Wendy Wong is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto and Director of the Trudeau Center for Peace, Conflict, and Justice at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Her research focuses on the study of NGOs and the importance of the variations between NGOs and the role of foundations in human rights.
I’ve been wanting to write a Duck post about the experience of a woman with visible minority status in IR for quite some time now. I was waiting for the right moment. So thanks to the American Political Science Association (APSA), the professional association for US-trained political scientists, the moment has come.
Yesterday morning, an email came from a friend with a screenshot. The screenshot showed an attractive Asian woman in a frilly top who looks like she’s having a good time looking into the camera. I was confused. Then I read the blurb next to it: this was a promotion from PSNow, one of the official APSA dissemination bullhorns. They were promoting my recent piece with Sarah Stroup in Perspectives on Politics on international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and authority in global politics. Instead of contacting us to request a photo, or choosing a stock photo that reflects the subject of our article, APSA decided to accompany this promotion with a photo of a random Asian woman.
I was stunned.
So it’s pretty obvious to me why this is offensive, but let me spell it out.
- What does the Getty Image “Portrait of a young woman smiling” have to do with INGOs? Or authority? Or politics?
- What happened to my co-author?
- What kind of search terms were being used to even generate such a photo that APSA found worthy of posting not just on PSNow, but tweeting?
- Has all of my work on INGOs boiled down to some irrelevant stock image?
- Is it that hard to Google “NGO” for images related to the work being advertised?
- Yea, “all Asians look alike,” but REALLY?!
A few months ago, I began my Duck postings with an introspective on what it’s like to have grown up in the USA and moved to Canada to start my professional career. The current context in Canada is both daunting and exciting – yes people, “We the North” have an election. In two weeks. We have three (possibly four or five) parties to choose from, only one has amazing hair, and unlike US elections with the circus of personality assassinations and general chaos that surrounds the process, the Canadian one has gone on quite civilly and remained mostly focused on real issues. There are real issues at stake here in the Canadian election – and I had a chaotic but very thought-provoking week to reflect on some human rights concerns, both in Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. I had two sets of thoughts that popped into my mind as a result of being part of two human rights-related events this past week: global leadership on human rights is exceedingly difficult; and maybe we need some leadership on human rights domestically.
First, I had the honor of moderating the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Victoria University, at the University of Toronto. This year, I got to lead a discussion between The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs led the way to ban landmines, is a celebrated name among human rights junkies in particular (like me … if you don’t know who he is, see this), and Professor Charli Carpenter, who is a colleague whose work I’ve referenced extensively in my own research. They were responding to the topic of “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights Around the World?” which was the topic that U of T’s political science students came up with for the evening. Continue reading
As IR scholars thinking about the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in shaping international norms, we rarely think to ask those doing the work on the ground what they think (this author is guilty as charged). Plenty of work has gone into researching how others NGOs think of one another (Murdie and Davis, Hadden) and try to shape one another’s’ behavior (Deloffre), how international NGOs shape international norms through their work with other political actors (Carpenter, among others), and how NGOs might censor themselves (Bush). Others have also looked at how external, in particular, Western donors, can shape the NGO-scape in a certain country (Luong and Weinthal, Sundstrom), but very few of us have then thought about where else the money would come from if not from outsiders meddling in the internal politics of state-society relations (see however, Brass, Dupuy et al. for a view of Ethiopia, work by Gugerty and Suarez). Continue reading
This post was written with Lindsay Heger, who is Associate Director, One Earth Future Foundation.
We’ve seen the rise of judicial means to bring human rights violators to trial in recent decades, both regionally and globally. Most famously, the International Criminal Court, was established after the Rome Treaty was ratified in 2002 in order to bring the most egregious state violators of human rights to to account for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes (though this court has not been without its controversies, most acute of which is that the court deliberately over-targets African leaders). There are also many arguments about the effect of the ICC, including the effects that having such an institution has on individual lawyers, judges, and other officials in the practice of law. The complementarity clause of the ICC, furthermore, might be spurring domestic legal institutions to change in anticipation of possible prosecution by the Court, creating a race to the top in terms of complying with the prosecution of war crimes in order to avoid facing the ICC.
[As two fellow NGO researchers, Wendy and Maryam are going to collaborate on some posts to provide contrasting views on hot-button issues related to NGOs. Think of us as the Siskel and Ebert of
NGOs – we definitely agree on certain things, but clearly not on others (and don’t ask who’s who). Our points of view will not always reflect what we personally think of an issue–we need drama and suspense!–but we will always provide food for thought.]
By now everyone is well aware of the recent tragic killing of Cecil the lion by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Josh shared a post about this incident here on the Duck, as have countless others. One opinion from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA), no stranger to controversial statement, has caught plenty of attention:
“If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.”
Needless to say, calling for Palmer to be hanged has generated a public outcry of its own. We weigh in here.
It’s All About Strategy and Positioning
PETA calls for Walter Palmer to be hanged. Offensive? Yes. But it is doing what we expect groups like PETA to do. The PETAs of the world play a very important role in the world of global activism and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) – they make some outlandish statements, they embark on ambitious (perhaps even wacky) projects, but these actions mark clear distinctions between types of INGOs: even if INGOs are a class of actor, they often adopt very different means to approach the same concern. PETA’s role is to stay outside of the mainstream, to do what other INGOs won’t do. Continue reading
Recently, Joel Pruce and Doutje Lettinga wrote contributions to openGlobalRights that lamented the non-revolutionary, and I would go so far as to say, anti-revolutionary tone that human rights have come to represent in global and local citizen politics. Both observers note the trend that international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) working on human rights have indeed, become “soft” in their success, earning reproach from critics such as musician-activists Pussy Riot. More harshly, INGOs can be viewed as complicit with state domination. In essence, human rights and the INGOs that fight for them have lost their way.
The fact that human rights are “no longer revolutionary” speaks to the strength of human rights and not their weakness. If we start from just the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, it has not taken long for largely aspirational, vague notions of what needs to be protected for a life of human dignity to go mainstream into the discourse not just of progressive activists, policymakers, bureaucrats, and academics, but also conservative campaigners, the media, and corporate moguls. As someone who has thought about how international norms take hold, I think the ubiquity of human rights speaks to their strength. It marks the fact that the concept, the possibility, and realization of protecting rights has in fact persevered. No longer the territory of simply “radicals,” human rights have mainstreamed, and this is their point. It is not just for revolutionaries to use, but for everyone else to internalize.
I never thought that when I started grad school I’d be relocating to another country. Then again, when I got the job in Canada, it did not really occur to me that I was “really” leaving the US – on my previous visits to Toronto, everything felt pretty familiar. Plus, as a scholar of transnational activism, borders were supposed to be made increasingly irrelevant. I still remember the moment the border agent stamped my passport and glued the work permit into its folds. I had actually crossed a border for my job – politically, socially, and culturally.
While many things are the same, functionally, between the US and Canada in terms of academic life, here are a few things that I’ve noticed in my time in Toronto, some of which perhaps resonate with other abroad-Americans here and elsewhere. Continue reading