Category: "development empowerment"
Anthropologists on deported migrants, unusual bureaucrats, and the thriving solidarity economy in Greece
While I am trying to get back into the blogging business, here three selected pieces that I've written recently for the University of Oslo.
Two of them are accounts on somehow positive change that is happening.
Many anthropologists have contributed to the understanding of the economic crisis in many parts of the world during the recent years, see among others the earlier posts "Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy" or "Similar to the Third World debt crisis" - David Graeber on 'Occupy Wall Street'. But few studies deal with the ways people tried to create alternatives to the currently dominating economic models.
I found it therefore particularily interesting to talk to Theodoros Rakopoulos who is currently studying the thriving solidarity economy in Greece: an economy based on mutual aid, cooperation, bartering and collective welfare.
Time banks, volunteer-run health clinics and pharmacies, alternative currencies, food distribution without middlemen: People “mostly from humble economic backgrounds” are experimenting successfully with alternatives to austerity policies that have been dictated by the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Theodoros Rakopoulos has been on fieldwork among the anti-middlemen movement, one of the most successful solidarity economy initiatives that popped up in Greece since 2010.
Strangely enough, I haven't heard about these developments before. I suppose it's because media was more interested in reporting about the rising xenophobia in Greece. But the researcher explains that the new solidarity economy has "arguably a wider impact on peoples’ daily life than the much talked about rise in far-right parties like Golden Dawn”.
Anthropologist Knut Christian Myhre is currently writing a book about unusual bureaucrats. Instead of reviewing laws and policies in their offices, they tour the country, hold public meetings and communicate with citizens via social media. This initiative, Myhre thinks, can serve as example for other countries wishing to revive local democracy and expand their political and legal repertoire.
His main focus was the so-called Shivji Commission that in 1991 was appointed by President Ali Hassam Mwinyi to inquire into the state of land conflicts in Tanzania. For one year this commission toured around the country, held 277 public meetings in 145 villages and 132 urban centres in all of mainland Tanzania’s 20 administrative regions. Around 83,000 members of the public took part in the process. Local researchers and experts prepared six major studies, while the commission made visits to Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Korea to learn from their experiences.
We are living in times characterized by increasing mobility and transnational connections — or so it seems, at least, for some people in the richer parts of the world. Anthropologist Heike Drotbohm has been on fieldwork among people for whom the opposite is true.
My story about her research begins like this:
"When Jacky was deported from the USA to Cape Verde, his life came to a sudden standstill. Within a short time his face grew deep wrinkles; it looked resigned, exhausted, and drained. Merely at his age of 45, Jacky looked like an old man.
Anthropologist Heike Drotbohm is looking at a recent picture of Jacky and is puzzled. She met him six years ago and now she can hardly recognize him. While peering at more pictures of deported migrants she met between 2006 and 2008 on Cape Verde during her fieldwork, she is compelled to make the same conclusion. All of these people seemed to have aged disproportionally fast.
Their faces, it seems, tell us uncomfortable stories about the transition from a mobile and independent life to the forced immobility on Cape Verde: an arrow-shaped archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean that the men left many years ago."
Book launch in the House of Literature (Litteraturhuset) in Oslo with Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Keith Hart and Desmond McNeill. Photo: Lorenz Khazaleh
Anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, economists and activists have come together and written a citizen guide for a human economy.
In The Human Economy more than 30 authors from 15 countries show alternatives to our current dominating economic system.
The table of contents looks promising: There are essays on for example solidarity economy, community participation, fair trade, ecological and feminist economics, alter-globalisation, social entrepreneurship and also articles on two topics that are especially relevant when we’re sitting in front of the screen: gift economies and digital commons.
I like the authors’ approach. They are not dreaming of an obscure and distant revolution. We don’t need a revolution. The alternatives do already exist, explained Keith Hart in Oslo:
The problem with posting an radical alternative to the socalled capitalist economy is that it raises question how do you get there from where we are.
What I want to argue is that the economies are much more plural than ideologies or conventional theories make them out to be. We live in a world in which we say if we can identify the economy as capitalist we’ve somehow done the job. Or if we want to build another one and call it socialist we’ve done the job.
My notion is that we live by a large numbers of economic principles which includes family economy, the importance of the state as an agent to redistribution, voluntary associations, NGOs etc
If we want to push the world economy in a new direction, then we should build it on what people are doing already - even if what they are doing already is marginalised, obscured or even repressed.
Keith Hart made me think of what I wrote nearly ten years ago when I prepared my final exam in economic anthropology. The more I read about Kula, Potlatch and other gift economies in distant places, I wrote (in German only), the more I got convinced of that we are operating in a similar way, that capitalisms’ importance is overrated. I found lots of examples of local exchange trading systems, even in my neighborhood, that work without any money involved: You repair my bike, and I’ll help your with your English homework.
The internet is a huge gift economy. Wikipedia, Flickr, blogging, we’re giving away our work for free. Or think of the free software movement or the way science works. Capitalism dominates only a small part of our economic system.
The authors are optimistic. It’s more easier than ever to realise a Human Economy. In the introduction (pdf), editors Keith Hart, Jean-Louis Laville and Antonio David Cattani write:
This world is massively unequal and voices for human unity are often drowned. But now at last we have means of communication adequate to expressing universal ideas. Anthropologists and sociologists have shown that Homo economicus – the idea of an economy based on narrow self- interest, typified as the practice of buying cheap and selling dear – is absent from many societies and does not even reflect what is best about ourselves. We ought to be able to do better than that by now. But ideas alone are insufficient. Emergent world society is the new human universal – not an idea, but the fact of our shared occupation of the planet crying out for new principles of association.
The Human Economy is a work of reference that has come out of a dialogue between successful social experiments in many parts of the world and theoretical reflection on them. The resulting synthesis is an invitation to advance knowledge along the lines we have begun and to dare to build a better world.
Unfortunately, this “citizen guide” exists on paper only. I asked Keith Hart if a webversion is in the making. His answer was No. Lack of time. “I’m totally overworked", he said.
I’ll try to write more about the book in the coming weeks.
>> After the Crash : A Human Economy for the 21st Century (published in Revue du MAUSS permanente)
What kinds of theoretical insights have emerged from the anthropology of development? What can anthropologists learn from development work? Anthropology Through Development: Putting Development Practice into Theory is the topic of the new issue of the open access journal Anthropology Matters that was released a few days ago.
This issue, edited by Amy Pollard and Alice Street, consists of four interesting articles.
In Beyond Governmentality: Building Theory for Weak and Fragile States, Priscilla Magrath calls for a better understanding of “weak states":
(A)nthropological theory, drawing on Western European philosophy and political history, appears focused on strong governments, highlighting the potential dangers of excessive government, rather than the challenges of weak government.
Detailed ethnographies of the development encounter, including those undertaken by development practitioners themselves, can provide a foundation for building new theory to address contemporary issues, such as those faced by governments and the governed living in ‘weak and fragile states’. Such studies can enrich our understanding of development processes, while helping to bridge the gap between ‘applied’ and ‘theoretical’ anthropology.
Reconstruction efforts after the tsunami is the topic of Sonia Fèvres paper Development ethnography and the limits of practice: a case study of life stories from Aceh, Indonesia.
Development anthropology has an important part to play in contributing to the design and evaluation of humanitarian aid, she explains. Ethnographers should in her view not limit themselves to a meta-analysis of the development framework itself, or the anthropology of development.
Antonie L. Kraemer explains in Telling Us your Hopes: Ethnographic lessons from a communications for development project in Madagascar why it might be a good idea to turn informants into ethnographers.
She calls for “a more publicly engaged anthropology which does not merely “translate” other cultures, but which opens up for people to conduct their own ethnographic research by asking their own questions and capturing each other’s voices, stories and hopes as ethnographers in their own right.”
The anthropologist’s role should include “giving voice to marginalised people by facilitating access to written and online media, providing the necessary background context, and by translating and communicating joint research findings to key audiences, including the narrators themselves, the media and relevant decision makers.”
It might be fruitful to read her article together with Chris Campregher’s text Development and anthropological fieldwork: Towards a symmetrical anthropology of inter-cultural relations.
Here he questions popular assumptions about “voiceless people” and asks: Do they really need our help?
“Even as a trained anthropologist sensible to questions of ethnocentrism and cultural alterity", he writes, “I relied on this basic imagery of the poor and marginalized when I started to work for the first time in Central America. How not to? Engaging in development work implies that there will be some class of people who need support of some kind.”
Inspired from Science and Technology Studies (STS), he argues that anthropology should strive to become more symmetrical:
The interesting question that STS poses to us as anthropologists is the following: STS scholars state that they need to treat science and its outcomes (“scientific facts”) with the same methodological scrutiny that they use to explain “wrong” statements. So, how can development agents and anthropologists continue to differentiate between scientifically legitimized “knowledge” and culturally constrained “beliefs” of local communities?
Anthropologists should question and study their own methodologies, concepts, and actions in the field in the same way they study their informants. This, he thinks, “will not only lead to a new way of looking at the anthropologist as an actor in the field, but also represents a strategy favourable to those of us who work as applied anthropologists.”
Anthropologists are following in media’s and politicians footsteps: They care less about the floods i Pakistan than for the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the Katrina floods in the USA and the earthquake in Haiti.
A quick search reveals nearly complete silence. While several anthropologists mention the desaster or call for help, they don’t contribute with any analyses.
The only piece by an anthropologist that deals specifically with the floods consists of rather dubious culturalisations: Cultural wisdom in crisis by Kashmali Khan from Oxford University, published in the Pakistani Tribune.
But while I am writing these lines, suddenly an interview about the flood pops up at the great blog Anthropologyworks. Pakistan expert Maggie Ronkin (who’s recently taught on Justice and Peace in Pakistan and Social Development in South Asia at Georgetown University) interviews Fayyaz Baqir, Director of the Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center in Islamabad.
Fayyaz Baqir describes the floods as “the worst in the entire world during the past hundred years". But he is eager to add - and this is the interesting part in my view - that we “are underestimating the resilience, resourcefulness, and capacity of the people to cope with the disaster due to the presence of hundreds of formal and informal institutions and mechanisms that help people on a day-to-day basis.”
This capacity and the will to help is echoed in several stories in Pakistani media.
“In the last 10 days", Zeresh John writes, in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, “I’ve seen Pakistan come together in ways never seen before.” “It is an overwhelming feeling", Zeresh John adds, “when people unite for a cause. When in an instant, strangers no longer remain strangers":
The Pakistani youth has risen and literally stepped out on the streets to help their countrymen affected by the flood. (…) Each day brings a relentless and constant chain of support. Where the monetary contributors stop, there is a group of people ready to take over by running to crowded bazaars everyday to buy food supplies, clean drinking water and medicines. From there yet another massive portion of the population is stepping in to pack those supplies and load them into trucks to deliver them to the affected areas.
As Pakistani authorities failed to provide the necessary leadership needed and with no proper coordination in the relief efforts, the civilian population of Pakistan has taken it upon themselves to do what they can in the face of this crisis; in the process, developing a conscientious society that we’re all proud to belong to.
But these stories are not told by the media, a reader comments:
“I live overseas and this post was quite educational for me. How is it that none of our TV channels are highlighting this spirit ? All I’ve seen so far are stories about corruption, fake camps and immoral feudals diverting the flow of flood waters to their benefit. Our free media seems to be failing miserably by promoting only the demoralizing but sensational stories.”
My favorite story is written by Shabnam Riaz in The News: The Real Heroes (see also cached version). She is also writing about “a spirit-lifting experience in this whole nightmare": Pakistan’s youth, young men and poor laborers who help other people:
Small, scattered groups of young boys and men had formed where the rain was the harshest and was threatening to sweep away cars along with their occupants. (…) They worked in unison, all of them had a single purpose and that was to rescue other human beings. (…) They waved at us, hurriedly preparing to help the next hapless driver who was blindly careening into their path. We waved back with euphoric ‘thank you’ but they had already become busy in helping others.
I was touched beyond words. These young men were poor labourers who were most probably hungry as a day full of rain would not have given them a chance to earn their daily wage. I am sure that none of them were owners of a vehicle either. But their dedication to help the other members of society who definitely had more material possessions than they had, without any contempt at all, told me something. It told me that deep inside they were people of substance. Those individuals who had their moral compasses pointing in the right direction.
It also told me something else; that in fact, these were our heroes. Also, these people who slog from sun-up till sun-down for a meagre amount that could hardly put a decent meal on anyone’s table, are our actual role models.
Here another story about how people help themselves (video by Al Jazeera)
Save Pakistan from the catastrophe is the title of an earlier article where anthropologist Fazal Amin Baig calls for action. Fazal Amin Baig wrote it earlier this year in the aftermath of a heavy landslide that took the lives of 19 people and displaced more than 1,500 people. “The year 2010 witnessed a natural disaster, which did not indicate a good omen to the people of Pakistan.” Unfortunately, the anthropologist was right.
For an excellent example of how to contribute as social scientists, see my earlier post on anthropologists on Katrina.
(update: Pakistan: Netizens In Action Helping Flood Victims. (Global Voices 24.8.2010))
(Hatiain Children up in the mountains. Image: Matt Dringenberg, flickr)
(post in progress about anthropological perspectives in Haiti and how to help) “Anthropology to me is all about human connexions, about a common humanity", said Dai Cooper from the Anthropology Song. “Being an anthropologist means that when a natural disaster occurs somewhere in the world, a friend may be there", is a quote I found on the blog by urban anthropologist Krystal D’Costa.
“The recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti has turned my thoughts to our global levels of connectivity", she writes and adds:
Web 2.0 technologies have been activated to create impromptu support networks and share what little information people may have heard. They are proving integral to the management of disasters. And perhaps creating a global community so that when natural disasters strike, anthropologists aren’t the only ones wondering and worrying about the fate of friends.
I had similar thoughts today: First, on facebook, lots of friends posted stories about the earthquake and explained how to help. Browsing the web, it is overwhelming and touching to read about all the activities by people who help. Even without web2.0, people care for each other. True everyday cosmopolitanism.
GlobalVoices - my favorite source for international news - has lots of great overviews, among others about help from the region around Haiti (Dominican Republic / Caribbean) where many bloggers have been active. The Haitian Diaspora has also been active.
This kind help is often invisible in mainstream media. Here in Norway, the focus is of course on Norwegians (or Americans) or other rich countries’ help.
José Rafael Sosa for example writes (translated by Global Voices):
The Dominican people have bent over backwards to help Haiti. What happened in Haiti has no precedent. There is too much pain. Too much suffering. The absurd differences stop here and solidarity is imposed, pure and simple, openly and decidedly. This is the right moment to help our brother nation. Let’s give our hand and our soul to a people that do not deserve so much suffering.
Anthropologists have also contributed online. At Somatosphere, medical anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer explains why helping through Partners in Health might be a good idea. One of the founders of Partners in Health is another medical anthropologist: Paul Farmer who currently is the U.N. Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti.
One year ago, Farmer was interviewed about the hurricane disaster in Haiti where as many as 1,000 people have died and an estimated one million left homeless. Farmer stresses that natural disasters are not only natural but also social or political disasters, they are partly man-made. He addresses Haitis ecological crisies and the way the US has destabilized Haiti. In another interview he challenges Profit-Driven Medical System (more see wikipedia and videos below).
Yes, why is Haiti so poor? Why is Haiti one of the poorest countries on this planet and therefore more vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes? Two anthropologists answer this question. They suggest links between the disaster and colonialism.
Haiti actually has been a rich country, Barbara D Miller at anthropologyworks explains. Haiti produced more wealth for France than all of France’s other colonies combined and more than the 13 colonies in North America produced for Britain. So why is Haiti so poor:
Colonialism launched environmental degradation by clearing forests. After the revolution, the new citizens carried with them the traumatic history of slavery. Now, neocolonialism and globalization are leaving new scars. For decades, the United States has played, and still plays, a powerful role in supporting conservative political regimes.
James Williams at Discovery News interviews anthropologist Bryan Page. Page gives a similar explanation.
After 1804, Haitians were discriminated against by not only the United States, but all the European powers, he says:
That discrimination meant no availability of resources to educate the Haitian population, no significant trade with any polity outside of Haiti. Also, the break up of the plantations into individual land parcels meant there’s no longer a coherent cash crop activity going on within Haiti.
These conditions persisted into the 20th Century:
You still have a population that was 80-90% illiterate – a population that didn’t have any industrial skills, a population that wasn’t allowed to trade its products with the rest of the world in any significant way.
What that isolation essentially meant was that Haiti never had a chance to progress alongside the surrounding civilizations in the region. Complicating the picture even more was a series of despotic rulers that added to the country’s struggles.
[Haiti was] seen increasingly as a benighted, terrible place, in part also because of the collective racism of the white-dominated nations that surrounded them, including Cuba, the United States and the Dominican Republic which occupies the other side of Hispanola.
UPDATE 1: More on Haiti, colonialism and racism on the blog The Cranky Linguist by anthropologist Ronald Kephart
UPDATE 2: Statement by the American Anthropological Association (AAA): The Haitian Studies Association has begun to develop strategies to help Haiti, Haitians, Haitians in the diaspora, and the Haitian academic community. The AAA will provide more information about how to respond to the disaster and ask the Haitian anthropological community for advice.
Hope is not something that one often associates with Haiti. An anthropologist and critic of representations of the island, I have often questioned narratives that reduce Haiti to simple categories and in the process dehumanize Haitians. Yes, we may be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, but there is life there, love and an undeniable and unbeatable spirit of creative survivalism.
I am worried about Haiti’s future. In the immediate moment we need help, rescue missions of all kinds. I am concerned about weeks from now when we are no longer front-page news. Without long-term efforts, we will simply not be able to rebuild. What will happen then?
UPDATE 3: Great post by Kerim Friedman at Savage Minds where he explains why New York Times columnist David Brooks is wrong who claims that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.”
UPDATE 4: Haiti: Getting the Word Out - Janine Mendes-Franco at GlobalVoices gives an overview over bloggers in and around Port-au-Prince who “are finding the time to communicate with the outside world".
UPDATE 5 (16.1.10): Anthropologist Johannes Wilm: Who really helps Haiti? An overview of money given to Haiti: While USA give most per person affected, Norway, Canada and Guyana give most per citizen and (again) Guyana gives most in percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). His main message is that the aid from Western countries is “close to nothing".
Alert by Naomi Klein: “We have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy—which is part natural, part unnatural—must, under no circumstances, be used to, one, further indebt Haiti and, two, to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interest of our corporations. This is not conspiracy theory. They have done it again and again.”
UPDATE See also post by Keith Hart: Is Haiti to be another victim of disaster capitalism?
UPDATE 7: GlobalVoices: Instances of “Looting,” but Little Confirmed Evidence of Post-Quake Violence: When the media reports on disasters, they’re inevitably going to focus on the dramatic and antisocial, even if it’s one percent of the population committing these acts.”
Here is what poor Haitians define as elements of a good society:
1. relative economic parity
2. strong political leaders with a sense of service who “care for” and “stand for” the poor
3. respe (respect)
4. religious pluralism to allow room for ancestral and spiritual beliefs
5. cooperative work
6. access of citizens to basic social services
7. personal and collective security
UPDATE 10: Harvard and Haiti: A collaborative response to the January 12 earthquake: Video with Paul Farmer and his colleagues from Harvard Medical School, Partners In Health
and Brigham and Women’s Hospital
And here an overview about the current situation:
and a lecture by Paul Farmer (first introduction, lecture starts after 8 minutes):
(Update: Chris Knight suspended over G20-activism) The G20 summit in London next month may be marked by one of the biggest demonstrations since a million people marched against war in Iraq in 2003. According to The Sunday Telegraph, the demonstrations are being organised by anthropologists Camilla Power and Chris Knight.
Under the slogan “Storm the Banks", the two members of The Radical Anthropology Group are urging the public to vent its anger on the financiers and bank executives many blame for the global economic crisis. They think it is necessary to question or even overthrow capitalism - a taboo topic for the ruling elites.
Very interesting: The Telegraph writes that the two anthropologists work at the University of East London, which is based close to the headquarters of some of the world’s biggest banks. The University is “proud of its links with the City of London and multinational companies based in London".
The paper quotes the university’ website who “boasts“:
“We are committed to do all we can to ensure that our expertise is made available to benefit business and society. Utilising the wealth of expertise, research capabilities and facilities at UEL our solutions help companies to become more profitable, more competitive and more sustainable.”
(Or take a look at the frontpage of the university and study the language: Is this a university or a oil company or even a bank??)
Anyway, Camilla Power thinks her role in organising the protests does not conflict with her position at UEL and says:
“What our university management thinks is good for students and academics does not always accord with what students and academics think is good for them.”
But maybe they don’t disagree at all? A spokeswoman for UEL said (diplomatically?):
“The University of east London includes a range of academic disciplines and individual academics who advocate a range of viewpoints. We are proud of our diversity, which fosters a spirit of critical inquiry, and we support freedom of debate. We are also proud of our active partnerships with business.”
As often the case when people take to the streets, the media are mostly interested in writing about violence and “the worst public disorder for a decade“. . Up to 3,000 police officers will be on the streets. Armed undercover officers will mingle in the crowds while police snipers will be stationed on rooftops.
On the 5th of December 2006, typhoon Durian hit Bến Tre province in Southern Vietnam. Close to 100 people died, more than 800 moored fishing boats sank, thousands of buildings collapsed including schools and hospitals. In her master’s thesis, Uy Ngoc Bui looks at how this event changed peoples’ lives and explains why we need more disaster anthropology.
In this extremly well written thesis at the University of Bergen (Norway), Uy Ngoc Bui looks at the role of NGOs, the state and the people themselves’ in the period after the disaster. Although the government and the NGOs did a significant job in handling typhoon Durian the real heroes were the people themselves, who helped one another in a time of great need, she writes:
They showed great courage, endurance and solidarity by overcoming this challenge. As such, it is perhaps no surprise that my study concurs with the many previous studies which state that disaster management is very dependent on the participation of the community, and their strengths and efforts can determine the outcome of the disaster.
Therefore it is important to study peoples’ knowledge and coping mechanisms:
In disasters as floods and tsunamis, traditional knowledge acts as warning signs which can be read ahead of time, saving many lives. This type of information should be spread wherever it is useful, as Red Cross has done in Vietnam.
I believe that thorough research into traditional knowledge and local coping mechanisms should be emphasised as they are a type of accumulative knowledge which has been passed on throughout generations, adapted to their specific environment. This type of knowledge is valuable because it is not written down, and if is lost, it will be lost forever. Here anthropology has an important job to do.
There are lots of topics to study for anthropologists, for example the local-global linkages and the reconstruction work:
My experience is that more research should be done on the bridging of relief aid with long term reconstruction and development. Relief aid has become more efficient and standardised, which is positive, but this is only short term help for people who are in a vulnerable situation. Decreasing their vulnerability and strengthening their capacity to overcome disasters in the future should be the key foci of anthropologists and NGOs.
Anthropology provides a unique look at how the local situation relates to the global through the holistic approach. It is therefore important that anthropology uses this approach to better understand the complex local-global linkages in future research. Solid fieldwork on the ground level can show how the lives of the people involved are changed as a result of the disaster and the following intervention by foreign actors. The real effects of natural disasters, the ones that are felt intimately and which linger on long after the dust has settled, are best researched with anthropological methods which can take into account all the historical, economical, political and social factors that are involved in the making of a natural disaster.
One of the global forces are related to global warming:
Many blame the Western industrial ways for corrupting the planet’s eco-system, creating more and more havoc for each year. Research in disaster management therefore also includes research into finding more eco-friendly ways to live.
Uy Ngoc Bui has studied anthropology at the University in Bergen, Norway. As she’s “of Vietnamese origin” she felt that she “had an advantage in being half-immersed in the ‘culture’ already, which would make the transition somewhat smoother". Furthermore, people were as interested in hearing about Norway and Norwegian culture as she was interested in them, she writes.
Today was by the way the second day of an interdisciplinary climate conference in Copenhagen. Among the researchers we find many anthropologists. Kirsten Hastrup is team leader of the research project Waterworlds at the anthropology department at the University of Copenhagen:
The ambition of the project is to study local, social responses to environmental disasters related to water, as spurred by the melting of ice in the Arctic and in other glacier areas, the rising of seas that flood islands and coastal communities, and the drying of lands accelerating desertification in large parts of Africa and elsewhere. The aim is to contribute to a renewed theory of social resilience that builds on the actualities of social life in distinct localities, and pays heed to human agency as the basis for people’s quest for certainty in exposed environments.
A few days ago, Pakistani anthropologist Samar Minallah lauched a “video song", a tribute to little girls in all the regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan where schools are being destroyed, depriving girls of their right to education, The News reports.
The song ‘Allaho: A Lullaby for You, My Daughter’ (both in Dari and Pashto) is one of the first lullabies that have been dedicated to girls according to the news report. Traditionally lullabies are made for sons alone. The new song is “a welcome break from the traditional practice":
The production and launch of the song has acquired an added significance in that hundreds of schools have been burnt down in recent months both in Pakistan and Afghanistan by those who are not ready to allow girl education despite the fact that women constitute almost half of the population of both the neighbouring countries.
One of the verses in Pashto is: ‘Ookhiyaara sha taleem oka; Da tol jahan tazeem oka; Da khalqo khidmatgaara sha; Har kaar pa lowar tasleem oka’ If translated into English, it means: ‘Become clever and educated; Respect and serve mankind; Ready for the challenges of life; Learning makes the journey of life easy.’
Samar Minallah is a Pukhtun (Pashtun / Pashto) from the North-West Frontier Province who has done her MPhil in Anthropology and Development at the University of Cambridge. She heads Ethnomedia, an organisation in Islamabad that works in the field of media and communications for a social change. She is the winner of Perdita Huston Human Rights Activist Award 2007 for effectively using electronic media to highlight the lives of women in Pakistan.
UPDATE (via pukhtunwomen.org) The video is now availabe on youtube:
Samar Minallah has produced lots of documentaries, among others ‘Swara — A Bridge Over Troubled Waters’. ‘Swara’ is the name of a practice where minor girls are given away as compensation to end disputes between different families. Even swara killings occur. Although officially outlawed in Pakistan, the custom prevails.
In the documentary a “tribal leader” says about one of the swara girls:
“She is the prize of my son’s death and will be treated accordingly, I’ll taunt and humiliate her for she’s the price paid for my son’s death. She’s not part of the family and cannot partake in any rituals or festivities.”
The anthropologist comments:
“Swara is a part of the Pukhtun culture, we are always told it is a noble sacrifice or that the girl is an ambassador of peace. Sadly though, throughout my research, it is clear that the girl that is given away in the name of Swara has very little chances of leading a good life. A custom that so heartlessly forces a girl to suffer for the rest of her life is completely against basic human rights”
The film can be watched online in full length. At first I only found a six minutes introduction and I was not sure if I liked it as it seemed to be a bit essentializing. But in an interesting interview with Damon Lynch, she is more nuanced:
Samar points out that culture is never static. What is seen as a fixed cultural tradition today may have developed over time from an honorable tradition into a profoundly negative one. For instance, a current “traditional” method of dispute resolution involves the payment of a girl to a family that has been wronged. (…)
Historically, Samar believes this tradition involved a girl from one family or village going to another family or village, and returning with gifts, signifying the respect of one family or village for the women of the other. However this practice decayed until it reached its present form. Samar is challenging this practice of dispute resolution in the Supreme Court, hoping to have it declared illegal. (…)
Samar believes that aspects of Pukhtunwali–the ancient code of Pukhtun honor and custom–are good, even as there are other areas in need of reform.
As part of her work, Minallah even produced a talk show for a Pashto television channel, which she hosted. And she persuaded truck and rickshaw owners to paint slogans against Swara, such as “Giving away little girls as compensation is not only inhuman but also un-Islamic” on their vehicles.
She has been present in Pakistani media many times also related to other issues like Da Bajaur Guloona — Homeless at Home. Highlighting the plight of the displaced and Minallah brings out hidden colours of NWFP (North-West Frontier Province)