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Working for an NGO: Tips to secure a placement in an accessible yet elusive industry

By Laura Jane Henderson, Guest Writer. Image by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash

NGOs can be defined as “a group that functions independently of any government.”. Typically, they are non-profit and rely on funding from different sources such as private donations and grants.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are present across all industry sectors. Known for championing positive change and helping those who often need it most, they are one of the most effective ways for social actors to interact with governments and institutions. Some of the top NGOs in the world right now include Mercy Corps, BRAC, and the Danish Refugee Council. Whilst these NGOs are well known, many operate within spaces we would not immediately think to find them. This article will give you an insight into working in a local NGO and tips to help you gain experience.

My name is Laura Jane, and I am now in my final year studying International Relations and Spanish. During the summer of 2021, I had the privilege of working for an NGO in Madrid, Spain. I saved up from working part-time in Starbucks and joined a paid internship programme called The Intern Group. My goal was to improve my Spanish and gain an understanding of how NGOs operate as well as learn about the working culture in another country. The Intern Group works across the globe to help people of all ages find an internship in a country they want to live in and in a sector of their choice. They are a reputable organisation who have been featured in newspapers like The Financial Times and can help connect you to a range of employers such as Santander, Make a Wish, and Marie Keating Foundation. I recognise I was in a privileged position to be able to save up and afford to pay for this, however, it has opened so many doors for me and the 6-week placement really changed my life. It helped improve my language skills, allowed me to work on an EU Tender, and to meet so many incredible people along the way.

The NGO I interned for were called Fundación Woman Forward and specialised in improving gender equity for women in business. They focused primarily on relations within the Community of Madrid but were also looking to widen their reach and collaborate with international organisations. I spent most of my time translating a gender index but also conducted research for the organisation. It was inherently valuable and an opportunity I feel I would have struggled to obtain without the help of a larger organisation. 

This is one of the main problems for young students trying to find experience working for an NGO: where do we even begin searching and is it plausible given most NGO work is unpaid? Below are my insights and tips for finding opportunities.

  1. Start Searching Locally
  • Whilst my internship was abroad, I would advise looking for local NGOs near your hometown or where you are studying. As mentioned, a lot of NGOs take on students as volunteers or unpaid interns, so unless you can be unpaid the opportunities out there can be sparse. Hence, searching for one in your local area makes it more accessible and means you can save on costs by either living at home or in your student accommodation. Additionally, many NGOs are likely to hire previous volunteers for their paid positions. Therefore, it is a good way to make an impression and secure future employment.
  1. Take Part in an Internship Programme specialised in NGOs (paid or unpaid (if you can afford it))
  • Finding an internship with an NGO can be difficult, finding one that is paid even more so. As mentioned, I saved up my own money to pay for a customised internship with The Intern Group. I completed this in the summer of my second year and COVID-19 did help me in a way to save up more money, as my internship was postponed by a year. Looking back, I am so glad I spent my savings the way I did. My internship in 2021 has helped me gain a paid internship with Entrepreneurial Scotland, helped me find a graduate job, and equipped me with business connections I continue to utilise today. 

Also, I recommend searching for paid NGO internships with larger organisations. There are more and more becoming available as employers realise it is unattainable to ask students to work for free. Click here for an article with Human Rights Careers to find out more about paid NGO internship opportunities.

  1. Be flexible and showcase your transferable skills!
  • When searching for any kind of internship it is vital to remain open and explore avenues that maybe aren’t your ‘go to’. Competition for internships is at an all-time high and it is now more beneficial to apply to a wide range of placements in different areas. I have interned in roles which do not directly relate to my degree such as marketing and business development. This shows to employers you are adaptable, can pull from a range of experiences, and are open to learning as well as approaching new challenges. If you want the chance to work for an NGO, cast a wide net when looking for placements and do not be discouraged if you have more success in an area, which you primarily thought would not suit you. Any experience is experience, and who knows you might discover a new passion!
  1. Show genuine and honest passion
  • When applying to NGO internships make sure you stand out from the crowd, do your research, and know what drives you to want to create positive change. When you set out on your search ensure you know why you want this experience. If you cannot identify that then it is probably not for you, and that is totally okay! Do not waste your own time or that of employers.
  1. Network! Use NGO job boards and your University Careers Centre.
  • Networking is an extremely valuable tool, not only for meeting like minded individuals but also building self-confidence. Connect with previous alumni who work in NGOs through university programmes, reach out to people on LinkedIn, and attend open events run by the organisations you are interested in. Furthermore, look at specific NGO job boards and the opportunities on the Careers Centre website. Below you can find some links which may be helpful.

Here are just a few of my tips for finding NGO work experience opportunities. Remember to stay optimistic and try not to let rejections get you down. It is so much easier said than done but everyone will face rejection at some point, it allows you to showcase your strength and to learn from mistakes. If you have any questions or want to chat more about anything mentioned above, feel free to email me at ljh26@st-andrews.ac.uk 

Good luck!

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Importing Western Gender Codes: How South Asia’s Trans Communities are Still Experiencing the Effects of British Colonial Rule

By Robbie Houliston, Staff Writer. Photo by Sneha Sivarajan on Unsplash

Warning: This article contains discussions of historical gender and sexuality based discrimination, including transphobia and homophobia as well as descriptions of medical and sexual abuse. Please read with caution.

“The colonial exporting of European attitudes and laws aiming to directly harm LGBTQ+ communities throughout early-to-late modern history has led to some disturbing parallels in issues facing trans communities all over the world”

With Rishi Sunak’s plan to revisit protections given to trans people in Britain by the 2010 Equality Act, and the PM’s less than promising voting record on LGBTQ+ issues, there has been understandable anxiety in Britain about what the future holds for the transgender community. As these concerns continue to circulate here, it is important to remember that Britain’s historical and contemporary engagement with LGBTQ+ rights affects individuals not just in the UK, but around the globe owing to Britain’s history of colonial rule. 

This can be exemplified by the effects of colonial rule on the Hijra community. Hijras are a transgender community found in South Asia with a history stretching back over 4000 years. Identifying as neither male nor female, the community has ties to various forms of rule across South Asian history. During the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire, Hijras occupied many positions of power in the political sphere as royal servants, military commanders, and political counsellors. In some cases they were believed to have a connection to the Gods. Hijras were often conceived as “clever, trustworthy and fiercely loyal and had free access to all spaces and sections of population, thereby playing a crucial role in the politics of empire building”, especially in the Mughal era. However, as British rule in the subcontinent expanded and became more solidified with the East India Company in the 18th century and Crown Rule in the mid 19th century, efforts were made by the British to eradicate the Hijra community. Many European travellers were reportedly horrified by Hijras and could not comprehend why members of the community held such positions of power, reflecting European attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community at the time. 

One of the most devasting moments for Hijras, along with many other LGBTQ individuals throughout the British Empire, was the introduction of Section 337 in 1861, which banned sex acts viewed as being “against the order of nature.”Another piece of legislation which specifically attempted to decimate India’s trans communities came with the 1871 Criminal Tribes Act. Under this legislation, Hijras were legally designated as a “criminal tribe”, banning what British lawmakers saw as cross dressing and castration. The legislation also permitted British officials to remove children from Hijra households under the assumption that they were being regularly groomed; a discourse which has sadly permeated contemporary anti-LGBTQ+, demonstrating the lasting power of colonial narratives. Because such laws made it impossible to obtain official employment while openly maintaining self-expression as gender non-conforming, sex work became one of the most prevalent methods of maintaining income in an attempt to alleviate the poverty Hijra communities were subjected to. 

While the effects of Colonial lawmaking and discourse are still felt throughout the community, there has been some progress within the last decade. In 2014, India’s Supreme Court created a legally recognised “third gender” status for Hijras, which grants access to various social welfare programmes. However, progress towards equality has been limited. Hate crimes against Hijras largely an experience resulting from sex work, remain high. A study conducted by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties found that Hijras in India experience regular violent assaults in public and are most at risk in police stations and in prisons. There have also been widely reported instances of medical discrimination and abuse. Experiences of transgender individuals have involved doctors refusing to conduct vital physical examinations or simply turning away trans patients. In one study carried out by the Indian Civilian Welfare Foundation (CWF), one transgender woman explained that she had recently gone to the doctors for kidney treatment without informing the hospital that she is trans, explaining “it’s less complicated that way… we end up feeling embarrassed about ourselves after visiting hospitals. Treatments are cursory. Sometimes doctors prescribe without examining us. They’re afraid to even feel our pulse”. The study conducted by the CWF even contained a testimony of one transgender individual who received electro-shock treatment before being referred to an asylum. This widespread lack of access to healthcare, even healthcare unrelated to sexual reproductive matters, is in direct contention with chapter IV of India’s Constitution, which guarantees that the State will protect “health and strength from abuse”.

From sexual violence to medical discrimination, these painful testimonies will regrettably resonate with many in the LGBTQ+ community here in Britain. While social and economic issues vary across countries and continents, the colonial exporting of European attitudes and laws aiming to directly harm LGBTQ+ communities throughout early-to-late modern history has led to some disturbing parallels in issues facing trans communities all over the world. Globally, transgender communities are still facing the impact of colonial anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination today. It is, therefore, vital to recognise that as campaigns for transgender rights continue in Britain, the history of British colonialism has solidified transgender liberation as a truly transnational issue. 

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Gendered Genocide: Disproportional Post-Conflict Burdens on Women and Girls in Rwanda

By Britt Gronemeyer, Staff Writer. Photo by Photo by Anja Bauermann on Unsplash

Warning: This article contains discussion of gender based violence, including sexual violence, and mass killing. Please read with caution.

“While women have made impressive strides towards equality, they continue to face many of the consequences of the 1994 genocide demonstrating that gender based impacts last long beyond the end of conflict”

It is widely understood that genocide tears at the social institutions of the affected nation and that the rebuilding process is strenuous. However, the gendered nature of genocide leads to these phenomena disproportionately impacting women. The use of sexual violence by the oppressor as well as demographic changes resulting from genocide lead to an unfair burden on women and girls. While this is evident in most genocides, it is particularly notable in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide of the Tutsis. This article will analyse the impact of gender based violence in the Rwandan genocide and demonstrate the disproportionate burden placed upon women following the conflict, thus arguing that the consequences of genocide are highly gendered in nature.

Violence Faced by Women during the Rwandan Genocide 

The atrocities that took place during the three months of the Rwandan Genocide included the systematic use of gender based violence to further the goals of the Hutus. The United Nations has estimated that during the genocide, between 100,000 to 250,000 women were victims of rape. Sexual violence has historically been used as a weapon of war during  genocide as a means of terrorising the oppressed population, consequently stripping women of their humanity. This included the widespread rape and enslavement of Tutsi women during the Rwandan genocide. Additionally, the  conflict saw mass killings of Tutsi men which generated a demographic shift that would leave the Rwandan population primarily female. 

Consequences of Sexual Violence

Many women who were victims of sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide faced and continue to face serious health problems, both physically and mentally. Resulting health problems have included the spreading of sexually transmitted infections, most notably HIV/AIDS complications related to pregnancies. The destruction of a population as well as the deterioration of social and economic structures resulted in a lack of support for women facing health issues after the genocide; the damage to societal infrastructure resulted in a severe shortage of healthcare services with women thus being unable to access the care they needed.. Additionally, sexual violence  can have lasting psychological and mental health implications. Furthermore, the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war in Rwanda led to high levels of unwanted pregnancies,resulting in serious mental and physical health complications due to attempts to self-induce and self-manage abortion care without medical supervision. In cases where abortion was not carried out, child abandonment and infanticide became common. These children are referred to as children of bad memories or children of hate, creating a generation of Rwandans who have been constructed by society as products of the genocide. Societies rejection of these children has thus induced an additional layer of trauma resulting from the genocide, a generational one. Additionally, the social stigma associated with sexual violence in Rwanda has further contemporarily impacted Rwandan women and girls. The stigma caused women to be ostracised from their communities, pushing them towards poverty. Furthermore, women who were victims of sexual violence during the genocide are at a higher risk of facing sexual violence post-conflict, demonstrating the lasting and disproportional impact of the genocide on women’s lives.

Consequences of Demographic Shifts 

After the Rwandan Genocide, the remaining population was predominantly women, as many Rwandan men had been subject to mass killings. As a result of this, women were left to bear both the burden of the genocidal trauma and the responsibility of post-conflict rebuilding.  This burden was further exacerbated by  the legal limitations facing Rwandan women and girls. USAID has cited the most serious consequences of the demographic shift for women including expanded familial responsibilities and political roles in the face of a high prevalence of poverty and the minimal education and literacy of women. Despite the fact that women made up the majority of the population after the genocide, the patriarchy was still a pervasive force within both the economic and legal structures in Rwanda. Inheritance law was particularly discriminatory, meaning that many women and daughters who had lost their husbands and fathers had no legal claim to their land, homes, or bank accounts. Additionally, women were unable to claim their late husbands’ pensions. Women looking to rebuild their lives post-genocide were therefore hit with legal limitations, adding significant financial constrictions to their existing post-conflict difficulties.

Contemporary Relevance

In spite of the travesties faced by Rwandan women during the genocide, they have played a key role in  rebuilding  the Rwandan state,  including through their  incorporation into the contemporary political sphere. The restructuring of the Rwandan state included a new 2003 Constitution, which required that at least 30% of parliamentary seats must be held by women, improving their presence within both Rwandan politics and public policy. Rwanda has resultantly been recognised for women’s rights on multiple levels including being named the number one country for women in leadership positions as well as being included in the top ten countries for women’s rights by the United Nations in 2020. 

However, despite this progress, the negative impacts of the genocide on women continue to linger. Women continue to face astonishing rates of sexual violence with minimal legal or medical assistance therefore subjecting them to many of the same reproductive and mental health burdens faced during the genocide. This can be considered a result of the politicisation of sexual violence during the genocide and thus represents the lasting impacts of gender based violence on women and girls, even those who have no memory of the genocide are still facing its impacts. Additionally, UN Women reports that there is a large gender data gap, making it difficult to assess the status of women’s rights, specifically where it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).This makes it impossible to fully analyse post-conflict impacts on women and girls, meaning that gendered impacts may be much more severe than can be deduced from the available data.

Conclusions 

The 100-day Rwandan Genocide had a catastrophic impact on women, subjecting many of them to lifetimes of trauma as well as implementing generational trauma. The disproportionate impact of genocide on women stems primarily from the prevalence of sexual violence as well as  demographic shifts following the mass killings of many Rwandan men. While women have made impressive strides towards equality, they continue to face many of the consequences of the 1994 genocide demonstrating that gender based impacts of genocide last long beyond the end of conflict.

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The ‘Beautiful Game’ Turns Ugly: The Qatar World Cup Represents a Microcosm of Problems in Modern Football

By Rhiannon Woolford, Deputy Editor in Chief. Photo by Ben Koorengevel on Unsplash

Warning: This article contains discussions of sexuality and gender based discrimination (including homophobia, transphobia and misogyny) and sexual violence, please read with caution

“In a hypocritical move, the media has been quick to scorn Qatar yet rarely offers critical analysis into the issues of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny in football at home: allowing the West to retain its neo-colonial image as the home of modernity, freedom and progression”

The 2022 World Cup has gotten underway with an atmosphere unlike any tournament which has come before it. While this sentence would usually indicate an electric atmosphere and unrivaled enthusiasm, this time things are different: for many, the appalling human rights record of the host nation, Qatar, is the only thing on their minds. Qatar unapologetically violates the human rights of many of its citizens including through repression of freedom of expression, repression of freedom of the press, a lack of freedom of association, unfair trials and both gender and sexuality based discrimination. In addition to this, an estimated 6500 migrant workers have died constructing the vast infrastructure needed to host such an event in a country lacking a large footballing culture. The abuses the Qatari people face at the hands of their government is truly shocking and abhorrent, however many of the issues can be analyzed as a microcosm of the problems in modern football at large. Would many of the groups facing persecution under Qatari laws feel significantly safer at a football match in the West?

Those in the LGBTQ+ community face unthinkably cruel treatment in Qatar, with Human Rights Watch documenting instances of repeated beatings, sexual harassment, arbitrary arrest, denial of legal counsel and forced conversion therapy as recently as September 2022. In the UK, to be part of the LGBTQ+ community is no longer criminalised: The Human Rights Act and Gender Recognition Act, while not perfect, paved the way to ensure equality for citizens regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, while the community is protected by law in the UK, the lack of genuine allyship and action from the FA, the English and Welsh national teams, British Politicians and football fans lets down LGBTQ+ fans. In the year leading up to the 2022 World Cup, the Qatari government spent £250,000 lobbying British politicians, more than any other country in the same period. Resultantly, MP’s have stayed quiet on the human rights record of the host nation, in a recent House of Commons debate regarding the tournament just one MP spoke out to defend the LGBTQ+ community and question Qatar’s disregard for human rights. Furthermore, attempts by the Labour Party to show support for the community were quashed when Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford broke the party’s blanket ban on MP’s traveling to attend the tournament. And perhaps most notably, the English captain Harry Kane missed the opportunity to generate a watershed moment in football for LGBTQ+ fans when he backed out of wearing the OneLove armband during matches. The English national team has proven to their LGBTQ+ fans that getting booked matters more to them than defending the fundamental human rights of supporters: a move that hardly reassures LGBTQ+ fans that are genuinely safe and supported at home games. 

While in 2012 all English Premier league clubs signed up to the government’s initiative to tackle homophobia and transphobia in sport, discrimination is still perverse in the ‘beautiful game.’ Only one professional footballer, Jake Daniels, is openley gay in British professional football, a statistic representative of the fact that male British football is not an entirely inclusive. Furthermore, investigations have been opened by the CPS as recently as January 2022 regarding homophobic chanting in the stands. While LGBTQ+ fans may be legally protected in the UK, these instances of discrimination coupled with a lack of solidarity surrounding Qatar 2022 sadly resemble the fact that the community cannot be considered entirely safe at games hosted in the UK.

Furthermore, Qatar’s record gender based discrimination is also horrifying. The system of male guardianship invades almost all aspects of women’s lives there, from receiving education and healthcare, making decisions on marriage, career choices and travel. Women are not even entitled to be the primary guardians of their own children, with the state stepping into this role in cases where no male relative is present. As Qatar is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), these human rights abuses are a clear contravention of international law. Once again, the silence on this gender based discrimination is resoundingly loud. While women have been embraced into UK football much more openly in recent decades, with the England women’s squad winning their first major international tournament this year, gender based violence is still rife. Football has a systemic problem with violence against women, proven by the significant increase in calls to domestic abuse helplines when England lose, reports that 20% of women attending mens football matches receive unwanted physical advances and 25% witnessing sexist chants. And it’s not only the fans who have an issue with violence towards women, several high profile professional footballers have hit the headlines for their own contraventions of the law. Manchester United player Mason Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of attempted rape and assault and is due to face trial next year, Sunderland midfielder Adam Johnson served a prison sentence for statutory rape of a 15 year old girl in 2016, and Pep Guardiola, Manchester City manager, recently described rape accused Benjamin Mendy as a ‘really good boy.’ The complicit nature of British football in gender based violence, by both fans and players, perhaps illustrates the reasons for its silence on the violations of Qatari women’s human rights.

While these instances of discrimination are not as violent as the human rights violations in Qatar, they demonstrate that football culture in the UK is not as morally pure as the headlines would lead us to believe. Even though the media has criticized Qatar where the football world and politicians have not, there is a serious need for internal reflection on the treatment of LGBTQ+ and female fans in the West. In a hypocritical move, the media has been quick to scorn Qatar yet rarely offers critical analysis into the issues of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny in football at home: allowing the West to retain its neo-colonial image as the home of modernity, freedom and progression. The controversies surrounding the tournament in Qatar are thus a microcosm of modern footballs negligence to seriously address their problem with gender and sexuality based discrimination. Football’s elite have failed to prove to their fans that they are committed to genuine allyship through their continued ignorance to the issues in Qatar, instead clearly choosing to follow FIFA’s advice to ‘focus on the football.’ Yet, anyone without a privileged positionality is able to recognise that the political is present in all spheres, the football is the political and the political is the personal.

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International Human Rights Law Missed the Boat on Environmental Justice – Yes, Even During its Recent Success Story

By Madighan Ryan – Staff Writer, Image by `Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Evidence using an anticipatory time scale does not inspire the international human rights legal system to deliver justice, despite the time and warning it would offer governments to implement protective, mitigatory measures

On September 23 2022, eight indigenous Australian Torres Strait Islanders and six of their children became the first claimants in international legal history to successfully assert, in front of the UN Human Rights Committee, the failure of a national government to protect human rights from the consequences of government-engendered climate change.

The Australian government was found to have violated the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. UNHRC committee member Hélène Tigroudja affirmed that there is a pipeline from environmental degradation to human rights violations: “States that fail to protect individuals under their jurisdiction from the adverse effects of climate change may be violating their human rights.” The Australian government had not constructed seawalls or other infrastructure to protect homes, cultural sites, or food sources. They also failed to curb greenhouse gas and fossil fuel production. The flooding, extreme weather patterns, and changes to the ocean’s composition that resulted had drastic and irreversible ramifications for the claimants’ abilities to adhere to their traditional way of life on their land.

While the decision is a positive milestone in the sphere of environmental justice, its success , when compared to the failures of prior similar cases, reveals that the international human rights framework only demands accountability from national governments when the consequences of climate change are irremediable. Past claimants have used the fast-approaching inability to inhabit their land and live their traditional lifestyle as evidence. Had those claimants succeeded, governments in question could have implemented mitigatory measures rather than adaptive measures for permanent damage, as the Australian government must now undertake for the Torres Strait Islanders.

Why was Australian Torres Strait Islanders v. Australia Successful?

The UNHCR ruled in favour of the Australian Torres Strait Islanders because climate change had already prompted a chain reaction of irreversible repercussions. Bridget Lewis, author of Environmental Human Rights and Climate Change: Current Status and Future Prospects, commented for an interview with Nature: “the Torres Strait Islanders could point to effects that they were already experiencing. That triggered an obligation for Australia to protect them against those impacts.” Because the Australian government had failed to protect the Islanders against those effects while there was mitigatory and conservational potential, a pathway opened to hold the government accountable.

The Islanders were successful because their coasts had already eroded, rising sea levels had already devastated traditional food sources, and graveyards in which the Islanders communicate with deceased relatives had already been flooded and washed away. They are now forced to modify their way of life, with the assistance of the Australian government, to remain on their land.

Why did Past Petitions Fail?

The climate-vulnerable claimants, whose petitions to international human rights councils did not succeed, relied on irrefutable prognoses of damage to people, land, and culture should governments continue with extreme levels of behaviour detrimental to the climate. The evidence presented was of symptoms foreshadowing permanent ramifications, rather than evidence of the permanent ramifications themselves. 

In 2005, the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to recommend the US government cut down and limit the emission of greenhouse gases. The Inuk woman stated she was “seeking relief from human rights violations resulting from the impacts of climate change caused by acts and omissions of the United States”, and she asked that Inuit culture, land, and lifestyle be protected. The petition also referenced “impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided”, indicating that at the time, these impacts, while strongly expected, had not yet come to full fruition. It was a pre-emptive request which, had it been successful, would have encouraged the US to alter their actions.

The IACHR refused to process the petition citing inadequate evidence “at present.” The implication was that concrete evidence would present itself in the future. 

In 2014, a Kiribati man, Teitota, was not granted climate refugee status under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights by the UNHRC. High tides and flooding in New Zealand forced Teitota and his spouse from their land, and “it was accepted that these deteriorating conditions of life on the islands [had] been caused, at least partly, by the effects of climate change.” The UNHRC refused their refugee status on the basis that Tetoia and his spouse had approximately 10-15 years before their community became entirely uninhabitable (in addition to technicalities of the term refugee and because no one else in his community had sought refuge).

The UNHRC determined that a 10-15 year time frame does not demonstrate the “imminent threat to life” necessary for a person to be classified a refugee. This part of their decision was in direct conflict with the UNHRC’s own statement that “Pacific Island states do not need to be under water before triggering human rights obligations to protect the right to life.

While the nature of this claim is somewhat different than that of the Australian Torres Strait Islanders or the Inuk woman, it serves as an evidentiary case study in demonstrating that evidence using an anticipatory time scale does not inspire the international human rights legal system to deliver justice, despite the time and warning it would offer governments to implement protective, mitigatory measures.

The Australian government’s defence understood that past cases had failed due to a reliance on predictive evidence: they stated that the claimants “invoke[d] potential future harms”. The UNHCR rejected this assertion which confirms that for the Australian Torres Strait Islanders, living conditions were not deteriorating, but had already reached a nadir.

Recommendations for Australian Government

The UNHRC’s ruling in favour of the Australian Torres Strait Islanders requested that the Australian government compensate the Islanders and consult with Indigenous Islander communities to identify their needs as they acclimatise to new environmental and cultural norms. Because Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig, the low-lying islands on which the eight claimants and their families reside, are the only locations in which the claimants can practise their traditional way of life (including land-specific coming-of-age ceremonies), adaptive, rather than re-locative, measures must be implemented.

While the positive impacts of this ruling are undeniable, for the decision legitimises and affirms the rights of Indigenous people in an international and legal context, the case also illustrates the flaws in international law. The favourable decision is considered to be legal protection however, the failures of cases before this success story reveal “protection” as an outcome of the human rights legal system only after claimants can prove irreversible climate devastation, rather than ongoing deterioration, of a people, culture, and connection with land dating back millennia. 

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Providing Help or Hindering Recovery? Exposing the Dark Side of Britain’s Psychiatric Facilities

By Niamh Molloy, Image by Marcelo Leal on unsplash

Content warning: The following article contains mention of self-harm, body shaming and degrading and violent behaviour towards vulnerable patients which some readers may find distressing

Throughout September and October, Instagram is full of posts addressing ‘Suicide Prevention Awareness Month’ or ‘World Mental Health Awareness Day’. While it is positive that resources are being shared and conversations are spawning, it isn’t enough. Throughout history, society has failed those struggling with their mental health by using them for ‘entertainment’ or locking them up and throwing away the key. Unfortunately, this still happens in the 21st century Britain. After multiple allegations from whistle-blowers about the behaviour of staff and concerns about patient safety at the Edenfield Centre, the BBC investigated in a Panorama episode titled ‘Undercover Hospital: Patients at Risk’. The findings were truly horrific. 

Alan Haslam, the undercover reporter, received months of training from healthcare workers to ensure he was able to provide basic-level care to patients, but NHS Greater Manchester Mental Health didn’t know this. They gave him one day of online training before thrusting him onto the eleven wards of the Edenfield Centre, a medium security psychiatric hospital that holds 200 patients deemed to be at serious risk of harming themselves or others. Alan worked 12 hours shifts as a healthcare support worker and received minimum wage pay of £9.51 an hour, less than some supermarkets pay staff. He was left shaking and distraught, claiming “Nothing has ever upset me more.”

The Edenfield Centre claims to provide “individualised care and treatment” where “Service users have access to a wide range of activities to support their recovery” but the documentary painted a very different picture. Alan claimed that for most patients it is “an excruciatingly mundane existence, where all there is to do is sit and watch music videos and vape”. Psychiatric facilities like Edenfield are supposed to provide education and life-skills, encourage exercise and opportunities to take up new hobbies to aid recovery and help their patients truly ‘live’ rather than just survive, but the reality is often much more distressing and traumatic with constant noise, a lack of freedom and privacy, interrupted sleep and no control over meals and medication. 

Patients have their own rooms at Edenfield, but are sometimes locked in a more secure area known as ‘seclusion’. Seclusion is only supposed to be used to isolate patients when they are viewed as being an immediate risk to themselves or others, and for the shortest time necessary. It is in line with British and human rights law, only when “used proportionately, in accordance with the law, and only ever as a last resort”. Over the last four years, the number of seclusions recorded by hospitals in England has almost doubled, from 8,000 to just over 14,000. Staff at the Edenfield Centre have been part of this problem and have put patients in unnecessarily stressful and unpleasant situations. These seclusion rooms are cramped, dark and “smell like sewage.” How can we put highly vulnerable, often very ill patients in such a horrific environment and expect them to get better? During Alan’s time undercover, he saw ten patients in seclusion, many for weeks on end. One patient named Alice had been kept in isolation for over a year. She was allowed two teddy bears and very little else. “She has only seen other people through a little pane of glass” and hasn’t been allowed to leave the tiny room in over 12 months. We don’t even do this to our most dangerous and violent prisoners so how can we claim to ‘care’ for patients or be providing treatment by treating them like this? 

The behaviour of staff at Edenfield was truly horrifying to watch; they regularly went for naps while on shift, tickled and sexualised patients, falsified records for observations and degraded and dehumanised those they were supposed to be looking after. When Alan asked for advice on how to manage a patient repeatedly hitting her head off a wall, the other support worker responded with “She does that all the time- each to their own” before laughing and walking away. Another patient would have been given a double-dose of her antipsychotic medication- enough to kill her- if she hadn’t insisted that she had already received it. Many patients require assistance when going to the bathroom and are often body-shamed and humiliated for needing this care. One support worker told a patient that he would turn around when she undressed because he didn’t “want to be mentally scarred again. Nightmare me, nightmares.” It is common for patients at Edenfield to have histories of self-harm and struggles with body image so to shame, degrade and bully them is horrifying especially when the perpetrators are employed to care for them. Not only was the language and manner used when interacting with patients completely disgusting, it was a breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act – freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. How can patients be expected to recover in a facility where their basic human rights are violated? 

Although the whole programme was quite disturbing to watch, the most distressing part was the practice of restraining patients. Under the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act (2018), staff can use reasonable force if patients refuse to co-operate or put themselves or others at risk, but Edenfield and other psychiatric facilities use excessive force that increases distress and risk of injury. Between 2016 and 2017, nearly 2,000 members of staff and over 500 patients were injured in England during restraints- which were happening on average once every 10 minutes. Staff at Edenfield used force without having conversations with patients first and as one patient said “Staff provoke a patient, and then my reaction is used against me but they’re provoking us.”. Patients’ limbs and heads were aggressively manoeuvred and manipulated and they were reduced to a series of body parts instead of being seen as people. Alan was left distraught by one patient’s restraint and said that “She cried like I have never heard a person cry and I never want to hear a person cry like that again.”. Under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014: Regulation 10 (Dignity and respect) patients are entitled to care, humanity and respect. This simply didn’t happen at Edenfield. 

The scenes of the BBC documentary were chilling; patients were regularly treated as though they weren’t human. Managing the care of vulnerable patients at serious risk of harming themselves or others is a challenging task, but it does not excuse the behaviour of staff at Edenfield, and the human rights abuses that appeared to take place. The Mental Health Act (1983) is the legislation that allows people to be held and treated against their will if they are deemed to be a risk to society or themselves, but it does not give the right to assault or ridicule patients. Staff at Edenfield routinely ignored the Mental Health Act, the Equality Act (2010) and the Human Rights Act (1998), and basic values of human compassion and respect. Neglect, unnecessary force and restraint and degrading and disrespectful language and actions were clearly routine behaviour at the Edenfield Centre and severe breaches of care expectations and the law were normalised. Human rights are for exactly that, for humans. People do not lose their humanity when sectioned, so why do staff at Edenfield, and in countless psychiatric facilities across the country, treat them in such inhumane ways that go against all codes of conduct and mental health and human rights laws? 

In amongst the abuse, moments of compassion and tenderness between staff and patients were captured that remind us, underneath it all, they are still human. Working in mental health services is an extremely demanding job, both physically and emotionally, and these hospitals are extremely underfunded and understaffed- almost 1 in 5 mental health nursing posts are currently vacant. While this may help us to understand some poor behaviour, it certainly doesn’t justify the degrading and abusive behaviour of staff shown in the documentary. NHS England were horrified by the findings and have suspended and fired numerous members of staff and Greater Manchester Police have opened a criminal investigation into staff members at Edenfield. While this is progress, it shouldn’t take hidden cameras and undercover reporters to ensure abuse is exposed and make sure that patients are treated with dignity and respect. As Alan said about one patient, “How’s she going to trust anybody, you know, if the people that are supposed to be looking after her in hospital treat her like that?” What BBC Panorama exposed wasn’t care, wasn’t treatment, wasn’t legal.  These are some of the NHS’ most vulnerable patients and this is how they have been treated. They lack a voice, they aren’t listened to, they aren’t believed, and they aren’t safe. We cannot allow this to continue. 

If you are struggling with your mental health or with self-harm, information and resources can be found with the link below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1NGvFrTqWChr03LrYlw2Hkk/information-and-support-mental-health-self-harm

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Big Brother is watching you: Dutch Court rules that requiring employees to keep webcams turned on violates ECHR

Rhiannon Woolford Deputy Editor in Chief

Can the pressure employers apply to their workforce to keep their camera on be considered an infringement of the right to privacy in the absence of an explicit webcam on policy?

The effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the way we work has been truly unprecedented. In May 2022, over 2 years since the initial outbreak of the pandemic, 24% of workers in the UK are engaged in hybrid working while 14% are exclusively working from home. While numerous advantages to working from home exist for employees, there are still concerns regarding how to navigate the divide between personal and professional when the home becomes the office. Across Europe, this dilemma is being framed as a human rights issue. 

A Dutch employee recently took his concerns to court after his employer, Florida based software developer Chetu Inc., demanded that he keep his webcam on for the whole 9 hour workday as well as enabling screen-sharing. This was part of a virtual training programme labelled by Chetu Inc. as “Corrective Action.” After declining to keep his webcam on, the employee had his contract terminated for “refusal to work,” despite him being willing to continue to share his screen. The employee consequently brought the case to the Zeeland-West Brabant court in Tilburg arguing that his dismissal was unjustified and disproportionate, with the webcam on policy contravening data privacy rules. The Court agreed with him, citing Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” In addition, the employee was awarded (euro)75,000 in damages.

ECHR legal precedent backs this decision, in Antović and Mirković v. Montenegro, that “video surveillance of employees at their workplace, whether covert or not, constituted a considerable intrusion into their private life.” As post-Covid employment now entails the workplace being a private residence for a significant minority of the workforce, the principles of Antovic and Mirkovic v Montenegro can be applied to webcam on policies; just because the primary workplace for employees has shifted from the office to the home does not mean that employers have a right to violate privacy. 

This result sets an important precedent as we look to the post-Covid future of employment. The statistics above demonstrate that home working is here to stay, whether in a full time or hybrid capacity, and therefore it is vital that courts continue to protect employees human rights when the line between home and work becomes blurry. When it comes to labour laws, the EU is already one of the most progressive blocs in the world and this case proves the commitment of their nations to continue to uphold these standards as they navigate the ‘new normal’ office space.

Yet, there is still significant cause for concern when it comes to protecting the right to privacy while working from home owing to the stigma around home working driven by employers’ belief that employees are less productive when working from home. This results in a phenomenon dubbed by some as ‘the Work From Home Guilt’; whereby employees work longer hours and take on more responsibilities than they would in the office to combat the stigma and justify their place in the company. In reality, employees are actually up to 13% more productive from home. Despite this, the ‘Work from Home Guilt’ can result in employees feeling pressured into keeping their webcam on.

While many employers may not explicitly create a webcam on policy, informal pressure arising from stigma around home working can result in employees feeling like they don’t have a choice but to keep their webcam on in an effort to prove their attendance at work and productivity. Here a grey area arises, can the pressure employers apply to their workforce to keep their camera on be considered an infringement of the right to privacy in the absence of an explicit webcam on policy? Arguably, yes. Due to the difficulties for an employee to provide evidence in a case like this, citing informal pressure to keep a webcam on would be significantly more difficult for a plaintiff to win than the case against Chetu Inc. where the organisation’s policies were clearly defined. Here, there is clear potential for the coercive abuse of an employee’s right to privacy. 

The case brought to the Dutch court will undoubtedly not be the only case to cite human rights violations in an employer vs home-working employee case; it is only the beginning. As employees settle into the prospect of permanent working from home and begin to critically assess and challenge policies put in place at the height of the pandemic more cases will arise. It is therefore critical that employers begin to review their attitudes and policies to home working now; while emergency and hurried home working measures were accepted and unchallenged in the beginning of the pandemic, this case has proven that the courts are no longer prepared to let employers violate the rights of their employees.

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The Ethics of Summit: the Commodification of the Sherpa People

Mountaineers seeking to summit Everest have always relied on Sherpa guides and porters to lead the way. Despite their critical role in ensuring the success of a summit, Sherpas have historically been regarded as subordinate to the very foreign climbers they help. More than just an issue of representation, the proliferation of mountaineering in the Himalayas has left Sherpas facing abuse, exploitation, and death. As they continue to risk their lives helping others achieve their mountaineering dreams, it is worth questioning the ethics of ascending the Himalayas.  

Image by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

By Depali Rai

Known as Sagarmatha in Nepal or Chomolungma in Tibet, Mount Everest has long captured the popular imagination. The sheer scale of the challenge and the natural beauty that accompanies it brings in some 35,000 foreign trekkers to Everest base camp every year and more than 4000 successful ascents of Mt Everest since 1953. Those that continue to live at the foothills of the Himalayas in areas such as at Namche Bazaar have had their livelihoods shaped around the influx of tourism and mountaineering expeditions.

As a previously closed-off nation, Nepal first began to open its borders to foreigners in the 1950s. Shortly after, the “first official ascent” of Everest in 1953 was completed by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Consequently, the untouched Shangri-La of yore commenced its transformation into a global hub for tourism. The Sherpas are one core community that has experienced a permanent transformation of their culture and livelihoods.

Due to these early encounters between Sherpas and the West, the word Sherpa has entered mainstream usage and has come to denote several things. From fleeces to porters, the imprecise use of the term personifies a world in which Sherpa people have been misrepresented. Neither a clothing item nor a vocation, the Sherpas are an ethnic group indigenous to the Himalayas in countries such as Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

Human traffic jams at the summit of Everest and littering problems aside, the commercialisation of the Himalayas has brought with it many undeniable opportunities and benefits for Himalayan communities. Tourism is Nepal’s 4th largest industry and accounts for 6.7% of the nation’s GDP. As a developing nation boasting 8 of the ten world’s largest peaks, the mountaineering industry is a lucrative source of employment for communities that already struggle due to their remote and economically underdeveloped conditions. During a particularly successful climbing season, a Sherpa guide might earn up to 10 times the average annual salary in Nepal. Once remote misty villages some 3,440 metres above sea level now host Irish pubs, import Korean Ramyun and serve Nepalese and Western fare in equal measure. Travellers from across the world have made this rural corner of Nepal an incredibly cosmopolitan intersection. Entrepreneurship and investment have meant that even Everest Base camp boasts a high-quality internet connection. 

Nevertheless, the political economy of the Himalayas is not just a one-dimensional success story. The myth and glory of ascent are potent and enduring. Mountaineering expeditions held in the Himalayas has meant that Nepalese lives have increasingly become collateral damage in the search for success and profit.  

The employment of Sherpa men as mountain guides for foreigners began in the early 20th century when they were ushered away from their farms to carry loads as porters and guide mountaineers through the difficult terrain. Like many other indigenous to the Himalayas, Sherpas possess a remarkable degree of altitude adaptation, both physical and cultural, that make them critical to any mountaineering expedition. From their genetic advantages, which allow their bodies to more efficiently use oxygen at extremely high altitudes than normally expected of a human, to their historical understanding of how to navigate the hostile climate and terrain, Sherpas have long been the essential companions for any summit. There is not much else by way of economic opportunity in the Nepalese district of Khumbu (where Mount Everest lies) due to the immense geographical and climatic challenges.

Sherpas “do most of the legwork (…) carry their client’s gear, cover many more miles, lugging equipment, fastening ropes, setting up the camps and preparing the trail each season”. They lead the way across some of the most extreme environments, guiding climbers through harsh winds, crevasses, falling rocks and other hazards. The importance of Sherpas in helping to create a safe ascent is immeasurable. Reinhold Messner, a pioneer in modern Alpine climbing, is right to emphasise that “climbers who cross ladders set by Sherpas at the Khumbu Icefall then go up without ropes and claim to be special are parasites.”

Lucrative as their compensation might be, their employment comes with immense dangers that remain relatively unprotected and appear meagre compared to what Sherpas and their families risk. A Sherpa working above Base Camp on Everest is allegedly more than three and a half times as likely to perish than an infantryman during the first four years of the Iraq war. The common risks of working in such perilous conditions remain; frostbite, hypothermia, injuries, death, and the like. However, the challenges facing Sherpas are distinctively their own.

Sherpas make up a third of all Everest deaths, and a significant number of these continue to be avoidable tragedies caused by human agency. Sange Sherpa was one such near fatality at barely 19 years old. When working his second season on the mountain, a Pakistani client allegedly denied Sange’s request to abandon a summit attempt despite bad weather. As a result of his client’s insistence, both men were found unconscious by Sherpas from another team. Sange’s hands were so frostbitten that amputation was required. Sange has undergone treatment in the USA but only because of his personal supporters and a GoFundMe campaign.

In one extreme case, four Ukrainian climbers abandoned their guide, Sherpa Lam Babu, on a mountain. The group had come to Nepal as part of a publicity stunt sponsored by ASKfm. They were to scale the mountain and deposit a wallet containing $50,000 of the social media giant’s cryptocurrency at the peak. ASKfm then dared followers to collect the $50,000 prize from the summit. But when conditions went downhill, the team allegedly bolted, leaving their Sherpas behind. Babu never returned.

In another case, nine-time Everest summiteer Tenjin Dorji experienced one ascent where a client from South Korea announced he wanted to go to the top first and by himself. Despite Dorji’s assistance the entire way, guiding him, sharing his load, and laying down ropes to ensure his client travelled safely behind him, the climber then began swinging his ice axe at Dorji to prevent Dorji from trampling on his solo dreams.

Sherpas also confront monumental neglect by the Nepalese government. The Sherpa guiding business has been largely unregulated, leaving room for gross negligence and mistreatment. Tensions came to a head in April 2014, when an avalanche on Everest’s West Shoulder killed sixteen Sherpas. Following the incident, conflicts between the Sherpa community and the Nepalese government precipitated due to the refusal of the government to provide benefits for those injured or next of kin. The avalanche revealed the colossal neglect and exploitation underlying the Nepalese mountaineering tourism industry.

Initial outcry resulted in the government offering $400 to every family affected, less than a quarter of what a novice Sherpa would hope to bring home in a single season. After continued protests and a threat to cancel all climbing during the climbing season of 2014, the government set a relief fund with provisions such as pensions and educational assistance for Sherpa children.

The payouts of $400 rose to $5000. However, there has been continued criticism over the actual implementation of this policy. “I’ve seen so many broken promises” says Norbu Tenzing Sherpa, the head of the American Himalayan Foundation. The government has also started a policy requiring guide agencies to increase the life insurance policies for Sherpas from $10,000 to $15,000. Yet, this sum pales in comparison to the loss of the primary family breadwinner, leaving widows and their children poverty-stricken with little other income or savings. Hiring helicopters to airlift the dead out of the Himalayas and back home eats enough of this insurance money. With a rich and complex series of Buddhist funeral rites to follow, the payouts barely cover the essentials and are not fit to last Sherpa families a lifetime. Fundraisers organised by climbers and their supporters have been set up, such as in Sange Sherpa’s case, but no one should rely on philanthropy alone as their lifeline.

There are endless case studies and anecdotes detailing how the wider world has mistreated the Sherpas. Retelling them is an endless task. Melissa Arnot perhaps says it all when she mourns for Chhewang Nima, the Sherpa that died setting up her trail and fixing down ropes to ensure a safe passage for Arnot: “My passion created an industry that fosters people dying. It supports humans as disposable, as usable, and that is the hardest thing to come to terms with.”

Indeed, if we cast our minds back to 1953, even before the commercialisation of the Himalayas, the stark inequities are evident. Sherpas have been cast off as lesser achieving climbers. Where members of the British expedition team of 1953 received knighthood (i.e., Edmund Hillary became Sir Edmund Hillary), their guide Tenzing Norgay received the less significant award of the George Medal. Lord Hunt who was also a part of the British team later commented that Norgay’s contribution was good but  “within the limits of his experience” . To this, the New York Times rightly remarks Hunt’s comment about Norgay as “an odd thing to say of a man who had more experience of Everest than anybody else in the world”.  

Indeed, Tenzing’s son Norbu Tenzing Norgay is right to claim that: “if somebody in America climbs Everest 19 times, he’d be all over Budweiser commercials,”. Contrastingly, in Nepal, a Sherpa is expected to subserviently guide tens of foreign climbers up the highest peak in the world year in, year out, without expecting much in return for putting their lives on the line. The issue of representation is a whole different mountain to climb.

Whether it be foreign climbers who see Sherpas as disposable labour, or the Nepalese government who exploit their skills for a profit, Sherpas have sacrificed their lives for little in return. For mountaineers, the opportunity to achieve their dreams is worth the risk. In a remote region of the world so acutely transformed by the whims and wishes of modern travellers and profit-hungry governments, the Sherpas have little choice but to continue to risk exploitation and death every climbing season to feed their families. In response, they are rewarded with inadequate protections, mistreatment and minimal representation.

Fast Fashion, Slow Commitment: Fashion Brands and Human Rights in the Garment Industry

Image by Rio Lecatompessy on Unsplash

By Katie McMillan

In a society wherein overconsumption and influencers’ fast fashion ‘hauls’ perpetually receive critique from climate activists (and rightfully so), it is hard to be ignorant of the negative environmental effects of fast fashion. It does seem, however, rather easy to forget that this is only one segment of the negative consequences produced by fashion brands. With some companies releasing thousands of new items daily, many are now wondering: Where do all these clothes come from? Unfortunately, the answer is not as pretty as the items we are purchasing.

As I write this, it has been almost exactly nine years since the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, which killed at least 1,132 people and left another 2,500 injured. To this day, up to 77% of the now unemployed survivors are unable to work as a result of mental and/or physical injuries obtained during the collapse. Yet due to no legal obligations being set out for companies, most of those affected received little compensation after the incident. In the years following this tragedy, multiple internationally signed Accords were established – the most recent in August 2021 – which aim to improve safety for garment workers and hold the fashion brands, who are supplied by such factories, accountable. In signing these accords, brands are committing to uphold worker rights, improve working conditions, and disclose their supplier factories. The fulfilment of this commitment, however, has been extremely slow, and many brands are yet to sign the most recent accord.

Unfortunately, the commitment of most brands to improving working conditions seems to stop at the singing of Accords. Whilst these large companies make millions of dollars in profit daily, over 90% of brands do not pay their garment workers a living wage. This leaves many workers, who already live in impoverished conditions, unable to afford basic necessities. Often working for a minimum of 12 hours a day, and sometimes up to 24 hours, many garment workers receive no official payslip and, in fact, one month’s earnings is sometimes not enough to pay for even one of the garments that they produce. These conditions only worsened in 2020 with the COVID-19 outbreak. At the beginning of the pandemic, fashion brands made mass cancellations and refused to pay for orders that had already been made. Subsequently, many factories had little choice but to scale back operations or close down completely, leaving garment workers with reduced hours or unemployment. So, whilst the CEOs of these multimillion-dollar companies likely spent lockdown in the comfort of one of their many luxurious homes, their garment workers across the globe were thrown into situations of extreme precariousness, sometimes with no income and no way of providing for their families.

Garment workers are not voiceless victims, however, and have not simply suffered in silence. Just one year after the collapse of Rana Plaza, pleas for help were believed to have been made by Bangladeshi garment workers, as ‘secret’ messages, reading “Degrading sweatshop conditions” were found sewn into Primark items of clothing. Unsurprisingly, the company tried to pass this label off as a ‘hoax’, denying accountability and saving face. Similarly, messages were found in Zara clothing in 2017, with workers claiming that the company had not paid them. This time, the messages were confirmed as real by the garment workers themselves. One may think, then, that if not willing to create a change in the name of human rights, brands would at least create positive change to save their reputation. Though signing Accords is one thing, there is no doubt that these brands have the power to do more. Yet, unfortunately, conditions remain perilous.

Just when it seems it cannot get any worse – with dangerous working conditions, inhumanely long hours, and insufficient wages – it does. The abuse of garment workers, the majority of whom are female, occurring in these factories is rife. In 2018, with supervisors feeling immense pressure from buyers (I.e., fashion companies) to mass produce products in short time periods, over 540 workers across two factories reported incidents of abuse, including verbal, physical, and sexual violence. These abuses are daily occurrences and have not improved in more recent years. Only last year, a 21 year-old woman was murdered by her supervisor, who had been sexually harassing her for months prior. A few weeks later, numerous other women reported abuse in the same factory, which is the top supplier for the massive fashion brand H&M. Although it took them over a year to do so, H&M have since signed a legally binding agreement to tackle gender-based violence within the garment industry. The fashion brand, however, is the first to sign such an agreement. Without further signatories of this and agreements alike, such abuses will continue to go unaddressed, and more workers lives will be put at risk.

Consideration of these harmful conditions, inhumane hours, inadequate wages, and vicious abuses provides only a glimpse into the human rights horrors of the garment industry. The fast fashion industry continues to grow, and brands will continue to profit from the misery of the workers in their supply factories. Some brands may have signed Accords, but history shows that this is not enough – the lives and livelihoods of garment workers remain at risk. The responsibility is not that of individuals, but we can and should take action. We must put pressure on brands: ask them to be more transparent about their supply chains, call for them to pay up, ask who made your clothes. Thanks to campaigns and groups such as Labour Behind the Label, War on Want, Clean Clothes Campaign, Good Clothes Fair Pay, Fashion Checker, and Fashion Revolution, it’s as easy as the click of a few buttons.

Famine, Forced Migration and Fear: Tigray One Year Later

Image by Gerald Schombs on Unsplash 

By Sarah Rennie

In April 2021, when I last wrote about the Tigray war, four months of violence had plagued this northern Ethiopian region. At the time of writing this article (exactly a year later), the brutal conflict is still ongoing. While there are now many different factions involved, at its most basic level the war is a political dispute over who should be in charge of the Tigray region, with Ethiopian government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on opposing sides. Journalists and humanitarian organisations are not often permitted into Tigray, and it is not a conflict that we often see in western news, therefore many people are unaware of the massive humanitarian crisis that is now unfolding in the area. With thousands of people already killed on both sides of the war, innocent civilians are now the victims of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and famine. 

It has been continuously reported over the past 16 months of conflict that the civilian population in Tigray have suffered numerous crimes against them including “threats, unlawful killings, sexual violence, mass arbitrary detention, pillage, forcible transfer and the denial of humanitarian assistance”. In February 2022, in a long-awaited report, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International confirmed that war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity had been committed since the outbreak of the war. At the beginning of the war, the TPLF massacred a town named Mai Kadra near the Sudanese border, killing hundreds. It has been said that the violence against Tigrayans since then can be understood as “revenge killings”.

More recently, in an extreme form of this ‘revenge’, there have been reports of “ethnic cleansing” taking place in Western Tigray, which Ethiopian federal forces have denied. Ethnically targeted restrictions on movement and access to farmland have been put in place and civilians have described threats and pamphlets giving Tigrayans “24-hour or 72-hour ultimatums to leave or be killed”. Authorities in Western Tigray have also been said to have imposed restrictions on speaking the native Tigrinya language. In some areas, this cleansing was even openly discussed at town meetings.

Against the backdrop of war crimes and a ruthless clearance of the Tigrayan populace, famine has been officially declared in Tigray. An estimated 5 million people are in need of food assistance, with over 115,000 children severely malnourished. Many refugees, being interviewed after leaving the Tigray region, mentioned a “worrying shortage of food”. Many also reported that crops, which are the “backbone of economic survival” for many communities in Tigray, had been looted or burned in certain communities. The last harvest in this region was half yield of a normal year, and very quickly this stock is being exhausted. Some Tigrayans have decided to stay put in the hope that they will soon plant and harvest new crops, however, if this is not possible many worry that there will be a mass exodus of Tigrayans fleeing a lack of resources.

 Due to the overspill of conflict, many people in neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar are also in need of assistance. Getting aid to those in need is proving to be a difficult task for many reasons. For many of the initial months of the conflict, main routes were blocked due to outbreaks of fighting between the two sides. As opposing militia competes for control of surrounding areas other roads have also been blocked, for example roads from the Amhara region to the south and Sudan to the west.

While the Ethiopian government states that the TPLF has been disrupting aid into the Tigray region, the TPLF itself declares that aid trucks have never been prevented from passing through the region. This back and forth detracts from the grave issues of starvation and malnourishment that are threatening millions of ordinary Tigrayan civilians. Only 10% of the intended supplies have reached the region since July 2021. The World Food Programme reported on 1st April (2022) that “3 trucks [have] arrived safely into Mekelle…This is1st humanitarian convoy to arrive in the Tigray region since last Dec”. As well as these issues, fuel shortages make it near impossible for aid trucks to travel all the way to Tigray to distribute aid and even nutritionally fortified food to treat malnourished children.

No party in this conflict is innocent. The constant blame-shifting and denial of action from the TPLF, the Ethiopian government, and the many other factions involved takes much needed attention away from the millions of victims in Tigray and those in the surrounding regions. It is imperative that the focus remains on the ordinary people that are being forced from their homes and left to starve. Parties to the conflict may continue to deny certain allegations of crimes against humanity, but what they cannot deny is the suffering being inflicted on their own people by their own people. 

Politics and Plastic Surgery: Eugenics, Race and Social Mobility in Brazil

Photo by Olga Guryanova on Usplash

By Charlotte Lang

While the Brazilian butt lift has supplanted itself into popular celebrity culture, oft-neglected is Brazil’s unique relationship with plastic surgery. It is the second-largest consumer of plastic surgery in the world and since the 1960s, free and low-cost plastic surgery has been available through the public healthcare system. Under the backing of president Juscelino Kubitschek, surgeon Ivo Pitanguy tied ugliness with societal ill, arguing for the ‘right to beauty’ in rhetoric borrowed from Eugenics. Opening a clinic for the poor, which doubled as a plastic surgery institute, he promoted the image of surgeons as humanitarians correcting the racialised pathologies of the population.

While plastic surgery encompasses congenital deformities and burns, most surgeries performed are cosmetic. It has been democratized in the private sector too. The 1994 plano real expanded access to consumer credit such that plástica financing plans became available. Companies targeted women in the service sector, and consumers formed lottery associations (plástica consórcios) to fund surgery. As with most nations with universal healthcare, Brazil operates on a two-tier system where private healthcare is luxurious and efficient while public hospitals are severely underfunded but provide basic services. It is thus striking that a crumbling public healthcare system provides this plástica, a factor that Brazil’s increased economic prosperity cannot account for. In truth, the democratization of plástica aligned with the rising economic inequality in the 1980s and 90s and the savage capitalism which eroded the middle class. Most of the procedures performed at public hospitals are carried out by medical residents with a vested interest in learning aesthetic techniques to bring to private practice. Brazilian plastic surgery is innovative precisely because of the masses of low-income bodies surgeons have at their disposal, circumventing the typical legal and institutional barriers.

Eugenics gained traction in Latin America following European indictment of widespread racial miscegenation, which imagined a population destined to degeneration. As until the 1850s more than half of the Brazilian population was enslaved, much of the population was mixed race. In the following decades, the intelligentsia would vindicate miscegenation. It was deemed beneficial as a force that would purify non-white populations. The central tenet of this neo-Lamarckian form of Eugenics was the view that populations were not bound by a hereditary destiny and could be perfected through social and environmental factors. Public health was a primary means of accomplishing this goal through vaccination, sanitation and hygienic education. This saw the rural population of Northeastern Brazil classified as an ethnic subcategory. Beauty was moralised such that ugliness connoted disease while beauty was seen as the teleological destiny of the nation.

One of the leaders of the Eugenics movement in the 1920s, Renato Kehl, saw plastic surgery as the natural continuation of the movement. This focus reflected a broader anxiety within elite families over non-European features, allowing the eugenic process to be undertaken on a individual scale. While such an overt eugenics movement disappeared, its tenets arguably took on new, subtler forms. From the 1930’s onwards, Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre advanced the idea of a ‘racial democracy’ where the nation was imagined as an interracial, intercultural melting pot. Brazilians were described as a cultural hybrid of African, Amerindian and European. This was consolidated by activists, intellectuals and writers from highly segregated societies, to whom Brazil appeared as a paradigm of harmony. The reality was a society beset by the legacy of slavery, where racial prejudice was entrenched in education, life expectancy, income and incarceration.

Modern plastic surgery borrows from these Freyrean notions of hybridity, Brazilian surgeons explain its popularity with miscegenation. White women desire the buttocks and breasts of the eroticised Black body, and Black women desire European noses that diminish their visibility as migrants and outsiders. This ideal of whiteness tinged with erotic blackness is not merely an aesthetic ideal that exists in a vacuum, but one which particularly affects working-class women. Service work places a unique emphasis on appearance, such that beauty, youth, and sexual allure carry a particular curency. Many surgeries are also carried out on children and teenagers at the request of their family, who fear certain characters will lower them on the aesthetic hierarchy, linking them with poverty and blackness in a way that would limit future job opportunities. 

When in 1951 job advertisements were forbidden from expressing a preference for white applicants, this was euphemistically replaced with boa aparência (good appearance) and traços finos (fine features). That racialised preferences act as a barrier to entry for high paying jobs suggests the ways in which beauty extends far beyond questions of vanity. It also has a kind of a kind of democratic appeal in an age when social mobility has dwindled and access to education is limited, the body thus replaces the mind as a basis for power and identity. This is a theme familiar to Latin American melodrama, where a poor girl’s beauty is enough to threaten class barriers. One could also argue that this is not unique to Brazil, the commodification of beauty is perhaps ubiquitous to neoliberalism with cosmetic surgery worth an estimated 66 billion dollars globally. A hybrid aesthetic ideal has been popularised digitally with ‘Instagram face’, the surgically crafted face which Jia Tolentino describes as ‘a look of rootless exotocism’ on white women. While this bears resonance to Brazilian ideals, in Brazil it directly reflects and maintains racialised heircharchies, those of colonialism and eugenics.