Celebrating Celebrities or their Causes
Nobel Peace Prize 2014
Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize just a few weeks ago, together with Kailash Satyarthi, for her (their) “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education” This decision has been hailed as a huge step in the recognition of people such as Malala who have fought and continue to fight for children’s and women’s rights worldwide. Furthermore the fact that a seventeen year old was awarded the world’s most prestigious award is hoped to lead to a larger involvement from youth in such issues worldwide. This joint award has also been used by the Nobel organization and the United Nations as an envoy for South Asian peace, especially between Pakistan and India.
However, this award for Malala also creates a feel of unease. I am pondering that maybe too much attention is given to persons and their name recognition, rather than to the actual social struggle for in this case gender equality and access to education for all girls an women? Are we buying into the celebrity cult and culture? For example, many celebrities and famous actors have become “goodwill” ambassadors for the United Nations and the various branches such as UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR. These people’s visits to affected areas, camps or schools do raise press coverage about the issue at hand, but they often fail in creating awareness in the capitals of the world. I am afraid they succeed more in raising awareness about themselves than actually about the issue or the difficult actions necessary to solve their “cause” problem. Yes, these people do promote education, the Millennium Development Goals, equality, human rights and many more other issues, but the entire operation of such goodwill ambassadors seems more to highlight the name of the celebrity and not the actual cause they are representing.
Let’s use Malala as an example. Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani teenager, who after being shot in head in 2012, survived, and became an advocate for education opportunities and women’s rights worldwide. Now, there is an official Malala day (14th of July), she wrote a book under the title “I am Malala”, she spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, participates at numerous conferences worldwide and has just received the world’s most prestigious prize – the Nobel Peace Prize. Her story has lately been everywhere, the news, print, television and, of course, all over the Internet. She acts as a collective image for all girls in her previous position – living with sexism and a lack of education. Yet one comes to realize that the entirety of the media’s focus is on Malala as a person – how she was shot, where she went, her book, her speeches – and not on what she is actually trying to raise awareness about – the issues of gender inequality, abuse of children and women and the lack to educational opportunities. Furthermore the term to raise awareness has of late become very unclear. In the simplest sense, it simply means to educate people about a topic or issue and attempt to incite them to take action to solve that issue. Yet the second part of its purpose is becoming more and more lost between the thousands of articles, videos and pictures about the actual issue and the people trying to raise that so-called awareness. So again we return to the question: are we putting to much emphasis on the faces society has chosen to represent the particular issue and forgetting to try to actually solve the problem?
Acid Survivors Foundation
any Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) suffer due to this overemphasis on the person, not the cause or its victims. For instance Acid Survivors Foundation, an NGO based mainly in Bangladesh and Uganda, which offers aid to survivors of acid throwing attacks. Acid throwing is a form of violent assault, in which an acidic substance, most commonly sulfuric and nitric acid, is thrown upon the victim in an attempt to maim, torture or kill the victim. The main issue regarding acid throwing is the long-term social and physiological it has on the victim. Acid throwing victims frequently have deformed faces due to the acid burns. The attacks offer render the victims handicapped, increase stress levels, increase the chance of depression and limits the persons’ possibilities of future work and social interactions, including marriage. NGOs play a huge role in prevention and treatment. The main path of prevention focuses on stricter regulations regarding acid sales and first aid education. In Suriname, for example, the sale of pure acid has been forbidden since the late seventies, in an effort to stop mutilations. Another way to limit such attacks is working with governments to increase the severity of anti acid attack legislation. For instance, in 2002 Bangladesh instituted the death penalty for acid attacks, which is seen as the main reason for a drop in the frequency of attacks this past decade. Saving Face is a documentary about such victims and yet despite its commercial success in the western world it has failed to greatly reduce acid throwing attacks. It did succeed in raising awareness about the issue, mainly through live interviews with victims and the fact that it won an Academy Award, yet no discernable drop in acid attacks occurred. So again, here the issue arises regarding celebrities and ways of teaching people about social issues, i.e. the attempt to raise awareness. Too often all attention is put on the person and not on their actual cause.
Let’s hope that Malala will stay the course and stay with her cause. Join her cause for our own daughters and sisters, and for all her unnamed global siblings who suffer unnecessarily. What good does it do that our national governments have signed that Universal Declaration of Human Rights and then do nothing. Sadly, we still need to fight for their, our, rights.