The Alexia Foundation Supports Photographers as Agents for Change


Negar Yousafzai, 27, a British Afghan, at her home in Birmingham, UK. Negar is an educated and well informed young woman. Here she asks, “Who wants to hear the social or political opinions of a veiled woman like me. They only want to see pictures of oppressed Afghan women”. November 2, 2011. Bharat Choudhary/Alexia Foundation [Photo essay link]

The most important issues of our time – the most important events in history – many of us can recall the photographs in our heads and the stories that they brought to life. Pictures can capture our hearts, make us laugh, or provide a glimpse into a sobering reality of human actions and consequences through a language we can all understand. Photojournalists bring us these pictures, the indelible images that give voice to social injustice or shine a light on issues and focus attention on things that might otherwise go unnoticed, serving as catalysts for change.

The role of today’s photojournalist has never been more critical. Through grants, scholarships, and special projects, The Alexia Foundation is committed to supporting the work of photojournalists and their powerful ability to communicate through images and move each of us forward to a better understanding of the social injustice that exists around us.

Inspired by their dear daughter and sister Alexia Tsairis who was innocently killed at the age of 20 during the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the Tsairis family have worked to build Alexia’s legacy as a photographer through The Alexia Foundation. From its beginning as a memorial fund at Alexia’s alma mater Syracuse University, The Alexia Foundation has grown to become one of the most well-known and respected awards in the field of photojournalism, earning recognition and awards from World Press Photo, the Emmy News and Documentary Awards, the duPont-Columbia University Award, and a Pulitzer Prize; just to name just a few. The Alexia Foundation has given $700,000 to 110 photography students and 18 professional photojournalists producing 128 funded projects over the last 24 years. Photojournalists supported by The Alexia Foundation have had their work featured in prestigious media outlets such as National Geographic, The New York Times, TIME, Newsweek, LA Times, The New York Times, and many more.

Now, The Alexia Foundation is seeking to increase the impact of photojournalists and the stories they tell through targeted grant opportunities and partnerships with non-profit organizations that will enable the images created by Alexia photojournalists to bring awareness to problems, give voice to those who have gone unheard, and move people to take action – whether it is the impact of climate change on Bangladesh or the lives of those in The West Bank. The Alexia Foundation is actively seeing financial support from new sources – foundations, corporations, and individuals who have a commitment to human rights and a desire to drive change.

If you would like to learn more about how you can make a contribution to support the mission of The Alexia Foundation, or how the work of the foundation can raise awareness of your organization, please visit their website at

Also, check out their video on Vimeo!

I’m a woman

I’m a woman. I think. I hate. I lie. I cheat. I’m not a virgin. I’m not a whore. Because, you know, women aren’t either virgins or whores – they are a complex mix of both. We have vices and virtues. We are not White or Black, we are fifty thousand shades of grey. We are complex. We are human. We have urges, as natural as yours. Image

Sometimes, we don’t have them too. You cannot police us. We do not owe anything to you. You do not own us. We are beautiful, we are ugly. We are saints, we are murderers. We are everything; we can be everything, a complex mix of everything.

Accept it; deal with it, live with it.

This note is for those who resort to the popular (at least in India) tactic of silencing and policing women through “Women Are Goddesses, Therefore”*

* This phrase is used to deny women liberty and choice and they are made to fit into an “ideal woman” mould. For example – Give him another chance, be forgiving, women are the embodiment of goddesses after all (at the same time reducing men to grown up boy-children who Refuse To Mature And Must Be Mollycoddled By Women).

A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space”

 – Gloria Steinem

A short note asking us all to introspect about what we find funny

Laughing at misogynist jokes, such as those which promote slut-shaming (or racist, or any other bigoted jokes), doesn’t make us have a “great sense of humour”. It makes us actively participate in a culture of marginalisation. Raging against rape won’t do shit as long as you don’t change OURSELVES. We should question what has been drummed into us. 

The notion of “virginity” and “purity” is a shit one. It is THESE attitudes which play a big role in rape victims not coming forward and reporting crimes. 

Woman: I had Sex wid only 4 boyz in my entire
life & U had it wid 16 Girls, still, Everybody Calls
me a SLUT
Cal u a REAL MAN,
A Winner?
Man: It’s because,
when a Lock is Opened by many Keys,
it Becomes a BAD LOCK.
But when a Key Opens many Locks,
it becomes a MASTER KEY..  😉 😉 😉

And equating men with “keys” and women with “locks” is just so messed up, I don’t even know where to start. We are not locks or keys, we’re actual human beings. A woman being called a slut for having sex with four men and a man being called a stud for having sex with sixteen women has nothing to do with locks and keys, it is sexist double standards stemming from patriarchal mindsets. 

I, for one, have nothing against standing up in opposition to such “jokes” and this may make me a “killjoy feminist”, but, you know, fuck joy stemming from sexism.

Sexism is not cool, and that includes sexist jokes.

We’re not making fun of sexism, you’re actually endorsing it, even if unintentionally.

Reflections and musings

“Sign the cause! Join me!”

My Facebook wall is littered with Causes petitions and requests with over 20 people asking me to sign the petition to stop gendercide (among others). While this is well and good – and I’m certainly happy to see people taking the initiative to sign the petition and recruit people to do so as well (in fact, I’ve done those myself), perhaps the time has arrived for some deeper reflection. And a few confessions.
Until a few months ago, women’s rights and outrage against sex selective abortions were distant concepts for me – difficult to fully grasp. I knew foetuses were aborted simply because they had vaginas. I knew females were murdered simply because they were females. I knew the reason was son-preference – a honking red light signalling the existence of patriarchy. I knew women still had a ways to go with regards to their rights. I knew of feminism. They were theoretical concepts – ones you had to learn for exams or a word (feminism) you looked up in the dictionary because you didn’t know what it meant. And promptly forgetting it a couple of days later. I couldn’t relate to them. I didn’t think that many aspects of my everyday life were sexist. I thought it was normal. And, much to my shame, I was sexist as well.
I think most people who grow up in a patriarchy without explicit teachings against the sexism so prevalent in such a culture are sexist. Unknowingly so, or perhaps they know of the differences in the ways women and men are differently treated and socialised but they think “this is the way things are supposed to be”. This is not an excuse, but perhaps a reason. I did not think that the unstated assumptions with which I worked were wrong. That most girls like pink. That pre-marital sex is a sign of being a “bad” girl – that all boys are sex-maniacs, so why should they be subject to the same rules for categorising girls into a “bad” folder? After all, it is the girl’s responsibility, isn’t it? Because all men just want sex and women families? To pass whispers about that girl in a short dress – “Oh, look at what she is wearing!” After all, these were the messages I got from the society, the media, my peers, my teachers as well.
I had homophobic and transphobic tendencies as well – “haha are you gay?”, “omg is she a lesbo?”; “hahaha look at that he-she!”, “run awayyy it is coming!!”. These were how I was taught to respond – how everybody around me responded. There was no talk of rights. I felt it was natural and OK. Suffice it to say, I was pretty bigoted.
Anyway, I was aware of sex selective abortions. I felt it was wrong, of course. But, I couldn’t relate to it. I didn’t feel outraged over it. I see cries of “Why aren’t people outraged??” “Why does the educated middle class not care about this??”. That is why I am typing my own story. Why I wasn’t outraged.
To put it simply, I was (and am) pretty privileged. I had class privilege, caste privilege, cisgender privilege, heterosexual privilege, the privilege of being born in a family where nobody would go to the extent of aborting a female foetus or killing a female infant/girl child. The reality of people actually doing that was a distant concept for me. It was statistics I had to learn for class. Numbers. I thought of it as just another thing I have to learn and write in a test.
Nobody talked of it any more than that – not in schools, not in family discussions. Perhaps the only time I talked about it with anybody was when another gruesome incident of females being killed on account of their sex was televised. It was forgotten within a couple of days – until the next incident was talked of.
And, moreover, the reasons behind it were not talked of. Talking of the whys of son-preference might actually force us (the educated, middle class who like to believe our society is equal now) to accept the cause (patriarchy), yeah? And, horror of horrors, it might actually make us think the many other ways in which patriarchy affects us all! It might even give some the idea that we should actually work towards equality. A break-down of the Indian Family, damn it! And we can’t pretend that our families are somehow excluded from the bigotry prevailing in the society? Thinking of it makes us shudder, I’m sure.
Anyway, back to the point – it was nothing more than a numbers issue for me (and I’m sure many others). Perhaps, if it was talked of as a human rights issue, I would’ve actually thought about it? If it was talked of as a severe violation of human rights (which it is)? If there was more importance on rights rather than numbers when talked about?
I would’ve certainly thought about it more. Yes, numbers and stats are important – but so is the human rights perspective and talking of the broader social reasons.
I’ve confessed much of my previous bigotry here – if you want to judge me, or hold something against me, go ahead. I can understand. The point was that most people growing up in a bigoted society are bigoted when they don’t have anything negating those influences and making them aware of the sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, casteist, classist, ageist, ableist messages which are rampant. And that if people are willing to change, they can. And, most importantly, we need messages which make us question things we hold as “normal” in “mainstream” culture – not simply restricted to fringe groups with social awareness. And we need to work toward it – all of us.

This entry was posted on December 4, 2012. 2 Comments

What is liberation?

When we talk of [women’s] liberation, what are we talking about? What is liberation? Some people seem genuinely confused. Is liberation universal? Or, more precisely, is my idea of liberation the same as yours? Should it be? Is it natural for ways of liberation to differ? Is it only patriarchy we need to be liberated from (speaking from a gender perspective)?

In this post, I will try to clear up some of the confusion Indians (esp.) seem to have (no, I’m not being racist – it is a matter of awareness in the society as a whole. Most are not sure if marital rape should be a crime? No kidding. I will try to answer some common FAQs about that some other time).

First of all, what is [women’s] liberation? The most common accepted definition seems to be “equality in social, economic, and political spheres”. Some would specify the necessity of having the ability to make “free” choices. Some may talk about smashing gender roles. For some, it may be not having the social pressure to put makeup and “be pretty” before everything else. It varies, as I’ve said.

Freedom from gender-roles is freedom for men too, but this post is women-specific. (For eg, putting makeup may be liberation for some men – although, pressure to put makeup might not be. Just like pressure to have muscles).

Is liberation universal? Or, more precisely, is my idea of liberation the same as yours? The answer is – no, apart from “equality in social, political and economic spheres”, it’s not. The finer details vary according to a woman’s social position, i.e. a woman’s location in the larger map of society.

Confused? Let me give you an example – for a “higher-caste” woman, liberation may well be not wearing a bra (given the fact that upper-caste women are exhorted to maintain their “purity”, be docile, and not let their breasts hang out like “rowdy” women – women who “ask for it”) – a symbol of rebellion against patriarchal restriction(s) and oppression. By not wearing a bra, by being liberated, she may seek to define herself on her own terms – rather than being defined by patriarchal norms of how a “good [upper-caste] woman” should be.

On the other hand, for a Dalit woman traditionally not given the right to cover her body in many parts of India (it is reprehensible that such inhumane customs are STILL followed due to social pressures in a country which, ironically has “banned” untouchability and the like), WEARING a bra might be a symbol of liberation. By wearing a bra, she will be doing the same thing as the upper-caste woman in the previous example – that is, defining herself on her own terms rather than being defined by patriarchal norms of how a “lower-caste” woman should be.

It must be noted that in both these examples, caste – along with patriarchy, comes into play – which is why the “liberation” is so different. Also, caste is not the ONLY thing except patriarchy which comes into play in influencing a woman’s liberation.

Should it be? Is it natural for ways of liberation to differ? Yes, it is natural for ways of liberation to differ according to a woman’s social position. Above paragraphs have cleared this up, I believe.

Is it only patriarchy we need to be liberated from (speaking from a gender perspective)? Ah, now it is kind of complicated (at least for me).  Yes, OF COURSE we need to be free from patriarchal BS of what it means to be a “good woman” but we also need to be free of pressures to conform to a particular form of liberation, which while making complete sense to another woman – may not be what you want, even though you both may belong to the same socio-economic class. Not wearing bras may be liberation for a “upper-caste” woman but it may not be liberation for you, even if you’re “upper-caste”. For you liberation may be related to some other aspect and that’s normal. If you like doing things assigned to your gender, that’s OK too and that’s where it gets tricky (again, for me). I believe that if you like doing something which doesn’t hurt yourself or others, nobody has any right to force you or shame you into doing something else. Of course, we shouldn’t discount the part socialisation has to play. We don’t make choices in a vacuum. So, in a way you have to be liberated from the “expectations” some feminists may have of how to smash the patriarchy.
This quote describes what I want to convey –

“Let me reiterate that to you: If facials or any other sex act makes you feel bad, gross uncomfortable or degraded, then you should not do it ever. That is wrong. But men aren’t the only ones who like things they see in porn. In my case, there’s nothing degrading about receiving a desired sex act I’ve asked for as a consenting adult. Sex acts are degrading when they make you feel degraded — and nobody gets to decide that but you, not even feminism.”
— Emily McCombs

The point I want to convey is – your liberation shouldn’t be dictated by anyone or anything. Liberation can differ and that is OK.

However, there is another thing I wanted to write about here. I have seen many feminists on the www shaming other feminists for their life choices – sometimes it is because they are “too radical” and sometimes it is because they are “not radical enough”. In fact, this post itself was inspired by a comment by a feminist about how she is “not the bra-burning type” and told “upper-caste” women who are so eager to not wear bras to think about how they got the right to wear it when many lower-caste women don’t even have the right to cover their body.

While it is certainly true that “upper-caste” women are far more privileged than “lower-caste” women, it does not mean that UC women should forget about challenging how patriarchy affects them in their own ways (be it wearing a bra or not or something else entirely) and it does not change the fact that dalit women, facing the disadvantage of both caste and gender (often referred to as “double dalits”) will fight patriarchy and casteism in their own ways, separate from how UC women fight.Image


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Not Islamophobia

Not Islamophobia

It’s not Islamophobia:

* to condemn unequal treatment of women in Sharia law, genital mutilation and stoning in some cultures

* to defend their right to choose whether or not they would like to wear burqas and veils

* to be surprised that the ‘honour’ of a prophet who died in the 7th century should matter more than the freedoms (or even lives) of writers, cartoonists and such

* to be surprised that this prophet married a 9 year girl called Aisha

* to ask yourself why Muslim countries do so little science today when their culture thrived so much on it in the past

* to think that cultures are not static and can change from the inside

DISCLAIMER: I do not own the image used

Yefon – the movie

Hi, y’all! When was the last time you saw a film which not only portrayed the problems of a society historically oppressed by colonialism and whose members still face racism today but also portrayed them truthfully without playing into or pandering to the shitty attitudes of today?

You may have watched The stoning of Soraya M, It’s a Girl, or a few other films – because only few films can not mess up the responsibility they take by wanting to depict such problematic issues.  In this post, I want to talk about Yefon – a film that continues in the proud tradition of socially conscious, Africa-based cinema like Hotel Rwanda, Beat the Drum and Sarafina!—but unlike those movies, its producers will come from the ranks of generous Kickstarter supporters.

“Yefon” is the brainchild of 22-year-old actress and filmmaker Sahndra Fon Dufe. Broken-hearted by the sad reality of too many similar, true stories from Africa of women being denied education , she and the production team have pledged to use a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the film, a companion documentary, books and related merchandise to build an all-girls school in Nso, the Cameroon village where “Yefon” is set.

Based on true events, the movie, YEFON, tells the story of a young African girl’s pursuit of education, and how she stands against a male government that crosses the line to protect their ancient traditions and political interests. It is a story that shows that one little person can be the beginning of not only a change, but a revolutionImage

It has already attracted the attention of Hollywood stars like Jimmy Jean-Louis (Tears of the Sun, Heroes), Adriana Barraza (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee, Babel) and Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Hotel Rwanda). The film is being co-produced by Justin Massion, the director of the Kickstarter campaign for “Space Command,” which brought in $75,000 in just three days, and ended with over $200,000.

Education for women is a problem that has plagued women in some rural parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East  for decades. These women face the challenge of being refused an education on the basis of being women. Yefon will tell their story.

I have blogged about the problems in speaking up about such issues publicly here. I have also posted a response here. I believe this is a great project – one which may force people to think deeply on the problems plaguing women in many “developing” countries and not brush it off with cries of “racism” when somebody brings it up; at the very least – one which may initiate debate.

The goal of this movie is to depict the African culture through the use of a variation of color and excruciating detail, as was done beautifully in movies like Slumdog Millionaire. There is authentic use of African fabric with an intention to bring the audience a very powerful and visually compelling film.

The story of Yefon is not particularly any one’s life, the story seeks inspiration from the true life story of millions of women around the world including, but not limited to : The Stoning of Amina Lawal (Nigeria), Tererai Trent’s strive for education (Zimbabwe),  the inspiring story of Wangari Maathai (Kenya 1940- 2011),  Freidoune Sahebjam’s 1900 book ‘‘La Femme Lapidee’’ and its movie version ‘’The Stoning of Soroya M’’,  Princess Sultana (Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia), the words of Ali Ghadur (Kirkuk, 2008), the story of Huda Ahmed ( Iraq, 2008), Reports on African women’s’ battle for equality by Gumisai Mutume, the story of Irene Godonou in Cotonou, Benin, the voices given to women’s’ grievances by Catherine Beecher (1800- 1878), Sarah J Hale (1788- 1879) in the USA, the story of Judith Sargent Murray ( Boston, USA).

The Documentary will follow the lives of three women from different socio- economic backgrounds, and their attitude towards education, and follows in the style of’ “Day in the Life”. Team Yefon intends to create a massive compilation of footage shot by the team, interviews, footage and uploaded videos from followers in order to create a loud voice for women’s education. This will be submitted to festivals. YEFON The Movie will be telling this beautiful story with a choice of exotic locations that represent both the culture and history of Nso people; the tribe where the character Yefon comes from.Image

The YEFON team is raising these funds via Kickstarter to make a film in Cameroon, Africa, a virgin country for film, where this will be the first major production, a film they can proudly showcase around the world. Due to this, resources are limited and they need to bring help from all over the globe to make this movie possible, and to make history. The Kickstarter goal is set to $50,000 and can be funded here.Image

Please back the project! Only 12 days to go!