Monitor Daily Podcast

February 01, 2019
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Old divisions, new divisions, and signs of solidarity

Sometimes nations standing together can change history.

That happened in 1987, when the US and its NATO allies won a treaty eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons via their collective will to confront the Soviet Union. Here’s a story of mine from the time, describing how the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty came together.

Today the US announced it will withdraw from the INF pact, saying Russia is cheating. It’s another blow to NATO’s teetering solidarity, and a test of how the White House handles Vladimir Putin’s pushing of geopolitical limits.

Those old cold war divisions are appearing in today’s Latin America, too. The US, aligned with regional powers from Canada to Brazil, wants Venezuela’s embattled leftist President Nicolás Maduro to go. Russia and China want him to stay. The longer he hangs on, the better his chances, writes the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi.

Meanwhile, the divisions in Washington are symbolic as much as physical. When is a “wall” a real wall? Another government shutdown may hinge on the answer, as Democratic and Republican lawmakers try to strike an agreement on border security that satisfies President Trump. (He has called wall talks a “waste of time.”)

Finally, the US released employment numbers on Friday, and they were good. “The job train,” said one expert, “just keeps rolling.”

Now to our five stories for your Friday.

Can Canada lead on Latin America? Venezuela poses a test.

Canada has typically not been seen as a leader in the Americas. But the Venezuela crisis is changing that, as Ottawa tries to lead a multilateral response instead of taking Washington’s guidance.


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Both Canada and the United States are looking to bring an end to the political crisis in Venezuela, and the humanitarian suffering that it has caused. And for both, that means President Nicolás Maduro must step down. But there the similarities end. In the past, Ottawa would have likely followed Washington’s lead. But the Trump administration has been forging an aggressive path against Mr. Maduro. It has threatened military intervention, both in veiled and direct terms. On Monday the US announced sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. Ottawa, in contrast, has been playing the sort of multilateral role that used to be a US staple on the world stage. That is giving Canada an influential position in resolving the situation in Venezuela, with leverage the US lacks. “Because Canada is not seen as an interventionist country, it doesn’t have the history of actively supporting coup d’etats, it doesn’t seem to have the type of interest the US has,” says Nicolás Saldías, a researcher at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Canada in Latin America is respected in a way the US would never be respected.”


1. Can Canada lead on Latin America? Venezuela poses a test.

As Canada hosts an international meeting Monday aimed at ending the presidency of Venezuela’s embattled Nicolás Maduro, it faces charges in both Venezuela and at home that it’s acting as a lackey of the United States.

But amid the power struggle that’s playing out in the restive Andean nation, many see Canada rising as a different kind of hemispheric leader – one that could help shift the familiar narrative of interventionist America.

When opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the interim president of Venezuela last week, with the country mired in humanitarian crisis, the US immediately recognized him as the country’s new leader. So did Canada, along with several Latin American countries. But there the similarities end.

The Trump administration has been forging an aggressive path against Mr. Maduro. It has threatened military intervention, both in veiled and direct terms. On Monday the US announced sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, in a bid to stanch cash flow to the Maduro regime.

Ottawa, in contrast, has been playing the sort of multilateral role that used to be a US staple on the world stage. It has been working within the Lima Group, a 14-member bloc of Latin American nations and Canada that was formed in 2017 to try to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. The group contains a wide variety of viewpoints – and specifically does not include the US, so as to avoid the appearance of “Yankee” intervention.

And as the Trump administration has alienated so many in the hemisphere, raising questions globally about its commitment to democracy and rule of law, Ottawa’s position has become ever more important – even if misunderstood at home.

Because both Canada and the US are looking to end Maduro’s presidency, “Canadians assume we are doing the same thing” tactically, says Ben Rowswell, a former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela. “But in fact we’re not doing the same thing at all.” He says it’s time that Canada be more explicit about that.

‘This is our neighborhood’

Canadian-Latin American relations have not been top of the agenda in Canada or Latin America, says Nicolás Saldías, a researcher at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. But he says that is starting to change.

Born in Uruguay and raised in Canada, Mr. Saldías says Canada is increasingly recognized as a champion of human rights – lending an important voice in Venezuela. “Canada in Latin America is respected in a way the US would never be respected,” he says. “Because Canada is not seen as an interventionist country. It doesn’t have the history of actively supporting coup d’etats, it doesn’t seem to have the type of interest the US has.” He has called for Canada to increase its acceptance of Venezuelan refugees, as it has Syrian refugees, showing its humanitarian commitment beyond political rhetoric.

Though it has long been involved in the Americas, Canada is taking up a more leading diplomatic role in the Venezuelan crisis. “This is our neighborhood,” Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, told reporters this week after announcing the Feb. 4 Lima Group meeting in Ottawa, calling Venezuela a top foreign policy priority.

That position has been met with praise and disapproval in opinion columns across Canada. Some call it a selective meddling in sovereign affairs, and blind support to an interested US. The leftist opposition party NDP called for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to part ways with Trump and Brazil’s populist, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro on the issue.

Ariana Cubillos/AP
Workers hold signs during a march of in support of the state-run oil company PDVSA, in Caracas, Venezuela on Jan. 31, 2019. The government called for a mass rally to denounce US sanctions against PDVSA.

It’s in this context that Canada should be emphasizing how it differs from US positions on Venezuela, argues Mr. Rowswell. He says Canada has played a key role in democracy-building in the region since joining – albeit late – the Organization of American States in 1990, but few Canadians pay attention. “There do seem to be quite a lot of voices in Canada that are genuinely confused about what Canada’s trying to accomplish in Latin America,” he says, “because they can’t see past the United States.”

In recent history, Canada did not need to differentiate itself from the US, including under former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. “But now that there’s really such a marked departure from the principles of human rights and democracy from the current US administration,” Rowswell argues, “the restraint that we show in not distinguishing ourselves from the United States I think undermines the leadership role that we have in Latin America.”

For starters, he says, in contrast to the unilateral decisions and threats coming from the Trump administration, Canada’s work on the Lima Group exemplifies its multilateral approach to foreign affairs. And it is building consensus with Latin American countries in the lead. The group had already declared Maduro’s re-election bid illegitimate, bolstering its support for Guaidó.

A risky move?

Yet the legality of Guaidó’s move is far from clear in many minds. European nations took a different approach, saying on Jan. 26 that if Maduro did not call elections within eight days, they would recognize Guaido. Mexico and Uruguay are among Latin American countries that have not recognized Guaidó, calling for a conference of neutral nations next week to jumpstart peace talks in Venezuela.

Jean Daudelin, a specialist on Latin America at Carleton University in Ottawa, says Canada has taken a gamble given some of the legal murkiness, particularly if the plan backfires and Venezuela plunges into civil conflict.

“Canada could have let neighbors in Latin America and the Americans especially go hard ball, and Canada could have played a role intermediating,” he says. “I think that taking such gambles may hurt our ability not just to play bridge-builders in the future, but also it may weaken our claim to being defenders of the rule of law in international affairs.”

Canada is outside familiar territory, but that could add legitimacy to its position, says Philip Oxhorn, a professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal.

“What is unprecedented about what is happening today in Venezuela is that Canada, as well as a number of other countries, chose one leader who has a marginally better claim to legitimacy than the current one,” he says. “Ironically that is one of the reasons Canada can add some credibility and hopefully level-headedness to the whole process. Because if the Canadians support it, then it’s really unique. They would be one of the countries that would be the last to support this kind of position historically.”

Canada carries baggage in Latin America, particularly due to Canadian mining corporations in the region that have been accused of human rights violations. But in the geopolitical tug of war, it’s seen as one of the more disinterested players.

“Canada’s position appears to be genuinely motivated by a desire for democracy promotion and regional stability,” says Robert Muggah, a political scientist from Canada who co-founded the Igarapé Institute in Rio de Janeiro. He says Canada does not stand to gain materially from regime change in Venezuela, especially as it lacks pipeline capacity to make up for Venezuelan oil shortfalls. The US, meanwhile, is eyeing "geostrategic advantage in its backyard," he says. "The Chinese and Russians, both of which are heavily invested in, among other things, oil production, refining, and retail, would lose.”

The role of the Lima Group

Those Venezuelans fighting the Maduro regime simply want him out, as 3 million Venezuelans have fled facing hunger, violence, and repression. Isaac Nahon-Serfaty, a board member of the Canada Venezuela Democracy Forum, says it is important that the Lima Group represents mostly Latin American nations, and he sees Canada’s support as part of the solution. But he also sees the value of US pressure, despite misgivings about the Trump administration.

“Historically, we Latin Americans reject this notion of having a superpower intervening in the politics in our country,” he says. “But what we need to appreciate here is the only way this situation will change is through pressure of the international community. We need the US to be part of this political pressure.”

But some worry that the US, under the unpredictable Trump administration, is undermining the work of the Lima Group by being so outspoken, including through communications like US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s reference to “5,000 troops to Colombia,” which borders Venezuela, photographed on his notepad during a briefing this week.

“The United States is doing the worst possible thing,” says Saldías. “It's creating the impression that if you support Guaidó then you’re supporting this absurd policy of the United States government. That’s dragging down the Lima Group.”

Saldías says if the Lima Group doesn’t take a stand, it runs the risk of bolstering critics who say the US is, once again, the puppetmaster. “The US isn’t part of the Lima Group, and the [Lima Group] needs to say, ‘You’re delegitimizing Guaidó and you’re delegitimizing us.’ ”


Tracing global connections

Brexit, shutdowns, and the architecture of democracy

Britain and the United States are both gridlocked by political discord. Whether these two democratic icons can find a way forward could profoundly affect the global appeal of their form of government.


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They aren’t just any democracies. Britain’s “Mother of Parliaments” served as a blueprint for many countries, and the US Congress and constitutional system of checks and balances have been an even more influential beacon for emerging democracies. Both systems are now facing extraordinary architectural strain, much like Big Ben, whose towering presence above Britain’s Houses of Parliament is swathed in scaffolding – and silent. The stakes for liberal democracies are enormous, especially as “illiberal democracy” rises. In the United States, presidential power has been growing, while congressional dealmaking has given way to raw tribalism. In Britain, Tony Blair’s election in the 1990s embodied a move toward a more “presidential” government, a trend reinforced by David Cameron, who called the EU referendum – a rarity in Britain, where political sovereignty rests with Parliament. But Parliament has been reasserting itself. And in Washington, the shutdown jolt might reawaken bipartisan bargaining. British columnist Clare Foges recently noted that while rights abuses were not “an acceptable price to pay for ambitious government,” democracies must do better. “Our own much-vaunted political system,” she wrote, “can be painfully slow and timid.”


2. Brexit, shutdowns, and the architecture of democracy

It would be hard to invent a more powerful symbol: Big Ben, towering above Britain’s Houses of Parliament, now silent and swathed in scaffolding. The building where Parliament itself meets is next in line, which will force lawmakers to decamp for the first time since World War II. Magnificent-looking structures, they’re creakingly in need of internal repairs.

The same might be said of Britain’s parliamentary system, as it fumbles its way toward some workable form of Brexit – withdrawal from decades-long membership of the European Union. And of the United States, where the federal government has just emerged, at least for now, from a record-long partial shutdown that has shaken the political faith of many Americans.

Both countries have fallen victim to a mix of political gridlock and dysfunction. But the potential implications stretch far beyond their borders, for these aren’t just any democracies. Britain’s so-called Mother of Parliaments served as a blueprint for many countries once part of the British Empire. The US Congress, and the constitutional system of checks and balances of which it is a part, have been an even brighter beacon for emerging democracies worldwide. 

With both democracies increasingly looking unable to cope, the stakes for those who believe in liberal democracies – and their bedrock principles, such as human rights and the rule of law – are enormous. That’s especially true when other countries are providing alternative models: more closed command systems whose leaders shrug off any need for serious accountability or limits on their power. Given the current state of confusion in the West’s two leading democracies, these systems proffer an asset Britain and the US can’t: an ability to set major policy tasks and actually get them done.

China is widening its international influence, in part through a huge finance and infrastructure program called Belt and Road that echoes the Americans’ postwar Marshall Plan in Europe. At a time when Brexit is not just hamstringing Britain but unsettling the European Union, newer member states like Poland and Hungary are shunning the British and US models in favor of “illiberal democracy,” taking aim at institutional or legal checks on central power. 

Washington and London are facing an extraordinary stress test on their institutions of government. Through the early 2000s, globalization was ascendant, and successive British prime ministers and US presidents played an enthusiastic part. Yet especially since the economic crash of 2008, a new breed of politician has been giving voice to resentment and raw anger among people who’ve felt left behind.

And like Big Ben, the British and US systems have been under their own architectural strains. In America, the power of the presidency has been growing.

In Congress, the kind of dealmaking essential to asserting coequal standing with the other government branches has given way to raw tribalism. That’s true even for many senators who, with their six-year terms, were meant to have the time and space to function as a more deliberative body. 

In Britain, Tony Blair’s election in the 1990s embodied a move toward a more US-style “presidential” government, a trend reinforced by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit. Referendums are exceedingly rare in Britain, where political sovereignty rests with Parliament, and that has led to the greatest stress test of all. The vote went in favor of leaving the EU. A majority of the Members of Parliament believed, and still believe, that Brexit risks damaging the country politically and economically.

With the clock ticking toward March 29, when Britain is formally due to leave, Parliament has been reasserting itself. MPs are groping for ways to get some sort of exit deal on which a majority can agree and, failing that, to slow things down and allow for further negotiations with the EU. 

In Washington, the jolt of the shutdown could also lead to some reawakening of old-style bipartisan bargaining and deliberation in Congress.

But a British columnist recently suggested a longer-term challenge. Writing about the “strongmen” leading China, Russia, Hungary, and Turkey, Clare Foges said that while human-rights abuses were not “an acceptable price to pay for ambitious government,” democracies needed to demonstrate a renewed ability to identify, address, and tackle major issues. 

“Our own much-vaunted political system,” she wrote, “can be painfully slow and timid.”

‘Be a man’: What does that mean in modern America?

Beyond angst over ads and concern that America is afraid to let boys be boys, there are areas of agreement: Neither men nor women should be boxed into stereotypes. Both should be able to be themselves.

Courtesy of Gillette
A Super Bowl ad campaign by the razor company Gillette brings attention to the issue of ‘toxic masculinity,’ asking, ‘Is this the best a man can get?’

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Gillette’s Super Bowl ad seems to take the nation’s men to task. Riffing on the company’s slogan, the commercial presents a collage of “toxic” masculine behaviors and asks, “Is this the best a man can get?” While the nation’s fast-evolving ideas about sex and gender have exposed a number of raw cultural nerves, questions about American masculinity have continued to give the country a particular jolt, as the #MeToo movement exposed the startling scope of harassment and sexual assault. But even within an era of gaping political divides, there are signs the conversation is finding overlapping points of agreement. “I think we're being challenged to ask the question more in the affirmative ... what is healthy masculinity?” says Prof. Ariella Rotramel at Connecticut College. “And I don’t think that has often been the conversation we have been having culturally.” Conservative social thinker David French wasn’t too annoyed by the Gillette ad, calling it a lesson in Morality 101. But he worries cultural trends are squashing traditional masculinity. “That desire to be risk takers, that more aggressive nature, that nature of physical strength – [we need] a young man to utilize those characteristics for virtuous ends ... and not to repress them.”


3. ‘Be a man’: What does that mean in modern America?

Almost a decade ago, when Timothy Malefyt was doing research on the nitty-gritties of masculinity for his client Gillette, he and his small team of corporate anthropologists observed what they considered to be a “paradoxical” set of masculine values among NASCAR fans.

On the one hand, there was a lot of drinking, bawdy jokes, and loud behavior among the men they observed at the Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, says Mr. Malefyt, the former director of cultural discoveries for the advertising firm BBDO Worldwide in New York. And the raucous groups of men were also relentlessly competitive about nearly everything: who had the best food, the best barbecue grill, or the most tricked out motor home.

His research took place in 2010, and at first blush their observations might seem to fit the same kinds of masculine behaviors that many believe might start out as merely busting chops but eventually end up fueling the attitudes that underlie widespread problems, including bullying and sexual harassment.

That was part of the message of the pre-Super Bowl Gillette ad that seemed to take the nation’s men to task. Riffing on the company’s decades-old slogan, the ad presents a collage of “toxic” behaviors that led to the emergence of the #MeToo movement and asks, “Is this the best a man can get?”

Yet the particular culture of male camaraderie among NASCAR fans was actually a lot more complex, Malefyt says. The men also placed a particular value on cooperation and sharing, he says, and they had explicit, rock-solid rules against any kind of violent behavior.  

“They shared their drinks with strangers; they offered to help fix broken grills, camping gear, and drive-around carts, and even discussed how their favorite racer helped other racers before a race by donating parts for broken down cars,” says Malefyt, now a professor of advertising at Fordham University in New York.

“And there were a lot of younger boys that would come along with their dads, kind of like learning how to be a man – like this cult of male camaraderie was passed down generationally to help boys grow into productive men,” he says.

The end result was an ad campaign, “Young Guns,” that celebrated what his team saw as the particular values of NASCAR fans: friendly competition, ingenuity at work, strong friendship, and intergenerational bonding.

And while the nation’s fast-evolving ideas about sex and gender have exposed a number of raw cultural nerves over the past few years, questions about the nature of American masculinity have given the country a particular jolt, as the #MeToo movement especially has exposed the startling scope of harassment and even assault among some of the country’s most visible and powerful leaders.

But even within an era of gaping political divides, there are signs that the conversation is becoming more nuanced and complex, even with overlapping points of agreement.

“We’re being challenged to ask the question more in the affirmative, asking about, what is healthy masculinity?” says Ariella Rotramel, professor of gender, sexuality, and intersectionality studies at Connecticut College in New London. “And I don’t think that has often been the conversation we have been having culturally.”

“To me, the most interesting thing to think about now is really, how can people proactively think about what it means to be masculine, or to be identified as a man, in a way that is positive?” Professor Rotramel continues, noting the ugly tradition of defining masculinity in the negative, using the image of feminine weakness or feminine slurs to describe men who don’t measure up.

‘Morality 101’

“I wasn’t terribly annoyed by the Gillette ad, even if it was a little overdramatic,” says David French, a conservative social thinker and senior fellow at the National Review Institute in Washington, who has been outspoken on what he sees as an outright assault on traditional masculinity.

“I mean, basically the Gillette ad was saying bad things are bad; good things are good,” Mr. French continues. “We shouldn’t be bullies; we should protect from bullies. We shouldn’t be harassers; we should protect people from harassers. I mean, that’s sort of Morality 101.”

On social media last month, the backlash to the ad was often ferocious. But overall, Gillette’s campaign was generally well received, according to a Morning Consult poll released last month. More than 60 percent of all adults felt positively about the ad, including nearly half of Republicans and 75 percent of Democrats. Some 57 percent of men felt positively about the ad, led by wide majorities of Millennials and Gen X men, as did 64 percent of women.

At the same time, too, there are signs that younger men and women are consciously rethinking the more rigid kinds of social expectations based on gender.

Tim Larkin, a noted self-defense expert, knows he already “looks the part” of the traditional masculine male with his brush cut, defined jawline, deep voice, and brick-house build. Trained as a Navy Seal and special-ops intelligence officer and now a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame, he says he can look pretty imposing when he stands in front of one of his self-defense classes.

“And whether or not this facade is real or not really doesn’t matter,” Mr. Larkin says. Most of his clients would already assume he’s a guy who can easily defend himself. So his female instructors, those of average height and build, he says, are often better at conveying his techniques, developed for anyone of any size or gender.

“When she can show just how capable she is, she can really get across the idea of how to injure the human body as quickly as possible, because you don’t want to deal with bigger, faster, stronger,” says Larkin, who’s given a Ted Talk and written a book, “When Violence IS the Answer.”

And while he’s part of a growing chorus of men who have been feeling a little uneasy with all the discussions about “toxic masculinity” these days, Larkin says it’s been a good thing that women have been able to get out of what could be called a boxed-in notion of femininity, or the idea of “the white knight coming to save the fair maiden.”

“You’re talking to somebody who’s married to a police captain in Las Vegas,” Larkin says. “She’s an extremely capable woman in a male dominated space, and, yeah, I think that there are more leadership roles that you’re seeing made available for my daughters.”

‘Be yourself,’ unless you’re a boy

But there’s almost a certain irony in the growing cultural acceptance of female aggression, with ever more models of successful female athletes embracing hard-nosed competition, French suggests. Both he and Larkin, in fact, see a disturbing trend in the nation’s anti-bullying campaigns and other efforts to address boys’ aggressive behaviors.

“It’s something we’ve seen in schools and that we’ve seen in the larger culture,” French says. “This idea that boys, who have this kind of innate restless energy, that there’s something wrong with them, and that they need to calm down rather than be channeled in the proper direction.”

Indeed, it’s interesting, he says, that within the liberal cultural values that otherwise might emphasize that boys and girls should “be yourself,” it’s a value that often applies to everyone except the man who has what could be considered the traditional male characteristics.

“I think one of the traditional ways to deal with the inherent nature of boys – that desire to be risk takers, that more aggressive nature, that nature of physical strength, or all of those things that are more typically associated with boys than girls – has been to shape and mold a young man to utilize those characteristics for virtuous ends and not to deny them, and not to repress them.”

Both he and Larkin expressed concern that boys’ sense of adventure was being squashed.

In January, the American Psychological Association released its first ever “Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men,” and it came to the nearly opposite conclusion. According to these guidelines, males socialized to adhere to “traditional masculinity such as emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness” can lead to “aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict” as well as “substance abuse, incarceration, and early mortality.”

Such gender-specific guidelines, however, ignore the growing understanding of gender as a spectrum, not one of two boxes to tick.

“The whole idea of gender as binary with inherent traits is moving to the idea of gender on a scale or on a continuum,” says Malefyt, the corporate anthropologist.

“And there are different qualities and characteristics that are in both men and women, and it’s more about how masculine or feminine behaviors come out in different situations,” he continues. “So I think where we’re really at is in an age where we’re looking at how we're redefining all these issues.”

To fight trafficking, Indian groups turn to the experts: survivors

Young women are supporting each other and challenging attitudes that contribute to trafficking. Helping others discover their agency, some say, has helped them rediscover their own.

Sarita Santoshini
A group including survivors of trafficking meets in India's North 24 Parganas district for its monthly discussions. There are about 80 such groups in as many villages actively looking into children's welfare and working to prevent trafficking.

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In 2016, as India debated a bill against human trafficking, a group of survivors decided to write to the country’s minister for women, offering their feedback. To their surprise, they heard back. That was the start of Utthan: a collective for survivors. Made up mostly of young women, the group uses the weight of its experiences to help others escape and rehabilitate – and to prevent trafficking in the first place. Groups like Utthan assist other survivors through the difficult readjustment, in communities where formal support is often lacking. But members are also changing underlying attitudes about girls that lead to so many being sold – and some say their work has changed their own attitudes, too. Tumpa Khatun married soon after her rescue and felt too stigmatized and demotivated to return to school. Today, she feels empowered to protect others. Her family often asks her to discontinue her work – out of fear for her, she assumes. But she firmly says, “I will leave my parents and husband if I have to, but I won’t leave this work.”


4. To fight trafficking, Indian groups turn to the experts: survivors

On a hot November morning, Bijoya sits huddled among a group of young girls chatting in the small room of a guesthouse, sometimes breaking into giggles at an inside joke. The border river Ichamati flows gently outside; the sandy river bank and shrubs of green faintly visible on the other end are part of Bangladesh.

Seventeen-year-old Bijoya left home early, dressed in a bright green and orange salwar kameez, her hair tied neatly into a ponytail and a backpack hanging from her right shoulder. Today, just before the start of the festival Diwali, most of her peers are enjoying a day off – but she’s made a long commute to this sleepy tourist town, Taki, to meet with fellow advocates. (Bijoya’s name, like some others in this story, has been changed for her safety.)

This is Utthan, a collective of survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. With teachers’ permission, Bijoya often skips classes to do her work. The independence, socializing, and responsibilities have made her happy, she says, but it wasn’t always this way.

“I spent so many months at home crying, wondering why this had happened to me,” she recalls. “But after I joined the others and heard their stories, I understood that I was not alone, there were many other girls who had suffered the same pain as me. I found friendship and healing.”

Nearly 8 million people in India live in modern slavery, according to estimates from the Global Slavery Index, many of whom were trafficked. Nearly 20,000 women and children were victims of trafficking in 2016, according to Indian government data, with the highest number in Bijoya’s state of West Bengal, along the border with Bangladesh. Victims’ advocates warn that the actual number is likely far higher.

But even when trafficking victims escape, they face a new set of challenges. Survivors’ perspectives are rarely used to design prevention, rehabilitation, and advocacy processes, their advocates say – and that’s something Utthan’s 17 members are determined to change.

Recent investigations in India have brought to light abuse at women’s and girls’ rehabilitation homes. And after survivors return home, only 3 percent received formal support, according to a study by Sanjog, a technical resource organization that works with Utthan. Often, they are left vulnerable to being trafficked again. The more that anti-trafficking programs can hear from survivors themselves, the better those programs can respond to their needs, groups like Utthan argue.

“My body would tremble with nervousness every time I was asked to stand in front of a man and speak, but now with training, I can speak confidently to everyone,” Bijoya says, referring to meetings with local authorities. “And they take us seriously.”

Survivors as experts

Bijoya was trafficked about three years ago, sold by her dance teacher across state lines for commercial sexual exploitation. Thanks to the efforts of her parents and police, she was rescued after half a year.

At first, she remembers feeling utterly confused. “Maybe my parents did send me here wanting [me] to work,” she briefly thought before the abuse began. Her father is one of the estimated 10 million laborers in India’s brick sector, who often work in dangerous conditions; many are in debt bondage.

“I spent my days in a lot of pain,” Bijoya says, breaking into tears.

Her father deeply supports her education and anti-trafficking work. For most survivors, however, there is little support, and life after rescue can be extremely tough. The biggest challenges are job opportunities and mental health services, especially in remote border villages, according to Bikash Das, coordinator with Teghoria Institute for Social Movement, which works with survivors.

As India debated a new anti-trafficking bill in 2016, a group of survivors wrote to India’s women and child development minister, Maneka Gandhi, with feedback on the legislation. To their surprise, they heard back. It was the start of Utthan, which they envision as a bridge between survivors’ needs at the grassroots and policymakers at the top.

Members, who receive a small monthly stipend, travel hours from their villages twice a week to meet in Sanjog’s office in the capital, Kolkata. They conduct surveys, take part in consultations and press conferences, and organize prevention programs. The major part of their work, however, is to assist other survivors in their communities. Each member takes responsibility for at least five: conducting regular home visits; accompanying them to hospitals, courts, and police stations; and educating their family and neighborhood about the situation. They also connect them with government programs, from a cash-transfer plan that incentivizes families to keep girls unmarried and in school, to vocational training.

Nandini (a pseudonym), a 23-year-old member, points out that this active, constant follow-up wasn’t available until recently. “There are community-based organizations but most social workers are male, and female survivors are unable to open up to them the way they do with us. We understand their pain and needs,” she says. When she visited shelter homes, she says, some survivors had been languishing there as long as eight years, deepening her desire for community-based rehabilitation programs.

“When survivors form support groups and networks, they are able to support each other emotionally, and fight for each other – even to challenge stigma and violence against survivors in families and communities,” says Roop Sen, a researcher and co-founder of Sanjog. Reaching up to authorities as a collective makes them take notice, Mr. Sen adds.

Other groups have incorporated survivors’ perspectives into prevention as well. The nonprofits Dhagagia Social Welfare Society (DSWS) and Save the Children currently have about 80 groups in West Bengal made up of teen survivors and school dropouts. Going about their daily routines in class, the playground, or the market, participants keep a lookout for girls who have stopped attending school, whose marriage proposals are being discussed, or whose parents are talking about sending them away for work. They’re trained to visit the home, trying to understand the situation and explain risks to families, assist with rescues, and raise issues with local authorities. Some are part of local child-protection committees, whose model West Bengal is trying to replicate around the state.

After several years, it is still challenging to convince poverty-stricken families not to send their daughters away, says DSWS founder Hriday Ghosh. But he notes that trafficking has sharply declined in villages with such groups, and a handful of former trafficking agents themselves now serve as informers.

“It is their village,” Mr. Ghosh says, emphasizing that the community had to work together to curb the crime. “We are outsiders and we will leave.”

Being the change

For girls, the biggest takeaway has been their own agency. Many say they feel empowered to challenge underlying mind-sets about women and girls, who make up the majority of trafficking victims.

Before 19-year-old Promata (a pseudonym) was trafficked from her village, her parents dissuaded her from going to school. “I was not even allowed to step out of the house,” she recalls, speaking firmly without a pause, sometimes adjusting the sequined scarf wrapped around her head.

It was only after returning and joining the survivors group supported by DSWS that she learned that being a girl did not mean she had no rights. She’s been sharing that with others ever since, including her own family.

“I won’t say things have changed entirely in the community, but they have begun to understand and value girls more than they earlier did,” Promata says. In the evenings, she adds, village girls are now playing and biking freely on their own – just like the boys.

Tumpa Khatun, now 23, married soon after her rescue as a teenager and felt too stigmatized and demotivated to return to school. Utthan, she says, has made her believe that she can still work and prevent those around her from hardship. Neighbors who once stigmatized her now approach her to intervene in cases of domestic violence and trafficking.

Her family often asks her to discontinue what she is doing – out of fear for her, she assumes – but she is undeterred. “I will leave my parents and husband if I have to, but I won’t leave this work,” she says firmly.

For those like Bijoya and Promata, who are working hard to continue their education, the biggest source of worry is the uncertainty of the future. They harbor ambitions of being lawyers and teachers, but around them, they see girls married soon after turning 18, if not sooner.

“The day I secure admission in college, I will dance like a crazy person,” Bijoya, a top student, announces with a grin. As for Promata, who has already worked her way to university, she plans to avoid marriage for as long as she can.

But for now, they’re optimistic. During a lunch break in Sanjog’s office, following an intense discussion at one of their biweekly meetings, Utthan members excitedly chat about a dance class that is in the works. Who wants to sign up, Ms. Khatun asks?

“I will!” Bijoya beams, raising her hands.

A letter from

New Orleans

Super Bowl: With Saints not in, this town’s the Big Uneasy

It is said that the test of true fandom comes not with victory but with defeat. Saints fans have met their latest trial with the relentless spirit of survival that has buoyed New Orleans after floods and hurricanes.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Julie Nevius, co-owner of J&J's Sports Lounge in New Orleans, chatted Jan. 30 about how her establishment will handle Super Bowl Sunday, since the city’s Saints NFL football team won't be playing.

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This Sunday, while much of the United States tunes into the Super Bowl, the big screen TVs at J&J’s Sports Lounge in New Orleans will show the Puppy Bowl and a recording of the hometown Saints’ Super Bowl win in 2010. Just two weeks ago, New Orleanians had high hopes that they’d be spending Super Bowl Sunday cheering for their beloved Saints. But all hopes were dashed on Jan. 20, when the Saints lost to the Rams following an egregious missed pass-interference call. Feeling robbed of the NFC Championship, die-hard fans took the defeat personally, the whole city seeming to howl in unison as they watched the game slip from their fingers in overtime. A congressman threatened hearings. Some fans filed lawsuits against the NFL. And following the advice of Saints quarterback Drew Brees to “keep your chin up, hold your head high, puff your chest out,” residents have rallied together to organize an impromptu Boycott Bowl, complete with second-line trumpets. That is, after all, how they mourn in this city of martyred saints.


5. Super Bowl: With Saints not in, this town’s the Big Uneasy

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton hid at his house, watching Netflix and eating ice cream.

Apparently an actual saint, quarterback Drew Brees shook off the NFC Championship loss 12 days ago, noting “I refuse to let this hold us down.”

In a much-shared post on Instagram, he advised Saints fans to “keep your chin up, hold your head high, puff your chest out because WE are the Who Dat Nation and WE will always persevere.”

That sentiment echoed the relentless spirit of survival that pervades every crooked corner of the city. For 300 years, New Orleans has stood strong, despite its low elevation and swampy isolation. It has endured embittered battles over slavery, river floods, yellow fever, and hurricanes. In 2005 hurricane Katrina – which killed 1,800 Louisianans and flooded 80 percent of the city – raised questions about the city’s viability. Instead, it rose up, staggering at times under stubborn poverty and a high rate of gun crimes.

That defiant endurance stems from a deeply rooted sense of pride in this place and the people who call it home – especially the Saints. So when fans saw the championship slip from their grasp, the entire city seemed to howl in unison. People ran into the streets to commiserate and deliver the news to shopkeepers working without televisions, their black and gold beads glinting in the sun.

For season ticket holder Joanne Palumbo, an egregious missed pass-interference call that ended the Saints’ Super Bowl bid has larger resonance in a city defined, at least in some ways, by natural disaster and human tragedy.

“It was a mistake that turned into an injustice,” says Ms. Palumbo.

Palumbo and everybody else knows this is just a football game. Yet the Saints’ victory in the 2010 Super Bowl, coming just five years after Katrina, forged a powerful bond between the black-and-gold squad and a sometimes violent city where police statistics suggest crime falls when the Saints are playing.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Joanne Palumbo’s house is decorated for Mardi Gras, and with a Saints’ banner in support of the city’s NFL football team, in New Orleans on Jan. 30. To Ms. Palumbo, the missed call that altered the course of the NFC championship game Jan. 20 ‘was a mistake that turned into an injustice.’

Into that tableau Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman charged heedlessly.

In the Zapruder-like replay, Robey-Coleman can be seen clearly committing pass interference against Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis with a helmet-to-helmet hit. Robey-Coleman couldn’t believe his luck. He can be seen looking around for the flag after the hit.

The Saints kicked a field goal, but were forced to cede control of the clock – and ultimately the game, in overtime – to the Rams.

A congressman threatened hearings. A federal judge in New Orleans – somehow – managed to fit in a hearing Monday to hear the plaintive cries of righteous fans. (The fans’ pleas were denied Thursday.)

Invoking the national mood, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni noted that “maybe the post-truth era has found its post-truth sport.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote to the league that New Orleans has “overcome setbacks much bigger than a bad call in a football game.” But, he warned, “We will not forget it.”

Fans, meanwhile, remain in a fugue. “No one has ever been in this situation before,” says Julie Nevius, co-owner of J&J’s Sports Lounge in the city’s Bywater neighborhood.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took the brunt of the heat. He broke his silence Wednesday, agreeing that “it is a play that should be called,” but noted that the rule book says games should not be overturned because of routine officiating errors. Besides, Mr. Goodell noted, a lot of people have been complaining about too many flags thrown – a fair barb.

Still, New Orleanians like to have the last word. Super Bowl players and attendees arriving in Atlanta for Sunday’s big game will be greeted by billboards around the airport reading “Saints got robbed” and “NFL bleaux it.”

Steam blown, fans like Palumbo are almost ready to move on.

Her mansion has been used myriad times as a movie and TV show set, including one drama that filmed mortal crimes in nearly every room, “including the bathtub.”

But today, a giant Saints banner hangs across her colonnades along with Mardi Gras baubles. “I’m losing sleep, but I also know full well that it’s just a game,” she says, almost believing it.

At J&J’s, Ms. Nevius points to various screens: When the Super Bowl airs this Sunday, the big screen will show the 2010 Super Bowl. Another big screen will show the Puppy Bowl. But despite the boycott mood, she admits that one smaller screen in the corner will be tuned to the game in Atlanta.

Since the Jan. 20 debacle, New Orleanians have raised tens of thousands of dollars to quickly plan and organize the Boycott Bowl, which should be in full swing on Sunday: bands, a parade, and second-line trumpets.

That is, after all, how they mourn in this city of martyred saints.

“It’s New Orleans,” says Nevius. “We make a party out of whatever.”

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The best ‘wall’ against Central American migration

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A presidential election in tiny El Salvador Feb. 3 looms large. The leading candidate, Nayib Bukele, could be the next politician to ride into office on a wave of citizen demand for clean governance. When he was mayor of El Salvador’s capital, Mr. Bukele worked to rid markets of the gangs. He sought to solve the country’s sharp rich-poor divide. His promise as a presidential candidate: to invite the United Nations to set up an investigative body in El Salvador modeled after anti-corruption bodies in Guatemala and Honduras. A victory by Bukele would also shake up El Salvador’s politics. He would be the first president not from one of two traditional parties. A Bukele win would resonate in the United States, where many Salvadorans live, and from which some in migrant “caravans” come. The real debate in the US over border security should be about support for ways to reduce corruption in Central America. The best “wall” is found in candidates like Bukele, who are running on a citizenry awakening to the idea that honesty can be a norm in government.


The best ‘wall’ against Central American migration

El Salvador is the smallest Latin American country, yet its presidential election on Feb. 3 is looming large. The leading candidate in the race, Nayib Bukele, could be the next politician in the region to win office by riding a wave of citizen demand for clean governance.

A recent poll of Latin Americans showed 70 percent say ordinary people can make a difference in fighting corruption, a trend reflected in the latest elections in Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere. When he was mayor of El Salvador’s capital, Mr. Bukele tried to tap into that rising public expectation for transparency and accountability in government.

The former public-relations executive emblazoned San Salvador with slogans like “new ideas are invincible.” He tried to rid local markets of the city’s notorious gangs. Most of all, he sought to solve the country’s sharp rich-poor divide. If you know your neighbors, he often said, you won’t try to kill one another.

His most popular promise as a presidential candidate is to invite the United Nations to set up a special investigative body in El Salvador. It would be modeled after similar anti-corruption bodies in Guatemala and Honduras that have achieved some success. The country has already made some progress against sticky fingers in high places. Three of the past six presidents have been investigated for embezzlement.

A victory by Bukele would also shake up El Salvador’s traditional politics. He would be the first president not to belong to one of two traditional parties. Although once a member of the leading leftist party, he is running on the ticket of a small, center-right party, the Grand Alliance for National Unity, or GANA, which means “win” in Spanish.

He is making bold promises on public spending, especially on infrastructure, on the idea that curbing corruption will free up tax revenue. His motto: "There is enough money when nobody is stealing."

A Bukele win would certainly resonate in the United States. About a quarter of El Salvador’s citizens live in the US. Their remittances account for almost a fifth of the Salvadoran economy. Thousands of Salvadorans have recently joined caravans in a dangerous attempt to reach the US. In addition, El Salvador’s notorious gangs, which fed the corruption, have long tentacles in the US.

The real debate in the US over border security should be about support for ways to reduce corruption in Central America. The best “wall” against migration is found in candidates like Bukele, who are running on a citizenry awakening to the idea that honesty can be a norm in government.

Editor's note: Nayib Bukele won the presidential election on Feb. 3. 

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

What does it mean to be a real man?

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For today’s contributor, whose self-doubt brought him to the verge of self-destruction, the realization that manhood has to do with spiritual qualities, not conquests or achievements, was life-changing.


1. What does it mean to be a real man?

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It sure seems as though there’s a checklist of things that make a man. In high school, for instance, some of my coaches and fellow athletes implied or said outright that sexual prowess and accomplishments on the playing field were crucial aspects of manhood. In college, an evening hookup which didn’t, shall we say, come to fruition ended with me questioning my potential as a relationship partner and even my manhood itself. I was also mentoring a teen and didn’t seem to be making any progress with him at all.

I really started to doubt my worth. This all came to a head one evening after another frustrating meeting with my mentee, whose boastful stories of sexual conquest tore the lid off all the repressed anger and frustration within me. Driving home alone, with no one else on the road, I hit the accelerator and deliberately headed straight for a massive tree.

Just then, a hymn I’d learned in the Christian Science Sunday School flooded my thoughts. It’s by the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, and it begins:

Brood o’er us with Thy shelt’ring wing,
’Neath which our spirits blend
Like brother birds, that soar and sing,
And on the same branch bend.
(“Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 30)

I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye: the tree ahead glowing in the headlights, and then, as that hymn poured into my thoughts like a heavenly chorus, me hitting the brakes and coming to a gentle stop on the grass. That hymn hadn’t ever really stood out to me before, but now I sat there sobbing as it ran through my head. Could God really be sheltering me, naming me as one of His precious brood? He must be, since He’d just saved me from self-destruction. I gathered my wits enough to continue my drive and returned to campus safely.

I realized that I did have wonderful examples of manhood in my life at that point; they gave me consistent, thoughtful examples of the goodness of real masculinity. The problem was that I kept thinking I had to battle through self-doubt, failure, and negative models of manhood before I could truly find satisfaction and self-worth.

But the saving words of that hymn made me realize that these men were my “brother birds” right with me, teaching me about what it really means to be a man. And I suddenly realized that the qualities of real manhood, which have nothing to do with conquests or achievements, were already within me because they are God-given; they are spiritual qualities such as integrity, unselfishness, and purity. We all (men and women alike) have them because God is our loving Father-Mother, supplying us, His children, with everything we need.

The next few months were a watershed for me. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” Mrs. Eddy wrote something that really helped me: “Do you not hear from all mankind of the imperfect model? The world is holding it before your gaze continually.…

“To remedy this, we must first turn our gaze in the right direction, and then walk that way. We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives” (p. 248).

The more I kept my gaze on a God-defined model of manhood and excellence, the more I found I just wasn’t interested in other models or expectations. I became more humble – not a quality some might associate with manhood, but one that I found indispensable in relating to others and in loving myself. I also gained confidence in making new friends, and my focus shifted from what I could get out of relationships and experiences to what I could give.

I still had some lessons to learn, but with this foundation I felt equipped to approach each day with a consistent spiritual sense of manhood – and to bring strength, morality, and love into everything I did. I also found that the more I put these qualities into practice, the more they took on new depth and enabled me to help others more in all my activities and relationships.

Far from being a checklist of things to attain, manhood is the active honoring of the excellence that God has already created in His children. We can all discover this spiritual sense of manhood as an innate quality within us to be revealed and honored.

Adapted from an article published in the Q&A series of the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section, Dec. 4, 2018.


The coziness quotient

Russell Cheyne/Reuters/File
Elsie and Euan played chess by candlelight during a power outage in Pitlochry, Scotland, in 2011. By now you’ve probably come across the Scandinavian word “hygge” (say hoo-guh). It has popped up on Instagram, in newsfeeds, and even on the short list for the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year. It has been used to sell pillows, mugs, and fluffy sweaters. There’s no direct English translation, but the word is meant to convey a sense of coziness, of good-natured connection and companionship. Instagram not required. Click on the blue button below for more illustrative images.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Have a good weekend, and come back Monday. On the eve of the rescheduled State of the Union, we’ll look at the intense and mostly symbiotic public relationship between conservative author Ann Coulter and President Trump, and how it has changed over time.

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