OFFICIAL LIVE BLOG - TRANSCRIPT - Leadership: The BlogHer ’09 Int'l Activist BlogHer Scholarship Winners Share Their Work
Anita: Well I’m so excited to be at this panel. This is the International Activist Scholarship winners. These amazing women are here from different parts of the world and they have just so many things to share with us about their work and how they’re impacting their countries and the women around them and really their society. It’s just – if you go to their Website you can see it’s really amazing what they’re doing. Of course they’ll be able to tell us their story and all the wonderful things that are involved with and this is a case study. It’s great if you guys have questions or if you can get involved and share maybe a little bit of how something has worked with you or has not worked, whether you found a particular area more difficult in terms of engaging other writers and the community around you.
Just a little bit about myself, my name is Anita Doberman and I am a writer/blogger. My blog is AnitaDoberman.com. I am a military wife and I’ve been involved with a few non-profits trying to help military families, some of the wounded soldiers and families that deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. So I’m originally from Italy and I’m just very excited to be here at this panel. So I’ll just ahead and get started with our slides. If you guys want to maybe just go around and say who you are that would be great.
Annie: I’m Annie Zellie from India.
Christina: I am Christina Gesved from Bolivia.
Pilarani: My name is Pilarani Simubanda. I’m from Malawi, Africa.
Tui: I’m Tui Ajo from Nigeria.
Anita: Okay. So why don’t you – Annie, do you want to start to maybe tell us a little bit about your work and how your blog and your work overlap, how all the areas in which you are involved?
Annie: I’ve been a journalist. I am a journalist, out of work journalist (Laughter) but I’ve been a journalist for several years and at some point I was doing a lot of traveling in the country and especially into rural areas in the country and I was discovering the country in a way a lot of urban, middle class people in the country don’t. So I found I had a lot of material that I couldn’t put into my magazine and because every magazine has its own style and trip orders have certain instructions about how you’re supposed to write there is a magazine style. So I started the blog really to extend my work a little bit. In some way perhaps also find my own voice, my own style and that’s how it started.
I also found that the blog was very useful in getting more attention to my other journalist take kind of work. Some of the stories that – one story I’d particularly like to share is about the practice of manure scavenging in our country. Not many people know it and I don’t know if you understand what it means. It is the practice of people picking up human shit with their hands. Technology should have made this obsolete.
Many as it were – I’m sure even in – all over the world this must have been a practice at one point. You did have chamber pots and things like that but in India somehow that transition did not happen. Mostly the people who were caught in these professions were the so-called lower class _______ and even amongst them these people at the bottom of the heap which is women. So the filthiest, the most unhygienic work had to be done by these women who would have to go into house after house after house pick up shit, carry it away in baskets. Lots of people in India just refuse to believe that it exists anymore.
So the governments refuse to acknowledge it. There is a law that was passed by the government a few decades ago and it outlawed the practice but it didn’t – the outlawing didn’t really mean that that translated into actual sort of change, but what the governments did was when the activists started fighting court cases saying that this is outlawed, it shouldn’t be happening the government just turned around and said, “Well it isn’t.” So a lot of activists now are actually going around recording and proving that the practice still exists. People in the media from time to time do pay attention but very often the issue dies down and ten years later somebody has to sit up and say, “Oh that’s still going on.” So I basically did that. I sat up and said, “Oh it’s still going on.”
So I went back into some of the villages and areas and so on. I am very concerned that this shouldn’t be allowed to go on, but sort of in the traditional media space I think I sort of hit a point of you get a cover story but you don’t get more than that. How many cover stories can you do about the same issue again and again and again? So I think that it is slightly problematic getting funding to go out and research your stories online but blogging is one way of keeping alive.
Another thing that I’m very involved with is a campaign against street sexual harassment called Blank Noise which is actually nothing to do with my job but it’s a campaign that started online and that’s one of the remarkable things about because lots of online campaigns stay online but this one started online and went off line. It’s a campaign against street sexual harassment so I decided to take it to the streets and we use the blog essentially as a tool to get people to connect, to share stories but after that a lot of the campaign work happens on the streets and then we record and document that and we put it back on the blog. So there’s a lot of that ongoing.
Anita: Do you guys have any comments or questions or –
Female Speaker: So when you say street sexual harassment specifically – I’m sorry. When you say street sexual harassment are you talking specifically about India and is that – I don’t know much about India I have to say. Is that a huge problem and what exactly do you mean? I mean here you can walk down the street and get hooted at by a man but what exactly is that in India?
Annie: Well in India it could range from comments to verbal abuse to physical abuse. You get pinched, you get groped, you get hit, you get exposed to various parts of male anatomy, you get stalked, all of it. It’s considered just part of a woman’s life.
Female Speaker: Hi Annie. I wanted to ask if you could put that into context, how frequent you think that kind of street level harassment is because I think that for people who live in the United States and who haven’t visited India there could be all kinds of conjecture happening in people’s heads right now. Is that a common, every day, every five second occurrence, “I can’t walk out of my house without that happening,” or is it that it is frequent, etc, etc, etc? Could you comment on that?
Annie: Not every five second definitely. Not even every day necessarily but the way it plays itself out is that it might happen – maybe it might happen only once a month and it will range. I mean you might get comments every other day but those may not bother you as much as the actual physical. It’s actually assault but you don’t call it that. You have this _______ called eave teasing. It’s teasing. So and we have archaic laws which we are trying to lobby to get changed because you have things like the law says outraging a woman’s modesty. Now very commonly what you get is that if you turned around and try to confront the person they make it sound as if you had no modest to begin with. So what is there to outrage? You are dressed in jeans therefore you have no modesty.
Female Speaker: In the United States that’s called, “She was asking for it.”
Annie: Yeah. We have a whole campaign called, “We do not ask for it.”
Female Speaker: So Annie, I was curious what your work with Blank Noise has encompassed and how writing and blogging about these different issues what results you’ve had from them.
Annie: Blank Noise started off in a very – it was started by this girl called Jasmine and she’s an artist and she looks upon it – I mean if she’s asked to describe it she describes it as a public parts patry art project. For the rest of us it’s a campaign but for her it’s as much about documenting and participating as it is about anything else. So what we do is we plan something, a street intervention. It could be as simple as just going and standing in a street. Five of us will go and we will stand in the street. We will not answer questions. We will not respond. We will not get aggressive. We will just stand there.
We have stare backs because people stare at you all the time so sometimes you just stare back at them. You don’t say anything. It has great impact because it unnerves people like nothing else I have seen. It is very empowering. I think it’s one of the most empowering experiences of my life to just stand in the street and stare back, look at people in the eye. We don’t do that. We’re taught not to do that.
It creates – the moment you do that you change the dynamic of the space around you because women do not usually stand in the street and look at people in the eye. If they do then there will be people who come up and say, “You shouldn’t be doing that.” That happens to us. We don’t justify our actions. We just stand there. That’s one part of it.
The rest of it is documenting and a lot of it is getting people to speak out because there is the psychology, the social psychology that – the whole asking for it psychology. You must have done something. You were out at 8:00 at night. You were out at 10:00 at night. You were out at 5:00 in the morning. You were out wearing this. You were out alone. Why were you out alone in the first place at that hour in that place?
It is to break that down to say it is not about what you wear. It’s not about how old you are. It’s not about wearing red lipstick or wearing a red dress or anything. All of that comes into play. So we break that down by collecting testimonies from women across ages. They range from 11 year old girls to 60 year old women and too basically – we put up exhibitions in places where we can to break that down also.
Anita: So has your blog and your work sort of been able to bring this to the center of the media? Have you been able to reach to women and –
Annie: Blank Noise for me started off as a blog-athon. They had a blog-athon on March 8th that was Women’s Day and they said, “We invite stories that – of street sexual harassment,” and that’s how I got involved because I was a blogger and so I blogged my story and thousands of women all over the country did. There was this huge response. A lot of us then got involved with the Blank Noise blog and then we took our involvement offline.
Anita: I’m sure if you guys have something to add how you all got involved with a blog if you want to share sort of how – especially we’re talking before, how did it happen for you to start the blog and then how do you reach out to other people to affect social change.
Tui: Okay. I think on some of the leadership trainings that I’ve gone for some of them are come with the instruction that it will be good for us to learn how to blog and that’s blogging is really empowering and everything. I think I go to my Blog Her like in 2006 and I didn’t really do anything about it. I just move into talking with people, talking at conferences and all that without really checking out what blogging can really do. In general last year I was invited by an organization called Women’s Technology Empowerment Center that I should come and work with them because the executive director believes that I’m a very good gender activist and that she needs somebody like that in the workplace. I need to learn all the tools that we’re going to be teaching the women.
So that took me back to Web 2.0 of _______ a very long time. So I kind of got into it and I was not – it was amazing that we spent a lot of time doing what I want to achieve a better result a long time ago on gender issues, women’s human rights, feminism, issues in Nigeria because there have been a lot of issues and I’ve written of a lot of materials that I feel I can get published one day. So I discovered blogging and I was so clear from the beginning that when I’m setting up my blog these are the things I’m going to focus on. I’m going to address issues that women face in Nigeria like – you mentioned, “She asked for it,” kind of slogan. That’s common like people feel, “Well she got raped because she exposes cleavage. Why would she not cover up?”
Well I don’t understand how you can justify that and it happens to a lot of young girls to like three years old being raped by the father or an uncle. “She brought it upon herself.” Why a woman being brought – blamed for what they didn’t too – what they didn’t bring upon themselves. I know that. So I didn’t have a lot of issues in mind and I feel, “Okay, this is really an avenue.
So push out all this information to _______ ________ to seek to offer solution, to see other people I can work with and how we can really turn a lot of situations around in Nigeria because for a very long time there have been a lot of organizations – I’m not going to deny that – working on women’s human rights issues in Nigeria, working to her Leslie and I did discover one thing that the mindset of the people has just been stopped. So well this that has been done. Well this is Nigeria. We have to do it the way it’s been done. So what’s a woman going to be a president for?
I just discover that the mindset is still something that has to be really worked on and because of that I feel my blog is really, really breaking barrier because I’ve discovered a lot of Nigeria community online and I discover that some of them have these issues in mind and they feel because they don’t want to be judged they kind of keep quiet about it. When I came out on my blog to say I am a feminist, no apology to anybody and one lawyer, a blogger, a female, came up to say, “Well I am a feminist but I don’t want to be judged so I don’t mention it.” She says things like that on the blog. She kind of tried to justify why people shouldn’t call that a feminist.
So we got talking and from our discussion reasonably together she came out one day and said, “Huh, I’m a feminist. Damn all the consequences. Why do I have to apologize to anybody about” – (Applause) and that to me is discovering somebody that can work to change things, that can effect policy because she’s a lawyer. If she’s hiding within herself she won’t know that she can do that much. That has led me to meeting other people that have wonderful project that want to do with girls and women because we discovered it’s not about just making noise and feel like we have to challenge people all the time.
It’s about really working on ourselves first because if you don’t allow people to walk on you just like you said you stare back at them like you know that you have – you’re empowered. You can stand on your own. You can hold your own together all the time. You are aware of issues. You have information. You know that your life doesn’t start or end with a man. Now it doesn’t have to be the one that decide how your life is going to be, that you are a whole person on your own.
Now we can start addressing issues because then that won’t be people after like turn back to look at you and feel that, “Oh the only way I can get to be listened to with this woman, this empowered woman is to see things away. We feel that that kind of empowerment will really help our young girls that still have the stereotype about what their roles should be, what they should do – well their role is largely in the kitchen and we still feel in the 21st century we still have all these kinds of things. Yeah. Since I started on my blog I kind of get a lot of ideas of how to strategize and get a lot of things out to the right people, to get a lot of girls and women trained. That helped with the work I do now because I discuss with my executive director that there’s a need for us to include gender and leadership in all ICT training for women and girls.
It’s really been amazing because these girls and women just come up with a series of things that have learned maybe in the Bible or the tradition that’s – the kind of tradition that they practice in their tribe. So all these girls just come up with different things that limits them and we’re able to discuss and logically, reasonably we’re able to see that, “Oh those are just barriers that are placed there for you know to see the big picture.” So my blog has really, really made lots of huge impacts in discovering community that can work with in being able to convince people about gender equality, women’s human rights and feminism.
Anita: It sounds like you’ve been able with your blog also to start from grass root and effect change that were not – is it difficult to reach out to a lot of different – I mean is difficult to get people involved in blogging, other women to kind of get involved in?
Anita: I’m sure everybody probably has the same experience. I don’t know. Christina, do you want to talk a little bit about how you were able to reach out to different segment of women?
Christina: Okay. Yeah. Well I would speak a bit about some historical aspects of my country and the reason which has motivated me to work on two blogs were indigenous people Bolivia before it was Bolivia they were the original inhabitants of this – of that territory. So with the arrival of the Spaniards and then until the Constitution of the Republic indigenous peoples were put in the lowest place. Even the Republic was created in 1825 indigenous peoples stayed in that place. So I did in the last years there has been a lot of changes in Bolivia. So one of the things that I always wanted to write about was about indigenous peoples because if you write something about this topic mass media will not cover it because they are not interested in covering this topic.
So I had a possibility to be invited to an event organized by a community of bloggers in Bolivia which is Bolivia Voices. I – in that opportunity I had to the possibility to meet bloggers from Bolivia, from other cities from Bolivia. So then we received some training. Bloggers from El Alto which is a city of indigenous migrants from general areas mainly and I decided to put the name that says Indigenous Bolivia to my blog. The first one was in Spanish. I started with a blog in Spanish.
Then it had the objective to speak about different areas of what indigenous peoples are in Bolivia. I wanted to speak about history, about art, about music and about all the activities that are concerned with indigenous peoples in Bolivia. It’s not very common to have blogs that speak about – that write about this topic. So it was a challenge for me, too because when I started I think the first year I had some – I received some comments, I would say, because there is also – there is still racism and discrimination. So sometimes it bothers some people in society speak about indigenous peoples.
So but I try to ignore that because for me it’s important to continue writing about this topic because I am – I have an indigenous background. So that’s my responsibility to speak about my ancestors because this is my roots. Who will write about them? We, the ones who are members of the indigenous peoples have the obligation; I think to write about it, to make this known because nobody will do that. Because we know our reality, we know how life is in rural areas and we know how a situation is.
So I thought it was important to use this tool to make known this topic. That’s really important for me. Last year I started to blog in English because I wanted – because with Spanish I had the possibility to speak about indigenous people but only to a certain audience and I wanted to – somebody suggested me last year, “Why don’t you start blogging in English?” Or I said, “Yeah, English is not my mother language. I don’t speak it very well. I don’t write it very well.” But I said, “Okay, I will write because I have to do it. Who will do it then?”
Then that’s why I started the indigenous peoples in English version. You will see that we have a different view of life in indigenous peoples. We are not going to speak about only men or a woman separated. We speak about women and men together because that’s the center of the social structure within the indigenous peoples.
Also I try – I include music. If you check my blog you will see that I have included native music. It’s also very important for us because everything in the rural area, what makes rituals, important events are only ones that are accompanied with music. That’s very important. So that’s why I decided to include it in both blogs.
They have native music and that’s important because when a person enters my blog they have the possibility to listen to the music we have and that’s – I think that’s a type of language. Also photography, pictures which is something that I love to do, photography. I try to include as many pictures as I can because I think that perhaps I cannot communicate especially in English I cannot communicate all I want to say with my words, but you can see also the pictures and perhaps you will understand how life is mainly rural area looking at those pictures. Those are the important facts about my blog.
What motivates me to continue writing is that unlike – I have seen that there are not many indigenous blogs. I mean there are not indigenous women and men within all the different indigenous peoples not only Bolivia but also in other countries writing about our realities and I think that’s important. I will like in the future, I will like to write or to open other blog which could cover aspects, history and events, all the things concerned with other indigenous peoples in the world. I know that there are indigenous peoples living in reservations. I cannot – how can they live in reservations in this century.
They have – all of us are human beings. So I think that all of us, all of indigenous peoples should be writing about this because we are also part of this sacred mother earth and all of us are daughters and sons of our sacred mother. So we are in the – we are very near our mother. So how can indigenous peoples in some countries could be living that way? I cannot – it must change.
Anita: Those are – this is just amazing how these bloggers are really able to go into unchartered territories and make change that – I mean it’s just unbelievable historically what they’re all doing. I mean really reaching out to this different segment of the population. I don’t know if you guys have any reactions in terms of their specific work or some of the different things that they use on their blogs if anybody has questions or comments.
Female Speaker: Good afternoon ladies. My name is Danielle. I write at NaughtyAre.com. I want to first say how absolutely fabulous it is that you’re here. I’m so proud of you all.
(Applause) I wonder if anyone wants to answers this this is fine but I specifically want to speak to a point that you just made recently. I wrote down a lot of questions already. You said that you experience racism and discrimination on your blog and I was wondering do you feel that from your fellow country people or do you feel that worldwide? A lot of people use blogging as a way to empower themselves and I wonder if this is a way that you utilize writing to fight that fight or if you focus on racism and discrimination or how you handle that?
Christina: Okay. I think it was because of when I started blogging about indigenous peoples of course this topic was in debate in the country and it continues because as I told before the country was always governed by a certain group of people but not with – it was not governed by any member of indigenous peoples. So to speak about this topic I think was – surely it could annoy to some people but – and also because we have since three years ago we have in Bolivia an indigenous president, Evo Morales. He’s the first time that we have an indigenous president in Bolivia, in the history of Bolivia. So to speak about these topics is – I think it’s – it could – it’s something new. It was something new.
It is a lie to some people in the country because there are some people that are, “Hey,” they say, “We cannot be governed by an indigenous – a member of an indigenous group,” but it’s changing. Well I was receiving for a certain time is some comments but it was the first year. Now I don’t receive that type of comments. But I have – well the only thing I did was to erase comments and nothing else because I cannot do anything else but now I have a Twitter account and I also write small lines about these topics, too but I have – I always – everyday or every week new people is following me through Twitter which is something important for me, too.
Female Speaker: What is your Twitter? Which one is your Twitter?
Christina: It’s BolivianDehena2.
Female Speaker: Okay.
Christina: Indigenous Bolivia. I mean –
Female Speaker: Indigenous Bolivia?
Christina: Yeah. Both – I have a Twitter account in the Spanish version and I have an English Twitter account in the English version and both are in my blogs. So I think it will be easier to find.
Female Speaker: So people can get the – I think one –
Female Speaker: I was in Turkey last year when Blogger was shut down and I also read some blogs from Zimbabwe where they have a lot of problems with access constantly. It’s being turned off, turned on and turned off. I was wondering if either just general Internet access has been a problem for any of you or specifically government intervention or censorship issues.
Anita: I don’t know if Pilarani Simubanda from Malawi – you haven’t spoken yet. I don’t know if you want to especially given the topic of your blog if you want to maybe start with answering the question.
Pilarani: Yeah. Zimbabwe’s a neighbor to Malawi and I know that it’s a really big problem but for Malawi where I come from that’s not that – a big problem. You don’t get censorship that much. Of course you get – to get one cause like my blog as you may see it’s mostly story based. I’m a journalist by profession so most of what I write is in a story form and I get to get comments or whatever on what I’m writing from others before I publish them.
So you still get people calling you up and shouting at you for bringing out issues that are not politically correct but so those kinds of things happen. In Malawi journalists have been arrested. They get arrested. Personally I’ve been like detained like for some hours for like covering a story but it’s not as bad as Zimbabwe is and we don’t get that censorship. Malawi, as you may know, that’s where Madonna adopted from if you –
(Laughter) -________ ________ and but the story behind Madonna’s adoption you know we look at it on the sad face mostly. We talk about the child and everything but we don’t know what’s happened to the mother of that child. We know that that child is an orphan. So the stories I look for, looking behind. As you might see from my tapes I said, “Question, question, question.” I usually question.
So okay, where’s the mother of this child? She died. She died in childbirth. So the story I would do for my blog would basically look at what happens in childbirth. Why is there a lot of maternal mortality in Malawi? So the stories – I question what’s the health service like.
So if you go through my blog the stories you’d see are fistula. You know fistula, the condition where you get complications and then you start leaking urine and sometimes feces. We have people in Malawi that have been leaking feces for 23 years and nothing is being done. It’s like there’s no sensitization that goes to the community to say this condition is reversible. People think they’ve been bewitched because most of the people are not educated, most of the women especially because sometimes families have to make choices.
This is a country where most people live below $1.00 a day. So if a family of six they only have one meal a day. So when it comes to choices on who to send to school it’s basically the boy who really go to school. So the girl would stay home. She would still believe in old age stories. She would think if she has fistula she’s been bewitched or she was unfaithful, things like that. So these are the kind of stories I write and also write to another _______ groups.
So we have tobacco farmers. Tobacco is Malawi’s main export crop. We get most of our money from agriculture. So you get to have some kind of 21st century slavery. People in – that work in the tobacco industry are really mistreated. They’re given food. They’re given soap for bathing. They’re rationed and the government looks the other way because we get a lot of money from tobacco.
So these are the kind of stories that I write and I’m glad that the international community gets to hear what happens in Malawi from my blog. One thing I can say is that I don’t really write for the local communities because most of the people as I say are poor and they don’t have access to the Internet. So what I’m trying to do with my blog is to get the international community to know what’s going on. For example, last year I was – one of my stories on my blog was awarded by the Elders, that Kofi Annan, Mandela and other former presidents. Former President Jimmy Carter was also there.
So because people get to know now what’s going on and they get to understand that _______ there’s some kind of activism here and in that way also the people that are mistreating others, they get to look behind their back and they start to make a difference. Like in the tobacco industry now you can see a bit of a difference that people are being treated well now and even in issues to do with maternal health. You get now to get programs that women are being treated more and I’m glad to say even through what I write I am doing some advocacy work for UNFPA, United Nations Populations Fund. These are the – this is the ______ agency that deals with maternal health. So you get recognitions for blogging. So basically that’s what I got to say about my blog.
Anita: I think there was another question over there.
Female Speaker: See what you’ve got you guys.
Female Speaker: Hi, I’m ______ ______ and I write ADimpleAndASmirk.com and my question’s kind of piggy-backing on the government kind of shutting down blogs. I was curious to see if anyone has been assisting you in getting your word out or maybe affecting issues that maybe you weren’t wanting to think about but now that they’re reading your blog and realizing there is a voice that they need to address in getting more support politically.
Anita: I don’t really know about – well I actually do. Last year there was this list of ten or twenty blogs that the government had released and it had sent them out to service providers, Internet service providers saying that these sites are to be blocked. I have to confess that some of them I was rather glad because they’re extreme right-wing and full of hatred and the sort stuff that you think should be shut down but then there is a bloggers collective blog and a Google group where we talk about these things and one group of that group is at positioned at the extreme which believes in complete freedom of speech. So if you are going to allow the left to speak up there’s no way you can stop the right from speaking up and if you’re going to allow – where do you draw the line?
Now the government in India is coming down – it’s the latest thing. They’ve come down very hard on SabadabHabib.com which is a comic strip online sofa and it’s put together I think by people of Indian origin but they’re anonymous so you can’t tell. It’s these guys and it’s basically a porn strip. It’s about this Habib – Habib means sister-in-law. So this nice housewifely woman who wears a sari and stays home but is having all these sexual escapades on the side. For awhile it was amusing but I personally sort of – I don’t really know what position to take on that because should the government step in? Shouldn’t the government step in?
Since I’m an advocate of free speech I feel that perhaps the government should not step in and let people decide for themselves what they want hear, listen, speak, blog about but yes, the government does come down hard and a lot of people did make a lot of noise and one of the bloggers that I know wrote a letter to the government, to the Ministry of Information and Technology and asked for a clarification to say that has such a list been issued and not just hemming and hawing. Finally, one of the service providers stepped in and said that yes, such a list has been issued then the government was silent for it on awhile. I don’t really know what’s happening exactly right now. I think it’s – I think some of the sites are still out.
Female Speaker: Have you guys found –
Tui: I am – in Nigeria for example with all that – well this has been happening in some countries where governments gets bloggers arrested and everything and we thought, “Well since this is democrat at time in Nigeria well Western in the translation process that people are free to express themselves at everything.” I think there is a blogger that doesn’t stay in Nigeria but he has posted a lot of things about governments, corruption and everything and he writes in magazine. So I think his online work really drew attention to a lot of issues that the government really doesn’t want to talk about. He came to Nigeria one time to do something and he was arrested.
So the SSS just stop him in the airport and they took him. There were so much online correspondence and advocacy and lobby, ad campaign for his release eventually he was released and they still seize his passport for awhile that he couldn’t go out of the country and all that. That really kind of affected a lot of people on what they write. Like on my blog I do an interview every Thursday for – I try to indentify other bloggers or other people that can talk about progressive issues, development issues, social issues so that we can see how we can take action, how we can brainstorm and everything and that was a singular person or blogger that I featured at one of their interview. Her name is Socari.
I don’t know if anybody has been to a blog block looks. She stays in the United State, in the U.K. She was really, really so angry about a lot of issues in Nigeria especially in the Nigel Delta area. Nigel Delta is where we get our crude oil from and the region is not developed. So there are a lot militants, actions, military killing the militants and the whole thing became messy and has been on for a very long time.
The interview – when I read the response it was really, really huge and she was passionate about these issues and some of the comments that I received eventually was that, “Oh both of you should try and get amnesty or something because I’m not sure the government won’t come and pick you up for asking these questions, for responding the way she did.” Well I don’t think I have any fear. If they want to come and arrest us they should come. That’s the reason we have this community that is growing and they believe that people need to speak up for evil in the society to be corrected.
Anita: Such brave bloggers. I feel like they should talk for hours each. I’m sorry, we have time but I know you had another question. Maybe Christina has –
Female Speaker: That was my comment. I’m sitting here crying because I’m just so impressed with all of you and it brings out so much of what I’ve experience at this conference of – I learned so much yesterday from Katie Orenstein at the Op Ed Project where she was talking about – she was talking with an overwhelming American group 80 percent of whom admitted that they were afraid to express their opinions. They were afraid to own – it was called Own Your Expertise, to say, “I am an expert in this because,” and had a horrible time just coming forward with that. Then going to the Sarah Palin thing yesterday afternoon.
Anita: Yes, I was there.
Female Speaker: Listening for 25 minutes, white American women arguing between what’s pro-woman versus feminist and we’re having a pie fight over that and then I come here and I listen to you and I start crying. I – there are a couple of people here who are helping to organize this conference and I hope that they will think about having the international scholarship winners speak in the ballroom because I think all of you are so much more important as bloggers than the Daily Beast.
(Applause) That is not to offend anyone but the only reason I’m not down at the Blogging in the Age of Brittany is because it’s overflowing. Listen to them. They’re changing the world and thank you.
Anita: Thank – no thank you for your comment.
Anita: If – I was going to say if you guys know – if you want to say how has blogging changed your lives? Christina if you want to start like how has – we know how much you are affecting the lives of others but how has this changed your life personally and professionally briefly?
Christina: Oh a lot, a lot because as I told you before it’s a challenge to write – to start blogging about a topic that nobody could be interested in. It’s a challenge because of the situation of the country and because of the changes that have been lately in the country it’s – doors and doors that have been opening for all the people that has been ignored. I forgot to add something here for example, in the case of Afro-Bolivians. The Afro-Bolivians community was also ignored in Bolivia. I think – I remember in 1880 the Constitution declared the abolition of slavery but the Republic was founded in 1825, but in the last census Afro-Bolivians were not included in the census but now, this year, we have a referendum in Bolivia in January and since that time we have a new Constitution and Afro-Bolivians are officially included as one of the groups in Bolivia.
It’s the first time they are included and also there is – I wrote about this in my English blog. There was an Afro-Bolivian, a woman and she was named as a director. She’s National Director of – it’s an area which fights against racism and discrimination. So that’s important for the country because not only indigenous peoples have been recognized but also Afro-Bolivians. So to speak about this in my blogs it’s also important because they have been recognized, but I don’t know – for example, in Bolivia an Afro-Bolivian blogger but who will write about them?
One has to write about them because it’s something new. That’s why it’s important for me to blog and to continue blogging, too because somebody has to say, “Oh those – these changes that have been taking place in my country,” because it’s – to see for example, female indigenous women as deputies or senators or in other situations is important but I need to put this – to use this tool, a blog to communicate this to the world otherwise nobody will do it because mass media is in hands of private hands. Yeah.
Anita: Pilarani, what – I mean if you want to say something about that also in relation to some of the work that you did. I mean I – it’s right here on the slide. You have saving sex workers in Malawi. I’m sure that –
Pilarani: Yeah. For me I think the satisfaction in blogging comes in when I see a woman, for example having been repaired from fistula after 23 years. For me that makes me very happy. Even sex workers. Usually you get to talk to some sex workers and they say they do it for fun but for most women in Malawi who are prostitutes they are doing it because they have to survive. Some are doing it to send their children to school. So you know you get to write about them and then you get end yours coming in to rescue them, to teach them vocation jobs and all that and then they get back to living normal lives. So for me I think that’s the ultimate that happens. But blogging has also opened doors. I’ve never been to Chicago. Here I am.
(Laughter and Applause)
Pilarani: You know sometimes you get called upon like you’re an expert of some kind, like as I was talking about the Madonna adoption the British Broadcasting Corporation called me soon after the court said she could adopt and they said, “Okay, what do you think about this?” I’m just sitting there (Laughter) – I’m just a _______ journalist in Malawi and they’re calling me to say, “Okay, you’re the expert.” “I’m fine.” So I wouldn’t say no to that.
Anita: Sure. There was a question.
Female Speaker: Yeah. I have a question and it comes out of what you’re all saying and also I’ve done a lot of work with a group of young people that you remind me a lot of called MidEastYouth.com. You might have heard of them. They’re young people all across Middle East and also North Africa and they’ve all kind of gotten together because they realize there are so many young people around the world who are up to two different things – and I really hear this in what you’re doing – number one, raising awareness about particular issues and then translating it into actions outside the blogosphere that are changing policy or changing people’s lives and things like that. What I’ve noticed with my work with that group is that when they go to conferences like that people are moved and they want to contribute somehow. So I’m wondering where you guys are with that.
There might be a shift or a connection to go from the blogosphere to affecting policy change or people’s lives and then what do you need at this point? Do you need people to spread the word? Are you fund raising? Do you need people to affect policy by writing to policy makers or what do you see as needed next for your work?
Tui: I think for me there are two political policies that I really want to be affected in Nigeria. The first is the domestication of Seadog, that is convention on the elimination of all forms of discriminations against women. Nigeria ratified this instrument since 1985 but they also kept throwing it out of the Parliament and their phony argument the last time it was presented was that, “Oh you now want women to be equal in family life. No way.” The second argument is, “Oh now you want our women to be aborting. So you want us to support abortion.” Because there is a part of it that talks about reproductive rights being the rights of women and because of that they just rule it out.
That really is kind of hurting me so much because I really wanted this to be documented for – domesticated for a long time because it’s really going to change a lot of issues, the grass roots women will be protected because the law will be in place and their rights will be respected but it’s not been documented. What I really want to do now is I want to move into _______ institutions in Nigeria to form clubs because we have clubs like JCI. I was a member of JCI in school, ISEC. We have Amnesty International and other. So I want to _____ ______ ______ ______ club for women and the further we can try to see how we can campaign, lobby and everything so that it will be a lot of collective group of women talking about these issues. That’s one.
The second one is really like a bill, not a policy this time around. I think this woman senator was sponsored – I don’t know – by somebody and she just came up with what is called Indecent Dressing Bill in Nigeria and she presented it in the House even before they threw it out. Police officers started harassing women. We have – I’m not going to lie about it. It’s something that really breaks my heart. I hate our police force in Nigeria.
They are corrupt. They don’t have respect for human rights. They don’t respect anybody’s rights not in our talk of women. If you speak up to them they kind of tell you, “Woman, is that how you talk to your husband in the house? Don’t talk to” – women take domestic violence issues to them. They kind of throw it back in their faces that, “Woman, that’s a family affair. Go back home.” It’s really crazy.
This woman now came up with Indecent Dressing Bill and before we know what it going on police officers are arresting women and some men would start on their hairs and like me with dreadlocks on my head that’s indecent and why should I dress this way. Why? So they were harassing a lot of people. For awhile we dealt with the issue and it’s calmed down because a lot of people spoke up. It was really, really a huge campaign.
Recently, she just came up with the bill again. She said well she really has to have this being passed because a lot of supporters are coming up to her. I could see where that’s coming from because Nigeria is really, really religious. You have a lot of religious groups from the Conservative, the people that believe there are certain ways to be dressed because that’s what their religion preaches and these people are going back to her to let her go and put this bill back into the table. This is something I really – by this time – by the time I get back to Nigeria I’m really working with a lot of women to see how if it’s – if it means going to the House ourselves just saying, “No, we are the women of this country and we are saying we don’t want this bill to be passed because it’s really, really going to mean a lot to us. A lot of people will be harassed and our rights that is not being recognized in the first place would just be thrown to the gutters.” So those are the things I really want to work on.
Anita: I feel terrible even saying we have a few minutes left. So I want to make sure that you guys give a – I know everybody deserves an hour ______ but if you can give just a quick response to the question that would be great. Thank you.
Pilarani: For me I think a pattern developing. I think there is also need for international support. One of the stories I did, the serving sex workers when I wrote it some people from Denmark wrote me and say it’s good. The sex workers do some clothing, like an African clothing and then we can sell it to you in Denmark. So it has worked and the man is going back to the sex workers and some of them are saying, “Enough of this; we are going back home. We are going to start a new life and this is a business state.” I know like here, these Americans for UNFP that go around trying to raise money for fistula. That works also.
So apart from we talk about it but talking about it is not enough. We need help as well. They are quite – the organizations are out there. They end yours in Malawi. There – even the UN agencies. If people are willing to send money they can send to these end yours and they can link them up and a difference could be done.
Christina: Well _____ I will add that in my case I think it’s important, it’s very important that more people can know about indigenous peoples because indigenous peoples have a different life, a different way of looking at life and I think if anyone of you can help, can make a link, can speak about our blogs it’s okay because anyone – I think anyone may do something. We can do a lot of things for the others. So it’s a principle of solidarity, we say. We do something and the other does other thing. That’s the principle I think that we should – that we can manage because something is not easy.
I have a main ______ area. Many times I have travelled but I have gone to rural areas. A lot of these are bad to work in because there are no possibilities. But one can do what’s possible to do. So I thought – once I thought asking for sponsorship but I didn’t know how to do it. So I am – I don’t know how to do it.
Anita: Thank you. Annie _______.
Annie: Okay, I have to say that my – I don’t have any plans. I am not a very good plan maker but I see myself predominantly as a writer and I don’t like to spread myself out too thin because then I feel like I’m losing focus and I’m not getting anything done. So I am in the media and what my immediate plans, whether or not for the blog but in general are that the stuff that is important to me, stuff that I want other people to know about. What I’m doing is I’m using many ways to get them to know about it like sometimes you use only blog posts but I also write poetry and fiction and I think that sometimes fiction can be more effective than a news report if you can get people to really feel something better that way. Then use that. It depends.
Sometimes – I don’t know. Sometimes I use song. Sometimes I use poetry like one of the very well-known activists and a doctor, a medical doctor who was working with the poor in India was arrested by the state for having sympathies with the Nexans who are malists who are militant and extreme left crew. He was put in jail and he’s been in jail for two years and a campaign was mounted, a blog was set up, a Facebook group was set up, meetings were organized. Other activists courted arrest and said, “Arrest us, too.”
At that time I couldn’t be there. I didn’t have the funds to travel and get myself arrested basically. I couldn’t afford it. (Laughter) But I did what I could and finally I just sat up that whole night to think about what can I do. I couldn’t come up with anything so I came up with a song instead, Songs of Sympathy I called it because sometimes you need to question not just the nature of an event but the nature of people’s psychology also. What is the crime of sympathy? You need to question that, too.
So yeah, I think that is my general sort of plan. I don’t raise funds myself. I connect to other people who are. I just put a link up and say, “Want to give funds? Go here.” I don’t want to collect any.
Anita: I think we’re – we have one minute left. So I just want to – if you want to have just a super quick question.
Female Speaker: Thanks. I’ll make way. Yeah. I just wanted to say that in terms of sponsorship there’s a wonderful organization named Women for Women International and for $150.00, $160.00 U.S. dollars a year they will purchase the tools for women all over the world to start their own businesses and become self-sufficient. You can sponsor them on your own. You can sponsor them with friends. You can send monthly payments. If that’s something that you’re interested in I would highly recommend looking at that Website. You’ve all done amazing work on your own. I feel bad even mentioning that you should do something else but for yourselves or for anyone in your country that you feel if would be helpful that’s a great organization to send them to.
Anita: Thank you.
Christina: Thank you. Thank you.
Anita: Thank you so much for coming to the panel and obviously these women are amazing. So I think we’re all changed by just sitting here and listening.
Christina: Could I say a last word, please?
Christina: Well I would like to first of all, to thank you, to all of you, to the founders of Blog Her because I think you are doing a great job.
(Applause) I also want to thank you to each one of you who have come here to hear us because that’s what we need, to express our solidarity within women. We are from different cultural diversity but we are at the same time one. A female energy that may change the world and we are going to change the world, I’m sure of that.
Elisa: Thank you Christina; thank you Annie; thank you Pilarani, thank you Toyan and thank you Anita. I just got asked and I thought it was a great idea if you wanted to create a hash tag so that you want to promote the work of these women for the people who are not here it’s such a long title there. How about hash tag Blog Her do activist. Do we need international? That just makes it so long.
Female Speaker: How about BH Activism?
Elisa: I think if you want to get the people who are searching for Blog Her in this very active period on the Internet –
Female Speaker: Just Blog Her Activist and then you can use it every year.
Female Speaker: What I did was created a bit L Y link to the Blog Her page that has all of the links to their blogs and I tweeted that.
Elisa: Okay, can you retweet –
Female Speaker: It’s with the Blog Her cattail.
Elisa: Let’s retweet it with hash tag Blog Her Activists and then we can all retweet – this is – what’s your – Blue Gal?
Female Speaker: Blue Gal.
Elisa: This is Blue Gal so then we can all look for her tweet and retweet because I think the link to your work is really, really important. Let’s tweet it.
(Laughter and Applause)
Anita: I’m sorry. Annie has a book signing later on so you guys can all –
Elisa: Yeah, Annie has a book signing.
Female Speaker: Thank you Anita for _______.
Female Speaker: Yes.
Female Speaker: Did I something wrong – else?
Female Speaker: Oh it’s Christina’s birthday today.
All: Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Christina. Happy birthday to you.
Female Speaker: Happy birthday.
Christina: Thank you.
Elisa: Thanks everyone.
Christina: Okay, thank you.
Elisa: Thank you.
Male Speaker: one more round of applause.
(Laughter and Applause)
Christina: Thank you Elisa. Thank you so much for bringing those turn.
Elisa: Thank you so much.
Christina: You’re wonderful.