Saturday, April 30, 2011

Counteracting Globalization and Development with Globalization and Development

The following was my entry to our program's blog, Human Perspective on Development and Environment.  Each of us students had to write our reflections about our past unit and what it meant in the greater picture.  Bogged down with two essays and two huge final Thai class projects, my mind has been in condition to analyze heavily as to what our actions mean in terms of development and globalization in Thailand.  So forgive me if the writing and train of thought are muddled, verbose pieces of organic cow manure. Can't win 'em every time. :)

A professor once said, "Knowledge is meaningless if you don't affect multiple levels."  What I've learned during these intense last three months is that the scope of knowledge itself is relevant.  An organic farmer will value how to make her/his own compost fertilizer over knowing how the chemical components in fertilizer help break down the soil; on the other hand, an NGO covets the skill to conduct research so that they can provide as much information to a community as possible.  What is important to know shifts relative to where a person is and what that person is doing.   Most importantly, knowledge, as a general rule, should not only serve the area where it was gained, but must transcend to higher and deeper levels to be more effectively sustained.

Like "knowledge," the words "development" and "globalization" also have very different meanings depending on a person's perspective and location.  For a company like the Puthep Mining Company, development plays into globalization when erecting a copper mine in order to give Thailand more clout as a global player in the international market.  To a community of fishermen working to preserve their wetlands after being flooded by a dam, development and globalization might look like increasing members in their movement by extending to other communities in the world dealing with the same issue.   
If knowledge is dependent on where you are, and knowledge is meaningless unless shared, then different places' knowledge-base must be shared with other people in other places.  To some, this sharing of knowledge is one method of development.  To others, this is also globalization at work:  It is spreading skills and resources to increase knowledge in other plans. But the paradox comes when the resources being shared are destroying the integrity of a place, then the resource is irrelevant to have.  As soon as infrastructure as development impedes on intellect as development, then something's gotta give. 
Just as knowledge must be shared and interpreted through different lenses in order to practically implement it, there needs to be interaction between multiple players on the global scale when discussing ideas of development.  Large-scale development schemes that have the potential of impacting hoards of people need to first reach an understanding with the people it would be affecting to weigh the pros and cons of erecting the project.  Ideally, this is what an EIA is meant to fulfill (whether or not this process is righteously carried out or not is another story). 
The daunting "project time" has begun.  Our DG group is splitting up to spread our collective knowledge on globalization, development, and human rights out among the Isaan region.  Despite our separate focuses and goals with each project, each of us are playing the role of educator in one form or another.  We are all acting in part as researchers, compiling information to enhance the fight of the effected community with which each of us will be working, based on the need of each community.  Our development is spreading our knowledge throughout multiple communities so that they may develop their organizations to become more efficient and more powerful. 


Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Survivor's Path to Leading a Movement

Mukhtar Mai, a strong women's rights advocate after
having been gang-raped back in 2002, fears for her safety after
5 of her 6 attackers were released after the Pakistani Supreme Court
upheld their 2005 decision to acquit the suspects.
(Photo source: BBC)

On Thursday, the Pakistani court upheld their 2005 statement to acquit all but one of Mukhtar Mai's 6 suspected attackers.  

Mukhtar Mai became an international superstar for human rights sympathizers after she publicized in 2002 what had happened to her in the name of "honor."  Allegedly, she was gang-raped by six men as a punishment for her younger brother's illicit fraternization with an older women of a rival tribe (later it was investigated that this allegation was a cover-up to his being molested by members from said tribe).  Adding insult to injury, to come out as a single woman saying  she was raped was an invitation to even greater danger:  Before President Pervez Musharraf changed the laws surrounding rape in 2005 (as a reaction to the uproar received from the international political and activist communities), Pakistani criminal court characterized premarital sex an act punishable by death. 

Since the initial movement to acquit the offenders in 2005, Mai has had to be weary of backlash from people in her own country who support traditional Muslim law, a law which translates today as supporting perpetrators and punishing rape survivors.  Immediately upon announcing her story to the world, her virtuous pursuit for justice was glorified in every corner of the free world, from Nikolas Kristoff's reporting on her all-girls' schools erected throughout Pakistan to educate young females about their rights as humans in Half the Sky, to Glamor magazine declaring her Woman of the Year in 2006.  Now, though, with the final ruling, her old fears have resurfaced.  (Read about the case's events here.)

President Musharraf took a lot of heat after he made a comment implying that rape was a money-ticket for Pakistani women to settle into a better life abroad (Aljazeera).  While a little progress is better than no progress in the context of Pakistan's dated gender laws, and that Musharraf's "change of heart" had much to do with the United States' firm demands, there is a lot to be said that despite Mai's celebrity status internationally, and widespread support from human rights activists and social developers alike, Lady Justice favored her attackers.  Here is an example of how progressive policy changes are ineffectual when not backed by the culture over which it sees.  Muslim supporters protested against President Musharraf's decision to amend Pakistan's rape laws.  No matter how much ballyhoo the international community makes, the world's second-largest Muslim-inhabited country ultimately has to be its own driving force.  It has to want to make a change in how it perceives and treats women. Which is why Mukhtar Mai's decision to open two schools in her region is the course of social action outsiders should be supporting the most.  

Culture encompasses and fuses a community's past and present, and its rate of change is as fast as the movements within it are growing.  Children learn about the culture in which they live, simultaneous to learning where they fit in relation to the rest of the world.  If social change must happen on a grand scale, i.e. across entire religiously-founded regions, then broadening the world view of youth on a local level is crucial to spark that movement.  The ideal and, perhaps, only way to enact sustainable change is to experiment with  models of alternative education that are grounded on one core issue, be it a civil or developmental one, and converge all other disciplines around that core while engaging students with the community they live in.  Culture is invaluable to this process as well.  When the community takes agency in what their youth or young women are learning, the discourse surrounding social action starts to become enmeshed with the status quo.  This is exactly what Mukhtar has succeeded in developing thus far. 

Although Mukhtar Mai's cases is an important milestone in marking Pakistan's civil development and should be read by anyone engaged in international women's rights, let it not go ignored the same kinds of barricades to equality seen in America today.  In truth, we are not as righteous as we let ourselves on in terms of granting fair and just treatment to rape survivors.  (A very similar story to Mukhtar Mai's was seen at Washington State just three years ago; the story is definitely worth a look.)  

So from here, where do we go?  Not far.  
For starters, check out Mukhtar Mai's Women's Organization to see the amazing accomplishments her horrific experience has bred in her community.  Ways to donate are also cleverly accessible, and their requests are modest.  From there, examine what you value most in a functioning, equitable society, and explore ways you can integrate progressive movements into your already established culture.  An example might be signing up for (or creating, even!) theater classes centered around a hot social issue happening in your community (New Orleans has one - check it out!)  
Or, in light of tomorrow's holiday, it could look like attending Easter service at a local church with a congregation of widely diverse backgrounds than your own.  There are many ways to help sustain social change that extend far beyond donating money to your most cherished organization.  Take a hint from Mukhtar: start living like you truly believe change can happen, and before you know it, everyone around you will start believing it too.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Laying the Foundation with Tepid Tools

I feel a little ill when I think about how long it has been since I wrote last.  But to all those who think I cut ties, my mind has been busy trying to cope with, well, itself.  And only recently did I finally feel compelled to sit down and share.  It came to my attention sometime a couple weeks ago that there was confusion by some folks back home concerning my reasons for being in Thailand.  And then it came to my attention sometime a couple days ago that I may be just as confused about this, myself.

On my YouTube video on the political struggles seen in Bangkok last year, my ever-insightful uncle commented that this topic had nothing to do with trafficked women's rights.   He had every reason to show concern, too, since he was one of the many generous individuals to contribute to the cost of my trip over here, under the pretense that I would be studying the trends of prostitution.  And not just him: my friends, my family, the family of my friends, my professors...myself.  But not one thing I have posted since arriving has been on the topic of sex trafficking; rather, everything is on agricultural trends, land rights, water management, mining, and their encompassing themes of globalization, development, and human rights.  However, to his comment, I saved face by saying that I was merely laying the foundation for my senior thesis by understanding first the major themes of human rights and globalization in a Thai context before physically researching the topic of human rights and Thai women's agency.  Honestly, that really was what I believed I was doing.

It wasn't until the night before we left for our 5-night-long Unit 4 trip (April 2 - 7) that I realized that I no longer had a grasp on what my future plans were, or what the importance of a formal education in Digital Media had in my life anymroe. Nor did I see the merit of leading individuals through group process so that they could eventually make a positive impact on the world.  For weeks there was an unsettled feeling deeply set in me, but it took a verbal vomit on my friend to identify where, exactly, these feelings were stemming from.  What began with utter resentment of the fact that I will most likely be in school for another hair-graying year and a half turned quickly into questioning the legitimacy of nearly all my goals.  Before I knew it, I was stressing how naive I was to come to Thailand, thinking I could seek to ignite change in a FOREIGN country, with a language and culture I wouldn't dare come close to understanding in a mere four months, when there are ample chances to make realistic change in my backyard - literally.

In the course of these last (not quite) three months my dream of wanting to be a Social Worker/documentary-filmmaker working to better the conditions of sex workers, transformed into wanting to get into journalism, to flirting with the idea of being a policymaker, to seriously considering the steps to becoming a Human Rights lawyer (an idea I'm still tweaking).  But recently, my spirits seemed to have reached their maximum capacity for learning about institutionalized corruption against the marginalized and "impoverished." I found myself asking helpless questions like, "Why should and how do I sincerely care about the progression of someone else's movement when the issue has no direct impact on my life?" and "What can I do as an individual to initiate change at the bottom level when it is macro-level policies which direct the course of status quo?"  This isn't to say I'm already desensitized at such a ripe age of 21, or that I'm so burnt out I can't continue any of my altruistic goals.  These questions are predominantly founded on completely selfish terms.  The seed which planted these aforementioned toxic thoughts is, Can and when will I have time to get mine?

Someone once said, "You can't understand the world until you understand yourself."  I feel I understand Thailand's interconnected economical and environmental movements more than the complexities of my own country's waves of social change.  And I could probably write a novel at this point describing the depth of the 20 characters I've grown to understand since the end of January when this program started.  But it feels like I am further away from knowing myself, and therefore further estranged from this world, than when I started this journey.

I feel I should take this time to brief those who had a part to play in helping me get to Thailand: In no way am I ungrateful or unsatisfied with my decision to study here. This experience is bar non the most necessary venture I've ever had, and there is no doubt in my mind that the experiences I will take from this semester will forever shift the course of my life hereon after. If it weren't for this program, these life-enriching, life-altering mental conversations would never have taken flight.  Or at least, they may have come up in the far future when it is too late. There's a saying that your ultimate goal in life should be to find the place where the world's greatest need and your greatest passion intersect.  I know my passions.  I am just still finding where in the world there is need for them.