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Al Jazeera: Amplifying (Global Voices) Women's Voices

Last month, I received an interesting e-mail from my editor, Nasir Khan, at the Opinion page of Al Jazeera English. In the e-mail, Khan explained that while his goal has been to keep a gender ratio of 50/50 on the page, he has often come up short. Therefore, he wrote, he would be working on a project with the sole intention of increasing the output of women contributors:

For the months of February and March, I plan to have a gender ratio of 80/20 in favour of women, flipping the abhorrent ratio that currently exists within the industry … In the process, [we'll be] challenging other outlets to do the same.

Though the initiative failed to attract much mainstream coverage, it quickly spread through social media, and by mid-March Khan was well on his way to fulfilling his goal. Through tweets, e-mails, and Facebook posts, women heard about the initiative and lined up to contribute.

Global Voices women step up

The women of Global Voices were no exception, and by the end of March they had substantially contributed to the Opinion section. This shouldn't be surprising: just last month, a study published by The Guardian showed that Global Voices has a 51% contribution rate from women, consistent over time. The article praised Global Voices for its diversity, noting:

However you slice it, Global Voices publishes a diverse set of voices at all levels of participation, from the most prolific to the most casual.

Global Voices has always sought to bring the voices of bloggers and netizens into the mainstream — today we'll do the opposite, amplifying the voices of nine GV women (of whom we are very proud) that have made it into the mainstream.

Deborah Esch, a Global Voices author and member of the GV Advocacy Steering Committee (as well as a professor of literature), wrote about her experiences gaining open access to a scholarly archive that had previously been locked to the public, helping her come to terms with the death of activist Aaron Swartz. Esch writes:

Along the way, I found that I was no longer in search of an example – in literature, in historiography – a figure to help come to terms with the death of Aaron Swartz. I had my example: had it as an experience, the unexpected experience of open access to a scholarly archive that had till then been locked away from the public behind the monolithic gates of one institution or another.

Esch also published a second piece on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Leila and Jilllian

Two Global Voices ladies: Jillian and Leila at the Arab Bloggers Summit in Tunisia 2011. Photo shared by Jillian C. York on flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Rayna Stamboliyska, a GV contributor, wrote about the importance of “hacking science,” explaining:

A very powerful concept – “citizen science” – has naturally emerged along the lines of open science. Countless professional researchers blog about their work and discuss online results obtained by their peers. Such open discussion permits non-professionals to participate as well. The surge of the hacker/maker/do-it-yourself movement has tremendously contributed to engage non-professional scientists in science.

Nowadays, there are hundreds of projects the world over within which professional and non-professional researchers take part in genuine scientific studies. A clearly visible shift has operated in the recent years from citizens helping merely collect data to citizens actually analysing it, producing valuable results and interpreting them as well as generating new hypotheses.

Leila Nachawati Rego, a Spanish-Syrian contributor and member of the GV Advocacy Steering Committee, wrote of reasons to remain optimistic about Syria. Using the town of Kafranbel as a symbol of hope against tyranny, Nachawati Rego writes:

This northwestern town has become well-known for the powerful and edgy banners. They are being created since the beginning of the uprising and are instantly shared through social media.

Internet users from all over the world look forward to every new message and drawing, which summarise the meaning and the evolution of the Syrian struggle.

Although banners and drawings have captured international attention, Kafranbel is more than that. It is also a model for new forms of self-management emerging from the rubble. Its inhabitants not only have survived several regime bombings, but also have engaged in self-government while rebuilding their own town.

Chan Myae Khine, who writes about Myanmar for Global Voices, analyzed the ongoing conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in her country, explaining:

The background of the latest clash between Muslims and Buddhists, however, is not as clear cut as is reported. Although it is reported to be sectarian in nature, the characteristics of the latest flair of violence are utterly atypical, and at worst, planned. An insecure public, the nature of the extremists and the announcement of a state of emergency are indicative of a regression from the still-ongoing transition towards democracy.

Renata Avila, a transparency advocate and longtime contributor to GV and GV Advocacy, discussed the case of American journalist Nicholas Blake, in which the Guatemalan state was declared responsible for the journalist's disappearance. She writes of her experience:

While I worked as a lawyer for the Guatemalan genocide case, preparing the witnesses who presented their testimonies before Spanish National Courts, I struggled with the lack of information about the Army suspects. Counterinsurgency plans and information of the chain of command were obtained either via whistleblowers or Freedom of Information requests filed in the United States, evidencing the importance of both the freedom of information architecture and whistleblowers as key instruments where not even a Bush or a Kennedy can obtain the truth. Up till now, the Military Archives remain sealed, secret. Key files needed for the cases are reported “missing”.

GV contributor Yoo Eun Lee, who writes about Korea, asked “Who was behind the South Korean cyber-attacks?“, writing:

If the attacks were indeed from North Korea, there is no need to read anything into it. Their message and motive cannot be anymore clear. North Korea has been using all kinds of extreme war rhetoric offline for decades, with statements like “turning the South Korean capital into a sea of fire/blood”. This hacking could be just more blackmailing – only done online.

Although blaming North Korea for the attack provides very convenient and believable explanations – compact enough to fit into saucy headlines – it is completely lazy and misleading.

Kirsten Han, who contributes to GV from Singapore, wrote about the Singaporean government's attempt to increase the country's birth rate, calling some attempts “cringe-worthy at best”:

Young men and women are now being bombarded with “pro-family” messaging, cajoling and coaxing them into getting married and settling down rather than “waiting for all the stars to align”. A married life with children is portrayed as the ultimate desirable outcome, and singles are continually told to get out there and start looking for a spouse…

…it's like constantly being under the gaze of an overzealous aunt, eager to set you up on blind dates with anyone who catches her eye. Young Singaporeans are barely given the time and space to really think about what they want, and with a host of “pro-family” policies – priority in the public housing queue for married couples, parental leave being only applicable to couples who are lawfully married, etc – it sometimes seems like a choice between conforming or working doubly hard. Those who don't fit into the social norm are more or less left out.

In her piece, GV contributor Lakshmi Sarah proposes that the BRIC countries take steps to act responsibly when it comes to women's rights and violence against women:

The BRICs have gained attention since 2001, when the term was initially coined. From 2000 to 2008, the BRICs’ share of GDP rose from 16 to 22 percent. The Times (London) has quoted a financial adviser predicting that by 2050, the BRICs nations will “dominate the globe”. Each BRIC country has its own view of power and responsibility. Each BRIC country also has its own record when it comes to human rights and women's issues.

I contributed my own piece as well, looking at the effectiveness of an activism campaign leading up to Microsoft's recent release of a transparency report:

The campaign could serve as a strong model for future efforts. Unlike popular petition platforms like Change.org and AVAAZ, the letter to Skype used a dedicated website and opened signatures up to both individuals and organisation, adding clout. This helps, as Microsoft is unlikely to be affected by the complaints of individual users.

Continuing the effort

Al Jazeera's Khan hopes that the success of this experiment will lead to greater gender balance in the future. This whole experiences goes to prove that the first step to overcoming gender imbalance is deciding to do something about it. Our community believes strongly in supporting diversity in the media, and we're thrilled for the opportunity to help.

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