The Big Ones

I’m not going to lie. I have a problem with large multi-national NGO’s (LMNGO’S). I vaguely alluded to it here.

Why do I have such a problem with organisations that are allegedly doing a lot of good work? Because they aren’t doing good work. To be fair my actual personal experience is limited to amnesty international but the criticisms I have of them can be extrapolated to other multi-national ngo’s (although not all).

LMNGO’s are Bureaucratic machines
Organisations such as Amnesty International spend the vast majority of their funds on administration and getting more funds. Anywhere from 75-90% of funding can get spent on bureaucracy. I certainly understand the need to fund operational costs but when you consider that small local NGO’s who cannot rely on the goodwill of the public to get funding are usually capped at level of 10% operational costs – even when they are providing services- this seems ridiculous.

LMNGO’s Are Not Effective
It is very hard for these organisations to actually provide what people who are on the ground doing activism need. By their very nature they are not local organisations. They often do not have a nuanced understanding of the local contexts in which they are trying to help social change come about and rely on briefings from privileged experts who may not have any idea what daily life is actually like for the people they are trying to help. They also tend to neglect gendered analysis. This has time and again resulted in ‘solutions’ that do not actually help the people they are trying to help.


LMNGO’s Divert Attention and Resources Away from Organisations which Are Actually Effective

Because of their marketing clout and the substantial effort given to branding, the giving public tend to trust LMNGO’s and they get the largest share of individual donations. The problem is this money is then diverted into bureaucracy and ineffective projects when it could be going straight to small local NGO’s who actually have a nuanced and contextual understanding of the issues.

I guess my main point is that LMNGO’s are like trying to use a hammer when you need a scalpel.

I don’t believe that these organisations are totally useless – but they have diversified from their original purposes – often to their detriment. Amnesty International for example has no history has a development organisation – they were founded to free political prisoners and do political activism around the world and they were very good at it. There is no infrastructure for development work in AI they do not have the in house expertise for it and the they are not good at finding a range of perspectives. Often they end up doing more harm than good.

There are a vast number of smaller local NGO’s out there struggling to do what they know needs to be done. If you are planning to donate money to NGO’s I beg of you – please look past the big ones. It may be harder to find one which you trust but your dollars will go much further.

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Thinking About Working Out

So we have established a few posts ago that I identify as fat. More specifically I lie somewhere in the ‘smaller’ fat range.

So I am fat and I also work out fairly frequently. This is my privilege because I am currently able bodied and have the spare time and resources to do so.  One key motivating factor for me working out in a public place (i.e. the gym) is to present an image of a chubby chick kicking butt – running faster and lifting heavier than anyone would expect. This could be bad but I am reasonably careful about training to my fitness level and not punishing myself in work outs. I also work out because I enjoy becoming fitter, more flexible and stronger ( especially stronger, I get a kick out of lifting heavier than boys) and it helps me manage my depression which is currently well in check.

I do however also have a dilemma I don’t want to hand over my hard earned cash to an industry that relies on heavily othering bodies like mine and strongly contributes to the climate of fat phobia. So much so when my gym membership lapsed I started looking around for alternatives that would still challenge me but yet not require too much effort on my part.

that is how I discovered http://www.bodyrock.tv. I wouldn’t go there if you are triggered by images of slim/muscular women not wearing all that much and they do natter on about fat/weight loss quite a bit. However the workouts are short and intense and often don’t require any equipment at all (if an exercise does  I just sub them out for something that doesn’t)

I know I still contribute in terms of hits to the website but it makes feel less cranky than being in a gym surrounded by weight loss oriented crap all the time.

Teaspoon against a tidal wave right?

 

Begging

It has been a few days since I returned from behind the great firewall of China and I am still kind of processing the experience.

I saw one thing in Shanghai that struck me to the core and remained with me through the whole trip. As we left the subway station I saw a woman she was in the kowtow position kneeling with her head on the ground, she had a bowl in front of her with a message in mandarin that I couldn’t read.

She had clearly done this before and had done this for some time as she had a sponge under her forehead to keep it from being directly on the pavement and had a black plastic bag over her body to help protect her clothing. It was winter and the temperatures were barely (if at all) over zero degrees (Celsius).

As the child of immigrants I was brought up to never give money to people like this woman. According to the logic of my upbringing beggars are cheating the system. It was acceptable to be poor and to struggle – but only if you did it a certain way if you bought into the system – the myth of the self made man. If you worked hard then eventually you would be rewarded for it. Beggars however are not working hard. They are trying to take away other peoples hard earned cash by making them feel guilty and awkward and you should never succumb to their ploy.

In Asia when so many people have risen to the middle class from nothing, where the dream of achieving middle class status or higher is the basis for almost everything you do this attitude is very prevalent.  So this woman in order to get enough money to survive and to prostrate herself on the concrete in order to move people enough to give her spare change.

I don’t believe Asia is unique in this regard. Those of us raised with class privilege are often brought up with a strong mistrust of those who do not have class privilege. If they were not defective in some way then they would not be in the situation.

A woman anyway should not have to have her face on the concrete in order to inspire pity in the crowds around her. Each of us should have enough common decency to accept that people are doing the best they can in whatever way they can and thus do the best we can to help each other out whenever we can without questioning their motives and doubting their integrity.

 

 

 

overheard conversations

I said in my previous post that I had been spending some time traveling, I had a short but fantastic trip to Laos which is an excellent country to visit on a tight budget and is incredibly beautiful.

Part of my trip involved a two day long boat trip down the Mekong river. Sitting behind me was a group of back packers from Australia, Italy and Holland.  At one point there discussion turned to  the ‘problem’ of immigration. I was trying really hard not to listen because I find it almost impossible to disengage from political conversations even if I am not participating and other people’s ignorance can make me really pissed off.

It was the usual fare of ZOMG the immigrants are flooding in there have to be controls! They must assimilate into society and be good immigrants and then it is OK.  I understand that there are many practical considerations with immigration but for the love of pete can we step back and look at the big picture?

The key reason that  people immigrate from the global south to the global north (I use these terms loosely) is the search for a better life. Not because they think western society is way more awesome than their own and they want a piece of it, but because the vast majority of the worlds money sits in the west.  In my experience the vast majority of immigrants do not choose to go through the myriad and very real difficulties of immigration including becoming a marginalised group just for the hell of it.

If you are really worried about the ‘immigration issue’ then how about lets talk about fixing global inequality – much of which has been caused by the pillage of colonialism and subsequent imposed economic systems (this when you think about it is the white supremacists ultimate fear of what immigration will turn into).  Lets do that instead of whinging and moaning about how immigrants (like yours truly) don’t like to integrate, that we clump together in our ghettoes hoarding money and political power to try and change the social fabric and cultural values of ‘your’ society.

What makes these arguments about immigration even more  ludicrous is that it is exactly what happens when white people immigrate to the global south. We don’t call them immigrants though, we call them expats and its ok for them to clump together in private housing estates, never learn to speak the local language, and send their kids to special schools that spout only their own values.  I see this a lot now that I live in Asia and it makes me laugh hysterically considering the content of the immigration debates where I come from.

It of  course comes down to where power lies and what people in power consider valuable. This is obviously their own language, culture and values – wherever  they may live in the world. At least we can try to be honest about it.

Hello Again

It seems that so soon after beginning my bright shiny blog I have abandoned it however the reality is I have been traveling. I hope you have all had an excellent start to the new year I certainly have.

A few months a go I made a comment on a blog I casually read. The author had posted in what I felt was a smug and disparaging tone about her dealings with bogans (poor white people in australia) I unfortunately commented while still angry
mentioning both class privilege and judgemental attitude. The op has since responded with a long post detailing
her circumstances growing up and how hard she has worked for the things she has.

My thoughts are very simple. Experience of hardship does not make you an expert on hardship universally it makes you an expert on your hardship. Secondly to my mind nothing justifies being rude and making snap judgements about people based on a few minutes interaction and what you see in their shopping trollies

The Marriage Industry

Its a common joke in the west. Talking about old white men with young thai (or russian or …..) wives.  The women are frequently portrayed by the mainstream media as being heartles mercenary harpies, exploiting lonely old men who don’t know any better and just want some companionship in their sunset years.

If you look in any English language bookshop in Bangkok or Phuket you will find plenty of treatises on making ‘entrepreneurial’ marriages work.  The idea of marriages being made as a business transaction – creature comforts for companionship for example- is not in and of itself a bad thing.  What is deeply problematic are the wider social and institutional factors that result in these marriages.

Older white men come to Thailand seeking the idea of oriental womanhood,  quiet ladylike women who will attend to their every need and not argue with them or question them.  Thai women hook up with these men because usually they offer them the chance of a better life, not just for them but often for their whole families.  I find it incredibly distasteful that men who are or have faced the erosion of a very little bit of their privilege move somewhere where they can enjoy it in full. I find it sad that the neo-liberal capitalist system makes it necessary for these women to enter into these marriage transactions often against their preferences. I especially find it disturbing that it is these women who are negatively portrayed in the media and not the men.

Capitalist and neo-liberal ideology tells us that everyone involved is free to make their own choices. That markets are created to meet needs. Progressive liberals say that a choice brought about by circumstances is no choice at all.  A few years ago there was an outbreak of young thai wives cutting of their farang (thai for foreign (also guava but that’s irrelevant)) husbands penises. To me this is quite indicative of the lack of options these women felt they had. Often totally dependent on their husbands for their and their families livelihoods and well being that their only recourse when wronged by their husbands (and usually they have been wronged) is extreme violence.

 

The story of how this body came to be

TW for descriptions of disordered eating.

I was born, apparently large and lazy – 10 days late and still not coming so I ended up a C-Section because of that and my very large head.  When I was born – the treasured first child smiling and fair – this body was loved. It stayed loved for a long time 12 or 13 years perhaps. It had been through puberty and was now navigating high school and this is when the fear began. The fear that this body might be found wanting, by family, by friends, by boys. The fear was fueled by casual comments, by the merciless  mocking of others as this body sat silent – terrified of becoming the next target, by the pictures in the magazines, by the  people on TV. The fear became an ever present companion. The body began to examine itself, critically, checking to make sure it was compliant. That there was not too much of it. Despite the fear the body was ok for another few years until it began to betray itself. There were many things going on at this time, the person inhabiting this body became an emotional wreck and blamed it on the body. If only this body could be smaller then everything would be ok. So the torture began.

It started off innocently enough. In the interests of health improvement pies and other foods considered damaging were  no longer allowed to be consumed by this body. Soon it was only allowed to consume fruit and water. Soon just water and tea except for weekends. As the body shrunk it got many compliments, but it was tired and it was stressed. It could not maintain this forever. So a cycle was struck. Binge starve binge starve. Whenever the body started to grow bigger people would make comments about it triggering the starve part of the cycle all over again.

Luckily, just by chance, the girl that lived in this body found Shapely Prose. It started a long and painful journey which included a few events that are just too painful to talk about.  The upshot was that this body grew.  Slowly and then more quickly – as habits and economic status changed. As it grew so did acceptance although it was shaky and difficult to come by at first.

So now this body is what it is. Bigger than it used to be. With more stretchmarks than it used to have. Stronger and more vibrant than ever before. Finally there is no division between this body and the woman who lives in it.

I am just me.

Sometimes I feel sadness for the divided girl that I was and wonder what I could have achieved, what I could have been, had I not been so.  Mostly I am just glad that I am not anymore.

Ethical Tourism in Northern Thailand

As some of you may or may not know I have recently relocated myself to the North of Thailand. It is an area very popular amongst tourists who want to experience a bit more of Thai culture than you can get from the party islands in the south or who want to distance themselves from the in your face sex tourism in Bangkok and Pattaya.

I really love it here and as such I want to do right by this place. Being a tourist or a traveler is always a difficult balancing act for those of us who consider ourselves activists for social justice.  Here are a few simple thoughts that I have had regarding traveling in this particular area. I cannot claim to extrapolate them to anywhere else but perhaps the general principles are worthy of consideration when planning your next overseas adventure.

Hill tribe visits

These are common fare among the many tourists that traipse through this city. They are often part of a standard day trip that includes elephant riding and bamboo rafting. Don’t do it in this manner. Hill tribe people of all kinds are extremely marginalised within Thailand. They generally do not see any money out of these visits except for what they can sell to the tourists tramping through their villages. They are treated as curiosities and as such become something akin to a human zoo. If you really want to experience hill tribe culture do your research. There are a number of lodges that are run by the tribes themselves. These usually have an emphasis on sustainability and the empowerment of local communities. Plus you actually get to interact with people rather than just gawking at them.

Do not visit the so called long neck karen villages. These people are heavily exploited and are confined to their villages by local authorities as useful tourist attractions.

Elephant Riding

There is a long history to Elephant domestication in Thailand – much like buffaloes and horses they have been used as beasts of burden. They were extensively employed in the logging industry, however since the Thai government banned logging most families with elephants have turned them into tourist attractions. Again do your research and find something that gels with your particular beliefs.

That is all I have for now but perhaps I will make this a series 🙂

Blah

Today is just one of those days where I feel sucked dry and exhasted. A large part of my job right now involves reading about the many ways people choose to hurt each other.

Sometimes fighting the good fight is really shitty

 

Interlinked

This post was inspired by the  controversy that happened earlier this year when the Feminists With Disabilities Helen Keller blogswarm clashed with Juneteenth. One of the comments made was that Juneteenth is a North American/ US’ian holiday and as such only relevant to North Americans US’ian’s.

Slavery is and was not just a North American tragedy. It was a tragedy that is felt by all of  humanity. I say this not to diminish the other human tragedies that have occurred throughout history like colonialism, the holocaust, ethnic cleansing etc.. but rather to illustrate how these tragedies are tied together. They occurred for many reasons but they would not have been possible without the denial of the humanity of the groups that were targeted. Denying the humanity of those who are different from us is something human beings are very good at and in my opinion the catalyst for many of the great evil’s that happen in the world.

By claiming that slavery in the USA was only a North American or USian tragedy we deny the cultural factors, the political discourse and the simple othering that is common to the ways in which all marginalised people are marginalised. This is not to say that all opressions are experienced in the same way, only that the process by which white supremacy, or abelism or any other opression operates are built upon the same blocks. Denial of personhood and autonomy, othering, objectification.

I view all opressions as being the symptoms of the sickness of the kyriarchy and so being a good ally is as important as fighting my own battles. This to me means seeing the tragedies of all oppressed people as being my own tragedies because they are allowed to happen by the same system that allows my own. This means listening to people who are oppressed because of different factors to me and ensuring that I am subverting – not reinforcing those forces that make their oppression as well as my own possible.

The other reason that this is so important is because of intersectionality. Oppressions do not exist in discrete boxes and neither to people. We all have many facets to our idenities and can be both privileged and oppressed by many different factors at any one time. Intersectionality not only forces us to take heed of those whose voice have been most erased by mainstream social justice movements, often because they are invisible within them, but to also see the commonalities as well as the differences between our marginalisation.

Solidarity has often meant making some people wait for their rights and recognition so that some can progress now. It has often meant the silencing of critical voices in the name of the movement. What I want is a true solidarity that comes from collaboration, true listening to the concerns of all marginalised people, and a universal rejection of the kyriarchy – not just the bits that affect us as individuals.

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