Archive | October, 2011

No Longer “Unwanted”

24 Oct

We can all agree that names are important. They are part of our identity and feeling of belonging. We get upset when people misspell or mispronounce it.  So when the name given to represent us is shameful and burdensome, it’s clear to see why someone would go through great lengths to change it.

That’s what more than 200 girls in the district of Satara in India did last week.

Girls originally named “Nakusa,” which means “unwanted,” received new names under an initiative to eliminate gender bias in India.

The girls were given the name Nakusa by their parents, who saw them as burdens in a society that prefers boys. In Indian culture, female children are seen as burdens, while males are heirs and moneymakers. Tradition dictates that parents of a girl pay for their wedding and dowry. To Indian families with multiple girls, this could be very expensive. According to express.co.uk, many families even  go into dept marrying off their daughters. Meanwhile, a boy would bring in money to the family once married, since male children are future heirs, future-wage earners, and heads of family. Additionally, under Hindu tradition, only sons can light their parents’ funeral pyres, a form of cremation.

The initiative to change the girls’ names sheds light on a serious problem in India. Al Jazeera reported that for every 1,000 males in India, there are only 914 females, with some ratios even more skewed in poorer parts of the country. This imbalance has been increasing ever since ultrasound scans began identifying the sex of a fetus at an earlier stage. Some families desperately wanting a male son will choose abortion if the fetus is female.  In more serious cases, baby girls are neglected and even murdered.

This discrimination has negative psychological and social implications. Because of their name, “many girls suffer from poor self-esteem, were embarrassed and discriminated against, with the risk that they will pass on their insecurities to their own daughters,” according to a News24 article. In essence, the name-change initiative was created to benefit two people: the Nakusas and the future Nakusas. On top of that, the social imbalance leaves millions of male bachelors without a wife, which can lead to violence, prostitution and wife-sharing.

The campaign is not all India is doing to fight gender discrimination. The government has banned technology that detects the sex of a fetus and made gender selective abortions illegal  (even though citizens easily get around it). It also created counseling and self-help groups for women, and gives cash incentives to encourage families to keep baby girls.

Despite India’s efforts though, gender discrimination continues to be a problem, especially in the poorer, rural areas of India, (although not as bad as China, which is estimated to have more than 40 million bachelors by 2020). The problem lies in the deep social values that are difficult to reverse. Countries like India have strong tradition-based lifestyles so forcing a less patriarchal society would be belittling Indian customs that have been around for hundreds of years. It could also be a cause for tension if citizens feel another one of their customs is being “westernized.” If I took away one thing from my readings, it’s that this is definitely a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed delicately.

Edelman- a Leader in Global Understanding

18 Oct

For the past six days I have been quite literally stumbling (need to invest in shorter heels) around an Orlando hotel trying to keep my head above the ever-changing public relations industry I’ve thrown myself into.

My school hosted this year’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference. It was a hubbub of meet-and-greets, workshops and influential speakers. I learned a lot about which paths I want to pursue in this big umbrella industry. But mostly I got to familiarize myself with the leading companies in the field. Of all the great companies out there, none snatched my attention quite like Edelman PR.

Edelman is the United Nations of PR companies. It is global, both in it’s reach and perspectives. According to its website,  It employs more than 3,600 people in 53 offices around the globe. It is the world’s largest privately-owned PR firm and strives to have a “diverse understanding of the complexities of the world, its cultures, markets, and issues” (http://www.edelman.com/about_us/diversity_at_edelman/).

After discussing in class the complex nature of communicating  to a variety of different cultures, beliefs and attitudes, it’s amazing to me to see a company that does this so skillfully. So I wanted to explore how a company like Edelman tackles this feat. How can one privately-owned company cater to countries as diverse as Sydny and India? Let me just say, they didn’t do it by cutting corners or “eyeballing” it.

So how do they do it? Edelman spends a lot of time, skill and money exploring consumer attitudes from all over the world. They are famous for their “Trust Barometer” and “goodpurpose” study, which measures global attitudes, including people’s commitment to certain social issues and their expectations of brands and corporations. The firm is then able to find out cool things like how Brazilians and the Chinese are the most trustful of  government and media, while the UK and US are the least trustful. From this, they are able to cater messages to their unique audiences. Edelman also has a series of blogs from employees all over the globe who “immerse themselves in the local business environment” of various markets to help advance the firm’s global culture with colleagues and clients”. (http://www.edelmanfellows.com/pages/home.aspx)

Lastly, Edelman makes sure to hire employees with diverse heritages to educate and mentor each other and promote a culture where “diversity and tolerance are valued and expected.” (http://www.edelman.com/about_us/diversity_at_edelman/)

I think we could all learn from Edelman’s think-before-you-jump approach to communicating in our culturally-sensitive world. To me, this idea is key to achieving progressive, positive and achievable globalization without countries’ losing their cultural autonomy. If each us does a little homework about what our foreign counterparts read, what they like to do on their days off and how they take their coffee, communication would be less like the game “telephone” and more fluid in achieving a healthy globalization. In short- Edelman walks over eggshells in ways that would make the lithest of cats jealous.

Unrest at Southwest

13 Oct

 

 

Although I’ve been blogging mostly about global progress and its positive effects, this week I’d like to comment on a case where stereotyping and cultural paranoia led to the unfair exclusion of a U.S. citizen. This week, a Muslim woman is suing Southwest Airlines for being kicked off her flight this March. The woman was escorted out after a flight attendant reported  hearing her say “It’s a go” into her phone and assumed a terrorist plot.  According to L.A. Now, the woman was actually saying “I’ve got to go” as the plane was starting to take off. Irum Abbassi, a graduate student, said the employees unlawfully kicked her out of a flight going from San Diego to San Jose, where she was headed to finish research for her Master’s thesis.  Even before she boarded the plan, TPM stated she had already been detained for a second screening before the flight- she was wearing  typical Arab clothing: ” a long shirt, pants, sweater and hijab, or Islamic headscarf.”

The article then goes on to describe how the flight attendant overheard Abassi, who was talking to a Verizon representative about activating her smartphone, and alerted administration. She was then asked to get off. After they determined that Abbassi didn’t actually pose a threat, they told her she could re-board. However, when she got back to the gate, she was told the captain would not let her board because the crew “was uncomfortable with her on the plane.”

Abassi is a U.S. citizen and has lived in the United States for ten years after emigrating from Pakistan. She is a graduate student at San Jose State. According to the article, she is suing for discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The airline defends its reason stating that: An airline can refuse to carry  a passenger for any reason, so long as it is not discriminatory.” While carriers may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry they can still reject passengers for various other reasons, such as same sex kissing. I surfed around to see if there were any similar cases, and I found that many airlines have been under scrutiny in recent years for kicking passengers off flights without “good reason.” However, it seems that Southwest is the most repeated offender.  Southwest has gotten a lot of heat after Actor Kevin Smith says he was removed from a Southwest flight for being too fat. Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong was also asked to leave for having baggy pants, and actress Leisha Hailey was escorted out for kissing her girlfriend.

While it may be defensible for an airline to double-check anyone they suspect a terrorist, it has no right to reject someone for no other reason than making the crew feel “uncomfortable.” This only perpetuates more social unrest and resentment.

Turbans, Kebabs and Rock N’ Roll

3 Oct

I thought it would be cool to discuss arts and music in the Middle East this week, mostly because I never hear anything in the news about it- the media usually sticks to violence, war and religion when it comes to these countries.

And now I know why. I saw in an Al-Jazeera news video (below), that Afghanistan had a small rock festival this past week. This rock concert was the first live concert in Afghanistan in about 30 years. THIRTY YEARS.  This may highlight my American ignorance of the Middle East, the idea is so foreign to me. In Gainesville alone you can’t go a day without hearing about some venue showcasing live performances or various concerts happening during the weekend.

According to TheCelebrityCafe.com, bands from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and even Australia played in the six-hour music festival called Sound Central. There was a lot of variety- blues, indie electronica  and death metal played to a crowd of about 450. For many attendees, it was their very first live concert. Travis Bear, an Australian photojournalist who joined a band when he moved to Kabul came up with the idea for a concert after he was inspired by the talent and dedication of a handful of underground local musicians.

Although Afghans were given temporary relief from an otherwise violent atmosphere, this concert was not like ones in the Western world. Alcohol was banned and the only food allowed was kebabs. The festival was also stopped twice so that those praying at nearby mosques wouldn’t be disturbed. So while it was a big step for Afghanistan, the concert was still able to hold on to its own cultural identity.

The festival also remained sensitive to the tension and unrest in the country. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the concert was under tight security and the venue was kept secret for as long as possible to prevent possible protests or acts of violence. Even though this was a big step forward, music still has a long way to go. Many music shops have been attacked in cities throughout the country and most musicians stay under the radar – both effects of a Taliban regime that outlawed music.

The overall mood and effect was positive as it mirrors a movement of young Afghans embracing modern music. This is a direct effect of globalization, and in this case, a good effect. The whole theme of the festival was to encourage the conservative Muslim country to “pick up a guitar, not a gun.”  I thought the concert did a great job of bridging the gap between traditional culture and new outlets for creative growth in a war-stricken community. I also like how this incident doesn’t seem like the effects of a core country completely taking over a peripheral county’s culture. For example, although I couldn’t figure out what language the concert was in- it definitely wasn’t in English.

Hope you enjoyed the video!