Thursday, July 28, 2011

Show time! Presentations of our Social Campaigns written by Yuan Yuan

June 29 was our last day in Warsaw, and the four international teams did their presentations on social campaigns of the topics they were given to work on. 

The Humanity in Action Poland program is usually divided into the input phase and the output phase. This year, we are experimenting a new way of conducting the output phase. Unlike all of our fellows in the Humanity in Action programs in other European cities who conduct the output phase through writing reports, we do it in the form of coming up with ideas for a social campaign. Throughout the whole output phase, Marek Dorobisz, the Creative Director at Ars Thanea was the social campaign leader.

To read about social campaigns introductory workshop click here

This experiment—the social campaign—is a “first time” experience for all the three groups of people involved in it. For our HIA PL leaders Monika Mazur-Rafał and Magda Szarota, it is their adventure of trying out a new way of asking the fellows to come out with their own human and minority rights project. For us the fellows, it is also our first exposure to social campaign, a tool that will be extremely useful in our future careers—no matter it is in public service sector, business, or other walks of life—because we learn the way to persuade others to “care about” what we care. Surprisingly, it is also a brand new experience for Marek Dorobisz. Although he has been in the advertising business for many years, he has never been working as a mentor guiding people with no knowledge in advertising to work on campaign projects. For many rules and traditions in the business which he used to take for granted, he has to explain them in a simple and direct way to give us an idea what advertising is for and how to go about it.

I still remember that at the beginning of our program back on June 3 when we met Marek Dorobisz for the first time, some of us were a little bit surprised that a person with an advertising background—a business which we usually consider as “money-motivated”—was invited to teach us how to conduct a successful social campaign on human and minority issues—a topic which is regarded as “moral-driven.” However, although while it is true that in the field of human rights, every person, every community, and every nation is worth one-hundred percent attention from the public, there are so many people and things that we need to worry about, to take care of, and to struggle for in each of our single life that only the best-promoted social campaigns will grab our attention and on which we are willing to spend time. Then, the tools in the advertising business are not only applicable to but also necessary for conducting a successful social campaign. Like what Marek Dorobisz always says, “If you can make half percent of the population care, you have already succeeded.”

At the beginning of the output phase, we were divided into four teams based on our expressed interests in human and minority rights. Issues connected with the topics of: anti-rape, anti-sex trafficking, anti-Semitism, and equal payment to women, all in the Polish context. Then, we spent one week working on the “brief,” a piece of paper which includes the core idea of our social campaigns. This is the time during which we gradually narrowed down our topics and our target groups and decided our “main messages”—the beacon light that leads all parts of our campaigns from visual media, slogans, and other paraphernalia related to our campaigns.

After a week’s heated discussion and hard work within the four individual teams, we finally had our briefs done. When we were just about to totally devote ourselves to the topics of our social campaign, our social campaign leader suggested that we switch our topics and work on one of the other topics during the next step—to create posters, TV spots, flyers, and extras such as facebook games and stickers—all of which should only be based on what was written in another team’s brief, especially on the main message.

We had a debate on whether we all felt comfortable leaving our “new-born baby” and breeding another. Certainly, switching topics would pull us out of our comfort zones to some extent as we had to work on topics that we might not be so into. However, Marek Dorobisz persuaded us that the core of advertising was creativity—if we are really talented and imaginative young adults devoted to human rights issues, we should be prepared with the courage to face challenges, in this case, to work on another topic, and with the ability to be creative, turning whatever is given into a campaign that can attract half percent of the population. In the end, we voted and the majority decided to accept his suggestion.

For the next ten days, we worked on our new topics, developing ideas for all different kinds of media to promote our campaigns. We were also required to create a “key visual”—a simple logo that even “grandmas” can draw—which is supposed to be the symbol of our campaigns. The key visual should be present at every single kind of media we use so that no matter where people see the logo, they will be constantly reminded that it is our campaign. It gives the public a sense of consistency and they might want to explore more about it. In addition to the key visual, we were also supposed to come with a “main idea” that would dominate our campaign—of course, the main idea is closely related to the main message.
During the four presentations, each team showed their key visuals, main ideas, and the ways they would promote the campaigns.

1. The first team comprised of Alina Iovcheva, Dagna Lewandowska, Alexandria Margolis, Kristin Meagher, and Michelle Shofet worked on the Anti-Rape campaign.

To read group's report click here

Their target group is sexually active middle class men; their key visual is a contrast between a colorful “Tak” (“yes” in Polish) and a grey “Nie” (“no” in Polish); and their main idea is “Tak to consentual sex and Nie to rape.” The key visual shows that rape is a black-and-white thing. The team developed very interesting ideas of putting stickers of “Tak” and “Nie” in public places such as “Tak” for the green traffic light, “Nie” for the red traffic light and “Tak” for “entry” sign, “Nie” for “exit” sign in metro stations. These small stickers would be prevalent everywhere in Poland, constantly reminding the target group to take a second thought before committing raping. Besides the stickers, the team also produced a 30-second TV spot based on the same idea of the contrast between delightful “Tak” and desolate “Nie.” 

While the main idea is very clear in English, the team experienced problems when translating them into Polish. The language becomes ambiguous in Polish that several meanings are implied in the same English sentence. This kind of situation is not uncommon for NGOs who want to promote their campaigns both in English and in their local language. Sometimes there is simply no equivalent in the other language. Sometimes, a word loses its meaning when it is translated into another language. There is no universal solution to this dilemma. The NGOs who encounter this problem must make a trade-off between doing the social campaign in English or in the other language.

2. The second team comprised of Alec Arellano, Mieszko Hajkowski, Natalia Wrzesień, and Anna Yamchuk focused on the Equal Payment campaign. 

To read group's report click here 

Their target group is employers in small businesses who do not give equal payments to men and women staff who have the same working ability. Their key visual is a water level with the symbols of male and female on either end. Their main idea is “Pay Equal—It Pays Off.” This team presented two very interesting scripts for the TV spots they were going to make. One of the spots was based in kindergarten where the kids were talking about the jobs of their fathers on Father’s Day. Several kids told the female teacher the occupation of their fathers, such as doctors and engineers, and each time, the teacher got bored and frustrated. When the last kid said that “My father pays men and women equal,” the teacher was refreshed and excited. The contrast would arouse the target group’s attention and thus make the point that equal payments pays off.

3. The third team consisting of Roman Gautam, Iwa Kos, Barbara Marlewska, and Olena Sharvan dealt with the Anti-Sex Trafficking campaign.

 To read group's report click here

Their target group is sexually active middle class men between 20 and 50 who use prostitution. While the previous campaigns on sex slavery asked men to stop using prostitution, this team takes a more understanding tone. It does ask men not to use prostitution, but to report and call the hotline when they feel that the prostitutes they buy might be victims of human trafficking. Their key visual is a key which can open the chain around the prostitute’s neck. The main idea is “Enjoy Sex, Report Sex Slavery.” The team was inspired by the flyers with hot girls printed on them distributed at metro stations—flyers that are targeted at the same target group as the third team’s. They make similar flyers with the number of the hotline on them. The team wants to talk to the target group in their language and to be provocative based on understanding.

4. The last team which consisted of Thomas Meyer, Joanna Klimczak, Ann-Kristin Wiethaupt, Halyna Vernyuk, and Yuan Yuan focused on the Anti-Semitism campaign in the context of Euro 2012 which will take place in Poland and Ukraine next year. 

To read group's report click here 

Their target group is zealous football fans who usually use anti-Semitic words during the games. These words deface Poland in front of international audiences. In order to improve Poland’s image during this mega-event, the team develops their campaign with an imaginary fact that Poland actually won Euro 2012—which is almost impossible. Their key visual is a score board saying Poland vs. Anti-Semitism, 1:0. Their main idea is “Poland won, Anti-Semitism Lost.” Based on that, the team came up with a series of fake TV sports news and programs broadcasting the Euro 2012 in which Poland was awarded the championship. They also designed a flag with the Polish national flag on one side and the key visual on the other side to be distributed at the stadium. In addition, they had the idea of creating a Facebook game “Whack-the-Hooligans—Our Way to Championship.” The hooligans would pop up from the holes in the football pitch, saying anti-Semitic words, and the more the player could hit the hooligans, the higher scores they would get.


After all the four presentations, we voted for the best social campaign, and if possible, Humanity in Action Poland might implement the project. The Anti-Semitism group was the final winner, but all of us gained a unique experience learning how to conduct a social campaign and working with people from different nations.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Euro Cup 2012: Not Just Fun and Games

Our group was initially united over our mutual concern for one of the biggest social problems facing Poland today: human trafficking.  Many of us we introduced to the topic after a talk from two representatives from the La Strada International (LSI), Poland’s leading human trafficking support foundation.  The LSI representatives explained the evolution of human trafficking and where it is today.  Historically, they explained, female sex trafficking has accounted for the majority of human trafficking in Poland.  These sex slaves are subjected to brutal treatment and humiliation, and many are too ashamed to report violations to the law, or to seek help.  Their captors often use addictive substances, such as heroin, to keep control over them.  Recently, however, labor trafficking has become a bigger issue in Poland.  Many immigrants have been brought in from South-East Asia and forced to work in inhumane conditions.  For our project however, we decided to focus on sex slavery, as it continues to be the largest human trafficking concern in Poland.
Preparing the “advertising brief” was perhaps one of the most challenging parts of the whole social campaign.  For the brief, we had to ask ourselves in the most cynical way: why should other people care about sex trafficking?  For us, the answer seemed obvious.  However, after drafting the brief, we realized just how challenging it was to make our audience care.  Our scope was initially too grandeur to make any impact.  Therefore, we spent days discerning which aspect of sex trafficking we could potentially make the largest impact in.  Ultimately, we realized that if we wanted to make an impact on the issue, we would have to narrow our scope.  Our campaign would address the men who use prostitutes, and encourage them to use the support hotline if they believed that they had witnessed any signs of abuse or human trafficking at the brothel. Following that, we had to determine both the tone of our campaign, as well as the main message of what we’re trying to say.  Initially, we thought that it would be best to condemn prostitution and associate it with sex slavery.  We realized that would be futile.  Therefore, we made our main message “Enjoy Sex. Report Slavery.” because it doesn’t condemn men from using prostitution, and still calls them to be better people.
While writing the brief was challenging, the creative process was even more grueling.  After finishing our brief on sex trafficking, we switched campaigns for the creative portion and were assigned the topic of “Polish Anti-Semitism in Soccer.”  The campaign sought to combat the rabid anti-Semitism that surrounds polish soccer, specifically with a focus to the 2012 Euro Games that will be played here in Warsaw.  For many of us, this topic put us out of our comfort zone.  The majority of us had little exposure to polish soccer, and had to begin thinking like a soccer “hooligan” if we wanted to create a successful campaign.
We spent many days discussing and dissecting the different approaches we could take to this issue.  Many of us liked the idea of anti-Semitism as a “suicide goal”—implying that cheering anti-Semitic things only hurts the polish national team.  Others liked the idea of having a polish national soccer scarf soiled with mud being held by a hooligan with the slogan “Wash Out Anti-Semitism.”  Another popular idea that we circulated was setting up a mock championship posters as if Poland had one, and having a slogan: “Poland wins when anti-Semitism losses.”
The debates over these topics were brutal and often unbearable.  Every member of our group comes from a different home country, which made communication difficult.  During this process, emotions often came into play, and discussions became heated. Many members of the group naturally developed strong allegiances to their own concepts, making discussion even more difficult.  In the end, we decided to go with “Poland wins when Anti-Semitism losses” because we believed it was the most positive of the campaign ideas.
The process itself also taught us a lot about advertising and inter-cultural cooperation. After two weeks, we discovered how hard it is to make other people really “care” about your campaign, in our case human trafficking. We also learned how difficult it is to cope with different emotional capacities and respective work ethics. Ultimately, after many late night meetings, consultations with the advertising expert, and heated discussions we ultimately created a social campaign that we are proud of.
Asia Klimczak, Thomas Meyer, Halyna Vernyuk, Ann Kristin Wiethaupt, and Sunny Yuan 

Monday, July 18, 2011

World for Breakfast by Natalia Wrzesień

As participants in an educative program organized by Humanity in Action Poland, we had a great time during the event called “World for Breakfast”. We had an unforgettable opportunity to show our ability to lead a group of young people and to teach them something new regarding human rights. Doing so, we tried to share our knowledge with them and to educate them in human rights by presenting different characters like June Jordan, Vaclav Havel, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Irena Sendler, as well as Shirin Ebadi. The idea was to teach them about these important human rights personalities and use this new knowledge in a short educational game. As the name of our organization suggests, our goal was to, quite literally, put humanity into action; by doing so, our aim was to take our knowledge and experience and share both of these with the future generation. Firstly, we spent a wonderful time with them preparing breakfast in multicultural groups speaking different languages. This first contact shows us how curious about the world, smart, and funny these children were. And then we were sure that we really wanted to share with them our desire to help others, to understand different problems concerning human rights and make them start to thinking about this topic.

After this first interaction we invited them to participate in a quiz during which they could learn new information concerning human rights. It was an important moment for all of us because this educational game was based on our idea and we were supposed to lead these young people. Some of us presented the profile of people fighting for human rights, others split up into groups with children to assist them in the game. We really enjoyed both spending time together and sharing knowledge. I think that we were all very excited with the idea of leading and teaching children, who were only a few years younger than us. I was also surprised by the behavior of girls from Pro Futuro Gimnasium. They were really embarrassed and shy because of our presence even if their level of English was as good as the boys’ level. Maybe next time we should be more attentive and try to encourage them to participate more fully.  This experience allowed also us to take a step back in time and recall what it was like for all of us when we were pupils in school.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

‘Wykręć Czysty Numerek’: A Different Approach to a Difficult Issue

Our group designed a social campaign against human trafficking – specifically the trafficking of women for sexual slavery – by promoting a hotline where men who frequent prostitutes could call in to report any suspicions that a brothel was using abused or trafficked women. Past campaigns targeted at the sex trafficking issue tried to increase awareness of the problem through graphic and shocking visuals, and discourage prostitution by accusing users of prostitutes of financing trafficking. Considering our task and our target audience, we took a very different approach. We tried to engage users of prostitution rather than alienate them, and to appeal to their conscience while understanding their needs. As a result we chose a humorous approach, focusing on a radio ad where an old man compares his ‘ideal’ prostitutes from before the war to the abused prostitutes he sees today, and asks men to call in to report such cases (the ad is in Polish, and unfortunately the humor doesn’t translate well into English).
The final form of the campaign seems quite simple and obvious now, but it took us a long process to settle on this idea and develop it. Initially our group researched and prepared a brief for an anti-rape campaign, and we were surprised but also excited when we had to swap briefs with another group. Initially we had no ideas for an effective anti-trafficking campaign, and had trouble formulating and adopting a positive message (‘Enjoy sex, report slavery’) instead of a negative one (‘You should be ashamed of using prostitutes’). The brief (a document prepared earlier by another group specifying the main message, target audience, and tone of the campaign) demanded a positive, non-judgmental tone of voice, and since many of our initial ideas played on negative feelings such as shame, we had to let go of our early approach. We didn’t do so easily: it took several sessions where Marek Dorobisz, Creative Director of the advertising agency Ars Thanea, consistently pointed out that we had the wrong approach before we changed course. Even after we did, we struggled to find the right tone of voice which would not criticize but would also not promote the use of prostitutes. We had to walk a thin line. We also had difficulty formulating a non-judgmental campaign because we still find it difficult not to be judgmental of men who use prostitutes, and since the issue provokes strong negative emotions it was hard for the group to look at prostitution from an objective distance.
These kinds of difficulties also gave us the most important lessons from this process.  This work forced us, often reluctantly, to break out of the usual mode of human rights thinking, which, at least from what we know after our academic experiences, focuses on extensive research that tries to understand all the nuances and sides of very complex issues, and sympathizes with the victims of human rights abuses while condemning the perpetrators. As we learned, this approach is very good for understanding the issue at hand, but it has its limitations when planning a campaign of focused action. The wider public outside the human rights NGO world has little interest in understanding human rights issues in all their deep complexity. PhD dissertations do not have popular appeal and rarely make any impact outside of academic and policy circles. If we want to affect real social change, we need to communicate with the public to spark changes in social behavior. Human rights works must bridge the divide between research and popular interest. That means we have to simplify complex issues, and find simple messages that speak to the core of each problem. Doing so often goes against our usual tendencies after our training in academic human rights research. After this project we realize that a simple, consistent message transported in a targeted campaign can actually make a positive difference in a human rights issue. This isn’t to say that the campaign doesn’t require lots of careful thought, just that all the difficult thinking is hidden in the background, in all the decisions about who to target, what core message to transport, how to transport a difficult message in an engaging way, etc. Social campaigns might have a simple message, but to target them at the right people in the right way requires a lot of though and creativity.
Working on the campaign also forced us to think our way into the head of the perpetrator instead of the victim, in this case the user of prostitutes rather than the prostitute. Again, this was not easy. We had to think very carefully about why the issue of sex trafficking exists, about where the demand for prostitutes comes from and about who uses prostitutes. Human rights research on our topic focused a lot on the experiences of trafficked women, but not on the men who use prostitutes, and as a result this research suggested solutions focused on empowering and helping the victims rather than changing the behavior of the perpetrators. Of course there is nothing wrong with this, but it prevents people from seeing possible solutions from the perpetrator side of the issue. By trying to see the sex trafficking problem from the perspective of the common man who cares primarily about his own fulfillment, we were able to formulate a campaign that could target their behavior and recruit them to help in the fight against sex slavery. Simply writing human rights reports would not help us do this to the same degree. We learned to see human rights issues from a broader set of perspectives, and in doing so we learned that by thinking openly and creatively we can approach old problems with new solutions that nobody else might have seen before.

Barbara Marlewska
Iwa Kos
Roman Gautam
Olena Sharvan

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wage Inequality and Rape: Not Just Women's Issues

To decide what topics would be addressed in the output phase of this fellowship we each described our primary interests. Issues related to women were by far the most popular, probably because our speakers on this topic were among the most vivacious. When the five of us were told that we would have the opportunity to explore this expansive topic we worked quickly to narrow it down to something that we could manage. As emerging professionals, with new knowledge of the labor market and social-workplace dynamics, we found common ground and a need for change in wage policy. Our research showed us that when it comes to women’s average earnings as a percentage of men’s, Poland is the fourth least-equal country in Europe.[1] This wage disparity occurs not only between men and women within the same occupation, but through industrial and occupational segregation as well.[2] Since certain occupations are predominantly held by women, their low wages are “justified.” This payment structure reinforces the subordinate position of women and beliefs in female inferiority. As we prepared our brief we found that even this presumably narrow topic of wage inequality was too large to pin down in one social campaign. We would have to choose between white-collar professions or unionized jobs, and ignore the educational disparities that breed labor inequality. It was difficult for us to resist the broad-based, interdisciplinary thinking that we were each taught in our liberal arts and policy educations, and instead “keep it simple.” We found our tactic eventually by putting ourselves in the minds of employers. By considering what drives their hiring and salary decisions – to do what most benefits their company – we tried to convey that treating women equally would be a win for them.
            For the creative process, our group was transferred to the topic of anti-rape. We had to work with a brief created by our colleagues, which was a challenge because we were left to convey their vision, not ours. Of course, this was the pedagogical method in swapping topics – Marek Dorobisz, Creative Director of Ars Thanea, wanted to jolt us out of our comfort zone. At first this was liberating because we got to approach a difficult subject from a fresh perspective, but we were quickly weighed down by the complexity of rape. Even within the “20-35 middle class, heterosexual male” target group, we could not decide if we needed to address consent between strangers who meet in bars, intimate lovers, or partygoers made incognizant through alcohol. We eventually found that consent was the common thread, since our focus was men who did not see their act as criminal, versus condemned criminals. We asked men to hear and see “yes” as a contrast “no;” our goal was to elucidate how sexual acts without full consent amount to an act of rape. Of course, this creation was the result of many hours of concept development and revision.
Although this output phase provided a venue to study women’s issues, what proved most educational was building an effective team. With fellows from Ukraine, Poland, and the United States, our discussions took various perspectives on female equality and sexual relations between men and women. It is a real, but rewarding, challenge to negotiate different languages and cultural norms into a single vision. Also fulfilling was the push to explore what are undoubtedly human rights issues from a foreign sector, the world of advertising. We had to let go of our long-term, problem-solving tendencies and move our concern to creating an attention-grabbing social campaign specifically for the present moment. Many of us may stick to our policy and NGO roots in our future careers, but the experience we gained in an advertising office will inform our public relations efforts in the future.

Alina Iovcheva
Dagna Lewandowska
Alexandria Margolis
Kristin Meagher
Michelle Shofet

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Easing Humanity’s Burden, One Small Battle at a Time

By Alec Arellano for the project team consisting of Alec, Mieszko Hajkowski, Anna Yamchuck, and Natalia Wrzesien

Few things worth doing are easy to do. As trite as this statement is, it nonetheless accurately captures our experience with HIA Poland 2011’s social campaign projects. The four of us – two Poles, a Ukrainian, and an American – come from different national, cultural, and social backgrounds, and brought our own unique perspectives to the task at hand. We encountered many challenges and setbacks during the creation process. In spite of this though, we persevered, and learned a lot through the experience.
Initially we were tasked with working on the dauntingly broad topic “Ethnic and National Minorities.” We considered several different approaches to this subject area, including focusing on racism towards people of African descent in Poland, attitudes towards Chechen refugees, and anti-Semitism. Mieszko, one of the Polish fellows in our group, told us that he regarded anti-Semitism as the most important issue concerning national and ethnic minorities in the Polish context. This, combined with the fact that Poland will host the European soccer championship in 2012, made us decide to focus our campaign on the issue of anti-Semitic language at football matches. Since only two of us were Poles, and none of us were football fans, we had to do some research before preparing our brief for Marek Dorobisz, Creative Director for the Warsaw-based advertising agency Ars Thanea and our advisor for the project. Our best resource for helping us better understand the scope of the problem was The Brown Book, an annual register of racist incidents and neo-fascist crimes published by a Polish NGO called Nigdy Więcej (Never Again) Association. From this organization, we learned that the use of anti-Semitic language and images as a way to disparage the opposing team happens often among fans at football matches. Other match attendees as well as stadium administrators frequently tolerate this behavior. Coming from a country in which public displays of anti-Semitism are not tolerated, I found this shocking. It was interesting to learn about the extent to which the Polish Christian majority’s relations with the Jewish minority are still problematic, several generations after the Holocaust. 

Preparing the document for Marek in which we outlined the message, audience, and execution of the campaign proved to be a challenging experience. We struggled first to come up with an adequately narrow definition of our target audience, and to find space for compromise between our different visions of the way the campaign should be conducted. For example, much debate took place regarding whether or not violent football hooligans should be targeted. We eventually decided this question in the negative. Our many disagreements in the course of crafting the brief highlight the extent to which compromise and negotiation are essential skills, even among people with a shared commitment to social justice. 

We also tended to become stuck on a particular aspect of the campaign and debate it endlessly without accomplishing anything. Our capacity to get lost in abstractions may have served us well as university students, but now the situation called for action, not rumination. This experience gave us all practice in balancing our intellectual and practical talents. Additionally, putting together the final version of our group’s brief forced us to make sure our language was focused and precise, and communicated an idea that was clear and workable. After we had finished our brief, though, Marek gave our creative process a twist by assigning us to design a campaign around a brief prepared by another group of fellows. In an instant, our campaign changed from one focused on anti-Semitism to one targeting wage inequalities between men and women in the workplace. This forced us to quickly come up with innovative approaches to a new and unfamiliar social problem. For some of us, this shift also meant learning to separate our capacity for creativity from any pre-existing passion that we might have had for an issue with which we had been previously been working. 

For me, and I suspect this is the case for others as well, the most important lesson that I took for the experience of crafting our social campaign was a reminder of the unavoidable difficulty and frustration that one faces when attempting to address human rights issues. The essayist Joan Didion once observed that many civic-minded Hollywood celebrities exemplified the particular sort of vanity that consisted in believing that social problems could be solved through the goodwill of exceptional individuals. I think that sometimes well-educated, compassionate young people can possess this sort of vanity as well. At one point, when we were discussing our briefs with Marek, another fellow commented that some of our campaigns seemed superficial, and did little to address the root of the human rights problem we were tackling. Marek smiled and said that he didn’t necessarily disagree, but reminded us that most people in Poland – and indeed, in the world – were at best indifferent to all the human rights issues that seemed so important to us. If we could make them devote just one second of their thoughts for the day to our issue, then that would be a victory. Often great struggles are won through a sustained perseverance in small battles. As current and future defenders of human rights, it is important to learn how to balance idealism with pragmatism, and learn to accept to sometimes glacial pace of social change.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Solidity of Solidarity by Thomas Meyer

If we want real international legal change, the super powers can’t be afraid to step in.”
            Professor Krzysztof Motyka

Today’s discussions opened up a myriad of religious, ethical, and political questions with regards to the Solidarity movement in Poland.  Our first lecturer, Professor Krzysztof Motyka from John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin discussed the origins of the human rights legal system.  For me, a human rights law student, this talk was of particular interest.  In his lecture, I was most interested in his discussion of the effectiveness of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a legal tool.  He argued that it historically it has been an effective means to enforce what he referred to as “negative rights”, essentially the basic rights to life, but doesn’t accommodate more progressive rights such as healthcare, educational rights, and others. Upon reflection, I questioned how effective the UN Declaration of Human Rights was at enforcing even these more basic or “negative” rights.  In US Courts, the soft language of the Declaration, and later documents such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has made it more difficult to hold foreign nations accountable for their human rights violations under the alien tort statute.  One such example is Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, where a loophole in international law allowed a DEA to escape punishment for his torture of a Mexican national.  Reversing this trend of poor international legal accountability will require, as Professor Motyka said, “a multilateral movement” in international courts.

            Additionally, another thought-provoking debate came up during the fellow’s talk was the discussion over universalism vs. moral relativity in the realm of human rights.  This debate was originally sparked during the Human Rights Conference organized by the University of Warsaw a few days ago and resurfaced during Professor Andrzej Rychard’s discussion on Poland’s Solidarity today.  While Professor Rychard discussed several different aspects of the Solidarity movement, given my background in philosophy, this was the topic I was most interested in.  At its core, the debate came down whether human rights were universal, or whether they varied depending on the cultural, era, and other factors; and also how we should act on them.  We ultimately settled for a resigned amalgamation of the two.  Personally however, I found myself going against the consensus of the human rights conference--which was in full support of enforcing the universality of human rights, by leaning towards moral relativism.  While I certainly believe in the universality of right to life and other basic liberties, I don’t believe that human rights intervention should occur on rights that lack international consensus, or rights that a sovereign free nation has decided it’s opposed to.  For example, an LGBT campaign in Saudi Arabia would be an absolute disaster and would probably impinge its cause. 

In fact, as we discussed in the fellows talk, it appears far more effective when powerful “progressive” countries bring more repressive countries into the fold economically and overlook their human rights violations.  One such example is Nixon in China during the 60s.  Through his brilliant diplomacy, he strategically engaged China economically, overlooking political and human rights violations.  Decades later, despite violations against the Uyghur and Tibetan people, China has moved much further into the mainstream.  Ultimately, I believe that this sort of “Moral Relativist Diplomacy” is what is needed in the Middle East and elsewhere to engage countries on economic issues, and indirectly change their human rights policies. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Are you on topic? Suggest others! by Alina Iovcheva

How to warn a young girl, who is looking for a better life abroad, about the dangers of human trafficking? How to explain to Polish parents, that a lesbian teacher should not be reason to change their child’s school? How to tell a young girl in a disco that the consumption of immense amounts of alcohol can have unfortunate results? How to show the bosses of a large company that female employees deserve the same opportunities, prospects, and pay as male employee? How to break societal stereotypes about the Roma people? How to explain to a nightclub security guard that a guy in a wheelchair has the right to have fun as everyone else?
How do we convey to people what is important? How can you share with them what you know and what can help them build better and more positive relations? Which way do we go so as to be heard and understood correctly? 
All these questions are conceptually important in the protection of human rights, and I hope that our group of HIA Poland activists, with Marek Dorobisz's, Creative  Director of advertising agency Ars Thanea,  help, will find the answers in the near future. 
Today, our speaker Marek revealed to us a few secrets of building an effective social campaign. He spoke about what angles a matter must be approached from in order to achieve the desired result, and about how to formulate social messages to make them heard.
In my opinion, building a social campaign is an invaluable practical component of our program, which can help each of us to convey our ideas of human rights protection to a wide range of people. It's a great experience, which we'll take with us to our own countries and will use in our future activities.

I should note that I awaited the practical part of our program impatiently, and I'm sure I was not alone. Personally, I wanted to try to develop some strategy to promote a particular category of human rights in society. The theoretical component is very important certainly, since it’s something that enriches our knowledge and helps to orient us in a particular area. But practical work is something that can help us to become qualified specialists, and can add a very dynamic, interesting and useful component to our future activities. But it turned out that the work is not all so simple ... We were faced with some problems.  We have been split into international groups that are united by common interests in particular human rights field. Each group tried to create some new and extraordinary approaches to the problem of constructing a social campaign, to formulate the right message for society... but not everything was right. Step by step, Marek tried to show us the right way and give us key tips on how to effectively communicated what we want to our target audience. 

So, we learned our first lessons, we’re done with the first steps and now need to work out the kinks in our projects. Now each team will be working on designing a social campaign during next 2 weeks. I hope that each of us achieves high quality results, and that we will be able to give practical expression to our knowledge. 
Good luck to us, guys! I hope for interesting and fruitful work for us:)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to bring about social change? by Joanna Klimczak

One of the most important steps to end up the abuse of human rights is to make everyone aware of his or her rights. In empowering minority groups different types of media play a crucial role.  As the issues raised by various feminist organizations, minority groups are usually marginal to social and political life, media engagement is central to the outcome of social movements and NGOs in Poland. The example of Ewa Tomaszewicz’s activities on Wedding in the air project and many other NGOs actions  prove that media has been shown to be an effective tool which may break the silence related to  certain problems in regards to human rights. I think that the use of such tools as social campaigns, facebook, twitter gives a lot of opportunities to increase the attractiveness of the projects in general as well as increase the chance to reach bigger group of recipients.

Social movements rely on media to great extent in order to gain social and political support. In the contemporary world new media has made it  easier and faster for many of NGOs to reinforce their message, make it clearer as well as often more attractive. In my opinion, the crucial issue for them is that if they want to be considered as relevant  and important they must respond to the media by using different concepts, forms, new ideas, artistic experiments. Barbie Girls cabaret, various visual actions in regards to ‘Wedding in the air’, postcards, t-shirts are great illustrations of such response.  Based on my personal observation I think the Foundation Mimo Wszystko and Polish Humanitarian Organisation proved to be most effective in conducting consequent promotional activities in Poland. By exposing the violation of rights, by bringing to the attention concerns of silenced groups through accurate forms, NGOs gain the chance to break the difficulties between media expectations and human rights problems. 

Media may produce visible positive result by generating dialogue with people, which was central to the success of the world's first same-sex wedding in the air of Gosia and Ewa or program ‘Pajacyk’ organized by PAH, whose goal is to feed children at schools. In their case the realm of social media played a significant role in the public sphere, as platforms in which ideas were exchanged and discussed by individuals and groups from every corner of the world. Such social media as facebook or twitter are used as quasi-public sphere which may influence a social movement’s outcome.

The desired social change is often determined by the relationship between the organization, media and the recipients. The often difficult challenge in today’s reality for NGOs is that they must struggle to maintain their principles and values. There is always a possibility to face and step into conflict with the values of others. However in the age of facebook and growing potential of youth media, the response of these NGOs to every-changing social media characterizes the internal dynamics of organizations, movements, and their capacities to deliver these important messages to society.

I think that what is most important to their motivation is that they need the media attention; however, media do not need social movements, NGOs etc.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Breaking the Awkward Silence, Breaking Down Barriers by Kristin Meagher

By the very nature of our Fellowship program, we as fellows are constantly called to step out of our comfort zone when it comes to intellectual and intercultural discussion and experience. Wednesday June 15 was no exception to this rule. Our discussion topic for that day revolved around the experiences of the LGBTQ community in Poland. Tackling the issue of LGBTQ rights in this country required an understanding of both past and current context. Looking at the issue through American lenses, I was blind to the hardships that this group of people currently face in light of the power and the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in Polish political society. Contrary to the current situation in the United States, where there is a discernible absence of an unquestionably dominant religion and the problems faced by this community revolve around the paradigms of various divisions in the American population, the situation in Poland is markedly different. Here, where law and politics are so tightly entwined with the ever-present, ever-dominant Catholic religion, the LGBTQ community faces a slightly similar yet arguably even more complex set of issues.

On June 15 we had the privilege to hear from Ewa Tomaszewicz, an openly-declared member of the Polish lesbian community. Of particular note were her views on the internal divisions within the LGBTQ community as well as her insights regarding being a “double minority” in that she is both a woman and a lesbian, and as such she faces discrimination on two fronts. She answered our questions to that extent with an interesting mix of evident discontent combined with a reluctant acceptance of the current state of affairs here in Poland.
Ms. Tomaszewicz also discussed her campaign for legislation permitting civil unions for homosexual couples despite her open acknowledgement of the fact that she would prefer to be fighting for legalized marriages; it was made evident that, in her opinion, change in Poland will be slow to come. Her comment regarding the recent LGBTQ Pride Parade, which took place throughout the streets of Warsaw on June 11, was that the number of people who partook in the parade (including a number of our HIA Poland Summer Fellows) was not nearly enough, especially when compared with the parades in neighboring European countries where participants numbered in the tens of thousands.

As always, following our speaker’s lecture and presentation, we were encouraged to engage in a dialogue of questions and answers, critiques and comments. I found that our group of habitually chatty and eager-to-speak students had become slightly hesitant when it came to the questions posed and even the phrasing and framing of those same questions. I might even be so bold as to say that the aforementioned dialogue was slightly strained with something akin to a sense of the ‘forbidden’, that the air was laced with the taste of tension (possibly because this important issue seems to be such a taboo subject here in outwardly Catholic Poland). Regardless, after a few initial moments of icy apprehension, our group of intelligent and forward-thinking students was able to grapple with the fact that the best way to break down barriers like these is indeed through the very dialogue which at first felt so uncomfortable. It became evident that the best and perhaps the only way to break awkward silences like these is to be brave enough to step out of one’s comfort zone and to face these issues head-on through constructive dialogue and intellectual discourse. I was quite proud of our group that day and quite proud of myself for learning to embrace a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing the world and all its people.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Human Rights Work Beyond Paperwork by Roman Gautam

Another warm summer day in Warsaw, again tempting us to go outside into the sunshine. Fortunately we had some great speakers who gave us good reasons to stay inside and pay attention. The day’s program covered three particularly vulnerable groups – socioeconomically marginalized children, refugees, and disabled people – whose needs Polish society is struggling to meet. The individuals we were introduced to and the NGOs they represent, (Przemysław Sendzielski from Aim High (Mierz Wysoko) Association, Agnieszka Kosowicz from the Polish Migration Forum, Katarzyna Kubin from the Social Diversity Forum , and Magda Szarota of the Association of Disabled Women are taking steps to correct those failings, but, as with so many of the admirable projects we’ve seen during the program, it’s clear that ensuring full human rights for these groups is a long struggle that is far from finished.

Personally, the highlight of my day was the first session with the Aim High (Mierz Wysoko) Foundation, which works with children from poor homes, often in welfare housing, in the Praga district. The foundation’s work reminded me a lot of the culture and ethic of a community center that I volunteered with in Sao Paulo some years ago, and I know the enormous challenges involved at this level of human rights work. Aim High works on the ground at the most direct and personal level. Of course government and city policies matter to the organization, but Aim High chooses to work on the front lines of human rights. Their deeply committed volunteers and employees play with the neighborhood kids right on the street, and organize workshops and activities for them. Every case here is subjective and personal, and Aim High tries to understand each child’s situation and when possible to intervene with their families, with the police and state authorities to give the kids a better chance at social stability and a future in society. Since many of the organizations we’ve been seeing focus on human rights advocacy on the policy level, it was good to be reminded that human rights work is not only about paperwork and research and business suits, but that addressing human rights violations ultimately involves dealing directly with individuals facing very difficult circumstances. I find it deeply unfair that both in terms of money and of prestige, such hands-on human rights work is never rewarded as highly as policy level work. Still, it is heartening to see that many people don’t care about prestige and continue doing vital grass-roots work.

At the end of the day, Iwa Kos, one of the fellows from our team, facilitated a discussion that got us to focus on precisely this aspect of human rights work: that solutions need to be found at the individual, communal, and legislative levels, but that at the most personal level every single case demands immediate individual solutions that, unfortunately, are the most difficult to find and implement. Iwa summarized the stories of two actual individuals in Poland struggling with disability, gender and immigrant rights, and we had to brainstorm solutions at all three levels for their situation. In both cases it was easier for us to find communal and legal solutions, and very difficult to find immediate solutions to their unique combination of problems.

Przemysław Sendzielski, Aim High Association
Our lectures and training so far have given us a great grasp of legal and social advocacy work, but I feel that we cannot learn how to tailor specific solutions to individual cases until we get out of the classroom and get hands-on experience in direct human rights work. I guess that’s the challenge we will all face after the HIA Summer Program: taking the general lessons learnt here and applying them to specific problems in the real world, where all problems and cases are far more difficult than they appear on paper.

Katarzyna Kubin, Social Diversity Forum and Agnieszka Kosowicz, Polish Migration Forum
Magda Szarota, Association of Women with Disabilities

Thursday, June 16, 2011

… and wearing my favorite high-heels by Anna Yamchuk

The sessions we had on the 10th of June were probably ones of the most interesting sessions since the beginning of the program. 
Our day started with a visit to the Human Rights Defender’s Office, where we discussed a very important issue: defending human rights in Poland with legal means. I had read a lot about the work of Ombudsman in Ukraine, and I was very excited that I actually got an opportunity to talk to people working in the Ombudsman’s office here in Poland, who shared their experience and knowledge with us.    

Our next session was dedicated to the women’s rights and I want to tell a little bit more about it, as I have always been particularly interested in this issue.

We spent much time talking about the equality of rights of women and men. On one hand, that sounds obvious for me because since my early childhood I have been brought up as an independent, strong, and persistent girl who has all necessary abilities to make my dreams come true. On the other hand, I understand that this basic principle of equality of rights is perfect just on paper, and when it comes to implementation, a lot of problems appear. One of these problems is connected with a physical factor that distinguishes men from women– women are granted with the gift to give birth to a child. This is our huge privilege, but at the same time, women meet many obstacles on their way because of this present from the Nature. 

For example, it is unfair that an employer would not want to hire a young woman under the presumption that she will leave her job in a year or two in order to focus on her private life. Unfortunately, such situations do happen in many countries. At the same time, an employer most likely would not like the idea of hiring a woman with a gap in her professional CV (a gap which appeared because she was at home raising her child). A woman must prove: ‘I am still good enough!’ Charlotte Whitton once said “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult”. Well, I agree! 

These labor equality issues are not the most serious ones when it comes to gender discrimination. We talked a lot about problems such as rape crimes, domestic violence, and the like. It is already terrible that such crimes happen, but what is more shocking is how our society treats victims and perpetrators. If a woman is raped, it is believed that it happened because she was most likely wearing too short a skirt and because she behaved in a way which allowed a man to assume he was given allowance to do whatever he wanted with her. “He is just a man after all”. This reminds me of words of prof. Monika Płatek. In her speech, given during the conference we visited on Wednesday, prof. Płatek stressed that the education on rape prevention should focus on men, the potential perpetrators, not just on women, the potential victims. Of course, I don’t think that it will solve the problem, but at least an essential step ahead will be made.

Furthermore, if a woman wants to make an abortion, even if it is legal, she is perceived by some as an irresponsible killer of the unborn child. Moreover “this unwanted pregnancy” is often believed to be the woman’s fault for she should have thought about consequences before she slept with “a first coming stranger”. Now it is her own responsibility and she should bear the consequence of what she did.  
If a woman becomes a victim of domestic violence, she will probably remain silent and no one will ever know what happened to her. She will just be ashamed presuming that it is all her fault. Indeed, she might have done a better job at home, and perhaps her husband has a right to be angry … 
May be I am exaggerating a little bit, but it seems to me that it is pretty much a situation in Ukraine. And I don’t think that we are “unique” in these terms.  Girls are taught from their early childhood that they are future wives while boys are taught to make a career and that girls should be good wives. I believe that the problem of protection of women’s rights starts with the lack of proper education and self-estimation. But we are a new generation and hopefully we will see this world differently. I believe that changes will come! 

The topic of women’s rights is a very broad one and I am only able to tackle on few issues. And due to its scope and complexity, it is impossible to come up with a fast and general solution. 

Yes, it is not easy to be a woman: “a mother, a wife, a daughter, a professional”. I just wonder: shall I ever manage to be this “4 in 1”? Well, I believe that God would not have created me a woman if I had not been good enough to cope with all of this. So yes, some day I will manage it somehow, just being myself and wearing my favorite high-heels.     

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lessons in Courage by Alec Arellano

As a citizen of a country with comparably stable governance, it is easy to be ignorant of the sacrifices other people elsewhere in the world have made for freedom. Some experiences I had while in Poland, though, helped me On Monday, 13 June 2011, Tomasz Pisula gave a talk to us entitled “Sharing experiences with strengthening democracy: Solidarity with the East.” Additional talks on this day examined the issues surrounding Roma communities as well as the difficult topic of human trafficking in Poland. The day's theme was defending and promoting human rights beyond national borders. Pisula is Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Freedom and Democracy Foundation, a Warsaw-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that seeks to share Polish experiences of successful struggle for independence, democracy and human rights with activists in other parts of the world. Pisula’s organization has done work in Belarus, Cuba, The Ukraine, and former Soviet Republics in the Caucasus. He spoke about the international networks of support among anti-Soviet dissidents in the Eastern Bloc during the cold war, as well as the lessons he had learned through carrying out his own organization’s work in the face of intimidation and repression abroad. 

Pisula possessed the honest and direct speaking style of someone whose day-to-day work left him too sick of dissimulation and high-flown rhetoric to engage in it himself. In spite or perhaps because of this, though, his words reminded me of what one of his predecessors in the struggle for freedom, the Czech poet and playwright Vaclav Havel said in a speech to the United States Congress twenty-one years ago. In it, he tells the assembled Americans who had been his allies in the struggle against Soviet Communism that he and his countrymen can offer their allies something in return: namely, their experience and the knowledge that has come from it. He claims that the experience of subjection that he and his fellow Eastern Europeans have suffered has given them: 
something positive, a special capacity to look from time to time somewhat further than someone who has not undergone this bitter experience. A person who cannot move and lead a somewhat normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone who is not trapped that way.  

Regardless of whether or not this accurately expresses the reality of the Central and Eastern European psyche after the fall of communism, the image of a person who better appreciates life after having experienced it hanging in the balance is certainly a powerful one.
Indeed, it sometimes seems that those who know best what life is worth are those most willing to risk it for something higher. Pisula spoke of doing democratization work in former Soviet Republics in the Caucasus, where he saw soldiers fire live ammunition into crowds of protestors, and police at a demonstration beat a man until his head split open. One cannot help but think that people who willingly put themselves into such situations in order to secure their own freedom understand the value of being free much better than do those of us who simply take it for granted.  

Pisula’s stories about ordinary people’s courage in the face of state brutality made me think of the hundreds of students, intellectuals, and trade union activists in Poland who were beaten, imprisoned, and even killed in the decades leading up to free elections in 1991. At the crucial moment, they could not know that their sacrifices, whether small or great, would amount to anything. But they chose to make them anyway, animated by a faith in the rightness of their action. I am awed by the courage and depth of conviction that those who make such sacrifices possess. 

My respect for this courage and conviction was further developed by an experience that I had during my time in Poland. Last Saturday some other HIA fellows and I took part in Warsaw’s Equality Parade, a march for LGBTQ rights. Over a thousand people, many of them young, participated in the event. Several trucks decorated with rainbow flags and playing loud disco music rolled with the parade. An extreme right political group had organized a counter-demonstration in opposition to the march. This was my first time seeing such a large, brazen display of hate in a public place, and it contrasted sharply with my experience attending similar LGBTQ events in the United States.

What really made an impression on me, though, were the scores of riot police deployed on the parade grounds. I later learned that several years earlier, a previous march in another Polish city had degenerated into violence, and now municipal governments deploy police to maintain order. Seeing so much massed state power unsettled me more than the than the angry men and women chanting slogans on the other side of the street. I reminded myself that the police were there to keep everyone safe, and I had nothing to worry about. I couldn’t help but think, however, of the previous generations of Poles who had stood up to organized violence to assert their rights. This parade, like Pisula’s talk and so many other experiences that I’ve had while in Poland, have deepened my appreciation for the sacrifices others have made for freedom.