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Transmedia Storytelling: Activating Urban Learning for Slum Upgrading

CatalinaOrtiz9 May 2019

By Dr. Catalina Ortiz and Gynna Millan


A research collaboration between The
 Bartlett DPU staff, UN-Habitat, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Habitat International Coalition (HIC), Cities Alliance, the Municipality of Medellin and six grassroots organisations part of Movimiento de Pobladores and Sandelion – a local transmedia production organisation- to co-design a digital platform that helps to learn about slum upgrading strategies.

For a Spanish version of this blog click here

Graphic recording of the workshop ‘Co-designing a transmedia storytelling platform’. Drawn by Melissa Avila (@MelissaDibuja)


Learning across cities is vital to building cities ‘that leave no one behind.’

Global slum dwellers have grown on average six million a year since 2000, and by 2030, about 3 billion people will require proper housing (UN-Habitat 2014). Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, expressed to the UN Assembly that “the living conditions in informal settlements are one of the most pervasive violations of human rights globally and yet this is being ignored by most and exacerbated by many” (2018:1). In this context, slum upgrading “remains the most financially and socially appropriate approach to addressing the challenge of existing slums” (United Nations 2014:15). World leaders have committed to ensure ‘access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing, basic services and to upgrade slums’ as well as to ‘strengthen global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda’ (UN Habitat, 2016). Following this, SDGs 11 and 17 as well as the UN-Habitat New Urban Agenda highlight the need for people-centred approaches and peer learning platforms as crucial preconditions to engage stakeholders across cities to implement international agendas locally, particularly about Slum Upgrading Strategies (SUS).

Even though learning about SUS across cities is imperative for urban governance and planning in contemporary cities, how such learning occurs and the types of knowledge that are valued, documented and circulated have been less scrutinised and understood. The research project “COiNVITE: Activating Urban Learning for Slum Upgrading” financed by the Bartlett ECR-GCRF, led by Dr Catalina Ortiz  -@CataOrtizA- and Gynna Millan -@Gynaji- (PDRA) at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) aims at finding alternative spaces and methodologies to recalibrate the debate on slum upgrading policies and the role of the circulation of urban knowledge across cities through new visual and digital tools. To achieve this, COiNVITE will deliver the prototype of a Transmedia Storytelling Platform co-designed by multiple urban actors.

International workshop in Medellín with the new actors alliance. Photo by Sandra Tabares

Transmedia Storytelling for Learning

Storytelling has been as a powerful tool for planning practitioners to connect with more human-centred approaches to urban development. Storytelling is emerging as a key tool to raise public awareness (Anderson & McLachlan 2015; Cities Alliance 2018), policy advocacy (Davidson 2017, Brown & Tucker 2017) and peer to peer learning (Hara 2008, UCLG 2018) since generating emotional connections is essential for triggering social change. In this light, urban planning in itself has been described as a ‘performed story’ (Sandercock 2003:13) and storytelling in the field has received recent attention as a means for persuasion and empowerment (Sandercock 2003; Throgmorton 2007; van Hulst 2012; Mager & Matthey 2015; Olesen 2017; Devos et al. 2018). In sum, storytelling helps to foster empathy, to understand the meaning of complex experiences and to inspire action.

With the rise of the digital era, new digital technologies at hand have redefined the way we tell, connect and engaged with stories. The world of entertainment and the field of media and communication studies have framed the emerging strategies of communication as Transmedia Storytelling (TS). Transmedia implies using multiple channels to tell a story from different angles in a coordinated and unified way. It also offers as an expansive and immersive experience using multiple platforms where each media provides a unique contribution to the development of stories (i.e. community radio or newspapers, WhatsApp, Instagram, cartoons, etc.). This new way to engage with storytelling is “by nature fluid and fragmented… in transmedia, meaning changes with exploration… this suggests that knowledge is fluid; it changes with time” (Pence 2012:137). In that way, TS offers new avenues to mobilise learning.

In urban learning codified knowledge is more easily expressed since it is written, and tacit knowledge –the one that often communities have- does not travel as well and is more difficult to communicate (McFarlane 2011). Transmedia helps to translate tacit knowledge and make it travel in different formats. Henry Jenkins, who coined the term, argues that TS “is the ideal aesthetic form of collective intelligence”, that is to say, “those new social structures that facilitate the production and circulation of knowledge within a networked society” (2007: 1). That is why, TS, translated into the development and planning field, offers enormous potential for the circulation of diverse urban narratives and alternative tacit knowledges that reside in local urban communities.

Going beyond the ‘best practice’

Urban decision-makers look for best practices to inspire action and speed up effective urban interventions. The research project uses as a pilot case the city of Medellin, Colombia that has been considered a benchmark for urban transformation and social innovation becoming an inspirational case for Global South cities dealing with entrenched violence and informality. Medellin has shown a decisive convergence of extended practices of strategic planning, urban design and architecture, which have focused local state interest and public investments in traditionally excluded peripheral neighbourhoods. These spatial interventions have included expanding the interconnected transit system (i.e. metro, tramway, cable cars, BRT, and so on), the generation of public spaces and the construction of multiple iconic public facilities.

Medellin demonstrates that ‘informal settlements’ of global South cities are sites of urban planning innovation and collective agency, thus challenging orthodox urban planning narratives that argue otherwise. Learning about the conditions under which transformation is possible goes beyond only listening or praising official narratives about success. For this, TS helps to build a more comprehensive picture of the plurality of stories and learnings that have produced the city and the trade-offs of slum upgrading strategies. In this sense, the main objective of the co-designed Transmedia Storytelling Platform is to make visible those alternative –but often ignored– voices, memories, and learning spaces that have disrupted upgrading urban practices. Thus, the project challenges the notion that slum upgrading is an expert-driven and state-led activity by engaging with community-led processes in the epistemology of knowledge co-production.

 

Working group discussions. Photo by Gynna Millan

COiNVITE: Building a strategic learning alliance

‘Convite’ is a word in Spanish that designates the celebration of collective actions that result from solidarity and empathy networks among urban dwellers. In Medellín, ‘Convite’ has been a social, cultural and technological tool to build urban infrastructure at the neighbourhood level with a city scale impact. During a ‘Convite’, learning and knowledge exchange is essential to achieve common goals. In a ‘Convite’ everyone has knowledge and expertise that can be shared and transferred through storytelling and collective practice, something like “doing while telling”. Medellín is a city that has been transformed significantly by urban ‘Convites’. As a result, we named the -digital and social- platform after this meaningful practice.

A key challenge for effective urban learning is the ability to bring together multiple actors operating at different scales and times and who often have confrontational perspectives. Building on this, COiNVITE’s methodological approach was to first established a learning alliance with multilateral agencies and global coalitions –UN-Habitat, Cities Alliance, UCLG, the Global Platform for the Right to the City and the HIC–, along with the Municipality of Medellin, National University of Colombia, Los Andes University, University of Colorado Boulder and several grassroots organisations linked to the social movement ‘Movimiento de Pobladores’ in Medellín, to shape the content of the Transmedia Storytelling Platform and provide their knowledge and expertise in a collaborative way.

On the other hand, one of the significant challenges of assembling a platform for urban learning is the expertise that it requires. This journey cannot be made without the alliances between usual urban actors but neither without a team that can translate urban knowledge into the technicalities that make possible the new digital environments. This is why we collaborate with a local transmedia production organisation – Sandelion Productions @SandelionPro –  an expert on linking co-creation processes, storytelling and transmedia experiences. Creating a transmedia experience is a complicated endeavour, as they involve multiple dimensions such as narrative, cultural and historical contexts (Rampazzo 2013). For Jenkins (2010), this is in part because transmedia represents the intersection between fields that are typically separated. To ‘fast’ prototype a transmedia platform is even more complex as it goes against the long periods that can take generating multimedia material that is this case should be meaningful human centred stories. To overcome this, we partnered with the NGO Mobility / Movilidad that since 2012 has been producing what is now an extensive archive of stories about dwellers’ struggles in Medellin informal settlements. This combination of actors made it possible to assemble a strategic learning alliance to explore the potentials of bringing TS to processes of urban learning.

The exploration of a methodological repertoire and the encounter of the multi-actor alliance took place between the 27th March and 2nd April and was hosted our partners at Exploratorio – Parque Explora and Moravia Cultural Centre in Medellin. The international workshop served as a disruptive action to bring about innovative urban learning strategies for: a) fostering togetherness across partners under the equalising notion of ‘we are urban storytellers’ and bonding through creative thinking activities; b) sensitising about the key learnings on local slum upgrading using character-driven stories; c) experimenting with unconventional methodological tools for creating transmedia storytelling; and d) linking partners’ initiatives working at different scales on slum upgrading to act collectively.

In sum, from The Bartlett, we are leading an effort to co-design a learning TS platform as methodological experimentation to localise critical targets of the Sustainable Development Goals 11 and 17 as well as the UN Habitat New Urban Agenda. COiNVITE will deliver a fast prototype of the platform that will be publicly tested in June 2019. If you are interested in any way about this project, get in touch by email or by following any of our social media channels using @coinvite.

Twitter @COiNVITE, FB StorytellingUrbanLearning y en Instragram coinvite

 

Walkshop around Comuna 13. Photo by @Zootropico films.

References

Anderson, C. R. and McLachlan, S.M. (2015) Transformative research as knowledge mobilization: transmedia, bridges and layers. Action Research, Volume: 14 issue: 3, page(s): 295-317.

Brown,  & Tucker, K. (2017) Unconsented Sterilisation, Participatory Story‐Telling, and Digital Counter‐Memory in Peru. Antipode, Volume 49, Issue 5, 1186-1203.

Davidson, B. (2017). Storytelling and evidence-based policy: lessons from the grey literature. Palgrave Communications, 3:17093, 1-10.

Devos, T. et.al (2018) Valuating narrative accounts in participatory planning processes. A case of co-creative storytelling in Antwerp, Belgium. In: Participatory Design Theory, Routledge, 284 p.

Hara, N. (2008) Communities of Practice, Fostering peer to peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the work place. Springer 138 p.

Hulst, M. (2012) Storytelling: a model of and a model for planning. Planning Theory, 11(3), 299-318.

Jenkins, H. (2003) “Transmedia Storytelling.” Technology Review.

Jenkins, H. 2010a. ‘Transmedia storytelling and entertainment: An annotated syllabus’. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies (24), 6, 943–58.

McFarlane, C. (2011) Learning the city, Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage. Willey-Blackwell, 218 p.

Olesen, K. (2017) Talk to the hand: strategic spatial planning as persuasive storytelling of the Loop City, European Planning Studies, Volume 25, Issue 6, 978-993.

Pence, H. (2012) Teaching with Transmedia. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, Vol. 40(2) 131-140.

Rampazzo, R. (2013) Transmedia Project Design: Theoretical and Analytical Considerations. Baltic Screen Media Review, Volume 1, 81-100 p.

Sandercock, L. (2003) Out of the closet: The importance of stories and storytelling in planning practice. Planning Theory & Practice, 4(1), 11-28.

Throgmorton, J. (2003). Planning as persuasive storytelling in a global-scale web of relationships. Planning Theory, 2(2), 125-151.

UN-Habitat (2014) A Practical Guide to designing, Planning, and executing citywide slum upgrading Programmes, 165 p.

UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing (2018) Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, United Nations General Assembly, 24 p.

United Nations (2016) New Urban Agenda, Habitat III Secretariat, 48 p.

Rio 2016: Games of Exclusion

MarianaDias Simpson18 August 2016

Two weeks before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening on August 5th, a poll confirmed the vibe felt on the streets[1]: 50% of Brazilians were against the mega event and 63% believed it would bring more harm than good to the city. Against a backdrop of political and economic crises, Brazilians were comprehending that hosting such a party was going to cost a lot. And that they weren’t really invited to join.

 

Protests gained force as the torch travelled throughout the country. Demonstrators managed to extinguish the Olympic flame several times. More often than not, the parade happened alongside protests against poor living conditions. Many of Rio’s public schools have been closed and on strike since March. Hospitals haven’t got the basic materials to function. In July, the governor declared a ‘state of emergency’ due to the state of Rio’s bankrupt situation. In a decree, he established that it was up to authorities to take ‘exceptional measures’ for the ‘rationalisation of all public services’ (i.e. cuts) in order to ensure that the Olympics happened smoothly, as the event has ‘international repercussions’ and any damage to the country’s image would be of ‘very difficult recovery’[2].

Video of attempts to extinguish the torch in protest in the periphery of Rio available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70q_FOICM-Y

 

Pretty much the opposite of what the world watched in the beautiful opening ceremony on August 5th, in the ‘preparation’ for the Games citizens watched favelas being bulldozes; Pacifying Police Units trying to silence funk music; the genocide of black youths sponsored by the state; the destruction of a natural reserve for the construction of a golf course; the closing of sports equipment where unsponsored athletes trained; imposed interventions; violence against protesters; corruption; and the absence of a social or environmental legacy for the city.

Jogos da Exclusão

Jogos da Exclusão

 

Resistance

 

The World Cup and Olympics Popular Committee of Rio de Janeiro is an articulation that has since 2010 gathered popular organisations, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, researchers, students and those affected by interventions related to the World Cup and the Olympics for the construction of a critical view of these mega events. Committed to the struggle for social justice and the right to the city, the Committee promotes public meetings and debates, produces documents and dossiers on human rights violations, organises public demonstrations and spreads information.

 

In the first week of August, the Committee organised a series of events in Rio de Janeiro under the title “Games of Exclusion” for the promotion of dialogue, cultural activities and protests (met with violence by the ‘National Force’ currently occupying the streets).

 

As part of the Games of Exclusion, the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase, in Portuguese) took forward a partnership started with the DPU last year to discuss the Olympic social legacy – or lack thereof – for Rio de Janeiro. Ibase aims to influence public debate for the development of the Rio we want: an inclusive, diverse and democratic city.

 

For the dialogue ‘Housing and Mobility: Connections with the city and impacts in favelas’, Ibase partnered up with community-based organisations from the favelas of Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão, Borel and Providência[3] to debate themes related to transport and mobility within favelas and the latest initiatives, such as the construction of cable cars, funiculars, and the legalisation of alternative modes of transport like vans and moto-taxis. Alan Brum, from the CBO Raízes em Movimento, questioned the priorities chosen by the government when investing over £200,000 in Complexo do Alemão: “Public policies and intervertions without dialogue are for whom? Our priorities are housing and basic sanitation, not a cable car”. The discussion, of course, went beyond favelas’ borders to explore dwellers’ access to the mobility interventions taking place in the city in light of the Games, such as a new metro line, BRTs, VLTs, among other actions.

 

White Elephant

The graffitti “The White Elephant and the Trojan Horse”, by Davi Amen from Complexo do Alemão, illustrated the dialogue promoted by Ibase Photo: Mariana Dias Simpson

 

 

These interventions have a direct impact in housing and public security, continuous sources of concern for those living in favelas. Since 2009, year in which the city was chosen to host the Games, more than 77,000 people were evicted and lost their homes in Rio[4], mainly under the excuse that these communities had to give room to expressways and Olympic equipment. In Complexo do Alemão alone, over 1,700 families are still being paid a ‘social rent’ whilst waiting for the delivery of new housing units. Their expectation, as Camila Santos pointed out during the dialogue, is that the benefit will stop being paid as soon as the Games end and that these family are going to be left empty handed with the state’s empty promises.

 

Since 2009, police forces have also killed more than 2,600 people in the city[5]. According to figures published by Amnesty International, there was a shocking 103% percent increase in police killings in Rio de Janeiro between April and June of 2016 in comparison to the same period in 2015, shattering any chance of a positive legacy to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. “Security cannot come at the expense of human rights and the fundamental principles of democracy”, defended Atila Roque, AI’s executive-diretor.

 

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers Photo: Carlos Cout

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers
Photo: Carlos Cout

 

In fact, the urbanisation of all of Rio’s favelas by 2020 was supposed to be the Olympic’s biggest legacy to the city and the most ambitious slum upgrading programme ever implemented. When launching the the Morar Carioca[6] programme in 2010, the city government promised to upgrade all of Rio’s favelas and to promote accessibility, waste management, public spaces and services, environmental protection and eco-efficiency, reduction of density, resettlements and housing improvements – “all with transparency and popular participation”[7]. However, the programme was cast aside by the government in 2013 as if it had never been proposed (and the fact was also completely overlooked by the mainstream media).

 

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants to show-off policies for favelas. We want to think about the city from the perspective of favelas. Favelas are a constituent part of the city. They present a different paradigm and show that diverse urban spaces may coexist, provided inequities are overcome and adequate living standards are universalised”,  concluded Ibase’s director Itamar Silva.

 

 

“What's Rio's post-Olympic agenda? We don't want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase's director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue. Photo: Pedro Martins

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase’s director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue.
Photo: Pedro Martins

[1]    Dafolha, July 2016: http://media.folha.uol.com.br/datafolha/2016/07/18/olimpiada.pdf

[2]    Quotes from the decree.

[3]    Raízes em Movimento (Complexo do Alemão), Rocinha sem Fronteiras (Rocinha), Comissão de Moradores da Providência (Providência) and Agência Internacional de Favelas (Borel).

[4]    Rio 2016: Jogos da Exclusão, Jornada de Lutas, Rio de Janeiro.

[5]    Instituto de Segurança Pública do Rio de Janeiro (ISP/ RJ).

[6]    Morar means “to live”; carioca is an adjective relating to someone or something that comes from the city of Rio de Janeiro.

[7]    SMH, 2011.

 


Mariana Dias Simpson is a DPU MSc Urban Development Planning alumni. She works as a researcher at the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase) in Rio de Janeiro and has worked with urban issues related to favelas, housing, public policies, poverty and inequality for several years.

Integrating Women in Economic Development through the Mitreeki Network

DaljeetKaur31 March 2016

Mitreeki : A combination of Maitreyi in Hindi and Urafiki in Swahili symbolising Indo-Africa friendship beyond boundaries

Mitreeki : A combination of Maitreyi in Hindi and Urafiki in Swahili symbolising Indo-Africa friendship beyond boundaries

Right when we decided to hold our regional conference in Nairobi, Kenya around integrating women in economic development, the Lions from the Nairobi National Park decided to visit the city. Amidst the friendly carnivores, we held a successful conference and agreed to come together as the Mitreeki 2016 Network and committed to work tirelessly to promote and protect the rights and integrity of all women and girls. We also pledged to:

  • guide and sustain knowledge based partnerships for economic empowerment of women across developing countries (especially from India and Africa);
    • Share experiences on empowerment of women and girls that have brought results and have generated interest regionally and globally;
    • Invite like-minded organizations and individuals to join the network; and
    • Call upon international community and national governments to support this initiative and promote empowerment of women and girls at local, national and regional levels.
Photo: Indian High Commissioner to Kenya, Suchitra Durai inaugurated the Mitreeki 2016 Conference on the 3rd of March’16 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Photo: Indian High Commissioner to Kenya, Suchitra Durai inaugurated the Mitreeki 2016 Conference on the 3rd of March’16 in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

Why is Women Economic Empowerment needed?

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said “if the world is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), we need a quantum leap in women’s economic empowerment” while announcing the formation of the first ever high-level panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Davos (2016).

Women are the most deprived and marginalized across countries and cultures – a concern captured in the UN SDG 5 that urges equality and empowerment of all women and girls. Representing half of world’s population, women should ideally comprise 50% of world’s labour force, but in reality they only comprise around 30-40% of the total work force in developing countries (according to World Bank, globally 40% of all world workers are women). Issues such as persisting lack of voice and social status, education, skill sets, security at work place and equal opportunities are reasons for their low participation. And because of unequal opportunity and related reasons just 18% of firms globally have women at the top management level.

Map depicting percentage of women workforce across the globe

Map depicting percentage of women workforce across the globe Source: http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/women-in-the-workforce/

Map depicting percentage of women workforce across the globe
Source: http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/women-in-the-workforce/

Despite grim statistics, it is believed that women’s economic empowerment is essential for any country’s development. It not only promises to increase a country’s GDP but also ensures a secure and a sustainable future for its citizens. Recently Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State repeatedly made an economic case for improving the status of women, citing research showing the benefits to a country’s GDP. Quoting the No Ceilings Report (Gates Foundation, 2015) she said “Closing the gap in women’s labor force participation across OECD countries is estimated to lead to average GDP gains of 12% by 2030, including almost 20% in Japan and Korea, about 10% in the United States, and more than 22% in Italy.”

 

India and Africa Connect

Both in India and Africa the gender divide, especially in rural areas, is quite intense and women are openly subjected to various kinds of discrimination and denial of rights. Women bear a disproportionate brunt of poverty which forces them into increasing drudgery, longer hours of work under conditions of poor nutrition, food insecurity and falling health. The entrenched socioeconomic prejudices results in progressive marginalisation of womenʹs role in the household, neighbourhood, and in the community. However, despite these limitations, India and Africa have achieved some noteworthy success in women empowerment and poverty reduction.

 

India, where only 27% of women work in the formal sector has a long way to go in meeting gender parity. At the same time, several indicators of human development and gender parity reflect that India compared to other Low Income Countries (LICs) has achieved success over the years. In 2013, India fell under the Medium Human Development category, while a majority of the countries in Africa fell under the Low Human Development category, with the Gender Inequality Index value ranging from as low as 0.410 to 0.591 demonstrating that a lot can be done to empower women in Africa who face high levels of inequality and discrimination. (source: http://www.ipekpp.com/knowledge_p.php)

 

Women face common challenges in India and Africa and the Mitreeki 2016 conference organized under the Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP), funded by Government of UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), managed by IPE Global Limited, impressed upon the need to come together and address such issues to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Many experts at the Nairobi conference, organized under the KPP in association with Kenya Association of Women Business Owners (KAWBO), felt that engendering development goals will supplement efforts individually made towards achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030.

Mitreeki Resolution: Signed by practitioners from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.

Mitreeki Resolution: Signed by practitioners from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.

The conference discussed key challenges faced by women in the two continents, especially pertaining to – access to education; access to credits & loans; access to markets; access to safe work places; etc. Day one of the conference focused on plenary discussions while day two facilitated a dialogue between practitioners to understand the good practices in more details and how these could be applied in their respective contexts. The panelists relayed success stories around financial inclusion; market linkages; opportunities in the emerging sectors from their own countries and deliberated on the social norms that impede women’s economic participation. Each session reflected on policies; programmes and models from the participating countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and India) that have addressed these barriers.

The conference culminated in the signing of a resolution and a mutual agreement to create a ‘Mitreeki Network’ housed in either of its facilitators (IPE Global or/and DFID) which will further the women economic empowerment agenda by sharing, learning, linking and advocating for a gender just world. The network will have representatives from Local Governments, Organizations, Academia, Women Entrepreneurs, Private Sector, Donors, Women Beneficiaries, etc. from across Africa, Asia & UK and individually they would help identify and showcase initiatives that have succeeded in achieving targets of women empowerment and collectively imbibe learnings in their own context.


 

Daljeet Kaur has a double Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU and Environmental Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has worked as a qualified planner and an architect for more than eight years at IPE Global Limited. Her interest lies in urban planning; urban reforms, environmental management; climate change and its mitigation & adaptation; knowledge management.

At present she is working as a Senior Programme Manager for the DFID funded Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP), implemented by IPE Global. The programme has established more than 50 partnerships to date with a wide range of partners in a number of sectors, including IDS (Sussex), UNDP, FAO, and Governments of Ethiopia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya and Malawi. For more information about the programme please visit www.ipekpp.com.

 

 

The Meaning of Solidarity

Étiennevon Bertrab13 March 2015

Protestors outside Downing Street in London, February 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

Protestors outside Downing Street in London, March 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

For me, the most significant definition of solidarity is expressed in the words of Eduardo Galeano’s, the  extraordinary yet humble Uruguayan writer:

“Charity humiliates because it is practiced vertically and from above; solidarity is horizontal and implies mutual respect”

This is what many of us, upset about the state visit of Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto last week to the UK, found not only in the streets, but in lecture theatres in UCL, LSE, SOAS, Queen Mary University, and several other public spaces.

The other pleasant surprise was the discovery, at least for me, of Jeremy Corbyn, MP, who was the most outspoken about this state visit (the Queen has two of these per year) in light of the ongoing human rights crisis in Mexico, which the Mexican state has been contributing towards in a significant manner.

The two videos featured in this post say a lot. The first (in English), about the protest on the first day of Peña Nieto’s visit; the second (mixed English and Spanish), about the extraordinary discussions held in universities in the space of just one week.

Finally, while the bilateral Dual Year Mexico-UK insists on focusing on trade and investment – and yes, also a bit of education, culture, and nice arts and yummy food – a growing number of people, including 44 members of the UK Parliament, insist that without addressing the pressing issues that affect Mexican society, this initiative is at best misguided, and at worst a slap in the face to Mexican society at large.

In Mexico traditional media is highly controlled or pro-government (supporting whoever is in power). In the UK, Mexico has been afforded very little attention in the media, though this is changing.

For this reason, we have created this site with meaningful, trustworthy information of what really goes on in Mexico, all in English, with the hope of educating and increasing awareness: www.ukmx2015.org

I invite you all to visit the pages and simply to watch and read some of the content, in solidarity.


Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

Gender and sanitation: the hidden issue of gender-based violence

ChristopherYap11 March 2015

Trucks depositing liquid waste operate on the edge of the Kombo Ward in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Adriana Allen

Trucks depositing liquid waste operate on the edge of the Vingunguti settlement in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Adriana Allen

Access to safe, dignified and appropriate toilets and sanitation facilities is a basic right for women, men, boys and girls worldwide. However an estimated 2.5 billion people still do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities globally. This issue is most prevalent in the Global South, and in urban contexts a lack of appropriate sanitation facilities is a particular, commonplace condition of informal and unplanned settlements.

Sanitation in informal settlements

Lack of access to appropriate sanitation facilities is closely related to the complex reality of insecure living conditions facing informal urban inhabitants. Those living in ‘slums’ are often denied access to formal infrastructure due to their insecure tenure and livelihoods, and marginalised status within the city.

As a result, these citizens are forced to develop their own infrastructures for toilets and sanitation. Each solution, including communal, privately funded facilities, and pit latrines, comes with its own assemblage of risk, be it health or hygiene-related, environmental or social, or a combination of these.

The vast majority of toilets and sanitation facilities in informal settlements exist not in private homes, but in public spaces. The nature and degree of risk associated with these spaces reflects the broader social relations of power in the community. Central to this inequitable distribution of risk is the issue of gender inequality.

Image: Adriana Allen

Image: Adriana Allen

Gendered differences in use of public space

In many patriarchal societies, a public/private space dichotomy exists by which women’s access to public space is more restricted than men’s. Women’s mobility is restricted due to both time constraints associated with reproductive roles as well as ‘symbolic dimensions surrounding the ‘forbidden’ and ‘permitted’ use of spaces governed by patriarchal power relations and norms of female propriety.’ [1]

Gender-based violence is an expression of these unequal gender relations. It exists in a variety of forms, from physical abuse, assault and rape, to verbal insults and psychological trauma.

In this sense it might be understood as a response to perceived infractions of gendered ideologies (such as women moving freely in public spaces or earning more in a household than men). While the vast majority of gender-based violence is perpetrated by men against women, men and boys can also be victims. In Mumbai, for example, the practice of ‘eve-teasing’ is commonplace, with men targeting women with obscenities and in some instances throwing stones.

Women adapt to avoid risks – but where does the problem lie?

In informal settlements, women are often at greater risk of gender-based violence due to the lack of effective policing, and lack of access to formal recourse mechanisms, including the justice system itself. In many cases the onus is on women to alter their behaviour in order to avoid risk, rather than the perpetrators.

For example: WaterAid found that 94% of women they surveyed in Bhopal, India faced violence and harassment when going to defecate, and a third had been physically assaulted [2]. Communal toilets are often built near the peripheries of settlements, meaning that women are more vulnerable to assault, particularly at night and in areas with little or no public lighting.

The facilities themselves can be poorly maintained, unhygienic and lack privacy for women. These conditions drive the practice of open defecation in settlements, which increases the health risks to the community and further exposes women to violence amongst other risks.

The association between gender-based violence and toilet and sanitation facilities in informal settlements is only one manifestation of citywide injustices relating to gender, class, caste, and identity amongst others. Lack of access to adequate toilet and sanitation services can lead to an increased vulnerability to gender based violence in different forms.

Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Pascale Hofmann

Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image: Pascale Hofmann

A right to safe and secure sanitation

Focusing on this issue makes it possible to identify ways of improving the everyday safety and well-being of women in informal settlements through better design and management of facilities. It also has the potential to confront the gendered ideologies driving the reproduction of risk and violence in informal settlements.

We must grasp the urgency of taking action to combat the disproportionately hostile experiences facing many women when accessing sanitation, particularly in informal settlements.

The realisation of the right to sanitation is a necessary but insufficient step towards addressing gendered inequalities, not least the elimination of violence against women. But it is only by recognising the daily challenges facing women around the world that we can begin to address them.

 

Indefensible Space: Gender based violence and sanitation in informal settlements

is a Project implemented by the DPU and the Institute of Child Health, UCL, and SNEHA, Mumbai and supported by the Institute for Global Health/UCL Grand Challenges.

On Tuesday 24th March practitioners and academics will host a half day Colloquium exploring the issues relating to gender-based violence facing women in slums; there will be a first London screening of a participatory film produced with slum communities in Dharavi, Mumbai as part of the Project. Read more about the project and book your place in the audience today.


Notes:

  1. Chant, S. and McIlwaine, C. (2013). “Gender, Urban Development and the Politics of Space”, 4 June 2013.
  2. WaterAid and National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (2013). Research on the DFID-supported IPAP programme in India in five states (unpublished).

Chris Yap is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Urban Development Planning. He has worked with a number of organisations including the International Institute of Environment and Development, London International Development Centre, Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa, and Oxfam America on topics including the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, communal and collective land tenure options for low income groups, participatory budgeting in a post-disaster context, community led-mapping and urban agriculture.

How can social media help assert citizenship rights?

OlusegunOgunleye5 March 2015

The use of social media by people to assert their citizenship rights and make demands of their government has been enabled through the emergence of a variety of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, change.org and avaaz.org.

This can be traced back to incidents such as the Arab Spring, and the ‘Occupy’ movements seen in some western countries such as the United States of America (Occupy Wall Street being perhaps the best known). More recently political crises in Spain and Greece, and significant campaigns such as #bringbackourgirls and Je Suis Charlie have found a global audience online. Social media as a mobilising tool continues to gain in currency.

The successes of social media have varied from locality to locality based on different factors and contexts. What cannot be denied is that such practices have increased the ability of citizens to rally around solidarity not only locally but global issues.

Source: Punch Newspaper | Credit: Olatunji Obasa

Source: Punch Newspaper | Credit: Olatunji Obasa

#bringbackourgirls: Global visibility shrouds local action

One recent incident that is especially close to home for me, as a Nigerian, has been the #bringbackourgirls campaign. This originated in Nigeria due to the kidnap of 276 girls by the Boko Haram sect from a school in Chibok located in North-eastern Nigeria on April 14, 2014.

Reflecting on the #bringbackourgirls campaign: its gains were its ability to solicit global support and situate the blight of those impacted by the Boko Haram insurgency into the international consciousness. However, its key pitfall has been the inability to elicit concrete response and action from the Nigerian government.

My conclusion is that the reason for this can be attributed to several factors among which is the fact that the global support garnered was not matched by sustained local pressure. Additionally the politicisation of the issue by both the government and the opposition has meant that in the process the voice of the victims been muted somewhat.

Silencing the victim’s voice

Before delving further into reasons for the limited success of the #bringbackourgirls campaign, I would like to expand on this critical issue; the silencing of the victim’s voice, which came to the fore. This is not particular only to the #bringbackourgirls campaign but its reflective of various mass movements of activism in the developing world.

Vyncent Elvin Eebee highlighted this in an article titledFor Whom Does the Speaking Woman Speak?, where she concluded that rural women’s voices are submerged by the voice of urban female advocates, which result in rural women becoming invisible due to the articulation of their voices by the other.

She further stated that when the rural woman participates in action, it is upon trumpeted and highly advertised invitations, which are not conducive to effective participatory mass movements.

To me this was visible in the #bringbackourgirls campaign, because these trumpeted and highly advertised invitations were tools utilised by the campaigners, government, and the opposition to publicise themselves while the plea of the victims was not concretely tackled.  

Segun pic 2

The ‘digital divide’

In my opinion key factors that contributed to the limited success of social media in Nigeria and developing countries as a whole relate to the digital divide.

This is not only in terms of penetration but also with regards to access and understanding of how to utilise these tools and platforms, especially when the literacy rates in many countries are taken into consideration.

This was reflected upon by Merridy Wilson who acknowledged that

“the problem of the growing technology and/or knowledge gaps between and within countries, places certain groups of people further in the shadow regions of global information flows. These gaps persist both at the level of access to ICT infrastructure, and in terms of the form of information conveyed and who is able to use, understand and produce the information and knowledge which ICTs potentially make accessible.”

We need conscious, strategic approaches to effectively use social media for change

My conclusion therefore is that social media can become an enabling and transformative tool for people to assert their citizenship rights and make demands in developing countries, such as Nigeria. But it calls for prudent adaptation of techniques and tactics for effective strategies towards mass mobilisation.

This can only be attained by being conscious of local realities in the African continent, as in other climes, and supported by concerted and sustained pressure on ground to match the global support a social media audience provides.

What this therefore requires, as put in the words of Andrew Burkett,

“are much more difficult, time-consuming and probably not as glitzy as ICT development efforts – that is, political will, recognition of personal and social responsibilities, and ultimately action on the part of governments and civil society.”


Olusegun Ogunleye is a development practitioner with several years working experience in the field of town planning in Nigeria. He has also taken part in urban-based research in Nigeria, London and, Dar es Salaam. His passion lies in the area of urban governance as he sees it as a veritable tool to ensure and enhance the wellbeing of citizens. He also believes in the potential inherent in community-led development as a means of ensuring sustainable development. Olusegun graduated from the MSc Urban Development Planning in 2014.

Mexico: Where does hope reside? (Part II)

Étiennevon Bertrab10 February 2015

Just one week on

To understand the depth of the socio-political crisis in Mexico it might be illustrative to go through events that occurred since Part I was posted a week ago: a mayor in the State of Mexico authorised police to shoot those who protest against the dispossession of their communal water system; a newspaper editor in Matamoros was abducted, beaten and left with a death threat: “no more reporting on violence along the border”; and as if it was a horror film, 61 bodies were found in an abandoned crematory in the outskirts of Acapulco, a famous tourist destination in the State of Guerrero (where the disappearance of the 43 teacher training students took place four months ago).

No caption needed. Image: Colectivo Lapiztola

Much to the disappointment of those in power, what happens in Mexico can no longer be kept within the country’s borders. The prestigious Hay Festival, which would take place later this year in Xalapa, was cancelled after hundreds of Mexican writers and journalists signed a petition in protest. “We recognise that the killing of Moisés Sánchez, the 15th journalist to have been murdered or disappeared in Veracruz since 2010, has caused unbearable pain and rage” – reads the organisers’ official statement.

In Geneva – in the same week – the UN Committee of Enforced Disappearances (CED) identified ‘prominent discrepancy between words and deeds’ while for Amnesty International the hearings evidenced the failure of the Mexican State in its international responsibilities. Furthermore, The New York Times revealed over the weekend that amongst the secret buyers using shell companies to grab the most expensive real estate in New York is an ex-governor of Oaxaca and father of the current director of INFONAVIT – Mexico’s social housing agency.

Elections: opportunity or distraction?

While it is almost a consensus that the party system is rotten beyond repair, what to do during the elections is always a divisive issue: to back the least worst party or candidates, or to boycott the elections altogether? As a result of a recent political reform it will now be possible – for the first time in Mexican history – for citizens to be elected without affiliation to a political party. For many this is a double-edged sword, but there are glimpses of hope: Wikipolítica, a group of young student-activists, could give Jalisco its first independent legislator – without using any public resources but rather dozens of creative and enthusiastic volunteers.

Intentions of a long journey Image: Colectivo Lapiztola

Beyond these more localised opportunities there is an increasing recognition that our social contract has been broken: the Mexican Constitution of 1917 (often referred to as the most progressive of the early 20th century) has been subject to almost 500 reforms, mostly to facilitate capital accumulation in detriment of rights and communal and public ownership of natural resources.

A call for the formation of a constitutional assembly with the aim of refunding the State is gaining traction, reinvigorated by the very circumstances and by the vocal support of progressive and highly respectable public figures such as bishop Raúl Vera, the last prominent priest of the Theology of Liberation in Mexico, who since the Zapatista uprising has made his cause the voices of the poor. His mission: “to listen to everyone’s feelings and aspirations, particularly those of the poor and marginalised”. However, it is undoubtedly a long-term social and democratic endeavour that no living Mexican has ever experienced. For many, including myself, it might be the only way to avoid a violent revolution.

In this emotive video, Omar García, survivor of the attack, expresses how the case of Ayotzinapa has awaken millions throughout the country.

 

Part III on the role of journalism and new media, and on why it’s important to focus on the (non-urban) territory and those who defend it, will be published next week.

All images are courtesy of Colectivo Lapiztola, a street art collective that emerged in the suppressed social movement in Oaxaca in 2006. Part of their work is exhibited in Rich Mix, London, until 28 February.

Opening the wings. Image: Colectivo Lapiztola

Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

Mexico: Where does hope reside? (Part I)

Étiennevon Bertrab2 February 2015

They want a different future, Yucatán. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

They want a different future, Yucatán. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

Mexico is going through turbulent times and its future looks, if not pitch black, then highly uncertain and complex. This is a personal attempt to make sense of recent developments and to share some reflections on causes, implications, and sources of hope.

The recent wave of high-level corruption scandals and particularly the forced disappearance of the 43 rural students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, have been, for a majority of Mexicans, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Studies over the last few years had already shown a steady decline in levels of trust in State institutions; however, trust has reached an all time low and there are calls to ignore and boycott the mid-term elections this summer. Although most attention is placed on the machinery of corruption and impunity of PRI (the infamous political party that ruled Mexico for 70 years and came back to power in 2012), people are losing trust in all political parties.

Mexico has the worst political class in decades” concluded a recent panel on democracy and elections held at IBERO University. Internationally, only a year ago mainstream media made reference to ‘the time of Mexico’ and Time magazine portrayed president Peña Nieto as saviour. The Economist, which had praised his constitutional reforms – particularly the juicy energy reform that allows the privatisation of oil – has now referred to him as “a president who doesn’t get that he doesn’t get it”. For The New Yorker, the President himself is the clearest example of corruption in the country.

Protest street art, Guadalajara. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

Protest street art, Guadalajara. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

But corruption and impunity have been there for a while and the distance between the political class and ordinary people has been widely perceived and commented upon. Why are so many Mexicans in the streets over and over again, shouting ‘enough is enough’ and getting engaged in the public sphere in ways never seen before? Behind the Ayotzinapa case are around 100,000 deaths and more than 23,000 disappearances since 2006 (according to official figures), plus 150,000 displaced people according to Freedom House. Unsurprisingly, those affected the most are the poor and the marginalised amongst Mexican society.

More than two decades of neoliberal restructuring and particularly the culture of capitalist cronyism built by those in power, have benefitted only a few while too many women and men continue to live in poverty. Not to mention indigenous groups who for centuries have been victims of oppression and dispossession (for most, little has changed since colonial times). Across the country over 7 million young people can’t find opportunities to study or work and thus are unable to imagine a future in their own country. Apart from the negative effects on human development the country is losing its ‘demographic bonus’.

‘Where those above destroy, below we flourish’. Image: Creative Commons

‘Where those above destroy, below we flourish’

There is simply too much suffering in so many families and communities, and too few provisions to deal with the repercussions of eight years of crude violence on top of the generalised sense of injustice. The situation of human rights in Mexico, according to Amnesty International, is now the worst in the American continent.

In the latest developments, while the federal government declared the official investigation on the 43 disappeared students ‘closed’ last week, a new journalistic investigation revealed that most of the government’s ‘evidence’ was obtained through torture. The federal government will surely defend its version (referred to as the ‘historical truth’ by the attorney general) with full force, and repression to protestors is likely to escalate. These practices should also not come as a surprise: according to Human Rights Watch, there have been over 9,000 complaints of abuse by the army since 2006.

For an audio account of the investigation that proved that the authorities at the national level were involved in the disappearances, you can listen to Steve Fisher, one of the authors of the original article in Proceso magazine, here. Channel 4 News has also produced an informative video entitled ‘Are Mexico’s disappeared students victims of drug war?’ – available on its website.

 

Part II, on hope, solidarity and opportunities for research that can make a difference will be published on the DPU blog next week.

Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista