Standing Up For What You Believe in: A True Story

For today’s article we have recent MIDPA alumni Javier discussing the process of finding one’s place upon graduating from university. Tossing up between staying in Australia and returning home, as well as being faced with an enormously difficult ethical dilemma, this is an enormously engrossing piece to read. We hope you enjoy it.

As I promised to former MIDPA president Clemency Sherwood-Roberts and current president Aakansha Kedia, I am going to write about ethics and staying true to yourself.

To me, the number one factor in this regard is bravery. This buzz-word is what is required to keep your ethics intact, not just for the sake of avoiding punishment, but for the sake of not doing what is wrong. I read somewhere that we are not who we are for what we do, but for what we resist doing. Working in development is not easy, the way of the world today is so complex that it is hard to know what direction to take. I finished my Master’s degree in International Development Practice at Monash University in November 2017 (Yay! Go me!) and when I finished I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life. I had to choose between staying in Australia and going back to Mexico. I had two perspectives, in Australia I was going to be able to earn a good income at a low effort, and the impact in the community that I could provide was going to be faster but less significant. If I went back to my home country, the impact of my studies would be enough to benefit a wider population, but also in the longer-term, I think I am needed more in Mexico. Unfortunately, the structure for social development is lacking.

With my Bachelor’s degree I am recognised by the community in my country as a Marketing guy. Often, even after I inform someone of what I just studied, their first question for me is about my specialization in marketing. It drives me nuts! Anyhow, I come back home to Mexico, and soon after receive a job offer as Marketing Chief in a world-famous motorcycle brand. The moment the offer came to me I was so happy and excited at beginning at a new company (even if my life-long dream of being a hippie sociologist who assists communities was temporarily on hold, the income was going to be good enough to buy my dreams back). But something inside me told me be careful, but that voice was silenced once I saw the3-digit salary (something really hard to get here). However, here begins the real adventure. I was brought in by the marketing team to review the successful campaigns and generate strategies on how to replicate these promotions. When I was reviewing the promotions, I came across this image:

A woman dressed in a very small bikini, handwashing the motorcycle with a lot of foam and soap. I remember my internal voice saying what irony! From Gender and Development to this. I leapt to the front of the room and explained to the whole team about why this image was objectifying the female body,and how I was not able to work in an environment with values like that. I said I was sorry, but nothing could change my mind, it was the kind of rant that you end with a mic drop. Obama out!

I didn’t say we have to be professional in every area of our lives, however, I did lecture on how this kind of promotion was against my principles. I asked my boss to speak with me in private so we could discuss how I could terminate my contract as quickly as possible without affecting the company. I finished my contract with the motorcycle company and immediately jumped back into the company that I had. Four years ago I created a tea distribution company and I am now using its structure to increase female empowerment in my area.

The lesson that I want you to take with you from this piece, that took me up to two weeks to write, and that I am still struggling with is: keep tight to your virtues and morals, they are who you are and what defines you. Don’t choose a job that pays well just because it pays well, do what makes you happy. Find a way to do it. Use your past to your own benefit. Right now, I am seen as the Marketing guy in my community. I cannot change this, what I now understand is that I can change the way we do business in my community, applying concepts that I learned in the Gender and Development unit and throughout MIDP. Finally, decide what is most important to you. For me it was my family and having a positive impact in the community. What are your priorities? What can you do and what do you want to have an impact on? By following these simple rules, you can always follow your morals!

Javier
Marketing & Partnerships (2016)

I Came, I Saw, I Learned: My Journey into the South Pacific


For this article we are privileged to hear from MIDP’s Rowena (Weng) Veloso, who provides a wonderfully informative and reflective piece about the experience of her recent Monash internship in Fiji.

‘Bula, na yacaqu o Weng’ (Hello, my name is Weng). This was my usual introduction in the communities I visited during my month-long internship in Fiji. Perhaps it was my funny accent in the Fijian tongue, but I found it amusing that most of the women in the different villages called me ‘Wendy’.
Before ending up at Monash to study a Master in International Development Practice by some twist of faith, I was an accountant and a Master of Business Administration graduate in the Philippines. I also worked at a multinational company for 7 years doing finance and sales. I suppose due to my background, I have always found the subject of financial education interesting and how the knowledge, or the lack thereof, could spell boon or bane for people.

I was one of the 5 students who volunteered for this year’s Fiji Impact Trip. The program is a collaboration between the Monash SEED, a student-run organisation, and the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), the largest microfinance institution in Fiji, with branches spread throughout the country. Centre Managers, who are part of SPBD’s staff, are the institution’s front liners and managed the accounts of the members who organised themselves into groups and centres. One of my main tasks was to work with these different managers to visit four to five villages a day, where women held Centre Meetings to make weekly loan repayments and savings. During these gatherings, where the women also socialise and discuss any issues, I conducted member satisfaction surveys using a semi open-ended interview format aimed at gathering data and feedback on the participants’ experiences with SPBD.

My short stint in Fiji provided me with a greater insight into microfinance and financial literacy. Microfinance has become a bridge to financial inclusion for these women, most of whom are housewives, and some of whom are illiterate. It has enabled them to become financially included despite their lack of formal documents, collateral, and their villages’ lack of proximity to traditional financial institutions. I heard multitudes of amazing stories on how these women were able to start their own businesses, turn their skills into income-generating endeavours, improve their household, contribute to their children’s education, and build up their savings. Sadly, these narratives are not reflective of everyone as there were those who have not been able to pay their obligations, leading to a worse financial standing. Some of the women have been alienated from their communities as other members had to shoulder the debts because of the group and centre guarantee clause. Even though microfinance is often hailed as the panacea for poverty alleviation, it can also be a double-edged sword. Does it truly empower women or does it make others more vulnerable? There are no easy answers. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to understand more of how microfinance plays out in gender and development.

Conducting the field work helped me gain a much greater appreciation for the theories I learned at university since I have no prior background in development, notwithstanding the fact that I am from a developing country myself. The field work reinforced the importance of cultural sensitivity, which was not only limited to the physical observance of wearing the sulu (traditional Fijian skirt), leaving my footwear at the door, or sitting on the mats with the women in the villages. Being culturally sensitive is essentially about respect. In this context it was also a celebration of the uniqueness of the Fijians I engaged with and of my own multicultural team. The acknowledgment of differences is also fundamental in practicing reflexivity, which is the awareness of how my own background could inform my biases. I also discovered that in dealing with people, no theory can ever substitute sincerity, empathy, and deep listening. It was indeed humbling to recognise that I came to Fiji not because I could teach something to the women, but because I needed to learn from them. Being open-minded enabled me to immerse myself in the stories of resilience from the ladies who warmly welcomed me into their homes and into their lives, even if it was for just a brief period.

This same kind of openness was what perhaps drove me to feel at home. Midway through the field work, in the villages and in the SPBD branches, I decided to embrace my Pacific Islander name ‘Wendy’, which I could never help telling people without a chuckle. Maybe this sense of having a newfound identity is quite telling of what’s in store for me in the future. A shift in career may not be far behind, who knows. For now, vinaka vakalevu (thank you) Fiji!

Rowena Veloso

72nd UNGA General Debates Summary

On this occasion, the MIDPA is proud to announce the coverage of the recent developments that transpired throughout the 72nd United Nations General Assembly General Debates. In the following segment, you will find key summaries of the debates (and controversies) that occurred each day. This year’s theme was ‘Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet’.

Day One

– US President, Donald Trump, provided a controversial inaugural speech at the UN which justified his administration’s stand on refugees by stating that “for the cost of resettling someone in America, we can resettle ten people in their home region”.

– France’s Macron minced no words in addressing the Rohingya crisis, calling on Myanmar to cease all military operations and to reconstitute rule of law, stating: “As we know, we are dealing with ethnic cleansing here.” He also discussed the importance of fighting for gender equality, declaring that, “where the role of women is undermined, development is undermined.” He then spoke about climate change and the Paris Agreement, announcing that it can always be improved and updated, but “we will not backtrack”. He maintained that the door is always open to the United States, but threw a sly shot at them, adding that “at a time when some want to stop, we must keep going”.

– Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, praised the UN for their contribution to the countries’ peace efforts, stating: “What a time for the UN, successfully fulfilling its main goal in our country.” He also declared that 7 million people had been taken out of poverty in five years, a figure that represents 10% of their population.

– Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, called for a stop to the violence against the Rohingya, for their repatriation and for an end to discrimination against them. He urged all countries to provide humanitarian assistance and demanded that Myanmar ensure “that they have their full legitimate rights as full-fledged citizens.”

– Turkey’s Erdogan announced that his country had used 30 billion euros to assist Syria and its refugees, while the EU had significantly underperformed and left many promises unfulfilled. He proclaimed that Turkey is one of only six countries to meet the UN target for aid with 0.8% of its GDP. He, therefore, called on the rest of the world to step up. He then demanded that the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq stop the upcoming independence referendum, threatening them with sanctions. He concluded by criticising the global response to the Rohingya crisis.

– Last but not least, Costa Rica’s president, Luis Guillermo Solís, called for an end of defining development by economic indexes such as GDP and stated that we need to use more multi-disciplinary indicators. He then spoke about gender equality, declaring how unacceptable it is that “women’s unpaid work makes up 30% of global GDP, and that “women make 25% less for the same job as men.”

Day Two

– In response to Trump’s ‘Axis of Evil’esque speech, Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, spoke of his country’s enormous economic potential, including how last year it was the country with the highest global growth rate, and how sanctions against them only solidified their resolve. Rouhani stated that Iran has always been a supporter of human rights and freedom, and remarked on the hypocrisy of “those who claim to stand for freedom, but support dictators elsewhere,” a clear dig at the US.

– Italy’s representative, Paolo Gentiloni, argued that the stabilisation of Libya is a priority objective and key to the fight against terrorism. He also acknowledged the link between climate change and forced displacements, highlighting that there were “more than 200 million displaced persons between 2008 and 2015 who were forced to leave their homes because of the devastating effects of climate change phenomena.”

– Namibia’s Hage Geingob proclaimed that “development that is not led by the people and does not benefit all people is meaningless development.” He then spoke of how, as a result of a resolution from his government to increase representation of women to 50% at all levels, women now constitute 48% of parliament, which is the second-highest ratio in Africa, and in the top five in the world.

– British Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke of how economic inequality and weaknesses in the global trading system continue to undermine the support for liberalism and free trade, which she considers to “have done so much to propel global growth.” She also praised the UN for its achievements in the past, but also added that “throughout its history, the UN has suffered from a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the nobility of its purposes, and the effectiveness of its delivery.” May then announced that Great Britain will continue to provide large amounts of funding to the UN, as its second-biggest donor but declared that this ‘generosity’ will be results-oriented, with 30% being allocated only to those parts of the UN that achieve ‘sufficient results’.

Day Three

– Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasana, spoke powerfully on behalf of the Rohingya. She also denounced Myanmar for placing landmines on their stretch of the border and preventing the Rohingya from returning to their rightful homes. Hasana also called for UN safe zones to be created if necessary to ensure the safety of the Rohingya.

– The Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, reiterated that “we must not associate terrorism with any particular ethnic group or religion”, a statement that brings to mind Trump’s oft-repeated phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”.

– President Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa hailed the Agenda 2030 as the framework to put the world on the right path to achieve a sustainable future and encouraged other small island developing states to pursue the Samoa Pathway. He also emphasised the need to increase international awareness of the SDGs.

– Germany’s Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, also had some strong words against militarisation saying how 1.7 billion US dollars are spent worldwide on arms per years, and that just 10% of that would achieve the extreme poverty SDG, and even less would be required for the education goal. He said the World Food Program receives less than 50% of the funds needed to achieve the hunger goals.

– Jordan’s Crown Prince, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, noted that regional insecurity has affected tourism and investment, through no fault of their own, and characterised Jordan as “a resource-poor country in a conflict-rich region.” He announced that the direct cost of Syrian crisis now consumes a quarter of their budget, and remarked that Jordan is one of the world’s largest accommodators of refugees, declaring, to significant applause, that “our soldiers dodged bullets to let refugees into our country, not to keep them out.”

– The Seychelles, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia called for reform in the UN, a common theme of today’s speeches and Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs went further by stating that the “UN development system needs to be built on the basic premise that neither governments nor institutions have the capacity or resources to achieve Agenda 2030, they need to cooperate with civil society, the private sector, innovators, NGOs, and academics.” She also called on all countries to reach the 0.7% target for aid and said that Denmark, one of the world’s largest aid donors, will allocate more funds than ever before in their 2018 aid budget. She also commented on how we must effectively manage the blend of immediate relief and long-term development assistance.

Day Four

– Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke at length of the significance of female empowerment, an issue close to her heart as a representative of “the world’s first feminist government.” Female empowerment was a theme shared by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who highlighted its importance to economic development and national prosperity, and announced that, for the second consecutive time, his country’s government is made up of 50% women.

– Kenyan representative Amina Chawahir Mohamed spoke of the impact of climate change on her country, explaining that it costs approximately 3% of Kenya’s GDP annually. Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, likewise told of the calamitous current effects of climate change and announced that they are the world’s only carbon-neutral country, and in fact, they are carbon negative. The PM called on all countries to fulfill their commitments and explained that as climate change adaptation costs money, the role of global financing institutions is crucial, especially for those who may have the will but not the resources.

– Thailand’s Don Pramudwinai, Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that we need “less about debate and more about action”, and told of how their late King said that those living in a community know best about their needs, highlighting the importance of participatory methods. This was an idea that Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, also emphasised, along with the view that things will improve if we increase partnership and cooperation.

– Belize’s representative urged the UN to establish a participatory framework for the private sector, an idea that was shared by Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, who called for a new, participatory, equitable economic order. He highlighted the wealth gap that exists between rich individuals and poor countries, emphasising that “the wealth of 8 men is worth the same as the 3.6 billion poorest people and, of the 100 richest entities, 69 are transnational corporations, not states”. The minister further contended that neoliberal capitalism is unsustainable and irrational and will inevitably lead to the destruction of our planet. He concluded by stating that military expenditure has risen to 1.7 trillion US dollars, contradicting the claim that there are not enough resources to eradicate extreme poverty.

Day Five

– Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Ahmed Abd al-Aziz Ghandour, spoke of how his country had turned over a new leaf and begun a new era of peace and stability. The Minister said that they were hoping to “receive peace and development funds, especially the UN peacekeeping fund and the World Bank and its mechanisms, so we can implement the approach of the government which promotes peace and the outcomes of national dialogue”. He stated that this will also help his government to convince the remaining rebel groups to lay down their arms and join the peace process. Ghandour also remarked on how much the situation in Darfur has improved, announcing that it had recovered stability and peace. He also said that the UN has been impressed with their cooperation and transparency and that, as a result, existing sanctions against them should be reviewed.

– Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Mohammed Saleh, stated that the developing world will benefit most from coming together to make a better world. Mohammed Saleh heavily criticised inequality and the fractured nature of the international community, but announced that “Eritrea is confident it will meet the Sustainable Development Goals ahead of time”. He referred to his country as “a haven of stability in a turbulent neighbourhood”.

– Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith, said that climate change is an existential issue and their reality, and explained how difficult it is for Caribbean countries, as reconstructions costs dwarf their economies. She argued that there is a need to improve global preparedness and response to climate change, otherwise countries will get caught in a cycle of recovering from disasters until the next one takes place. Jamaica’s representative called on the UN to a establish a mechanism to provide the requisite support to vulnerable countries affected by natural disasters and assist in issues such as providing viable compensation. Johnson Smith reported that her country was collaborating with Chile on an initiative called ‘Resilient 20’, to promote resilience in countries vulnerable to natural disasters, especially ones that belong to the lower-income index.

– India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, remarked that India had implemented the world’s largest financial inclusion scheme and that many youths had been able to get out of poverty as small-scale entrepreneurs.

Day Seven

– Norway’s Chair Tore Hattrem highlighted the four building blocks needed for a sustainable future: acting together towards common goals, peace and security, upholding international law and the principles of global governance, and an abandonment of perfectionist and isolationist practices.

– There were several calls to strengthen multilateralism and international governance including East Timor’s Maria Helena Pires who stressed the importance of the UN for ending conflict and restoring stability, and Peru’s Gustavo Meza-Cuadra who stated that the UN will be an essential institution in the future. These calls for calm and dialogue come as no surprise considering the escalating tensions between the USA and North Korea following a weekend of threats and alleged war declarations.

– New Zealand’s representative, Craig Hawke, argued that ongoing support to the state of Afghanistan is critical, but emphasised that its future lies in the hands of its government and people. Hawke also highlighted the importance of the Paris Agreement and praised global commitment to take action on climate change.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

A Reflection on the State of Education in Rural Cambodia Today

Joining us on the blog today is our guest contributor, Emily Maiorino. Emily has been volunteering at Oaktree for 12 months as a partnership manager. She has been working on the Girls’ Education Initiative (GEI) which is an education program targeting vulnerable and marginalised youth in rural Cambodia. Her role has been providing program support to their implementing partner organisation in Cambodia. She is also currently studying a Master’s of International Development at RMIT, due to finish in June 2018. Today, she draws from her own personal experience to share some insightful reflections on the state of education in rural Cambodia.

Basic education is a fundamental human right but, although the Cambodian Constitution guarantees education to every Cambodian child, a considerable gap remains between rhetoric and reality. Significant barriers to accessing quality education still exist across the country, particularly for rural youth, girls and ethnic minority groups. As part of my research working on a girls education project over the past year, I have gained insight into the current problems existing within the Cambodian education system.

1. Cambodian classroom

The issues facing rural youth

Despite the fact that 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural environments, schools in rural districts face inadequate facilities, lack of resources, poor governance and higher dropout rates than their urban counterparts. Indigenous ethnic groups and diverse Austroasiatic dialects also pose challenges and barriers to rural education.

The proportion of the country estimated to be under 30 varies from more conservative estimates of 59% to as high as 65.3%. The rising number of young Cambodians entering the workforce is creating a pattern of national and international employment migration. Studies have named Kampong Cham as the second major sending area for youths searching for employment. 60% are female.

Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces are the most densely populated region of the country, even surpassing the capital, Phnom Penh. The Mekong River divides the Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum provinces, creating a rich floodplain for agricultural practices. The region continues to be well known for rubber, cassava and tobacco plantations, which engage a significant amount of child and youth labour. Factories owned by foreign investors are penetrating the region and employing thousands of young women and men. Through my own qualitative data collection, I identified that a direct correlation exists between the emergence of new factories within close proximity to rural communities, and increased secondary school dropout rates.

The imminent need for stable financial security drives youth -particularly women and girls- out of education and into employment. Gender roles are firmly structured and historically, women have seldom been associated with success in education or business. Hierarchical and patronage roles are also embedded deeply within Cambodian culture which limits the female role models available for inspiration. Young women and girls often leave formal education to work in the domestic sphere or seek employment to generate income for their family. The critical period for girls is lower secondary school (grades 7-9) when the majority of dropouts occur. In many cases, the increased employment opportunities and paychecks that stem from further education do not appear to be a payoff that is justified by the associated costs of school.

2. Cambodia Krochmar and Chumnik Student Interaction

Rebuilding education

Cambodia is in the process of rebuilding its education system after its collapse under the Khmer Rouge. Over the 15 years, education campaigns and policy reforms have promoted the value and importance of education as a national priority (see the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) website regarding education for policies, strategies, legislations, and statistics). Through the commitment of MoEYS and interventions from international agencies, an attitudinal shift is occurring at a national scale.

Presently, around 97% of children are enrolled in primary school, with gender parity achieved for boys and girls. This initial step focussed largely on the expansion of access to education and increasing enrollment rates. Lack of quality education, however, remains the crucial issue and has resulted in significant numbers of children repeating grades or failing to complete even primary education. Low literacy and numeracy levels in secondary school are some of the consequences of low-quality education. The current agenda remains strongly focussed on quality education, teacher training, capacity building, gender and overall equality.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and accompanying international pressures drove a sense of urgency in regards to education reform. Cambodia joined UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) program in 2003, which kickstarted the next decade of strategic planning. Partnerships between MOEYS and international agencies that formed during this time have worked to combat systemic issues and cultural norms. A long list of programs, policies, research initiatives, action plans, monitoring reports, and goals have been the product of the last 15 years of work in education.

3. Cambodian students writing

Where do we go from here?

The disparities that still exist in the Cambodian education system are affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of its society. The barriers and challenges are particularly ubiquitous for rural youth and girls. Nonetheless, Cambodia’s education system is in a racing upwards trajectory. Through international NGOs, foreign aid, partnerships between states and institutions and rising local support, quality education is high on the national agenda.

“To build a quality higher education system that develops human resource with excellent knowledge, skills and moral values in order to work and live within the era of globalization and knowledge-based society” – MOEYS’ 2030 vision for higher education

MOEYS’ vision reflects the national desire for Cambodia to match ASEAN’s economic growth and prosperity. There’s still a long way to go to in terms of achieving equitable access to quality education for all, but I do think strides are being taken in the right direction. The education system will be in the spotlight over the coming decades and my hope is that it remains a national priority. While a future independence from international aid would be ideal, at present, multilateral efforts are displaying encouraging results for young Cambodians aiming to fulfill their right to education.

 

 

References

ASEAN. (2013). State of Education Report.

UNESCO. (2015). Education for All National Review.

UNICEF. (2015). Annual Report Cambodia.

 

 

MIDPA listed as a Top 50 Gender Equality Blog

MIDPA’s past and present Editors, Clemency Amanda Feli and Kathy, have an exciting announcement to share with our community.

A year ago we started the MIDPA Blog with the vision of providing a non-bias space where students and like-minded individuals in the development and humanitarian sectors could grow ideas, express frustrations and share their light-bulb moments outside of the academic environment. During this time we have also heard from you, our audience of peers, contributors and readers alike. It is your ongoing input that continues to inspire us.

As the past and present editors of this blog, we can confirm that volunteering time for something you so passionately believe in is not always a perfect experience. There are times when you can briefly lose sight of the bigger picture as the smaller day-to-day details consume your passion. During these times, we become preoccupied by concerns over our readership and reach, our diversity of voice, our relevance, continuing our momentum. But then there are the moments that make it all worth it. When we can’t quite believe that our hard work, the commitment of our team and our collective dedication and drive has received recognition. It makes everything golden.

And today is golden! It is our absolute honour and pleasure to announce that midpa.org have been listed as one of the Top 50 Gender Equality Blogs on the planet! Considering the giants of gender equality also listed we are beside ourselves: UN Women Watch, Malala Fund, The New York Post, HeForShe, The Fawcett Society, One Woman Project to name a few.

award

It’s perfect timing, considering it was Diversity & Inclusion Week and now Women’s Week at Monash University. At MIDPA, we have continually pushed for diverse voices to be heard, invited students to discuss their experiences of gender in/equality from across the world and called our audience to join the debates.

And in our search for diverse voices, MIDPA doesn’t just focus on gender. We cover a broad spectrum of topics from international development, sustainability, environment to academic development, professional development and so much more. We will continue to strive in this direction, making sure that all your voices are heard loud and clear.

Today we are awake to the power of individuals and that social activism is relevant and important. It is because of you, our amazing community of dedicated contributors, readers and sharers, that we have received this honour and recognition. We look forward to continuing this journey with articles that persistently make us think, discuss, question, and debate.

As always, we are excited to hear from you! Continue the discussion with your comments and get in touch with us at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com if you’d like to contribute as a writer!

   

Development and Academia: experiences of an international convention

The International Studies Association 58th Annual Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland from February 22nd – 25th, 2017. It was organised by the International Studies Association, a premier organization promoting research activities since 1959  through connecting scholars and practitioners in the field of international studies. The theme of the convention was “Understanding Change in World Politics”. The theme resonated with the current political climate in America which impacted the participation of some of the potential attendees in the convention.  The travel restrictions led to  thoughtful exchanges and a number of protest events in solidarity with ISA members who were denied entry and could not attend. In fact, several members of the panel boycotted the conference altogether in solidarity with their fellow ISA colleagues.  

Despite these setbacks, the conference brought about 6500 people together from all corners of the world, both north and south. The participants were academics, researchers, young scholars, educators, and activists coming together to debate and discuss future world events, with a particular focus on research and activism. As a Young Career Scholar, the Presidential address by Ashley Leeds  (president of the International Students Association) was a particularly riveting start to the conference. It was an amazing experience to see academics and scholars (whom one has read and heard so much about!) under one roof. To witness such a big turnout at the event was both intimidating and overwhelming. I could see scholars dressed up in suits with their name tags hanging around their necks debating and discussing everywhere around us, whether it was outside the Hilton, (which was one of the main venues for the event) or at the cafeteria and bars around famous areas of the city. The sunny weather in Baltimore was an unexpected bonus and certainly added to the charm of the city.

Early career scholars like me were discussing experiences of their paper presentations, as well as their ideas. It was an opportunity for us to expand our networks and showcase our research, in addition to learning some essential tricks of the trade. In short, it was an opportunity for us to grow both personally and professionally. The Early Career Scholar Lounge was a space dedicated especially for young scholars like me to prepare our presentations, recharge and create early networks.

The area around the conference venue was bubbling with activities. During the day difficult choices were made regarding which panel discussions to attend. The conference was structured around Panel discussions which catered to different themes such as Global Development, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, Ethnicity, Diplomacy, and International Security Studies amongst many others. Presentations and panel discussion allowed all participants to enter into meaningful, practical debates around the above mentioned themes. It was an excellent opportunity for a future development practitioner and researcher to educate herself from the diversity of experience that participants brought to the table. In the evening, networking events were organised such as various receptions which provided a chance to meet people working in similar fields. Some of the discussion would carry outside the conference venues.

Personally, this conference was an eye opener in many ways. Firstly, I travelled to America, a trip I know I would not have the courage to take in near future if it was not for this conference. Secondly, I engaged with some of the smartest minds pursuing their PhDs . There was always so much to do like attending discussions, establishing networks, getting nervous about my own ideas and of course to explore the charming Baltimore.

Recalling my presentation, I had never been as nervous as I was when I saw a room full of people who came to hear the panel discussion. The theme of our panel was Peacemaking, Peacebuilding, and Post-Conflict Transformation: Gender, Agency and Political Change, to which I contributed with  my paper on Afghan Women; Peacemakers and Resilient Survivors. The paper talks about how experiences and perceptions of men have historically shaped the politics and discourse of conflict resolution. This simultaneously implies the silencing of a large part of the population and making their experiences invisible. It is important to explore the brilliant work carried out by the women in these silent and private spaces where they are subsequently confined to during the conflict.

As you can probably imagine, the experience of the presentation itself and all the feedback I got afterwards has been incredibly informative and rewarding. I am glad I took this chance to go present something that bloomed from a little idea that I had. This was my first international conference abroad, so I am positive this experience will stay with me for a lifetime. I am now more determined and motivated to pursue my academic career so I am hoping this will have been the first of many presentations to come. Watch this space.

 

Natasha
MIDP student

nrag4@student.monash.edu

+61 410 937 347

From Melbourne to Brasil: pursuing my gender justice goals through an internship of a lifetime

IMG_5491

My story began very unremarkably: I applied for a last minute internship opportunity with Oxfam’s gender justice unit that had been created as a result of the Oxfam-Monash partnership. I emailed back with my CV within a few minutes (thank you email notifications!), and was eventually shortlisted for an interview with Kim Henderson, Oxfam’s gender justice lead.

I was pretty nervous, but the interview ended up being a casual chat over a coffee in a café across from the Oxfam office. I say casual chat but, in retrospect, there was still a huge amount of information to absorb! It was exciting though; I felt that even if I was not successful in securing the internship, I was still doing something hugely proactive for my future. I was even more excited when I found out I had secured the position!

Things moved fairly quickly after that. I enrolled in the internship subject, completed online Oxfam inductions, and arranged my first day with Kim for a general orientation. It was only then that I discovered a major perk of this internship: Brazil.

Let me backtrack. My internship title was International Feminist Forum Delegation Coordinator, and my role involved assisting with the preparation and coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum in Brazil.

AWID is an international feminist organisation committed to achieving gender justice by supporting and resourcing the collective action and impact of global women’s rights advocates, organisations and movements. AWID hosts a global forum every three to four years that is attended by about 2,000 feminist activists from around the world. These forums provide a platform for activists to collectively strategize and mobilise, share feminist knowledge and information that can support women’s rights movements, and develop a more just development agenda.

AWID hosted its 13th international forum between the 8th and the 11th of September 2016, in Costa do Sauípe, Brazil. After applying for this internship, I was asked whether I could potentially go to Brazil in September (my answer of course was a quick and absolute ‘yes’). This had not been raised in my interview so I was thrilled about the opportunity. Forwarding back to my first day on the job, I found out that not only would I be able to attend the AWID forum, my attendance would be funded by the Oxfam-Monash partnership!

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Once I was set up and ready to start working, my first task was helping with the logistical coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the forum. Oxfam took care to send only a small delegation of employees, so as to not crowd out the space at the forum. Instead, they invested in the attendance of activists from partner organisations. These forums offer opportunities for smaller organisations and for activists from all walks of life to have a voice, and it is very important for international non-governmental organisations like Oxfam to enhance these opportunities instead of dominating them.

My role also involved helping with the preparation of the event strategy, policy positions and key messages that were used to ensure that Oxfam had a coordinated presence at the forum. I performed a lot of this work independently from home and worked about once a week from the Oxfam office. I was extremely fortunate to work directly with two inspiring, engaging, and very down to earth women, as I felt very comfortable to just jump in and get my hands dirty.

Participation at the forum itself was educational and motivational. Each day started with a plenary session (attended by all participants) that covered a broad scope of feminist issues. The remainder of the day was filled with a variety of experiences: from other participant-led sessions, to well-being activities and cultural events.

I divided my time between helping to staff the Oxfam display booth and performing general coordination, and participating in as many sessions as I possibly could. To name a few, I attended sessions on feminist resource mobilisation, intersex issues, and religious fundamentalism. Through this experience, I developed a deeper understanding of current feminist discourses and issues faced by women and the LGBTQI community across the world. I also learnt about current strategies, tools, and methodologies that activists are using to combat gender injustice globally.

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Upon returning to Australia, I spent several weeks preparing some follow-up work for Oxfam, including advice to improve the logistical coordination for the next AWID forum, an evaluation of the extent to which Oxfam achieved its goals at the forum, and an analysis of how Oxfam could improve its partnerships with women’s rights organisations and become a better ally in the fight for gender justice.

I also worked on my assignments for Monash, including a short presentation, a reflective journal, and an end of mission report that outlined my goals and achievements throughout the internship. These papers required a fair bit of work and critical reflection on my experience, including some soul-searching regarding my career goals, strengths and weaknesses, and they acted as a nice bookend to the internship process.

My Oxfam and AWID experience has cemented my desire to work in women’s rights and to further my academic study by pursuing a thesis on gender. I have improved my networking skills significantly (though it is still a work in progress!), and I have built friendships with women’s rights activists from around the world.

This internship has also continued to open doors for me. I presented about my experiences at the forum in a Gender and Development class, I have kept in contact with Oxfam’s Gender Justice team and other feminist activists, and I managed to secure a second internship with Oxfam’s Humanitarian Advocacy Team performing policy mapping and research on humanitarian issues.

My advice to you would be that, if you have the opportunity to do an internship as part of your studies, do not hesitate to go for it. Even if, like me, you tend to feel nervous about networking, it could be a game changer. Putting yourself out there for opportunities is never as scary as you think it might be, and it could be a step in the right direction for your career and gaining practical experience in the field.

On the Record: On Gender

On the Record is MIDPA’s freshest segment, combining the art of photography with the practice of development. Following the methodology of photovoice, we ask participants to capture an image on a topic they are passionate about, and then add their voice to these images. The consequent interview adds context to the images, encouraging debate and reflection.

In honour of International Women’s Day, our Content Editor, Feli Bran, kicks off this segment with her reflections on gender, beauty, and representation.

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Q. Why did you choose this picture in particular?

A. I stumbled upon this advertisement by accident in a busy downtown street in Sydney. I was still a bit unsure of what my contribution would be for the blog on International Women’s Day and then I saw this picture and felt such rage that the words just flowed from me.

Q. What is it about this picture that had your blood boiling?

A. I don’t really know where to start. I think when people state that we live in a post-feminist society, that gender is no longer an issue, that we all have equal rights, I struggle to see what they see. I was actually with my brother and my dad when I came across this image, and they did not seem to make much out of it but for me? It was like someone had dropped a cold bucket of water on me.

Q. Could you pinpoint why that was exactly?

A. I think as a girl you always have a tight balancing act of beauty versus intelligence. I remember being a teenager and ‘uglifying’ myself on purpose because I wanted people to take me seriously. Society had taught me that a pretty woman was just that: a trophy to be paraded to the world. And that was the only thing I had to aspire to. I struggled a lot because I knew I wanted more out of life than being someone’s property. I felt like I was being placed into a box that I had not subscribed to and had no way whatsoever of getting out.

This is just one example of how women’s bodies are constantly commodified and objectified. It makes me feel powerless feeling like my main goal in life as a woman is to achieve a certain paragon of beauty that is completely unrelated to who I am as a human being. This is society telling us: you have no ownership over your body but rather your body is a vessel for others to appreciate. Men are not subjected to this kind of pressure to this extent; these double standards never fail to get me riled up.

Q. So is it more of a personal issue?

A. Yes, and no. That was my experience, but I am also a white latina. Imagine being a woman of colour and stumbling upon this advert. Apparently, perfect beauty means a skinny white woman with long blonde hair –but hairless everywhere else! – that has a noticeable cleavage. How would you feel? You can clearly see that colonialism and oppression still feature heavily in our society; they have just become subtle in their rhetoric. We only need to open our eyes to actually see it.

 

 

If you would be interested in participating in On The Record, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com
 
 

Think Outside The Box

Imagine you meet a new person – the first information you would share would probably be nationality, occupation, educational background, current living situation and interests or hobbies. Meanwhile, you will probably be silently judging their appearance (whether it is gender, skin color, age) and forming your own opinions. It would only take you a couple of questions to figure out their sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

Without being conscious about it, you categorise. You automatically will label this person and place them into pre-determined boxes that have been created from external societal norms and that, in turn, will judge the societal worth of this person. I believe that these unconscious boxes we put others and ourselves in, have deep roots in the cultural and social environment we have grown up in. Whilst this might have benefits for navigating in a social environment, this also limits our openness to look beyond the boxes and see the uniqueness of each and every person.

Putting people in boxes also has another limitation: what if you feel like you do not subscribe to any of these labels? What if you do not feel like a man even though your biological appearance has the characteristics of a man? What if your interests and passions fall more into the box categorised as ‘woman’? What are you then; undefined? And for who? Who is to decide which box you fit in, and what if you don’t even want to fit in it?

On International Women’s Day, this is more relevant than ever. We have to remember that ‘being a woman’ does not stem only from biological appearance. ‘Being a woman’ is fluid, and comes in countless versions and shapes. The ‘woman’ box also includes newly-become women, transgender, queers, and everyone else that feels they somehow fit into the ‘woman’ box.

Fortunately, in recent years there have been more cases that recognise this variety. Most of you will of course remember Vanity Fair’s “Call me Caitlyn” frontpage, with Caitlyn Jenner which led to public awareness on the topic of transgender rights.

 

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This month’s Vogue Paris features Valentina Sampaio on the frontpage. This makes Vogue Paris the first magazine in France to use a transgender covermodel.

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Recognition of transgender as women is a step towards an equal, non-discriminating, post-gender society that embraces diversity and fluidity. This is why I think it is very important to remember that when we celebrate International Women’s day, we are celebrating everyone who wants to define themselves as women.

People should not tell you who you are but rather you should tell them. As one of my good friends always says to me: You do you!

#midpa #internationalwomensday

WYLT… Attend this event: An Insight into Women, Diplomacy and Gender Equality?

Speaker: Ms Michele Woonacott, US Vice Consul for Political and Economic Affairs, US Consulate General, Melbourne

18:00 – 19:30 Tue, 07 Mar 2017
AIIA VICTORIA, DYASON HOUSE, 124 JOLIMONT ROAD, EAST MELBOURNE, 3002

Historically, the field of diplomacy has been a male-dominated occupation. Previously barred in some countries from working once married or after having children, women have had to overcome a multitude of archaic legal restrictions in order to realise the same opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a gender revolution. Women can now be found in the highest of diplomatic positions, from Consul General to Ambassador, Chargé d’Affaires to Minister of Foreign Affairs. Leaders such as Federica Mogherini of the European Union, Sushma Swaraj of India, Margot Wallstrӧm of Sweden, Hillary Clinton of the United States, and Julie Bishop of Australia barely touch the surface of this rapid change in the balance of power.

Furthermore, with greater female representation in diplomatic circles, the foreign policies of states are also experiencing a re-think. Gender equality and advancing women’s rights have taken on a new significance concerning the provision of foreign aid, economic growth, and even the use of force. Sweden has gone as far as to declare an explicitly feminist foreign policy – placing gender inequality at the forefront of their policy formulation. But what will this mean in practice? And what restrictions remain for women seeking careers in diplomacy?

To celebrate International Women’s Day, AIIA Victoria’s Young Professionals Forum (YPF) is delighted to welcome US Vice Consul Michele Woonacott to discuss her personal experiences, the recent history of women in diplomacy and the gender equality work carried out in the region by the US State Department.

Michele Woonacott is the Vice Consul for Political and Economic Affairs at the US Consulate General in Melbourne. Previously, she was a Consular Officer at the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic. Michele is a recognized leader in economic development and public policy, having spent more than 15 years working in these fields in her home state of California. Immediately prior to joining the State Department, she headed up government relations for the California Small Business Development Center network. Earlier, she was district director for U.S. Representative John Garamendi, and she worked for Mr. Garamendi during his tenure as Lieutenant Governor of California, where she was director of the California Commission for Economic Development. Michele holds an M.A. in International Relations from the George Washington University and a B.A. from the University of Southern California.

YPF event – all welcome!

https://aiiavic.tidyhq.com/public/events/11686-an-insight-into-women-diplomacy-and-gender-equality