A M O N G E Q U A L S & T R A N S P A R E N C Y
*** Disclaimer: The issues I have raised with Among Equals were always directed towards Caroline Sherman, owner of Among Equals, and never towards her liaison Florence Kamel or the weavers. Florence was never a part of the conversation up until Caroline's invitation and since then Caroline has chosen to remain silent. My questions were always in favour of Florence and AE's weavers. Unfortunately Florence has taken this personally which has resulted in her publicly bashing me via her FB, inciting violence towards me, body shaming me, encouraging personal insults and foul language against me from her followers which include threats of rape as well as disrespecting my family and my unborn child. In an attempt to put this to rest I have enclosed a video and brief text below to clarify my position in this debacle ****
(For Tok Pisin version click here)
A D D I T I O N A L Q U E S T I O N S
I'd raised many questions with Caroline and Florence which remain unanswered - you can find them below. Caroline responded to me with 'It is not my job or intention to figure out the root of the problems of Papua New Guinea’ with Florence's response being, 'I am in receipt of your email and do not wish to even read your email' My questions to Caroline and AE:
1. AE's mission is heavily structured towards supporting females in PNG. Do you think that the solution solely lies with just elevating the women of PNG and widening the gap between men and women in these communities?
2. According to your website AE have constructed The Blue Haus as a safe place for women and their families. A safe house seems to me to be a very western concept so what exactly is the Blue Haus providing safety from or is it purely just a space for the women to create?
3. Caroline seems comfortable promoting how disadvantaged PNG is to the media as in this interview with Rag Trader . When she comments on PNG's poor housing situation what exactly does she view as 'poor housing'?
4. In the same interview with Rag Trader Caroline speaks on PNG's 'limited education'. What does she consider as 'limited' and does she feel that better education is one that is solely reflective of a western syllabus?
5. A Social Enterprise like Among Equals is a business that needs to sustain itself financially somehow. Do 100% of the online profits of Bilum sales go straight back to the weavers as stated? If not where is the rest of the money going to?
6. Caroline suggests that not having electricity is a negative thing. I acknowledge the advantages of having access to electricity in a third world country, however, does she think anything will be lost culturally upon pursuit of such things like electricity, and western education and does she believe in finding a balance between the best bits of PNG culture/ways of life and its inevitable move towards globalisation?
T H E B A C K S T O R Y
A few weeks ago I had no idea what Among Equals was or even who Caroline Sherman or Florence Kamel were until I accidentally stumbled upon the Among Equals Instagram page whilst travelling down a click bait hole - as you do. I was obviously intrigued as I'm always excited to find PNG products being sold on the International market and even more interested that apparently 100% of their profits supposedly went back to the weaver's as stated via Ragtrader.com. As I continued to scroll down I came across an old black and white image AE had reposted of a white model standing over 2 Highlander Men in what AE had said was from an old Sportsgirl Campaign from the 1960s. Full disclosure, I've always considered myself to be socially conscious but not often enough do I overtly use my public platform for political reasons. Primarily because I thought there were far more intelligent people out there who could articulate how I felt about certain issues better then I could.
When I saw the image of the two Highlander men and the white female model, however, I felt extremely compelled for some reason to call AE out for not recognising 'Cultural Appropriation'. If you don't know what cultural appropriation is, it is the adoption of elements from a minority culture by a dominant culture usually for the dominant culture's financial gain and sometimes without the consent of the minority culture. A lot of the time there's also an absence of an equal exchange between both parties as compensation for the adoption or exploitation if you will. When I received AE's response to my comment I found it vague, dismissive and upsettingly ignorant so I dove deeper into finding out who and what AE actually was.
It became clear that though AE seem to be working from a place of good intentions, those good intentions seemed anchored to very little depth of thorough thought and understanding. I brought a few of these issues up via email to Caroline Sherman the owner and face of AE but realised quite quickly that I was pretty much getting the same vague stock standard responses.
Caroline then passed it on to her 'liaison' Florence Kamel inviting her feedback on the situation and I just as quickly realised from Florence's response that I would not be able to open up the direct, private dialogue I had initially hoped for in order to find some answers to my queries.
My intention was always to query AE on if they really had long term solutions for the actual problems that plagued PNG women in remote areas rather then band aid solutions that would come undone again. I also wanted to find out that if the bilums are being purchased for a premium price as per their website then that meant the online profits , as they said, were going 100% to the bilum weavers - which it should. The latter has still to be answered. Not that AE need or have ever asked for my help but I have quite a substantial following on social media who most of which are often down to support causes like AE's. I do want to celebrate and promote things that I think truly benefit PNG or marginalised communities in general but for me to do that I think it's totally fine for me to make sure that what I'm choosing to support is legitimate.
AE don't need to adhere to my opinions or need my permission with how they run their business. It's a free world but the only way we can move forward to being better as a human race or even for AE to truly stand for what they do is to learn to have constructive dialogues with each other rather then ineffectual primordial screams into the abyss of our own egos. And to leave you with another quote from the late great Martin Luther King, Jr. "One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change"