By: Manaal Farooqi in Toronto, ON
One in every five Canadian women is born outside of the country. However, despite diverse ethnic backgrounds, many communities face discriminatory hurdles others may never witness in their lifetimes. This notion is only amplified in the case of Muslim immigrant women, who can experience challenges springing from multiple biases.
"Gendered Islamophobia" affects them in ways that are often left out of the wider conversation about the immigrant experience.
Whereas Islamophobia is defined as an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam, gendered Islamophobia dissects the issue a step further by diving into more pointed signs of inequity. Muslim women may be victims of both sexism and Islamophobia, disadvantaging them as they navigate through schooling, employment and other public spaces.
But, ultimately, it could play a huge role in their overall sense of safety.
Muslim women, specifically those identifiable through religious headgear or prayer routines practiced in public, can be more prone to being victims due to their "visible" status. This has led to cases of assault as well as blatant displays of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Aima, a Pakistani Canadian Muslim woman who dons the niqab, has dealt with discrimination in both public spaces and at university as well. She would find herself consistently ignored in classrooms when she attempted to answer or ask a question during lectures; and when she was able to speak in class she found her answers were met with greater scrutiny, even when they were correct.
Other comments directed towards her included unwelcome discussions on forced marriage along with the fact that she’s been repeatedly told that she “[enjoys] so much freedom” for someone wearing a niqab. She adds that “my body will be policed and my choices scrutinized” for the expression of her faith and identity within today’s socio-political climate.
And she’s not alone, Shazlin, a Malaysian immigrant who once wore religious headgear, states she has had similar experiences, in addition to street harassment.
“Even talking about it now, it makes me angry that I was vulnerable and that I was made a victim in that moment when I know I have a lot more agency,” she says. She recalls one particular incident when on a walk with other visibly Muslim women in Toronto, a man verbally assaulted them and attempted to flick cigarette butts at them.
Regardless of what Islamophobes think, the comments and questions Muslim women face on an everyday basis eventually begin to take their toll. T.G*, who is an Ethiopian Muslim immigrant, has found that people often assume she lacks intellect, agency and knowledge of pop culture because of her hijab.
“I’m a walking encyclopedia on all the ethnicities, cultural expressions, and nuanced faith practices of the Muslim world,” T.G adds sarcastically. “We are expected to be the compassionate caretaker, teacher, and empathetic listener to all manners of ignorance about our faith. The brunt of the burden of flag-bearing for Islam falls on us – especially hijab-wearing Muslim women.”
Seeking a lower profile
But Muslim women who are more visibly ambiguous are not immune to similar experiences. As in the case of Safia*, an Arab-Canadian Muslim who does not wear any religious headgear such as the niqab or hijab. Yet, she constantly faces questions related to terrorist groups such as ISIS at her workplace.
One of her former coworkers even emailed her after the Orlando shooting with footage he had found of an Imam who seemed to have made homophobic comments. He wrote to her demanding, “We want answers. What is your community doing about this?"
No action was taken and the comments continued, despite the fact that Safia had made complaints to her immediate supervisor multiple times. In the absence of authoritative intervention, she weathers the harassment through therapy.
Sara*, a young professional of North African descent who doesn’t wear a hijab, has attempted to keep her religious affiliation from co-workers, out of fear that repercussions could affect future opportunities and her overall comfort at work.
Sara explains that her former employer would bring her news articles about honour killings in an attempt to make a correlation with her faith that would justify its relevance. The controversial articles forced her into a defensive position on a complex subject that she did not even agree with. Now she avoids questions about religion or her ethnicity to discourage unwelcome conversations.
These experiences only begin to highlight some of the situations Muslim women are faced with on a daily basis. The full impact it may have on their everyday interactions, ability to navigate public spaces or even in their careers remains immeasurable.
*names have been changed to protect the identity of these women
Manaal Farooqi is a writer and community organizer working on issues of violence against women and race. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series.
By: Joyeeta Dutta Ray in Toronto, ON
As Toronto evolves into the world’s most multicultural city, so does its colourful communities, rising as a collective force to overcome challenges. This time, it’s the women who are initiating change. Meet a few dynamic South Asian immigrants who have stepped forward to pull up others in the community in various ways.
If Women Move Forward, the Whole Community Moves Forward
Shiuli Akhtar* (*name changed) stands as a symbol of pride for Sultana Jahangir, Executive Director at South Asian Women’s Rights Org. (SAWRO). She defines what Toronto’s grassroots member-led non-profit organization stands for: helping South Asian women, Bangladeshis in her case, come into their own in Canada.
Shiuli migrated to Toronto from Chittagong, Bangladesh in 2013, two small kids in tow. She had a degree in Chemistry but no work experience to talk of and little English skills. When she approached SAWRO for help, she was first enrolled in an English learning class, followed by a computer course. When her skills grew, so did her confidence. She got a break in a cosmetics firm in December 2014, only to be laid off 8 months later.
Not one to leave anyone stranded in the middle of the road, SAWRO pulled her into COSTI to switch lanes as a medical lab technician. Shiuli rose to the challenge, volunteered in a clinic for 3 months before she was absorbed into a full-time role. 4 years later, she lives her dreams in the same clinic with pride.
Sultana Jahangir, originally from Bangladesh, moved to Toronto from the USA in 2005, where she lived for about 7 years. Having faced injustices as a new immigrant under the Bush Administration, she understood the plight of her people in Canada.
“(Low-Income) women in the Bangladeshi community are very isolated. They are not familiar with writing resumes or Ontario’s employment process. It is hard for them to sustain precarious jobs as they are not protected by working rights. We have policies from the 1930s which do not apply in today’s environment.”
The work environment in Canada is going through drastic change. Full-time employment supported by good wages is giving way to temporary contracts that pay pittance. Women at the lower end of the job spectrum are hit hardest with little benefits and lesser job security. SAWRO helps them by working with labour rights and employment organizations for “systematic change”. Once these women sustain themselves, there is a profound difference. “They first get their voice and recognition in their own families,” says Sultana.
Today, after 5 years of service, SAWRO supports over 2000 Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Afghani and Indian women. About 346 were assisted with jobs. Plans are on to reach other marginalized groups now. “Every ethnic group has their own characteristics,” Sultana says. There is no one solution for all.
Driving Change by Giving Back
When Harpreet Sodhi migrated to Canada from India in 2001 to seek better opportunities for her family, little did she know that she would end up offering greater opportunities to others in the process.
A computer teacher for seniors back in India, Harpreet was used to training the mentally and physically challenged. Since she was “lucky to be gainfully employed”, she set about helping others through “Women That Give” - a non-profit group founded in 2016 by Fawzia Khan jointly with like-minded South Asian volunteers. The mission was to offer weekly workshops to help financially distressed and mentally disturbed women stand on their feet.
One of their greatest victories was Carol Mckeon, a mentally disabled woman under their care, who rose to take part in the 2017 International Paralympics Softball team, held in Toronto.
“Social isolation is a big factor that leads the disabled, abandoned and physically abused to depression and financial distress”, says Fawzia. “WTG uplifts these women by building their capacity and helping with job placements.”
“This land gave us the opportunity to grow so it’s important for us to give back,” says Harpreet. “We wanted to combine efforts to make a stronger impact as a unified force”, adds Fawzia.
Helping Women Professionals Fly Higher
For Bhuvneet Thakur, life changed with WINGS (Women’s Initiatives to Nurture, Grow and Support), a Mississauga-based non-profit organization. A student who arrived in 2016 to study at Humber College for a Business Accounting Diploma, Bhuvneet faced a roadblock once she finished her term. It was hard to find entry level jobs in her specialization.
“I realized the importance of connecting with professionals and carrying credible references,” she says. But for newcomers like her, networking is a challenge. “It’s hard to know who to talk with and how to start.” That is where WINGS steps in.
Started by Sanjukta Das, a Humber College Business Placement Advisor and Social Activist, who came to Canada less than a decade back from India, WINGS took flight with an enterprising board of women directors in 2014, to provide networking opportunities to empower women.
Bhuvneet secured a co-op placement with WINGS, and connected with other professionals, “magnifying her self confidence.” Shortly after, she got the much-needed break at Humber College itself. “I will continue volunteering at WINGS to help others reach their goals,” she states.
WINGS now plans its first Trade Expo on March 18th, 2018 as a tribute to International Women’s Day. It aims to bring together the rising number of South Asian women entrepreneurs and professionals at the Grand Convention Centre in Brampton. Funds from the proceeds will go towards a homeless youth shelter.
“Volunteering gives the chance to not just change one’s own life but also someone else’s”, says Bhuvneet. Good to see the baton pass on to younger hands.
By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
Elsie James (83) pulled into Fernie, British Columbia, with her family when she was seven. The rain-drenched moon raised its Aladdin’s lamp to the stars, conjuring magical shadows into being. The next morning, crimson streaks were smeared across the skyline, mountain topping mountain. Entranced by a magnificent view of the shimmering mountaintops, James — a prairie girl by birth — announced to her mother that she would live among crags when she grew up.
Sure enough, we find her among the mountains, symbols or images of other reality, 74 years later at home in High River, Alberta and, for months at a time, in Nepal — a poor land-locked state between Tibet and India — which features eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains.
“I’ve been hypnotized by mountain ranges ever since that morning in Fernie, so, when I retired after three decades in banking, I trekked to Mount Everest, Nepal, in 1995,” James said on the phone from her Alberta home. “My metaphysical connection with mountains and the Nepali people led to a second career short on financial compensation, but long on self-fulfillment.”
International charities have been working in Nepal since 1951. Elsie James of Calgary, Medical Mercy Canada (MMC)’s Nepal Country Manager, has been making two trips there every year for a total of five months annually, usually in the spring and fall, the timing depending on needs at the other end.
First encounter with Nepal
Her first official trip to Nepal was for an NGO called PartnerShip Canada in 1996; James was there full-time until early 2000, except for brief visits to Canada. She continued to work with village schools and supported her activities by bringing tour and trekking groups to Nepal after PartnerShip downed shutters until 2007, when Medical Mercy Canada, a registered Canadian charity, adopted her projects, taking them under their wing.
(At right, Elsie James with summer intern, David Bobyn, at the opening of Sanskrit High School in Maidi, Dhading District)
James began working with Kanti Children's Hospital in Kathmandu 2008. She organized a fund-raising trek to the Everest Base Camp on her 75th birthday. New plumbing, electrical wiring, the installation of a new kitchen, painting the building inside and out, and replacing the leaking roof, were needed at the hospital’s Shelter House. This is where family caregivers stay while helping their hospitalized children. Everyone on the trek did fundraising in their communities, and a portion of the trek fee also went to the Shelter House Fund. The trek, called "Trek 4 Kanti Kids" (aka Granny's Grunt), raised approximately $29,000. The work was completed in 2011.
MMC also has an emergency fund that helps families unable to pay for extended treatment, blood transfusions and special diagnostic tests. The Shelter House is managed by a Nepali NGO, Social Action Volunteers-Nepal (SAV-Nepal). In 2015, SAV's annual reports showed 6,801 occupied "bed- nights" in the Shelter House Dormitory and 146 children financially helped to treatment and diagnostic services.
Between 2005 and 2014, they were improving sanitation at village schools, organizing annual medical or dental clinics in remote villages, and operating a mobile medical clinic that employed four Nepali health workers who made the rounds to four remote locations where villagers lacked access to health posts or hospitals. The free clinics were served by Nepali and foreign volunteers.
The last, large medical/dental camp was in 2012. Like its predecessors, it included workshops, teaching villagers the importance of clean water, water treatment options, sanitation and hygiene. By 2012, travel and food costs within Nepal had become too expensive for large mobile clinics to continue to be viable.
Road access to centrally-located District Hospitals had also improved, enabling transportation of patients from villages to District Hospitals for medical care. “We are now concentrating more on health education and prevention than active treatment,” says James.
Providing education and water
Beginning in 2006, MMC trained and paid four village youths in Tipling Village Development Council (VDC) to act as Classroom Assistants in three schools, to help the overworked teachers. The Tipling villages are in a high valley just south of the Tibet border in northern Nepal. The attendance of teachers and students had been irregular, and the villages unable to solve the problem. One teacher had three grades with a total of 105 students in ages ranging from 5 to 14 — and was expected to teach them all. Attendance and parental support of the schools improved with the provision of help for the teachers. “We supported this project for five years until the situation improved, and then moved on with the local government taking more responsibility,” says James.
MMC did its first major water project, bringing water to taps serving 84 homes in Khare Village Development Council, Dhading District, in 2013. Three reservoirs were built, and an electric pump raised the water from a spring 500 feet into a storage tank above the village. Gravity-fed pipelines from the reservoirs distributed the water to 14 tap stands conveniently located to clusters of homes in the local villages.
This was a joint project funded by MMC and a partner, the Bethany Baptist Church in Puyallup, Washington. Before this, the village women carried water cans from the spring in baskets on their backs, 500 vertical feet to their homes over a rough, steep trail. This was a project that made a sustainable difference to everyone in the villages served — especially the women who no longer had to carry water to their families at least twice each day.
School for the deaf
That same year of 2013, MMC joined hands with the founders of the Swabalambi Primary School for Deaf Children in Dhading District. The school opened in 2012 in borrowed quarters, an unfinished farm house, but needed to move from there. There was no educational facility available to children with profound hearing loss anywhere in the District. One was sorely needed.
Today, the school is in new quarters on land donated by a local farmer. A partnership of several donor agencies, including MMC, the local community and municipal government, made this dream come true. The school now has three floors — incomplete, but functional. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language and standard curriculum courses. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language. There are plans for parents’ sign-language workshops and vocational training for students not wanting to pursue academics.
Much of Nepal, including its capital city Kathmandu, was savaged by earthquakes in 2015. Says James, “The April 25 and May 12 earthquakes of 7.8 & 7.3 magnitudes on the Richter scale, did not physically affect the whole country. About 14 of 75 districts were affected, with the brunt falling on seven districts, including Dhading, where we were working. There were more than 400 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or more since the initial quakes.”
MMC reacted immediately after the quakes. Emergency supplies were gathered and delivered to devastated villages in its service area, putting other projects on hold temporarily. Then, in the following 10 months, with the help of many donors, including Canadian Nepali organizations, nine villages’ schools were rebuilt and ready for occupancy for the new school year, beginning April 2016.
Families hope to vacate their temporary shelters in resettlement camps before another monsoon starts in mid-June, but their future is still a question mark and recovery a long, dark, winding road into the unknown.
A school at Muralibanjyag, the first of nine to be built by MMC, was completed in November 2015 in partnership with the Calgary Nepali Community Association (CNCA). They did not respond to e-mails sent by New Canadian Media.
Another school was inaugurated in Dhading 10 May 2016, in transitory sunshine and clear skies. District, VDC, and political party leaders thanked the sponsors, organizers, volunteers and construction team. The last three speakers had, however, to shout to be heard over thunder and lightning. This project was also in partnership with the CNCA.
Ramesh Dhamala, district president of the Nepali Congress Party, unveiled a donor plaque with James.
Mules were the only carriers that could access many places MMC worked, till recently. That changed with the introduction of jeepable roads.
(At right, micro-enterprise trainer Bimla Dhakal teaching menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills.)
MMC inaugurated the Single Women's Hostel in Dhading Besi in partnership with the local chapter of Women for Human Rights, Single Women's Branch , in May 2014. The hostel provides a temporary dormitory for women in transition, and vocational training rooms. (Micro-enterprise Trainer, Bimala Dhakal, teaching the girls menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills, picture at right)
“Currently, we are sponsoring a start-up program jointly funded with a US NGO, ‘Project for a Village,’ for a micro-enterprise group that is producing menstrual hygiene kits to be distributed in conjunction with an education program for girls in Grades 5 through 10 in the District’s government schools,” continues James: “This program was founded by ‘Days for Girls’ and is being expanded into Nepal.”
The Karuna Girls’ School and Women's College in Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, was a project that was brought to MMC by Trevor Ironside of Calgary, who was sponsoring it, and raising money to establish the school in partnership with a Canadian Engaged Buddhism Association (CEBA). MMC adopted the program. Ironside is now president of its Board and MMC still very involved in the project. “Trevor is the one who manages this one,” continues James: “ It is a great project and they are now hoping to expand on property they have acquired, to build a hospital and nurse training program in conjunction with the school one day.”
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. He has won three journalism awards in Canada and Nepal.
By: The South Asian Post Desk
About 16 Sikh temples in BC and Alberta have joined Sikh religious organisations in Ontario, the US, and the UK to ban Indian officials and diplomats from making formal visits to their places of worship in response to the arrest of a Sikh activist in India and what they call interference in their affairs.
The initiative in Western Canada was moved forward by the Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar in Surrey, which organizes the annual mammoth Vaisakhi celebrations in British Columbia.
The ban started in Ontario and spread to temples or gurdwaras in the US and the UK, with more than 100 places of worship now involved, Sikh websites said.
Organisations supporting the campaign, said that the ban would apply to official visits but not personal trips to temples.
The November arrest of British Sikh activist Jagtar Singh Johal by Indian authorities and "interference in Sikh affairs" by Indian officials had led to the move, said campaign organisers.
Johal was detained in the northern state of Punjab and accused of involvement in the killings of prominent Hindu figures.
His family has rejected the allegations against him, explaining that he was in India to get married. Sikh activists say his arrest was politically motivated.
Federal Canada NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and two Liberal Sikh cabinet ministers have joined a chorus of international complaints about the alleged torture of Johal triggering intense reaction by the Modi administration in India.
Adding to the Indian government’s displeasure to the actions in Canada is the recent elevation of Harinder Malhi, an Ontario provincial parliament member as Minister of the Status of Women.
Malhi is the mover of the 1984 genocide motion in the Ontario House last April and the 38-year-old daughter of Canada's first turbaned MP Gurbax Singh Malhi.
In the summer of 1984, Indian troops battling Sikh fighters stormed Sikhism's holiest Gurdwara, the Golden Temple, leaving hundreds dead.
Later that year, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards, who held her responsible for the bloodshed.
In the aftermath of Gandhi's death, thousands of Sikhs were killed as sectarian mobs targeted Sikhs in Punjab, and the Indian capital New Delhi.
Sikhs have described the killings as a genocide, which India has discounted.
The decision by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to elevate Malhi seems to have been taken with an eye to Sikh votes as Ontario goes to the polls in June.
Sikh Siyasat News said that the Sikhs residing in Canada will not give in or bow down to the interference and pressure placed upon them by the Indian state and their representatives, while reporting on the ban of Indian officials at local temples.
“Although this policy of restriction already exists informally, it is due time for a formal declaration”, temple representatives said according to the website.
“It should be noted that this step is being taken not to restrict access to the Guru, but rather to ensure that the Gurdwara Sahib remains clear from the interference of corrupt officials who represent a government that for the last 4 decades has committed genocide against the Sikh congregation and has never had positive intentions in dealing with Sikhs as a separate nation of people. Further, Sikhs in Canada have been humiliated and threatened by Indian
Consulate offices across the country when trying to access their native homeland of Punjab and being required to have a travel visa (issued by Indian Consulate offices) to do so”, the statement reads.
“Gurdwaras in Canada have often been approached by Sikhs with stories of mistreatment at the hands of these Indian officials who are keen to abuse their power, further subjugate Sikhs, and have attempted to infiltrate Gurdwara Sahibs and Sikh organizations in Canada since 1984”, the statement said.
The statement, however, added that no individual is banned from visiting Gurdwara and the prohibition is only for Indian officials when they try to visit the temples in their official capacity.
“To be clear, no individual is being banned from Gurdwara Sahibs, but Indian representatives in official capacity will not be permitted to address the congregation in Guru Darbar and sewadars from each Gurdwara Sahib may individually choose to which degree they will allow Indian officials access. The purpose of this declaration is to make it known that Sikhs in Canada will not be cornered by the Indian government and their representatives will be accountable to the Sikh congregation everywhere they go”, reads the statement.
The ban imposed by Sikh gurdwara committees in Canada on entry of Indian government officials in gurdwaras was also raised in India’s parliament last week.
Congress MP from Ludhiana Ravneet Singh Bittu raised the issue drawing government’s attention to the development in Canada.
“Khalistani (Sikh separatist) elements are behind the decision,” he said, and added that these elements are maligning the image of the entire Sikh community which will not be tolerated.
He cautioned the gurdwara committees concerned that by indulging in such uncalled for acts, they will forfeit the chance of any help from India.
“Government of India and state government of Punjab will not tolerate this,” he said.
This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
New Canadians from South Asia, China and the Philippines are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, a new survey has found.
The survey by the Angus Reid Institute and CHIMP or the Charitable Impact Foundation, found this segment of Canadians – many of whom are motivated to give by their personal religious faith – are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, and more likely to say that they should be doing even more than they already are.
The key findings stated:
• From poverty reduction, to faith-based issues, to human rights, people born outside Canada are more likely to have donated to each of the 11 charitable areas canvassed in this survey;
• While three-in-ten respondents from the general population (30%) say they should be “doing more” to contribute to charitable causes, this sentiment increases to four-in-ten (41%) among those born outside Canada
• Seven-in-ten immigrants surveyed (71%) say their religious beliefs have a strong influence on their giving habits, while fewer than half of the general population say this (46%)
• Money sent to family overseas is a significant source of giving for immigrants – one-in-four (27%) are currently sending money in this way
The survey sample was primarily drawn from individuals who were born in the top three emigrating nations – China, India, and the Philippines – though a handful of respondents say they were born in another country outside of Canada.
In addition to the sample of 439 residents born outside the country, this survey also captured a large group of second-generation Canadians.
“With the percentage of Canada’s population who are immigrants expected to grow in coming years, this segment becomes more important to the Canadian story with each passing year,” said Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Foundation.
The survey authors said in their report that Canadians as a whole population can be divided into four groups in terms of their charitable behaviour: The Non-Donors, The Casual Donors, The Prompted Donors, and The Super Donors.
The Non-Donors (14% of the general population) are just that: People for whom donating money is simply not something they do. At most, members of this group donate less than $100 dollars and support just one charitable cause in a typical year. The vast majority of this group is even less charitably active.
Slightly more active in their charitable activities are the Casual Donors (31%). Members of this group spread their money around, with most donating to at least two different charities each year, but none of them report donating more than $250 annually.
The other two groups – the Prompted Donors (34%) and the Super Donors (21%) – are each significantly more likely than Casual and Non-Donors to support a variety of charities and to spend more than $250 per year.
Those born outside Canada are much more likely to fall into the Super Donor category. More than one-in-three (36%) may be considered members of the most generous segment of the population, compared to one-in-five (21%) within the overall population, said Kurl.
Across each of the 11 donation areas canvassed in this survey, those born outside of Canada are more likely than the general population to have volunteered or donated to all of them, with the exception of animal welfare causes.
Notably, second-generation Canadians as likely as immigrants to volunteer or donate in many charitable areas. This means that they are also much more likely than the general population to be involved. There is however, a large disparity between first and second generation Canadians in two areas – religious causes and involvement in their own ethnic community.
The role of personal faith is evident among Canadians born overseas. While just three-in-ten (31%) among the total population say they are involved with a religious or faith-based cause, this number jumps to six-in-ten (61%) among immigrants and four-in-ten (43%) among second-generation Canadians.
When looking at the impetus to give, faith is again a factor. Seven-in-ten immigrants to Canada (71%) say their own personal faith has a strong influence on their views of charitable activities. Just under half (46%) of the general population says this. Second-generation Canadians fall in between these two groups (55%):
One-in-four immigrants (27%), are also currently sending money to family overseas in the form of remittances. This represents double the number of second-generation Canadians who say the same (13%), while just a handful of general population Canadians say they are currently remitting.
The group remitting in the greatest numbers, by a large margin, are Filipino immigrants. Among this group, 43 per cent say they are sending money back overseas currently, while those from South Asia (25%) and China (15%) report doing so at a much lower rate.
New Canadians also ranked higher in the “should be doing more to support charitable causes” segment when compared to the general population.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Irish Mae Sylvestre in Chicago, IL
Journalist Manny Mogato is more accustomed to writing news reports than being the subject of the story.
Last year, the Reuters Philippines Correspondent made headlines when he was targeted by pro-Duterte supporters who hacked his Facebook account. “It was eye-opening,” he said. “It had a chilling effect, not just for me, but for Filipino journalists.”
Concerned about his security, editors considered relocating them. But Manny convinced them that it wasn’t necessary; it would all blow over after a while. And, luckily, save for the occasional attacks on social media, the issue eventually died down.
Still, Mogato managed to find the humor in the situation. “They changed my profile picture to that of pro-Duterte blogger Mocha Uson,” he said, chuckling. “And my banner to say, ‘Duterte is my president.’”
Mogato has since changed his Facebook settings. Nonetheless, his editors had every right to worry; the threat to journalists in the Philippines is all too real. With the 2009 Ampatuan massacre still fresh on people’s minds, the deaths of at least 32 journalists serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of reporting about politics and conflict in a country where those two topics often go hand-in-hand.
But Mogato is certainly no stranger to conflict – he’s made a career out of reporting about it, along with insurgencies, human rights, international affairs and politics. For over 30 years, the reporter has found himself in the front row to some of the most turbulent times in the Philippine political landscape: the end of the Marcos dictatorship, the country’s transition under the Aquino administration, and the time when President Estrada used his political clout to shut down The Manila Times, where Mogato worked as an assistant news editor.
It’s this grit and storied career that has made him the latest recipient of the Marshall McLuhan Award for Investigative Journalism. Joining an esteemed line of media professionals, Mogato was in Toronto on December 5 to speak in a forum attended by Filipino community media and others and organized by the Filipino Canadian Writers and Journalists Network. In addition to sharing his knowledge and experience as a professional lecturer at the University of the City of Manila, Mogato is a member and three-time president of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
Launched in 1997, the Marshall McLuhan Fellowship is a public diplomacy initiative launched by the Embassy of Canada to foster responsible journalism in the Philippines. “Canada places a lot of importance on press freedom,” said Carlo Figueroa, the Public Affairs Manager for the Canadian Embassy. “It believes that in helping build capacity of journalists in the Philippines, it further strengthens the tenets of democracy and good government in the country. That’s the aim of projects such as these.”
As the 20th McLuhan Fellow, Mogato concluded a two-week speaking tour across Canada at Wilson Hall, University of Toronto where he discussed key media issues during his lecture titled, “Journalism Under Attack: The Phenomenon of Fake News and Challenges of Accountability in the New Media.”
“Fake news has been there for a long time, it’s not new,” said Mogato. “There have been many stories in the media that are false to mislead people.”
Such is the alarming effect of spreading false information that when a fake news site fabricated a quote by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regarding President Rodrigo Duterte, the Canadian Embassy in Manila was forced to issue a statement denying the comments.
Post-elections, however, fake news has taken on a whole new meaning. According to The Washington Post, stories that politicians like Trump or Duterte consider unfavorable are labeled by both leaders as fake news despite the accuracy of the reports. And such statements are detrimental to journalists’ efforts to uncover the truth.
“This time, fake news has a direct impact on news media,” explained Mogato. “They tend to discredit the credibility, not only of the news agencies but, in the Philippines particularly, the journalists themselves are under attack.
Lately, he has been reporting about conflicts such as the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Recently, Mogato was part of a team of Reuters journalists who received the Special Merit Award at the Human Rights Press Awards for their multimedia series titled, “Duterte’s War.” He said that people are dying in a drug war where there’s no accountability. “The police are only making excuses but they don’t follow the rule of law,” said Mogato. “These people aren’t given a day in court, they’re killed.”
Another topic he discussed was the importance of trust and transparency. “When Reuters reports on the drug war, we always give the government the right of reply,” he said. “The only weapon is to continue doing journalism [and] building trust, which is very important in traditional media – if you lose your credibility and people don’t trust you, you’ll lose readers and you’ll lose your business.”
Mogato also addressed the role of social media in politics. “We have to be critical in finding out if this information is true, [if it’s] actual fact and information because social media now has been polluted by so many vested interests,” he said.
He urged the responsible use of social media and warned against its potential to shape people’s perceptions based on what they choose to follow online. “Whatever you want to see is what appears so if you’re a follower of Duterte, what will come up on your feeds are all pro-Duterte,” he explained. “In a way, it’s clouding your reality; you think it’s the truth.”
When asked why he continues despite the risks, he said, “The attacks [against journalists] won’t go away. But we do our jobs by practicing good journalism because that’s a responsibility.”
The forum was organized by the Filipino Canadian Writers and Journalists Network (FC-WJNet) and Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto.
Reuters Duterte’s War: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/section/philippines-duterte/
Republished under arrangement with the Philippine Reporter.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit