OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: The International Activist Blogger Scholarship Recipients Keynote

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer '10 panel: The International Activist Blogger Scholarship Recipients. Click here for more info.

Our second annual International Activist Blogger scholarship program highlights the work of women who are galvanizing social change and social justice across their communities -- and by the very public and distributed nature of the Internet -- across the world. For some of them, this work is not without risk, yet still they continue. Because raising their voices is not a luxury or a whim or an option. It is a necessity. This year BlogHer presents its International Activist Blogger panel as a keynote, so that every attendee can be inspired, right along with us, by the work of our four impressive recipients. Perhaps their work can serve as a catalyst to activate each of us and our communities around the issues closest to our hearts.

This year's recipients include Esra'a Al Shafei from Bahrain, who is the founder of; Dushiyanthini Pillai from Sri Lanka, who publishes Humanity Ashore; Marie Trigona from Argentina, who publishes Latin American Activism/MujeresLibres; and Freshta Basij-Rasikh from Afghanistan, who contributes to the Afghan Women's Writing Project.

More about the four BlogHer '10 International Activist Bloggers

More about the history of the BlogHer International Activist Scholarship


ELISA CAMAHORT PAGE: It's been a great couple of days, now, I will bring up our third cofounder, Lisa Stone, and she will introduce this morning's keynote which we are excited about - international activist scholarship group. This is the second group doing it, and we couldn't be more thrilled to welcome them to BlogHer, Lisa?

LISA STONE: Good morning, everybody. You know, when I was watching Stephanie of Little Purple Cow last night about the incredible work that she and Jen Lemen of ShutterSisters/Picture Hope have done with Odette to bring her children to the United States, I was reminded again of how much most of us care enormously about what's happening to women who blog around the globe. We have with us this morning four women who are exceptional leaders. They are international activists. The work they have done with their blogs is jaw dropping, and I mean that technically, as well as creatively. There is one consideration that I would like for you to take this morning.

The two women who are sitting in these two chairs, it's just actually a matter of life and death that their image not appear, their faces not appear on line. So if you could refrain from taking videos or photographs of the two people sitting here, Ezra and Freshta would appreciate it. If you do take a photograph, blotting out faces is extremely important, but I'm not sure that anything could be more powerful than their actual words. So, please help me welcome this year's winners of the international activists scholarship panel to BlogHer.

LISA STONE: Well this is easy, right. How many thousands of miles it's taken to get here. [Please scroll down to the “Attachments” section to download the PDF of the keynote PowerPoint presentation.] I'm going to start by asking Freshta to talk to us a little bit. The Afghan Women's Writing Project, Freshta, could you do us the favor of describing what the goal of this important site is as well as talking a little bit about how this assists Afghan women to Afghan women, how a direct voice in the media, do their families know they participate and how do they get on line?

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: The project had established in 2009 by a woman novelist and journalist that were AWWP is to empower women to have voice in the world despite a deteriorating security situation. So that's why the women start writing and post it on there. [View Freshta’s articles on the AWWP.]

LISA STONE: So one of the ways in which many women in this community, I think, got to know this site is by the story “I'm for sale, who will buy me” by a woman who goes by the by line anonymous. That story and the follow up devastating aftermath to it was well read in the American media. You have different take on your experience, and you have spent a great deal of time writing some incredible poetry. I put up on this slide two examples of your writing, one of which is a great essay on a classic clash between eastern and western culture when it comes to gender. Those of you who have Muslim friends may have devout Muslim friends who by virtue of their belief don't shake hands with men, don't hug men and “Do Not Shake My Hand, Please!”, is a story of a young woman who is put in a situation where she doesn't want to offend but at the same time is interested in an employment opportunity she has been given. But most of your writing is poetry on the site. And I wondered if you would treat us to a reading of your work and tell us your work and tell us a little more about this poem.

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: My poem, “My Red Eyes”, is about when I came to U.S., I saw the situation and I compare youth situation with my country, so it inspired me to writing this poem. So I wrote this poem so I have some so I compare my eyes with the situation, current situation of my country and then I start writing this poem, which my eyes. Blood replaces my tears. Blood covers my eyes. Blood tears off my. Cry, cry, cry for your country, cry for your country.

An accident happy our country so we have seen the blood and these people die so I compare my eyes with the blood. We are at war in our country so people die and when a person die, he has a family, and he left children, which in our country, usually family have supported by the father because most of the women they don't have job and the only person who provide and support the children is the father. So when a father die, children remain, and they don't have any person to support them and they become orphan and the wife become widow. So they remain they have no person to support them. So I wrote this point about this.

I wrote about our country which in the past months our government, we have peace, we have unity in our country, and women going to college and university and they have no security not security, but now we see only women have, they can go to college, university, and get job in the capital and some cities. And also in our country, most of the children, they haven't access to education. They don't have they love to have education, but they don't have access to education because our economy situation is very low, and it doesn't have that much ability to provide good education. However, the society and other country are helping our country. Changes came to our country, but that change is not enough because if you compare to family situation which they have low economy, now, the children which came, we have private university, private college, which you must pay high fee for the school. And most of family they have like six, twelve, eight children, with low salary, which the salary is equal to $16, which is equal to $50,000.

So they can't provide all of their children education. So that's low.
And then I wrote about the elders. Cry for your elders who can't take care of your country. Like it has been more than 25 years that war is going on in our country. But still, we haven't seen positive changes in our country. Still, schools are burning in our country. We don't have access to the internet, to the new technology.

LISA STONE: How do most of the women who participate in the afghan writer's project get their posts on line?

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: Yes. They don't have access to the internet, but some of them, they gain access through the school which they have, but most of them they still living in the remote areas, so they can't access to the internet. So they need a male representative to help them find a place to access the internet.

LISA STONE: So do they end up writing the posts out and someone else types them for them?

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: AWWP purchases about 20 computers through the donations, and they send it for the women and some of them they are sending for the women. Yes.

LISA STONE: Did you want to read anymore of your poem.

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: I wrote about the cry for the future of your country, which we don't know that what's going on in our country future. And we don't know what's happening. And cry for your country which have rich mineral deposit but great poverty. We have lots of minerals like iron, like glue, rubbers and other expensive stones like this, but still, everyone is up set from the poverty suffer from poverty. Then I write cry for your country, the deep grief in my head makes eyes runs with a state of blood in my tears. We are beyond help because your land has become a ball in a game. Since, like, and I said it's a ball game, because in a game, because I say that more than 25 years it was going on in our country, and different leader come to our country and they promise they bring changes in our country, but still we didn't see them. It's like a ball in play.

LISA STONE: A ball in a game.

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: Yes, so should I continue more?

LISA STONE: I think a little bit more, yes.

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: So my head says you are beyond help because your land has become a ball in a game. No one wants to give up such a nice ball. My eyes are having I fear I will lose my vision. My cure can be found in need of medication not tranquilizer. I need clear light. So here I mean that we need education because education is the key to solve all of these problems. If we don't have education, so how will the people help our country? All of the problems will never solve, and the only problems we solve is education. Like instead of sending troops in Afghanistan, we need to have our own troops and retrain them. We should have self confidence to serve our country. And but now, then I said I need clear light, but how it's possible to bring bright light to my eyes. My heart says education is the way. Education for all people of your country. For men and women, for all classes, for all. This answer makes me cry even more because it is impossible for everyone to gain an education. I say oh, my God, how difficult is this, education for all people of my land impossible. Especially when our government still doesn't have a lot. So in other countries we see that the government, it's a lot to make education compulsory for the pupil like secondary, but in our country we don't have that the government provide education for all people. So make education obligatory. My tears are bloody as I realize how we are after all of these century. I whisper it will be impossible. My eyes say it is not difficult. It just takes 12 years or maybe 16, so I still feel, I mean that education from first grade up to twelve grade. And I mean to provide university. If your government lays the ground by providing security, then I say and then I know my remain with me all of my life. I won't see light in my eyes, I will be dieing with these bloody dark eyes. Bloody dark eyes mean illiterate. Right now 20% and maybe less than 20% of us have education. And all of them don't have education. So I will be dying with these bloody dark eyes which is my nightmare, and I keep crying, crying, crying.

LISA STONE: Thank you.

LISA STONE: Now, that you have read your poem, I wonder if you can briefly tell me before we go to the MidEast Youth Blog, how do get to be educated, get to be writing for the blog and are you doing in the United States? Just before I ask Esra'a a few questions, could you describe how did you become writing for the afghan women writers project? How did you come to be educated? What are you doing in the United States?
FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: In the United States, before I came here, I got a scholarship. I will be a freshman in college and then I will keep writing and I love to write and then I will do my major and I hope to serve my country.

LISA STONE: Well, congratulations on your full four year scholarship to Middlebury College.

LISA STONE: Esra'a, you have taken the voices of the MidEast into a huge global stage. This is one of the most technically elegant and sophisticated sites I have seen. The integration of network blogs is nothing short of amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to found it, and what your goals are with it.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: The original goal of was to piss off as many dictators as possible.

I founded it by myself and coming from a region where everyone hates each other, you know, if you don't have a history of killing someone you are probably planning on killing someone so I guess what I was trying to do is I looked at the blogosphere and it had this amazing tool at our hands which is the internet. It is the Gateway to freedom of speech in all of the Middle East. So I saw how other people were using blogging and I was not really impressed. I found there was a huge potential not being explored and that we have so many minorities, ethnic and religious, intellectual minorities, people that you don't normally talk to or people you are not allowed to talk to like Iranians and Israelis, so I wanted to be the largest, most diverse network for diverse people in the Middle East, and I can achieve that. Now, we have about 400 people writing for the site from over 22 countries in the region representing every single religion.

LISA STONE: How many languages do you have on the blog.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: We have three languages so we operate in English primarily because it's the common language between us and the Iranians and the Kurds and everyone else. We have podcasts also in languages so we are kind of kicking ass.

LISA STONE: They are totally kicking ass. If you go to the site and page all the way down not only do they have a sophisticated iPhone app but the Blackberry app is awesome. You never see that. [Also check out Mideast Tunes for the iPhone.]

I can name the number of major media organizations in the United States who have both prominently, beautifully displayed on their home page on one hand. I would ask, you know, your emphasis on MidEast youth is very compelling and when I was going through the site, because I often get excellent referrals: how many sites do you have?

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: 15 web sites in total.


ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: And they are filled with things no one else is talking about. To give you a couple of examples, we don't focus on like I'm a woman and I'm an Arab and I don't have that many rights but you don't focus on myself. In my position I can help people who have less human rights than myself such as the Baha’i minority which is the most discriminated against religion in the Middle East. They are being executed for their faith, young women as young as 12 years old are being raped and killed for their faith in countries like Iran and Egypt they have no rights to identification cards so they have no right to dying, basically even no right to healthcare, education, all of that. So we have web sites like the Muslim network for Baha’i rights where we say we are Muslim and we refuse to see people discriminated against. And then we Arab for Kurdish rights because the Kurds have suffered genocide and they are actually the Syrian government is practicing ethnic cleansing against them. It's terrible. So we as members of the majority as Arabs we say we are going to support these members of minority. So we focus on ethnic and religious minorities and migrant workers and cool people who need human rights as well.

LISA STONE: One of the most compelling things about the site is your about page. I was trying to communicate to my 10 year old and my 14 year old what it is that you do. And your about page is a really fascinating cartoon, sort of a graphic novel and I wonder if you could just tell the group what this is, and I strongly urge everyone who is on line to go visit the about page of MideastYouth. What's going on here and who is represented in these frames? I certainly couldn't display all of the different ethnicities, but can you tell us the story behind it.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: Sure, so we had, I have visited a lot of sites and the about page is obviously the first one I like faux visit and by the second line you are nodding yourself to sleep. So I thought, you know, I have to make this as fun and as creative as possible. So when people see the about page, they say, that's creative I want to check this out. Because I was going to read like three or four paragraphs about who you are because at the end no one gives a shit, you know, but you communicate, you look at the comic and you say, okay, the kids know what they are doing and you scroll down, and when you scroll down you see the press about us. And you kind of dwell into exactly what we are doing. There is so much detail that goes into this that it's impossible to communicate it in words. We focus on visual animations because people are, you know, because of things like twitter and Facebook, a lot of people have more ADD. And it's true. It's like, BlogHer was trending yesterday, and now it shuts up. So people are talking all of the time. So it's very important for us to communicate our messages in way that people are going to get it very quickly, you know what I mean.

So young people in the Middle East, we are the majority, and we have a lot of potential for making a huge difference, and the internet is making that possible for us, so we have to communicate to our young people that it's cool to do this stuff - you don't want to be depressing. It's like 10 billion people die from AIDS, what are you doing about it. At the end of the day, it's difficult when you paint that kind of image. So what we do is we take small issues like the Kurdish, the human rights for the Kurdish minority and we say this is the situation, we make fun of a bunch of people in the video, people who are the government officials, all of our work is satire, and these kind of videos make it viral. We once did this video about the Baha’i minority in Egypt. Look at Egypt, bikinis and democracy everyone is free. So we took the CNN ad and we change it out, and it was about identification cards for the Baha’i minority and how you cannot have anything listed in your religion except for Christian, Muslim or if you are Jewish. So all other religions cannot exist in Egypt. They have no right to education, no right to healthcare, nothing. So we did the video and it went viral on You Tube. We were just on German national TV a couple of days ago and the Germans love us for some reason they are always on the front page of German stuff.

LISA STONE: The British broad casting version in Germany.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: We don't pay them and they are featuring our stuff on the front page, the French, the Russians are becoming friendly, they are featuring us. We are working on the Chinese right now.

LISA STONE: Good luck with that. Yes, yes. So what's interesting, for a couple of years I was on a panel of judges for dochowellis blogs awards and they chose nine different languages in which to judge different sites, and I think is that you have got a cross, an international winner in these three languages you are doing a fantastic job, but I'm wondering, it's true that in the Middle East, sattire and fairytale is used a great deal and the Chinese have been doing this in the blogosphere forever. How are you monitoring all of the different coverage of what you are doing?


LISA STONE: How are you monitoring what all of these different countries are writing and saying about your blog.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: It's really difficult. You can never get out there and say you got it wrong, which they often do. But what you want to do is, you know, usually when they come and write about our sites they talk to us, and we tell them what they can sometimes there are certain things they can't write about. We have a lot of anonymous bloggers that prefer their posts not to be mentioned really in international media. For example, we have a lot of L.G.B.T. activists that prefer not to be seen, you know.

LISA STONE: Can you explain why that's an issue for the audience?

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: Why that's an issue, basically, so homosexuality is punishable by prison or death depending where you are located. Sometimes other than that, censorship, we face a lot of censorship. So when you are writing about gay rights and it's being seen by the public, a lot of times the government will say, oh, my God, the gays are here and they will go and censor the web site. In order for us not to be censored, we make sure certain posts stay on the website and don't find themselves on the front page of CNN which happens a lot too. But they always get it wrong.

LISA STONE: What you do is exceptionally dangerous.


LISA STONE: Does your family know what you do?

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: It's funny how my parents found out about what I do. They thought when I was at university I was actually studying, but I was really interested in I was actually leading the biggest campaign to free an imprisoned blogger and that's kind of how I started. It's one of the first campaigns we launched, and by far the most visible campaign for trying to free an imprisoned blogger, one of the most recognized campaigns from around the world. And that really, I think, put me on the international stage and made me what it is today. It was a blogger that got arrested by the Egyptian government for calling the president of Egypt a dictator. And he was like “you call me a dictator, I throw the guy in prison.” Thank you for proving us right! He also got imprisoned because he was insulting religion. I think anyone that insults our faith, are we going to throw them in prison. So I stood up and said, let's do this campaign, and everyone was like, oh, my God, let's not. When I started this campaign, I started doing it alone in my dorm room and it was difficult to get any kind of attention. I was calling CNN and Reuters and I was like my friend is in prison. They were like, okay, we have a lot of work to do now. So what I did was I used Facebook and Twitter, well, Twitter was not there yet, and life was considerably better, by the way, Facebook and You Tube and other sites to raise awareness about this guy. And what we did was ended up doing simultaneous rallies in over 27 countries around the world, Brazil, Mexico, all over. And what we did we took a projector and projected images of him being taken into prison, we projected it onto the Egyptian embassies around the world, which was our way of saying in your face. And that kind of got us all kinds of coverage. The question was what? I forgot it.

LISA STONE: How did your parents learn and I do want you to get to the danger aspect. We have to talk about that.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: Yes, so and the reason I was talking about this campaign is because that's how my parents found out. One day we were having dinner just like an average Arab family and watching Al Jazeera, and while we were watching that I had sent a video to Al Jazeera of myself saying my friend is in prison, freedom of speech, all of that, and while we were watching, I came on, you know, and I was on TV and we are eating and suddenly they hear a really familiar voice, and on TV. And I'm thinking to myself, oh, my God, that's me, you know. And I looked at my sister and my sister is like what the hell are you doing there.

LISA STONE: You didn't send an image, you sent an audio?

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: I send a videotape of myself to Al Jazeera. It was the crappiest video ever. I took in my bathroom. It was the only room

LISA STONE: Was there a visual?

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: That's why I don't do visuals anymore. They kicked my ass right there. Not my family. What happened was they started harassing me, calling me, you know, I was kind of frightened. They had a huge crush on me. They were following me everywhere. And I could have been in prison. I mean oh, I got banned to enter Egypt, not like I was planning on going there anyways, super crowded, but, yes. I got into a lot of trouble. And I was worried for my family because they started getting threats too. And it wasn't easy. And especially dealing with the family wasn't easy either because they knew the kind of stuff that we publish and it's not cutesy stuff that, you know, your mom wants you to talk about. It's things that can get you killed. It's giving LGBT activists a forum and giving the Kurdish minority a chance to be seen by the world. It's to show the world that you don't have to dominate with your ideology or religion or whatever. You can embrace diversity and you would be surprised about how many of my people actually think like this. We are facing a huge risk not only from the government but from the society, from the family, you lose a lot of respect and support. By the end of the day, you got to do what you got to do, and if you are going to piss a lot of people off, you better do it very well.

LISA STONE: Thank you, Esra'a.

Dushiyanthini Pillai is a very gifted photographer and does a lot of work with a site that is very deliberately not political, and I would love it if you could share with us why you started this site, its origins and what you are up to with it.

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Thank you, Lisa. I felt the humanity was lost in my country, which is Sri Lanka. I have been working as a journalist for more than 17 years. I come from a minority community which is called Tamar. There had been more than 30 years of civil war which was brought within last year in May. So I thought of starting a blog where I could talk about the issues and the needs of the people but not involving any political parties or politicians. So that's how I started Humanity Ashore.

LISA STONE: You wrote some really beautiful slides [Please scroll down to “Attachments” section to download a PDF of the slides.] about your goals for the site, talking about how it is non commercial and non political. What are the advantages of that for a site like yours?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Well, I kind of I manage it on my own, and I take photos, I post it, it takes awhile, actually. But I just stick to my ethical part of journalism. I don't want to break it and I want to be balanced and I want to cover the issue from all communities in my country, which is Tamils and Muslims. I don’t really go and get advertising because I want to be independent and I don't want to be seen as somebody else's product or like somebody else's work. It's quite difficult, but I managed it so far and I'm going to continue with it.

LISA STONE: Fantastic. You know, it's interesting as a woman, as a Tamil minority journalist, was it easy getting your by line?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Not at all, I had to fight for my space and my by line - that's one of the reasons I had to start blogging because, like, being a woman and being a woman from a minority community, there is a lot of miscommunication going on, so through my blog, I found my by line, and my space, which is great.

LISA STONE: Well, I have put up some of the headlines that you shared with us. You may not be talking about politics on your blog, but these are hard hitting pieces. I think that we will, of course, post this after the session, and anyone who gets the BlogHer conference newsletter will be able to reach this PDF on line. I think that, you know, it was very difficult for me to pick between these stories for one, but I'm glad we arrived at this one which is the story of the Jaipur foot center north of Sri Lanka. I wonder if you could put this story in context. Why is there a foot center?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I had to spend a lot of time to get these photos as a photo essay because at that time the war was on in Sri Lanka and it's far from where I live and I had to travel by road. These are war victims, and in the north of Sri Lanka, which is called Jaffna, there is a big center where they make artificial limbs for the war victims, and I really spent a week convincing them that this is not political, and this is non commercial, and through my blog, I wanted to help them getting money. And I managed to actually.

LISA STONE: Really? Do you know how much?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I don't know the amount but they have a bank account that they gave me so I put the photos in the photo essay and people started contributing money even from abroad. So it's just expanding. And I'm planning to visit them again to see how they are operating now.

LISA STONE: Can you describe why it would be dangerous for the Jaifur foot center to appear in a blog where politics was discussed? Why were they concerned about that? Why were they asking you for that assurance?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: They are from the minority community, and they are based north of Sri Lanka where there is war, and they probably would have thought that, you know, although I come from the same community, I had to really spend hours and hours sitting with the director to get the permission, and to show the photos before I started posting on my blog, and he was happy with it.


DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: And then they are in touch with me still, and they wanted me to come back and do a follow up story because they are getting more people for help.

LISA STONE: Do you want to talk about the land mine issue related to this at all?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: There is a lot of land mines although the war is over. The mining is still on.

LISA STONE: Will it ever end?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: We don't know actually, so more help is needed for these people. So I think, like, I can be part of this and then do kind of, you know, service for the community.

LISA STONE: These are just five pictures from about 20 photographs in the post where you track the creation of a prosthetic device from nothing through fitting, painting, how many patients did you meet when you were doing this story?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I managed to meet at least five, but they were camera shy and they because I was not living in the same area, I travel from Columbo so they had to spend more time with me to gain their confidence and so on, but then two men managed to say yes to the photos. So I just followed through and I spend two days with them, like, you know, stayed at the center to get the correct photos.

LISA STONE: Does your family support your blog? How do you

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Well, my family supports me a lot, but they have heard about my work, what I do worried about what I do because being a journalist in Sri Lanka is not easy and a lot of my colleagues have left the country, they are in exile, they don't want to come back. My family is worried but I want to continue what I am doing and I want to be challenged.

LISA STONE: Thank you. You have some really fantastic advice for other activists that we are going to get to. I would like now to ask Marie Trigona to talk a little bit about her blog.

MARIE TRIGONA: I started as a space to archive articles and writings that I had been producing, and I didn't have it in one spot, I didn't have all of my articles on one computer, so I said I'm just going to start a blog to archive all of the articles that I have published, news stories. I'm a multimedia journalist, I do writing, produce radio, I take photos and I also produce video. Most of my writing I produce materials for alternative media outlets and independent media outlets and I generally write about activist issues, social movements, human rights issues, labor movement struggles.

So I started mujereslibres. When I began the blog I was thinking what name do I put and I thought of mujereslibres. It was available. It was a Spanish feminist organization which organized during the Spanish civil war. They offering news to over 20,000 women to fight fascism and for emancipation for everybody not only for men but also for women to gain equality on all fronts. And, of course, they had their own media projects, so Mujereslibres takes from a long tradition of women activists producing their own media and making their own voices heard. And now we have the blogosphere, we have electronic media, and that's why I started the blog. The idea of a lot of the writing in the blog is not only to tell stories that won't be heard in the mass media, but also to tell stories of people organizing, how they are protesting, how they are making things happen to inspire people from other places in the world to also take action to be inspired by the stories and the social movements included in the blog, and, of course, the blog has grown in the sense that I produce exclusive material for the blog, not just reposting articles that I have published. A lot of times I include photos that would probably be lost. They would not be published elsewhere if I didn't publish them on my blog, audio pieces, and so it's adapted the blog format, and it's on mujereslibres.

LISA STONE: Who have you been producing and writing for in the media in Argentina? Can you tell us more about your work as a journalist?

MARIE TRIGONA: I work for Free Speech Radio News which airs here in the United States and also online. I produce for independent publications like Toward Freedom, Z Net, which is a political monthly magazine, they also have an online site and numerous online publications. Anyone who will accept contributions is generally where I publish.

LISA STONE: Freelance journalism in the Argentinaian market can't be overwhelmed by women. What would you say for the news room, for the groups that you are pitching, are there many more men than women or is it roughly equivalent?

MARIE TRIGONA: In journalism, I think there is a fair balance in journalism in Argentina, and Latin America is a whole. Of course, women face certain specific challenges as journalists and media makers. So it's a definite challenge for women to get published, but it has more to do with how the mass media system is set up. An exclusion of certain stories or, you know, a lot of news that doesn't get out there. And a big part of what I try to do as a journalist, as a woman media maker, is even though some of the stories that I publish on mujereslibres are not gender specific, they are maybe about a labor struggle in a certain workplace or a human rights trial that is going on. I always try to balance voices and to make sure that women's voices are included because surely in that labor struggle, there are women participating in the union organizing efforts to make sure that there is a gender balance in each of the stories we are reporting on and sometimes I focus on gender specific issues such as the right to abortion, the right to gender equality, the right to freedom from any type of oppression whatsoever.

LISA STONE: Should we ask if we can queue the video? [The full video is available on YouTube.]
LISA STONE: Do you want to tell us about the song selection?

MARIE TRIGONA: It's a song about a Mexican singer and the lyrics describe a woman who defends her rights.

LISA STONE: She is amazing. Plan Condor is a long standing issue that nibbles around American media coverage. Do you expect this issue, I mean, at the same time that you are covering breaking news such as recent rights for the L.G.B.T. community to get married, there are other long standing international issues that keep cropping from Argentina from finance to imperialism. Do you want to talk a little bit about your work on that?

MARIE TRIGONA: I have been covering closely the human rights trial that is ongoing in Argentina. Argentina from 1976 to 1983 had a military dictatorship which disappeared 30,000 people, activists, students, many journalists, anyone who was considered a dissident at the time. In the region of South America there were a series of dictatorships, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. The governments of these these military dictatorships they coordinated a plan called Operation Condor to organize internationally the persecution of activists so they couldn't escape or exile from one country to another.

Just now Argentina is revisiting its painful past with human rights trials. Argentina overturned amnesty laws which protected military who participated in these human rights abuses and not war crimes, human rights abuses and in disappearances of thousands of people. Just now, following that this law was overturned in 2005, human rights trials are now possible. So a series of military and former police are on trial facing accusations. A number of military are currently under trial for their participation in Plan Condor, one of which is Rafael Videla, who was the first dictator. And this is possible of decades of organizing by human rights organizations like the mothers of plaza de matra, which you saw in the video of the photos who dedicated their lives endlessly to ending immunity so that these impunity so that the crimes don't go unpunished so that they never repeat. So that people like me, they can publish freely with freedom of speech so that organizers, activists organizing in the workplace can organize without fear of persecution and violence to make a true democracy. You can't have democracy if you have long standing impunity. So I have been covering these trials closely and covering the efforts on the part of human rights groups in Argentina and in the region.

LISA STONE: Do you feel that your blogging about this is going to help the community repair some of these scars or talk about what they think about, perhaps, even mainstream coverage of the reconciliation or hearings?

MARIE TRIGONA: Something that I have noticed with a lot of trying to reflect what is going on in activists circles what actions are being taken and reflecting on these tactics to spread inspiration one thing I have noticed that I have tried to transmit through the writing on the blog, the identity disappeared, when you talk about 30,000 people being disappeared, it's difficult to the scope, to understand that. But the idea of bringing back identity, a name, a face, what each of the disappeared were doing, what they were fighting for, why they were disappeared. Bringing that and trying to transmit that in the blog that something that I have tried to do, and it's not just to repair open wounds it's to remember who these people were, the victims, and to continue, continue what they were trying to do to build a better world. And with my blog, it's a small contribution, but it's what I do it for in the hopes that one day we can live in a world without exploitation, without oppression, without discrimination. That's what the hope for the blog is.

LISA STONE: I am going to, in the interest of time and getting to your questions, ask your permission to go straight to the tips for other activists because you have done an excellent job of describing why you are doing what you are doing and some of the challenges behind it. Freshta, what would you recommend to other activists who are trying to tell a story through poetry, through a blog?

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: I recommend that when a person wants to be successful in their writing, they should be honest and also they should not write from their own point of view. Their eyes are a camera, and their ears are a recorder, and whatever they see, they should bring it on a piece of paper and write it. And also, besides that, if a person wants to be a successful writer, there are small issues which money do not take care of, but it has a big value in the lives of individuals. And they can I wrote a piece about do not shake my hand, like in my country, if you receive a reward, so if you are a teacher who for men, he never gave hugs with a woman, so because it's giving hugs and kiss and shake hands, that's not allowed in our culture and religion. So it's like when foreign people came to our country, many of our women because they don't know our culture, and they there is such problem. So if we write about these small issues which has value in the life of individuals, I think it helps both other people and you because it's very useful in people's lives. And also when you write about sad and happy, sad, happy pupil studies, so if you want to write a valuable product, pretend that you are the healer in that study, and if you are the healer that you are in that study don't share your own feeling and think that you are the healer and you can write it.

LISA STONE: It so overcame the people in the background that are clearly dropping trays. I don't know if you could hear that. Esra'a, what do you tell the writers you work with?

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: Mine is not that profound. Be prepared to lead. I was scared. I used to be bullied in school all of the time, but now I kick their ASS. I was always really scared to do anything and it was so traumatizing to live anywhere and see injustice happening around you and it's easy to shut your eye and numb yourself to that. A lot of people are comfortably numb and that's dangerous, and so you have to wake them up. Sometimes you have to be the one to do that.

Sometimes when you wake them up they will scream in your face and kick you out of the room, but you got to do it any way. So be prepared to lead, even if you put your life on the line. It's definitely worth it, because things have to change and there are lives at stake here. Don't be scared to kick ass. This is very good advice, I think. You have to be creative and funny in order to there is so much noise, so in order to cut through that, you have to resort to satire, new campaigns that people haven't done before that and that gets the attention of the media. We live in a region that people rely on TV and newspapers but we are the people building that content because we are able to be creative so do that. Stay on top of the latest tech. We are definitely geeks in what we do, and we like to promote the usage of technology and open source and always use these kinds of tools. Our latest project is often it's called it's a ground-breaking tool. [Video featuring]


ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: Definitely the best thing you will see this month for sure. So that's it. Stay on top of the latest tech. Especially if you are, you know, if you rely on the internet to get out there, there is a lot of noise and you want to be innovative and creative to get your voice out there.

LISA STONE: Dushiyanthini Pillai.

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Blogging is an adventure and keep blogging. For me I just started and I can’t give up anymore. Even though I don't make money out of my blog, instead, I spend it, and keep blogging, you know, whoever criticizes you, it doesn't matter, keep on doing it and be ready to be challenged at any time. Be ready to be challenged, and do more blogging. And also I encourage other bloggers in your country or in any part of the world to blog, and share your experience always because it's good, and every day is say new day and it's a day of learning. Please don't give up, never, ever, you have to enjoy and keep blogging.

LISA STONE: I didn't mean to cut you off. I love your description of having a healthy competition. Because the news room is hand-to-hand combat, right, you both know that. So what do you mean by that in blogging in particular?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I am talking through experience, you know, back home, because in Sri Lanka, journalism is still male dominated and for a woman to carry a camera and go in the field and cover events or bomb blasts or anything, it's very difficult. So you have to really find your space and always think, okay, can you take care of my camera lens, and I’ll give you photos. So I always say, no, I want to take photos. It's going to be on my blog, I want my photos on my blog. I don't want somebody else's photo and I don't want to give credit to your photos and by line. So it's just, there should be a healthy competition, maintained all of the time, and especially for a woman. I think you need to have that rapport, and it's competition, who puts the photo first, who puts the news first and it gets around the world through blogs. So it's just, I don't mean to say that you fight with male colleagues, but it's very difficult, it's still difficult. During the wars it is very difficult for the female, a female journalist to get access because they were saying you are female, you cannot travel, you cannot wear boots and work on mine fields. I said, let me try, and I have tried. And I'm happy that I'm still alive.


MARIE TRIGONA: The most important, the most well, the people in this room already have blogs, but to start a blog, for me, that was the biggest hurdle to get over. I didn't know how to start a blog. I didn't know what look it should have. I didn't even know what domain name to give it when I started it. To start it, you can always change things later. You can adapt the look. The important thing is to get started. Another thing that I have seen that has enriched comments and dialogue with my readers is when I post information or critique or comments or review of other activists' work so when I see a film that has moved me, a documentary, or a song or a book to include a review, because it's important, a lot of these important materials don't aren't getting a lot of diffusion in other places, so to give it a space in your blog and to allow the film or the book to open up a dialogue with your readers. And another thing, sometimes although I'm a writer, I have writer's block, and it's really hard for me to write sometimes. Photos, they are a great way to get around having to write a really long blog post, include some photos of an action or event and write a few photo captions a little introduction and it's a photo exit, and those have been some of my most successful posts as far as getting comments or reads. I feel like it's a really good format for blogging. So those are some of the tips.

LISA STONE: Do you water mark your photos with by lines? Do you do anything to make sure that it's your name out there with your work?

MARIE TRIGONA: I don't. I should have creative comments, maybe, on my site.

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I don't do it either, but there is copyrights at the end, so whoever wants to take photos from the site, they can use it. They can give credit to my name or the blog site, but I don't do watermarks as well.

LISA STONE: Would you want a service like that if it existed? Would you want to make sure your by line were attached?

MARIE TRIGONA: For me, I would like that. I'm a firm believer of where somebody wants to pick up a post, to repost it, to repost a photo, to do so, just to give credit to the site and obviously for non profit uses, not for a commercial site. I wouldn't allow a commercial site to use materials.

LISA STONE: I'd like to go a little bit into the break with your questions. It's so rare to have an opportunity to hear directly from these women that we are going to go a tad over. Do we have any questions?

ATTENDEE: I want to say you are all simply amazing! (Applause)

>> LISA STONE: We have a comment, I believe, from my friend who leads one of the largest entertainment blogs in the world just said I just want to say you are simply amazing. And inspirational. I agree. Yes, ma'am.

ATTENDEE: Hi, I am inspired, its an incredible panel, thank you for bringing these women and thank you for being here. It's amazing. It's amazing. And my question is in the work that you do, especially the MidEast Youth Blog and the Afghan Women's Writing Project, what is the role of men in helping you and supporting you to be able to do the work that you are doing? Is there a subversive movement of men that understand the value of what you are doing and are they helping you?

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: In our country, woman, if a woman wants to develop, they have to have man support them, but one if a woman want to have development and develop that support we need our government to work on women rights, and grow the ground for them to have role in government and other fields of our country. And also it's very important if government paving the ground for women to have education and to find to develop the education not only to the school, but to provide them scholarship and the higher education they can develop more.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: Naturally we have more women because most of us are itching to be outspoken more, but we have a lot of men as well who blog with us. We have right now about 400 but overall, if you count the 15 sites we have about a thousand or so. And I think it's about 70% women, 30% men. It's because we say women only, it's mostly because we are we want to be heard more considering our history and discrimination and all of that. We also focus on women because I, having been a woman and creating a successful network, feel that the best way to fight for women's rights is to succeed a woman and that speaks for itself. We don't have a web site that talks specifically about women's rights but the fact that we have so many women on there making something like this possible, which is changing and influencing a lot of policies to make our region a better place, to have women participating is, of course, a huge win for us. So that's what I would say.

LISA STONE: That's important.

FRESHTA BASIJ-RASIKH: As you know, men and women is like a bear swing in the society. When the bear loses a ring he or she can't fly. The same in our country. Men and women, it's required for them to have equal rights, and the same in our country since women doesn't have equal rights compared to men. So we request societies in other countries who are helping our country to help us, to help a woman to have more rights in government. Like, now we have women journalists reporter, and women attorney who are working in parliament, but there are very few percent of women and they are limited to the City, only in the city, which is secure. It's not in all provinces. Still in our country, like woman, the percentage women is more than men, but they don't have access to the school, university and offices and other facilities. And that's a problem. So we request that if countries want to help Afghanistan, we request for society to pay attention to women's rights.

LISA STONE: Thank you. Dushiyanthini Pillai did you want to answer the question as well?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I would say yes or no. They probably don't help me out, but then they probably give me access to certain places like Muslim Mosque in Sri Lanka. Women are not allowed and I'm not a Muslim. But then I have talked to them and, you know, I got access to get into Mosque to get photos. So I think, you know, if you sit down with them and explain what do you want to do, and when you say it's not commercial, they say, yes, do it. Go ahead. And the week before last I was covering a festival in Columbo where the women are not allowed to go into the sea to the closest point, but I said this is the photo that I want and the men were like, okay, we let you in, and then they let me in. That was the photo that I really wanted to capture and I managed to capture. So like if you are really talk to them honestly and say this is what you want to do, it may take awhile for them to say yes, but, you know, ultimately they will say yes.

LISA STONE: I can imagine you were very convincing in the field.


LISA STONE: And you too, Marie.

MARIE TRIGONA: Admittedly I'm a one woman show but I'm non discriminatory when it comes to getting help and suggestions, editors or getting tech advice, so I get a lot of help from men and, of course, from women as well. So I have a lot of support.

LISA STONE: That's fantastic. I think we have a question over here now.

ATTENDEE: Hi, this question is for Esra'a. So you talked a little bit about your origins and one person in a dorm room and now you are a thousand people internationally with obviously creative, talented people. Can you speak a little bit to how that team grew and even more so how you now manage to find this creative talent almost globally and decide what goes on the home page, what you are going to invest in as your new campaigns and stuff.

ESRA'A AL SHAFEI: Sure, it was really difficult at first to convince people. When I started out, blogging was very much embraced throughout the region so there were a lot of bloggers. I thought just putting my voice out there alone wasn't going to help. And when I started out, a lot of people were mocking me. They were saying, come on, you are going to invite the Israelis there, you are going to invite the Iranians, we hate them. But I thought, you know, there are so many stories we don't know and so many things that's yet to be explored. And I think we need to give them a chance. That's all we need. And at the beginning that was really tough for my me because I was getting a lot of attacks, I got hacked about seven times by all kinds of people who disagree with our work and what we do and people who are trying to find out home addresses and things like that. So that kind of set me back a little bit, and I thought, you know what, if I grew a really big network that people cannot target just one person because it's something that is so hard to break, I'm going to achieve it, and I think I just sat down and every single day, I woke up and I said, okay, I'm just going to grow this thing enormously, and I was recruiting aggressively, and it worked really well. I thought the languages really helped. A lot of people were speaking Arabic only, so I got translators to translate between languages so that they can be more seen or read by people like you or people in the region who don't necessarily speak those specific languages. And then little by little, I was recruiting designers and tech people who really wanted to help me out, because I think that was one of the most important things on the site, and I think the reason one of the reasons why we are so successful is because we invested so much, you know, in having a decent interface and having a decent network, a very strong, really good servers, all of these kinds of things eventually add up and all of the details come in. So we really started growing around 2008. I started this in 2006. And we were two people. And now we are about a thousand strong because every single day we recruit people and now they register and they join whenever they want and Twitter and Facebook and all of these things have really helped us. We have a very good relationship with the You Tube team. Our videos are featured on the front page, so that's how to get out there. I would say. I hope that answers your question. Thanks so much.

LISA STONE: I think we have another question over here. I'm trying to balance fairly back and forth.

ATTENDEE: I want to thank you first for bringing these people here. I have a blog, but I do it really to put content out there. I felt in the past that I haven't had time to really explore the blogosphere and in particular not the international blogosphere, and this has just opened up truly a new world for me and I'm so excited and one question for you, Lisa, I understand these are scholarship recipients but are there more? Have you acknowledged more women that I would like to find out about. That's one question for you.

LISA STONE: Thank you for asking. So last year BlogHer won an Anita Borg award for contributions to women in technology and it was four years after we needed it, right. So we decided to invest that award into helping us bring last year's international activist scholarship panel here to BlogHer. So this is the second annual event. We definitely are committed to making sure this is an annual scholarship fund. We would certainly like to expand it and we are taking it on a year by year basis. I'm thrilled to hear of your support, because I think this is an ideal venue for some of the international companies, as appropriate, to help us bring these incredible and inspirational women to the forefront. You know, our mission is to create sort of a global stage where all of you can be heard, so your support of this will help us make it bigger.

LISA STONE: Currently, this year, there are four.

ATTENDEE: I did want to thank personally Esra'a and Freshta and Marie and Dushiyanthini Pillai for being here, because I understand it took a lot for you to get here, it took a lot for me to get here from North Carolina, I can't imagine what you went through and I'm inspired and grateful. So thank you.

LISA STONE: What a lovely comment. Thank you. I think we will have time for one more question each. I'm being told no more questions. Okay. Then what I would like to suggest is I believe that we are going to leave the stage now, but I'm sure you all are available for questions personally, and, of course, we will all be reading their blogs on a minute-by-minute basis. Right. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. Great job, ladies. Great work.

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