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The Skewed Media Coverage Of The Kenyan University Attack #AfricanLivesMatter

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By Karthik Shankar:

Not all terrorist attacks are equal. The brutal massacre in Kenya’s Garissa University last Thursday in which 148 people died, most of them students, is proof that when it comes to the media, some lives matter more than others. The story has all the elements that make up an internet age sensation – a university attack, young people in harm’s way, a notorious terror outfit, and the ramifications of a country’s foreign policy on its innocent civilians. So why wasn’t there more international furore or record trending hashtags on Twitter. Because, there’s one way in which this attack differed from Charlie Hebdo or the Elliott Rodger killings – the victims were Africans, not ‘Westerners‘.

Kenya University Attack

What else explains the fact that on the day of the attack, the gold standard for world media – The New York Times – had a story involving Iran negotiations as the top story on the international page? Is terrorism an issue only when it affects people belonging to a certain geographical space? There’s also a stark difference in the number of stories done, between the university attack and the Charlie Hebdo one. The International New York Times site has 248 results for the former as compared to not less than 863 for the latter. Admittedly the Kenya attack is more recent, but I doubt there will be incessant coverage of it in the following weeks, which frame the attack as a collective assault on the world’s freedoms as opposed to a threat affecting a couple of millions in Kenya and Somalia.

The march after the Charlie Hebdo attacks saw 3.7 million people participate and 40 world leaders attending. Everyone from David Cameron to Angela Merkel joined hands with Francois Hollande to oppose the attack on free speech. Why isn’t there a similar show of solidarity with Kenya? Is it because we are so accustomed to conflicts in Africa, that all it  does is become part of a statistic? There’s a reason #147notjustanumber is trending on Twitter. The tweets commemorate the slain students by sharing details of their lives. Some like Selpher Wandia wanted to be a teacher. Others like Gideon Kirui had their entire family saving up for his education. These students have to rely on Twitter for humanisation as opposed to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, all of whom were humanised in effusive media profiles. Few of the Kenyan students will be lucky to get the same treatment.

Our media constantly pits terrorism as a 21st century conflict between Western liberal values versus violent religious orthodoxy. Terrorism is diametrically opposed to not just people from the West but all of humanity. Unfortunately, in our media, that humanity is usually blonde and light skinned or has to actually hold an American or British passport to count. Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy’s murder made more waves around the world as compared to the scores of people who have been killed by fundamentalists in Bangladesh over the past year, because it underscores the media’s need for neat narratives. Complex issues with a metaphorical stroke of a pen are turned into simplistic Manichean accounts, and in these cases, Western values are the light leading the way.

It’s no secret how ethnocentric our media really is, but it’s the consumers that are to blame as well. I wonder how many of us stayed riveted to our screens or constantly followed news updates about the attack as it was taking place. Media coverage is usually a response to what readers want to read and in this case it feels like African lives occupy the lowest rungs of the ladder. Unlike Charlie Hebdo, there was no solidarity hashtag trending within minutes. Apparently, it’s easier for people to place themselves in the shoes of a provocative French satirist than wide eyed university students with dreams for their future.

Let’s not make the Garissa University students another African statistic. Their lives are as important as any of the Parisians who perished on January 5th this year. #AfricanLivesMatter

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  1. Monistaf

    @Karthik it should not be a surprise to you!! It is the very same reason why you do not express outrage at the barbaric and brutal lynching of an innocent man in Nagaland, the legalized terrorism of IPC section 498A or the fact that 132 boys (not just kids, students, children or any other gender neutral term) were slaughtered in a school in Pakistan. You being a self admitted feminist, these stories are an affront to your beliefs, they challenge your version of reality and shake you out of your comfort zone. It is the same story for western journalism. They want to tell the world that, western population, their way of life, their beliefs and icons are the real targets of terrorism. Reporting on something else would simply dilute the message. So, they find something else to report on and condemn this incident to irrelevance in an attempt to erase it from public memory.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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