Friday, 20 December 2013

Wanted: Young reporters to cover Brazil 2014

Ongoing demonstrations, the upcoming World Cup, preparations for the Olympic Games and approaching elections: 2014 is a very important year for Brazil. There a loads of stories out there, waiting to be covered. Beyond Your World is looking for young reporters to uncover and cover these stories.

As part of the international journalism-training program Beyond Your World (BYW), a new project will be launched in 2014 under the name “Beyond Brazil – Brasil Além”. This project is a cooperation between Lokaalmondiaal and  the Brazilian media organisation Canal Futura. Throughout 2014, 21 young European journalists aged 18-25 (from the six BYW project countries) will travel across Brazil. 

Travelling in three groups, they will collaborate with young Brazilian journalists, covering events before (March), during (June/July) and after (October) the World Cup. The group, composed of seven different nationalities, will follow a one-year online training program and produce a total of 84 media productions (primarily audiovisual media). During the project, all participants will be supervised by Lokaalmondiaal and Canal Futura.

The focus will be on audiovisual productions, so video journalists, radio makers and photographers are encouraged to apply. You'll have to show you want to be an (international) journalist, are interested in Brazil and want produce stories about global development issues. The deadline is 10 January 2014. For more details on how to apply and eligibility, read this form. 

Go for it and good luck!


Ghana's climate-smart cocoa

Cocoa drying in the Juabeso district, Ghana/Credit: Veronique Mistiaen

I recently went to Ghana to look at how cocoa farmers were adapting to and fighting the impacts of climate change.

I loved that assignment because Ghana is one of my favourite countries. I am also crazy about chocolate and worry about not being able to get my daily fix. I had read a report by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which predicted that increasing temperatures will lead to massive declines in cocoa production by 2030 in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, which produce more than half of the world’s cocoa. With China and India developing an appetite for chocolate, the demand for cocoa might then outweigh the supply.
I have looked at commoditie across Africa and Asia in the past and reported on efforts to improve production while giving good wages and living conditions to  farmers and protect the environment. But the project I visited in Western Ghana was different because it focused not only on the farms, but on the whole landscape, the fallow lands and the forests.

Once, lush forests covered most of the country - the green of the Ghanaian flag represents them - but over the past decades, they have been cut to make space for more cocoa. Ghana is now the country with the fastest deforestation rate in the world.
The loss of forests compromises the region’s biodiversity, but also exacerbates the impact of climate change.  The country’s temperatures are slowly rising - and cocoa trees are now under threat.  
In the Juabeso/Bia district, international environmental organization Rainforest Alliance (RA) and Olam International Ltd have teamed up to help farmers produce what they believe is the first “climate-smart" cocoa in the world.  The $1 million three-year pilot project provides farmers in 36 communities with a combination of proven tools and innovative practices for land management and conservation, so that they can help reduce deforestation and climate change and at the same time earn a sustainable livelihood.
Cocoa farmers at a RA training session in Eteso, Ghana/Credit: Veronique Mistiaen

“In order to insure there is a future for cocoa production, you need an environment that supports cocoa, otherwise cocoa is dead,” says Atsu Titiati, RA project director in Ghana.
Read my piece for New Agriculturist here and Economist’s Baobab blog here.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Women's Rights in the Arab World - Egypt worst country for women

Women were supposed to be one of the prime beneficiaries of the Arab Spring, but they have instead been some of the biggest losers, as the revolts have brought conflict, instability, displacement and a rise in Islamist groups in many parts of the region, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thomson Reuters Foundation's third annual poll of gender experts gives a snapshot of the state of women's rights in Arab states three years after the Arab Spring and as Syria's conflict threatens further regional upheaval. Surprisingly, Egypt tops the list of 22 Arab states as the worst country for women. Yes,  Egypt!  Not Syria, Yemen, Somalia or Saudi Arabia as you might have expected, but Egypt. The country achieved such dismal position in the poll because of
sexual harassment, high rates of female genital cutting and a surge in violence and Islamist feeling after the revolution toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

"We removed the Mubarak from our presidential palace but we still have to remove the Mubarak who lives in our minds and in our bedrooms," Egyptian columnist Mona Eltahawy says in an article about the poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"As the miserable poll results show, we women need a double revolution, one against the various dictators who've ruined our countries and the other against a toxic mix of culture and religion that ruin our lives as women."

Iraq ranked second-worst after Egypt, followed by Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. Comoros, where women hold 20 percent of ministerial positions and where wives generally keep land or the home after divorce, came out on top, followed by Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.

The poll by Thomson Reuters' philanthropic arm surveyed 336 gender experts in August and September in 21 Arab League states and Syria, which was a founding member of the Arab League but was suspended in 2011.

The poll assessed violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy.

Visit this page for full coverage of the poll and for more information, read this great article by RTF's Tim Large.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Inspiring Immigrants - the Africans are making an impact

Sada Mire at Dawaale site/Courtesy of Sada Mire

Immigrants are rarely portrayed positively in the British media – and those from Africa face special challenges.  Yet, far from sponging off social benefits, many are making significant economic and social contributions both in the UK and Africa. When I decided to look into this, I found dozens of remarkable African immigrants, who have gone on to become leaders in education, health, fashion and business – and are having a real impact.

Some have combined the expertise they have gained in the UK with their local knowledge and contacts to establish successful development projects in Africa. Others have set up foundations to support infrastructure projects across the continent.

In the UK, many have launched social projects to cater to the health, education and employment needs of African immigrants. Their organisations often target some of the most disadvantaged communities. They are having an impact because they know first-hand what challenges immigrants face when they come to the UK and how to reach out to them.

African diaspora entrepreneurs are also shifting the development agenda – at home and abroad – away from traditional aid and toward financial investment and structural improvement that will bring sustainable benefits to local people. And women hold senior positions in many African diaspora organisations, leading the way for other sectors.

Here is my article for Positive News, profiling some of these doers from the African diaspora and looking at what they’ve achieved. 

There is Sada Mire, Somalia’s first and only archaeologist. She has founded
Somalia Horn Heritage Association and believes that national heritage is a human right, crucial to a nation's sense of itself even during a time of conflict and famine.

Mary Mosinghi, a Ugandan teacher, co-founded Africare, a charity that looks after people living with HIV/AIDS in the UK and Uganda. She says: “Being based in the UK has enabled Africare to transfer robust and effective skills to Uganda communities by supporting productivity, policy development and training, and analysing performance.”

And Daphne Kasambala, from Malawi, created Sapellé an online ethical boutique
offering original fashion and accessories in beautiful African tribal prints and African inspired styles, sourced from brands, social enterprises and artisans from all over Africa. She says: “Africa doesn’t only have natural resources. It has a wealth of talents and the capability to create things that are desirable. We just need the infrastructure to reach global markets.”

Then there is Everjoice Makuve, who was raised as an orphan in Zimbabwe, but managed to found Widows, Widowers and Orphans Relief and Development Trust International to combat the root causes of social deprivation and poverty, which had affected her so much. WORD provides support and education to refugee communities in the UK and to women and children in Zimbabwe.

And Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, from Sierra Leone, who founded the War Trust for Children after the war, as well as the real estate development enterprise Idea-UK in Sierra Leone. She want long-term development that can make a lasting difference, providing access to new business models, jobs and wealth creation.

Read my Positive News article on these inspiring African immigrants.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Elephants, Rhinos, Lions & Tigers to be extinct within a generation

By the time today’s children are 30, there won't be no more elephants, rhinos, tigers or lions roaming in the wild, warns wildlife and conservation charity, Care for the Wild.  They will all have been hunted down by poachers to fuel illegal ivory trade – a direct result of  growing poverty, ethnic rivalry, terrorism and civil war.
Last year, an estimated 40,000 elephants were killed in Africa while the number of rhinos killed so far this year - around 700 - has already surpassed last year’s total.
Care for the Wild estimates that if poaching continues at its current rate and wildlife’ birth rates remain as predicted, some of the world’s most iconic animals - elephants, rhinos, lions and tigers - will no longer exist in their natural habitat as early as 2035.
“Drawing on our own on-the-ground experience and having studied reports from conservation experts around the world, we’ve concluded that at today’s best estimates, these four children’s picture book favourites  – among many others – will all be extinct in the wild by around 2035. That’s just 22 years. It’s devastating to think that by the time our children are in their thirties, they will have to turn to the television or internet to observe these animals in their natural habitat,” explained Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild.
At a recent illegal wildlife trade event in New York, Foreign Secretary William Hague attributed the problem to terrorism and widespread instability.  Care for the Wild agrees, warning that wildlife poaching in Africa, and in particular the poaching of elephants and rhinos to fuel the illegal ivory trade, is intrinsically linked to growing poverty, ethnic rivalry, terrorism and civil war in affected countries.
It is estimated that Al Shabaab - the group linked to the attack on civilians in Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi - funds 40% of activities through elephant poaching and ivory trade, while recent reports claimed that ‘warlord’ Joseph Kony had ordered the killing of elephants to fund his rebel army, the Lord's Resistance Army.
As the demand for ivory surges in the growing economies of China, Vietnam and across Asia, the prices it commands has reached an all time high. With a 10kg tusk worth almost £10,000, the profitability of such a lucrative trade is attracting some high profile terrorist groups in need of funds.  These groups kill the wild animals using cyanide and military grade weaponry.
Earlier this year, the United Nations recognised wildlife crime as ‘serious transnational organised crime’, in the same bracket as the drugs trade and gun smuggling, while the UNESCO General Secretariat stated: “Given the current rate of poaching, children from West or Central Africa will one day speak of elephants and rhinoceros as we speak of mammoths: as magnificent creatures belonging to the past.”
Care for the Wild has launched its Tooth Fairy campaign to raise awareness and  funds for its anti-poaching work in Africa. The campaign encourages children to become a Tooth Fairy Hero by pledging the money they would have received for wobbly teeth to the charity and learning about the threatened animals.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Press Freedom Worldwide in 2013 - a story of dashed hopes

This is a clear and sobering map of what freedom of the press looks like worlwide in 2013, after the Arab Spring: a story of dashed hopes and a map that looks pretty similar to that of previous year. The map produced by Reporters Without Borders shows that while regimes fall and change, repression of the press predures.  The organization, which fights for press freedom across the world, also produced a very useful  Press Freedom Index.

 "The ranking of most countries is no longer attributable to dramatic political developments. This year’s index is a better reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term," the report states.  The same three European countries that toped the press freedom index last year, came top again this year: Finland, followed by Norway and the Netherlands.  Many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, but democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions. Like last year, they are Turkemistan, North Korea and Eritrea.  Syria, Somalia and Iran are trailing near the bottom of the list too.   The United Kingdom is ranked 29, just before Ghana, Suriname and the US.

"The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“In dictatorships, news providers and their families are exposed to ruthless reprisals, while in democracies news providers have to cope with the media’s economic crises and conflicts of interest. While their situation is not always comparable, we should pay tribute to all those who resist pressure whether it is aggressively focused or diffuse.”

Coinciding with the release of its 2013 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders is for the first time publishing an annual global “indicator” of worldwide media freedom. This new analytic tool measures the overall level of freedom of information in the world and the performance of the world’s governments in their entirety as regards this key freedom.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Converting to Islam - not for the faint-hearted

Converting to Islam: British women on prayer, peace and prejudice

Around 5,000 British people convert to Islam every year – and most of them are women. Six of them talk about prejudice, peace and praying in car parks
Ioni Sullivan: 'In my heart, I began to consider myself a Muslim.' Photograph: Felicity McCabe for the Guardian

On Saturday, Guardian Weekend magazine published “Converting to Islam: British women on prayer, peace and prejudice” – a series of interviews I did with six British women who have converted to Islam.

The piece seems to have hit a nerve: so far it got more than 2000 FB shares and 1289 comments – many far from positive!  I was surprised at the level of hostility and defensiveness of some of comments.  To many, converting to Islam is simply incomprehensible: these women must be stupid or foolish.  I thought the six women had explained quite well why they were attracted to Islam, and I had found their reasons intriguing.  Of course, much of their original interviews got cut out to fit the allocated space, so their views, feelings and experiences got rather compressed and simplified in the Guardian article. 

My article had been triggered by a comprehensive research by Cambridge University’s Center of Islamic Studies – a 129 page report based on the anonymous testimonies of 50 converts. The report called "Narratives of Conversions to Islam in Britain: Female Perspectives" gives a much more in-depth view of  the conversion experience - and I highly recommend it.  I had written an introduction to my article explaining the research, but it too got cut out. Here it is:

Each year, an estimated 5,000 British people convert to Islam – the majority of them women. Western women who convert to Islam perplex non-Muslims - or attract suspicion as in the case of the Boston bomber’s widow, so Cambridge University researchers have set out to try and find out why so many choose to embrace a religion that is widely seen as repressing them.

“We wanted to understand the conversion experience from the inside and dispel misapprehensions of female converts to Islam,” says Professor Yasir Suleiman, director of the university’s Centre ofIslamic Studies (CIS). With the New Muslim Project of Markfield in London, CIS brought together 50 British converts of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds for candid in-depth discussions over several days.  It was the first forum of its kind in the UK.

The resulting report offers a fascinating dissection of the conversion experience of contemporary British women, highlighting broad themes: for example, the tensions between converts and the “heritage Muslim” community; the poor quality of services offered to all women in mosques; the ubiquity of dress etiquette in framing the conversion experience.  It also addresses issues such as sexuality, marriage, domestic violence and divorce, and explores the reasons for women to convert to Islam and their role in countering the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Muslims and Islam in the UK media.  All the women’s views and experiences in the report are presented anonymously.

“Our objective is to inform the debate on conversion to Islam rather than to advocate a particular position or to paint a rosy picture of the conversion journeys and the cultural norms that surround it,” says Professor Suleiman, the project leader.

One of the report’s key findings is the disproportionate attention, verging on obsession, given to white women converts by both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Their conversions are highly visible, so these women are often considered as “trophy” converts among “heritage Muslim” communities, but not as suitable marriage partners. Another unexpected finding is the lack of support available to female converts who live outside traditional networks. Women, especially single and divorced, talked about the challenge of finding a suitable husband, feeling lonely and unwelcome, dealing with abusive partners or obtaining a fair divorce. 
“Islam is seen to answer the spiritual needs of convert women, but some heritage Muslims may fall short of the ideals of Islam that are so attractive to convert women," Professor Suleiman says.    The report, which is addressed equally to Muslims (heritage and convert) and non-Muslims, includes recommendations to better support converts.

“The debate is just starting and we need to have more informed studies about conversion to Islam that directly address public interest and concern,” adds project manager Shahla Suleiman. The next phase of the research will focus on male converts.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Stoning - Where is it legal?

I write about human rights, but had no idea that stoning is still a legal punishment in some parts of the Muslim world. It is also practiced extrajudicially in other parts.  Stoning is a form of execution where a group throws stones at a person until they are dead -  mostly as a punishment for adultery. Iran, where stoning is a legal punishment,  has the world’s highest rate of execution by stoning.   

Here is a good infographic by the Thomson Reuters Foundation showing where stoning happens and where it is legal.

The graph also shows that in Iran, the only country where stoning is legal and practiced, men sentenced to dying that way are buried up to their waists, while women are buried up to their chests. If a person manages to escape, they’re free. I assume that no woman can manage that feat…

I find the death penalty abhorrent in any cases, but this slow, painful, cruel, communal way of killing someone is beyond words.


Monday, 19 August 2013

Human rights abuses in top holiday destinations

For the holidays, Amnesty International has put together an unusual travel guide. This guide outlines some of the key human rights issues affecting the most popular holiday destinations for UK holidaymakers.
 “Holidays are a time to relax and forget about life’s headaches, and we’re not expecting people to anxiously research the human rights situation of their holiday destinations,” says Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.
 “But behind the sparkling seas, the luxurious hotels and picturesque landscapes, there’s a darker reality of tragedy and human rights abuse."
The top ten countries visited by British tourists are in descending order: Spain, France, USA, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Greece and Belgium. The guide also feaures the world’s other two favourite destinations: the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
For each destination, AI lists the number of British (or international) visitors, the main tourists attractions, then the human rights concerns and a case study illustrating them.
And to be fair, the guide mentions the UK as well, which ranks the world’s 8th most popular location. There too, AI lists the leading attractions, then the human rights issues and a case study.
Here are a few examples (I’ve removed the case studies for space reason):

Number of British visitors in 2012: 11,110,000
Leading attractions: Antoni Gaudí’s distinctive architecture at Barcelona’s Park Güell, the Sagrada Familia cathedral and the Casa Batlló; the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia contemporary art museum in Madrid; Granada’s Moorish Alhambra palace complex; the lively, and less lively, beach resorts along much of Spain’s coast.
Human rights concerns:
·     *Excessive use of force by police during austerity protests.
·     *Lack of justice for victims - and their relatives - of the Franco dictatorship.
·    *Roma people forcibly evicted from their homes without adequate alternative accommodation.

Number of British visitors in 2012: 8,781,000
Leading attractions: the iconic Eiffel Tower, the Musée du Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur and the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris, all in Paris; the French Riviera.
Human rights concerns:
·     *Investigations into allegations of deaths in custody, torture and other ill-treatment by police are ineffective and inadequate.
      *Since 2011 France has enforced a ban on the wearing of veils and burqas in public places, which Amnesty believes is an infringement of the rights of women in France to express their values, beliefs and identity.
·     *Thousands of Roma people have been left homeless after being forcibly evicted from informal settlements.
·     *The fast-track procedure for the assessment of asylum applications falls short of international standards.
Case: Mohamed Boukrourou, a 41-year-old Moroccan man, died soon after being arrested in Valentigney (Doubs) on 12 November 2009 after he’d become agitated in a chemist’s shop. Reportedly, four police officers restrained Boukrourou on the ground outside the chemist’s before carrying him into a police van. A witness said she saw the police stamping on Boukrourou inside the van, as well as kicking and beating him. Soon after a doctor declared Boukrourou dead and the same evening police told family members that he’d died of a heart attack following an accident. Despite prolonged efforts from the family there has been no proper accountability in the case.

Number of British visitors in 2012: 3,011,000
Leading attractions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan’s vast Central Park, and the High Line Public Park, all in New York City; the Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles’ Venice Boardwalk.
Human rights concerns:
·    *The USA is a major user of capital punishment and last year 43 people were executed, the fifth highest number anywhere in the world.
·    *The US authorities are still holding 166 detainees at the notorious detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The vast majority have not been charged with an offence and most have been there for over ten years.
·    *At least 42 people across 20 US states died after being struck by police Tasers last year, bringing the total number of such deaths to 540 since 2001.
·    *Thousands of prisoners in the USA are held in solitary confinement in “super-maximum security” prisons, confined to small cells for 22-24 hours a day.
Cases: former UK resident Shaker Aamer, 44, has been held at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for 11-and-a-half years. Via his lawyers, Aamer has alleged he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including severe beatings, while held in secret US detention in Afghanistan in early 2002, and claims he has been further mistreated at Guantánamo. Along with over 100 other Guantánamo detainees, he has reportedly been on hunger strike for several months to protest at his continued detention.

Number of International tourist arrivals in 2012: 958,000
Almost three times more people visited the Maldives last year than actually live there (the country has a population of 330,000), and tourism is the country’s largest economic industry. It is particularly popular with honeymooners.
Leading attractions: apart from the beaches … Maldives’ oldest mosque Hukuru Miskiiy, the National Art Gallery, the National Stadium, and the Sultan’s Park which surrounds the National Museum, all in the capital city of Malé.
Human rights concerns:
·   *In a report issued last year called “The other side of paradise”, Amnesty documented attacks carried out by the police using truncheons and pepper-spray to crack down on largely peaceful demonstrations.
·     *There are reports that detainees have been tortured.
·     *In May this year two juvenile offenders were sentenced to death despite this being contrary to international law.

Meanwhile, the UNITED KINGDOM is ranked as the world’s eighth-most popular destination, with 29.3 million visitors in 2012.
Leading attractions: the National and Tate galleries, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the 2012 Olympic Park, all in London; an abundance of castles including Cardiff, Edinburgh, Windsor; the historic university cities of Oxford and Cambridge; the Lake District, Peak District and the Cotswolds.
Human rights concerns:
·    *The highly controversial Justice and Security Act (allowing “secret courts”) recently passed into law despite opposition from hundreds of lawyers and numerous human rights organisations. Amnesty said the measures are an affront to the principles of open justice and are “Kafkaesque”.
·     *The recently-enacted Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act has raised fears that changes to legal aid will seriously restrict access to justice, particularly for overseas victims of abuses by UK multinational companies.
·     *Toxic language about human rights in the UK is common. While often lauding human rights in a foreign context, some politicians treat them with contempt at home, as do sections of the media. In some quarters there has been an almost continuous drumbeat of threats to “scrap the Human Rights Act” and to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
All UK tourist figures are from the Office of National Statistics.The international tourism figures are from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.The tourist attractions listed includes information from the Lonely Planet guide.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

How to interview survivors of sexual violence


The act for survivors of coming forward is crucial. That’s how we can learn about abuses all over the world and do something about it. But telling their stories can put survivors at risk for future harm.
Rape in the U.S. military, female protestors attacked across Egypt, Congolese women violated while going about their everyday lives - sexual and gender-based violence happens everywhere. We learn about it from brave individuals who tell us their stories and demand accountability and justice. 

But, viewers, journalists and filmmakers may not fully realize that these courageous interviews have the potential to re-traumatize survivors.
WITNESS has put together a simple, but useful guide on "Conducting Safe, Effective and Ethical Interviews with Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence."   The illustrated guide is aimed at human rights activists, citizen witnesses, citizen and professional journalists and anyone else who might be conducting interviews with survivors.

  The tips are organized in stages: preparation for the interview, during the interview, and after the interview. Special attention is given to ensuring the safety and security of interviewees.

  The guide is about video and film  interviews, but most of the advice can be used by print journalists as well.  For example, asking open-ended questions that give your interviewee some control and giving them the last word  (asking what they would like to add).
The guide is part of WITNESS’ Video for Change how-to series on filming safely, effectively and ethically, based on best practices established over the organization’s 20 years of training and supporting human rights activists to use video.
WITNESS uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. Since 1992, WITNESS has worked to empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.  The organization has worked in 90 countries and partnered with hundreds of organizations.