was National Chocolate Week, so I am a bit late with this post, but hey!

I went to Ghana a few weeks ago to look at Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa farms where Magnum sources the cocoa beans for its new Magnum Ghana ice cream
-->We were an all-woman team: a filmmaker, a photographer, a representative from Magnum and myself. Our brief was to make a film, write an article and shoot pictures describing the cocoa cycle from “beans to bite” and looking at the impact of the certification process on the farmers and their families, the environment and the quality of the cocoa beans.  A fascinating assignment for a chocolate-lover like me!   

The knowledgeable Rainforest Alliance’s representative Christian Mensah facilitated our three-day stay at Gold Coast and Agave camps, two of several farming communities in the Assin Fosu district of Ghana’s central region, producing cocoa beans for Magnum ice cream.  

Road leading to Gold Coast camp in Assin Fosu/Fjona Hill
The farming villages are nested in dense, lush vegetation, off a red-dirt road, some 4 hours north-west of Accra, the capital.

When we arrived, we were greeted with drums and dancing women as it is often custom in Africa. The chiefs and elders from all the neighbouring farming communities made us the honour of welcoming us into their communities.  The head chief usually speaks publicly only through an intermediary - his linguist in traditional robes and golden staff - but he made an exception as we were foreigners.  He said the Rainforest Alliance certification process has transformed the lives of villagers here.  In fact, everyone we spoke with – men, women and children - said that.  I wondered whether people had been briefed to be so positive. Apparently no – their enthusiasm was genuine.

The chiefs of neighbouring villages came to greet us/Fjona Hill
Farming communities in the region have grown cocoa beans for generations. Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer in the world after Ivory Coast and cocoa is Ghana’s largest cash crop.  In 2011, Unilever’s Magnum ice cream joined forces with global conservation NGO Rainforest Alliance to bring sustainable agriculture practices to cocoa farmers in the region, promote nature conservation and increase the quality of life of farming communities. 

After just one year, 450 farmers in the Assin Fosu region have already achieved Rainforest Alliance (RA) Certification - a rigorous process that covers social, economic and environmental factors, including soil management and biodiversity protection.  It also means better conditions and higher income for workers.  Magnum’s goal is to source the entirety of its global cocoa supply from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms by 2015.

One of the most important things farmers said they have learned through the programme is how to identify and deal with pests and diseases, which attack cocoa pods and trees. If untreated, these fungus and bugs can spread to the whole tree and even contaminate the entire cocoa farm.  In the past, they all have lost harvests and trees to these pests. The training also covers preservation of wildlife and the eco-system around their farms, health and safety issues and the importance of sending their children to school, among other topics.
Bi-monthly training session during which farmers learn best farming practices/Fjona Hill

In addition, the programme has enhanced the status of women, says Fatima Ali, the chief of a neighbouring village.  “As a woman, I feel empowered by this programme.   I’ve applied the skills I’ve learned through the training and my farm’s yield has increased significantly. I am now training other farmers in the community. Traditionally, farming decisions were taken by men, but now I am training them.”

Farmer Rabiatu Abubakar says her family has “benefited enormously” from the programme.  “Our production has increased and we have now more money. This has strengthened my relationship with my husband. We are now able to send our children to school and feed them well. We are all happier.”  

Find out more about the cocoa process and RA certification programme in Assin Fosu by reading my guest post on RA’s Frog Blog here.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Afghanistan: what about the women?

credit: Women for Women International 
Ten years ago this week, the US and allies including the UK invaded Afghanistan - a move they justified in part with promises to defend women’s rights. A decade on, Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to be a woman.

Now, the countries that led the invasion back in 2001 are attempting to sit down at the negotiating table with the Taliban. And Afghan women fear that Western governments will sacrifice their rights and safety to reach an elusive deal with the Taliban.

In December, Foreign Secretary William Hague will represent the UK at discussions about the Afghanistan peace process. Organisations, such as  Amnesty International UK, CARE International UK, Oxfam GB and Women for Women International UK,  are urging the Foreign Secretary to ensure that Afghan women’s hard won but fragile rights do not become a bargaining chip to be traded away in the name of peace and that Afghan women are included in peace negotiations.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK said "The peace process in Afghanistan mustn’t mean putting a price on women’s rights. These are non-negotiable. They’re the ‘red lines’ that the Afghan community, Nato and countries like the UK must insist on."

Millions of Afghan women and girls have seen progress in their lives since 2001: two and a half million girls are enrolled in school, women can work outside their homes, while the constitution grants women and men equal rights.

Yet Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Their rights are weakly enforced, most women still have limited access to basic services such as healthcare and education, and they face risks from violence and conflict. This is particularly true for the brave women who are active in public life; they face intimidation and the threat of violence on a daily basis.

In addition, women’s voices have been largely silenced in the search for a peace deal.

Shaheen Chugtai, Humanitarian Policy Advisor, Oxfam GB said: “A just and lasting peace is necessary in order to improve the lives of all Afghans. We have to remind William Hague and the international community that the best way of achieving such as peace is by making sure that Afghan women are meaningfully involved at all levels of negotiation and that explicit guarantees of their constitutional rights are built into any peace deal.” 

Amnesty is urging all of us to take action and tell our government not to trade away women’s rights. You can do this here.

 Besides Amnesty International UK, CARE International UK, Oxfam GB and Women for Women International UK, the coalition of organisations are members of Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS). They also include ActionAid UK, International Action Network on Small Arms, Northern Ireland Women’s European Coalition, Saferworld, Soroptimist International UK, United Nations Association UK, UN Women UK, Womankind Worldwide and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. GAPS campaigns under No women, no peace and is petitioning the UK to honour commitments to women’s rights in Afghanistan. 

Supporters will wear green scarves and participate in candlelit vigils on 31st October in solidarity with women in Afghanistan. Click here for more details.