Nothing about us without us and you

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Last Thursday I received a call from my good friend Simone, a former VSO volunteer who now runs with the husband Ben, also a former VSO volunteer, the social enterprise Herb Nepal that works in the sector of organic farming and trainings.

While we were chatting, Simone informed me that on that incoming Saturday, she would participate to a special event, the 2016 International Women's Day 5K Fun Run organized by a consortium of organizations including Women LEAD, Higher Ground Bakery, Cycle City Network, and the Ujyalo Foundation, all organizations with a very strong track record.

“Wow” I said, “I also want to be part of that”. I love jogging and I thought it was a great idea to run to create awareness on women’ living conditions in the country.

Unfortunately there was a caveat: the run was exclusively and only for women.

I could control myself and exclaim “Oh God, so stupid”. I could not really understand why organizing a run only for women.

Wasn’t it depressing and shortsighted, I was wondering, thinking of creating awareness and advocacy for better and stronger women’ rights without including men, the main perpetrators and culprits of many crimes and abuses against women?

I am intentionally using the verb “include” because in a country where many groups feel disadvantaged, marginalized and as consequence also discriminated, inclusion has become a top priority for everybody genuinely interested in turning around the nation.

In the last two decades, many interest groups (here I refer to group of people who decide to get “organized” to gain and defend their rights) were created to change the equation, striving to make the society more equal.

It should not be surprising that the same persons who suffer from the same kind of stigma and who face discrimination and suffer most from an unequal society, decide to join forces and set up groups that rarely include those not undergoing the same kind of injustices.

Inevitably, we ended up having organizations run by persons living with disabilities advocating for their own rights; we got women forming gender focused organizations advocating for better opportunities and rights of women and we also had Dalits coming together in their own organizations advocating for their own rights and fairly enough we have the LGBT community advocating for their members’ rights.

This process of self empowerment is extremely positive because there are not better advocates than the same persons who are denied the rights they are entitled to.

For this reason lots of progress was made in terms of inclusive society thanks to the personal struggles of many persons who, when felt discriminated, decided to stand up against the status quo.

On the other hand, with so many groups felt discriminated and marginalized, the approach fostered many different fronts on a larger “war” against exclusion and discrimination.

It is like we created many “battle fields”, run by different actors representing specific issues and pursuing very specific agendas.

While this tactic can bear fruits on the short run, we should all aim at one broader inclusive society, just and fair to everybody, dalits, LGBT groups, women, disable, and so on.

Going by the current approach, how far will we go in the fight against discrimination, if we each particular group holds on its particular “advocacy fiefdom”?

At the same time, I am wondering if we need a better coordination and a sort of “central command” overall in charge of fighting inequality and discrimination.

For example, in the particular issue of women empowerment and all related gender issues, the best practices or lessons learned to really make an impact in the society and change for better the living conditions of women, involve men.

All advocacy work in the field of gender empowerment must somehow include components that engage men, pushing them to change their habits and behaviors.

In the disability sector, the so called principle “nothing about us without us” is a powerful statement about the level of empowerment persons living with disabilities have reached so far.

Dalits organizations run by dalits are strongly pushing for their own rights, advocating an end to the systematic levels of discrimination that most of them are still experiencing on daily basis.

Yet all these individual and “silos” minded efforts risk bringing, in the best scenarios, only partial wins rather than the big game changer needed to transform the society in a more equal place.

Sector focused approach implemented by those who are victims of discrimination and marginalization is welcome but efforts should be made to bridge the gaps and build all inclusive coalitions where also “others’ can be part of the struggle.

I strongly believe in building large cross sector all inclusive coalitions that should for example involve also the private sector.

Yet on the day and at the same time that the 2016 International Women's Day 5K Fun Run was unfolding, I was jogging on my own and here is where I learned something.

While I was focused on my own self organized run, I could help but noticing that actually along the streets there were male volunteers assisting the female participants.

I stopped by to talk with one of them and he explained me he was part of the organizing team. To my surprise,many volunteers who made the run possible were male.

This made me happy as, at the end, the principle of inclusion in organizing such an important though symbolic event was ensured.

The day after the run, I had the chance to meet my friend Simone. Over a cup of coffee, I spoke about my doubts and feelings about having a gender segregated run.

I was still kind of perplexed but ultimately I wanted to her the perspective of a woman, a strong, progressive activist like my friend Simone.

Ultimately I knew that I should suspend my own judgments and try to capture different points of view on the issue.

Simone gave me an interesting answer: “We need a day to celebrate what it means to be a woman and we can do it if we are all among ourselves”.

When I listened to her words, I started thinking a bit and I was wondering after all whom I was to criticize an idea coming from a consortium of amazing women organizations.

Ultimately those who suffer and those who represent those who suffer, be dalits or women or persons with disabilities, have all the rights to do something that can help bring a sense of liberation, emancipation and empowerment and this might also, in certain specific circumstances, not include other sections of the society.

What I know is that including other actors can make the difference but if the key community organizers and activists against discrimination feel to have special programs targeting their peers and members of their own group, let it be.

The smiles on the face of that young male students helping out at the run on that Saturday morning taught me that there are many ways to be inclusive.

And I also found my new personal motto on inclusion: “Nothing about us without us and you”.




Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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