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Thematic Issues

Sensationalism in the Digital Age: The Impact on Refugees

Most of us remember the tragic image of Alan Kurdi, but why did Western mainstream media remain relatively silent about the human interest aspect of the Syrian refugee crisis until his picture was broadcast around the world?

 

The information age has ushered in a shifting media landscape. Traditional news outlets now have to compete with new media and we can see a steady decline in the size of newsrooms as well as the budgets needed to ensure responsible reporting on international events. Lack of funds in this case means that fewer journalists and photographers are available on the ground to report on humanitarian crises as they actually unfold. In a time when pageview journalism seems to be the new norm, the depth and credibility of a piece too often takes a backseat to the amount of advertising revenue a piece of content can generate.

 

Reporters who do work on the ground often put their lives on the line to report on conflicts and human rights abuses. They are increasingly targeted, much like humanitarian workers.

 

A lack of in-depth storytelling, coupled with a media environment that rewards sensationalism over quality and nuanced journalism has created the conditions for hate speech and anti-refugee sentiment to proliferate.

 

The fact is that Western nations are legally obligated to provide adequate refuge to those who are forcefully displaced. At the same time however, a simple Google search reveals that the media often depicts the crisis as a “flood” of so-called migrants into Europe and elsewhere who pose an imminent threat to the societies they try to enter. This representation is in spite of the fact that refugee resettlement is the least likely route for potential terrorists.  

 

Often the scope of the crisis, quantified by numbers of fleeing people, is reported on far more frequently than stories of individual suffering and persecution. It’s these stories that have the power to provide context to the crisis.

 

In 2015 the Ethical Journalism Network published Moving Stories, an extensive 100-page report that reviewed coverage of the worldwide refugee and migrant crisis. It is prefaced with the position that migration is an inevitable aspect of the human experience, and details the many shortcomings of the media covering these events. The report states:

 

There is a tendency, both among many politicians and in sections of the mainstream media, to lump migrants together and present them as a seemingly endless tide of people who will steal jobs, become a burden on the state and ultimately threaten the native way of life. Such reporting is not only wrong; it is also dishonest. Migrants often bring enormous benefits to their adopted countries.

 

However, the rise of nationalist politics worldwide—most notably in the recent US election of Donald Trump—has been mirrored by the same transformation in the media. Headlines of major media outlets are hijacked by racist, grossly reductive, and sensationalist remarks. Slanted news about refugees and immigrants has no doubt fueled xenophobia and obscured a well-rounded picture of events. Take, for instance, Trump’s oft-quoted assertion that the United States should “ban all Muslims” coming into the country. Stories of his remarks, whether positive or negative, almost entirely eclipsed the individual stories of refugees and immigrants during the course of the US election. Instead of a balanced, human, and nuanced perspective, media coverage has presented refugees and migrants as imminent threats that exist in a vacuum, unworthy of sympathy or refuge.

 

The United States is not the only country where populist rhetoric has hijacked media coverage. Anti-refugee sentiment can be seen throughout the European Union as well; Poland and Hungary are two notable examples. In Germany, false accusations regarding refugees have grown so numerous that two people set up a website known as Hoax Map to help dispel absurd rumors about refugees. Some of the debunked rumors ranged from stories of refugees killing and eating horses, to far more disturbing events involving sexual assault. When these unverified rumors hit the headlines, there are real-world consequences, like when protests are sparked in response to false accusations.

 

The fact is that journalists and news companies need to expand the scope of responsible and in-depth reporting to accurately disseminate information about important global events. While Syria is now dominating the headlines, the media remains relatively silent about other major humanitarian crises. News of the conflicts in Yemen and South Sudan and the famine in Ethiopia are just a few examples of underreported crises.

 

A greater emphasis on grassroots, individual storytelling is needed to paint an accurate picture of events, and refugees need the space to tell their own stories. Individual stories are powerful. Without them, these crises cannot be fully understood.

 

In the absence of well-rounded, factual stories, racism and anti-refugee sentiment is bound to continue en masse. The media is perceived as being objective, and as long as unsubstantiated claims about migration continue to spread, anti-refugee sentiment is bound to continue and the world will continue to turn a blind eye to the devastation of humanitarian crises.

 

Feb 6, 2017
Category: Thematic Issues

Breaking Through "Compassion Fatigue"

Compassion fatigue and apathetic reactions to distant suffering are two primary reasons people withhold empathy and resources when they’re needed most. Although not identical, compassion fatigue and a proximity-dependent sense of responsibility both impede our collective ability to address emergencies and systemic issues.

Compassion fatigue is a useful term, but when used to describe situations beyond its original meaning it becomes complicated and controversial. In the medical and emergency response fields, where the term originated, it refers to secondary traumatic stress (STS), a psychological condition marked by the lessening of compassion over time. The term has broadened, however, to encompass a much more general public reaction to, for example, the barrage of graphic images that routinely accompany media narratives of tragedy. 

Most of us probably experience compassion fatigue—hallmarked by emotionless reactions to each day’s reported horrors. No longer even surprised, we react only by sinking back into our lives, believing that the world is wicked, best avoided.

Sources of Compassion Fatigue

The old news moniker, “If it bleeds, it leads,” has never been truer. In the world of 24-hour news, there’s seemingly only room for viral videos and images of catastrophe. What’s the point of volunteering your time and resources if the world’s ills are beyond treating? In reality, the world’s ills are considerable, but not beyond the scope of our action. So, why do so many of us feel paralyzed by the tragedies we see represented in the media?

Images of suffering are bookended by political news, shocking gossip, sports and weather. Haiti in the wake of a destructive hurricane gets the cursory “bystander journalism” treatment—a few hours of demoralizing photos, quickly pushed to the back page by “Clinton this…Trump that.” There’s no reporting on the endemic poverty that makes Haiti uniquely vulnerable to disaster—no look at Haiti’s corrupt politicians, or mention of how the international community has no more compassion for Haiti—all of it “used up” after the 2010 earthquake.  Human suffering has become part of a nightly show—expected and inevitable.

Solutions to Compassion Fatigue

Without context and understanding—not easily included in our news broadcasts and sound bites, our empathy and any impetus to make a difference has no where to go. Little information about causes and a lack of focus on solutions is what we have come to expect and what our media usually offers us.

Journalism of attachment—journalism that cares and focuses on root causes and solutions is what the public needs. Images of starving children, wrecked houses, or evil warlords do not compel people to act, they are media shorthand—a morality play the public is used to, and no longer moved by. Journalism that’s aware of its responsibility, that won’t allow the audience to hide from what is happening, is a necessary but insufficient condition to motivate action. The audience must also understand the deeper causes of the problems it sees—and be offered a few possible ways to address those causes. 

Like the media, relief agencies must understand how they appear to the public. Despite the great work many NGOs do, much of the public watches disaster after disaster and cynically doubts their ability to impact emergency situations positively. Overwhelming disasters, reports on mismanaged organizations, and relief efforts that fail to reach those in need all conspire to create apathy.

Our anxiety that we obviously cannot help in the many instances of human suffering we are faced with can prevent us from helping at all. But we can break through this compassion fatigue. Public confidence in charity and aid organizations is critical. Without it, people feel powerless to address suffering and disasters.

The Proximity Dilemma

Proximity is one common reason we constrict our morality and empathy. In the book Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence, Peter Unger constructs a simple thought experiment about morality and proximity. To summarize its message, although everyone would surely say that saving someone drowning at your pool party is the moral thing to do, people use distance to remove themselves from responsibility when the person in need is not immediately nearby—down the street or across town, let alone in another country.

Inspire Hope

If we intellectually accept the concept that every human life matters equally, our compassion must not be diminished by overexposure or bounded by distance. 

Compassion fatigue resulting from one-on-one interactions, as between a trauma nurse and a patient, can be alleviated through stress reduction, anxiety management, and social support. The same approach works for more generalized compassion fatigue.  Anxiety-inducing images of suffering can be contextualized with a balanced worldview, greater knowledge about complex global emergencies, and insights into how such emergencies have been -- and may be -- addressed. It's important for media to offer the audience a chance at a balanced worldview -- by telling more of the positive and impactful stories that happen every day.

Although overused, the sentiment expressed in the quote commonly attributed to Margaret Mead should not be underestimated: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. 

 

Photo: UNICEF Ukraine

References: 

Tester, Keith. Compassion, Morality, and the Media. Buckingham: Open U, 2001. MH Education. Open University, --. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

Unger, Peter K. Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.

 

Oct 31, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

The Trial of Dominic Ongwen

Does anyone still remember Kony 2012? The groundswell of support behind bringing African warlord Joseph Kony to justice will perhaps be remembered as a lesson to the internet that hashtags can’t solve the world’s problems, despite the fact that some progress was made by the campaign. Now, some 5 years later, there is a chance for the International Criminal Court to deliver a verdict to one of Kony’s generals.

While Kony himself remains in hiding, along with the remnants of his Lord’s Resistance Army, a man named Dominic Ongwen was turned over to the ICC in 2015. He stands accused of being one of the LRA’s senior commanders—and responsible for several of Uganda’s worst massacres. The trial of Dominic Ongwen represents both a potential triumph for the ICC if a conviction can be upheld.

Yet the case is not clear cut. Moral and ethical issues abound. Ongwen himself was abducted as a boy by the LRA and used in the militia’s legion of children forced to fight.  For his crimes, Ongwen stands to be the first child soldier charged before the ICC. He is being accused of the same crimes that were committed against him.

On the other hand, Ongwen is the first LRA member who may finally be held accountable. This is a group that that inflicted horrific suffering on the people of  a wide region of Central Africa region that included South Sudan, CAR and the DRC as well as Uganda. Over the decades, the LRA was responsible for displacing thousands—only to later massacre them in their refugee camps. Much of the damage was done by the abducted and brainwashed sons and daughters of the country.

Perhaps, regardless of the outcome of the trial, some measure of justice can still be done. Contacting the many people who might stand as witnesses in the trial is a difficult ask when so many of these people have been displaced and victimized. Could smartphones help? PeaceGeeks is currently in discussion with the ICC about working on developing a data collection app that would take and accept applications to testify in this case. If the system works, it would give the ICC a method of gathering a vast and disparate amount of testimony from people who they might not ordinarily reach.

The importance of this testimony would not only be important in possibly securing a conviction—but also in bringing a sense of inclusion, justice and closure to those who lost loved ones or saw their homes destroyed during the height of the LRA’s reign of terror.

Sep 21, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

The PeaceGeeks Services Advisor App - What It Means For Somali Refugees

The sudden displacement of over 300,000 people over a very short period of time is difficult to fathom, yet it is set to happen soon with the recent announcement by Kenya’s government that they will close the Dadaab refugee camp in North Central Kenya—the most populous refugee camp in the world. The camp is set to close by November 2016, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Somalis, back to their country of origin. To put the sheer size of the camp in perspective, it is just over half the population of Vancouver, and has enough people within its confines to be Kenya’s third largest city.

 

Kenya is citing security concerns as the reason for the camp’s closure, with claims that attacks on its soil have been planned there by the militant al Qaeda-allied group Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab’s plans to eradicate the Somali government to make way for a country under the control of Sharia law continue to destabilize peace in the region.

 

Originally set up as a temporary transit camp for those fleeing the horrors of civil war in Somalia, continuous conflict and violence in Somalia has forced the camp to remain in place for over 20 years. Many who live in the camp were born there, and have never set foot in their home country.

 

Somalia remains politically unstable to this day, and just last month Al Shabaab launched terror attacks in the nation’s capital of Mogadishu, targeting the peacekeeping efforts of the UN-backed African Union Mission. Nevertheless, at this moment some Somali refugees have already begun a voluntary repatriation process by returning home. Yet many are raising concerns about the possibility of involuntary repatriation in the months to come following the dissolution of the camp.

 

To add to the massive influx of Somali refugees coming from Kenya, there are 1.1 million internally displaced Somalis, which means that the implementation of urgent solutions addressing the needs of thousands of displaced people is essential, and meaningful resettlement projects are desperately needed. Resettlement efforts will need to address the complications associated with communicating important information about available services to such a large population of people at one time.

 

Since 2014, PeaceGeeks has been developing the Services Advisor app to help address the way refugees can access services. Initially employed in Jordan, the PeaceGeeks Services Advisor App works to improve the quality of life for displaced people in times of crisis by improving access to information on essential services, which includes everything from water and sanitation, to services for those who have experienced domestic abuse. Currently, services directory information is shared via traditional paper-based methods. PeaceGeeks has recently begun working with UNHCR Somalia to deploy Services Advisor to support the needs of Somali returnees as the closure moves forward.

 

The Services Advisor app increases the efficiency of sharing information by replacing current and largely defunct systems of manual record keeping, which are woefully inadequate when it comes to addressing the urgent needs of large populations in flux. The idea is to replace the old system with one that can be accessed by a wide variety of stakeholders simultaneously for improving services access and the coordination of services provision. This includes service providers, UNHCR, refugees and donors alike by putting all information online. By implementing Services Advisor before the mass resettlement process begins, UNHCR aims to make the process of resettlement a more dignified experience for returnees by helping them to get a better grasp of what services are available and where.

 

This will be all the more important to refugees who have been absent from the country for over 20 years, and to returnees who have never actually been to Somalia to help them make informed decisions about their return.

 

In order to create meaningful resettlement projects, web applications like this have the ability to improve communications infrastructure and streamline the process of how aid is distributed in times of crisis. PeaceGeeks is currently in conversation with UNHCR representatives in Iraq, Lebanon,Turkey and Greece about deploying the app in those countries as well, and is also considering the viability of deploying the app across all UNHCR initiatives.

 

 

Aug 28, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

Imagine Being Displaced: How the Services Advisor App Helps Refugees

For all the hand-wringing and consternation about the exodus of refugees out of Syria flooding into Europe, it can sometimes be forgotten that the European Union has shouldered only a fraction of the flood of people forced from their homes by the constant rain of rockets and barrel bombs. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are bowing under the sheer numbers of displaced people from across their borders. They are filling parched Jordan, in the grips of a water crisis, and tiny Lebanon, where Syrians now make up a quarter of the population. This is to say nothing of the over 6 million Syrians internally displaced within their own country. The sheer numbers are staggering, and make every day a struggle for Syria’s neighbours to provide needed services to the millions that they host.

Imagine being sick. Imagine needing medicine or toiletries. Maybe what you might need is being offered somewhere, but how would you find it? How could you make sure you had it when you needed it? Some services might be like needles in haystacks, buried beneath the flood of desperate people. There are over 63 service providers in Jordan all over the country that are constantly changing.

Imagine that. Imagine trying to find the necessities of life while their location is unknown or worse—moving. Imagine a service provider not being able to help and the location of another service provider unknown. How would you find out where to go now? Would knowledge spread by word of mouth? Would information become as priceless as the food or medicine that it might lead too?

This is why the PeaceGeeks Services Advisor app is so important. This app instantly connects refugees in camps with the location of services near them and allows those providing the services to gather a better understanding of what is needed. The ability to harness the ubiquity of smartphones in refugee populations to quickly and accurately disseminate information to them about essential services could  the difference between life and death.

In order for the Middle East to avoid further catastrophe, the stability of countries such as Jordan is paramount. A simple app like the Services Advisor can help. By giving refugees the most important tool of all—information—it can help vulnerable people access the services needed and avoid roiling discontent and desperation. This is the power of technology. For those living at the margins, something like an smartphone and a proper app can make all the difference. A difference that could be made from Jordan to Somalia, from Iraq to Turkey to Greece. Anywhere people have been displaced and need the essentials.

Aug 13, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

Aleppo was Bleeding - Time for Peace

A truce in Aleppo has been extended again bringing a cessation of airstrikes by Russian forces. This truce started after an estimated 253 civilians had been killed in the span of 10 days in April. As of last year the death toll in Syria was 250,000 and it is steadily climbing due to airstrikes.

 

 

Bombings targeted residential areas, medical facilities and even hospitals. Many of these bombs are barrel bombs, which The White Helmets (also known as Syrian Civil Defence), cites as being the biggest cause of death to civilians in Syria. The White Helmets is an organization composed of 2,700 unarmed volunteers who rush in after a bombing to rescue those trapped under the rubble regardless of race or religion.

 

The airstrikes included an attack on al Quds hospital that killed patients, children and staff. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 27 deaths and other credible sources cited higher death counts. The hospital was supported by both Doctors without Borders and the International Redcross. Among them, paediatrician Dr Moaz who remained in Aleppo to continue his work while his family was safe in Turkey. A heartfelt Facebook post written by his friend Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital, was shared 95,756 times.

 

Prior to the ceasefire, the hashtags #AleppoIsBurning & #AleppoisBleeding began surfacing on Twitter along with #MakeFacebookRed. The #MakeFacebookRed was an attempt to capitalize on the huge success of the french flag Facebook photo filter in solidarity with victims of the Paris bombings and leverage it to highlight the bloodshed in Syria. Behind the campaign is The Syria Campaign, a supporter of the White Helmets, whose Mission is to build a global movement of solidarity and action working toward a peaceful and dignified future for all Syrians. They point out the lack of neglect on the media’s part to focus on the tragedies occurring in Syria.

 

 

As millions of refugees fleeing the bombings affect our own countries, the media focuses on the refugee issue instead of the root of the problem. On The Syria Campaign’s website Abo Adnan, once a medical student who is currently living in a refugee camp in Germany, writes a personal letter titled We Want to Go Home. He mentions how he would rather live in his home country of Syria and not be a refugee, and calls for a stop on barrel bombs:

 

World leaders have to act to stop the bombs from the sky. We can survive sniper fire, chemicals but the barrel bombs are unbearable. A no-fly zone or creation of safe zones would save lives instantly. And I would be the first person on the plane home. Right now everybody in Europe is talking about us refugees. But not many are listening to us.

 

Courageously, Adnan doesn’t even ask for an end to the war, which was sparked by peaceful protests to out Assad during the Arab Spring, but simply an end to the killing of civilians.

 

United Nations Humanitarian Affairs warned the UN Security Council that the killing of civilians in Aleppo amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that they will not be forgotten. What has happened is outrageous, yet it seems Syria is a war zone in the middle east, and somehow war in the middle east has morphed into a norm that the media does not rally against. Thousands of refugees though crossing into western borders is not a norm. It is logical that western media cover western issues more heavily, but where is the media circus calling for much needed peace in Syria instead of focusing on terrorism. After 6 years of war and a six days of ceasefire in Aleppo, a third Syria Peace will be taking place with 17-nations in Vienna on May 17. Coverage leading up to the event has been minimal, but it is time to extend Aleppo’s ceasefire, coined a ‘regime of calm’, to the whole country.

Photo Source: http://www.pentreath-hall.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Aleppo1.jpg

 

May 11, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues
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How the media is strengthening ISIS’ cause

It’s no secret that journalism has been hugely impacted by the rise of digital media, and the rate of change in the industry was so rapid that it caught news publications by surprise. Over the course of a decade leading up to 2012, The American Society of Newspaper Editors reported a 30% drop in  full-time newsroom jobs. In 2013, hundreds of layoffs were felt at companies such as Gannet and Tribune as traditional media outlets struggled to build its online presence. In the new age of digital and social media, readers get what they want based on a pay-per-click model, where headlines that garner clicks and therefore show more ads earn money. This has changed many news outlets to target their reporting on what people want to read, when they want to read it versus a slower paced approach to journalism that focuses on uncovering stories.

 

Today, the media landscape is being accused of adding fuel to the fire when it comes to the threat of terrorism. The rise of ISIS has been heavily covered by the media, and arguable the extensive media coverage has aided in giving more ISIS traction. In March 2015, a list of 100 names of military personnel was released by what was thought to be ISIS and the media quickly took hold of the story making it go viral. The reality was the US authorities were doubtful the attack would ever take place and the threats were not made by the terrorists themselves, which was information lost in the reporting. Media outlets pumped out the propaganda that ISIS supporters released adding to the fear and perceived influence of ISIS.

 

Arguably, ISIS’s biggest strength in gaining traction and influence is its expert use of social media and modern day communication technology to spread propaganda. In 2014, ISIS placed in the top 10 Google searches in the US. ISIS is frequently trending on twitter, and uses apps like Dawn of Glad Tidings that once downloaded will automatically post ISIS content on the user’s twitter account for them. In 2015, the estimate of social media messages posted about ISIS were over 90,000 a day. ISIS is a sophisticated content machine that has learnt how to use social media, branding and western media outlets to it’s advantage. Despite it’s online social klout, the actual number of ISIS fighters is unknown, estimated anywhere between 30,000 and 200,000 with the land they occupy being mostly unpopulated.

 

After the Paris Attacks, President Barack Obama subtly warned the media that it was playing into the hands of ISIS by giving the group consistent coverage in the news:

 

‘The media needs to help in this, I just want to say. You know, during the course of this week — a very difficult week — it is understandable that this has been a primary focus. But one of the things that has to happen is how we report on this has to maintain perspective and not empower in any way these terrorist organizations or elevate them in ways that make it easier for them to recruit or make them stronger.”

 

Media outlets are playing catch-up in the digital age as new organizations are mastering it, leveraging free online tools and old school media to their advantage- in the case of ISIS not for the greater good. As media outlets struggle with profits and provide readers with sensationalist topics they want to keep reading about, they are in fact helping organizations like ISIS achieve their goals in gaining influence.

Paris attacks on November 2015 and Belgium attacks on March 2016 both took the media and social media by storm, but what was also highlighted was the disproportionate coverage of similar attacks in Turkey, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and several more.  

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/35591378@N03/3594694575/

Apr 29, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues
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Recap of Edward Snowden: Big Data, Security, and Human Rights Talk at SFU

This week, Edward Snowden virtually spoke at SFU’s Public Square on the topic of Big Data, Security, and Human Rights. The discussion dove into pertinent topics on today’s political landscape dealing with the Panama Papers and WhatsApp latest announcement on encryption. Edward Snowden is a whistleblower whose release of confidential NSA documents uncovering global surveillance practices have led him into exile in Russia, and he stands to face criminal charges in the US that could lead to 10 years of imprisonment.

 

Panama Papers & Whistleblowers

 

The Panama Papers consists of 11.5 million confidential documents that were leaked from the Panama firm Mossack Fonesca that implicate many world leaders and notable individuals in potentially evading taxes and other illegal activities. The files date back 40 years and are currently being reviewed by journalists worldwide. Canadian banks RBC and BMO have been implicated in the leak but they defend their positions as setting up offshore bank accounts is not illegal in itself. What Edward Snowden highlighted in the leak that has taken the media and world governments by storm is the importance of whistleblowers. It is not yet determined the damage that this leak has done, but what is apparent is that globally we are pushing for our governments and public institutions to be more transparent. In an open democratic society whistleblowers, as Edward Snowden points out, need to be the norm.

Privacy

Edward Snowden walked the audience through the FBI’s increasing big brother view into every citizen’s life through access to huge amounts of metadata. Though the FBI insists that access to this data is for anti-terrorism purposes, statistically it has not been proven to prevent terrorist attacks, and rather Snowden argues that anti-terrorism is simply the excuse to gather as much information for the sake of power.

In recent news, we’ve seen push back from tech giants such as WhatsApp and Apple in granting access to the FBI and the government to their data. In February, the FBI requested Apple creation a new iPhone operating system in order to retrieve data from an iPhone implicated in The San Bernardino Case. Apple publicly refused, citing in the wrong hands the new software would pose a security risk and essentially create a backdoor that would allow the data not only to be used for investigations but more in line with for what Edward Snowden described in his talk. WhatsApp has launched end-to-end message encryption for it’s over a billion worldwide users. As Edward Snowden summarized it, this new encryption means no one including WhatsApp can read the contents of messages sent but data on who you are talking to is still up for grabs.

What Edward Snowden has done is created a public conversation on how as a society we deal with privacy in the digital age. The true struggle is how as citizens and consumers, sandwiched between government and large companies, can we affect this conversation.

 

Image Source: https://www.sfu.ca/publicsquare/upcoming-events/EdwardSnowden.html

 
Apr 9, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

International Women's Day 2016

Photo Source: Rex Features

Today we celebrate International Women's day, a day filled with recognizing social, economic, cultural and political achievements made by women around the world. With that in mind, a volunteer from our marketing team would like to share a personal message.

My name is Margo Klimowicz and I was born in Poland. In 1989, our family friends sponsored my family and I to start a new life in Canada. We landed at the Edmonton International Airport on October 31st – Halloween!

Luckily, I was born with a great sense of adventure, so at the tender age of 8, I was a girl with not a care in the world and no idea of the sacrifice leaving Europe would mean. I reflect on those times quite differently as a 34-year-old woman and see my mother’s courage amidst certain strife. My mother’s work ethic and sacrifice has been key to the person I am today—a professional photographer. On this International Women’s Day, I honour my mother and all of the brave women who are coming to North America from Syria and all around the globe.

In the 1980s, Poland was under communist rule, and the economic situation was so poor that my parents had to wait in line for hours at the grocery store for a loaf of bread. These are the realities of a country under strife. Listening to my parents’ and grandparents’ stories about those times makes me wonder at the brave decision they made to leave our home country. 

And although we were welcomed in Canada, there is a sense of community that we left behind. My name is Margo now—but my birth name is Malgorzata and nicknames include Malgosia and Gosia. My family and closest friends affectionately call me by these names, and since they are from my mother tongue, I have a sense of belonging whenever I hear them. There are many things I miss about Poland and I don’t get to visit as often as I’d like. I wonder if the refugees fleeing Syria wonder whether they’ll see their motherland again.

As we welcome new families into Canada, I hope we are aware of the challenges they will be facing, from basic to more trivial difficulties including language barriers, education equivalency, lack of income, house security, and acceptance. The amount of work that new immigrants have to face is emotionally exhausting. Immigration puts a monumental strain on even the strongest families.

No matter what our struggles were, I know my parents moved us to Canada for better opportunities, and out of gratitude, I choose to give back to others that are facing the same challenges.

On this International Women’s Day I honour my mother. As I volunteer with Peace Geeks going forward I am proud to know that I can help new families during their transition. After all, that’s a big part of what life is about – helping each other and caring for those we love.

Mar 8, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

Violence Against Women

Though women’s rights have progressed in the past 100 years, violence against women is still a global phenomenon. Amnesty international reports that one-in-three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during their lifetime. These numbers are also reflected among Canadian statistics, with 67% of all Canadians reporting that they know at least woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted. Despite a 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of violence against Women by the UN, the problem still persists today.

The violence that women face globally includes genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, domestic violence and rape. Globally, and here in Canada, domestic assaults and homicide from an intimate partner or family member is disparate towards women. Globally 70 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual assault from an intimate partner, and in Canada 83% of all police-reported domestic assaults were against women. For homicides, in 2012 on a worldwide scale of all female homicides nearly half were committed by an intimate partner or family member. In Canada of 89 spousal homicides in 2011 over 85% of victims were women. A prime example of how Canada is not adverse to this global issue of violence against women is the case of 582 missing or murdered Aboriginal women. Between 2000 to 2008 10% of all female homicides were aboriginal women despite accounting for only 3% of the Canadian female population.

 

Though violence itself is not a gender-specific issue, the threats facing women are unique and deep seated in gender discrimination. In many instances laws are not in their favour of women or not in accordance with international standards. Specific to these issues is the reluctance of women who experience violence to step forward and ask for help or report the abuses. Under 40% of women actually do search for help, those who do most likely turn to friends and family and only 10% go to the police.

As international organizations work to collect more data on this issue and strengthen laws and institutions globally, is there space for technology to contribute to alleviating this issue? Local Vancouver companies and global companies are using apps, GPS, mobile phones and other technology as tools to empower women to contribute to their safety and security. Join PeaceGeeks on March 9 for our 32nd PeaceTalk to learn more about how tech is working to end violence against women.

 

 

Mar 5, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues
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