Author Archives: lakisarah

Training Videos by Farmers, for Farmers

Some days, community agricultural extension workers in India have to travel many miles between several villages in one day. Would it be possible to make these jobs easier through technology, to tap into existing organizational structures?

What started as a research project in Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Marketsteam in 2006 evolved into an independent nonprofit just two years later. Digital Green by linking technology to field workers (also known as extension workers)  they can transform the lives of the poor around the world. How? With videos made by and for community members and screened locally with a mediator. Digital Green works with partners to “communicate good practices to the community using locally produced videos and mediated dissemination.” Here is one of their videos: Sugari Bai.

Since 2010, Digital Green has reached over 3,100 villages and engaged 234,360 unique viewers. In August 2012, they began scaling up their efforts, hoping to reach 10,000 villages and one million farmers in India in the next three years. They have produced over 2,600 videos in 20 different languages.

Lakshmi Iyer is the Deputy Director of Strategy and Innovation at Digital Green. Through a Skype interiview, Iyer described Digital Green a “learning organization”, meaning that the organization itself learns and adapts as they analyze data. She says the power lies with the community. The program is..

…80% about community and 20% about technology. It is really more about layering technology to amplify the effectiveness of what is already in place.

Iyer describes the technology as an extra layer to the groups, mediators and the video production teams which make Digital Green effective on the ground. The video production training for community memebers involves storyboarding, camera work, and editing, with three to four people in every district being trained – usually those who are already literate.

Founder Rikin Gandhi said in the Hindu of the participants,

As they learn video production, they also develop greater self-confidence. They are seen as professionals in their communities.

While other organizations such as Farm Radio International and AgroInsight may be doing similar things, Iyer says doesn’t think any other organisations are engaging with video to the same extent – a commitment resulting from an extensive study published in the journal Information Technologies for International Development.

Digital Green pays constant attention to monitoring and analytics, gathering data on how videos are being shared and adopted – and then responding to that data. If there are consistent, similar questions, a new video may be made or revised to ensure clear delivery.

Graph - Distribution

Here is an example of their extensive analytics. In this example, 81% of the viewers in the past year in India were female, and 19% male, in part due to a project working to leverage pre-existing women’s community groups.

While the initial focus was on agriculture, the organization is now expanding into nutrition and health. Iyer says:

We realized that in order to improve the livelihoods and lives of individuals we work with, it would be necessary to include nutrition and health as converging topics to agriculture.

Digital Green has received a learning grant from DFID India to test the effectiveness of the approach within new geographies (Ethiopia and Ghana) and expanding the approach to other domains of health and nutrition. Focusing on enhancing the capacities of government health workers, the idea is to “leverage the strength of local service providers”. Currently, the health program is aimed at maternal and infant child health.

In November, Digital Green was included in the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 as an example of an organisation “using tech to accelerate social change.” Iyer says one of their main strengths has been on data analysis and response “We have stayed open and a learning organization. It is not a cookie cutter, by any means.”

With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government of India, as well as local partners on the ground, Digital Green is poised to scale up without losing its grassroots focus.

Taking Back the Tech: Using Wikipedia to Counter Violence Against Women

This article originally appeared in Rising Voices, December 13, 2013.

On Saturday and Sunday, December 7th and 8th 2013, Breakthrough and
Hacks/Hackers New Delhi hosted the first Hack4Change in India. The event included a Wikipedia edit-a-thon for creating and expanding articles focusing on violence against women as well as an opportunity to collaborate on digital media projects using data sets related to women’s rights in India.

Hack4Change

The event called on journalists, developers, researchers, storytellers, activists and other members of civil society to join together. Hack4Change also encouraged “remote participation as a mark of solidarity and an effort to expand the movement.”

Multiple errors in Wikipedia articles about incidences of sexual violence in India triggered the event. In some cases, articles do not articulate the politics of writing about sexual violence, or do not use vocabulary that represents rape survivors without victimizing them.

Noopur Raval, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi is actively involved in supporting free knowledge and women’s participation in technology in the Indian context. The idea was conceived with Satabdi Das, a fellow supporter and active member of Calcutta-based support group Womoz and Women in Free Software (WFS – India).

Raval believes we are,

Living in a world where all activism and the pace of legal and political changes are being directly influenced by information. At such a juncture, it is crucial not only to populate resources like Wikipedia with more information but also diverse information.”

Raval also says that there is a lack of information available; as a researcher, she is consistently unable to find information online around women, domestic issues, cultural traditions, and so on, from developing countries.

She also noted that when it comes to online content creation, local misconception can be a problem. While she was working on the WIkipedia article about the Guwahati Molestation Case in 2012, she felt that well-meaning editors saw this article as the publication of a shameful incident and a misrepresentation of the Indian people. She says,

To write responsibly and acknowledge women’s expression — is not a universally obvious and accepted notion and runs into obstacles given the stakes of people involved in women’s projects.

Raval also believes that there are other examples in which Wikipedia’s rules need to be negotiated and discussed when writing about these types of incidents. For example, in the case of Asaram Bapu, in which there was alleged sexual harassment leading to discussion around whether to use the word “rape” or not as well as whether or not to mention explicit details.

While the Wikipedia edit-a-thon is just part of a bigger event, Raval would like to see 2 or 3 comprehensive articles written on topics pertaining to gender issues.

Shobha SV works for Breakthrough, an organization that uses media, pop culture and technology alongside community mobilization to raise awareness and inspire action. She says:

The Internet is just like any other public space. Women face the same discrimination and harassment that they end up facing on the street. Virtual harassment will only lead to marginalising of women and we need to reclaim the space. Reclamation of virtual space can only happen if more women use the internet and by populating all mediums with more women’s voices.

Shobha believes that the beginning of democratization of data in India with new and emerging digital tools allows for the opportunity to tell stories in a creative way.

Approaching almost one-year since the Delhi rape case, Raval says:

Generally, the feeling is that people have woken up to the fact that rapes don’t only happen in slums or dimly lit areas, they can happen anywhere. I also read that the numbers on rape only reflect reported rapes. But, it’s heartening to see everyone at least talk about an issue that is brushed away otherwise.

Hack4Change was organized as part of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. During the 2-day event, teams edited articles on the Mathura Rape Case, the Vishaka GuidelinesMuzaffarnagar Riots in 2013 and Violence against Dalit women. In addition, participants worked on different types of data including statistics, audio files, video files, and tweets, working on creative visualisations. The organisers plan is to share the final products of the event under a creative commons license.

Event information and photographs are available on Facebook.

Are Female Vigilantes The Answer To Stop Rapes In India?

This article originally appeared in Global Voices

A 22-year-old intern working as a photojournalist at a magazine was gang-raped in Mumbai, India while on assignment on August 22, 2013.

The injured victim underwent surgery and is now recuperating. One man out of five suspects has been arrested so far. Like the Delhi gang-rape case (see Global Voices report) in December 2012, yesterday’s incident has also evoked nationwide outrage and a renewed search for solutions.

The mainstream and social media are buzzing with discussions on how to stop these rapes.

Neha Sanghvi (@nehasanghvi) was outraged:

Avinash Iyer (@IyerAvin) tweeted:

Script writer and blogger Constant Rambler (@ajitjagtap) thinks that impunity is inspiring more crimes:

Rabia sheikh (@Rabiasheikh7) was pessimistic about a solution:

But why this frustration? According to Catholic Online, reports of rape, dowry deaths, molestation, sexual harassment and other crimes against women in India rose by 6.4 percent in 2012 from the previous year. Statistics showed that 244,270 crimes against women were reported to the Indian police in 2012 compared with 228,650 in 2011, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau. India’s rape problem has been reported as “bad enough to jump out of a window” by The Atlantic magazine, referring to the case of a British tourist who jumped out the window in March 2013 to escape the unwanted advances of the owner of the hotel she was staying in.

Vishal Bheeroo identified the problem:

The main problem is the lack of effective laws to protect women and the sexist comments in parliament is such a shame.

Since the Delhi gang rape, the Justice Verma Report has been submitted, (though not without criticisms), and the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill has been made into a law. However, violence against women persists. Representatives of women’s groups, democratic and human rights groups and activists are alarmed about major ommissions in current legislative protectionto women which can leave women even more vulnerable than they already are.

So, what is the best means of response to what seems to be continuous rape cases in India?

To many, it is clear that rape is a problem in India, but the responses have been varied. There have been campaigns to arm women with pepper and knivesgender sensitivity training and changing laws.

Members of the the Red Brigade from a small village in Lucknow, the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, are taking matters into their own hands by taking direct action against sexual harassment. Led by 25-year-old teacher Usha Vishwakarma, the Red Brigade began in 2010, about four years after the similar Gulabi Gang.

Gulabi Gang. Image from Flickr by Lecerle.

Gulabi Gang. Image from Flickr by Lecerle. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Gulabi Gang served as the subject for a 2010 movie called Pink Sari’s. However, the Red Brigade is a younger version comprised of girls ages 11 to 25 years old. As the Guardian reported, members of The Red Brigade take:

Direct action against their tormentors and now when a local man steps out of line, he can expect a visit from the group.

The Red Brigade girls. Screenshot from Red Brigades Blog

The Red Brigade girls. Screenshot from Red Brigades Blog

Dressed in red and black salwaar kameez (traditional Indian-style dress) many of the girls were victims of violence in the past. They now take martial arts classes and participate in protests.

If a man has been found to be harassing a girl, he is ordered to stop. The consequences may escalate from there and if he does not stop, he may be punished by public mocking or violence. Though they have only resorted to violence on one occasion.

When asked where her courage comes from the leader of the group, Usha Vishwakarma said:

When you suffer, you get that courage. When you are victimized, you get that courage.

Not only fighting, the red brigade members are continuing their education to make a career:

As of August 23, activists and journalists gathered at Hutatama Chowk in south Mumbai in a silent protest. The opposition parties took up the issue in parliament and organizations took out rallies in different cities. What they missing are perhaps more pro-active people like vigilantes.

Update: By Sunday 25 August, 2013, the Mumbai police have arrested all the five men wanted in connection with the gang-rape of the photojournalist. The eldest one is 25 years old and the youngest of them is suspected to be 16.

Thumbnail image courtesy Red Brigade’s Facebook page. With additional inputs by Rezwan.

Improving Sanitation: Making Videos in South Delhi

The opening credits read: “We want to get our voices heard.”

Telling a story from the perspective of four girls in South Delhi, a short film about safety and health risks posed by poor sanitation came from a projects put together by Feminist Approach to TechnologyThe organisation seeks to empower girls and women with the tools needed to advocate for their communities, in this case hoping to help change the local sanitation situation. This video was a finalist at the Youth Voices Adobe Aspire Awards.

Economic growth remains a priority for India’s government but, according to a Time Magazine report,

Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer — only 4.5 billion people — have access to working toilets.

Sub-par sanitation conditions negatively affect girls in particular, where girls may leave school if there are not sex segregated toilets (UNHCR). But getting those who are most affected to explain the problem requires more than a report, and this is where an organisation like FAT steps in.

FAT’s tech centre gives students the space to explore a variety of multimedia tools. The film was a collaboration with Voices of Women Media to teach young women in the slum communities of South Delhi to utilize the power of media to address and question the poor conditions of public toilets in their communities, and empower them to demand better amenities from the local government. As Shambhavi Singh, FAT’s Communications Associate, said

We want the girls to address issues such as the lack of safety, health and hygiene—which are a lack of basic human rights… In the long term, we hope these tools and skills will empower them to use media and laws such as the Right to Information Act to ensure that their broader community get the full benefit of government programs meant for urban individuals with low socio-economic status.”

The training is part of a six-month project beginning this coming fall. There will be around 25 girls participating in the program, attending sessions twice a week. Each girl will create her own work focusing on the issue of the lack of toilets in their homes using photography, radio and video. The participants will then be allowed to choose if they wish to reveal their identities, or use actors and other techniques to stay anonymous. After creating their own works, participants will show the videos through in various organized screenings.

Girls engage with technology

The tech center is doing more than just teaching girls how to use a camera, but they are also providing a space to advocate for themselves. Raising awareness around health, hygiene and safety of young girls in urban slums of India and how this affects women’s rights worldwide. VOW and FAT plan to build community support in order to put pressure on local government authorities to improve the condition of public toilets.

“We hope to change the situation by organizing the screenings in the community area and other major forums in Delhi,” says Singh, where the plan is also to engage the municipalities and local governments and submit RTIs (Right to Information petitions) in order to make local government bodies accountable.

“Seeing Like a Feminist” Book Should Be Required College Reading

Lady in the Ivory Tower post by Lakshmi Sarah on May 6, 2013 – 11:43am; tagged academiaacademicsbooksIndia.

 

Some books are easy to read, yet stay with you long after you’ve finished the last chapter. Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist(Penguin/Zubaan, 2012) is a timely work that explains a complicated subject without over-simplifying it.

 

When one “sees” the world like a feminist, Menon writes in her introduction, it is like “activating the ‘reveal formatting’ function in Microsoft Word. It reveals the strenuous, complex formatting that goes on below the surface of what looked smooth and complete.”

Reading Seeing Like a Feminist made me think: what if we all, especially in academia, thought like feminists? What would the world look like then? To be a feminist is to understand the position of the powerless, as Menon writes, “to imagine occupying the marginal, relatively powerless position with reference to every dominant framework that swallows up the space at the centre.”

Menon is a professor of political thought at Jewaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. whose previous books include Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (2004). She divides Seeing Like a Feminist into six main chapters: Family, Body, Desire, Sexual Violence, Feminists and Women, and Victims or Agents. Menon relates each of this big issues to a simple dynamic: choice.

The book is definitely aided by Menon’s position as a woman who has lived with India’s legal and cultural systems. As she points out, the Indian penal code criminalizes sexual activity that is “against the order of nature” (whatever that means). Menon’s perspective is powerful, precisely because it is based on feminist scholarship and debates in what she calls “my part of the world.” She highlights many non-Western assumptions and goes beyond other Zubaan books that have a historical focus. The book looks “directly on the gendered nature of power.”

In the end, like Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote on loving the questions themselves, her aim is not to provide answers, but new questions. Menon wants each to shift her or his lens. To see like a feminist is “not to stabilize, it is to destabilize. The more we understand, the more our horizons shift.”

If only Seeing Like a Feminist was required reading for all college students—and professors.

 

Read the rest of this guest blog series on feminism in academia.

Jew in a Box Exhibit is Controversial, But Not Offensive

A museum in Berlin is showcasing a new, more personal kind of art: a Jew in a box. Yes it sounds absurd and strange, but despite the controversy it has sparked, it is actually a creative way to allow people to discuss a difficult topic.

After Norway’s Tea with a Muslim campaign, what’s so strange about asking questions to a Jewish person in a museum?

These days it is easy for one to ignore the people standing in line at the grocery, bank or any public space. Creativity is needed to encourage interaction, and this exhibit does just that.

The exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish Museum is called “The Whole Truth … Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews” and in addition to the “Jew in a Box” there are interviews with rabbis and excerpts of Curb Your Enthusiasm and even a handwritten sign from a New York restaurant that reads “THE CHINESE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND OUR THANKS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE. WE DO NOT COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMS… BUT WE ARE PROUD AND GRATEFUL THAT YOUR GOD INSISTS YOU EAT OUR FOOD ON CHRISTMAS.”

The New Yorker describes Connecticut native, Bill Glucroft’s experience of serving as the “Jew in a box.”

As he said, “When I heard I was going in the box, the first thing I thought of was Eichmann,” said Glucroft. “The next thing I thought of was Justin Timberlake.”

“Most Germans don’t know any Jews,” he added. “As a young twenty-first-century Jew, I don’t want to be defined solely by the Holocaust.”

The museum’s curator, Michal Friedlander an American-born German Jew hopes that “The Whole Truth” will help Germans challenge anti-Semitic beliefs.

In the New York Times, Friedlander said most of those who criticized the show had not actually seen it. “That’s the whole point, what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate and letting people come to their own conclusions.”

The museum defended the exhibit in a CNN video blog. 

For at least some young Germans, the exhibit proves intriguing. As Carola Jaeckel, President of a student group of the German-Israeli Society in Bamberg said, “The exhibition works with prejudices and cliches.”

Though she was disappointed by the fact that it does not go into detail, she added that, “Cliches enable an easy access to a sensitive subject such as Judaism, Antisemitism and the Holocaust for those who have not been in touch with Jews and Jewish life yet,” and she plans to visit the exhibit next week.

Picture Credit: Gawker

SecDev Foundation to Monitor Syria’s Digital Security

When Syria “disappeared” from the Internet last year, no one seemed to know exactly what had happened. Researchers later determined that thenearly-complete blocking of Internet traffic flowing and in and out of the country resulted from coordinated action by government actors. In an effort to develop more robust monitoring and analysis of events like this, the Canada-based SecDev Foundation is launching the Syria Digital Security Monitor, a site that maps and visualizes reports of disruption to critical infrastructure in Syria including internet, telecommunication, electricity and water, and reports on cyber threats.

@DSRSyria

The Syria Digital Report on Twitter (@DSRSyria)

The project is based on a crowdsourced effort that relies on reports by Syrians and extensive monitoring of Syrian social media. The data used for the monitor is captured in SecDev Foundation’s Ushahidi website and displayed on a visual timeline.

Additionally, the SecDev Foundation is sponsoring an ongoing project to support digital safety and security for Syrian civil society with resources in Arabic on secure communication tools as well as information on digital security and safety.

Developments can be followed along on Twitter via the following accounts: @DSRSyria @SMWSyria@PsiphonSyria, and on Facebook.