Revolution & Massacre in Sudan: What Can We Do?

How much do you know about the massacre in Sudan? About the mass murder, internet blackout, rape and torture inflicted on those standing up for peace, freedom and justice over the past two weeks? How much do you know about the revolution that began last December?

If you’ve been relying on major international media outlets, the answer is quite possibly not much at all.

What happened?

After several months of demonstrations and protests, Sudan (finally) captured the world’s attention in April this year when an image of a young woman dressed in white went viral. It was celebrated as an image of hope. International media shared it widely, drawing global awareness to the courage and progress of the revolution.

Soon after, Omar Hassan al-Bashir was overthrown from his presidency, ending a 30-year reign of oppression, corruption and conflict. The Sudanese people demanded an immediate transition from al-Bashir’s presidency to a civilian-led government. Instead, however, military generals took over, agreeing at first to transition to a civilian-led government within 3 years but revoking the agreement soon after.

And so in the days and weeks that followed, protesters remained outside the military headquarters, gathering each day in an area filled with art, music and political discussion. From social media coverage, it also seemed to be a space filled with joy and fierce hope for the future.

In the early hours of Monday 3 June, Sudanese security forces began a brutal massacre.

Civilians were shot and beaten. Mutilated bodies were urinated on and thrown in the River Nile. Women, men and children were raped. At least 118 people were killed, 300 critically injured and 70 raped that day (although the true figures are probably much higher). Perpetrators were mostly members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – paramilitary forces formerly known as the Janjaweed.


As graphic videos of violence started to spread across social media, the government shut down the internet. The country has endured a total information blackout ever since. Violence continues. It has been reported that a 6-year-old girl was raped by ten men. Stories have been shared of Sudanese military officials with women’s underwear draped over their weapons.

International media have not shared news of the Sudan massacre widely. They have not drawn global awareness to the atrocities being inflicted on innocent people.

For the most part, social media and grassroots activists have been far more informative than newspapers or world leaders. Many have called out the silence of the international community in the face of such horrific events.

Coverage and information from major media outlets is increasing, but shamefully slowly and with a disturbing lack of urgency. I look at the BBC News app on my phone every day. Not once since June 3rd has a story about Sudan been the daily featured article.

What’s happening now?



What can we do?

“Shaming still works – Sudan’s government would not kill the internet if it did not,” writes journalist Nesrine Malek. “So shame the world into applying pressure on the regime and restraining the Gulf powers that support it.”

She explains that we can help “by preventing the normalisation project and aiding the Sudanese people in getting their message out during the blackout.”

If it’s within your power to do so, inform yourself about what’s happening and the context and history that has led to this point.

Spread knowledge and awareness to others in whatever way you can. The list below is by no means comprehensive, it’s simply a starting point of resources I’ve found useful in my own attempts to educate myself. If you have any to add, leave a comment and I will update the list.

Follow:

@hadyouatsalaam, @amel.mukhtar, @bsonblast, @yousraelbagir, @NesrineMalek, @reemwrites

#SudanUprising, #SudanRevolts, #SudanCivilDisobedience, #IAmTheSudanRevolution #SudanRevolution #SudanProtests #Internet_Blackout_In_Sudan

Read:

If you want to help Sudan, amplify the voices of those suffering its horrors, The Guardian

Victims of Sexual Violence in Sudan Deserve Justice, The Daily Vox

Rape and Sudan’s Revolution, BBC

Three Pioneering Women Recount the Brutal Turning Point of Sudan’s Revolution, Vogue

Tasgot Bas Archives: an up-to-date documentation of Sudan’s most recent uprising

Sudan’s Third Revolution, History Today

Sudan’s Revolutionaries: Offline but Not Silenced, BBC

No, It’s not Over for the Sudanese Revolution, Al Jazeera

Donate:

Emergency Medical Aid for Sudan

Food & Medicine for Sudan

Sign:

The UN must investigate 3 June human rights violations in Sudan

Recognise the Rapid Support Forces led by General Hemedti as a Terrorist Organization

US – Send a message to your representatives in Congress through Resistbot

Today, on International Day to Eliminate Sexual Violence in Conflict, I add my voice to the global demand for accountability for the sexual crimes committed in Sudan.

I add my voice to the chorus of those outraged that rape continues to be used without consequence as a tool for dehumanisation and a weapon of war. You do not have to be Sudanese to support the basic human rights of civilians being systematically and mercilessly massacred. I stand in solidarity with the people of Sudan, and in awe of their resilience and courage. Voices are powerful and silence is deadly.

Women’s March 2019: Same Photos, Different Story

On Saturday 9th March, 15,000 people attended the Women’s March in Amsterdam. They braved icy bullets of rain and gusts of furious winds to take to the streets. Despite the grim weather, the atmosphere was electric.

Women, men and children from all walks of life joined in the songs of solidarity. Their voices echoed off the facades of old Amsterdam houses. The inclusivity of the march was bolstered by slogans such as ‘2019 is not just about women’ and  ‘all oppression is connected’.

Messages ranged from #BlackLivesMatter to #TransLivesMatter, and from welcoming refugees to questioning the ethics of male circumcision at birth. There were signs about closing both the wage gap and the orgasm gap. People called out the need to change perspectives on gender and to tackle climate change.

It was a beautiful blur of colour, intersectionality and communal cheer.

And yet, when I Google ‘Women’s March 2019’, hits from popular websites portray the march in a very specific way. Much can be said about the language used in the most negative articles. I am particularly interested, however, in the merit of using sensationalized images in coverage of events like the Women’s March.

It becomes immediately apparent when browsing through articles that the diversity of photographs is not extensive. In many cases, the same handful of images are being used. The Dutch photo service ANP appears to be the source of these continually reused images.

The photos carry important messages for the feminist movement. They share a common focus on the female body and, possibly, on criticism of the Madonna-whore Complex. Three of the most-used pictures show women with barely concealed or totally exposed breasts. In one, a woman refers to herself as a ‘slut’. Another warns Rutte, the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands, not to ‘f*ck with these c*nts’.

The messages put forth by these women are important. They are about our right to agency over our bodies – to do what we want, wear what we want, and own our sexuality. They’re also about our right not to be constantly sexualised simply because we exist in female bodies.

The repeated use of a few specific images have caused them to become sensationalized as the collective face of the 2019 Women’s March.

What does this collective face portray? It could lead many to conclude that the march was attended primarily by ‘free the nipple’ type feminists. But this is only one of the many components of the feminist movement as a whole, and of this event in particular. It’s a far cry from the intersectional ideology of the march.

Diverse use of images in the media is important.

Falling into the trap of using the same mass-circulated pictures is easily done. It’s often the easiest, quickest option. But in the spirit of the 2019 Women’s March, and of intersectionality and diversity, here are some photos from the march which I think are more representative:

One of the organizers of the Netherlands Women’s March 2019.
A young man challenges the now infamous phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
A woman holds a sign showing balled fists of all colours – a visual indication of intersectional feminism.
The rainbow flag, a symbol for the LGBTQ community, was donned by many attendees.
‘I am a sick feminist’. Many people with illnesses and disabilities were in attendance too.

When covering actions for equality in the media, whether in major publications or on personal blogs, it’s important to use the diversity and choice available to us. Sensationalised images are tempting to re-use because of their recognisable quality and virality. However, every face in the crowd on 9 March mattered, and so did every photograph taken.

We have to ask ourselves: what is the story we want to tell?

Photos by Scarlett Bohemian photography

Like this post? Try these…

Sexual Assault in the Media

Content note: this post contains multiple references to sexual assault

There continues to be a normalization of sexual violence in media and popular culture. The current culture around sexual assault tends to place blame on the victim and trivializes the idea of rape, and this train of thought stems from factors such as how news stations report acts of sexual violence and how sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and popular music.

There are several trends in the way sexual crimes are depicted in news reports that help contribute to the culture that has pervaded society. News stations will often report that a rapist “had sex with” a victim instead of outright saying that a victim was “raped”. This phrasing downplays the severity of what the victim had to go through and implies that consent was given.

News reports will often focus on the clothes the victim was wearing and how much the victim had to drink. A New York Times article published in 2011 is the perfect example of this. It quotes people familiar with the victim saying that “[the victim] dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s [and] she would hang out with teenage boys at a playground.” By drawing attention to these details, the report does not hold the rapist accountable for his actions and places blame on the victim instead, ultimately suggesting that the choices of the victim led to her rape.

News stations also tend to empathize with the perpetrator instead of the victim. This was especially true in the Steubenville rape trial, when CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow stated that it was incredibly emotional and even incredibly difficult for her to see two young men who were star football players and very good students with such promising futures watch their lives fall apart. In contrast, she didn’t mention any sympathy for the victim whom they raped, who will likely hold on to this trauma for the rest of her life.

The way sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and music also has an influence on rape culture. Jokes about rape will often appear on television, which causes viewers to fail to take sexual violence seriously. Rape jokes are especially prevalent in the show Two Broke Girls, where Kat Denning’s character, Max, constantly trivializes rape  and the long-lasting effects it has on the victim. In one episode, she mocks a victim of date rape and whines while saying “Somebody date-raped me and I didn’t think I’d live through it, but I did, but now I am stronger, and I’m still needy.

The videos and lyrics in popular music can promote rape culture by making sexual violence seem ‘sexy’. In Robin Thicke’s infamous song “Blurred Lines,” he contributes to this culture by singing about how the lines around sexual consent are blurred and asserting that it’s up to men to interpret what women want.

Sexual violence has become normalized in media and popular culture. I believe that the way news stations report cases of sexual assault, and the way it is portrayed in television shows and popular music, play a large role in rape culture. This culture blames the victim for rape as well as trivializes rape and the effects it has on its victims. It is clear that something must change in the media to attack rape culture.

What’s Missing In the News

This past year, so much has happened in our world. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced due to wars and conflict. In the United States, the news is dominated by interesting political debates and the increase in mass violence. After a quick scan through news feeds, it’s difficult not to feel jaded. Thankfully, globally, we have seen some positive stories of change, specifically for women and girls. We’ve seen strides to combat child marriage, movements in Gambia to make FGM/C illegal and the one-child policy in China repealed.

While these are incredible strides for women, girls and communities when reviewing your latest news feed do you ever wonder,  “Is there something missing?” Everyday, I pour over articles and blog posts and think, “What are the stories I am not hearing about?” What stories are being underreported or simply not talked about? This year, I want to highlight topics related to women and girls that often get lost or aren’t included as frequently as other stories in the headlines and mainstream news.

So what’s missing from the news, this month?

Human Trafficking Awareness

Wherever there is movement of people, war, conflict and economic distress there are individuals, mainly women and young girls who risks of being trafficked and sold into slavery. Sex trafficking  along with forced labor are two of the most common forms of trafficking affecting millions of young women and girls each year. The month of January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. While much is being done to raise awareness and combat this issue, I have not seen it mentioned this month in mainstream media news headlines. Let’s not allow this issue to become a forgotten topic or something trendy that fades. This is a real issue that effects countless young women and girls every single day. To shine a light on slavery check out the End It Movement or watch The True Cost film.

Funding Bill provides needed increase for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault programs in the United States

One in three women have been victims of some form of physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. ONE in THREE. These are our sisters, friends, mothers, and neighbors. One in fifteen children experience family violence every year. A new funding bill, addressing domestic violence and sexual assault was recently passed in the United States. This bill brings much rejoicing to those who are advocates for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. The bill specifically provides 15 million dollars in funding to support women and their children seeking safety at crisis shelters. With this level of funding, more services can be offered and crisis shelters supported.

What issues or inspiring stories do you think are missing from the news?

Share your suggestions with us in the comments or on Twitter!

Cover Photo Credit: Got Credit, Flickr Creative Commons

(Her)Story: A Revolution

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Think back to your high school’s United States history book: Remember that tiny paragraph on the women’s suffrage movement? The one-sentence descriptions on the contributions of Rosalind Franklin to the discovery of DNA, Coretta Scott King to the civil rights movement, and Eleanor Roosevelt to the New Deal policies? The absence of LGBTQ-identified women and women of color in the paragraph about the 1960s “second-wave” women’s movement?

We at Women SPEAK want to change that.

Based in Los Angeles, Women SPEAK is an organization that empowers young women to cultivate positive body image, deconstruct gender media stereotypes, and lead change in their communities. Our latest project? Redefining history into HerStory.

History has narrowly framed accomplishments, success, and innovation in the context of *his* story, mainly stories of men. We see this truth all around us: for example, in the absence of women on our currency and in the few women that are honored in commemorative spaces and public places. Women are absent in the public narratives of history in the United States and around the globe. The literal erasure of women in history has affected our perceptions of who woman are and can be.

What are the consequences? Our present reality. The absence of women in our retelling of history is seen in the gender disparity of our everyday lives. Today, women represent only 19.4% in our congressional legislature. During the 2014 Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case ruling, an all-male majority overruled the voices of all three female Supreme Court justices by exempting certain employers from providing birth control and contraception coverage through the ACA. Moreover, in spite of women graduating at a higher rate from college than men, women in the U.S. workforce face a plethora of issues: gender discrimination, a gender pay gap, and no mandatory paid maternity leave — all piling reasons that deter women from attaining positions of leadership and influence today.

Progress does not mean success. We want to change that.

We at Women SPEAK want to be part of reclaiming history to press for our stories as women and girls. This year, we’re launching HerStory at our 2nd Annual Women SPEAK Girls’ Leadership Summit, a conference that seeks to empower current and future generations of high school and college students to join our movement. HerStory is a yearlong initiative that will reclaim the historical and current contributions of women around the world through monthly production of HerStory literary zines, a yearlong mentorship program curriculum through our Women SPEAK national high school and college chapters, social media campaigns, and advocacy projects with local women’s rights organizations.

Through HerStory, we want to demand more from our history books and education. We seek to retell, recreate, and reclaim the powerful stories of women who have been critical in the formation of our world, our stories, and our communities — the stories that have for far too long been minimized, silenced, and forgotten.

We seek to redefine history through the critical lens of HerStory, a movement that not only seeks to re-envision the past, but pave a future in which women are valued equally to their male counterparts. By educating the young women of today, we hope to inspire them by telling the stories of the women before them who have created a path.

We at Women SPEAK are starting a revolution to shift our understanding of how women have changed and are changing the world.

This revolution will not be televised.

The 2nd Annual Women SPEAK Girls’ Leadership Summit will be held on Saturday, July 11 at California Polytechnic State University Pomona’s Bronco Student Center. All high school students and incoming college freshmen are invited. Registration is free. To sign up, go to www.womenspeakteam.org.

‘The Bachelor’ Group Date that Nobody is Talking About

The Bachelor contestants get ready to ride tractors in the bikinis in downtown Los Angeles. Image c/o ABC.
The Bachelor contestants get ready to ride tractors in bikinis in downtown Los Angeles. Image c/o ABC.

Okay, I have to confession to make. I watch The Bachelor and I admittedly *guiltily* enjoy it. With my glass (bottle?) of wine beside me, I go into these episodes with an understanding that what I am about to witness will be completely sexist and will inevitably stereotype its female cast members as backstabbers, crazy, drunkards, airheads, damsels in distress, and/or the I’m-here-for-the-right-reasons-and-am-innocently-looking-for-my-one-true-love girl. (Why else would anyone ever want to be cast on a high ranking national television show? Certainly not for the five minutes of fame.)

However, a portion of last Monday’s episode was a little harder to stomach than usual.

Chris Soules, dubbed the handsome and perfect bachelor (a.k.a. Prince Farming…because he lives on a farm, get it?), invited a group of six girls on the season’s first group date with a date card that read, “Show me your country.” The date aimed to show Chris the girls’ so-called ‘country side.’ So how did The Bachelor’s producers tackle this difficult task? Why, by making the contestants strip down to their bikinis, walk around downtown Los Angeles, and ride tractors through the streets, of course! Because what could be more country than women walking around in bikinis?

Let me repeat. The show’s producers (two out of three of whom are men, along with the show’s writer) equated ‘being country’ to women parading around downtown Los Angeles in only their bikinis while straddling tractor seats (no sexual innuendo there or anything). Not only this, but ‘being country’ also meant being subjected to street harassment as cars honked at them and men whistled at the nearly naked women – moments that have been conveniently edited out of the clip on YouTube.* Additionally, seeing as how Chris wore a zip-up sweatshirt on the date, one can assume that the weather was not conducive to swimsuit attire. Television at its finest. (Stay classy, ABC.)

With all the recent steps forward in building awareness to end street harassment, from Twitter’s #YesAllWomen trending hashtag to The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams’ plan to end catcalling to the viral video of a woman being catcalled for ten hours while walking in New York City, last Monday’s episode was a major step in the wrong direction. Even Emily Maynard-Johnson, a former contestant, agreed that the show had taken a step too far.

I’m sure some of you reading this will say, “If the group date was so bad, why didn’t the women stay home or put on some clothes?” That is easier said than done. For starters, the contestants do not know what the date entails until the moment arrives. As a result, the women are put on the spot and expected to agree with whatever the producers have arranged. With millions tuning in and their chances of getting a rose (i.e. advancing to the next round) at risk, there is incredible pressure to just go with the flow. Nobody wants to be characterized as the lame girl who wouldn’t participate in a ‘fun’ little game (except me, but I guess that’s why I’m not on the show) and nobody wants to go home early. (Free luxury vacations, amirite?)

Even the group date’s description on ABC’s website is incredibly cringeworthy:

Description of group date c/o ABC
Description of group date c/o ABC – Click to enlarge

The producers, by not only merely creating this group date, but by also airing this group date on national television, seem to condone the idea that gawking at women in the street is A-Okay.

https://twitter.com/ProseccoAndPups/status/555086190874202112

https://twitter.com/ash_and_witty/status/555088949652512771

If you think street harassment is harmless, think again. There have been countless reports of women being killed or seriously injured after rejecting their harasser’s advances. In Michigan, a mother of three was shot and killed. In New York City, a 26-year-old woman‘s throat was cut. In Florida and Washington respectively, a 14-year-old girl and a 33-year-old woman were run over multiple times by men in cars. Shoshana B. Roberts, the woman featured in the aforementioned viral street harassment video, received countless rape and death threats. There is an entire Tumblr dedicated to stories of violence inflicted on women who reject sexual advances.

Sexism on television and in film is nothing new. We’ve witnessed it time and time again, as women are more often than not portrayed as sex symbols, objectified, and treated as if they are subordinate to men. In fact, sexism, for so long, has been so closely intertwined with media in pop culture, that many viewers may not even realize it exists.** (And in case you missed it, advocating against sexism and gender inequality in the media was a major theme at this year’s Golden Globe awards.)

“These girls are looking smokin’ hot on these tractors, it’s incredible. I’m the luckiest dude with two thumbs [shows thumbs up sign], right here.” – Chris Soules

For those of you who will argue that ABC’s The Bachelorette objectifies men the same as The Bachelor objectifies women, I say to you that until the day comes where a man feels the constant threat of a woman potentially threatening, raping, or killing him as he walks down the street at night (or day!), these two topics cannot be compared.

We all know that media plays a powerful role in influencing pop culture, and misogynistic shows that continue to live in the dark ages must not be tolerated. As for me, you won’t find me watching The Bachelor next Monday night – at least not without a big bottle of wine.

PS – If you currently watch the show but do not follow along on Twitter using #TheBachelor, you are doing it wrong.

*You can watch the sexist group date in its entirety here beginning Monday, January 19th.

**The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media exists solely to promote gender equality in the media.