Issues & Analysis
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AFGHANISTAN: To be born a women to burn in hell

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where the rate of female suicide is higher than that of men, and in the province of Herat almost 100 women a year burn themselves alive. 

 

Same Old Story for Woman 1Yanet Medina Navarro

 

The olive eyes of Shaista peep between the bandages covering her burnt body, for she, like so many other Afghan women from the city of Herat, decided to escape her life by way of fire.

Shaista arrived at the hospital burning between wisps of hair and fabric, and her 19-year-old body is now a landscape of lava.

Tears seep between the gauze and the passageways of her blistered skin. Compassion is the closest thing to love that she will experience, and the hands of the man who changed her bandages are amongst the few that didn’t strike her.

She set herself on fire for a crime she didn’t commit, one that doesn’t exist, or one that everyone else appears to see except her. Her crime was being born a woman.

mujer velo islam musulman pixabayAccording to the British organisation Oxfam, 8 out of every 10 Afghan women suffer either physical, sexual or psychological violence.

In 2015, the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights registered 5,132 gender crimes and between April and June 2016 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 600, but many go unreported.

The women who go to the police are at risk of being raped before being returned to their families. Those who escape for more than 48 hours face accusations of adultery, the punishment for which is either facial mutilation or death. Passed between relatives, offered to others to pay debts or settle disputes, raped and subjected to acid attacks in the streets; these women lose their mental stability and take their own lives in the most brutal way.

They usually come from lower social groups and as they don’t have access to guns or money to buy barbiturates, they drink rat poison, hang themselves, jump into rivers or set themselves on fire.

religion mujer vejez anciana viej pixabayAlthough the families declare a ‘domestic accident’, it is easy to identify a suicide, as the majority are aged between 14-21 years old and are soaked in kerosene, when in fact most people use firewood or gas to do the cooking at home.

85% of Afghan women are unable to read or write and thus out of ignorance believe that they will die quickly. But instead they suffer for days before dying. Many pour boiling oil over themselves or drizzle it over their abdomen in order to raise attention to their plight, but sometimes the flames envelop them.

80% of those who arrive in hospital perish because of a lack of means to treat them, and if they do survive, they suffer lifelong consequences, for it is difficult to follow a course of treatment whilst carrying water and looking after numerous children.

Almost 40 years of war brought with it misery, poor health and lack of governance, under which the patriarchal system flourished; a system which made Afghanistan an open-air prison for women, causing them irreparable psychological damage.

Mujeres afganas y violencia1The country’s laws tolerate tribal codes and 60% of girls under the age of 15 are forced to marry men double their age, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan.

Studies from the UN Fund for the Development of Women reveal that the majority of widows sell their bodies or turn to begging in order to survive, and 65% of them see suicide as the only solution to their misery.

Herat, once known as the Pearl of Khorasan, is today a ghost town, with a horizon dotted with adobe houses, obsolete war munitions and faces hidden from the world behind the grille of a burka.

After a week in hospital, Shaista’s mother-in-law escaped with her to hide her at home, as her son simply didn’t deserve the shame of a suicidal wife.

Salma a woman's journey 11Almost a month after the fire, she returned with wounds all over her body and without any feeling in her arms due to large necrotic areas. She did, however, survive – one of life’s cruel jokes.

Now with the same fears as before, scars from the fire on her skin and with only one arm to carry her daughter, Shaista is back in the place that she so wanted to flee.

Photos: Pixabay   –   (Translated by Eleanor Gooch)

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IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES: Denmark’s Right Wing Peddles Anti-Migrant Spray

How do you really feel about migrants, Denmark? A new pepper spray meant to be used against asylum-seekers is the latest right-wing propaganda tool aimed at keeping refugees away.
BARBIE LATZA NADEAU

ROME — There has never been any question about how some Danes really feel when it comes to refugees and migrants. After all, Denmark is a country where the parliament actually voted to seize certain high-value items from them to help offset the costs of their housing and health care. It is also a country where it is legal to bounce migrants and refugees out of nightclubs just for being migrants and refugees.

Now some Danes have taken things a step further by handing out a special pepper spray that is meant to keep refugees away. The refugee-repellent product, Asyl Spray (presumably playing on the word asylum), was distributed in the southeast port city of Haderslev last weekend by the right-wing Danskernes Parti political group.

The purse-size spray can features the promise to “repel refugees” in a “legal” and “effective” way.

Party leader Daniel Carlsen, who says he came up with the idea, rebuffed outrage by claiming that most pepper spray is illegal in Denmark, and the anti-refugee spray provided a legal alternative.

“I cannot see how it is racist,” he told CNN. “Pepper spray is illegal here so we wanted to figure out a way for Danish people, in particular women, to protect themselves. It’s obviously not the ideal situation.”

He said he knew that while the spray could not stop migrants and refugees from trying to reach Denmark, it might act as a deterrent for those that have arrived. “In the long run we want to repatriate the migrants, we want to repatriate non-Westerners in general, that is in the long run,” he said. “In the short run we want to provide solutions to make life better and safer for the Danish people.”

Not surprisingly, the Danish approach to migration has raised eyebrows among those concerned about the tens of thousands attempting to reach Europe. The United Nations agency on refugees issued a statement of sheer disgust about the produce, stating that it “strongly regrets that this kind of incident is taking place in Denmark against asylum seekers and refugees, people who have already suffered so much.”

Carlsen doesn’t seem to care. “We are tackling an actual problem in our society, where many Danes feel unsafe,” he told local Danish television station SYD. “It is a disgrace to Denmark and Europe as a whole that an organization like this is promoting mass immigration to Europe, and it will destroy Europe. We are not saying that migrants are all rapists, but the problem with mass migration is the mass, and because of the mass it will in time replace the indigenous people of Europe.”

A year ago, Denmark started placing advertisements in English and Arabic in Lebanese newspapers warning potential refugees to Europe to stay put, or at least not to set their sights on Denmark as their promised land. One ad stated that the country had cut benefits to new refugees by half. Another warned there were new quotas that might limit their chances of asylum.

Norway and Hungary have also used traditional advertisements as well as social media to warn potential migrants and refugees to stay away. A television ad campaign in Hungary features scary-looking men on motorcycles hunting down refugees in a forest to the tune of dramatic music. “Don’t come here,” says the mayor, who is also featured on horseback in the advertisement, apparently hunting refugees and warning that trespassers who enter the country illegally could go to prison, his voice intoning over pictures of high electric fences and police cars.

Sweden, which welcomed refugees until public housing and refugee centers reached capacity, has also started using social media and even videos with techno beats to warn refugees that the utopia they dream of is gone. Instead, they will be housed in tents and forced to endure cold Swedish winters, which are depicted by a snowy fields and warnings of 12-month-long winters. “If you plan to come to Sweden, bring your own tent,” the advertisement suggests.

Since January, more than 300,000 people have made the sea crossing to Europe. Clearly the threat of refugee repellent sprays and negative advertisement about cold winters has done little to stop the flow of migrants into Europe. That’s undoubtedly because as unwelcoming as Europe is becoming, it still sounds better than where they are coming from.

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Making the Goals: Why Sustainable Development Must Be Integrated Development

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Roger-Mark De Souza is the director of population, environmental security, and resilience for the Wilson Center. Sono Aibe is Pathfinder International’s Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives.

Malala Yousafzai (centre) addresses the General Assembly during the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015.

Malala Yousafzai (centre) addresses the General Assembly during the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015.

Washington, DC, Sep 28 2016 (IPS) – By recognising how closely connected the different aspects of sustainable development are, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) create an important opportunity – and challenge – for a more coordinated approach to implementing development policies.

The multi-faceted, interlinked nature of the 17 categories represented by the SDGs reflects our complicated world. We will need to work together to meet these goals while facing an increasingly complex set of challenges to human rights, equity, and security. The battle against terrorism and its horrors, for example, requires people working together across each and every one of the 17 categories.

However, traditional policy responses to these challenges have been divided into distinct policy sectors. If we are to achieve these goals, build peace, and increase world security, we must recognise that past efforts that were confined to individual sectors have failed. We must use new but proven tools that move the integrated SDG framework from concept to action. If the implementation phase of the SDGs defaults to the same old methods, the new goals will be meaningless.

One successful tool – what a World Bank expert called a “do-able miracle” in a speech at the Wilson Center — is the integrated Population, Health and Environment (PHE) approach, where many of the SDGs are addressed simultaneously in a coordinated, strategic manner.

PHE projects work concurrently to improve access to health services (especially family planning and reproductive health), protect and manage natural resources, generate income from alternative livelihoods, and provide women and men with the skills and tools to plan for a sustainable future. Key to its success is the strong buy-in from and engagement with local communities and their leaders, which is credited with its unusually rapid, widespread success in East Africa, Madagascar and the Philippines.

The battle against terrorism and its horrors, for example, requires people working together across each and every one of the 17 categories.

For example, Pathfinder International’s “HoPE-LVB” (Health of People and Environment in Lake Victoria Basin) project, based in Kenya and Uganda, is an integrated, community engagement initiative providing primary health care (including sexual and reproductive health, and maternal and child health services), along with the supply of clean water, training on sanitation and hygiene practices, natural resource management, and sustainable income generation opportunities.

Pathfinder and its partner organizations work to make the farms and fisheries that the communities depend on more sustainable, support environmentally friendly alternative livelihoods, and increase gender equality. Throughout the project, partners emphasize the inter-relatedness of people, their health, and their environment. The project is helping other organizations to replicate HoPE’s model and supporting local governments to plan integrated activities that meet the needs of their communities in a holistic way

The rapid acceptance of the PHE approach from concept to scalability in just five years has now created strong regional momentum for its expansion in East Africa. In fact, at a recent meeting, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission included a recommendation to its members to “mainstream PHE programming into national and institutional plans and set aside funds for PHE Integration and the implementation of the EAC PHE strategic plan.”

The results from these projects offer strong evidence that the PHE approach is working, growing, and primed for scale-up across other regions. PHE programs provide compelling, real-world, grounded evidence that UNGA policymakers would do well to consider as they seek to achieve the SDGs.

PHE can also be a powerful pathway to fight extremism and improve stability. By increasing communities’ resilience in a rapidly changing economic, environmental, and political landscape, integrated development can provide the foundation for increased security. For example, PHE programs focus on engaging youth in building their own sustainable futures, and thus building their resilience to recruitment by extremists. In this way PHE can also be considered a peacebuilding strategy in fragile and developing states. Research by Wilson Center experts has found that the PHE approach addresses challenges often missing from other resilience-building efforts, such as social dynamics, power structures, gender and reproductive health.

As world leaders meet to decide how to shift from goals to action, they should look at what is already working. PHE increases environmental sustainability, economic opportunity, reproductive health, women’s empowerment, climate resilience, and regional stability—at the same time, for less investment, and with more success. A proven tool for implementing this ambitious agenda, PHE is a win-win-win for the sustainable development team.

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ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Hurricane Matthew in Haiti: Looking Beyond the Disaster Narrative

Well-meaning people have either emailed or texted me over the past couple of days, with some variant of “how are things going in Haiti?”

Short of people’s prayers, and the question, “is everyone you know ok?” How indeed to respond?

Hurricane Matthew is a Category 4, meaning that winds are gusting at 145 miles per hour. This is the first category 4 since 1954, Hurricane Hazel, which introduced nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to Haiti.

Aside from random notes trickling in here or there, the coverage has been minimal. This is in direct contrast to the earthquake that rocked the country on January 12, 2010.

Anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse has inspired a generation of scholars, challenging us with a deceptively simple call: “Haiti needs new narratives.” The coverage of this storm is an urgent case for why.

Disaster aid is faciliated by media coverage. An article inDisastersdemonstrated a correlation in the amount of seconds allocated on prime time news to a particular disaster and the generosity of the response. However, the Haiti earthquake’s high media profile—and the generosity it inspired—came at a price. With stories of devastation, appearing to many foreign observers as hell on earth with phrases like “state failure” often repeated, foreign media coverage also naturalized foreign control of the response.

The media coverage—then and now—highlights the importance of what can be called “disaster narratives.” What is covered, what is not, who is hailed as a hero, whose efforts are ignored, shape the results. I detail this connection in a just-published book chapter.

The story is still unfolding. As I write this Tuesday night the category 4 storm is leisurely moving north, still dumping rain on an already fragile environment. So we won’t know for quite some time the full extent of the damage.

Coastal cities in the southern peninsula, including the largest cities, state capitals Les Cayes and Jéremie, are under water. The main road connecting the peninsula to the rest of the country has been blocked as the bridge in Petit Goâve has been destroyed by the torrent.

The centralization of political and economic power in Port-au-Prince that began under the 1915 U.S. Occupation and accelerated withneoliberal economic policies imposed by the U.S. Government, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others renders getting relief much more difficult.

Once-thriving ports and regional economies, these secondary cities are now dependent on the road to the capital for almost everything. The province of Grand’Anse, with Jéremie as its capital city, is particularly isolated. Its primary economic lifeline, accelerated as the asphalt road has been advancing in the past several years, is charcoal.

Paradoxically because of its isolation, the Grand’Anse has noticeably more trees than other provinces. But this is changing: commentators from all across Grand’Anse have commented on the connection between this road and an uptick in charcoal production. Anthropologist Andrew Tarter is collecting quantitative data on charcoal.

The cutting of trees for charcoal production has rendered Haiti much more vulnerable to extreme weather events. The photos of the deep brown deluge testify to the topsoil being washed away, that would have been otherwise protected by tree roots.

Washing along with the soil is this season’s crops. This summer many breathed a measured sigh of relief as an almost two-year drought ended. These hopes were washed away with the downpour, representing not only food to feed Haiti’s exponentially growing urban population in competition with cheaper, subsidized imports, but the cash to send rural children to school. The high cost of education, and that it comes at once, is a major trigger for individual families producing charcoal in the first place.

With water everywhere in the photos it is easy to forget that clean, safe, drinking water will be an urgent priority in Haiti, still battling cholera brought to the island nation six years ago this month by U.N. troops. While finally apologizing for the disease that killed over 9,000 in five years, the U.N. has evaded responsibility for reparations.

These longer-term impacts are unfortunately not a part of the story. Frankly I would be surprised if news outlets will be talking much about the storm at all after tomorrow, as the focus is on Matthew’s impact on U.S. coastal areas. The governors of Florida and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency, issuing evacuation orders. Given the juxtaposition in this several-second media blips, one might well be wondering: why can’t Haiti do that?

The short answer is: they most certainly tried.

The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles discussed the efforts of the elected mayor of seaside Cité Soleil trying to offer relocation assistance. Other local mayors refused, except for Pétion-Ville, offering emergency shelter for 200 residents (the request was 10,000). This is among the only accounts of Haitian people, particularly elected officials, doing something.

Given the fragile state of infrastructure and communications, local Haitian governments, the Civil Protection Department (DPC in the original French), have been doing an admirable job of moving people out of the most danger. Residents of Île-à-Vache were moved to Les Cayes, only to be doubly displaced by the deluge. In Abricots, an hour and a half from Jéremie via a very difficult and rocky road, moved residents up the hill.

While we outside of Haiti may not be told, grassroots organizations are doing an admirable job. In Cité Soleil, Konbit Solèy Leve has offered emergency assistance and Sakala, shelter. Peasants associations in Camp Perrin and all over the South province are welcoming people from LesCayes, down the hill.

These patchwork efforts highlight the limitations, particularly lack of resources. Charles reported that the Cité Soleil government was bankrupt. The communication and logistics necessary for evacuation, emergency shelter, and life-saving food and water, are straining Haiti’s already fragile economy.

And yes, there are still people living in what used to be called “camps.” Given official pressure to reduce the statistic, tens of thousands of people living in Karade are not “internally displaced persons” since Karade is now a “village.” Not two weeks ago, residents were newly threatened with violence in an effort to force them to leave.

I hesitate to write this given how Haiti has been politicized in the most cynical way by a candidate who has expressed his hostility to immigrants and black people generally, but frankly, Haiti was not “built back better” by the $16 billion relief effort to the 2010 earthquake, as UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton cheerfully promised.

So, what now? Right after the earthquake I wrote a piece for Common Dreams offering suggestions, which basically boil down to support local efforts, initiatives, ideas, and organizations.

Many people, including Haitian scholars, journalists, and social movements, have taken stock of the lessons learned from thehumanitarian aftershocks. Among them include:

1)      Support the initiatives led by Haitian people and groups

2)      If we contribute aid to a foreign agency, demand they post their decisions and relationships with local groups

3)      Solidarity, not charity

4)      Address the root causes, including neoliberal policies our governments enforced

5)      Demand that our aid has real participation by local groups, not just doing the work but setting priorities and identifying how the work is to get done

6)      Actually reinforce human capacity – making sure this time expertise is shared with a critical mass of Haitian actors, who can and should be the ones making decisions

7)      Link humanitarian aid to development (not the old, failed neoliberal model), and disaster preparedness

The storm will leave, the flood waters recede. I hope the world’s attention span will last at least a little longer, so that we will finally apply lessons at least Haitian people learned.

Mark Schuller

Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. Schuller’s research on NGOs, globalization, disasters, and gender in Haiti has been published in thirty book chapters and peer-reviewed articles. Schuller is the author or co-editor of seven books—includingCapitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster ReconstructionHumanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti—and co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy. Recipient of the Margaret Mead Award, Schuller is the board chair of the Lambi Fund of Haiti and active in several solidarity efforts.

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ON THE MEDIA: To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

By saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to

Bart Cammaerts: 

To avoid mistakes like banning the Napalm girl photo, Facebook needs to start acting like social ‘media’

By saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to

Facebook has recently been criticised for banning arguably the most iconic photo from the Vietnam War. The photo depicts children, including the naked Kim Phuc, fleeing from a US napalm attack.

A Norwegian newspaper covered the story and criticised Facebook for its indiscriminate editorial interventions. It also reproduced the famous photo, which they shared on the newspapers’ Facebook page, Facebook subsequently demanded to “either remove or pixelize” the image.

This is turn prompted Espen Egil Hansen the editor in chief of the Norwegian newspaper Afternposten to write a front page editorial voicing his anger about the decision but also touching on a few relevant and important tensions and contradictions inherent to Facebook as a social media platform.

My own take on this debate regarding editorial responsibilities of Facebook is that Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebook is not a media company, but a tech company, a neutral tool, is utterly false. Facebook is of course a media company, as much as it is a tech company. The clue is in the name, it is social “media”, not social “tool”. It is high time that Facebook accepts this, as well as the important democratic responsibilities that come with it.

The tension to which Zuckerberg implicitly alludes with his comments relates to the distinction that is often made (also in terms of regulation) between media on the one hand and communication on the other. The postal services, the telegraph and the telecommunication industry have always argued that they cannot be held responsible (nor be liable) for the content that circulates through their networks, be it in a letter, a telegram or a telephone call, whereas “the media” is. However, this stark distinction between media and communication is a thing of the past. The internet and the many platforms and protocols that it offers has increasingly blurred this schism between media and communication.

A good example of this convergence, is how people who say silly or libelous things on Twitter or Facebook are increasingly prosecuted for what they say online. In the libel case of the false allegations against Lord McAlpine, the measure used to sue people was the amount of followers someone had on Twitter. In a way this could be seen as an acknowledgement that social media is also a broadcaster in the hands of elites. Hence, Sally Bercow got sued whereas someone with fifty followers saying the same thing was not.

Another example of this blurring between media and communication is the editorial power which Facebook and Twitter has to and does exercise on the content that circulates on their platforms. I say “has to” because its claim that it is merely an innocent platform ignores the fact that in various jurisdictions the distribution of certain content is illegal. Just one example, in Belgium and Germany it is illegal to deny the Holocaust, regardless of which media platform you use to voice such heinous views. Furthermore, we as an open multi-cultural society – nor Facebook or Twitter – would want to encourage the free and unfettered circulation of Isis propaganda and it is thus right that this kind of content is regulated and ultimately removed from the public space.

However, by saying that Facebook is a tool and not media, Zuckerberg also seeks to protect his company from the kind of content regulation that media organisations have to abide to. The press and broadcasters have a lot of power in our society but with that power comes some degree of responsibility. Part of that is the requirement that media organisations abide by certain rules and guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not. In a democracy, such rules or guidelines, which tend to differ between press and broadcasting – are agreed upon by a profession, an industry or democratically through parliaments and enforced by regulators (in the UK: Ofcom and Ipso).

The establishment of the boundaries of what is acceptable as public speech online and what is not, is a very complex and highly sensitive matter. However, just as media organisations do, Facebook is a very powerful actor which needs to assume responsibility for the content that circulates on its network and walk a fine line between protecting its users – including children – from harmful and racist content and promoting an open space for the expression of a radical diversity of views, opinions, representations and identities. This drawing of the line should be done transparently and in respect of democratic values, involving humans rather than algorithms to make decisions and with fair and user-friendly means of appeal and redress in the case of mistakes being made. Acknowledging that Facebook is media rather than a benign “neutral” tool would be a good first step in that direction.

Bart Cammaerts is Associate Professor in Media and Communication at the LSE. 

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan: Ghani, Hekmatyar sign peace deal

NEWS AFGHANISTAN: 

Afghanistan: Ghani, Hekmatyar sign peace deal

President Ghani inks deal with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in first peace treaty since the war with the Taliban began in 2001.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has formalised a peace treaty with Hezb-i-Islami, an armed group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a deal the government hopes will lead to more agreements with other fighters.

Hekmatyar also signed the agreement on Thursday via a video link into Kabul’s presidential palace. The ceremony was broadcast live on television.

It is the first peace treaty the Afghan government has completed since the war with the Taliban began in 2001.

READ MORE: Hekmatyar’s never-ending Afghan war 

The accord with the largely dormant Hezb-i-Islami has been welcomed by the international community as a possible template for any future peace deal with the Taliban, who have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government for 15 years.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Thursday, praising the deal.

“Pakistan has consistently emphasised that there is no military solution of the conflict in Afghanistan. Politically negotiated settlement through an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process is the most viable option for bringing lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan,” the statement said.

It also said the deal was encouraging and wished achievement of durable peace to Afghanistan.

Years after Taliban, central Afghanistan remains neglected

The president of Afghanistan said earlier: “This is a chance for the Taliban and other militant groups to show what their decision is: to be with people and join the respected caravan of peace, like Hezb-i-Islami, or confront the people and continue the bloodshed.”

Ghani also pledged to lobby the US and the UN for the lifting of international sanctions on Hekmatyar, who was designated a “global terrorist” by the Washington for his suspected ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Once international sanctions are lifted, Hekmatyar is expected to return to Afghanistan after 20 years in exile. He is believed to be in Pakistan.

The head of his delegation in Kabul, Amin Karim, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he believes the sanctions could be lifted within weeks.

File: Gulbeddin Hekmatyar was designated by the US as a “global terrorist” in 2003 [Reuters]

Once branded the “butcher of Kabul”, Hekmatyar was a prominent anti-Soviet commander in the 1980s who stands accused of killing thousands of people when his fighters fired on civilian areas of the capital city during the 1992-1996 civil war.

Human Right Watch, the New York-based watchdog, last week branded Hekmatyar “one of Afghanistan’s most notorious war crimes suspects” and said his return would “compound a culture of impunity” that has denied justice to the many victims of warlords’ forces.

The 25-point peace agreement gives Hekmatyar and his followers immunity for past actions, and grants them full political rights.

READ MORE: Hezb-i-Islami armed group signs peace deal

In a speech greeted with chants of “Long Live Hekmatyar” from his supporters, who had gathered in the presidential palace, he called on the Afghan government to start peace talks with the Taliban.

“I call on all sides to support this peace deal and I call on the opposition parties of the government to join the peace process and pursue their goals through peaceful means,” Hekmatyar said in his message.

Afghan government signs peace deal with armed group

“We hope that the day comes when foreign interference has ended, foreign troops have departed fully from Afghanistan, and peace has been achieved.”

Alexey Yusupov, Afghanistan director at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation, a German think-tank, said the deal was highly symbolical but it was unlikely to result in a peace agreement with the Taliban,

“Although you could say Hezb-i-Islami is the second largest insurgent group, their importance for what is going on in the Afghan battlefield this year is fairly non-existent,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The peace deal, although … showing that there is something that the Afghan society and Afghan political actors can actually achieve without foreign mediation and intervention – and this is something very important – that doesn’t mean that we will see a decline in violence, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that a real peace process with the Taliban will happen any time soon.”

The Taliban did not immediately comment on the agreement.

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HAITI: New Haiti Briefing Unwanted Gifts: A Concise History of Harming Haiti

By haitisupportgroup.orgSeptember 17th, 2016

Our new Haiti Briefing No. 81 entitled Unwanted Gifts: A Concise History of Harming Haiti is out now!

The Briefing gives a historical insight into centuries of international meddling in Haiti often marred by mishaps, bad decisions and intentional harm. In light of recent developments in the escalating cholera controversy – namely the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month conceding that the organisation was at fault in 2010 for the devastating outbreak of a disease that has killed close to 10,000 people – our Haiti Briefing offers readers an in-depth background into repeated efforts by outsiders to blame Haitians for their mistakes. From gunboat diplomacy and the AIDs epidemic to the Clintons, MINUSTAH and cholera. You name it, the international “community” has been there and done it. We argue that we must challenge the racist, imperialist assumptions upon which foreigners have acted and continue to act in Haiti and  defer where necessary and wherever possible to Haitian voices and Haitian administrators so that they can take the lead in Haiti’s socioeconomic reform.

The Haiti Briefing, published in English and French, is the key publication of the Haiti Support Group. Released quarterly, since 1992 our Briefing has provided our members, Haiti watchers and decision-makers with analysis of Haiti’s development issues, reflected through the voices of popular organisations on the ground.

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ON THE MEDIA: What We Mean When We Talk About “Engagement”

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AFGHANISTAN: Condoms and conflict: imams defy Taliban to spread contraception

Maeva Bambuck and Sedika Mojadidi in Mazar-i-Sharif

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/04/afghanistan-imams-defy-taliban-spread-contraception-condoms

 

 

The imams, the Taliban and the condoms – video by Maeva Bambuck and Sedika Mojadidi

On a crisp autumn morning in northern Afghanistan, a group of imams in elegant turbans and with cultivated beards listen to a seminar about the merits of a lubricated condom.

An array of contraceptives around him, Dr Rahmatuddin Bashardost, a programme manager for Marie Stopes International (MSI), then moves on to talk about birth control injections.

Some imams take boxes of condoms for themselves, others take them to distribute to their congregations. “It would be very good if we could show people that there are four or five kinds of birth control methods,” says one imam. The others nod.

In culturally conservative Afghanistan, it is often left to local imams to deal with delicate social issues such as family planning. It is not, however, that simple. Those who advocate what are seen as modern ideas, including contraception, can fall foul of the Taliban. “Imams like myself disappear and no one asks about them,” says Mansour Mahsoom, one of the clerics involved in the programme.

Foreign aid to Afghanistan has dramatically increased access to healthcare and family planning, but despite reproductive health campaigns through public service announcements and healthcare providers, only 22% of Afghan families use contraception.

Cultural and economic barriers have kept both maternal and infant mortality rates the highest in Asia, with 67% of mothers giving birth at home, often because their husbands forbid them to go to hospital. The relentless pressure to bear many sons, a sign of high economic status, sometimes ends in tragedy.

One in 50 Afghan women dies of causes related to pregnancy. Five years ago, MSI and the UN Population Fund realised the most effective way to decrease mortality rates was to reach men through mosques. They set up partnerships with local imams and their wives to change reproductive practices in their communities.

The Qur’an supports the use of contraception to allow women breaks between pregnancies to nurse their children. It states: “The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years.” Another passage says: “Allah desires to lighten your burden, for man was created weak.”

Most Afghans, however, are not aware of this. Instead, the Taliban threaten imams for collaborating with a western occupying power. Some have received anonymous phonecalls and letters.

The Taliban are returning fast, so fast that the US announced last month that it would halt the pullout of its remaining troops. The insurgents’ brief takeover of Kunduz in early October was bad news for the imams. Afghan forces may have retaken the city, but growing sectarian violence has made any promotion of western medicine and practices too dangerous for now.

The 200-year-old mosque Imam Mahsoom presides over is the focal point of his community. Each day after prayer, scores of men and boys ask him for advice on health, money, jobs and family issues.

“These men are primarily farmers. They’ve known only war and guns and weapons,” the 36-year-old scholar says. “It takes time, but I’ve been able to encourage them to take their wives to the MSI clinic for treatment and medicine.”

At MSI’s clinics, women have access to prenatal and postnatal care and contraception at reasonable prices. Condoms cost two Afghanis (2p) the birth control pill 15 and Depo-Provera injections 30.

For women in the countryside, who are seldom allowed out of the house, the injection only requires them to make the journey to the clinic every three months.

MSI has reached out to 6,000 imams and their wives so far. With their help, it estimates that it averted 1,646 unintended pregnancies in 2014, up from 199 in 2008. Last year the charity even noticed the wives of local Taliban members coming to its clinics for consultations.

An atmosphere of fear, however, surrounds the programme. For a time, the imams were comfortable distributing condoms outside their mosques. Today threats from the re-emergent Taliban forces mean they all have given up the practice.

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ON THE MEDIA: A Deaf Journalist in Nigeria Fights to Advance Disability Rights

A Deaf Journalist in Nigeria Fights to Advance Disability Rights

People with disabilities in Kaduna State in Nigeria took to the streets in May to protest a proposed law banning street begging and hawking. The administration of governor Nasir el-Rufai said that the goal was to keep children in school rather than begging in the street and to enhance security after a street bombing that left 25 dead and others injured.

But activists say the government needs to enact the Disability Rights Law and provide gainful employment before they ban the primary means of income for people with disabilities.

People with disabilities in Nigeria protest a proposed law that would outlaw begging on the streets — a main source of income for many. Credit: Julius Shemang

Despite decades of activism and advocacy by nongovernmental organizations, disability legislation in Nigeria has been stymied since 2013 when a bill was passed by the National Assembly during the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo but never signed into law by the president. The current Senate reintroduced and once again passed the Disability Bill in June 2016 and it is waiting for presidential approval.

Julius Shemang, a journalist and the Chairman of the Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities (JONAPWD) Kaduna State, has been at the forefront of the call for a disability rights law in Nigeria.

“Lack of education, employment and poverty in the disability community made many resort to begging in order to finance their education and that of their children,” he said in an article from The Nation (in Nigeria). “While we welcome and commend the present policy on free education for all children by the present regime, the gesture should be effectively extended to People Living with Disability.”

The Joint National Association of People with Disabilities appealed to the government to pass the Disability Rights Law before banning people from begging and hawking on the street. Credit: Julius Shemang

People with disabilities need the protection of the a disability rights law because of discrimination faced in school and at the workplace, often based in a fear that disability is contagious.

Julius Shemang

Shemang lost his hearing at the age of 14 and he developed a passion for reading and writing because he felt, “…as a Deaf person, these were the best options I now had to cope effectively with the world having lost touch with the hearing world.”

As he adjusted to his deafness, Shemang became upset at the way the able-bodied population viewed disability, treating it as a matter of charity rather than a human rights issue. He went to the New Nigerian Newspaper(NNN) headquarters in Kaduna State to propose writing on issues of the disabled to draw public and government attention to their needs. He was initially told he should go teach at a school for the Deaf but he was able to convince them to give him a chance at journalism. His first article was titled “The Deaf Want to be Heard” and discussed how the Deaf were being denied admissions into universities and being denied employment opportunities.

“That was the beginning of my involvement in advocating for the rights of people living with disability,” he said in an interview in Poor Magazine.

When questioned by a news editor about how he was able to report as a Deaf person, Shemang says, “Whenever I go to cover an event, I go with a partner or get someone at the event and ask him or her to listen and to jot down points from various speakers. In addition, I use my eyes to observe movements and the behaviours of people around and try to make sense and meaning from what I observe, after which I sit down to combine and write everything into juicy reports for the reading public.”

Having the readers know that he was a Deaf reporter, “…really helped change public perception, negative attitudes and feeling toward the disabled as they too began to join the campaign for a society that speaks inclusion and justice for all,” he said.

In 2006, frustrated with the lack of coverage of disability issues in mainstream media, Shemang was inspired to start his own newspaper — Kafanchan Times –that covered disability as well as other human life issues. For financial reasons, he was forced to stop publishing the paper in 2010 but he hopes to revitalize it soon. It is currently the only newspaper owned by a disabled person in northern Nigeria and fully registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

“Both the disabled and the abled population viewed Kafanchan Times as an ideal platform that encouraged the learning and recognition of both sides in a collective struggle, as well as the need to liberate the disability community in Nigeria, Africa and globally,” he said.

Although there are some other media focusing on disability issues, such as Inclusive Network News (INN) TV, an effort of Sign Language Interpreters and other disabled people in southern Nigeria, currently the coverage is still sparse.

“I will say that the mainstream media have not done enough in fighting the disability cause in Nigeria,” says Shemang. “For instance, I don’t know of any media organization that ever visited the headquarters of JONAPWD Abuja to find out what we are there for, what we do, how we do it, our struggles, and challenges. In recent months, it was wrongly reported in a national daily that the population of Nigerians living with disabilities is close to 15 million when in reality the number is 25.5 million, according to United Nations data. The mainstream media do not consult organizations of people living with disabilities to get accurate information about disability issues.”

Shemang also acknowledged that media coverage is influenced by money. “Most media organizations in Nigeria cover issues that increase the size of their pockets and not the issues that impact [marginalized] people’s lives. The poverty state of the Nigerian disability community coupled with the unwillingness of the mainstream media, are principally and systematically responsible for the huge failure of the government in successfully implementing the National Disability Law. Some media in Nigeria have done well, but a lot more needs to be done to impact lives and change public perceptions.”

JONAPWD works to advance the causes of people with disabilities in Nigeria.

He offered a plan for how media coverage of disability issues can improve. “One, we organize and invite the media for coverage. Two, the media invite us or come to us and do the coverage. Thirdly, we jointly plan how to get the issues out.”

“In essence, there should be no limit to what the media should do to impact the lives of people with disabilities because we are the most neglected and discriminated group in the society,” said Shemang.

The Kaduna government passed the street begging and hawking bill into law September 1, but Shemang says people with disabilities are still protesting and monitoring the situation to ensure that further harassment does not occur. He and his organization continue the struggle to enact the Disability Rights Law.


Patricia Chadwick, Digital Media Coordinator for Internews, writes on disability and media issues in the international arena.

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ON THE MEDIA: Frederick Wiseman to receive honorary Oscar

Frederick Wiseman. Photo by Gretje Ferguson

Documentarian Frederick Wiseman will be one of four individuals honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at its 2016 Governors Awards gala in November.

Wiseman will receive an honorary Oscar statuette at the Hollywood presentation on November 12, along with actor/director/producer Jackie Chan; film editor Anne Coates; and casting director Lynn Stalmaster.

The acclaimed documentarian, awarded with Venice’s Golden Lion in 2014, has helmed 40 documentaries over the span of his career, with his most recent, 2015′s In Jackson Heights, being the first project he took to public pitch forums – specifically, to the Hot Docs Forum in 2015.

While presenting the project to a host of international commissioners at the Forum, Wiseman told the roundtable: “One of the reasons people like my films is because they’re complex explorations of complicated subjects, and I try not to simplify them in the service of having some fantasy of reaching a larger audience.”

In addition to the honorary Oscar and the Golden Lion, Wiseman has been recognized with three Primetime Emmys, and a Peabody award given to the filmmaker “for a mastery of television documentary destined to be studied through the ages.” He has also received the International Documentary Association Career Achievement Award and an Award of Distinction from the American Society of Cinematographers.

According to the Academy, the Honorary Award is given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”

“The Honorary Award was created for artists like Jackie Chan, Anne Coates, Lynn Stalmaster and Frederick Wiseman – true pioneers and legends in their crafts,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs in a statement. “The Board is proud to honor their extraordinary achievements, and we look forward to celebrating with them at the Governors Awards in November.”

 

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ON THE MEDIA: Documentary pays? Navigating the “anti-system” – part three

Documentary Pays 3

Realscreen‘s special report on doc financing and the economic pressures on filmmakers continues with a look at the issue through the commissioning and distribution lens. For part one of the report, click here, and for part two, click here.

In every generation, there’s a small group of doc makers for whom “sustainability” is more than a buzzword. They’re able to make that second documentary – then third, then fourth – and sustain lengthy, sometimes illustrious, careers.

But as realscreen previously explored, most doc makers working today fall outside of that elite circle. As the Center for Media & Social Media (CMSI) have found in a forthcoming study, 67% of respondents who identified as documentary professionals don’t make their primary living through doc filmmaking. Director Emily James illustrated her struggle through the concept of ‘auto-exploitation,’ while noting a wider – sometimes seen as exploitative – commercial system around doc makers that uses their work as the central commodities of the industry.

But what do those on the other side of the commissioning table make of the commercial system in which they operate? In what ways do they look out for the filmmakers they commission? And what about the distributors, professionally entrusted to turn profits for the filmmakers they represent?

Nick Fraser (pictured, top left), editor of the BBC’s ‘Storyville’ doc strand, says bluntly that the whole genre is “catastrophic” when it comes to sustaining careers, but also doesn’t see a way of regulating documentaries or the process behind them.

“The problem about all these surveys and stuff is they circle around this subject; they kind of hold out the prospect that it will be possible to normalize and industrialize docs, and I feel trying to write a book on the subject of docs is something you can’t do.

“Docs will always be the strange hybrid of something that people love, but they get made in a borderline miraculous fashion and there really isn’t any way of industrializing them, because if they’re any good, they’re different.”

Fraser acknowledges a significant inflation of doc costs in North America, but notes more opportunities – though “poorly spread” – in the region, with decent levels of government funding available in Canada. The situation, he says, is tougher in Europe where some broadcasters have experienced hefty cuts, particularly the BBC.

“Increasingly my job is putting bits of string together into knots and hoping they hold together for the package and the film.” – Nick Fraser, BBC ‘Storyville’

“It’s very tough, and the only way I can get around this has been to amalgamate the work of many broadcasters, put it together and find enough money for filmmakers,” he says, referencing the successful ‘Why Poverty?’ seriesand recent ‘Why Slavery?’ project, which unites international broadcasters in commissioning and funding a number of films around a theme.

Fraser says he tries to give all filmmakers hope and assistance in putting packages together for their projects – “Increasingly my job is putting bits of string together into knots and hoping they hold together for the package and the film,” he explains – but adds that solutions to the funding squeeze aren’t straightforward.

“[It’s] an anti-system – it always has been – and you just have to hope that more important players or individuals come to the market with money,” he says, adding that an essential step is encouraging traditional elements of the “anti-system,” such as broadcasters, to step up their game and “spend more money on docs… the erosion of funding, from my point-of-view as someone working at the BBC, has been pretty borderline awful.”

“My license is what my license is.”
Jane Jankovic – commissioning editor at the publicly-funded TVOntario (TVO) – agrees there are more opportunities for doc financing in Canada through a mix of public and private funds that aren’t as widely available in other countries.

She commissions projects with budgets that range from CAD$200,000 up to $1 million, with most budgets coming in between $350,000 and $400,000. Her license fees for first-window commissions average $70,000 to $80,000 per film, with occasional exceptions on either side of that range. And often, that fee is at least matched by the Canada Media Fund, which is triggered by a broadcast license fee.

But Jankovic (pictured, center) is clear about the parameters of her support, particularly for bigger-budget projects.

“My license is what my license is, and I’ve been very vocal about what my license is. My Canada Media Fund commitment is what it is. If someone’s coming in to me with a project, I don’t really care what their budget is, as long as they can raise the money,” says Jankovic, who has served as a doc commissioner at TVO since 2006. “I can trigger a lot of it, but they have to do the footwork and the sweat equity to get that money together.”

She says that when filmmakers come in – particularly those who are new to the field – she indicates that they must pay themselves in the budget, and asks to see it in on paper as a commitment.

“It doesn’t mean [their salary] stays there, because they will continue to whittle away at it [with production expenses], because they think, ‘Oh it’s just $1,000, it’s worth the $1,000′ or ‘It’s only $5,000, that’s okay.’

“I have certainly worked with teams that have brought in outstanding documentaries but when I look at the time they put into that film and I compare it to their budget, I know they did that for nothing and they were paying their bills in some other way,” she adds. “I don’t think that should be encouraged or even, frankly, admired.”

“If someone’s coming in to me with a project, I don’t really care what their budget is, as long as they can raise the money.” – Jane Jankovic, TVO

On the other end of the spectrum, she says, are filmmakers that “absolutely pay themselves first” and appear in every budget line. Jankovic outlines that a budget has to be reflective of the needs of the production plus the filmmaker’s salary, but doesn’t have to take into account total living expenses for the numbers of months or years a project is in development.

“Sometimes, I see what I think is a very high fee for a producer or director, and they’ll say to me, ‘Well yes, but I’ve been working on this for three or four years,’ and I [say] ‘I can’t pay you for the time you’ve put in on your own. What I can pay you for is to get this film out.’”

Jankovic makes it known that her financial obligation ends following the endorsement of a license. After that, she says, it’s up to the filmmakers to look for funding from as many avenues as possible that the broadcast license can trigger.

And herein lies the problem with dual director-producer roles and the navigating of finances, says Jankovic.

“[Filmmakers] just keep slicing away at their 15% of the budget and they think, ‘Because I’m doing both the producing and directing, I can afford to lower my fee just a little bit,’ and then it’s always just a little bit, a little bit, a little bit [more].”

The commissioner says she doesn’t often meet as many people who are interested in producing. In fact, she offers that there doesn’t seem to be a full understanding of what producers do.

“They’re horrifically undervalued and I’ve seen many projects where there’s been a weak director, or a director that’s gone off the rails, and it’s the producer that saves the project – not just financially, but also from a creative perspective,” she says.

“Having that second set of eyes that can step back and see whether or not that story is working, is really critical I would say [for] 99% of the projects that I deal with.”

Art vs. commerce: a distributor’s take
Esther van Messel (pictured, right), founder and CEO of the Zurich- and Berlin-based distributor First Hand Films, is often caught in a limbo between art and commerce. Offering the character of Ari Gold from the HBO drama Entourage, she says some people perceive distributors as greedy ten-percenters.

“That’s not us. It’s documentary. Nobody goes into documentary sales or distribution for financial reasons. But on the other hand, it has to make sense and it has to pay and it has to not be abusive in any financial way. It’s a very challenging job.”

Alongside acquiring films on completion and serving as an international distributor and sales agent, First Hand is one of a growing number of distributors that often comes in early on projects, getting involved as executive producers or co-producers and helping with financing and the production process.

One of their recent co-produced successes was Ido Haar’s Presenting Princess Shaw, which last year premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was picked up by Magnolia and Participant.

A key factor in the commercial viability of such projects is an acknowledgement of what things costs, says Van Messel, who served as an EP on Princess Shaw.
“If a budget is $300,000 but you’ve been working on it for five years, then it’s not $300,000 and you have to face that. You can’t tell your landlord or the person in the supermarket that you’re living off air,” says Van Messel.

“Nobody is in this for the money, but at the same time, as sales agents, if we don’t make the producers more money at better conditions – sooner, and including our commission – than without us, we don’t have a reason to [exist],” she says.

“If a budget is $300,000 but you’ve been working on it for five years, then it’s not $300,000 and you have to face that.” – Esther van Messel, First Hand Films

Van Messel points out that, overall, there has been more of a professionalization of the industry in the past 10 years, but admits the situation could be better, and there could be more self-respect among filmmakers as well as respect for the genre.

“I do think there’s a professionalism required, [an ability to] actually think a bit vertically and think ahead, and I think that’s a producer’s job in cooperation with their international representative,” she says.

“It’s such a complex profession that I really wish people would take more pride in it and refuse to be taken for granted just because they’re allowed to tell stories. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid properly.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Documentary pays? A field-wide responsibility – part two

Financing - Part Two image

Realscreen’s special report on doc financing and the economic pressures on filmmakers continues with a look at some funders’ perspectives on sustainability and diversity, creative producers and carving a way forward. Catch up on the first part of the report here

Paradise Lost director Joe Berlinger admits he chose “a tough subject” for one of his first feature docs, Brother’s Keeper (1992), which he made with the late Bruce Sinofsky.

“Four farming brothers who all slept in the same bed together. One was accused of murdering the other,” Berlinger says plainly. “Today, that would be a very common thing to make a film about, but back then, it wasn’t common.”

Joe Berlinger

Joe Berlinger

The pair maxed out a dozen credit cards, took second mortgages out on their homes and went hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt in order to make the film, which “at the twelfth hour” received some funding from PBS program ‘American Playhouse’ and UK pubcaster Channel 4.

Brother’s Keeper later won the Sundance audience prize, and grossed about US$2 million in its international theatrical release via self-distribution.

“We really gambled everything. Luckily it paid off, but I swore I would never pay for a movie myself again unless it was something that meant a lot to me and I couldn’t raise the funding any other way.”

Since that experience, Berlinger says he’s “always had commercials as part of his DNA” and also pursues branded content and TV series. “You’ve got to treat it like a business and pay yourself a living wage,” he says.

“If you’re going to go about it as your way of making a living, you have to either know how to budget a film or hire a producer who knows how to budget a film, and figure out what it fairly costs.”

Costs of the “average” doc

But how can early-stage filmmakers know what things are supposed to cost when there are few rules of thumb, particularly when it comes to how much they pay themselves?

At the Sundance Institute, Tabitha Jackson, director of the Documentary Film Program, finds herself wrestling with exactly this quandary: the cost of the average doc.

“There is no such thing,” she says, but if there were, she estimates a price tag of around $400,000 to $500,000.

“And that actually is not true. I would say that it’s probably closer to $800,000, $900,000, if the filmmakers paid themselves,” says Jackson, who joined the organization from UK pubcaster Channel 4 in late 2013.

Tabitha Jackson

Tabitha Jackson

With all kinds of different money sources starting to enter the field – some of it recoupable, some of it not – Jackson says the sustainability conversation is stirring among funders who are keen to convene and discuss ways of making the system work for all stakeholders.

“Part of what I hope is that we, as a field, can be scrutinizing budgets as we give grants, and making sure filmmakers have a proper line and a realistic line [of] what it would take to pay them – and not just the directors but the producers as well – so that we, as funders, can get more used to seeing what a doc actually costs.”

Jackson advises that improving education around the cost of filmmaking, and what is okay to put into a budget, are steps in ensuring not only sustainability, but also diversity among filmmakers.

“The voices we also need to hear from are the people who can’t even contemplate going into this work because it’s not sustainable, and they simply can’t shoulder the amount of debt that it might take to make their film with no expectation of getting any money back from it,” she says.

“If we’re not representing the voices that can express our realities somewhat, it weakens the power of the form, and it’s not a cultural record anymore – it’s a very partial picture.”

Supporting producers

One recent advancement, Jackson says, is increased support of creative producers through such initiatives as the Documentary Creative Producing Lab, taking place at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah this August.

The myriad roles occupied by producers working in documentary warrants its own exploration, but what is clear is that many directors are also wearing producer hats on their projects – a tension that can negatively impact their finances.

The Overnighters

Jesse Moss’ The Overnighters

“When my director self is fighting with my producer self, you know who wins? The director always wins,” says Jesse Moss, director of The Bandit (2016) and The Overnighters (2014).

“The director always wants or takes more time, wants or takes the expensive archival shot, wants or takes the extra production days. The production part of me loses out and the creative part wins, often. It’s very hard to maintain internal financial discipline when you’re wearing both hats.”

Creative producer roles, which are commonplace in the narrative world but less so in non-fiction, involve management of budgeting, legal, accounting and other financial aspects, as well as the creative resources needed to keep projects running day in and day out.

“We really see the need for, and the shortage of, creative producers in the non-fiction field, particularly in the U.S. economy,” says Jackson, who adds that Sundance wants to address issues of recognition, education and sustainability around these roles as well.

As such, delineating best practices around budgeting should also include conversations about crediting, and the role of creative producers as well as producers and EPs – another dialog that is essential, says Jackson, in helping the industry acknowledge the expectations of not just the individual filmmaker, but also the doc making team.

But ultimately, the filmmaker needs to be recognized as the first investor.

“So often the filmmaker spends years of their lives going out and getting the story, filming and doing the research and getting contributors for their film – completely unpaid – so we need to bear in mind that the artist is the first investor, and find a way that that is reflected somehow in the budget.”

A way forward

Looking ahead, Luke Moody, head of film at the London- and New York-based Britdoc Foundation, predicts there will be more developments in non-project specific support that allows filmmakers to hone their creativity without financial restrictions. Some examples are the BFI’s Vision Award, intended to support a “new generation of diverse and ambitious film producers,” as well as Sundance’s ‘Art of Nonfiction’ program, which helps filmmakers develop creative voices without having a specific film to pitch (though it is invitation-only).

Other opportunities might take the form of fellowships, residencies, artist development bursaries, seed funding and production company overhead grants. And to bridge professional knowledge gaps, Moody points to such producing labs and workshops as European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE), Future Producer School and Jihlava Emerging Producers.

Luke Moody of Britdoc

Luke Moody of Britdoc

He similarly notes there is “no one model” to adhere to in structuring a team and raising budgets, but adds, “More could be done on our behalf and other funders. For example, collecting sample anonymous budgets to share on the Britdoc resources page.”

Also key, he says, is that industry events – festivals, labs and workshops – build detailed sessions on financing into presentations.

One such major opportunity to coalesce and broach some of these topics will be the IDA’s Getting Real conference, which takes place in Los Angeles from September 27 to 29. Career sustainability is one of the event’s three pillars, alongside diversity and the art of storytelling.

“One of the approaches of Getting Real is to create spaces for a much more frank conversation,” says Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the IDA.

And while that’s hard to do on an individual level because a doc maker’s projects may rely on grants and commissions, it’s easier as an organization to step back and identify who’s getting paid, and who’s not.

“I think what we’ll get out of Getting Real as an organization is a way to frame the [conversation] with funders and financiers, so at least there will be a more field-wide acknowledgement that perhaps we might be undervaluing some of this content, and if we really want a field that is sustainable and vibrant and creative, we may need to step back and reassess the economics of it.

“There’s probably a percentage of filmmakers who are doing really well and others who are kind of embarrassed that they’re struggling. But the reality is, when I talk to filmmakers who might be perceived as really successful, they’re struggling, too.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Documentary pays? The price of filmmaking – part one

financing-feature-image
realscreen.com, by Manori Ravindran, July 8, 2016

In this special report, realscreen examines the economic pressures placed on some documentary filmmakers working today, and why doc directors – many of whom also play double duty as producers on their projects – aren’t paying themselves for their time.

In part one, we look at recent surveys and studies investigating the costs of doc making, while part two, to publish tomorrow (July 8), features funders’ thoughts on transparency around financing.

Forgoing personal wages to force down a budget and secure funding is a familiar exercise for doc makers. So familiar, in fact, it makes you wonder: if this is the so-called golden age of documentaries, why aren’t more filmmakers getting paid accordingly?

“It’s like I should be grateful to be able to do my art, and expecting to get paid is like an after-thought”
-Jesse Moss (The Overnighters)

The reasons are two-fold. The democratization of technology and abundance of distribution platforms allows most anyone to make docs, but with so many opportunities and a saturated market, it also means more doc makers – even veterans of the field – are struggling to first get their films financed, and then make money and recoup debts incurred.

Personal pay cuts and deferred fees abound, rendering documentary filmmaking a curious profession in which one pays an impossible price to sustain a career – if you’re lucky.

“Part of it is that tension between art and commerce that afflicts us,” offers Jesse Moss (pictured above, left), director of critically acclaimed doc The Overnighters (2014). “It’s like I should be grateful to be able to do my art, and expecting to get paid is like an after-thought.”

financing-moss-films

Jesse Moss-directed docs

Moss recently made his fourth feature doc, the CMT-backed The Bandit – the first of his films to be fully financed at conception, allowing him to take a combined producing and directing fee. Most of his previous work, however, including Speedo (2003) and Full Battle Rattle (2008), was made through a combination of sweat equity, private equity, grant funding, loans and – as always – a significant personal financial investment.

“You assign a commercial value to your work, and it’s almost like that’s antithetical to the [act of] making art, yet we need to survive,” he says. “And because the system is so fluid, the way in which films are financed is so different in every film that your value on one project is not necessarily your value on another project because of the nature of the film itself.”

The golden age offers no golden rules for budgeting, but many argue it’s time now for a field-wide conversation about sustainability. If the doc community aspires to be less self-selecting and more diverse, part of that effort should include improved transparency around financing, and best practices for drawing budgets, discussing maker salaries and crediting.

It appears that for the documentary field to move forward, it needs to first step back and turn the lens on itself.

Unpaid or underpaid, from Los Angeles to London

Perhaps one of the best indicators that sustainability is becoming a priority in the non-fiction community are recent surveys delving into the pressing, day-to-day issues facing doc makers in the field.

A forthcoming study by American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), in collaboration with the International Documentary Association (IDA), is looking at the experiences of working documentary filmmakers and other industry professionals in the U.S.

Launched in late January, the tentatively titled “The State of the Documentary Field Trend Study: Perspectives from the Industry” had collected 573 complete responses to its IDA-distributed survey as of June 17, with a breakdown of about 47% directors and 28% producers. Full results will be presented at the IDA’s Getting Real conference in September.

Jane Ray of Whicker’s World Foundation

Caty Borum Chattoo, co-director of CMSI and the study’s director, says preliminary findings show that about 67% of respondents who identified as documentary professionals do not make their primary living through doc filmmaking, and about 66% of those who identified as such made either no salary at all, or less than 50% of their annual salary from their films.

Initial findings of how recent doc projects were funded reveal the main sources of funding as foundation grants (31%), followed by personal finances (26%) and then broadcasting and cable licensing deals (21%). In response to how much personal money was spent on a recent project, about 36% said they spent between $5,000 and $50,000.

Meanwhile, the London-based Whicker’s World Foundation (WWF) in January partnered with Sheffield Doc/Fest and the European Documentary Network to assemble a picture of the current doc making field in the UK and Europe by reaching out to filmmakers via a 16-point questionnaire. The goal was to see how much the organization’s top funding award of £80,000 could buy for a doc maker.

Based on the responses of 191 participants at varying stages of their careers, findings revealed that around 27% of respondents said their time would have cost more than £60,000 if they had paid themselves fully for every day of work, while the median valuation was roughly £10,000.

In addition, 87% of respondents said they had not received the calculated wages for their work. Common reasons included “tight production budgets” or the inability to raise necessary funding, while some who worked on passion projects out of love, or a need of experience, simply didn’t expect pay.

“Auto-exploitation”

Jane Ray, consultant artistic director for Whicker’s World, says the financial strain evident in their survey wasn’t only relegated to emerging talent, but also involved 30-year veterans of the industry.

“The whole emphasis on the broadcasters is the strength of your idea: ‘You seduce us and we will take your idea but let’s not talk about money,’ and it makes things very difficult because obviously the whole nature of doc production is enormously isolating,” says Ray.

“I think there’s a sense that it’s such a competitive world that if anybody gets a whiff that [a doc maker is] a bleeding heart, difficult person who is going to go into the commissioning room and say, ‘Look, are you going to pay me for this or what?’ they will never work again. I think it’s a mix of fear and shame.”

Filmmaker Emily James

California-born doc maker Emily James was among the respondents of the Whicker’s survey. A UK resident since 1995, James studied documentary directing at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and sold her first doc, The Luckiest Nut in the World (2002), to Channel 4. Her current feature effort is a copro between BBC’s ‘Storyville’ doc strand and A&E Indie Fund.

James hasn’t managed to pay herself much of a salary on any of her projects, and like many filmmakers, she subsidizes her docs through commercial work and savings. In the 16 years since graduating NFTS in 2000, the amount of time she has been in production – fully-funded – and without needing other sources of income adds up to five years.

Speaking of her experience at film school, James says there was little practical guidance around financing – a pattern she still notices while mentoring.

“Often you meet filmmakers and you show them a budget and they don’t even know what they’re looking at,” explains James. “If you’re not able to get your head around where the money is and how you use your resources to maximize efficiency, then it’s like you’re trying to run a race one-legged. It’s such an important skill but it’s one that gets very, very little formal teaching or education.”

In the Whicker’s World survey, James labeled the standard of paying everyone on a film crew full rates except yourself “auto-exploitation” but cautions that the wider commercial system also needs to be challenged.

“We’re exploiting ourselves, but we’re also being exploited by all the people around us who are making a proper living from what they’re doing, and using our work as the center of that.

“Nobody ever pays you back for all of that effort you put into [development]. But then, if the film is good, you suddenly have all of these other people that are working for distributors, festivals and broadcasters – who are being paid a waged job – and they’re using the work that we’ve created as the central commodity of their industry without ever repaying the people that took the major risk at the beginning.”

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ON THE MEDIA: #DocsSoWhite? – A Panel on Diversity in Documentary Filmmaking

only-black-person-bold-italicfilmmakermagazine.com, Conversation Moderated by , Septem 7, 2016

#OscarsSoWhite is hardly a new phenomena in dramatic narrative circles and Hollywood, but determining where the doc community fits into the debate – is. Without empirical data, it would seem the doc community is doing a better job at building diverse and inclusive opportunities than Hollywood counterparts. But if that’s true, by how much? What measures are in place to ensure that the people in front and behind the camera better reflect the world in which we live and the stories we tell? How do public vs. private dollars impact this outcome? If, in the end, it is determined that the doc-world also has a race problem, who is accountable and what, if anything, can the industry-gatekeepers, creators and consumers do to change course? 

The following conversation was part of a #DocsSoWhite? – Diversity & Inclusion Panel at the 2016 Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFB). An introduction to the panel was given by Julie Burros, Chief of Arts & Culture for the City of Boston. The panelists included: Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Executive Producer (ITVS), Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director, International Documentary Association (IDA), Darius Clark Monroe (Filmmaker, Evolution of a Criminal), and Sabrina Avilés, Executive Director, Boston Latino International Film Festival (BLIFF). The conversation was guided by Chico Colvard, Filmmaker, Professor & Founding Curator of the UMB Film Series.

Chico Colvard: There are, of course, any number of people — Black, White, Brown and others – people outside, as well as inside the industry, who find it difficult to talk about race. Lois you said White people need to be on this panel so that there’s an element of “accountability” – I was thinking that allies are also needed to create a robust conversation. I wonder if you each can speak to why you agreed to talk about what is a difficult conversation for many to have?

Simon Kilmurry: I understand that this is a play-on what’s happening with the OscarsSoWhite campaign, but I think it’s actually a really important question. I come from primarily a public media background and would like to say that we are better than our commercial counterparts in terms of how we create points of access for our diverse voices and diverse communities, but I think we can all agree that public media and commercial media can be doing a better job at that in the documentary field. And I think it all goes back to, not only who’s making the films and who’s telling the stories – both in commercial and public media, but who are the gatekeepers, too? Who are the funders? Who are the people on the broadcast side? Way beyond series like Independent Lens and POV, who do a good job, but across the broad spectrum of people who are getting to produce and are getting to make decisions about who is getting to produce and direct these films. I think it is a serious question that we need to step back and look at. I think there is some really good research that we can build on and broaden. So I’m glad we’re having this conversation and this certainly is part of our “Getting Real” conference. Diversity is an issue filmmakers are raising with us constantly and that needs to be a central theme. So it’s definitely a focus of our work, at the moment.

Lois Vossen: I do feel that this issue is paramount to the work that we do. It’s absolutely at the center of what ITVS is all about. It is the reason the organization was founded — to mandate to bring more diversity to public media and to set a role model so that other media can step onboard – and obviously it is the key mandate to Independent Lens. So it’s what we do all day, everyday, to the best of our ability. As Simon said, we can certainly always do more. And not only can ITVS do more, and we’re always striving to do more on Independent Lens, but I think PBS and public television, as a whole, has a mandate to do this on a level that is higher than commercial television. And so you see great things like Stanley Nelson’s Firelight Media emerging because of this issue.

The reason I think this continues to be an issue is because of the transparency issue. At ITVS we set out to gather the information in order to hold ourselves accountable. We spent years trying to get the information from other organizations – both inside public media and outside public media – and no one shared the information: How many filmmakers of color were they funding? How many filmmakers of color were they mentoring? How many stories were they telling that came out of communities of color? Who was telling those stories? So the fact that people wouldn’t even share the metrics was alarming to us and very much underscored the problem to us that the problem is still very much real.

I do think there’s a good sign in that non-fiction film is better than fiction, to some extent. Women are doing better in non-fiction – but even women are in secondary roles and are being paid less. And certain filmmakers, who come from non-white communities, are up against a huge plethora of issues. Darius and I have had great conversations about this. I know when we were working together on Evolution of a Criminal and he was out in the world… just the conversations he was having about just this issue were enough to infuriate me. So that’s why I did the panel. I think it’s a really important topic.

Darius Clark Monroe: Evolution of a Criminal was my first experience of navigating the whole festival circuit, distribution circles, pitches – essentially meeting everyone in the documentary community. It felt a bit like the Twilight Zone. So this panel was something that intrigued me. Not just to continue to stir the pot, but I also think this is a necessary discussion – especially because when I would go to festivals, I would see in the program guide so many films about people of color, all over the globe, but when you look at the producing team, the director, the editor, everyone was pretty much white. That just annoyed me to no end because I feel it is important to be open and honest about the culture we live and that it’s not easy to just swoop in and study and observe people you did not grow up with and don’t know and have some semblance of authenticity. We are talking about documentaries, so on some base level we are talking about truth and representation — allowing people to speak truth and have a say.

To me, what’s even more powerful than the shooting of people outside of the dominant culture – it’s the editing. Who is truly controlling the voice of the people in front of the camera? I was starting to get a chip on my shoulder because I was seeing it over, and over, and over, again. And I kept wondering, why, if anything, so many filmmakers, who happen to be White were so interested in people of color? Yet, I never saw so many documentaries that explored what it meant to be white – what it meant to go to another country, let alone another continent to shoot and observe – just what does that entail? You rarely see filmmakers discussing what it means to turn the camera onto them and explore that.

So I feel like this conversation isn’t just about diversity. It is about who owns the power and how can we divvy up that power – but also how can we investigate what it means to be diverse, what it means to control the lens?

Sabrina Avilés: A lot of the documentaries that I’ve worked on — and what I find frustrating, as well — is that we’re trying to tell stories about relations of our people, if you will; about the experiences of Latino people, whether it’s a positive theme or a negative theme, and yet, it’s hard to find people with my background working in the industry. Everyone wants to be a director. Everyone wants to be a producer, but when you come to the editing – even things as a PA or researcher, I need someone who speaks Spanish. It can be very frustrating to try and find that. From my perspective, and I speak from the Latino experience, I think part of our responsibility is to make Latinos aware that they can actually make a living at this. It’s not easy, but from a creative source, it is so fulfilling.

I’m getting a bit emotional, but growing up in this industry – straight out of college I was really lucky and worked at WGBH – I didn’t have any mentors. Everybody saw me as this… “who are you?” And immediately, wanted to label me – “if you’re Latina, then this MUST be your experience.” And so that’s the other thing, the expectation of who you are, leads to people wanting to define you and what you can and cannot say. 

Chico: Darius talked earlier about who is in FRONT of and BEHIND the camera. That there isn’t any shortage of White filmmakers venturing into very narrow and often harmful portrayals of the so called Black/Brown experience and then widely disseminating those films and subjects to mostly White audiences as victims or objects of study. I don’t think there are white industry types: filmmakers, distributors, broadcasters, programmers and the like sitting around plotting ways to undermine and exclude Black/Brown people from access to the industry. I do, however, think there’s a correlation between these same industry types’ lack of personal ties to Black/Brown people and the racial disparities witnessed in the industry. I wonder if anyone can speak to that?

Lois: Yeah, it’s an important question. First of all, I want to underscore what Darius said about who’s telling the story and who has the access. There’s a great story told by Stanley Nelson about a time when he was making Black Panthers. He was sitting with one of the former Panthers and it was a hard interview, but it was good… and at the end of that interview, the Panther said, “in that moment of the shoot-out, I felt like a free man.” The reason Stanley tells that story is because he knows that if a white filmmaker had been sitting there, doing the interview, he wouldn’t have gotten that out of that subject. And it underscores again and again, who is sitting there asking the subject to tell their story and then, as Darius said, who’s going to edit that and then ultimately bring that story forward? And so it’s critical that you have to have that representation throughout, because you can’t fabricate that knowledge. As Darius said, if you grow up with it, you know it. You can’t fabricate it. So I think that’s important.

In terms of the accountability… I think about all the time. And I’ll be honest, there have been times when I’ve actually thought, “Should I leave this job? Should there be someone else in this position?” I’ve always had a co-programmer, who’s a person of color and that person’s counsel and conversation is critical. We constantly talk about things like this and I will say, Noland Walker, who I now work with and just have the utmost respect for beyond words, will often shed light on something. And it’s not that it’s completely foreign to me, but it’s a different gateway in that I hadn’t thought of. He’ll even give conversations like… he was recently at a pitch session, where someone came up to him – and for those of you who don’t know Noland, he’s African-American, and this person said to him, “well, you know all about violence.” [audience gasps] And Noland was like, “Woo! I do? Actually, no I really don’t.” The assumption that simply because he’s an African-American male that he somehow had this insight…. When Noland tells me these stories – literally the hair on the back of my neck just stands up because I can’t imagine what that’s like to have to consistently have to face that. So for me, there’s no way I would do my job without a Noland by my side because I think it’s absolutely essential that I be in constant conversation and reminded about those things.

Simon: I think that if you did have a more diverse set of gatekeepers making decisions, you would come up with a wider range of films and filmmakers being supported. I think there is a kind of cumulative effect that power is concentrated in one place rather than spread out. One of the great experiences I had over the past years was when I was working with Michéle Stephenson and Joe Brewster on their film, American Promise, they were examining the notion of implicit bias and I think we all have to recognize that no matter how good hearted we are or where we sit on the spectrum, that we all have our own implicit biases. And it’s only by having a wider range of voices that we can help balance that out. It is where those concentrations of power are that we have a fundamental problem.

Chico: Darius and Sabrina, when Lois and Simon are talking about the need to diversify the gatekeepers, they’re talking about that taking shape in a professional context. What I’m suggesting is that evidence of diversity in our personal spaces, or lack thereof, dramatically impact the makeup of diversity and the decisions we make in our professional circles.

Darius: You know it’s interesting just being a filmmaker, a storyteller, just being a person, who is living and breathing and walking on this planet, there are so many things you can, obviously, observe. One thing, when you are Black in the documentary or just the film community, the work or recommendations you get are specifically tied to something the White culture – the dominant culture views like, “Oh, this social justice” or “criminal justice” — this is a “poverty story,” these are “black athletes.” So every time something gets tossed your way or someone sends you an email in an effort to include you, it’s always very specific about the “Black experience.”

It’s like one of those things where I complain about not getting an opportunity, but then when I do, it’s always a very small window of options that are presented. And that’s always something that’s strange to me, because – again, as a person living and breathing in this country, everyone else – if you’re not White, you know White people just as much as they know each other, because this is the world we live in. I have to interact: I’ve had to study, educate and be educated by White people my whole entire life. So if anyone can be dispatched to tell a story about White people, it’s people of color who can tell that story. We have to navigate that world so often, on so many different occasions, that it’s not something “foreign” to us. There’s no way for us to be in this business – whether it’s documentary or commercial – without having to constantly engage with White people. Whereas it’s the complete opposite for White people. They don’t have to engage. White people don’t have to engage with Black people, with Asians, Latinos – they don’t have to engage at all and yet they want to be the authority on other cultures. So I’m asking, in addition to these interpersonal relationships, some humility – because there’s some arrogance there. Because you know for a fact that you do not need to interact with people of color at home, work. You get to choose when to engage with people of color, whereas the opposite is the case for me – I don’t get to choose. I am literally inundated with White people.

I’m not complaining about these relationships, but there is this trend. And I don’t want to just let people off the hook by saying, “Oh, there’s this dissonance and implicit bias.” A lot of times, and I’m not going to name any festivals, but when I was on the festival circuit, I reached out to a few filmmakers, including Joe and Michéle, and I said, “I’m noticing a trend!” and that is there are certain filmmakers and films that did not film in certain parts of [America]. Obviously work is subjective. Some work may or may not be as strong for one festival versus another, but I noticed a consistent pattern over 3-4 years! With films that had won Grand Jury Prizes at premiere festivals – films that had shown in competition at Sundance were just completely off the radar at some festivals and these festivals tended to be in parts of the country that are 99% White. I felt like that was strange that they believed these films were somehow marginalized or pushed aside because they didn’t feel that their audience would be able to connect to the material if it were about people of color. To me, that’s not just a random happenstance. This is something that’s been going on for years and needs to be addressed – because I do feel that when we talk about these opportunities, sometimes it goes as far down as something as simple as an economic opportunity for a filmmaker, for their career, for their future. So that dissonance can turn into oppression or suppression and it can have a deleterious impact on the future and forward movement of a filmmaker. Again, Michéle and Joe had a phenomenal film that did incredibly well, but I kept noticing that the film was not on the radar at certain festivals around the country – and when I looked at those program guides, I also noticed that there was not one single film directed by a Black person or person of color. That’s a HUGE issue – that’s not just unintentional bias, that’s on purpose and people need to be called out and shamed.

Sabrina: Now that we’re getting submissions for the Latino Film Festival, I said, “If I see one more immigration film, I’m just going to shoot myself.” It’s that whole thing again: if you’re Latina, there’s that assumption that you have to talk about immigration. Well you know, I’m actually Caribbean and that’s not my story. So I agree with you, we get a lot of submissions from Latin Americans and although there is a chunk about social justice, you actually have filmmakers making films about family, and culture, and art – things that are relevant to everybody, not necessarily only people of Latino-American descent.

On the other hand, I’m working on a film about the sterilization of Puerto Rican women and I feel like because of my background and my experience – I should tell that story. So it’s an interesting quagmire because I would be “bullshit!” if I found out a White person started to tell that story.

Chico: Darius and Sabrina, you talk about the limitations on what kinds of stories we get to tell and whether those stories – despite being cloaked in the right pedigree, are still restricted in how nuanced/“race free” or rewarded and programmed as much as our White counterparts. To that point, I want to share a bit of a conversation I had with Roger Ross. In the history of cinema – White filmmakers are handed stories to make, whether it’s about a legendary musician, hall of fame baseball player or the next redux of Iron Man. With Roger’s latest film, Life Animated, it is completely race free. I asked him if he was aware of how rare that is for an African-American filmmaker and whether it takes having to win an Oscar before a person of color can make a film that is race free. His answer was, yes!

On that note, let’s bring the audience into this conversation.

Audience: I don’t know if our panelists can see the room [via Skype], but we are about 95% Caucasian… so that just goes to show who makes up the documentary community. I came here today expecting to be all pissed-off and my expectations were met. So Darius, you keep that chip on your shoulders.

Process is impossible to navigate for people who aren’t trained to do so. The more simple barriers, like fill out an application for a grant, are put in front of people, the more difficulty they have in doing it – unless they’ve had a particularly good primary school and secondary education. That’s a very difficult thing for people to do. So you almost have to eliminate the application process and shower these creative people with money, even if they can’t define what they’re doing. Those would be my comments to you, today.

Chico: I want to give everyone an opportunity to respond to that comment.

Sabrina: For me, and speaking as a Latina, yes perhaps not everyone has that private school education, but I feel that we have to raise the bar so that – we need to address why these kids don’t know how to write these grants. To just hand them money is bordering charity. I want to go in there [schools] and say, “This is how you pitch a project. This is how you write a grant.” What you’re doing is giving them a skill set that they can use in other aspects. Yes, we need to give them the opportunities, but I don’t think we need to lower the bar.

Chico: The people of color I know in this industry are extremely qualified and just as capable and skilled to fill out a grant or take on any of the other difficult tasks required to usher a film across the finish line. I don’t think a deficiency in their skill set or talent is a barrier to their access and success.

Lois: Yeah, I agree. It’s not a shortage of talent. The talent is there. I mean, ITVS, 67% of our money goes to filmmakers of color and we could be giving more – if we had more. It’s not that there aren’t great projects by talented people. Occasionally, as is true with White filmmakers, some filmmakers come to us early and they need mentoring. They have the ideas, they have the access and they certainly have the passion and the experience. So I don’t think there’s a dearth of talent. I think its quite the opposite.

Audience: I found something really interesting. I do a lot of disability advocacy work and when we talk about “diversity,” that seems to be the thing that always gets forgotten. I wonder if this is something we’re missing? I’ve been on a lot of panels and usually it’s me, a bunch of women and one Black dude. How do we include all of the people that are Black and Brown and Native American and disabled and White – and not discount their need for access and inclusion?

Simon: I think that’s a really fair point. This shouldn’t just be a binary Black/White conversation. This is about populations and representation from a whole range of communities. And it’s also geographic. A lot of resources in the field get concentrated on the coasts or the major cities and other parts of the country – the “fly-over” states don’t get included. I think it’s a much wider conversation that this is part of and that we need to be having across the board. Issues of representation about and by people with disabilities are as important as anything else.

Chico: In Oscar history, only four films directed or produced by an African American have been nominated for Best Documentary Feature and only two for Best Documentary Short Subject. In 2009, Roger Ross Williams, who we mentioned earlier, became the first African American director to win the Academy Award for directing (in any category) the short Music by Prudence.

Three years later, in 2012, T. J. Martin became the first African American to win an Oscar for the documentary feature,Undefeated.

Here are the documentary stats for Academy Award winners and nominees: African Americans (Feature Nominees = 4/Winners = 1 | Shorts = 2/Winners = 1) Asians (Feature Nominees = 10/Winners = 3 | Shorts = 19/Winners = 6) Latinos = 0 Native Americans = 0. Disabled = unknown?

I wonder if people can talk about some initiatives and action steps you’re taking to address these dismal stats?

Simon – let’s start with you. You mentioned earlier that you and your colleague, Ken Jacobson, who is in charge of IDA’s Getting Real Conference taking place in LA later this fall are focusing on three themes: career sustainability, diversity and art. Can you tell us more about that?

Simon: Well certainly from our perspective there are a couple of things we’re doing. One, we have a survey we’re wrapping up, which looks at diversity and career sustainability, so we have some data to work with. That’s going to need to be an ongoing process and effort so we can measure whether any progress is being made.

The themes of the conference, that we are producing, which is happening at the end of September [2016], are driven by the conversations we’ve been having with filmmakers. We’ve had focus group meetings in New York and Chicago and L.A. and on the phone with probably about 100 filmmakers at this stage — producers, editors, cinematographers – and it’s out of those conversations that we came up with the three pillars: career sustainability, diversity and art, the creative approaches to documentary storytelling. They are all inextricably linked.

The group that we’re gathering in L.A. is going to be about 4-500 professionals, who are involved in the field, mostly makers, to talk about what specific solutions can we be working on as a field. We aim to come out of that with some working groups and a central task force to help us advance the conversation. We’ll see what comes out of it.

There were some concrete actions that came out of the first Getting Real conference in 2014 around conversations with funders and public media. So there is an opportunity to bring a significant number of people together to come up with some actual action steps and concrete measures. So I think there’s a chance there.

Lois: ITVS has had a Diversity Development Fund [DDF]. Originally when that fund was created from a foundation it was a termed grant – it was for 3 years. But we felt it was such a vital part of who we are and what our mandate is that when that grant ran out, we made it a core part of our programming. We lobbied to have that implemented into our ongoing funding contract so that our funder, who gives us money, allows us to spend money that way. And we will continue to have the DDF because it is the single most important way for us to identify filmmakers, who are trying to get into the system, which is closed and hard – to get them a leg-up.

What we’re looking at doing now is to add a second tier – sort of like a Diversity Development Part II. Because what we have found, not surprisingly, is that great talent comes to us with great ideas. We give them a small amount so they can go out and develop the idea and maybe put together a trailer, but they are still having a hard time competing with the predominantly White field. We’re hoping that this alternative funding will help those projects become more viable – not just for ITVS Open Call, but with all the myriad of funders out there, who are supporting documentary film.

So that’s critical to us and for me, it really is the most exciting work that we do – not just because it’s young talent, because our Diversity Development, as you can see, produces people who are at various stages in their careers, but it is about bringing in new ideas and making sure that those voices are able to continue to make the film. And a big part of what we talk about is will there be a second film and how can we keep them going?

In addition to ITVS shouting proudly that we fund 67% of diverse filmmakers, Independent Lens has 54% diversity in terms of the programming we represent. This is to go back to Darius’ point earlier: it is a sad reality that the vast majority of programming that I am able to bring to our slate is ITVS funded programming. Because when I go to festivals to look for programming, it is predominantly – heavily, by a huge majority — White filmmakers. So it is very hard, on the festival circuit, to find films that are made by diverse filmmakers because there are just less of them, as Darius pointed out.

The other thing that I think is critical, and again, I’m in a position where I have a wonderful situation, but ITVS feels very strongly about diversity on all levels. So our staff is always 60% or more diverse and we’ve never dropped below – or we’ve never certainly dropped below 50% — and that creates a huge reality. Everyone working on the marketing side, thinking about how you’re going to talk about the films, the outreach side, the funding side when you diversity throughout the organization is absolutely critical. And we do it including our vendors. Like when we’re going to hire a dubbing house, we try to find the dubbing house that has the most diverse staff, etc.

And then the last thing that I’ll just throw in there is something we’ve been working on; my colleague, Erica [Deiparine-Sugars], with other funders, is to try to create – and this grew out of the last IDA conference — is to create more consistency around the funding guidelines so that filmmakers, especially filmmakers, who are coming at it against these sort of large obstacles, don’t have to recreate the wheel every time they apply. We think that will provide more opportunities for filmmakers from diverse communities to be more competitive for larger sources of money from funders, who are typically looking for proposals that have all the “bells and whistles.” So if we can get that a little more equalized, we’re hoping that that will also increase.

So those are just a few of the things we’re working on, but we’re always open to suggestions and feel as though these kinds of conversations have to be available in order to hold us accountable and push us forward.

Sabrina: For me as a programmer with the Latino International Film Festival Boston [LIFFB] along with a ground troop of supporters, we want to create more of an educational presence throughout the year – without reinventing the wheel, but talking to other festivals and high schools about how can we start introducing filmmaking as an option for younger students. Yes, a lot of festivals have that component, but specifically targeted at communities of color.

Also as a filmmaker/producer, it is essential to me that my crew better reflect the diverse world we live in and to emphasize that we are not only minimum-wage workers, but that there are a bunch of us that area well educated – professionals with backgrounds in law and medicine… And again, I recognize that that’s just my reality and that’s what I bring to the forefront of my personal and professional life. Unfortunately, this equation isn’t always as important or part of their reality.

Darius: For me it’s difficult because I don’t run a festival, I’m just a freelance filmmaker. So all I have is the work. I feel like my role is to speak truth to power. The thing is it gets a little scary because I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years on social media I’ve almost become silent. Other than re-tweeting a few articles, I’ve just become quiet because I have been concerned about speaking too loudly about this issue and being silenced, professionally, which is a real reality. Not everyone is a Lois and a Simon. There are folks who do not want to hear this and don’t want to be bothered with it.

My focus is to continue to do work that is challenging and continue to talk about the reality. It’s not just about diversity because I don’t want people thinking this about some affirmative action thing – it’s about inclusion. That everyone has a right. Their opinion, their life experience, their talent should be at the table – not there simply because there was a need for a person of color or disabled person, but because you have a right as a human being to be present, to speak up and have your say.

Also my goal is to continue to learn. I don’t know if in 15-20 years, if I’m in a position as a gatekeeper, will I have to eat my own words and to make sure that I’m studying these issues and following through so that I’m not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

So yes, there is a need for this conversation to continue, but the other word that keeps coming to mind is “disruption.” There needs to be a massive disruption. TV has been dominated for so many decades by the dominant culture. This country, just living in NY, you realize that this is an incredibly diverse world we live in, but you might not know that by simply watching TV. So I agree with Lois that we need a level of diversity at every level of this operation. It can’t just be the filmmakers. We need people in the jury pools, at the festivals, broadcasters, in the edit suites – every single step we need representation of what reality looks like. The world is not 95% White.

Lois: I want to add that when Darius said he thought he was going to have to be quiet, is when I became infuriated and also quite afraid, if someone of Darius’ stature, who’s made this extraordinary film and who has proven he’s a great filmmaker and talent with a unique voice – if he has to be silent, then I thought… I must be living in a glass bubble. So the more that we don’t silence Darius — the more that we say, “Darius, louder, louder, louder,” is what we have to do.

I would also like to just say one more small thing, but it all adds up. My challenge to all filmmakers, but especially White filmmakers, is to have people on camera, who represent. So, if you’re doing a historical documentary, people tend to, “what did the White person say about this in 1965?” You know there are a diverse group of people we can use as experts, who represent who we are, as well. It’s about who’s behind the camera, who’s in front of the camera – especially who’s in the role of “expert” or “social commentary.” So I challenge filmmakers all the time. I’ve even asked filmmakers to go out and re-shoot interviews where I’ve heard, now, like what five White people think about – can you tell me what anyone else thinks about this?

Darius, please keep talking.

Darius: I’ll try [audience laughter].

Audience: Hi everyone. Really great conversation, but I want to shift the conversation to that moment, where a filmmaker has an idea and that filmmaker may be a 12 year old White boy or 12 year old Black girl, but their idea might be stopped because of this massive brick wall they have to overcome with regards to access. For instance, if I wanted to create a documentary about disabled or Puerto Rican women sterilization, why shouldn’t I be able to do that if I’m really passionate about it and how do I overcome that stigma of, “Oh, you’re a White male” and how do I connect to my characters as well as maybe you can?

Sabrina: I just have to respond to your comment because I find it really disturbing. When in the history of the world has a White man needed permission? The job of any documentary filmmaker is to gain access and build trust with their characters – whatever subject or community you’re going into. That is your job regardless of whatever is compelling you to tell that story. If it is a community who’s experience is not yours because of region, race or ethnicity, then you have to be aware of that. As someone who works in programming or as someone like Chico, who reads proposals, you look at the team they surround themselves with. OK, maybe this person isn’t from that community, but have they built a team of crew-members and advisors that balances them? I’ve lobbied for White filmmakers making films about Black or Latino communities because they did their due diligence. They did everything to show that they are taking great care and responsibility to build trust – as is your job as a documentary filmmaker. So I take exception with your comment. I think it was a bit naive and that’s okay, but I also think it’s really important to listen and not ask for permission that stems from guilt or not wanting to be associated with the history of White men.

White allies are important, as I think some of the panelists were saying. Listen to Lois. ITVS is the model in terms of building-up a team that reflects and challenges them about their own assumptions. Of course you should make a film about what you’re passionate about, but maybe it takes an extra step to listen to that community and question, “Why do I want to tell this story?”

Darius: I don’t believe everyone should make a film just because they can. That whole, “give me a camera and I should jump into this because I’m passionate about it…” — it’s imperialistic. It’s arrogant. There are certain stories that no, you should not be telling. I’m not saying a lot of stories, but there are certain topics, where you should tell yourself, “I have no business going down this road. This is not my lane. I should not do this. I don’t know anything about this. Even with due diligence, I will be doing a disservice by going down this road – regardless of how passionate I am about it.”

We have seen this endlessly in the whole entire continent of Africa, where you have so many different groups, who are flying over there to lend a helping hand; not even understanding the politics, the culture, the language, but just feeling a passion to help. I think you need to channel that passion to looking in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why am I obsessed about this thing?” You need to sometimes turn the camera around and ask, “Why am I going to seek out the other without exploring what it means to be me?” For example, what does it mean to be a White man in America? What does all of that entail?

You will notice for the last decade in documentary film, a lot of White men don’t have any interest in even talking about that. But as a Black man, I would love to go see that film. And as passionate as I am about wanting to go see that film, I don’t want to make that film. I think a White man should make that film. There are some things I don’t want to touch.

So I don’t think we should just toss around, “Oh, you should be able to do whatever you want to do.” As an adult, you should understand that there are certain things that out of respect for different cultures and different experiences that I should understand where I stand and allow someone else to tell their particular story.

Again, this is a very subjective litmus test, but we have got to remove arrogance and add humility to these ideas in order to understand that we are not just talking about an hour and a half and subject matter – we are invading peoples’ lives and cultures and experiences and we have to respect that. We have to know when to get involved and when to step back.

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AFGHANISTAN: Dirty Money in Afghanistan

At a money market in Kandahar Province, November 2012.

At a money market in Kandahar Province, November 2012.  AHMAD NADEEM / REUTERS

foreignaffairs.com, by Javid Ahmad, Sept. 7, 2016

In 2015, the profits generated by Afghanistan’s illicit economywere worth more than $1 billion. Drug trafficking, smuggling, unregulated trade, and fraud in procurement contracts are encumbering the country’s economic development and funding the terrorist groups that undermine its stability.

Money laundering plays a crucial role in supporting this criminality. Yet over the past decade, the government has not been able to do much to crack down on it: of the many clear cases of the practice that have appeared, only a few have been prosecuted. The problem is a product of several factors, including lax financial and customs controls, inadequate expertise in the Afghan government, high-level opposition to change, and weak enforcement mechanisms.

The hawala system is appealing to Afghans seeking to shield ill-gotten gains from the state.

Chief among the roadblocks, however, is the nature of Afghanistan’s capital flows. Most of the country’s economic activity is informal, and data provided by the Ministry of Finance suggest that only 35 percent of the financial flows within the country are legal. Unregulated cash transactions and remittances through the country’s traditional money transfer system, a network of brokers known as hawala, are the rule. According to the Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money-laundering body, more than half of all transactions in Afghanistan involve hawala brokers. Ordinary Afghans do not have many other options: although the country’s banking sector has grown significantly in recent years, most commercial banks are still concentrated in its cities. For many Afghans, hawalabrokers, whose services often leave no paper trail, provide services that are cheaper and more convenient than their counterparts in the official banking sector.

Largely because of its informality and opacity, the hawala system is also at the center of Afghanistan’s troubles with money laundering. Many brokers are unlicensed, operating without oversight in violation of domestic laws and foreign exchange regulations. Making matters worse, the line between the official banks and the hawala system is blurry. Hawala brokers often keep bank accounts and use bank transfers to pay other brokers abroad, and Afghan banks have used the system to send money to the country’s remote areas. This makes it nearly impossible for the government to determine which funds sent through the hawala system are above board and which are not. Together with the hawala system’s lack of formal limits on the size of transfers, such factors have made the system appealing to Afghans seeking to shield ill-gotten gains from the state.

Those who profit from Afghanistan’s massive narcotics sector are the biggest beneficiaries. In 2015, Afghanistan’s opium economy was worth some $1.5 billion, or around seven percent of the country’s GDP. A large part of this money ends up in the hands of the Taliban and other insurgent groups: according to the United Nations, in 2015, at least ten percent of the earnings from poppy cultivation in Afghanistan’s eastern and western provinces financed such organizations. In Afghanistan’s opium-rich provinces, according to the World Bank, more than 80 percent of the proceeds generated by the drugs trade run through the hawalasystem.

Cracking down on the laundering of drug money through the hawala system is especially difficult because in many cases, the transactions involve the exchange of goods as well as cash. In northern Afghanistan, for example, traffickers, abetted by Afghan officials who are willing to look the other way, load trucks bound for Central Asia with drugs, precious stones, and metals. The exporters of the illicit cargoes disguise the profits they reap from their sale by importing goods instead of transfering money in return, paying the government’s import tax at the border, and disguising their ownership of the imported goods by laundering the funds from their sale through shell companies and hawala brokers. The shell companies then invest the proceeds into normal commercial activities, such as real estate investments. These kinds of exchanges are extremely difficult to trace.

The ease with which drugs cross Afghanistan’s borders speaks to the broader difficulties that Kabul has had with customs control. In the past, traders managed to avoid border inspections by paying off customs officials. That problem has diminished recently, mostly thanks to changes President Ashraf Ghani has made to Afghanistan’s customs system. Yet powerful officials still flout a rule requiring that they declare cash worth more than $20,000 at the border; in recent years, they have carried millions of dollars out of the country.

GHANI GETS TOUGH?

Over the past decade, Afghanistan has successfully prosecuted only a handful of money-laundering or terrorism-financing cases. Between 2011 and 2014, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA), a financial intelligence unit, referred several cases to the country’s attorney general, but none were brought before the courts, and the authorities did not issue orders to freeze or seize assets in any of them. For its part, FinTRACA has never sanctioned a bank or hawala broker for regulatory breaches or for violating anti-money-laundering or terrorism-financing laws. And no hawala brokers have reported suspicious transactions to FinTRACA, even though all of Afghanistan’s financial entities are legally required to do so. What is more, money laundering is still treated as a minor offense in Afghanistan: it is punishable by an imprisonment of between two and five years or a fine of between $1,000 and $7,000.

Those who profit from Afghanistan’s massive narcotics sector are the biggest beneficiaries.

Afghanistan’s National Unity Government is taking on this problem with an approach that is tougher than its predecessor’s. In June, Ghani established an Anticorruption Justice Center to investigate and prosecute high-ranking officials, including former cabinet ministers and governors, suspected of graft—a move that, predictably, has angered many current and former officials. So far, the center has reviewed over 150 corruption cases, and it is preparing a number of prominent ones for prosecution. The government has also strengthened its ability to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. It has amended the laws that criminalize both practices, requiring the attorney general to order asset freezes against people involved in either offense as soon as the authorities have determined their involvement. Kabul is working to improve the ability of Afghanistan’s various government agencies to coordinate their efforts on money-laundering and terrorism-financing cases and is trying to improve compliance in the banking sector by increasing the government’s oversight of bank transactions. It has also computerized the government’s revenue and customs departments, both of which had been at the center of official corruption.

In recent months, Afghanistan has ramped up its inspections of hawala brokers and has strengthened its hawala licensing program so that it will punish brokers who do not regularly report suspicious transactions to the authorities by, for example, temporarily stripping them of their licenses. The program has also made it easier for the government to monitor and seize assets involved in money-laundering offenses. These efforts have been supported by a three-year, $45 million IMF grant aimed at bolstering Afghanistan’s banking laws and anticorruption regulations. More broadly, the government has overhauled the judicial sector, replacing more than 600 judges, removing 20 percent of the country’s prosecutors and 25 percent of customs officials from their posts, and prohibiting many others from leaving the country.

Harvesting opium in a poppy field in Farah Province, May 2009.

Harvesting opium in a poppy field in Farah Province, May 2009.

Ghani’s moves have raised the hopes of many, but some powerful Afghan—from former cabinet officials to local strongmen—have pushed back against his reforms to protect their own interests. Since the reform push still lacks deep domestic support, the backing of Afghanistan’s international partners, particularly the United States, will go a long way to making it a success.

The government should work with its international partners to better train Afghanistan’s judges, prosecutors, and regulators. It should also tighten its control of Afghanistan’s borders and continue to back FinTRACA’s efforts to fight money laundering and terrorism financing. Fixing Afghanistan’s problems will not only require cleaning up the drugs, real estate, procurement, and import-export sectors—it will demand dismantling the illicit financial flows that support law-breaking in all of them and threaten the country’s stability.

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ON DEVELOPMENT: Poverty Cut by Growth Despite Policy Failure

ipsnews.net, by Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

– At the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, world leaders committed to halve the share of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015. The World Bank’s poverty line, set at $1/day in 1985, was adjusted to $1.25/day in 2005, an increase of 25% after two decades. This was then re-adjusted to $1.90/day in 2011/2012, an increase by half over 7 years! As these upward adjustments are supposed to reflect changes in the cost of living, but do not seem to parallel inflation or other related measures, they have raised more doubts about poverty line adjustments.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

The number of people living on less than $1.90 a day in developing countries is estimated to have fallen from close to two billion in 1981 to 1.95 billion in 1990 to just under 1.4 billion in 2005 and 902 million in 2012, projected to 702 million in 2015. The share of poor people has thus declined from 44% in 1981 to 37% in 1990, 24% in 2005 and 12.8% in 2012, projected to 9.6% in 2015.Uneven progress
Much of the progress has been due to sustained rapid growth in several large developing countries, notably China and India, and higher commodity prices for over a decade until 2014. However, outside of East Asia, progress has been modest, with actual setbacks in some countries and regions. For those earning just above the extreme poverty line ($1.90 a day), progress can be temporary as economic and other shocks threaten hard-won gains, forcing them back into poverty. Progress in reducing poverty has been generally slower using higher poverty lines. Over 2.1 billion people in the developing world lived on less than $3.10 a day in 2012, compared to 2.9 billion in 1990.

Extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa has hardly declined, standing at around 42.6% in 2012. Moreover, many of the poor in this region are estimated to be very far below the poverty line as the average consumption of Africa’s poor is only about 70 cents a day—barely more than twenty years ago. Thus, even 20 more years of progress at recent rates will not end poverty in Africa, with a quarter of Africans expected to still be deemed poor in 2030.

Besides income, wide ranging deficits in the human condition remain widespread, not only in most low income countries, but also in many middle income countries. Access to basic education, healthcare, modern energy, safe water and other critical services — often influenced by socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity and geography — remain elusive for many.

Claiming credit

There is little evidence that the professed commitments by the global community to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and what was done in the name of the MDGs was critical to poverty reduction. This does not bode well for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially with the protracted economic slowdown since 2008, the declining commitment to economic multilateralism and the constrained fiscal and policy space most developing countries have.

In decoupling poverty reduction from economic development, various ‘silver bullets’ – microcredit, ‘bottom of the pyramid’ marketing, land titling, ‘good governance’ – were touted, but failed, as miracle cures. In most developing societies, economic reforms and policies imposed or advised by international financial institutions, did not deliver promised growth, but instead often exacerbated growing inequalities, both within and among nations. And even where economic growth – typically despite, rather than because of the conventional wisdom – lifted most boats, it often did not raise the leaky, fragile ones of the poor.

This nuanced record of poverty reduction challenges the conventional policy prescriptions identified with the Washington Consensus – the norm outside East Asia since the 1980s. Reductions in public investments – in health, education and other social programmes – have adversely affected billions. The poor have also been more vulnerable to economic downturns, as unskilled workers tend to lose their jobs first, while job recovery generally lags behind output recovery.

Ideology, crisis and poverty

The counter-revolution against development economics, and the ascendance of the Washington Consensus since the 1980s, significantly transformed the development discourse. Reforms such as macroeconomic stabilization, defined as low single digit inflation, as well as microeconomic market liberalization, associated with structural adjustment, were all supposed to accelerate economic growth and poverty reduction, presumed to follow from growth. These typically failed on both counts – to spur growth and to eliminate poverty.

Little attention was given to structural causes of poverty, including gross inequalities of resources and opportunities, and the consequences of uneven development. While the Washington Consensus economic reforms were supposed to unleash rapid growth, social protection was reduced to social safety nets targeted at a few supposedly falling between the cracks, often victims of temporary setbacks such as natural catastrophes and economic crises.

The Washington Consensus reforms, often imposed as conditionalities, have significantly constrained policy space for national development strategies. Failure to sustain growth, regressive tax reforms and reduced government revenues have also constrained developing countries’ fiscal space. Developing countries also significantly reduced state capacities and capabilities while under pressure to liberalize and globalize on unequal and debilitating terms. Such reductions of both fiscal and policy space have undermined sustainable and equitable development.

Poor policies

Conventional policy approaches to poverty eradication are clearly insufficient, if not worse. Meanwhile, obstacles to reducing global poverty remain formidable, numerous and complex. Targeting – often demanded by many donors – is not only typically costly, but also inadvertently excludes many who are deserving. Furthermore, many poverty programmes favoured by donors have not been effective in reducing poverty, although some have undoubtedly helped ameliorate poverty.

The 2008-2009 global financial and economic crisis has prompted some reconsideration of appropriate economic policies, even by the international financial institutions. There is now greater recognition of the need for inclusive, pro-growth and counter-cyclical macroeconomic policies as well as prudent capital account management, but institutional prejudices and prescriptions have been slow to change at the country level.

The overall global economic situation and prospects have deteriorated with the ongoing economic slowdown. While the timing and sustainability of economic recovery remain uncertain, job prospects and work conditions continue to deteriorate, with adverse consequences.

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HAITI: Only Haitians can save Haiti

AFP_FJ4XO
washingtonpost.com, Opinion by Joel Dreyfuss, 

Joel Dreyfuss is a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist.

Haiti won a rare victory on the international stage last week. After five years of evading accountability, the United Nations finally admitted that its peacekeepers were responsible for a deadly cholera epidemic that killed 10,000 men, women and children and sickened 700,000. Long after scientists traced the disease to the poor sanitation practices of Nepalese troops stationed in Haiti, the U.N. rejected the findings, claimed diplomatic immunity and enlisted Obama administration support to block efforts by Haitians to hold the agency accountable in U.S. courts. The U.N. backed down after a report by New York University law professor Philip Alston, an adviser on legal and human rights, became public. Alston called the U.N.’s stonewalling “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”

The U.N.’s arrogant stance was just the latest example of how Haiti’s friends are so often its worst enemies. The U.N. military mission has been in Haiti since 2004, presumably to “stabilize” the country and nurture its fragile democracy. Yet that democracy is barely breathing, with a “provisional” president and a group of dubiously elected officials who can barely agree on a date for presidential elections.

Consider the aftermath of the massive earthquake that killed 200,000 to 300,000 Haitians on Jan. 12, 2010. The international community did responded generously. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presided over a reconstruction commission that won $14 billion in international pledges and posed to help transform Haiti into a modern nation. However, what money was actually delivered was sucked into a morass of Beltway consultants, failed projects and nongovernmental organizations. “Valuable studies and assessments conducted by Haitians themselves were largely ignored,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in a postmortem study. Six years later, the rubble in downtown Port-au-Prince has been cleared, but little has been rebuilt. The nation’s center of commercial activity has moved to suburban Pétionville. Plans to revive the capital remain as vague as the early-morning fog that drifts across the majestic mountains that serve as a backdrop to Haiti’s tortured history.

The Clintons have expressed a fondness for Haiti ever since they honeymooned there in 1975. Bill and Hillary have been up to their elbows in Haiti ever since 1994, when President Clinton used U.S. military power to restore Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Clinton, whose home state of Arkansas is the No. 1 rice producer in the United States, extracted an agreement from Aristide in 1995 to drop tariffs on imported rice. The resulting influx of cheap American rice destroyed Haitian’s near-self-sufficiency in food and sent thousands of poor farmers and their families into the overcrowded capital. Clinton has since apologized for his “devil’s bargain.” Fast-forward to today, and Haitians know that the United States’ presidential elections will have a profound effect on their future: A Hillary Clinton victory could mean more interference in Haiti’s affairs.

The current political crisis was precipitated by the heavy-handed manipulation of Haitian politics by the “Core Group,” (the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Brazil, the European Union and the Organization of American States). In 2011, they excluded the most popular political party from presidential elections and discarded one of the top vote-getters, and Haitians ended up with former bandleader Michel Martelly as president. They tried the same tactics this year, putting heavy pressure on Haitians to complete a tainted second round of ballots. Fed up, thousands of Haitians took to the streets to reject that advice and force a new round of elections over strong American objections.

Haitian identity at home and abroad is tightly linked to our native country’s status as the world’s first free black republic. Every August UNESCO commemorates the secret ceremony in Haiti’s Bois-Caiman in 1791 that triggered a successful slave uprising, which in turn fomented the revolution that led to its independence. I know I will offend many of my fellow Haitians by saying this out loud — but I wonder if Haiti will ever truly regain its independence. The reality is that Haiti, more than 200 years after it gained its freedom, has spent large chunks of its existence under the military, political or economic control of foreign powers.

Haiti paid twice for its freedom, first with blood and then with money. Haitians handed Napoleon his first significant military defeat by repelling the 50,000 troops he sent to restore slavery. But fearing a new invasion, Haiti signed an agreement with France’s Charles X in 1825 to pay former owners of plantations and slaves tens of millions of francs (variously estimated by historians at between $3 billion to $25 billion in today’s dollars) as the price for recognition. The deal doomed Haiti to 80 years of distorted budgets focused on paying off foreign debt and starving its people of the infrastructure and educational facilities that might have set the young nation on a more prosperous path. The United States began its military occupation of Haiti in 1915 and remained there for 19 years. But even before American Marines landed in the country, Haiti’s many authoritarian and corrupt leaders plunged the country into debt and exacerbated the domination of the many by the few. Rosalvo Bobo, an early-20th-century Haitian politician, noted that Haitian leaders had replaced the liberating achievement of their ancestors for “slavery of blacks by blacks.”

The ultimate challenge for Haiti — and many other small countries — is how to gain a measure of control over their own destinies, especially when they are in the “back yard” of powerful nations, dependent on foreign aid and are forced to deal with internal divisions. One way the U.N. could make restitution is to fulfill its pledge to rebuild Haiti’s sanitation system and begin planning a removal of the peacekeeping force. Those who want to help Haiti should begin consulting and involving Haitians at home and abroad in their grand plans.

But the best incentive for change will come from Haiti itself. A new chapter for the embattled nation will come only when Haiti’s rapacious business and political elites and its masses of neglected poor learn the lessons from 200 years ago — that no one is coming to save them.

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ON THE MEDIA: Documentaries Make An Impact Through Artistry As Much As Advocacy

huffingtonpost.com, Blog from Lara Stolman and Shanna Belott, Aug. 18, 2016

“What’s your call to action?” This was one of the first questions asked of us when it was announced that our film Swim Team was chosen for this year’s IFP Documentary Completion Lab. It’s a familiar question for sure.

Somewhere along the line, it became important for documentary films to have a so-called call to action, particularly if these films are competing for the typical sources of funding. Some of the best known and most generous documentary funders now explicitly state or demonstrate through their choice of films that fundable documentaries must address contemporary social issues and seek to challenge the status quo, inspire people to join or create a movement, or otherwise call for social action.

But if you’re making an independent documentary on an artist, any sort of biography or historical film, or something non-traditional, good luck getting support. “There’s been a gradual change in the understanding and acceptance of what a documentary can be,” says Milton Tabbot, Senior Director of Programming for IFP. “Although there are exceptions among funders, these days most of the films that get funding are the ones that have real strong social issues, where it’s clear how the film can be used as a tool for outreach and impact. Some people are still surprised if there’s a strong narrative and story.”

Even our film, about a competitive swim team of teens on the autism spectrum, was dismissed by some as “not about a hard hitting social issue,” and thus ineligible for support. Swim Team focuses on young people seeking acceptance in a society that takes every opportunity to segregate based on disability, and the nonprofits that we have begun to partner with certainly recognize the potential of our film to engage in a national conversation about inclusion. That said, our narrative throughline of a sports team trying to dominate the competition makes our film more difficult to categorize for some funders.

To be clear, supporting films that tackle social issues head-on isn’t a negative trend. Social issue documentaries offer incalculable value towards generating real world impact. And it’s not a zero sum game; films with an agenda are luring new funding to the space. As director Marshall Curry recently observed to The New York Times, “If these funders weren’t funding activist films, they would be funding some other form of activism — not some other form of filmmaking.”

IFP is the rare organization now supporting independent film that embraces diverse voices, including the kind of films that may not be the obvious candidate for a grant. The documentaries IFP has supported through their Documentary Lab, Film Week and/or other channels include such outstanding films as Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, Keith Maitland’s Tower, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’sRich Hill, Penny Lane’s Our Nixon, Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer, Todd Miller’s Dinosaur 13, Eva Radivojevic’s Evaporating Borders, Jason Osder’s Let the Fire Burn, and Amanda Wilder’s Approaching the Elephant. In an increasingly competitive field, it’s validating and meaningful to be chosen for IFP’s Documentary Lab, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover the eclecticism of IFP’s other selections.

“We support voices that might otherwise not be heard,” says Tabbot. “As a programmer, I’m drawn to diversity of approaches in this artform, and above all any documentary has to succeed as cinema. If you return to a work five to ten years from now, the film should be able to stand alone as a film, not just as an issue. The issue isn’t the film.”

Film is a powerful medium to change people’s perspectives, but impact isn’t easily measured. This is true even when there’s a strong social issue, but quantifying impact is doubly difficult when the film is not singularly focused on a cause and more concerned with characters, story and cinema. Nevertheless, these films have the ability to absorb and deeply affect viewers.

“Documentaries that are more cinematic, stylistically unconventional and less issue-focused retain the power to challenge audiences’ views of the world, but perhaps in a subtler way,” says Paola Mottura, Documentary Program Manager for IFP. “These films can change the way we perceive certain realities by drawing us into characters, making us empathize with their stories in a way that ultimately may still result in changing our attitudes towards the subject matter.”

Our first week of the IFP Documentary Lab in May included a number of opportunities to learn about and discuss distribution and impact – terms that are increasingly linked in the documentary world. Funders and distributors have ratcheted up their expectations for audience engagement plans from filmmakers, making it our job not only to make the film itself but also design a campaign around its distribution to engineer its impact. If that sounds daunting, it is. As the landscape in the documentary world has shifted to favor the films that are deemed best suited to “make an impact,” an enormous responsibility is placed on the shoulders of filmmakers to create films that make the case for impact right out the gate.

As we got to know the other IFP Lab fellows and discover their films, we realized that what all of our films had in common was a personal and sometimes quirky perspective on stories that have deeper and yet sometimes subtle roots in social and political issues. These issues include women’s equality, mental illness, patient rights, immigration, poverty, racism and more – but none of this year’s IFP Lab films seem geared to change the law, feature a ripped from the headlines story or include experts articulating issues in a talking heads style.

“It takes more work to have that discussion outside the film instead of people talking in the film,” says Tabbot. But films that introduce compelling characters and communities and don’t necessarily advocate or present a succinct “case” may be just as if not more resonant simply because they ask the viewer to arrive at his own conclusions.

Indeed, sometimes an intimate, character-driven story can generate tremendous impact. Tabbot believes that there’s an innate excitement around more personal films that often make them more engaging, and therefore more effective at times. “Rather than approaching a topic in a very traditional way and listening to an issue again and again, it’s intriguing to see artists that are trying something different,” he observes.

Every documentary is a form of commentary on its subject, every documentary filmmaker’s work is informed by her personal point of view. In documentary film, the personal is indeed political. As IFP Lab editing mentor Carol Dysinger said, “Every movie is a conversation with the world.” So if we’re paying attention to the circumstances surrounding a film’s story, many documentaries reveal social issues in unexpected ways.

The late, great Roger Ebert once noted, “film is a machine that generates empathy.” It’s the viewers’ experience of empathizing with a character in a film that can help awaken them to certain causes. By leaning on the raw power of personal, human stories, films that have deep impact may not appear to have an agenda at all, but instead tiptoe lightly towards changing hearts and minds.

Learn more about the forthcoming documentary “Swim Team” at www.swimteamthefilm.com

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HAITI: Doctors Fear Zika Is A Sleeping Giant In Haiti

haiti-1-066-70_custom-61d78e8a27f25598e7a9923ce555cdee9ab80a42-s800-c85
npr.org, by  ,Aug. 31, 2016

At the Mirebalais Hospital in Haiti’s central plateau, Dr. Louise Ivers and Dr. Roman Jean-Louis are examining a baby girl who was born in early July with microcephaly, a smaller-than-normal skull often associated with Zika infections.

The baby, named Chinashama, is dressed in a white smock adorned with small flowers. Her legs cross unnaturally over her shins, and her mother, Chrisnette Sainvilus, says the baby cries a lot and has trouble passing stool. “Day and night she’s crying,” the mother of two says. It’s unclear what physical and mental problems Chinashama is facing.

Ivers lifts Chinashama’s legs and tries to move them apart. “See, her legs are still crossed. The muscle development is not what we’d want to see,” she says. “This baby definitely needs physical therapy.”

Chinashama is one of three babies born with microcephaly at the Mirebalais Hospital in July. The Haitian Ministry of Health says there have been 11 others born nationwide over the past two months with this usually rare birth defect. But only one has been officially confirmed as a result of the Zika virus.

Haiti has all of the ingredients for widespread transmission of Zika. The mosquito that carries the virus flourishes in Haiti’s tropical heat. As the outbreak wanes in Brazil and Colombia, the Caribbean is currently the epicenter of Zika transmission. The region is reporting high numbers of cases. Puerto Rico, for instance, has a population a third the size of Haiti and is reporting roughly 1,500 new cases of Zika each week.

Yet as of August, Haiti had confirmed only five cases to the World Health Organization.

Many people who get infected with Zika have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In Haiti, it can take all day for a patient to see a doctor, so most people don’t come to health facilities unless they are extremely ill. But if they’re pregnant and have Zika, the virus could still pose a threat to their fetus.

Sainvilus, Chinashama’s mother, says she doesn’t remember having a fever or other signs of Zika during her pregnancy — although she thinks she had a bout of fever that she thought was chikungunya just before she got pregnant.

But even if Sainvilus had gotten sick, it’s highly unlikely that she would have been tested for Zika. For the last four months, a doctors’ strike in Haiti has brought the public health care system to a standstill. The Mirebalais Hospital, which remained functioning, is a five-hour bus drive from her home on the road that leads from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic.

Secondly, Haiti just doesn’t have the infrastructure to do widespread Zika testing. The only place that can test for Zika is the national laboratory run by the Ministry of Health. They’ve been doing a limited number of tests that will only come back positive if the actual virus is still in the blood sample being tested. Zika clears from the blood fairly quickly, so unless you test while the person is still sick, it’s going to come back negative.

Other more complicated tests have to get sent out to Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago or the U.S. — and it can take months for a doctor to get those results if they get them at all.

Ivers, from Partners in Health, a global health organization based in Boston, says she’s quite anxious that Zika is spreading widely across Haiti — but it’s not being detected.

“We don’t have a good idea of what’s going on. Now that we’ve seen three babies born [with microcephaly] in the span of three weeks in our own facility, we are very concerned that it’s being under-reported in other parts of the country,” she says.

On top of that, she’s worried that Haiti’s severely limited health system, which isn’t picking up Zika cases, is also ill-equipped to deal with a wave of children with severe birth defects.

“Children with developmental delays or disability need individual care with lots of different resources,” Ivers says. “Those resources are not really available in Haiti.”

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