The Call for Change: Women Speak Out on Sexualized Violence in South Africa

The tallies have been rising on women murdered on the streets of South Africa. From a country with a history of violence and suppression, the fight is nowhere finished. Multiday protests throughout major cities have brought the crisis to international attention. 

Protest drawing awareness to rape victims at University of Cape Town. Devin O’Donnell.

Protest drawing awareness to rape victims at University of Cape Town. Devin O’Donnell.

The brutal murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a University of Cape Town student who was raped and killed while at the post office is unfortunately not a standalone incident. Mrwetyana joined upwards of 30 women that had been murdered in August alone. This marks the highest rates gender-based violence the country has seen, in a month that is, ironically, also designated as the national awareness month for Women’s Rights. 

There are many reasons thought to be behind the high numbers. Culturally, it comes from a history of women being viewed as inferior and the belief that women must obey their husbands. In many parts of South Africa, there is a general acceptance of rape, including martial rape and gang rape, as not being seen as wrong. This has led to South Africa having the highest rate of domestic abuse in the world. Domestic abuse was only outlawed in 1998 and martial rape in 1993. A studied done by the South Africa Medical Research Council found that 50% of men have abused their partners. Most relevant to the recent murders, every six hours a partner kills their female counterpart and one in four men in South Africa have raped someone. 

Studies have also found that there are certain traits in men and women that can lead to a greater risk of abuse in the country. Men who have grown up with violence, without father figures, and who use alcohol are more likely to abuse. It is also tied to race and socioeconomic status, as women of color, who are unemployed, and/or are from rural communities are more likely to be victims. Psychological studies have found that domestic abuse is often used as a response to feeling powerless. Apartheid proved violence is successful as a means for control and left people with a lack of trust in the government. Men who feel helpless regress to using violence against their partners in an attempt to regain a sense of control and self-worth. They also have a lack of fear of being prosecuted due to flaws in the police system – which is legitimate when only 15% of perpetrators are convicted. 

The exceptionally high rates of HIV in South Africa pose an additional danger to rapes. The belief in a virgin cleansing myth, if you rape a virgin you will be cured of HIV, has led to high rates of abuse in children, with 50% of children being abused before they turn 18. Rates of sexual abuse have also been found to be exceptionally high in schools and often deters girls from pursuing education. Additionally, South Africa has increased rates of violence surrounding homophobia, with rates of “corrective rape” reaching 10 a week just in Cape Town. This mirrors statistics for gay black men. 

President Ramaphosa said that measures have to be taken now to address the femicide. He has proposed longer sentencing and introducing more sexual offence courts. With current rates of rape reporting lingering at 2%, there is a chance that this will cause little change. The women marching firmly believe that change is necessary, but will it be enough?

DEVIN O’DONNELL’s interest in travel was cemented by a multi-month trip to East Africa when she was 19. Since then, she has continued to have immersive experiences on multiple continents. Devin has written for a start-up news site and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Neuroscience.


This School on a Bus Is Bringing Education to Everyone

Shelia Hill grew up in San Francisco’s Sunnydale Projects. It was a rough neighborhood. She got into trouble when she was young and dropped out of school. She thought it wasn’t for her. Hill’s attitude changed after she had her own children. One day, her son asked why he should bother going to school since she didn’t. It was a lightbulb moment. Hill realized that she had to do better for herself and her family. She learned how to read and got her high school diploma through Five Keys, an organization that gives members of underserved communities a chance to restart their education. Today, Hill works for Five Keys as community ambassador. She goes out into neighborhoods considered education deserts on the Five Keys bus and encourages residents to board the mobile classroom where they can study with a teacher and earn their GEDs. Hill doesn’t want anyone to feel ashamed for not finishing school. So she always makes sure to share her own story, letting people know there was a time when she couldn’t read. And she’s big on follow-up with potential students. “I’ll call them. I’ll bug them. I’ll text them. I’ll email ’em. Whatever it takes,” she says. “I just want you to get your education. That’s it.”

Puerto Ricans Unite Against Rosselló – And More Than a Decade of Cultural Trauma

People wave Puerto Rican flags as they attend a rally to celebrate the resignation of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 25.  REUTERS/Marco Bello

People wave Puerto Rican flags as they attend a rally to celebrate the resignation of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 25. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Puerto Ricans wrote a new chapter in their history on July 24.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló finally resigned after 12 days of massive protests in Puerto Rico, as well as protests abroad, that demanded his resignation; all the protests used the hashtag #RickyRenuncia.

The beginning of the protests can be traced to the release by Centro de Periodismo Investigativo of 889 pages of a Telegram chat transcript that exposed offensive and unethical comments made by the governor and his inner circle.

But the chat was only the latest blow. A series of natural and human-made disasters have caused turmoil and trauma in Puerto Ricans’ lives, including the more than decade-long recession that started in 2006; the financial crisis and subsequent enactment of the PROMESA law in 2016that reinforced Puerto Rico’s colonial status; and the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Rosselló’s corruption further compromised the post-disaster recovery of Puerto Ricans, many of whom continue to suffer personal and cultural trauma.

Whereas personal trauma “involves a wound and the experience of great emotional anguish by an individual,” by cultural trauma, we mean what sociologist Jeffrey Alexander says “occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways.”

The chat’s transcript served as a catalyst for Puerto Ricans to come together in indignation.

Personal and cultural trauma

Together, we have been studying Puerto Rican activism, the diaspora’s political ideologies and migration, particularly in Central Florida, for many years.

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria, approximately 159,000 to 176,000 Puerto Ricans moved to the continental U.S. This major movement is expected to continue, with an anticipated 14% of the island population leaving over the next two years.

We wanted to understand the conditions under which post-disaster Puerto Rican migrants successfully integrated into continental U.S. society, and the challenges they face. We will soon begin a two-year study on how those leaving the island after the hurricanes have fared in Central Florida.

Data we have collected already suggest that post-disaster migrants continue to experience personal trauma and stress long after the immediate disasters passed.

Some Puerto Ricans not only lost family members or everything they owned, but, even a year after impact, many in Puerto Rico still lacked access to basic necessities such as potable water, warm food, shelter, medicines, and electricity.

Of the 19 Puerto Ricans we have interviewed so far, as well as over 100 surveyed, many were deeply impacted by Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. For those in our sample who lived on the island during the hurricane but have since moved to Florida, many felt traumatic loss in leaving their homes and families behind to survive the slow recovery.

Many told us that they lost their jobs, suffered health problems and, upon migration, faced racism and downward occupational mobility in the continental U.S.

Members of the diaspora also experienced personal trauma during the days and weeks after the hurricanes, not knowing about the status of their loved ones in Puerto Rico.

One of the Puerto Ricans we interviewed, John, explained the agony he felt in the aftermath of the storm waiting to hear from his father in Puerto Rico: “I talked to my dad the night before it was supposed to hit and he said he’ll call me as soon as he can. And then I didn’t hear from him for a couple days, so it was definitely stressful,” he said.

His father finally called; John said, “That was one of the most important phone calls I ever received… I cried because I was just excited to hear from him.”

In recent years, the totality of personal traumas Puerto Ricans have faced, including the recent chat scandal, amount to an arc of cultural trauma.

A man walks past a sign that reads ‘You are finally leaving. Ricky resign. Thanks Puerto Rico for resisting’ on the street that leads to La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Marco Bello

A man walks past a sign that reads ‘You are finally leaving. Ricky resign. Thanks Puerto Rico for resisting’ on the street that leads to La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Resiliency and resistance

Puerto Ricans told us that they have used a range of coping mechanisms to contend with their challenges. Some of the main coping strategies to deal with personal trauma were connecting with family and friends for support; finding solace in their faith; trying to adapt to new daily routines; and trying to secure a job to provide for their families.

All of these resilient acts bring meaning to their sacrifices and losses. Our interviewees are actively recreating their homes, whether in Puerto Rico or elsewhere.

We see the current collective protests as acts of resistance to their cultural trauma. The protests have brought about a sense of group solidarity that has strengthened cohesion among the people of Puerto Rico, regardless of where they are geographically. These protests also signal that Puerto Ricans are actively reconstructing a more democratic society.

That is why journalists and participants have compared these recent protests to the “Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques” (All of Puerto Rico with Vieques) movement that aimed to remove the U.S. Navy from using the island of Vieques – part of Puerto Rico – for military exercises, particularly, the “Paz para Vieques” march on February 21, 2000. Back then, these collective actions aimed to hold the U.S. government accountable for the damages caused by the bombings in Vieques and the poor health of its residents. The protests were successful in removing the navy, although Vieques residents are still battling in court for reparations and clean-up.

Research shows that these types of group political actions can help to foster a process of collective healing, notably when the objectives are achieved.

While the Telegram chat was the latest shock in an arc of cultural trauma afflicting Puerto Ricans, we think that Puerto Ricans have demonstrated powerful acts of resilience in rebuilding a hopeful future for Puerto Rico. A simple hashtag – #RickyRenuncia – represents resistance against more than a decade of struggles, yet it is only the beginning of what is to come.

ELIZABETH ARANDA is a Professor of Sociology at the University of South Florida.

ALESSANDRA ROSA is a Postdoctoral Scholar in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of South Florida.


In Romania, 500 Days of Silence Mark Movement Against Corruption

For citizens of tiny Sibiu, Romania, “watchful eyes” nestled in the city’s roofs have become a symbol of ongoing protest.

Houses with eyes in Sibiu. lucianf. CC BY 2.0

Houses with eyes in Sibiu. lucianf. CC BY 2.0

Each day at noon, in the picturesque little city of Sibiu, the red-shingled roofs and the protestors silently assembled in the streets send the same message to the corrupt government of Romania: We are watching you.

Visitors to Sibiu take note of the standard Central European attributes: the quaint, historic architecture, punctuated by the Gothic Lutheran cathedral, whose steeple looms high into the sky; the houses clinging to the bank of the river Cibin, which winds lazily down from the main waterway of Olt. But they are likely to do a double-take upon noticing the ever-watchful Sibiu eyes—narrow windows rising up from the city’s roofs, giving the impression of a perpetual half-lidded gaze. Originally designed to ventilate attics where meat, cheese, and grain were stored while keeping the harsh sunlight out, the eyes have become a potent symbol of Romania’s anti-corruption movement—specifically, a grassroots organization called V Vedem din Sibiu, or “we are watching you from Sibiu.”

V Vedem din Sibiu came about in December 2017, when the government moved to shift judiciary statutes in a way that was widely regarded as tightening state control over judges and undermining the National Anticorruption Directorate. The attempt further inflamed tensions ignited at the beginning of the year, when the ruling Social Democrat party (PSD) decriminalized a range of corruption offenses, triggering Romania’s most sizable street protest since the fall of communism in 1989. The emergency ordinance—which, among other stipulations, dropped charges of official misconduct in cases where the financial damage did not exceed 200,000 lei ($47,000)—passed at 10 p.m. local time; by midnight, more than 10,000 infuriated citizens had taken to the streets in the capital of Bucharest, and around 10,000 in other cities across Romania.

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Corruption is considered a serious problem in Romania, and the country’s fragile political state is exacerbated by its status as one of the European Union’s newest and poorest members, leaving citizens concerned for their rights and constantly at the ready to mount a protest. In the years and months since the events of 2017, Romania has seen ongoing organizing against corruption and in support of judicial independence, and the government has endured criticism from the European Commission, the U.S. state department, and the centrist president and National Liberal Party leader, Klaus Iohannis, who has made strong calls for governmental transparency. In January 2018, approximately 50,000 Romanians marched towards parliament in Bucharest, waving flags, contending with riot police, and raising raucous chants of “Thieves!” And in August of that year, up to 100,000 members of the Romanian diaspora descended on Bucharest to protest the PSD—an event that took a violent turn when police deterred marchers with tear gas and water cannons.

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY 2.0

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY 2.0

Relative to the chaotic, overwhelming tableau of the ongoing demonstrations in Bucharest, the soundless walkouts occurring daily in Sibiu present a stark contrast. This July, the Sibiu protesters commemorated their 500th day gathering in the city center, sacrificing their lunch breaks or school recesses to stand in silence outside the headquarters of the PSD. “Those 15 minutes every day, it is like a flame that never goes out,” said Ciprian Ciocan, one of the founders of V Vedem din Sibiu, in an interview with The Guardian. “Somebody knows that there are still people in Sibiu, no matter whether it rains or snows or whatever.”

Ciocan posts live videos of the protests on V Vedem din Sibiu’s Facebook page, where they reach more than 20,000 followers. During the events of December 2017, allies from around the world sent in more than 68 versions of the Sibiu eyes—scrawled on walls and scraps of paper, carved into sand at the seashore, inscribed with branches laid on fresh snow, from Berlin to Chicago to Kuala Lumpur. Though the initial tide of eyes has slowed, the page continues to share media coverage of the protests along with its regularly scheduled live videos. The “about” section defines the sit-in as a form of protest, stating, “We are protecting the values and principles in which we strongly believe, the state of law and the independence of Justice.”

Sibiu. Camelia TWU. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sibiu. Camelia TWU. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In May of this year, under pressure from the EU and overwhelming dissent from Romanian voters, the PSD abandoned some of its most controversial measures. Even more devastating for the party was their loss of seats in European Parliament elections and the departure of the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, who was jailed on May 27 and is expected to serve a three-and-a-half-year sentence for corruption.

Despite small steps in the right direction, however, citizens remain on high alert. “There are many other dangers,” Bianca Toma of the Romanian Centre for European Policies told The Guardian. “There are still things to be undone and it’s a matter of fact, not just [making] statements.” And in Sibiu, the ongoing protests have had little impact on the PSD, whose workers drew the blinds when sit-ins began and issued a statement accusing the activists of “aggressive” behavior. Still, like clockwork, citizens will keep turning out in the streets, and the watchful eyes will keep gazing from Sibiu’s rooftops, waiting for a day when Romanians at home and abroad can live without fear of corruption.

TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.

The Possibility of a International Environmental Court

Science professors and organizations are making the case for an international green court, which would fill in gaps in the existing environmental legal order.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

It’s time to face scientific facts: the world is getting warmer. The five hottest years on record have all been within the last decade. Europe went through a massive heat wave this summer. Temperature changes increase the possibility of extreme heat, drought, floods, and subsequent poverty for thousands of millions of people. Climate change is a legitimate issue, seen especially by extremes in weather patterns, and scientists are pondering possible solutions beyond what is already being done.

Using previously created organizations as inspiration, one idea two scientists have suggested is a climate-based version of the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the Huffington Post. The main problem is that the current environmental protections (which vary by country) are not enforced by any international agency, and they are failing to cope with the sheer scale of the global problem.

The 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day is less than a year away, and though the idea of getting the court up and running by then probably isn’t possible, soon afterwards would be, if initiative was taken. In 1972, the UN Environmental Programme was created, which coordinates environmental activities and assists countries with creating policies. Subsequent concerns and opinions about the environment from all corners of the world were necessary to bring attention to the problem at the time, but didn’t protect the planet on their own. Countries are now directed to measure their activities, but there isn’t any international organization in place to monitor the loopholes globally when looking at every country’s policies and activities. 

According to the Huffington Post, the International Bar Association and the Coalition for an Environmental Court have also suggested a international environmental court. The World People’s Conference recommended a similar idea, a International Climate Justice Tribunal.

One question the court would need to sort out, if organized, is which charges would be in the scope of the court. Other challenges include different priorities for developed and developing countries, discerned unenforceability of international law, and global cooperation, according to the Inter Press Service. Keeping an open mind when organizing the international green court should help solve problems before they arise. An open forum setting with understood standards should be ideal, as opposed to a criminal court setting. In a similar sense, both the state and non-state clients should be allowed to raise cases for the court. Considering the complexity of the issues likely to come up, the judge or judges assigned should be specialized and capable. Clients should, of course, be found accountable for the decisions of the court. Clear language is necessary as well. If holding states completely accountable seems too positive, then adding sufficient stakes should make it work on a international scale. 

An international green court should be able to harmonize with existing environmental regulations, provide justice to a broad range of people, create workable solutions for maintaining international standards, and build trust among the global community. Therefore, the forum should be able to start overcoming climate inaction, and enforce that progress for the international group through agreed-upon standards.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

7 Social-Action Documentaries Available Now on Netflix

These films will inspire you to make a difference.

Netflix Logo. Photo by Bago Games CC 2.0

Netflix Logo. Photo by Bago Games CC 2.0

Netflix is known for their new original television series, as well as old favorites. But Netflix also has an excellent collection of documentaries. Here are seven documentaries featured on Netflix that will inspire you to do more good. 

  1. Dirty Money 

This six, one-hour-long episode series exposes con-artists, cheaters, and schemers who are motivated by greed. Episodes focus on topics from Donald Trump’s shady business empire to a car company who cheats on emissions tests to save money. Through firsthand accounts with perpetrators and the victims, the he docu-series aims to expose the corruption in our economy. 

2. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Minimalism sheds light on the way our society rapidly consumes, and how this consumption is dangerous to our mental health and our environment. This documentary delves into the lives of people who have gotten rid of their excess belongings, and committed to a life of minimalism. 

3. What the Health 

What the Health exposes the corruption in the healthcare industry as a result of the government and big business. The film wants us to ask why healthcare costs so much and is so inaccessible, costing people their lives. 

4. Rotten 

This six part documentary series aims to make the public aware of the crisis in the global food industry. The film encourages people to pay more attention to the source of the food they buy as they might have been frozen multiple times, or contain many additives. Since food has become treated like a commodity, fraud has increased and farming has decreased. 

5. Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons 

Investigative journalists voluntarily become inmates the worlds’ brutalist prisons in order to expose the poor conditions that prisoners face. One of the journalists served years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, so the docuseries is even more emotionally charged.

6. The White Helmets

The White Helmets follows the first responders who rescue people from the rubble after bombings in Syria. The Academy Award nominated documentary short shows real life heroes, who are guided by their motto that “To save a life is to save all of humanity.” 

7. Period. End of Sentence.  

This Academy Award winning documentary short about how women in India achieve financial independence, and counter stigma about menstruation, by creating low-costs sanitary napkins on a machine in their village. 

These documentaries and documentary series come in all lengths, and span a range of topics. They are guaranteed to educate and inspire you on your next Netflix binge!

ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 


How LGBTQ People are Resisting Bolsonaro’s Brazil Through Art

Graffiti commemorating Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco who was shot dead in an apparent assassination. Emanoelle Lima/photo by Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Graffiti commemorating Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco who was shot dead in an apparent assassination. Emanoelle Lima/photo by Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018 and took office in January 2019. Since then, the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights has chosen to remove the legal protection status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) people. Some politicians are now pushing for a ban on talking about gender diversity and sexual orientation in schools.

Bathroom laws pertaining to which toilet facilities trans people are allowed to use and bills defining what constitutes a family, same sex marriage and laws enabling trans people to change their legal name are also seen to be under threat.

Brazil has a reputation as one of the most violent countries in the world and is known as the LGBT “murder capital” – 167 trans people were reported murdered between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018 alone. In the lead up to and since Bolsonaro’s election, LGBT hate crime has increased.

No wonder that many Brazilian LGBTQ people are worried that they are becoming isolated from the rest of the world. Marielle Franco – a young politician who took a strong stance against police violence – was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in March 2018.

She was a bisexual black woman who grew up in the Maré favela and pushed for social justice for marginalised people in the city. She was reportedly targeted by professional killers.

In Brazil, military police patrol the streets and are independent from the municipal police who carry out investigations. In March 2019, a year after her murder, it was reported that two ex-military police had been arrested for the killing.

Theusa Passareli – a 21-year-old art student who identified as genderqueer or non-binary – was murdered in April 2018, killed on their way home from a party.

Their work was incomplete in Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janiero’s design studio when I visited in November 2018 and will stay to commemorate their memory, as the university and the trans community mourn the murder of another young person.

Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli. Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli. Catherine McNamara, Author provided

A safe place to protest

I was in Rio for a short residency with the TransArte festival – a three day art show that explores gender identity and sexuality. The festival brings together trans people and allies to exchange ideas, make and share work, and celebrate the strengths of the LGBT community in Brazil within a place of safety.

It’s not easy to protest when faced with violence, nor is it easy to enjoy culture – particularly for people living in poverty where basic needs are difficult to meet. Trans artists have said that being trans is a barrier to participating in the arts, but “safe spaces” such as the TransArte festival allow protest art to flourish and create opportunities for LGBTQ people to express themselves.

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

A theatre company led by trans people created Come As You Are – a series of autobiographical stories with physical theatre and improvisation. The stories were about family – supportive and loving family as a source of strength, and familial rejection as a result of being trans.

They explored life as trans men and women in a culture of toxic masculinity, normativity and police brutality. A photography exhibition of several artists included Bernardo de Castro Gomes, whose work also explored his identity as a black trans man facing intimidation, harassment and violence.

Queer drag artists such as Le Circo de la Drag spoke about their political performance – using their bodies to resist toxic masculinity and defy the threats of violence they often receive.

Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli. Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided

Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli. Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided

The show Monster, Whore, Bitch – Waldirene’s Dreams, directed by Dandara Vital, compiled the everyday experiences of Brazilian trans people interwoven with a re-telling of the story of Waldirene – the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Brazil in December 1971, at the height of the military dictatorship.

Resistance is clearly flourishing in Brazil against the odds and not only within festivals like TransArte. A Portuguese translation of Jo Clifford’splay The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven was due to open in Londrina, a city in southern Brazil, but the venue cancelled at the very last moment.

The lead, a trans woman called Renata Carvalho, received death threats. The company moved to a semi-derelict space where they performed by torchlight instead, despite injunctions from both Pentecostal and Catholic groups to stop the production.

My own experiences working with the TransArte festival team in Rio have shown me the value of safe places free from judgement and hostility. The people we worked with told us that being there in solidarity with the trans communities of Rio felt like a powerful action in itself, resisting the culture of violence that thrives in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.

CATHERINE MCNAMARA is Head of School (Art, Design and Performance) at the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth.


The 12-Year-Old Scientist Taking On Flint's Water Crisis

When Gitanjali Rao first heard about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, she wanted to help in any way she could. Now, at only 12 years old, Gitanjali is the proud inventor of “Tethys,” a portable device that detects lead in water. Named “America’s Top Young Scienist,” Gitanjali hopes to inspire other kids to get moving and make a difference in their own communities.

Driving Ban Lifted in Saudi Arabia Encourages Feminist Movements

“Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, March 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)”

“Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, March 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)”

Saudi Arabia, known as the birthplace of Islam, has long maintained a social ban that forbade a woman’s right to drive. This ban prohibited women from the freedom of having a schedule and a life that exists outside the presence of their husbands, a human right that should come with modern life in a 21st century world.

On June 24, 2018, the world’s final ban prohibiting women from driving around at free will was removed in Saudi Arabia. This right, a right that has always existed for men, was finally equalized for women on a global basis. For years, the women of Saudi Arabia have had to fight for equal consideration within their country. While many laws still diminish their capacity to act as an independent, including their inability to withhold a job outside the home, their activism is certainly not a lost cause. Within the past decade, the women of Saudi Arabia achieved two life-changing rights with the authority to vote as of 2015 and, now, the lifted driving ban.

The right to drive is a right that transcends gender. The opportunity to move about freely in the world, even without a purpose, shapes the new reality for women in Saudi Arabia. Beyond the fact that driving laws should not factor in gender, it is an unrealistic inconvenience to modern life. Sometimes things happen, children get sick or a wife goes into labor while her husband is out. Sometimes, going for a drive in the car is exactly what you need, whether that drive is to watch the sunset and release a stressful day or a drive to the hospital in an emergency. These activities do not depend on gender. Rather, they express freedom. They demonstrate life. And all people, men and women alike, have a right to life.  

While the ban removal is monumental for the country, it means something much greater than simply the approval of a woman in the driver’s seat of a car. It brings to light the history of Saudi Arabia and pushes the world forward in its feminist movements. Saudi women have suffered a lack of rights that are commonplace in the majority of the world… So why is it this country is so far behind in their treatment of women? What does the lifting of this ban mean for their future?  

The intersection between the Islamic religion and society largely encourages strict laws regarding a woman’s place in society. Saudi Arabia, as the mecca of the Hajj and housing the most important Islamic tradition, is notorious for several laws that limit a woman’s right to consideration. Consider the fact that women only recently received the right to vote as evidence to this notion. Despite the equal rights momentum they are generating, women are still required to have a male guardian in many situations that usually only require one active individual. These scenarios include the decision to marry, travel outside the country, sign a contract, and others. Many of these laws extend into other countries that were once part of the Islamic empire.

Such laws have persisted on account of long standing religious beliefs and early defined cultural systems. Tradition is hard to reverse and reports of apprehension on behalf of some women and disapproval by some Saudi men come with the territory of change. That said, for the most part, women everywhere are celebrating- especially those who have suffered the silence of being enchained by their husbands rule. In 2017, when the law was first announced to be lifted the following year, women rejoiced…One woman reported to BBC upon this announcement, “I was very, very excited, jumping up and down and laughing. I’m going to buy my dream car, a convertible mustang, and it’s going to be black and yellow!”

There is much that remains to be overcome in the kingdom as their inability to work outside the home and their activism is still punished… In May of 2018, seven women’s rights activists were detained for speaking out against their unequal treatment and charged with working with “foreign entities.” The women were working towards more equality and basic human rights. Their right to free speech is clearly still not permissible behavior… Though the odds are heavily stacked against them, little by little, women around the world are finally finding their voices. They are shifting the world. They are changing their own lives. They are standing up against outdated systems and perspectives that make them small.

The rigorous laws that women are forced to comply with around the world and particularly in the Middle East are being challenged by many movements for equality. Tradition that has long supported the belittlement of a woman’s liberties is evolving. Women that have been silenced, hidden under dark clothing, waiting for their husbands to return from work before leaving the house, are becoming braver, fighting back… and the best part is, the world is finally listening. Silenced voices are now the loudest of all.


ELEANOR DAINKO is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia studying Spanish and Latin American Interdisciplinary Studies. She recently finished a semester in Spain, expanding her knowledge of opportunity and culture as it exists around the world. With her passion to change the world and be a more socially conscious person, she is an aspiring entrepreneur with the hopes of attending business school over seas after college. 

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TRIP REVIEW: Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and Build a Farm Along the Way

We read the news and we learn what’s wrong with the world. I honestly couldn’t care less. Yes, there is war, there is starvation and death. People cheat, organizations lie and the international economy is in need of a stimulus package from God. Now you know everything you need to know about our global shortcomings. Let’s do something to help. There is an ancient Greek proverb that says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” With the amazing amount of interconnectivity and social complexity these days, it’s easy to view Earth as one, big society and I think it’s time we began planting a couple more trees. It’s organizations like Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy that are making it easier for us do so.

It started with a passionate New York Times correspondent with an extremely manly name, Paul von Zielbauer. After making a career out of reporting on topics such as the Iraq war, the privatization of prison medical care, state government and more, Paul founded Roadmonkey. Driven by a desire to “give motivated people the chance to dive deep into a foreign culture and work hard for people in need,” Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy was born in 2008. The term “adventure philanthropy” now stands as the keystone to Roadmonkey’s philosophy. What is so unique about this organization is that the volunteers are given a chance to help those in need, but they are also getting to explore and get off of the beaten path at the same time.

Roadmonkey’s take on philanthropy is evident in their upcoming Tanzania trip. First off, let’s point out that only 6% of Tanzanians living in rural areas have access to modern electricity services. These people live off of the land and any help offered would probably be appreciated. Participants will fly out to Tanzania and lend a hand in building an organic farm for one of the local communities. A pretty standard, run-of-the-mill volunteer trip, right? Oh, I forgot to mention that the volunteers will also be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. The trip starts off with a seven-day trek up and down the mountain, don’t forget to bring your tent. The Participants will literally learn about the country from the ground up, so when it comes time to contribute to the community they will actually have a stake in what is being built. They will have experienced the culture, experienced the people and they will know that they are actually making a change.

There is only one roadblock for this Roadmonkey trip and it’s a particularly common one as well. Money. The best deal is to sign up for the trip with 8-10 other people, which cuts the price down to $5499 per person, not including airfare. No small chunk of change. This limits the trip to the privileged or to those with rigorous budget control. For those of you who are looking to volunteer international without planting your wallet in the community garden, this trip might not be for you. However, if you have the time and the money and are looking to add some spice to your life while bringing change to those less fortunate than you, look no further.

Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy is breaking down the border between volunteer work and adventure. If you can afford it, this company will send you all over the world and you can be sure of a good time. For those of you who are enticed by the opportunity, but can’t afford it, check back with for more trip reviews.


Kino Crooke spent the last three years juggling school and travel. He most recently spent the last two months traveling across Spain before moving to New York to work with CATALYST.

A New Model for Philanthropy

CATALYST speaks with Taylor Conroy about why it's time to abandon the "broken" traditional model of philanthropy and what it means to "devote his life to the world."

Tell us more about your theory that the traditional model of nonprofit fundraising—as you say the one where "organizations using guilt to make people cough up cash"—is broken. Is it time for us to abandon this model completely? Yes. As in it should end YESTERDAY. That system has been broken since it was devised in the first place. While it may have started from a place of people really just wanting to help, it has been bastardized and overdone to epic proportions. I believe that though this "model” is in place to raise funds to decrease poverty, it actually increases it. The model perpetuates a separateness mentality by making people—who are likely proud, beautiful, wonderful people—into "them." It makes westerners look at people in poverty as very different from "us," and they are not. 

If we in the developed world knew that one of our siblings was starving, malnourished and exposed to diseases that were easily preventable we wouldn't stand for it. Same as if it was a friend of ours. Why? Because we feel connected to them. We look at our siblings or friends as the same as us—and thus we would never stand for seeing them in unnecessary pain. When we see pictures of people in the developing world, we don't look at them as being the same as us. So we tolerate it. And poverty porn (which is exactly what those images are) is part of the reason we tolerate it

What made you decide to give 10% of your income away to causes you care about?’—especially when you were driving a car with no reverse and only had 3 t-shirts in your outfit rotation? My life coach told me to. I had just hired her, and thought she was nuts. I had gone to her to learn how to MAKE money, not give it away. She insisted. She had a nice big house on the ocean… I had a crappy rented basement suite, so I took her advice. I thought I would wait till I made money to give it, until I heard this: "If you won't give 10 cents out of a dollar, you will never give $100,000 out of a million."

As you know, social media can be an incredibly valuable tool for galvanizing money and support. There’s been a lot of debate (especially after Invisible Children’s Kony video) about how social media is used to bring attention to humanitarian issues. How do you use social media/the internet to make a difference, without over-simplifying or stripping the issues of substance? I don't use it to make a difference, and thus I don't have to worry about over simplifying or stripping anything. I use social media to share what I am up to, and be social because that's what it's for. The Kony 2012 video will be getting analyzed up and down for years. People will use it to hear themselves talk and feel like they know what they are talking about by saying it was positive or it was negative, when really… no one can know. We cannot see what is going to happen in the next 10 years because of it, or what will not happen because of it.

You wrote on your website “I vowed to devote my life to the world for all of 2012.” What does devoting your life to the world mean? That I would be of as much service to the world as possible for one year, without thinking about my own profit or advancement whatsoever. I would use, "is this the best thing I could be doing for the world" as my decision maker and only do what was my highest and best use for the world. Keep in mind though, I am a believer that the more fun I am having, the better my work is, and that one needs to be happy personally FIRST before being able to make others happy. So I concentrate just as much energy on making sure I am very happy.

In your TED talk you mention books that make you think “if everyone read this book, the world would be a better place.” What books have inspired you? Half the Sky. I am going to leave it at just that one for now.

What’s the one thing you can’t travel without? Audio books. Do you have any idea how much you can learn while in airports?!!?! I crush an audio book or two on every trip. As soon as I get into the airport, the headphones are in and I am learning about ancient spiritual teachings, world issues, great entrepreneurs, or how to have better sex. I love audio books… and if you listen to them on an iPhone, you can double the speed and RIP through ‘em.

What advice would you give to a young person working fulltime with a limited salary who wants to make a difference in the world? I wouldn't give them advice, because the biggest thing I have learned after doing this stuff is that I don't know anything. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own special thing to give. I just happen to be in a place where I feel I should be doing things on a big scale. But that will pass. I know that within the next 5 years, I will move into a new phase, and to tell you the truth, that phase may involve me meditating in a cave in India for a few years. All I know is I am going to keep doing what I think is right for me to be doing right NOW, cuz that's all I got.

Now that you’ve shown the world that you can raise $5000 with a text message, and $10,000 to build a school in 3 hours, what’s next for Taylor Conroy? Raising $10,000,000 to build over 1000 schools, libraries, water projects, and more to improve the lives of 1,000,000 deserving people in 10 countries. Then I am going surfing