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Cynthia Arvide – WNN Features

Blogosphere wooden banner sign

Today more women than men are bloggers worldwide. Image: OSCAC

(WNN) Mexico City, MEXICO, AMERICAS: Women bloggers make up the majority of bloggers found online today says Nielsen, the internet analytics giant.  Today 6.7 million people who want to publish their opinions are reaching the public via the internet, many of them using blogging as a way to do this. Another 12 million bloggers write using social networks platforms. It is not a surprise that women who want to reach the public with their ideas care about human rights and social justice.

As a Yemeni freelance writer, journalist and blogger Afrah’s work hasn’t been ignored. On the contrary, her work has been featured as one of the “10 must-read blogs from the Middle East” by CNN.com. She recently spoke in Mexico City during the Female Bloggers Forum as part of DHFEST, Mexico City’s International Film Festival for Human Rights where WNN – Women News Network caught up with her and the other women bloggers who came to speak.

“It all started before the revolution. I was thinking that I would not report on politics,” outlined Afrah Nasser who’s work focuses on women’s rights, democracy and politics. Since May 2011 she has written in exile from her base in Sweden, a choice she did not want to make. As she began to expose corruption in the region, Naseer faced increased threats because of her writings and opinions.

“So I reported [on Yemen] only on cultural and social topics. But the thing is, the more you report about social problems the more you see that the political system has to change,” Nasser continued.

Cyberactivism

Social media in Yemen has brought with it a distinct rise in cyberactivism, even though the country has tried to block social media.

“Even in Yemen, where Internet penetration is a mere 10 percent, youth have clamored to join Facebook,” said current Freedom of Expression Officer at Freedom House Courtney Radsch in a May 2012 report sponsored by the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

“Me and my generation realized that we really needed a drastic change, and we didn’t know how it would come to be, but suddenly the revolution started in Tunisia and we thought: ‘if they can do it, we can do it.,’” said Nasser, who started blogging from Yemen in 2010.

“The whole region got a wind of demanding democracy and social justice. I thought it was the perfect time to start a blog and write about the issues that I wanted to let the others know about,” she added.

As part of her blog, Nasser uploaded photos and posts about protests in Yemen as they happened in the capital city of Sana. She also shared her own opinion demanding political and corruption reform in her country.

Her efforts, along with others bloggers like her, encouraged more people to demand change for freedom, change and human rights in Yemen and beyond.

While Nasser received a high amount of initial local criticism because of her blog, including hate comments and threats made against her, she also received the attention of of the international news media, including CNN.

“Getting that recognition was honorable for all women in Yemen who were always treated as silent, submissive. That was a way to reassure that women are part of the society, part of the political process,” she said.

Four other smart and courageous women bloggers joined Nasser recently on stage in front of a large crowd, more than a 1,000 people on October 3, 2013 at the University of Claustro de Sor Juana. The star group of expert women bloggers included Heba Afify from Egypt; Judith Torrea Oiz from Spain living in Ciudad Juárez; Malaika Mahlatsi of South Africa; and Claudia Calvin Venero from Mexico.

To open discussions and exchange about the powerful tools of social media, tools that are especially useful for women who want to break the silence and repression facing them by encouraging change through open access to information in over 50 countries.

Blogging for Freedom of Expression

“[The] Internet has allowed for the empowerment of women,” outlined Mr. Frank La Rue at the opening of the event.

As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression La Rue has traveled to over 25 separate countries. His reports on freedom of the internet are then delivered directly to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. Outlining freedom of expression and censorship of information where it exists today in global regions, La Rue also reports on the ability for bloggers to blog on conditions from their locations as they face dangers ‘on-the-ground’.

“I started being a journalist ten days before the protests started. At the time, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the use of social media, I liked my simple phone with no Facebook or anything, but then I went into the streets on January, 21st,. I had my notebook and pen to write notes as I usually do, but I noticed something historic was really happening and I couldn’t describe it on paper. So I got a little camera in one hand, my phone on the other, and I learned how to use Twitter. Since then I realized it has to be a tool for any journalist working in the area,” said Heba Afify who has now over six thousand followers on her Twitter account @HebaAfify.

Egyptian woman blogger Heba Afify

Egyptian woman blogger Heba Afify talks with women on the streets of Cairo about their feelings and opinions during the 2012 revolution for democracy in Egypt. This image is a still from the acclaimed documentary “Words of Witness,” by filmmaker Mai Iskander. Image: Mai Iskander

Afify is a wise 22-year-old. She’s also one of the youngest journalists for the leading independent newspaper in Egypt, Almasry Alyoum. She reported on the front line of the struggles for democracy that her country has been going through. The documentary film Words of Witness: To Be Young, Female and Revolutionary followed her while she reported from the center of Egypt’s political storm. She has now become a symbol of a new social and political era in her country.

“I have seen a lot of similarities between the Mexican and the Egyptian society, the social movements… there are a lot of lessons to be exchanged between the two countries. Yesterday I saw the protests here and I saw the exact same scenario that we’ve seen in Egypt,” said Heba to WNN. She referenced the protest that occurred in Mexico City on October 2, 2013 to mark the anniversary of the 1968 student massacre. Thousands of people marched and dozens were injured after clashes with riot police occurred.

21-year-old Malaika Mahlatsi was born and raised in Soweto, South Africa. Pointing to a similarity between her country and Mexico she said, “…the economy is in hands of a minority.”

“The injustice of a system comes from not having access to resources,” she added.

As a child Mahlatsi revealed that she was a victim of rape as she explains how the perpetrator got away with it, “…he had money, and I was an 11-year-old with no money.”

“But there is a lot of power in communication. In the platform of social media; which is used often by the younger people silenced by the system. Facebook and Twitter linked me with people who think like me. We had common struggles and we could organize ourselves,” continues Mahlatsi who writes about the social issues of her country in her blog Pen and Azanian Revolution.

“The blog was my tool,” she adds.

Blogging from Mexico

Spanish journalist Judith Torrea has been in love with the Mexican borderline city Ciudad Juárez for more than 16 years. This city, which she describes as a painful love affair, was called one of “the most violent zones in the world outside of declared war zones” in 2009.

Torrea has been writing about organized crime, violence, immigration and politics for a number of international media outlets.

Returning to Ciudad Juárez after four years of working in New York, she wanted to write about people’s tragedies involved in the ‘so-called’ war against narcotics led by Mexican President Felipe Calderón, but no one would publish her stories.

“I have to say: the only thing I’m afraid of is to not do what I want to do in my life. If you want something and it’s in your mind, it will come through. A tool will arrive. For me that tool was my blog,” added Torrea.

Eventually her blog Ciudad Juárez, en la sombra del narcotráfico (Ciudad Juarez, in the shadow of drug traffic) which compiles devastating stories of the people affected by Mexico’s drug cartels and the violence that comes from this in Juarez, earned her the prestigious Ortega y Gasset award in 2010. One year later Torrea received the BOB – Best of Blogs award from Reporters Without Borders. Torres has also published a book “Juárez en la sombra” (Juarez in the shadow), based on her stories of Juárez.

“If you want to change the world, empower a woman,” said Claudia Calvin as she advises all women bloggers to be aware of the myriad of online tools now available. Calvin is the founder of Mujeres Construyendo, the first online platform from Latin American women bloggers.

Women who blog regularly social media like Facebook or websites on topics that expose injustice know they are opening themselves up online to numerous threats and insults. It’s when the threats jump off the internet that a blogger needs to be aware and take caution. But a majority of women who blog for a better world know they aren’t going to let insulting remarks stop them.

I left Mexico City a few hours ago, took a bus and travelled south to a small village called Tepoztlan in the province of Morelos. I will be here for a few days. Anyway, upon arrival i went to find tortillas in a market and then walked around the area to familiarise myself with the surroundings. I am in awe of how the people of Tepoztlan have been able to maintain their heritage and traditions in the face of colonisation. The history of Mexico is often centralised on the colonisation of the Mayan and Aztec people, but little is ever taught about the people of Tepoztlan despite the rich history of their village,” said blogger Malaika Mahlatsi on her Facebook page after the conference bringing her to Mexico City was over. 

“The people of this village have fought tooth and nails against imperial devastation,” continued Mahlatsi.

It isn’t always easy to write about the hard topics, but women who blog on social wrongs do so because it is in their blood, their DNA, to do so.

“When you start writing, nobody warns you about the abuse you’ll receive,” says Eleanor (Ellie Mae) O’Hagan freelance blogger and writer for The Guardian News.

“…I’m a simple journalist and I believe it’s our duty as reporters to tell the stories we need to tell so that we won’t become accomplices of wars, genocides, corruption…,” outlined Torrea.

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Ms. Tsering Woeser is a poet, writer, tweeter, blogger and woman journalist based in Beijing, China who is a strong advocate for transparency and human rights. Over the past years since 2005 she has also blogged about the ongoing hard situation surrounding indigenous Tibetans who live in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China. These Tibetans are currently fighting for cultural rights, which includes language rights and religious rights which are being stripped away more and more each day. Since her coverage has often highlighted and added her own opinion to the voices of native Tibetans who are in the middle of this struggle, she has been placed under house arrest numerous times. Woeser is loved by Tibetans, human rights activists and humanitarians worldwide for her courage. This May 2013 interview with Woeser was made via Skype by Sampsonia Way Magazine, through the online publication City of Asylum, a thriving online sanctuary for endangered writers across the world. Their work involves helping to make sure writers can continue to write as their voices are not silenced. At the beginning of September 2012 Sampsonia Way made contact with Woeser via Skype. In this video interview Woeser discusses her history of harassment at the hands of the CCP – Communist Party of China, the current situation in Tibet, and what people can do to help. After the conversation Woeser also read one of her poems, “A Sheet of Paper Can Become a Knife.” This video has come to you courtesy of Sampsonia Way Magazine, a publication of City of Asylum.

 

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Released in February 2012 the documentary film, “Word of Witness” highlights the experience of 22-year-old Egyptian Ms. Heba Afify, who used social media and photography to chronicle the revolution unfolding around her. As she heads out to cover the historical events shaping her country’s future, her mother is compelled to remind her, “I know you are a journalist, but you’re still a girl!” Defying cultural norms and family expectations, Heba takes to the streets to report Egypt’s ongoing turmoil, using tweets, texts and Facebook posts. Her coming of age, political awakening and the disillusionment that follows, mirrors that of a nation seeking the freedom to shape its own destiny, dignity and democracy. This video has been produced by: http://www.wordsofwitness.com/

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WNN – Women News Network correspondent in Mexico City, Cynthia Arvide, is a freelance journalist who specializes in women issues, in addition to WNN some of her stories have been published in Marie Claire magazine, the Latin American edition. She also writes human interest stories, travel features and investigative reports about diverse cultural and social issues facing Mexico today.

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©2013 WNN – Women News Network
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