Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Anti-poverty campaigning the old way

A few years ago, I spent 6 months (0ver 2 years) volunteering and writing a research paper at an NGO in Phnomn Penh, Cambodia. Womyns Agenda for Change worked incredibly hard to support the empowerment of local sex workers and garment workers - ordinary, brave women burdened by poverty and weighed down by the responsibility of caring for their families. Some were still in their mid teens.

"Empowerment" is an oft quoted, and rarely substantiated characteristic of Western aid programs. But in this instance, thanks to the right support (and the amazing Rosanna Barbero), the women themselves made this a reality. Previously isolated and stigmatised, they began to join forces in a grassroots movement to agitate for social change, dignity, rights and a life free from discrimination and harassment.

My researched centred around the sex worker program - Women's Network for Unity. At the end of my time there, a splintered, geographically isolated group of women had morphed into a social collective numbering more than 5,000. Through this grassroots network, they provided each other with emotional support, education and assistance. They came together for collective decisionmaking, lobbied government, campaigned loudly on World AIDS Day and celebrated with each other on International Womens Day.

All this against a backdrop of poverty and adversity. And all without the tools of social media that have become so central to the modern day notion of a collective. It was one of the most inspiring times of my life.


Stan Lee said...

This is social media, surely?

Blogs, Twitter and Facebook are merely tools to assist with socialising.

They are no substitute for the real thing: real people working together for a reason.

You should be so proud. Best...Stan

Kate Richardson said...

Hmmm interesting. Personally I wouldn't call it social media, but you're right, "media" is the facilitator. Social communications possibly? In my mind, it's a bit like the distinction between media planning vs communications planning. Thanks Stan, yes it was a great experience.

Gavin Heaton said...

Great post, Kate. I see Stan's point. Social media collapses the distance between a person/brand and their actions.

On a similar note, take a look at this blog action day post:

Kate Richardson said...

You guys are right. If media is anything that carries a message then this is social media.