Monday 30 September 2013

Human Rights: The revolution will be livestreamed

A camcorder. An internet connection. YouTube.

All that was needed for Sahar Fetrat, a young film maker in Kabul, to produce one of the hardest hitting windows into the world of routine and extreme sexual harassment felt by women and girls living in Afghanistan around. I say girls because, as this film attests, many of them are exactly that facing harassment bordering on rape when they are going to and from school.

Why is this important? Three reasons.

Governance, security & the rule of law

I have just come back from a week in New York where the future of how the world responds to countries like Afghanistan and other developing states after the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 was the subject of much debate. It was quite clear that for the reasons laid bare in this film those who actually live in these countries place governance near the top of their list of priorities - in this case it would have been nice if these men had actually feared being arrested and prosecuted for their crimes. In the absence of a meaningful security force these women have to, quite literally, run the gauntlet instead.


Secondly, during the course of last week many countries from within the G77 group of developing states launched a pushback against that agenda, with several claiming that governance had no place in the post 2015 agenda, which to them needed to remain all about poverty and nothing else. These women are not starving, but they are also not free. And by producing this film they tell us that in their own words, with one describing living in a "cage", constructed by the constant threat of assault.


These women now have a voice and the means to use it. Technology offers a new means by which we hear these voices, on a mass scale, for the first time and with the use of a simple camcorder actually witness what they are alleging takes place. It's hard to dispute the many examples of harassment it is possible to witness in this hard hitting film which blows away the chance of officialdom to play it down, or deny its prevalence. Given the access to relatively cheap technology even censorship is almost impossible. One woman explains how she wears the burqa in the vain hope of avoiding being assaulted or harassed while the murder of a senior and prominent female police officer in the country last week underlines just how far some are prepared to go to resist change. 

All power to these women. We have now heard their voice. The question is what the Afghan authorities will do about it at national level, and how as global civil society we can use these insights as a means to protect the centrality of governance to the post 2015 agenda. It's legitimate to object to the abuse you see in this film on normative grounds - is this really the world we want our daughters to grow up in? But it is also economically catastrophic: we can hardly hope to eliminate extreme poverty if we are happy to preside over a situation in which half of the potential workforce is forced into a burqa and live in constant fear.

The revolution will be livestreamed

With the UN Broadband Commission predicting 2.1 billion broadband connections by the end of this year we can look forward to more hardhitting windows into the real worlds inhabited by the poorest and most vulnerable. And the arguments against including governance as a means by which we measure the state of human progress will be all the weaker for it. At the end of the film the narrator calls for a revolution: it seems the revolution won't be televised - but it will be live-streamed.

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