By Madeeha Raza
Watch Madeeha’s video that accompanies this post here.
“Youth Power… Youth Power… Youth Power…”, the group chanted, the voices of youth participants resonating around the conference room. The organizing team enthusiastically joined in, while I focused the camera to record the zeal on their faces, the enthusiasm in their voices, and the grit in their eyes: all hoping to make the world a better place.
Youth advocates representing twelve countries from various corners of the world came together to attend the Fifth Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit hosted in Tbilisi last month- a conference that brought together over 2,000 government officials, representatives from civil society, journalists, activists, academics and business people from around the world. The youth group brought with them their unique experiences of working with open government data, shared their challenges and successes, and explored ways young people can play an active role in open government.
In Pakistan, I have been working through the Accountability Lab’s incubator on these issues, and OGP asked me to document the engagement of this youth cohort at the meetings- the 1st time a group of this sort had been included in such a high-level meeting. I was inspired by their passion and the bold initiatives they are working on in different ways- Abdul Azziz Traore’s work to promote the concept of Kike World, a software for civil participation to fight corruption and bad governance in Burkina Faso for example; or Maira Duque’s work to foster debates between citizens and decision-makers to shape citizen movements in Colombia, holding public conversations, for example, around homicides under the banner of City Monday. I learned how essential open government data is – it may sound technical but it is being used by citizens everywhere to foster transparency, improve efficiency and transform pubic services. Open government is essential to more inclusive, fair and equitable development.
The work of Barbara Paes, a young feminist and women’s rights advocate from Brazil, resonated with me the most. Her work at Article 19, a human rights organization striving for freedom of expression and information in different parts of the world, analyses open data on violence against women in order to make the issue and its dimensions more visible to society, as well as enabling civil society to monitor public policies being designed to combat this violence. Her biggest motivation, Paes confided during her interview with me, was to “make this problem more visible, in order to support mobilization around it, and pressure government into making good public policy to end violence against women.”
Being an independent filmmaker from Pakistan, I use digital film to create stories and messages that increase the accountability of perpetrators of gender-based violence. While attending the summit, I began to contemplate how I could leverage open data in cases of violence against women in Pakistan and use storytelling and digital film to elaborate on the reasons behind such crimes. Film is essential because cultivating a deeper understanding of the basis for such crimes is a key part of creating effective societal and legal measures to prevent them. In a country where literacy can be less than 50% in many parts of the country, film is a medium that everyone can understand and through which data – which can often seem intimidating – can be made relevant to everyone.
I have also reflected on how open government data is still largely untapped in Pakistan, and have been contemplating how its potential could be leveraged. While the country has introduced several tech-interventions under the tag of e-governance, and Right to Information (RTI) laws at the federal and provincial levels, critics argue that the initiatives and commitments need to be strengthened, and more solutions need to be designed to further government accountability and transparency. I am hoping to work now, as part of the Accountability Lab’s incubator, with my fellow “accountapreneurs” to see how we can work together around these issues.
I left Tbilisi inspired – by the incredible ideas, connections and most of all, the amazing young people I met. I am an open government convert and now intend to work on a story drawing on familiar themes, exploring the open data ethos, and paving the way for audiences to ask how open data affects their own lives and work as common citizens. I also hope that the upcoming OGP summits are inclusive of artists as participants, and facilitate them to explore the use of open government data in their own creative ways.