As I've been learning more about coding, a number of unusual terms and phrases have come up, and I've been having fun finding out more and discovering their etymology. I'm documenting these findings in this glossary I've started, and I've set it up on Github to make it as easy as possible for others to contribute. 

It's in very early stages yet - I'd like to add examples of each term, and make sure it's explained in a way that non-coders can understand, too. I've tried to distill some technical explanations down into easy-to-understand definitions, so if I've made any mistakes in my understanding, please let me know! 

If you have any other terms to add, corrections to make or definitions to expand upon, please feel free to submit a pull request directly

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I've been talking about 'mansplaining' a lot this week; first, to some female friends who hadn't previously heard the term but immediately understood the concept, and then a few days later, to explain to other friends why I particularly disliked certain people at an event I was at; they had spent the afternoon 'mansplaining' at me.

For those who might not have come across the term, it's a mix between 'man' and 'explaining', used to describe the “act of a man speaking to a woman with the assumption that she knows less than he does about the topic being discussed”, purely because she is a woman. I have every faith that women reading this will know exactly what that means, and most likely men reading this will have either been in the presence of mansplaining, or (hopefully not) have mansplained themselves.

My friends who hadn't heard of it before found it a funny term, and sadly we all had stories of being mansplained to. We laughed a lot while trading stories; many of them were hilarious, if only in the tragi-comic sense. For me, being able to put a label on a thing, in this case a social act, often makes it a lot easier to discuss, because you realise that other people share that experience. It's for this reason that I was particularly happy to come across the term 'flirty racism' – finally, a label for one of my most hated things, and with that, the knowledge that other people had experienced it too.

I had thought that being conscious of the label “mansplaining” would also make it a lot easier to recognise when it was actually occurring. It turns out that I was wrong – yesterday, while I was at an event, I had the misfortune of being mansplained to for hours and hours, and it took me about half of those hours to even realise what was happening.

And when I did, I just didn't know what to do. I re-explained gently (probably too gently) that there was no need for the condescending explanations being fired at me, and yet they kept coming. Ideas I came up with were shot down, suggestions for how to get round all the blockers that they brought up were flat out refused, and it made the whole conversation incredibly difficult. Being in a group situation also made it more difficult to be direct, and (this is my own fault entirely) I was too taken aback by the whole thing to call it out in front of the group, for fear of making things even more awkward than they already were.

Long story short; I left the conversation and the group, and ranted to friends at the same event about how annoying the situation had been. But while doing that, I didn't know what I was hoping to achieve either; they didn't find the men in question as terrible as I did as obviously they had never personally had that experience, but they were sympathetic to my rants. I didn't confront the men in question myself because I didn't want to create a scene, and I ended up incredibly frustrated at how I'd been talked down to – or rather, how I'd let myself be talked to like that for much longer than necessary.

And today, I'm left wondering – what would have been the best response in that kind of situation? Taking them aside privately and asking them to reconsider their attitude? Calling it out in front of the group, to save having to repeat the exercise separately? Announcing some basic 'social courtesy' guidelines in front of the group, repeated regularly depending on whether they had internalised what I was saying? (And yes, a small part of me was thinking – should I just punch them in the face, and be done with it? See number 5 in this list)

It was clear that they respected much more anything being said by men, but I definitely didn't want to resort to asking male friends to have a word with them on my behalf. I also wasn't entirely sure what was happening until someone else highlighted it to me – I genuinely thought I was just communicating unusually badly, and this reaction annoys me greatly.

I've actually no idea what the answer is to this question – how does one actually deal with mansplaining, in the most socially acceptable, least awkward, and “best” way?

Answers on a postcard. Or to @zararah.

PS. for male readers who might be worrying if they're mansplaining, here are some tips to make sure you don't become that guy.

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Over the past couple of months, I've had the privilege of travelling to Bangladesh, Canada, Spain and Switzerland, and oddly, I found that all four had an unexpected quality in common; the way in which different languages within the country influenced and affected everyday life and politics.

In bilingual Montreal, anything that was government-run (including a couple of days of the conference that I attended) had to be conducted in both French and English. Wonderfully, this meant government officials would switch languages halfway through speeches and sometimes even halfway through sentences. In between feeling sorry for the interpreters, I thoroughly enjoyed this blend of languages.

It became clear also, that there were many more loan words between their particular versions of English and French, because of the switching; hearing people talk (in English) about the 'animator' of a particular company left me a little confused before realising that 'animateur' in French simply means “organiser” - they were talking about the head of the company, not a designer! Similarly, I'd never heard 'bienvenue' (literally, 'welcome' but in France, always used in the context of 'welcome to... (a place)' rather than 'you're welcome) as a response to 'merci'.

I heard also of resentment growing towards English speakers in increasingly Anglophile areas of Montreal, where staunch Francophiles would respond to anyone in French, even if they understood and spoke English, and knew that the speaker wouldn't understand them.

I experienced a similar phenomenon myself in Spain, when I stopped by Barcelona a week later; in cafes, although I was speaking 'castellano' (ie. Spanish understood in Spain) people would only respond to me in Catalan, despite me having made clear that I didn't understand Catalan.

It was the first time I'd experienced something like this personally. For example, in a cafe I apologised for not speaking Catalan and asked for a bottle of water in Castillian; the waiter went to fetch the water but continued speaking Catalan to me, I apologised again, and instead of simply saying how much I owed in a language I understood, he wrote down the figure on a pad of paper and pushed it towards me. He was very, very determined not to speak anything but Catalan!

When I got to my final destination in Spain, Zaragoza (just next door to Catalunya) I was asked a lot about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. People seemed to see lots of comparisons between Catalunya and Scotland, and some were slightly incredulous that the UK had 'allowed' Scotland to hold such a referendum. It was clear that the reluctance of people I met in Barcelona to speak anything but Catalan was part of a much wider battle, one which came up much more frequently in conversation than it had when I was living in Madrid back in 2009.

Politics and language, in this case, were clearly linked, and this was another theme I saw while I was in Switzerland, as, sadly, a vote was passed to impose quotas on immigrants to the country. There were two clear trends in voting for this xenophobic law; firstly, the language split, and secondly the number of immigrants in those areas.

This is a map of the language split in Switzerland; as you can see, the Swiss German population is the largest (63.7% of the population) followed by Swiss French (20.4%), then Italian (6.5%) and Romansh (0.5%).

And this is a map of how people voted in the elections; there's a heavy overlap with the Swiss-German areas, and the areas that voted 'Yes', with the exception of Zurich, up in the north.

[image via @electionista]

Another trend, illustrated by the chart below, shows that regions with fewer immigrants were more likely to vote 'yes' (ie. for the introduction of quotas) whereas those with high percentages of immigrants already living in the regions tended to vote against the quotas. Fear of the unknown was clearly a motivation for those who hadn't experienced much immigration in their areas, and seemingly didn't want to, either.

[image by Martin Grandjean]

I wasn't aware previously of the extent of the majority which the Swiss German population hold here; clearly, with over 60% of the population, they are the most powerful demographic. I also find it interesting how people tended to vote in blocks depending upon their language affiliation; again, clearly language is a lot more than merely a method of communication.

Another example of the crucial importance of language can be seen in Bangladesh, which is, as far as I know, the first country that was born out of a language-related dispute; essentially, the political movement fighting for the right to use Bengali as an official language in everyday life was a catalyst in the move towards national identity, which were precursors to the Bangladeshi Liberation War.

Having seen so clearly in just those four countries the power and importance of languages within society, seeing statements coming out of the UK encouraging people to study languages for economic reasons, or in David Cameron's words "to seal tomorrow's business deals” frustrates me hugely. I find encouraging language learning by way of promoting trade between countries a terribly sad, and reductive, perspective on the many riches that different languages bring to society.

There are many, many other reasons that us lazy native English speakers should learn other languages; understanding cultures, societies and people being just some of them. If we in native-English speaking countries want to have any chance of understanding the politics, societies and cultures of other, language-diverse countries, we have to stop thinking about language-learning as a luxury or as an economic tool, but instead realise that it's a crucial step towards tolerance and understanding of other cultures.

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Data collection and use in humanitarian situations is increasing. But what can we learn from the past?

It turns out that there have been multiple occasions when mass surveillance and data collection have played key roles in facilitating humanitarian crises, including genocides. In addition, as has been covered comprehensively in Privacy International’s report, “Aiding Privacy”, aid organisations are now some of the biggest data collectors among the world’s most vulnerable communities. Aid agencies are also supporting and funding data collection schemes which have in some cases been knocked back in their home countries; such as USAID funding the “My ID My Life” campaign in Kenya in 2013, which provided national ID cards for 500,000 young people.

To make really clear the link between surveillance and mass human rights’ abuses, and to highlight some of humanity’s worst examples of what can happen with mass surveillance, lack of freedom of expression, and abuse of data, here are a couple of examples.

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Dear white feminist public figures, 

I'm writing to ask, quite simply, that you remember and recognise that the feminist movement is a global movement. It doesn't sound like much, does it? In my mind, it's not, but all too often I see and hear things that point to the contrary – hence this blog post.

I know that in some cases you worry about (mis)appropriation; that by mentioning experiences from other cultures, you'll face indignation from people of that culture, saying that you're not in a place to be talking or writing about them. But there's ways of mentioning things that make it clear that you're not trying to appropriate the experiences of others, merely paying homage to them.

Let me demonstrate.

“As feminists in [insert country] have demonstrated, [their experiences]. To find out more about this, I'd recommend you look up [their names].

Or how about:

“I've been inspired by hearing about the work of [insert name here] in [insert country]. I'm in no place to discuss what they've been through, but hearing it directly from them can be powerful. I'd recommend you take some time to read the work of [insert their names].

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd like to think that proper accreditation and recognition of who's been doing the work might stave off the appropriation claims.

Doing this serves some major purposes; it means that you are using your voice and your platform to recognise the work of others, who might not have access to such similar platforms. It makes others who might not come across their work, aware of what they're doing. It raises their profile, and makes it easier for them to gain a place on a global stage; a place which, (though of course, through no fault of your own!) you have had privileged access to.

If you haven't heard of any examples from other parts of the world, or you genuinely don't have any material to add to your writing/talking from outside of your own country or continent, then please make this clear in your writing.

I'm sorry for picking on this one example, especially when (sadly) there's many more out there – but writing headlines like “23 Awesome Feminist Digital Campaigns That Changed the World” when 22 out of the 23 examples originate from the US, the UK and Canada, is, to my mind, incredibly reductive, and actually slightly offensive. Given mainstream prejudices already prevalent in those countries, your article is only strengthening the popular (but obviously, invalid) view that feminism is a 'western' ideology, not found in the rest of the world. (otherwise, surely, those examples would be included in an article about campaigns that 'changed the world', wouldn't they?)

If you want to keep the same content of the article, then how about a more accurate title – instead of 'changed the world', you could say, 'changed the western world'. Or, why not take this opportunity (and your position as a well-read and well-respected writer) to direct some attention towards other areas of the world that are less covered in the media? Or towards people who, perhaps because of lack of privilege, or discrimination, haven't enjoyed access to such widespread media platforms as yourself?

And, if you really haven't been exposed to any other cultures, then, at the risk of sounding patronising, just spend some more time on the internet. The internet is wide and connected and, global. Yes, they might take some more time to find, but there are stories and voices from all parts of the world on the internet, and they deserve to be heard. Google translate is your friend! And remember in some languages, feminism might be better known as, for example, “gender equality”; or talked about as “women's rights.”;

If you're in a position where you are able to, then why not travel? It's still valid to read about other peoples' experiences, but it'll give you a whole new dimension to actually meet them, see what they're talking about, and hear about them in person.

You are in a position where people listen to you; this is due to your hard work, talent, and, in all honesty, an array of features that you happened upon by pure chance – your skin colour, perhaps the place you were born, any number of arbitrary features. You have a responsibility to use your platform to make feminism recognised as what it really is; global, wonderful, inclusive and diverse. 

My ask; please make the most of your public platform to point some attention towards some incredible campaigns, people and ideas who are unfairly ignored in the media. You're not by any means the problem behind this injustice, but you can definitely be part of the solution. 

Thank you.

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For me, a good book is one that makes me change how I think about things, or how I behave- for better or for worse. Thanks to multiple readings of Anne of Green Gables when I was younger, I still recognise an occasional gut feeling of trust or tribe with strangers by categorising them in my head as 'kindred spirits'; last year's Americanah has left me unable to read anything about the “global” feminist movement that's written by white feminists without feeling deeply suspicious; and now, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness has left me questioning my own, and others' behaviour, through a stronger gender-critical lens than I think I've used before. 

A bit of background: the inhabitants of the planet the book is set on, Gethen, are permanently without gender. The main character, Genly Ai, is from another planet, and he is a man; for this, he is considered strange and alien, and the very idea of a whole universe out there with 'permanent' men and women is the biggest hurdle for the people of Gethen to understand about their planetary neighbours. Any of the people of Gethen can, once a month, assume either gender, during which they go through a period of being “in kemmer”, ie. able to mate with a partner. Crucially, as anyone can be male or female during this time (and it can change month by month), anyone can become pregnant and go through childbirth, meaning that caring for children is, by definition, equally spread throughout society.

I found Genly Ai's description of the difference between 'permanent' men and women, particularly interesting:

“I suppose the most important thing, the heaviest single factor in one's life, is whether one's born male or female. In most societies it determines one's expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners – almost everything. Vocabularly. Semiotic usages. Clothing. Even food... It's extremely hard to separate the innate differences from the learned ones.”

I also found very clever the way that Le Guin used gender to describe certain behaviour, throughout the book – for example, when describing a mistrusted character:

“Estraven's performance had been all womanly, all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit.”

The same character is later classed as having “effeminate deviousness”.

This gendering of characteristics and qualities came back to me several times this week, as the first day of my new job role also happened to be the first day of a week long conference, which brought together people from around the world, all of whom were essentially experts on the topic of my new project.

Firstly, the reactions of people to this were rather telling:

“Wow, throwing yourself in at the deep end, that's great!”


“Wow, lots of input... that's really brave of you!”

Guess who said what?

Though perhaps loosely related here, it came back to me again while having lunch one day. A young woman and I got talking about how we had ended up working in this sector; she held two degrees, had years of experience in the field, and yet, sometimes, she said, she felt like a bit of a fraud amongst all these experts.

I found myself nodding along; I have, occasionally, felt like I've somehow found myself sitting among a lot of people who know a lot more than me, though I generally value (and cherish!) my 'blagging' skills to get me through those bits without too many issues.

Someone (a man!) who was sitting on the other side of us called us both out for this though, as he found it ridiculous that either of us would feel like that, given our experience, skills, and knowledge.

And then, of course, it hit me. We were displaying minor signs of Imposter Syndrome!* This would never happen on the planet of Gethen. The thought that society's expectations and treatment of women might have had such an influence on how I perceive my own actions terrifies me, and has left me determined to think more closely about how I attribute my successes. It's also left me determined to encourage my peers to think about this too. And all because of a planet named Gethen.

There are many, (many!) other aspects of the book I found thought-provoking, and I'll probably write about them once I've finished reading it, for the second time, in a week. And if that's not a strong recommendation, I don't know what is.

* For a hilarious parody on this, see here.

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This week, I learned what Git really is, how to use it via the command line, and forked this lovely site to make this, my first Jekyll site! I was exceedingly lucky to have guidance throughout from some very clever, and patient, people.

In part to help me remember things I learned, and in part because part of me hopes one day I'll look back on this first week coding with nostalgic fondness in years to come, I wanted to write down a few things I learned.

First; the very basics. I learned what makes Git different to other Version Control Systems. I'd recommend looking at the diagrams on this page to understand this. We looked at how Git saves data through trees and blobs (incidentally, which stands for Binary Large Object, though I like the name 'blob'), and looked at how each 'commit' generates a unique 40-character object identifier, which you can see by typing 'git-show'.

One thing I found amazing about these identifier numbers is that as they are generated solely from the content of a certain repository, if you happen to have exactly the same content in a repository on two different machines, exactly the same 40-character identifier number is generated! We proved this by copying out two identical text files on two different computers, committing them to a repository, then comparing identifiers. It worked! (Aside: I downloaded the text editor 'Sublime' here to make creating and editing those text files much easier)

Next, some basic git commands to use in the terminal: mkdir, cd and git init, to make a new repository (more detailed instructions here), and also how to add a new file. I also changed the background of the terminal screen to black to make it easier to read, via 'Preferences' in Terminal.

Then; putting it into practice, as I wanted to make a simple website for my new project. As I only needed a holding page, I thought it might be a good time to try using Github pages, which makes it easy to get information from a Github repository onto a website – and, allows people to collaborate very easily – which runs off Jekyll, a “static site generator”, in Ruby. Basically, it makes making websites from text files very easy and really rather beautiful - these are all examples of sites that can be built on Jekyll.

Unfortunately, though much of the online documentation says that you should be able to get “from 0 to blog in 3 minutes!” I ran into a few problems here, as it was my first time using Jekyll, and Ruby, so I didn't have the prerequisites assumed in the quick start up guides. This is where I was very glad to have assistance from people who knew what they were doing – yes, the pains of installation will just happen once, but I would've been completely lost if it hadn't been for help at this point. Pro tip – Homebrew is a good package to install here, too.

Once I had Jekyll and ruby up and running, I set up a basic blog as per the instructions on this page. I picked one of the basic themes from this page and switched themes, after reading the instructions here.

But then some other more beautiful sites came to my attention... including this one, which was done by colleagues of mine for a hackday they ran last year. It's fairly simple, also done using Jekyll and Ruby, and it's on Github. I figured starting with something that looked so good must be easier than starting from scratch (though I have nothing to base this on.)

So – my friend Annabel helped me set up my own version of this, which we put in the repository 'Open Dev Toolkit' on my Github, so it appeared at We also set up a local server which meant that the site appeared at http://localhost:4000/ in my Chrome window. So, I could make changes 'locally' (just on my machine) without pushing them to git- this made seeing what I'd done a lot easier. I set up the local server by typing “jekyll serve” into the Terminal, and I ended up leaving the command “jekyll serve -w” running constantly in one window of the terminal, and making my changes in git in another window. (The -w part of “jekyll serve-w” makes it automatically regenerate, so you don't need to keep cancelling it (with control-c) and running it again to see changes.

Then, the most satisfying part of this whole thing began – using what I had learned earlier to hack the website!

Here, I quickly established that 'Inspect Element' in Chrome was basically my best friend; seeing something on the site that I wanted to change, highlighting it and clicking 'Inspect Element' allowed me to see where exactly it was in the files, making it much easier to find which part I needed to change.

Once all that was set up, it was fairly simple; for example, the main heading, subheading and basic text was in the index.html file, so I did the following steps to change them to be relevant for my website:

I opened up the project 'opendevtoolkit' with Sublime, so that all of the text files that you can see on Github here were available. Then, I opened 'index.html', edited the relevant text, saved it, and looked what had happened on the local version I was running, at http://localhost:4000/ It had changed! So, as they were good changes, I wanted to keep them and put them online, also known as “pushing them” to Github.

In the terminal, I checked what I'd done by typing 'git-status'. As expected, there were changes there that hadn't been updated online: so next came the following commands:

git add “whichever filename came up when typing git status” (in my case, index.html)

Then, I needed to 'commit' the change:

git commit

...but, other people (and I) need to know what the change was, so here you're asked for a 'commit message' which describes what the change is. The commit message is, I learned, always written in the imperative – so, 'Update heading', for example.

Once that has been added, you're free to 'git push' which pushes the changes online. Ta-da!

Other tips I picked up:

  • If you've got text you want to edit on the website, but you're not sure where to find it within all the files, you can do a project wide search in Sublime, with shift+command+F to find out where it is.

  • Inspect Element is just great. Really.

  • If you're looking for a new font, look at Google Fonts – they're lovely, and really easy to implement (if you don't want to bother having them in a font file, it just takes one line of code which will be generated when you pick your font)

  • For creating the background image, I downloaded Inkscape – admittedly not very Mac friendly, but still good, and picked some public domain gear icons from the Noun Project to play around with. (Confession – I then sent it over to my rather clever friend Julia to arrange into a gorgeous looking tile design for me!)

  • I used the 'Eye dropper' Chrome plugin to find out where the colours were that I needed to change.

Then, it was just a case of lots of little changes, deleting lots of the content from the EnergyHack page as I didn't need it, updating content, changing the design and font, and there you go. My first Jekyll site!

A huge gigantic thank you to Nick, Stefan, Annabel and Michael for a. getting me started on all of this, b. not giving me all of the answers but showing me how to find them myself, and c. having infinite patience with my questions!

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All too quickly, my time in Dhaka has ended, and I'm back in Europe already.

Before I left, I wrote this blog; the side of Bangladesh that doesn't make the news. It annoyed me that in international media, I found there to be a narrative of Bangladesh being at the bottom of the ladder, talked about only as a basket case, one of the poorest nations in the world; almost like the runt of the litter. The blog post was intended to highlight aspects of the country that Bangladeshis were proud of.

So what I actually saw in Bangladesh shocked me. This narrative that I had been moaning about from Europe is just as pervasive throughout middle-class Bangladeshi culture. The US and Europe are seen as the ideal; the model societies to strive for, the 'one day'.

Anything that can be described with “they do that all the time in the US” is, naturally, wonderful. Anyone who studied in Europe is, of course, very intelligent. Having travelled or spent considerable amounts of time in either region is a mark of culture and refinement (never mind what you might have done there).

This false hierarchy, sadly rife throughout the cultures I've spent time in, still annoys me. Considering the language used to describe these structures though, it's not so surprising; linearly, from developing country (Bangladesh) to developed country (US/Europe, among others).

But there are so many things that I saw within Bangladeshi culture that US and European culture could do with learning from. Of course, there are many, many areas in which Bangladesh has a long way to go on – see my previous blog posts for a couple of examples! – but culture and society is made up of more than that.

Here, then, a few areas in which, in my humble opinion, Bangladesh is doing pretty well on, be it out of necessity, or out of choice. 

Respect for older generations – it's built into the language as terms of respect are used for older members of the family as a matter of course. Perhaps partly as a result, it's unthinkable that elderly members of a family would live anywhere but with their children, and considered as an integral part of the family. For better or for worse, care homes for the elderly don't exist, and I've yet to come across someone's grandparents/elderly aunts or uncles living anywhere but with their children.


Recycling – Yes, this is through necessity, but it's still incredible to see how much is used, and reused, and reused again. Ashes scrubbed into pans as a way of cleaning them, old newspapers folded into bags, coconut shells varnished down into coffee cups, to name just a few examples.

Family as community – last week, I walked into a restaurant that was run by my cousin's husband's niece's in-laws. On a family tree, we would barely make it on to the same page, but I was welcomed as though I was a close relative, and treated with warmth and kindness as though we had known each other for years. Of course, I was the only one surprised by this. Again, language plays a big role in this – the words for 'cousin' and 'brother' or 'sister' being the same, and used much more loosely than in the technically correct form (as, wonderfully, this Economist article corrected).

Resilience – This is one of those cliched compliments, but I had to mention it. A common feature in stories I've heard from my mum's childhood is villagers having to rebuild their entire houses every few years depending on floods or extreme weather conditions. They would lose everything – all of their belongings, their entire homes and shelter, they might even probably lose family members along the way – but they would always simply rebuild and start again afterwards. Yes, this is tragic, and yes, it shouldn't happen, but I still admire their resilience and strength. Shahidul Alam's photos from the 1991 cyclone contain some strong images of this.

Strong women – both physically, and mentally. Walk down the road in Dhaka, and you'll see women carrying heavy loads on their heads, while perhaps looking after a child or two and you know that they're undoubtedly responsible for feeding and clothing the entire household. Balancing these responsibilities, while living in extreme poverty, without state support, and all the while not complaining is truly nothing short of heroic.

Self-reliance – Again, it's tragic that citizens assume they can't rely on the government to provide basic services, but the way that the lack of basic services is dealt with is kind of wonderful. This does however bring up an entirely different side of the story – a society with such a lack of social contract between citizens and government results in a complete lack of transparency, which in turn is inevitably a breeding ground for corruption, but on the lighter end of the scale the creativity sometimes employed is interesting. For example, during strikes, when cars aren't permitted to go on the road, it became usual to rent out ambulances for essential travel, as it's assumed, and I hope it stays this way, that nobody would attack an ambulance. As my uncle noticed– people with access to ambulances must be the one section of society earning a lot of money from strikes!

Bangladeshi pride – there's sides to this that I like, and sides I don't. The side that I do is the fact that, despite the narrative I mentioned at the start of this article, people are proud to be from Bangladesh, and they want to help change the country for the better. Much of the literature I've read around South Asia has mentioned immigration; people managing to 'escape' the poor countries for a better life in the richer world, but very little of it has touched upon people coming back to their native countries. This is something that I was happy to see – people who had the experience and the opportunity of living in rich-world countries, and chose instead to come back and use what they had learned to make their way in their home country, hoping to contribute to making it a better society for all.

Respect for education – I remember once my mum saw a book I had on the floor, and to my mind, overreacted entirely, telling me to look after my books better. The book, for her, represented access to knowledge, and in turn, this knowledge opened up a whole world of possibilities, away from poverty and low standards of living. This attitude of respect for education can be taken too far (the “tiger mom” phenomena comes to mind) - but it's true that having access to education can, and has, led to an increase in quality of life for millions in Bangladesh. Even accessing as basic a level as learning how to read, or attending school until early teens– levels of education that we, in Europe, take completely for granted – has changed the realm of possibilities for millions.


Artistic heritage – weddings are a good place to see just how much some beautiful traditions have remained in present day culture. Mehndi for one, dancing and music for another. Unlike in the UK at least, these more traditional art forms aren't seen as 'old fashioned', but instead are embraced by younger and older generations alike. 


In the spirit of fairness, I should also point out that there are aspects of the culture that shocked me for the worst reasons; obviously, nothing is 100% as rosy as I've painted here, so I'll cover those in another post. My aim in all of this is to encourage a more rounded discussion of the country, so if I've missed out anything, or not been accurate, please do let me know, @zararah.

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Before I forget, and before I start making more lists of things I want to read this year, here are the top books I read this year.


Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Sharp, funny, accurate, and refreshing to read a book about people leaving their home country not because of conflict, but simply because of (perceived) lack of opportunity, or 'choicelessness'. I also read Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun this year, both by the same author, but Americanah was by far my favourite.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. A child's perspective on experiencing a complete culture clash.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – this was full of terrible, terrible events, but written in a way that made me pick it up and barely put it down until I had finished it. Warning: emotionally very difficult to read.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri – a collection of short stories. The stories centre around people moving from Bengal (either Bengali regions of India, or Bangladesh) to the UK or the US, and its accuracy of relating the experiences of the first or second generation immigrants moving between those two cultures genuinely startled me at points.

A Golden Age by Tahmima Aman. I've mentioned this before on my blog, and this is one of the very few English language fiction books about Bangladesh that I could find.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng– in a funny twist, some friends sent me this book the day after I booked flights to Malaysia. By far the most emotionally taxing book I read this year (with his other novel, The Gift of Rain, coming in a close second) – but so, so beautifully written.

Non fiction

Las venas abiertas de América Latina, or Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. I started reading this in preparation for a visit to Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, purely because it was banned by right-wing military governments in all three countries in the 70s. This was also the book that Chavez presented to Obama – an amazing gift.

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns. An incredible and engaging introduction to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was recommended to me by friends who have spent time in the DRC, so I have faith in its accuracy too.

Two Lives by Vikram Seth – I took far too long to get round to reading this, not least because Vikram Seth is one of my favourite authors. It focuses on the life of Seth's uncle, from India, while he moves between Berlin (where I was reading it) – and London. A gorgeous memoir, a lovely story, and a new perspective on the Second World War.

A Woman in Berlin (Anonymous) – a close contender for 'book that made me cry most this year'. Another new perspective on World War II, or at least the terrible consequences. The book was actually a diary, and the author has remained anonymous (and it was only published after her death.) Haunting to read, but highly recommended.

This was so hard to put together that I've resolved to start using Goodreads this year. You can find newly created account here

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I've been coming across articles highlighting 2013's greatest feminist moments - this 28 Most Iconic Feminist moments of 2013 for example, or the 25 best moments for women in 2013 - and while they have some brilliant moments included, I couldn't help but notice that they're very US-centric [1]. Surely the majority of 2013 feminist wins didn't happen in the US alone? 

Well, no - feminism is alive and kicking in the rest of the world too, and  here's ten examples highlighting just how. 

A self-declared feminist and women's rights activist became Prime Minister of Senegal

In September, Aminata Touré became Prime Minister of Senegal. True to her unique style, she even announced her new appointment herself. Former Justice Minister, she's known for her strong anti-corruption stance, and has had an impressive career as a human rights activist. And let's not forget; Malawi and Liberia also have female heads of state - Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, respectively. 

Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie's TedX Talk “We should all be feminists”;

Being sampled in Beyoncé's track “Flawless”; probably did wonders for Adichie's popularity among a whole new audience - it's well deserved, though. A related feminist win - her latest book, Americanah, came out earlier this year. Highly, highly recommended.

In Rwanda, women won 64% of seats in Parliament.

Rose Mukantabana: Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda

Rwanda beat their own record of percentage of women in parliament – jumping from 56.3%  to a massive 64 per cent  of women earlier this year.

Women now occupy 51 out of the 80 seats in the Lower House, thus retaining the title of being the only country in the world with a female dominated parliament- a title they first earned in 2008, when women held 56% of seats. There's a quota in place to ensure female representation, but it's only for 30% of seats. More on Rwanda's gender-friendly policies here

Mayam Mahmoud, Egypt's first hijab-wearing rapper

Aged 18, Mayam Mahmoud got through to the semi finals of Arabs got talent; she encouraged people to look past her veil, and listen to what she's rapping about. 

The release of the first feature film directed by a Saudi Arabian woman *

Written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda (Arabic: وجدة,) was filmed in the streets of Riyadh, meaning that the director had to work from the back of a van to avoid publicly mixing with men working on her crew. The film- the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, was also the country's first official submission to the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film. Listen to Haifaa Al-Mansour talk about the challenges she faced, and changes happening in Saudi Arabia here.

Women were finally invited to take part in Colombian government negotiations with FARC

After huge efforts by Colombian women's groups working to highlight the key role of women in peacebuilding, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos finally announced that women would be invited to join the negotiation team. María Paulina Riveros y Nigeria Rentería Lozano, both lawyers, joined the previously all-male team at the end of November 2013.

A record number of women presidents in Latin America; 4 women heads of state

UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet visits Ecuador

Despite being a continent known for “machismo”, there are now women leading Argentina (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner), Brazil (Dilma Rousseff), Costa Rica (Laura Chinchilla), and most recently Chile, following Michelle Bachelet's overwhelming win with 62% of the vote earlier this month. No implied endorsement of any of their policies, though! 

Satirical video “No Woman No Drive”; went viral *

This video, mocking Saudi Arabia's ban on letting women drive, hit 10 million views earlier in the year. Here's hoping some of the princes saw it too. 

Women's empowerment recognised as a major reason behind Bangladesh's health successes

Women in Bangladesh - IRRC photo

Medical journal The Lancet released a series of papers looking at healthcare in Bangladesh, saying

Improvements in the survival of infants and children under 5 years of age, life expectancy, immunisation coverage, and tuberculosis control in Bangladesh are part of a remarkable success story for health [in Bangladesh].

...Perhaps the most powerful strategy for health was the country's distinct acknowledgment and support of women to national development.”;

Yemen's human rights minister called for a ban on child marriage 

Yemen IDPs 4

In September, Huriya Mashhoor, the Minister for Human Rights in Yemen, called for the revival of a bill which would set the legal minimum age for marriage to 18 years old. Her decision came after international condemnation following reports that an 8 year old died of internal bleeding on the night she married a 40 year old man. 

Though no further progress has been reported, in November this year, Yemeni police stopped the wedding of a nine year old girl; it was reportedly the first such intervention to stop a child marriage in Yemen.

1 Suggestion: consider adding “from the US”; on to the end of both of those headlines, to avoid over-reduction of the global feminist movement. 

* Not strictly 'majority world' countries - but ones where improvements in women's rights are thoroughly needed, so I've included them here. 

Wherever possible, I've tried to use local media sources in the links here- if there are any that could be replaced, let me know! I know I've missed lots out lots of other great moments, too - any to add, ping me @zararah or drop me a line zararah[at] 

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