my maid’s home burned down.

My maid came to my house after missing one day at around 8 am, crying, and then screaming. She first apologized for not coming to work the day before, and then explained that her home had burned down from a fire. You didn’t know? she asked me. I didn’t. I left for work early and came home at night and in between, fire ablaze the slum area where my maid, Parveen had lived with her children and husband. It was a makeshift home of bamboos like so many others, built above a bed of water with illegal electricity and water running through the hundreds of homes. 150 makeshift homes, gone. Another reports 250. It was on the TV. (click here for the story.) Even my parents saw it from abroad, but I just had no idea.

I hired Parveen just a few days earlier. I have less than two weeks left and needed better help at home and she came in the mornings, around 6:30 am. She cleaned the floors, washed my clothes, cleaned my bathrooms, polished this and that, and occasionally cooked and made my morning tea. She was very, very talkative. I was not annoyed yet. And she was different than other maids I have seen– she accessorized more, wore cleaner clothes. She worked for about four homes in the area and used her money smartly. She even had a bank account. She bought a television, and she managed to purchase a cupboard. She fed her children with her money, one of whom suffered from a disability. Her husband was an occasional rickshaw puller, occasional gambler, and occasional abuser. Like all the other maids’ husbands, my aunt once told me.

She didn’t have shoes and I gave her a pair of flip flops. I gave her 500 taka. I didn’t have anything else to give at the time.I really didn’t. She wouldn’t take food–apparently she doesn’t have the appetite and they are already being fed by an NGO there. But here is the troubling part. I have been talking to some neighbors and people are sympathetic. She just lost everything. But they are also cautious. They told me, be careful, she is going to start asking you for a lot of things and emotionally blackmail you. But she just lost everything, I would respond. She works for four homes and has connections to ten others, she is getting a lot more than other victims who don’t have such connections. So what do I do, just ignore that the poor woman’s house burned down? I mean, she is poor after all, and you can’t deny the fact that house being burned down…I can’t even imagine. At the same time, my neighbors told me, you have to be careful because they are used to wanting more and asking for more and you don’t exactly know for sure how much she has and what she is exactly doing with all of the money and clothes. Cunning, selfish, greedy, and they are used to hustling, they tell me.

The conversations go on and I am left frustrated because I just don’t see how one can ignore that a person is a sufferer and a victim no matter their status in the social ladder of losing everything from a disaster. As someone who has a lot more, am I not obliged to help? If not obliged, shouldn’t I, if I can? How can I check that my charity is actually helping? But how can it not, for Parveen is very, very poor  despite everything.

And how about the rest? my neighbors ask back.

hartal hartal hartal. Writing from home on a national political strike day.

Since we are all talking about these hartals (political strikes declared by the opposition party where basically you stay home all day, etc. Click this link to read the basics), I should perhaps discuss some of my feelings too. Today is indeed hartal and I spent it out eating a lot—pepper steak and potatoe gratin for lunch at Timeout, strawberry cheesecake at the American Club while working on some ‘important’ things, and street-side fuchka in Gulshan 2. Just another day.

The thoughts about these things like hartals are mixed for me, as an expat with some but limited knowledge of Bangladesh’s politics, even though I have a minor in South Asia Studies. So who better to turn to than the pretty great piece written by Aasha Mehreen Amin, or as I call her, Aasha apa of the Daily Star, the Editor of the Star weekly magazine. I have known Aasha apa for a few months now and love working with her, whether that’s attending an album launch in Izumi or taking her guidance to write about Bangladeshi fashion. She wears a sari almost every time I’ve run into her—those nice cotton ones just pressed, with up to date prints, wrapped around her perfectly. She has a great way of speaking and making comments at the right time. In sense, I not only enjoy working with her but also talking to her about non-work related things (what are girls wearing these days?).

In her article titled “What People Say and What They Mean” Aasha apa in her usual funny way deciphers the past week and a half’s popular quotations by our famous political leaders in relation to this hartal and mess of the missing BNP leader, and other disappearances.


‘We will solve this case in 48 hours, we are doing everything to try to find the criminals.’

Decoded: 48 hours just sounds good, but actually I should have said 48 weeks or even months since we have no clue how to go about this; plus, hopefully other gruesome events will take place to divert public attention.

Click here to read the piece or grab this week’s newspaper for the Star Weekend magazine. Or read below for more.

What People Say and
What They Mean

Aasha Mehreen Amin

‘We will continue with our hartal programme until the government finds our leader who is still missing.’

Actual meaning: we really don’t give two hoots about what’s his name, we just need some excuse to create a situation that makes the government appear incompetent, petty and corrupt.

‘We will solve this case in 48 hours, we are doing everything to try to find the criminals.’

Decoded: 48 hours just sounds good, but actually I should have said 48 weeks or even months since we have no clue how to go about this; plus, hopefully other gruesome events will take place to divert public attention.

‘The law and order situation is in a better state than before (during the opposition’s rule). These are a few isolated incidents, which of course, we will investigate.’

Inner thoughts: I must say this mantra over and over until even I begin to believe it.

‘We would like the opposition to join hands with us to find what’s his name instead of resorting to such destructive activities as calling hartal.’


Yeah right. We know they will never, in this lifetime do any such thing, unless we find another dictator to topple, but then again now we are the dictators so forget that. We just say these things because it makes us sound reasonable, open-minded and ah yes, democratic.

‘We were just holding a peaceful procession. There was no reason for the police to attack us. This is another example of how fascist this government is.’

We were just holding a peaceful procession. There was no reason for the police to attack us. This is another example of how fascist this government is.’

What was not said: We burnt a few buses along with a driver, terrorised a few CNGs and vandalised private cars and property. This will ensure that no fool brings out his vehicle the next day.

‘Hartal is a democratic right and although we know the public suffers the government has left us with no choice.’

Real meaning: Hartal means, burning, playing chase and counter-chase with the police, getting a few leaders bloodied, making sure a few dispensable ordinary people get killed, wrecking cars and generally creating enough panic among the general people so that they don’t come out of their homes.

‘We have to stay on guard to keep peace and to prevent activists from getting violent. We are just trying to do our job.’

Reality: It’s a good way to vent our anger against our poor salaries, uncomfortable uniforms, the unbearable heat and the fact that the rest of the people are lazing at home or are off to their villages while we have deal with these ruffians. We can beat the daylights out of these rascals without any impunity, even smash a few cameras of those pesky, arrogant journalists who make us look so bad in the next day’s news.

‘I have never been involved in any corruption. I have no idea where this money came from.’

Inner thoughts: That fool, what was he thinking.

‘A naughty nexus is wrecking our railway system. I am smelling a rat.’

Inner thoughts: The rat died a long time ago. One sort of gets used to the stink.

‘The people know that we are here to lift Bangladesh from the grip of poverty and put it on the map of the world as a growing, flourishing nation.

Inner thoughts: We just want to win the next election so a few empty promises are necessary.

Copyright (R) 2012

Published in the Daily Star: Kony 2012 and the New Age of Social Media in Political Action

My interest in social media is a recent phenomenon, mostly triggered by the Arab Spring. The recent attention on Kony 2012, both the good and bad has been particularly eye catching because it has attracted the youth, and also attracted attention to issues that have already been a problem for a long time– why now? The power of Facebook- what was one laughable- is actually serious. YouTube? Twitter? These sites do not even ask for spell check on Word anymore. Anyway, I wrote this piece for this month’s Forum magazine in response to the many questions that buzz my head as I think about the way I use and don’t use social networking sites and the media. The article can be found by clicking here, or read below, or by buying this month’s copy of the magazine, available in Bangladesh.

Kony 2012 and the New Age of Social Media in Political Action

OLINDA HASSAN looks at the significance of social media in bringing political change.

Can social media be used to make an effective political change? This question highlights recent reactions by activists, academics, politicians, to journalists in the wake of Kony 2012, the video aimed at bringing public attention to Joseph Kony, the militant leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. The 30 minute video as of March 19 has had 82 million viewers. That is almost triple the population of Uganda.

Joseph Kony led the LRA under the ideology of creating a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments in Uganda. For over a quarter of a century, Kony built a sizable army of child soldiers and ordered the abduction of thousands of girls to become sex slaves. Though in 2005 Kony was indicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, he has yet to be captured.

Kony 2012 was created by a US-based advocacy group, Invisible Children Inc which has long worked in Uganda to bring access to education and quality livelihood to a post-conflict community that suffers from poverty and the memories of war. The video brings to light these issues, with the hope that it will lead to the capture of the militant leader before the end of the year.

Invisible Children Inc has been long known for having one of the strongest social media bases in the nonprofit world. The video’s viral purpose is clear as it repeats the images of people using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and of course, YouTube. The video opens with the words “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. ” Kony 2012 does not necessarily make Kony the celebrity but certainly the bad guy, and more interestingly, it personifies the viewer — that it is you watching who can bring change. Furthermore, it uses a simplistic story line — some argue too simple — and thus, misses some key facts and features of the atrocities committed. However, its simplicity was the reason why the video was able to target so many viewers — and from so many intellectual and other backgrounds. In an age of technological communication when so many millions of users utilise social media around the world, this is certainly telling.

The simple story line, as mentioned, has been the root cause of a backlash of the viral video. Critics argue that the simplification of the complex issue has instead caused “slacktivism” rather than actual activism. Slacktivism, derived from slack and activism, points to the effort of no effort — a pejorative term that describes supporting a cause through simple measures, like sharing a link of Facebook, and feeling good about it and not going further. As many have argued over blog posts, advancing awareness and social media alone will not do much to stop the atrocities in Africa, let alone capture Kony. Journalist Anthony Kosner writes, “the radical simplification of the situation in Uganda that makes Kony 2012 such an effective piece of social media is the same thing that undermines it as a piece of political activism.” (Forbes).

Social media and international politics

We have entered a new era where social media can and have shown to matter, even in as complex an area as foreign policy. Facebook and Twitter have fueled the Arab Spring uprising, giving both men and women equal footing and voice on some of the most pressing issues of governance. Videos have been coming out of Syria on a regular basis, giving them a chance to be noticed by the outside world. As author Philip N. Howard noted, “It was social media that spread both the discontent and inspiring stories of success… into the Middle East.” “Occupy Wall Street” in New York has its roots in social media outlets, the same tool used for similar protests around the United States. Young people around the world have especially been hit with the use of social media and also in actually becoming active. It has become an inspiring and a dangerous tool, mainly because so many people have the access, and thus the voice, regardless of gender, age, socioeconomic status to some extent, or language.

Since the rise of the internet in the early 1990s, the world’s networked population has increased from a million or two, to low billions. At the same time, social media became “a fact of life for civil society worldwide” (Clay Shirky, Foreign Affairs). It has involved the average citizens, activists, nongovernmental organisations, students, companies, software providers, and of course, governments. As this new era’s communication processes gets more complex and intertwined, the population of users have increased. People have greater opportunities to interact, access information, and take action. The high level of production and sharing of multimedia content makes it even more difficult to suppress information. It is redefining freedom, especially in countries where such rights are limited. This was especially true for Egypt, for example, where outlets such as Facebook and Twitter carried the message of freedom and democracy to help raise political uprising. Democracy found its footing in social networks.

The new wave of political activism through social media has certainly attracted the attention of politicians, who on average are much older and in general, of a different demographic than the average activist (who tend to be younger and more in tune with technology as evidenced by recent uprisings and activities). When protests erupted in Tehran, Iran, the US State Department asked Twitter executives to suspend their scheduled maintenance of the service so it could still be used as a tool for political organisation during the demonstrations. While the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 may have been the first modern rebellion to be recorded on Twitter, it did not bring down a government. The links between social media and revolutions are still being examined by researchers.

Egypt has almost 10.5 million Facebook users, ranking at 20, ahead of countries such as Japan (25) and Russia (29), and way ahead of other North African countries Algeria (44) and Tunisia (47). Bangladesh is ranked at 55, with a little over 2 million users on Facebook, with users from ages 18-24 making up more than 50% of the users (Source: Socialbaker). Bangladesh is also not new to enforced censorship and social media blocking enforced by the government. It is important to also note that many users of sites like Facebook may originate at one place, but the user may live in a different country, as well as the use of multiple accounts and other glitches.

Social media alone is of course not the main driving force of uprisings — on-the-field activism is. Rather, social media has been taken up to make people aware and inform them of activities taking place that they can participate in. Certainly, awareness is part of the scheme in bringing in changes.

Regulation and censorship (?) 
At first, using the words “censorship” and ” media” will inevitably bring in an abundance of negative reactions, especially in the 21st century and in an era of technology and global communication. In terms of social media, however, the debate goes further than initial reactions.

Censorship of social media sites are often compared to the censorship of books, films, or the press — most people do not support such censorship and social media in some ways fits into the category. But because of the complex nature of social media (where everyone can be an author and everyone can have access), it is hard to directly apply the same principles.

Furthermore, social media sites have been used to both organise mass protests that have fueled success (e.g. Egypt and the Arab Spring) to violence (e.g. instant messaging services facilitated the London riots). False information is notorious for appearing in, and being shared around via social media sites. Twitter users’ panic tweets about gunmen attacking schools in Mexico allegedly led to 26 car accidents. There are also notions of social media sites being used to develop and strengthen underground cults and gangs in urban centres, such as in Los Angeles to London.

With no proper means of addressing and defining social media (after all, is it really “media”?), governments are left to do as pleased given the right purposes. China, for one, has been known historically to censor internet content. But as a recent Carnegie Mellon University study has shown, Chinese web users have also cleverly found many ways to access forbidden sites and micro blogs to serve their political or social purposes. Iran similarly has just posed another ban on social media outlets, making it more difficult for citizens to communicate, repressing Iranians instead of empowering them through what used to be an easy communication tool.

Kony 2012 and the new age of internet 
Returning to the discussion of Invisible Children Inc, Kony 2012 has become one of the most highly viewed videos of recent times on YouTube. The video has attracted notable celebrities such as Ryan Seacrest, Justin Beiber, Rhianna, Alec Baldwin and Taylor Swift who used their Twitter accounts to spread awareness of the video. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has reported that the first two days after the video was released online, 77% of Twitter conversation was supportive compared with only 7% that was skeptical. However, since its release, there has also been a massive rise in actually analysing both the video and the content from bloggers and journalists so that since March 7, when the response picked up dramatically, the percentage of tweets reflecting skepticism increased to 17%.

And the criticisms are increasing. Some of the main denigration of Kony 2012 in recent days has been on its depiction of Uganda, and how the events covered in the video was the story of the past, and not the current state of the war-wrecked nation. The image of Africa as depicted in the video was also troubling. “This is another video where I see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children. We have seen these stories a lot in Ethiopia, celebrities coming in Somalia,” said Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger who explained that the video only showcased Africa as hopeless and constantly needing outside help. A lot of phrases like “white man’s burden” have also appeared among blog sites. Social media has both the ability to be used to increase awareness of a topic, and to also increase awareness of the details and critics of the topic itself in a very timely manner, as noted in the case of Kony 2012.

Social media is a very recent, and a very relevant player in today’s politics, as evidenced by increased government attention and also, government regulation and censorships. However, social media is also not the “only thing” and can often be misguided. The rules of checking facts, the sources, and basic common sense still applies to tweets and Facebook updates — just as it does for the press. Perhaps such caution is warranted even more for social media outlets because of its ability to be used by the masses and not just experts. Rather than information sharing, social media has perhaps been more actively purposeful for organising, whether that was in the Arab Spring, or as now with Kony 2012 in leading massive attention to a little known leader in the outside world of Uganda.

Nigerian human rights campaigner Omoyele Sowore states it best like it is: “The Internet has helped revolution; but the Internet is not revolution.”

Olinda Hassan is a graduate of Wellesley College, and continues to discusses various musings in her blog at

Trayvon Martin

We have a 17-year-old kid pleading for his life while a half-wit like Gerlado Rivera is left worrying about him wearing a hoodie? History went from people with hoods on killing us, to now getting killed because we are wearing hoods? Everyone has the right to protect their family and property, if that’s what they are doing. Nonetheless, that law in Florida is due for repeal because not everything that is “legal” is moral or right. There is a big difference between a “neighborhood watch” and somebody “watching the neighborhood!”

Malik Yusuf, Songwriter and Spoken Word Artist

It has been a month since Trayvon Martin was killed. A month. How does a justice system not even take a simple action after the public has made a storm in the headlines demanding justice. He was 17 years old. Attached a “neighborhood watchman” (not a policeman) who has a history of doing things he is not supposed to. Furthermore, the fact that Martin was black has been the talk to media- and rightfully so. Blatantly being thought of as suspicious for wearing a hoodie and being black walking in a dominantly non-black residential area cannot be a concern for the neighborhood self appointed watchman with a gun.

Apparently, Zimmerman said that the boy attacked him first and exchanged hostile words and he acted on self defense. How does anyone, especially a child in this case, not be concerned and start running if a large man in an SUV was following him that night? How is it possible that Zimmerman, twice the size of Martin, be “attacked” by the skinny 17 year old who apparently managed to get on top of him, and furthermore- how can he shoot the boy who cried for help and asked to please not shoot him? Black or white or whatever race- a boy was shot by a man twice his size after he cried for help and begged to be left alone.

Given the nature of the story, and people involved (and not involved), and the media’s reaction, as well as the issue of race involved (seriously America, its 2012), I do not see a ‘fair’ trial anywhere written here, jury or no jury. And it is true- the entire story has not been out there yet. What exactly happened is not clear. But in this day and age, the play of race, gun laws, and communities of complex relationships between authority and citizenship makes this case all that more important and demanding of answers.

Where is the accountability?

Bangladesh’s cricket- the final match of the Asia Cup game.

The final match between Pakistan and Bangladesh for the Asia Cup was certainly an emotional ride for Bangladesh, and the millions of Bangladeshis living abroad who tuned in at odd hours to listen and watch the game from their computers. I was watching  the 8 hour match at Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel at the restaurant where I found a prime seat at a table in front of the TV. It is the same hotel where the teams from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and of course Bangladesh stayed for the tournament. There was a program going on that night at the hotel which I skipped to watch the game, taking as much time as I can with my overpriced Chef’s Salad so that I wasn’t kicked out of my table.

An emotional ride was exactly what it was. Bangladesh played incredibly on the field- perhaps too well, as some spectators speculated with rumors of game fixing. At the end, the entire restaurant was filled with staff and people from around the hotel who stood there watching. Managers didn’t scream at the waiters and cleaners who have been taking peeks at players as they go in and out of the hotel rooms for the past two weeks. Well suited men stood next to ground staff. Everyone watched until the last ball- because that was what it came down to.

While Bangladesh lost the game, people have been talking about how well the team played this year in the series. They were not like the old Bangladeshi team, in that they actually played to win and did not give up. Still, fans were skeptical, as we are so used to being after years of supporting a losing team. Even when there were only 4 runs to score to win between Sri Lanka earlier, I was thinking something just might go wrong. You just never know with the tigers.

This time, people cried after the game. We were that close. Articles and comments of fans crying and also, backing the team filled the news, rather than rage over why we didn’t win. We were just not used to ever playing this good for so long.

It is also a game that has taken over an emotional nation. One would think- how can you keep supporting a team that is so unpredictable? The answer lies in the fact that it is a national team that plays against countries with political histories with the young country whose memories are too sharp. The emotional capacity is felt during and after the games (reportedly, the captain of the team pleaded with the fans to be strong after reports of fan suicides).

It is interesting to be in Bangladesh at this time. Cricket is one of the very few things that unite the country together. It is if not the only source of entertainment that doesn’t see a mark on social status and wealth of individuals. It’s a game that anyone can watch, does watch, and understand. I find it fascinating how sports can actually do this to people, communities, cities, and nations.

It is still unpredictable what could happen to this team after the Asia Cup. However, beating Bangladesh at a cricket match can no longer be considered an ‘upset’. They do actually play pretty well. This is the message that has been echoed by the millions living in Dhaka and abroad who try just as hard to better the image of the country from whatever angle possible. Take us seriously- we are here to play.

Feminism and the Internet, and other thoughts. (Women in the World)

The recent Women in the World conference (hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast) included a session that drew a particular personal interest- the issue of feminism and the internet. The discussion, led by Chelsea Clinton, pointed to how the internet has been, can be, and should be used to discuss and fight issues of gender inequality and to promote and change the views of feminism worldwide. The internet, as I have argued before, is one of the few, if not the only means of easy communication with the world– what can possibly be more powerful in an age of globalization?

Increasingly, women are also taking charge in creating some of the leading blogs and websites as well. There is Arianna Huffington , the founder of the much read news website, the Huffington Post , a site that has become the leading source of information worldwide rom the usual politics and economic features to covering entertainment and categories such as women, weddings, books, travel, to comedy and health. Or how about the 19 year old Julie Zeilinger who has championed teenage feminism in the widely popular blog, the FBomb? Just two examples of women who are out there, voicing the issues and concerns. And why not? The reason that so much attention is given to those to want to make issues known is because people just don’t know. Women’s rights and equality simply have not been given enough chance. And it has not been won, and we are not even close.

As a graduate of a women’s college, I have been certainly influenced and molded into becoming a feminist. I have also learned that being a ‘feminist’ outside in the real world, outside the comforts of my New England private all-women liberal arts college was not so keen to accept such identity. People are laughing at it, men and women alike continue to think that being a feminist is too out there, too much, too radical. And this is happening in the privacy of our homes to the very public cyber world.

Clearly, something about being a feminist makes people uncomfortable.

The Women in the World conference included the likes of Hilary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Oprah, to Burmese activist Zin Mar Aung, to IMF chieft Christine Lagarde and Nobel winner Leymah Gbowee (who asked the question- why aren’t more American women angry?).  It was star studded, power studded, and reached all angles of politics, economies, entertainment, to social activism and development. Best of all, it was hopeful- more conversations on what is being done and what can be done took place than what has not happened in the past to historical accounts.

Don’t tell me feminism needs to be marketed sexily and needs a sex appeal for people to pick it up. Feminism is multi dimensional. And being a feminist- the title and identity itself should not be picked up any anyone unless you know what you are talking about. It is not a fad, it is not a label, it doesn’t make you a ‘hipster’.

I could continue and take this writing to all types of angles, and I already have. Women matter, but we are not close, and women’s issues do not just single out one gender. It matters for both girls and boys, men and women, and all identities, sexuality, races, cultures, and extends deep into history and to the future.

Above all, the summit produced a weekend of unforgettable discussions and deep connections between women of different generations and backgrounds, all bound by the conviction that “women’s rights are human rights” and that women have a moral obligation to work on each other’s behalf.


Princess Ameera Al- Taweel and her advocacy of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Ameera Al- Taweel, the only wife of the progressive Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has recently traveled throughout the United Kingdom and the United States to speak with media groups (e.g. Times, the Guardian, NPR, CNN, etc.) about the image of women in Saudi Arabia, calling for change. This past year, Saudi Arabia has been highlighted in terms of their women, from women finally getting the right to vote, to protesting their driving ban, to the recent outlaw of men from working in lingerie shops. However, leadership roles in advocating gender relations and female rights has been quiet, so it was a surprise to read about Princess Ameera in Forbes about her work in promoting a better image of her country.

At only 29 years old, Princess Ameera outside of the Kingdom does not personify the image that media has posted about the country’s women, who are usually described as unsocial, unable to speak their mind, un-interactive with the opposite sex, takes a backseat in social interactions, and are forced to wear the very black, very symbolic abbayah in public. Not only does Princess Ameera walk the talk and dress the part, but she comes from the very family, the Saud family, that has molded the nation to what it is today- hyper conservative and unable to give women the same rights and places in society as men.

Of course her actions (participating in international forums such as the Clinton Global Initiative, speaking about allowing women to drive in NBC, etc.) has had its backlash, and from her family. The princess’s brother-in-law, Prince Khalid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz stated:

…Our family honor is a red line and if you don’t respect this honor, then we do…I now tell you that if you do not come back to your senses and stop your deviation, then our response will be very severe and harsh next time without prior warning.

Anushay Hossain’s response illustrates my own sentiments:

Using a man’s wife to publicly threaten and blackmail him? Sounds like plot from a classic (sexist) movie. I mean, are men in 2012 seriously still this insecure that they have to pin their prestige on women and use them as pawns in what is obviously a much larger issue of power?

It is understandable that there will be reactions, and unfavorable ones at that. However, what is disturbing is that the reactions can include further demeaning sentiments, such as here, where women is linked to a family’s honor- a concept often used for some of the worst types of violence committed upon women in the Middle East (i.e. honor killings). Furthermore, the brother-in-law does not even speak directly with Princess Ameera but instead, gears his anger towards her husband who allowing his wife to behave such a way, as if she is the property of her husband.

Princess Ameera is a refreshing figure to see taking a public stance from the Middle East. Her intelligence in her approach and mannerism in the mainstream breaks stereotypes about women in the region. The support that she receives from her husband and the fact that he is using her to promote modern ideas about women’s role in society should generate applause (it is working).  It also proves that while this fight for Saudi Arabia’s women is going to be a long and difficult one, it is not hopeless.

Gabrielle Giffords will and has to return.

The recent declaration of Gabrielle Giffords’ departure from the House of Representatives may not be the end of her political career.

Anyone listening, watching, and observing the politician may view her heartfelt speech as a real goodbye. However, I think that it may just be the beginning of what may be a very interesting few years to follow. Gifford’s emotional recovery from her gun wounds in the last year has captivated Americans and international followers alike, Democrat or Republican- this was the story of a real person struggling with real life consequences. Her story brought a very public politician’s profile down to those of, well, people she serves. It was a sudden backseat for an otherwise rising and thriving Democrat politician- and even further, a young female at that.

I first met Giffords in 2007 when I interned for her Tucson office. It was my first internship after a year at Wellesley College, and at nineteen years of age, I had already found reasons to like her and want to be like her (this is my nineteen year old voice, after all). She attended Scripps, another all-women college, she called Arizona her home, and she was young, good looking politician, and a Democrat in Arizona of all states. She was on one of her short trips to Tucson and she was dressed in a baby blue suit which hugged her very perfect figure, with a very wide smile and blonde, highlighted hair. Very politician-like of course and she thanked me for all my hard work though I am sure she did not exactly know what I did there and what my name was. Either way, her team was energetic and I knew it was where I wanted to get some political exposure right before my sophomore year when I would declare a Political Science major.

The image of Giffords is very different today, but the same political flair still exists. On her Twitter she wrote: “I will return & we will work together for Arizona & this great country.” She never seemed to me like one to give up. She knows her assets, her stories, and she knows how important it is to hold onto a position in a traditionally all-boys club. “She was one of these people, one of the few left in Congress, who could work with people across the aisle and kind of rise above the bitter partisanship that you see in Washington,” said Jeff Rogers, the chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party. That is no surprise given that she comes from a traditionally red state where the last time it voted blue for a president was in 1948 for Truman. Let lone taking on the role of such a figure as a woman is admiring enough.

I hope that she does return to politics and specifically Arizona politics. I could say that she has a responsibility to do so as a female leader who has worked hard to gain the trust of traditionally-Republican constituents in a state struck my bitter debates on immigration and border control. And I do believe that the public will back her up again upon her return, whenever that may be.


Amazing! They are calling it a political coming of age.

“This is the first real test of the political strength of the Web, and regardless of how things go, they are no longer a pushover,” said Professor Wu, who is the author of “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.” He added, “The Web taking a stand against one of the most powerful lobbyers and seeming to get somewhere is definitely a first.”– The New York Times

What some websites looked today in a day of protest. Fascinating.

Google asking us to 'Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!'


No Wiki for 24 hours. Just glad I didn't have to look up anything. "Wikipedia, run by a nonprofit organization, is going further than most sites by actually taking material offline"--NYT


And even wordpress is involved in the protest. Currently, the weblog is one of the most popular for leading websites and blogs in the cyber-world (including this one)

(Which) women’s employment in Saudi Arabia as a result of banning men from working in lingerie stores (?)

There has been a lot of discussion lately on how opportunities for female employment are beginning to increase, especially with the recent ban on male employment in lingerie stores in Saudi Arabia. However, it must be notes that the applicants for most of the job vacancies are from South Asian and Southeast Asian migrant laborers, not Saudi Arabian women who only compose  7% of the work force in the Kingdom (government figures). According to the Labor Ministry, over 28,000 women have already applied for the jobs in lingerie stores, but most are South Asian migrant women. In this respect,the opportunities to work in stores rather than as domestic workers is certainly a positive step for the thousands of female labor migrants in the country. In Saudi Arabia, migrant laborers already make up a majority of their work force, and this is not just associated with the cleaners, construction workers, etc. Most of the country’s doctors, engineers, and other technical professionals are also foreigners, often recruited heavily from some of the top agencies abroad.

While more Saudi women are getting educated in the country, the scope for their actual participation in the labor market remains  abysmal. Female employment is not going up for Saudi women, and they are not going to suddenly apply for thousands of shop assistant jobs.

A powerful look at the business of Brothels and Prostitution in Bangladesh

Allison Joyce‘s photo essay on the Brothels lining the rivers of Bangladesh gives us a powerful look at a thriving and taboo business of prostitution. I was surprised to see the captures, actually, since I rarely find articles let alone photos of the business in Bangladesh. This article for ABC News ( I am “Chowkri”- Inside Bangladesh’s Biggest Brothel) focuses on the Joinal Bari brothel in Faridpur, on the banks of the Padma river. It is an important stop for the trading route, making it an especially intriguing spot for a brothel. It is all economical of course- men make up almost 100% of the business of trading and truck driving, shipments and business dealing in the region. The existence of prostitution is widely known, unspoken of, and witnessed both in the urban towns to river banks and villages. It would be harder to undertake a photo project for Dhaka’s prostitutes let alone brothels where the clientele are far more secretive and sometimes, public figures. I can’t imagine Joyce trying to cover this very important topic outside the Westin and Radisson hotels or in the affluent the narrow streets of Gulshan 2 where young women stand in the corner streets soon after 10 pm. Though the photos that I will share below from her project captures one setting, it serves as an eye opening setting to address this booming informal business sector for many young Bangladeshi women.

This photo is of Kajul, who is embraced by a customer in her bedroom. I am captivated by this photo as I wonder how they let Joyce, a white woman clearly out of place and so obviously a journalist capture this very intimate moment. When I first saw this photo, before I even read the caption, I was sure it was of something happy that came out of a dire setting. Maybe I am still not mistaken; I think we often forget that these young women, whatever their occupation, can still desire love unlike the kind they sell.
This photo is of Kajul, who is embraced by a customer in her bedroom. I am captivated by this photo as I wonder how they let Joyce, a white woman clearly out of place and so obviously a journalist capture this very intimate moment. When I first saw this photo, before I even read the caption, I was sure it was of something happy that came out of a dire setting. Maybe I am still not mistaken; I think we often forget that these young women, whatever their occupation, can still desire love unlike the kind they sell.
“I grew up in Jessore and I have been working in the brothel for 5 years. I was stalked by a local boy in Jessore and when I told my family they blamed me for the harassment so I ran away. When I was on the streets I met a woman who brought me to the brothels here in Faridpur. I miss my father and I talk to him often. I tell him that I’m working in a garment factory in Dhaka and he always asks me to come back home.” ( Ria, 22 years old) … Update: At the time of our visit Ria was excitedly planning to leave the brothels and move back home with her father to become a tailor. When we visited a few weeks later Joshna, her madame, had given her 20,000 taka, gold earrings, and sent her back to her family in Jessore.--Tiffany Hagler-Geard
This photo shows a girl named Piea who is surrounded by customers who walk through the building for their pick. Some of the men are as young as the prostitutes themselves.

To read the entire entry, click here.

New Year’s Eve in Dhaka, 2011

This year’s new years eve in Dhaka will again include memorable scenes of miles of traffic in airport road across the Radisson or on the way to the five star hotel, puking teenagers in the sidewalk at 3 am, some of whom have probably never drank before or know what the tonic on vodka tonic is, and glittery, salon-done makeup that makes 15 year olds undistinguishable from 35 year old mothers  who left the kids to the maid who can’t go to sleep until 5 am. It is one of the few days in the year when the conservative city (but a thriving underground scene) has don’t ask don’t tell parties for Dhaka’s young generation who have been waiting to dress up and flirt like they only get to in new year’s. One wouldn’t think such a scene takes place in Dhaka (10,000 BDT, or approximately $140 tickets to parties at the Radisson, anyone?) where only foreigners have access to alcohol, technically, and barely any skin can be seen during the day and night, otherwise. But yes, even Dhaka knows how to party, or rather how they perceive parties to be like from the multiple cable channels that hook them up to New York, Dubai, London, to Bangkok.

This year however, the number of public parties has gone from 9 to 2. Police and security have almost doubled, and alcohol-detectors and breath analyzers have been in the hands of some. I have been personally asked to carry around my passport, just in case. At least 5,000 RAB personnel would be deployed to maintain “law and order.” Last year, half of that figure was deployed. Entrances to the tri state, specifically Gulshan will be closed from 11 pm (more likely 9 pm) and the harassment will begin. The life of a boring police and security guard in the blue army suits changed.

BDNEWS24 reports, “Warning of stern actions against revelers for any misconduct, the DMP commissioner urged people to refrain from careless driving and anti-social activities in the name of celebration.” Misconduct? Anti-social activities? For the good of the pure and constructive society that Dhaka is? The Daily Star notes, “Anyone arrested with drugs or alcohol will be tried on the spot by the mobile courts, he said, adding that roadside bars have to be closed by 6:00pm.” Last year, they were asked to be closed at 7 pm.

In an age of transition for Dhaka’s youth and elites, more of whom are going abroad and coming back with new accents that they fault to their one week vacations in Europe every year, the police have been equally aware and determined to maintain “order”. The problem is, problems do occur. The rate of crimes, offenses, and sexual harassment seems to increase tri-fold on January 31st, more so than most other countries, like those that party-goers want to imitate. With a society still new to the concept of parties and night life, extremes take on a new definition in Dhaka.

So to those who will be confined to their rooftops, happy new years!  Next, year, I call for fireworks (the pretty, sparkly, nice kinds that actually hit the sky) since the rooftop will probably become the “it” place as more and more are done to keep the city safe on the eve of a new year.