The Human Impact

Can a mother truly hate her own son?

One line in Bad Hair, which had its U.S. premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York, has made me uncomfortable for days.

“I don’t love you,” Junior, the nine-year-old protagonist of Venezuelan director Mariana Rondón’s movie, tells his mother in the emotionally charged scene.

You would expect a mother to dismiss such a dramatic statement and rebuke her son for speaking such nonsense but all that Marta, Junior’s mother, says is: “Neither do I.”

There’s something excruciatingly painful in seeing a mother rejecting her child with such blunt words. And Rondón is skillful in showing Marta’s discomfort at her own behavior when she knows she should love Junior unconditionally, and yet she can’t.

Marta, an unemployed single mother with two children, is afraid that Junior might be a maricon – a disparaging word for gay – because of his obsession for straight long hair and his desire to become a singer.

Election day, a time of hope – and concern – over Indonesian women’s rights

Tri Widayati is the first woman in her family – and her village too, she thinks – to find employment. At 18, soon after graduating from high school, she left her small village in Klaten regency in Central Java for Bekasi, a satellite town of the capital, Jakarta.

“Every woman in my village, once they get married, they just stay at home and look after the children,” including her mother and sister, Tri said.

“I wanted to come here for self improvement. If I had just stayed in the village it would be the same old life and there’d be no progress,” she said, sitting in the office of a workers’ union in Bekasi.

Why coexistence doesn’t equal reconciliation in Rwanda

One Hutu killer describes feeling “like two different people” as he took part in the genocide: a man who obediently slaughtered his Tutsi neighbours because the mayor told him to, yet who hid one of their daughters in a grain basket to save her from the machetes.

A Tutsi survivor recalls the moment attackers rounded on her 17-year-old brother as he cried: “Why are you killing us? We used to be friends.”

And an aid worker and an ambassador lament the world’s failure to stop the fastest genocide of its scale in history.

Did you know that supporting gay rights is good for business?

People often approach the issue of gay rights (if one can even call it an issue) from the “doing the right thing” perspective, meaning that supporting the rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people is the right thing to do because everyone should be free to be who they are without facing discrimination of any kind.

This argument is, of course, extremely valid, but perhaps not the most effective when seeking the support of big businesses and financial institutions.

I recently interviewed Todd Sears, founder of Out on the Street, the first global LGBT leadership organization in the financial industry, and he told me that the ability to demonstrate that “diversity makes business sense” was at the heart of the success of his initiative.

Girls for sale: “A Day in the Life”

A diverse, fresh-faced group, the 20 American girls standing still and expressionless on stage create a striking opening tableau. Between the ages of 13 and 17, they could be anyone’s daughter or sister or cousin – or any sex trafficker’s prey.

Their voices ring out, one after another, in a litany of the ways in which girls become ensnared in youth sex trafficking.

“I was recruited at my school.”

“I met him at McDonald’s.”

“I was 12.”

“I was 14.”

“And now look at me.  I’m for sale. On your street.  On your browser.”

It can happen to anyone.

That is one of the points of “A Day in the Life,” a one-act play drawing on the real experiences of ordinary teenage girls whose lives have intersected with the world of commercial sexual exploitation.

Can the world get rid of tuberculosis?

It would be easy to think that tuberculosis is under control. TB, one of the world’s top two infectious disease killers, has been declining slowly but steadily and in some parts of the world it has been almost eradicated.

But one of the oldest epidemics afflicting mankind has come back with a new face: drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) is on the rise globally and experts warn that deadly strains are spreading at an alarming rate, threatening to unravel much of the progress made in tackling TB.

Around 450,000 people fell sick with these dangerous superbug strains of TB in 2012, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Fewer than one in four were diagnosed, putting the rest at risk of dying due to the wrong medicines or no treatment at all.

Where does human trafficking happen? Right in front of you

Human trafficking has many faces and forms. There’s the pimp enslaving and exploiting young girls in cities across the United States – where an estimated 100,000 girls are trafficked at present. There are the men who buy young boys in Ghana, forcing them into lives of servitude and hard labour, spending long days in flimsy boats in the Lake Volta region, hunched over their fishing lines under a scorching sun.

Not My Life, a powerful documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Robert Bilheimer, tells the stories of survivors of human trafficking around the world, painting a picture of this horrific crime that many people still think of as a phenomenon confined to remote corners of the developing world.

But virtually no country is free of trafficking and most of the victims are poor, said panelists following a screening of the film in New York this week. It’s a crime characterized by three main elements: force, fraud and coercion – which can happen  anywhere.

Ms Kalashnikovs: Meet Congo’s fearless women fighters

Copyright and all photographs taken by Francesca Tosarelli.

Brutalised. Repeatedly raped. The first to gather the children and flee attack. Weak, poor and uneducated.

Women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are so often cast as voiceless, nameless victims of a conflict that has raged for decades in the region’s lush jungles and hilltops that it is almost impossible to imagine them as fearless warriors.

But that’s exactly what Italian photographer Francesca Tosarelli found when she travelled to Congo’s North Kivu province early last year – driven by a curiosity to explore how gender identity shifts in times of conflict.

Burmese journalist beseeches brethren: Stop with the Muslim hate speech

The slight, soft-spoken woman onstage called on the media and the rest of the country to let go of narrow-minded nationalism.

“This is a time to fight for democratisation. We have to respect each and every ethnic (group) as a human being,” beseeched Mon Mon Myat, whose meek bearing veils her ferocity as a powerful freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.

It was refreshing to hear these words in a public forum in Myanmar because – let’s face it – such sentiments have been sorely lacking.

Who’s key to gender equality? Hint: It’s not women

When it comes to women’s rights, it turns out it’s really all about men.

A recent World Bank report underscored that strong economies and greater education for women, once thought to be silver bullets against gender inequality in the world of work, are effectively trumped by persistent social norms.

Entrenched social attitudes and traditions remain among the greatest obstacles to realising women’s rights globally – and most of those attitudes and traditions are held or enforced by men, according to experts.

An emerging theme at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women  (CSW58), is an increasing acknowledgment of the importance of addressing and changing the attitudes of men and boys to achieve the stubbornly elusive goal of gender equality.

    •