Flo Carson

Flo Carson - Social Anthropologist, studying International Development at Sciences Po, Paris. I am slightly obsessed by gender, politics, media, human rights and global health. I've worked in Asia, Africa and Europe and keen to explore more of the world we live in. Take a look at my Twitter & Tumblr for my most recent posts. tly

Friday, 16 January 2015

Paris Climate 2015 - Addressing the vulnerability of the poor to climate change

At last night’s conference with Shyama Ramani and Francois Bourguignon the urgency of the event’s title was echoed consistently. This talk was held as part of the lead up to this year’s climate change conference in Paris and the panel who were discussing the topic were economists as opposed to climate change experts. 
It is the poorest people of the developing world that will feel the effects as climate change continues to make its mark on the planet. According to Ramani, 98% of people affected by climate change are in the developing world currently. We can take a closer look at these figures if we examine the Climate Change Vulnerability Index. 
Whilst Ramani, an Indian economist who has established her own NGO which addresses issues of sanitation among other things in her country, evoked personal accounts and lived realities, Bourguignon, former chief economist of the World Bank, drew the audience’s attention to predictably a more economic and rigid way of discussing the topic. Bourguignon went into detail of the asymmetrical effects of climate change, which acts as an exogenous shock on poverty, distribution and aggregate income. Bourguignon made predictions of how climate change would exacerbate pre-existing inequalities; in reality he admits that the degree of vulnerability is unknown but that the ultimate solution will inevitably come from dynamic redistributions.  
Both speakers balanced each other out nicely and raise some interesting economic points, however I was most struck by the words of Ramani, perhaps because of my own personal interest in India. Moreover, Ramani immediately pointed out the painful paradox that we were enjoying this conference in a luxurious meeting room of Paris, surrounded by endless champagne, salmon and mini éclairs (to name an extremely small example of the unbelievably vast selection of food and drinks options).

Ramani explained that in India, the issue of climate is particularly pressing in three main ways:
1) Monsoon dependence
2) Coastal settlements
3) Melting Himalayan glaciers 
But alongside these changes, there is further added stresses which complicate how the country can deal with these problems. These include:
1) Migration and adaptation
2) Getting programs and projects to continue despite changing political powers
3) Implementing schemes on enormous and diverse scales
4) Co-ordination between various actors (Urban planning and environment ministries barely talk to each other, so how can we envisage progress?).
Ramani insists that we cannot wait for global governance, and I completely agree. Not only is it an idealistic ambition, it is also a void and meaningless phrase. Persuasively, she explains how easy it is to sell consumer goods, like coca cola, even in the most isolated settings, however we are failing to make policies and schemes work because of our obsession with jargon and snobbish-ness. Grudgingly, it seems as though we have stuff to learn from capitalism. 
Ramani ended the conference with a well known economic joke - A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on a boat, with nothing to eat but a can of beans. The physicist says, “Let me use my glasses to transfer the sun’s energy and heat to melt open the can”. The chemist says, “Let’s combine some liquids so that we have a potion which will be able to open the tin”. Whereas the economist says, “Lets assume that we have a can-opener, now how will we divide these beans equally and fairly”…

This joke is really pertinent for our discussions of climate change and economics. We don’t yet know the realities of climate change and how exactly it will impact on communities and individuals. There’s no harm in making predictions, but we must focus on decreasing its effects and its immediacy before we can make assumptions and policies based on its economic consequences in the next 100 years. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The attack on Charlie Hebdo is an attack on us all. On est Charlie.

It's not often I'm lost for words, but this attack took them right out of my mouth.
I'm exasperated for society. Above are some pictures I've taken from walking around  République (Paris) over the last 24 hours.

Whilst, we have to admit that attacks of this magnitude and on even larger scales are happening practically every day internationally, something is startling here. No terror attack can ever be justified.

Simply put, this was an attack on a magazine and a group of talented cartoonists and satirical journalists. How is this a fair fight? How could they ever be considered 'the enemy'?

But now we have to ask - how can we solve this? How can we use this to galvanise a collective spirit, one which crosses international, religious, and cultural barriers? We need to remember we are a singular humanity, somehow fortunate enough to have been born onto this pretty decent planet.

We must unlearn hate.

The sights at République generated a degree of hope and faith within me. I saw people walking away from the scene with tears coming down their faces, silently brushing them off their cheeks. Whilst I spoke to others who had spent the afternoon at work printing off Je Suis Charlie flyers and stickers to hand out on the square. Meanwhile, people had clambered up onto the grand statue in the centre of the square, placing posters, writing words, lighting candles, but most importantly placing pens and biros into the hands of the smaller statues.

The pen shall always be mightier than the sword. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Marina Abramović: 512 hours

Anxiety. Fear. Breath.

On entry to Marina Abramovic's latest performance art installation (do you call it an installation? I suppose it is more of an experience) my initial reaction was an intense desire to leave. Immediately.

However, I had never felt such a thing on entry to a gallery. I was forced to question why it was that I felt this way, and that I should give myself over to the moment a little more. In actuality, very few exhibitions have made me feel anything so palatable (either positive or negative) so quickly before and therefore I sort of knew I had to stay.

I queued for almost two hours outside The Serpentine and stood beside a highly energised, red haired, young woman who insisted on performing on her ukulele, singing an impromptu song about her anticipation for seeing Marina to the tune of Blondie's 'Maria'. All of which her friend recorded on their iPhone and promised to post onto Facebook right away. I had deliberately avoided reading anything about Marina and the exhibit, my friends had censored their summaries of the exhibit to a mere four words: 'You have to go'.

I was welcomed by a handsome group of invigilators who invited me to hand over my material possessions, my watch and give myself over to the moment. I put on a comforting set of headphones. I could hear my heart. The first room held three hospital beds, and a few slightly raised platforms. The platforms were populated by those people I had been queueing alongside. Their eyes closed. Their backs gently stroked by invigilators or Marina herself. The red haired ukulele player, who had proven to be somewhat loud in the queue was instantly invited to enter a hospital bed. She eagerly accepted and her presence transformed completely. Calm and forced to be unconcerned with relaying this incident to others through social media immediately.

On the left side of the main room was a room filled with hospital beds. I found it quite terrifying. The bright white wall and masses of beds evoked visions of tents in crisis and emergencies in poverty stricken countries. I felt incapable of being comfortable or relaxed. Nevertheless, I found it striking how readily people gave themselves over to these beds. Sleeping is such an intimate thing, you're completely vulnerable. But this room revealed the exhaustion of society. All these people were so very willing to sleep or meditate.

I moved myself over to the final room, which was occupied by various people walking forward, incredibly slowly with their eyes closed. I followed suit. Having handed over my hearing to Marina, I also handed over my vision. I was now blind and deaf. Surprisingly, I found walking to be impossible. I trembled and tripped as I felt the pressure and weight forcing down onto my heels then onto my toes. Lifting my feet created immense imbalance and insecurity. I was forced to open my eyes, peering through my eyelashes for some grounding. Who knew walking could be so hard? Each foot trying its best to calculate the next step, I consistently failed to walk in a straight line at this pace and without my senses. I heard a knock and opened my eyes fully to see someone had just walked straight into the white wall of The Serpentine. They had given themselves over to the moment, so much so that they had smashed their face against the wall. But they were totally unperturbed.

As I reached the wall, fortunately avoiding a similar face-wall incident I turned slowly and opened my eyes. I saw five people facing away from me, purposefully, determinedly and so very slowly moving away from me. It was humbling and peaceful. I was so proud of being part of this moment, where a group of strangers had committed to this performance with no direction or mentorship. It was complete initiative. A completely organic, yet carefully considered moment in our world.

For me, there was a tangible sense of self awareness in the environment, which existed simultaneously with an awareness of and harmony with the presence of others. You weren't looking at what people were wearing, or who they were with, instead you saw them as stripped down beings. Humans on the most basic level. We were all one in that moment. We collectively filled some of those 512 hours. This led me to think, why aren't we always one, in all moments? It seems so simple and beautiful.

I've found the aftermath of the exhibition similarly overwhelming, and being able to read about the experience of others has reminded me of further instances within the space. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

New Blog

One of my best friends, Roon from Kolkata and I are writing a blog together. Take a look http://far-flung-feminists.tumblr.com/

Thursday, 19 June 2014

To the boy on the bike...

I want to tell you that you have left me wounded and angry. I entered my room shaking and filled with an adrenaline that won’t leave my veins. You have probably left the woman who you were originally shouting those disgusting words at, feeling the exact same.  

When you walk down your street do you expect anyone to comment on your body? Can you imagine someone evaluating the way your body moves, objectifying your existence and then feeling the need to tell you about it? How likely is it that someone will race up to you on their bike and trap you as you try to move forward on the pavement outside your house?

 You terrorised that women within the space of 20 seconds; a bomb exploded from your mouth, every word and gesture a direct hit to her confidence and self identity. How dare you speak such repulsive words about a woman and threaten her with your physical presence. Her body is none of your business. You carried out a sexist attack, seemingly out of nowhere. But it isn’t out of nowhere, really, is it? It comes from hearing men speak about women as sexual objects and nothing more, it’s from watching the popular guy in your class joke about your teacher’s bum,  it’s from seeing Page 3 of The Sun on the tube seat beside you. But, that’s not to say you can’t take some of the blame.

I could not stand by after that woman reached her front door and managed to escape any more of your assault. I had to continue this “dialogue”. I could not let you think that this behaviour was something a human could be proud of, or ever contemplate about doing again.

I admit, I admired your ability to hold your bike steady whilst simultaneously giving me the finger and telling me I’m wearing a “shit dress”. Who says men can’t multitask?

But my words had no power. Labelling you a sexist  held no weight. I felt weak in my rhetoric and ability to respond to your objectifying, shallow shouts at me. Why is it that calling someone sexist seems meaningless and insignificant?

Perhaps my words will linger and the realisation of your behaviour will strike you in the middle of the night. Maybe, after experiencing two women fight back, you will think twice before saying something so derogatory, and so stupid to a stranger. But I’m feeling cynical and alone; your confidence in hurling those words, circling me with your bike and riding away into the distance laughing, forces me to think that your sexism is a deep rooted tumour.

You have a mother or a sister. I imagine. You love her and want nothing but the best for her. I imagine. You would want to hurt anyone that made her feel how this woman and I feel right now. I imagine.

Please take a minute to think about me and the other woman you assaulted tonight. You’ve chipped away at our bodies, clothes and confidence. Our glimpses in the mirror will incorporate your smarmy face looming over us. This will go on for some time. Or at least, right up until the next man makes the decision to harass us, and your face will simply be replaced by another.


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Sex Workers' Opera

'You're all misogynists! You're supporting trafficking! You're disgusting!'

One second into one of the most unique theatrical pieces you will ever hear about, I already felt something you don't usually feel in an opera. Deeply uncomfortable.  Admittedly, the opera or ballet often make me feel a little uneasy; either embarrassed, confused or a little fidgety. But the Sex Workers' Opera thrust this discomfort straight into my face, unavoidably, blatantly and fantastically.

A faux protesting scene opens the Opera and instantly drags the audience to the edge of their plastic seats.

The English Collective of Prostitutes were generous enough to give me a free ticket to the event and I instantly jumped at the chance to attend. I found myself sat in a full house, in the somewhat cramped Courtyard Theatre, struggling to view the scenes play out and the prostitutes perform over the heads of both men and women. I wasn't sure what to expect, a Hoxton concoction of La Traviata, Moulin Rouge and the glamour of RuPaul's Drag Race, perhaps? In reality, the opera depicted a range of situations, from web camming, pole dancing, street walking and S&M dominance, but its overall message was a resounding chorus against the Nordic model in regards to prostitution.

Approximately half of the performers of the opera actually work in the sex industry, we were not told who was and who wasn't in order to maintain anonymity. Performers represented a range of ages, body shapes, and even gender, but failed in my opinion to truly represent the ethnic diversity present within the sphere of Britain's sex work industry. It would have benefited from attempting to portray this reality a little more explicitly. Co-director, Knox seemingly appreciates this  "Though we have reached out, we've had to come to terms with the fact that those for whom sex work was not a choice may not want to take part," Knox says. "That's why the call-out for diverse experiences is so important in balancing the stories told on stage".

Nevertheless, the Sex Workers' Opera was a tour-de-force, luring the audience into an understanding that prostitution represents, just another kind of work. The performers' twisting of whips and hips successfully drew the audience into agreement with their underlying political message, total decriminalisation of prostitution.

The show was developed alongside a series of community workshops supported by the Royal Opera House and Goldsmiths Annual Fund. The show was the brainchild of Clouds Haberberg .It depicted a range of moments, each filled with well calculated and arranged humorous, upsetting, and touching lines. The opera revealed the humanity and nuance related to the work of sex work. It extended far beyond the conventional, polarised illustrations of prostitutes in the press as empowered middle class escorts or helpless, victims of trafficking.

One scene shows a sex worker accompanying a man to a bar, no kissing, no fucking, simply listening. But the sex worker isn't depicted as an innocent and engaged ear, she isn't a shoulder to cry on, she is ultimately a human, who doesn't have a desperate urge to hear her client bemoan his life and his wife's lack of affection. In fact, the sex worker is deeply bored. She dismisses the John's self pity and insists he takes his wife out, tell her he loves her and maybe takes her to a spa. The John instantly rejects the spa idea 'It's too expensive!' he exclaims. The prostitute scoffs, 'You can't afford a spa, but you can afford an hour with me... Ha!'.

What will stay with me, was the collection of supportive, open minded, but also eclectic people that were drawn in to attend and view the Sex Workers' Opera. I sat beside a young guy, eagerly stating moments before the show 'I've never been to the theatre before! I'm here with my girlfriend who's writing her dissertation about prostitution'. It was an absolute delight to see him squirm ever so slightly at the start, and slowly melt with the loss of his inhibitions. By the end of the show he had watched a trans sex worker strip, listened to a South American via webcam, and experienced a Soho Raid. His mind, like mine had be unequivocally blown. 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

No More Murders. No More Rapes. Justice for Dalit Women

Not only was the Delhi Gang Rape of December 2012 a horror, but I personally considered it a social catalyst. It represented the tipping point for India and the world and demanded those with any sense of political awareness to fight back against the ceaseless acts of violence against women in India.  Or so I thought.

 May 28th 2014 marked a dark day in India and beyond. Two cousins, Dalit (Untouchables) girls aged 14 and 15, who lived in the Badaun District of Uttar Pradesh were hung after being sexually attacked by seven men.  Here, strange fruits hanging, lives on and manifests itself in an unceasingly disturbing way.
 The Hindu says 'This is what has happened in Badaun in 21st century India. The consumption of the living bodies of two young ‘low-caste’ girls (in the act of gang rape) was completed by the consumption of their de-humanised, dead, subjugated, ‘low-caste’ bodies as public and media spectacle. The media came to town, as did a cavalier array of politicians. They all came, participated in a codified spectacle, looked up at the shamed tree, and left saying nothing'.  As Freedom Without Fear says this is 'the latest in a long line of horrific murders and sexual assaults perpetrated on young Dalit and oppressed caste women'.  The two cousins were going to the fields to defecate when they went missing. This is not a problem only experienced by Dalit women, in actuality half-a-billion Indians (48% of the population) lack access to basic sanitation and defecate in the open. In addition, police actually refused to investigate the family's report when the girls first went missing, this was followed by murder threats. Accordingly, the rape and death of these girls confirms and crystallises three major socio-political realities that dictate everyday life in India; rife misogyny and frequent of gender based violence,  caste prejudice, and a failed and nearly hopeless national infrastructure.

The English Collective of Prostitutes informed me that Freedom Without Fear had arranged a demonstration where they intended to demand justice outside the Indian Embassy in London on Wednesday 4th June. I felt obliged to attend. I rushed, hurriedly from work at 6pm to the Strand; hearing yuppies swapping mentions of 'Modi' and 'Embassy' pushed me onwards at a faster speed. I reached the protest almost two hours in and was pleasantly surprised to see a vast range of people yelling 'Indian Government! Indian Government! We need justice! We need justice!'.

The Badaun incident  reveals a disgusting abuse of human rights and a complete destruction of unspoken cross cultural, moral values. In fact, when I spent time in India this year, each morning my Times Of India detailed at least two cases of sexual assault, molestation and the consequential humiliation and retribution felt by women and their family members as a result. This, undoubtedly was an enormously unnerving way to start each day. However, we must remember the incidents that go unmentioned on a daily basis on a global scale. Whilst the atrocities that are occurring in India should not be ignored, they are outrageous and deserve our attention, we should not deem the country unique in its frequency of gender violence.  I do intend to keep an (apprehensive, and worried ) eye as Modi, India's new president, takes the reins over the nation.

I was comforted at the embassy by seeing men shout these chants until their voices broke; passion erupting out of their mouths, their thick Indian accents coating each word. Alongside these men were four hundred individuals and groups from a diverse backgrounds, such as Global Women's Strike,  Southall Black Sisters, Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, and Women Against Rape. Banners, signs, placards held up by people of all ages, genders and ethnicities struck a chord with me and rejuvenated my sense of hope. People care. But will this really lead to change in India and beyond?

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Digital Humanitarianism

What. Is. That?

Today, my colleague and I went to a conference held by the CDAD,  partially to uncover what this actually meant and partially to try and work out how we could become involved.

Digital Humanitarianism is made possible when  the thousands upon thousands of tweets, photos, and texts which are shared each day are sifted through and made sense of and can become crucial information for field workers and aid networks. Social media can give real time updates and images; but it is also filled with an awful lot of rubbish, that can waste time in an emergency.

According to Standby Task Force , in the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, only 0.001% of all tweets related to this subject contained 'useful' material for them and other humanitarian organisations. Useful here means, unique, relevant and informative data. Not just a retweet, or someone exclaiming 'OMG' at the start of a previously known fact.  Indeed, the 'usefulness' of the vast and expanding pockets of information related to crisis and conflict is one problem. But so too is the inherent subjectivity and bias that patently comes from this kind of information. For example, the types of people with access to smart phones or twitter who can document these ongoings are clearly wealthier and connected. Humanitarian organisations want clean, accurate information and we tend to assume that the data they are working from aside from social media is this clean, accurate stuff. However, as someone in the conference rightfully brought up, this is rarely the case and we should accept the inherent bias within the data and communications of the humanitarian sector more broadly.

MicroMappers is a fantastic idea which draws on the universal and contemporary preoccupation with the internet and social media. Created in 2013, MicroMappers is the first ever set of microtasking apps specifically customized for digital humanitarian response. It takes the masses of data related to conflicts, like photos uploaded online with tags or tweets and allows volunteer from anywhere in the world can sift through the primary content and electronically organise it. For example, a picture of a bombed hospital may come up, and a volunteer is required to categorise it with a click of the button. Or look at the picture above for another example. MicroMappers combines the terms "microtasking" and "crisis mappers", it rapidly and effectively eliminates the useless data and allows for faster humanitarian action. It simultaneously creates and relies upon a shared network from the most up to date information. Anyone can sign up at any point to volunteer; you will be notified when your help is needed, and you can do it from the comfort of your own bed.

It's disappointing but not at all surprising to hear that organisations like Standby Task Force only emerged in 2010, with MicroMappers only appearing on the scene last year. Too often the third sector is playing catch up with the private sector. Aid organisations are further hindered by the fact that humanitarian organisations consistently fail to share their findings, needs assessments and local knowledge. Thus they consistently waste time researching and generating data for their own internal use as opposed to pooling their resources and knowledge with others.The default non sharing stale mate between organisations reveals the barrier to good communication, and consequently real progress. When the audience was asked how much they would share their information, it seemed rare and more a matter of generous personality and initiative than organisational protocol if they insisted they would share this data.

The main reasons given for humanitarian organisations not collating and disseminating their knowledge seems to be as a result of two main things:
1) Time scale & 'feeding the beast' - Field workers and needs assessors are working against the clock to get information quickly. Trailing through various databases, PDFs from diverse sources and collecting the information may take longer and leave more gaps than just doing it themselves.
2) Competition -  Organisations need their USP in order to market themselves to supporters and funders. Without this 'unique' data and accurate, independently sourced baseline, they risk falling short of requirements and 'losing out' to other organisations.

But it I was informed of a solution to this humanitarian information hogging. MicroMappers is a fantastic idea which draws on the universal and contemporary preoccupation with the internet and social media. Created in 2013, MicroMappers is the first ever set of microtasking apps specifically customized for digital humanitarian response. It takes the masses of data related to conflicts, like photos uploaded online with tags or tweets and allows volunteer from anywhere in the world can sift through the primary content and electronically organise it. For example, a picture of a bombed hospital may come up, and a volunteer is required to categorise it with a click of the button. Or look at the picture above for another example. MicroMappers combines the terms "microtasking" and "crisis mappers", it rapidly and effectively eliminates the useless data and allows for faster humanitarian action. It simultaneously creates and relies upon a shared network from the most up to date information. Anyone can sign up at any point to volunteer; you will be notified when your help is needed, and you can do it from the comfort of your own bed.

It's disappointing but not at all surprising to hear that organisations like Standby Task Force only emerged in 2010, with MicroMappers only appearing on the scene last year. Too often the third sector is playing catch up with the private sector. Despite the wider hesitance of sharing institutional data and information, I hope that as MicroMappers grows and becomes a more intuitive and logical tool, the sharing of humanitarian data will become second nature to aid organisations as much as it is to the civilians on the ground who are the ones taking these photos and disseminating this information in the first place. Ultimately, the third sector needs to continue to keep up with the revolutions in technology and embrace online connectivity as an additional resource in the tools of saving lives. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Cyborg Manifesto

Ashamed to admit it, but I only heard of Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto about a month ago. If you haven't read it yet, you must - and you can by clicking here.

Donna Haraway is a professor of science and technology studies and therefore not someone I would instantly assume to be able to forge a coherent, exciting essay on feminism, identity and modernity. However, I was promptly proved wrong. Particularly in a moment when intersectionality and privilege are increasingly being discussed in the public sphere, Haraway's article, written in 1991 appears more relevant than ever.

So, when I read the essay, it was a matter of dipping in and out, always alongside intense note taking. My interpretation of the essay, is probably quite subjective and academically incorrect. But here are the main things I took from it...
What is Haraway's Cyborg?This cyborg demands a de-essentialised, material-semiotic approach and existence that crosses and combines diverse political positions along lines of affinity as opposed to identity. The cyborg sits comfortably on the fence between man made and nature, it is a 'creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction'. However, I believe fiction is just as socially real. It is carefully constructed into existence in an imagination. Haraway goes on to mirror this point and insists that the 'boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion' anyway.  Haraway's cyborg is 'our ontology', but I think it could also be considered our 'phenomenology' too.

It is 'committed to partiality, irony, intimacy...', clearly smashing any conventional dualities which our brains are culturally instructed to think with.

'The silicon chip is a surface for writing'. I adore this quote. It reminds me of the importance for women to take up technology urgently. Without the ability to code, develop soft ware and hard ware, women will continue to lose. It also reminds us that technology doesn't have to be such a dry, structured thing. It can be creative, unique, and filled with potential. As Marshall McLuhan said, the 'medium is the message' and if women are incapable of creating that medium, then it leaves us voiceless.

Haraway insists that 'the new communication technologies are fundamental to the eradication of "public life" for everyone'. However, this leaves me confused. For me, these new technologies, make everything public. Meaning that it would be an erasure of the private life. Perhaps this is just a matter of blurring the dualities, and they are both left dissolved into one another. 

It is 'committed to partiality, irony, intimacy...', clearly smashing any conventional dualities which our brains are culturally instructed to think with.

Intersectionality & Feminism: 'Single vision produces worse illusions than double vision or many headed monsters' according to Haraway. 'The feminist dream of a common language... is a totalising and imperialist one'.

Haraway rightfully and explicitly mentions various ethnicities, backgrounds, economic and educational levels. This corresponds nicely with current debates on intersectionality. A singular, supposedly united voice of feminism is flawed, unproductive and incorrect. Whilst, I believe that internal arguments are divisive and unhelpful; feminism must concede and accept that we are all coming from such different backgrounds but that we all are pushing for equality. That's all feminism is fundamentally about anyway. Whilst privilege should be checked regularly , I personally don't think shouting down women who do have an opportunity to make lasting changes is helpful, especially if they are making an effort to raise other women's voices in the process. It would be idiotic to assume there is a single voice and vision of feminism. However, she ultimately insists that 'there are grounds for hope in the emerging bases for new kinds of unity across race, gender and class'. Let us accept this point and move forward with this optimistically, always in the back of our mind.

Following her Marxist basis, Haraway matches three kinds of society with three kinds of capitalism:
1) Early Industrial - Nationalism - Patriarchal nuclear family (white bourgeoisie)
2) Monopoly - Imperialism - Modern family, wage and welfare
3) Multinational - Multinationalism - Homework economy family, women headed households, feminism.

Haraway details the 'continued erosion of the welfare state, decentralisation with increased surveillance and control, citizenship by telematics.'
Haraway falls into the Marxist trap of reductionism; despite the various ethnicities, literacy levels, educational backgrounds and economic situations, Haraway assumes a universal and even move towards Multinationalism. Pockets within nations are still heavily insulated and isolated, they are aware there is an outside and they can access this more easily. But realistically, Indian villages with minimal infrastructure, water, electricity and no internet, certainly do not consider themselves multinational.

My favourite statements from the entire essay are: 'We are not responsible for boundaries, we are they' and 'I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess'.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Our First Field Trip

After a couple of weeks of interning, we were finally given the opportunity to go out 'to the field'. In this case, to a couple of Apne Aap's centres in two villages just over an hour out of Delhi.

It was refreshing to see open space, lush green fields and goats after having got used to the thick, white polluted air, mass of people, and consistent urban chaos of Delhi. The comparatively calm mages were so familiar to my previous visit to India, comforted me enormously and made me feel as though we were stepping into more known territory. We reached the first Apne Aap Centre and were greeted by 6 or 7 members of staff, the field workers, who warmly bowed to us in their greetings. Initially, there was a  predictable stalemate of shyness and curiosity between us and them; plenty of staring, silent smiling and whispering behind hands. But after introducing ourselves and asking a few questions about their experiences, the atmosphere warmed and we were all reminded of our shared aims.

None of our beneficaries were actually at the centre since, for some unknown reason, it had been decided that we would visit when they were at school. However, meeting with the field workers, community mobilizers and those working on the ground with the girls was enormously enlightening in quite an unpredictable way. These Apne Aap centres, are where the important work takes place. Beyond the arbitrary bureaucracy, printing and spontaneous, unscheduled, or severely delayed meetings of the office. This is, I guess, where the magic happens and ultimately what I was seeking when I first applied to be an Apne Aap Intern last year. Apne Aap have these kind of centres in the outskirts of Delhi, West Bengal and Bihar, they are the sites whereby the organisation is able to give direct support to girls who are at risk of being trafficked as a result of their tribal backgrounds or poor economic situation. In addition, they provide assistant for women survivors of trafficking and prostitution. Apne Aap insist that they are not a rescue organisation, but instead work towards improving alternatives and creating a world of increased choice and freedom for women.

What surprised me most about my first visit to the centres was the extent to which Apne Aap's wider aims translate very differently on the ground. Their adamant mission against human trafficking and promoting alternative livelihoods as viable solutions was not readily apparent here. There are apparently reasons for this; recently there was a community backlash against the girls of the centre voicing their experiences and opinions on controversial topics on camera. The men in the community argued that these depictions painted them uniformly and universally as pimps and traffickers. Accordingly, the men in the village increased the control they already maintained over these girls and refused to allow them to visit the centre or leave the house at all. Eventually, girls have been allowed to return to the centre, but there is a patent rhetoric of insecurity and walking on egg shells. So much so that it seems like crucial issues go completely unmentioned between the field workers and the at-risk girls. They avoid any mention of prostitution and trafficking since they do not want the girls to return home and vocalise what they've heard. The only visible sign that this is centre is supported by a charity that aims to prevent trafficking is on a single, faded, hand drawn Apne Aap banner.

After asking some questions to the field workers, it seems like the main achievements of the centre is the ability to bring these girls together in a safe space, where they can relax, laugh and enjoy each other's company. Whilst in many cases, the girls are taught skills in tailoring and IT, this ultimately transpires as quite useless financially and simply an excuse to bring them together on a regular basis. How useful are computer lessons when there are no computers in the village apart from the four desktops found at the centre? How much money can a woman earn if there are twenty other trained tailors in the village?  It leaves the market saturated in sewing, and no truly viable economic alternatives for these women to earn as opposed to the prostitution and trafficking which may be expected of them.

The fifteen or so women that we met in the second centre, sat cross legged in a small room, each with an old Singer style sewing machine in front of them. Meeting them, forced me to realise there is no way that I can condemn these classes as completely ineffectual; not only would that be morally wrong, but it would be narrow minded and perhaps a little ethnocentric of me. The classes and centres provide a space for the women to come together, laugh, chat and relax outside of the patriarchal households, villages and worlds they inhabit. Normally, the movements of young women are closely monitored by their fathers, husbands or gossiping neighbours and if a woman is thought to be too independent, leaving the house too often, she is heavily criticised. Nevertheless, if they are able to attend classes at a known centre, this legitimises their activity and movements outside of the house. Typically, women (read as: wives) in villages are expected to behave in a similar way to the way in which children were in old England: seen but not heard. The resounding giggles, colour and optimism in this space evidently provides these girls with a chance to develop their confidence, personalities and friendships. This is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.