January Fun

By Prodita Sabarini | 2013/14 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow

February 6, 2014

For many, January seemed to be a month of relaxation. The holiday from Christmas and New Years still close to mind. In Boston, students go back to their hometowns or go on winter vacations (or escape the winter to tropical warmth).

For me, it was a month intellectual stimulation with two amazing classes that will influence the way I approach my journalistic work from now on. These are the two classes in January that filled me with ideas to work on when I come back to Indonesia.

Inclusive Security

This class was an intensive 2-week exploration of the critical role of women in peace and security. Swanee Hunt, the former ambassador of Austria, led the class at the Harvard Kennedy School. It examines the way the world works, which is currently governed by a patriarchal system, in which its leaders – mostly men – uses aggression to maintain power and take control of resources. The class explored what would the world look like, if only women had more say in decision making. Will it be a more secure and peaceful world?

I was interested since I got the reading materials, which explored women’s status from evolutionary point of view to social psychology. The reading was dense, Shankar Vedantam’s chapter “The Invisible Current” in The Hidden Brain told the story of the reality of women’s status in society with the example of Lily Ledbetter’s story and the difference of experiences of transgendered people (those who transformed from male to female feel their status in society dropped – being ignored, being interrupted, having their ideas questioned – and those who transformed from female to male feel their status risen). The most interesting part of the readings for me was the examination of the lives of Bonobos, the gentle ape, who unlike the violent Chimpanzee are very peaceful and unaggressive. The difference apparently is the relative equal status of female and males in the Bonobo community, in which female gained their power from forming alliances with other females. Something that female chimpanzees do not do. Female alliances have worked in the human world too. Women around the world have created movements to stop war, often connecting groups that are fighting each other through motherhood identity.

Amb. Hunt, invited women leaders from five different countries to talk to the students. I think that was the highlight of the class for me. There were women from Rwanda, Syria, Colombia, the Philippines, and Afghanistan who shared with the class their experiences dealing with conflict in their home countries. It was particularly heartening to see Oda Gasinzigwa, the gender and family promotion minister of Rwanda, told the women from Syria, whose country is torn by war to not despair.

The class reminded me of how we often take for granted the absence of women in parliament, government, and top positions in corporate world and wonder aloud why the world is so messed up. Perhaps if we keep in mind that a lot of decisions made in this world that will affect women too are often made by people who do not have women’s perspectives in mind, then we will consciously do something to change that.

Participatory and Interactive Digital Documentary Filmmaking

This class was a gem that I found accidentally as I browse events at MIT. I’ve always wanted to expand my skills beyond traditional print journalism, making use of different tools and forms and media platforms. When I saw that emmy-award winner documentary filmmaker Katerina Cizek is giving a workshop of digital documentary filmmaking. I quickly signed up for it.

The workshop was mind-blowing in that it showed me that documentaries could be experienced in so many ways thanks to the Internet. There is the traditional documentary where you sit back and relax and watch the film. But there is also non-linear interactive documentary, where viewers are called users and they explore the documentary by clicking on different features on the web-documentary where different information comes up. One example is Cizek’s work Out My Window, where we can be welcomed to the apartments of people around the world by clicking into a window. Another interesting thing about Cizek’s documentary filmmaking is its participatory method. She emphasizes in making a film “with” the subjects of the documentary rather than “about” the subjects. Too often, journalists go in and do a story and go out, while the people who are interviewed merely becomes exploited for the story. With a participatory method, the subjects use their own voice and agency in telling their own story. In Cizek’s works many of those participatory projects becomes fuel for real policy change.

Cizek’s materials was amazing in its own, but I think the workshop was even cooler due to the people that joined it. I’ve never been in a room full of creativity as this. One participant, wanted to explore the question of gender through an interactive game-like documentary. Another wanted to show how the wall in Palestine separates lovers from one another. It was such a pleasure to have the chance to be part of the class and listen in to people’s great ideas. It made me think about what I can do when I’m back home with my own community.