This post is written by Jennifer Lentfer. Jennifer is the creator of the blog how-matters.org and Director of Communications at Thousand Currents. This week, she joins 21 other diverse speakers at Healing Solidarity, a free online conference posing critical questions about healing, inequity, exhaustion, and challenging power structures in international aid and development. Join the conversation at healingsolidarity.org and follow #HealingSolidarity.
People are waking up to big issues in international aid. Now what? Image from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) #PracticeSolidarity campaign
* * *
A journalist recently asked me, “Do you know anyone who would be willing to go on the record as resistant to change?”
“Good luck,” I thought. Institutional bodies are adept at portraying its leaders as on trend and non-controversial, and no self-respecting do-gooder is going to oppose more racial and gender diversity outright at this time in our history. However I constantly encounter “good people” who may or may not be aware of the white privilege and supremacy that runs through aid institutions, or who haven’t developed the personal resiliency to talk openly about the historical origins of our sector and the political and identity-driven realities that affect every aspect of our day-to-day work.
Policies that support diversity and inclusion are in place. What we now have to shift is the practice. For people with positional power and for those with privilege, this may Continue reading
Over the past few months, we’ve been listening. Deeply, actively listening. To the multitude of voices that have been silenced for far, far too long.
This International Women’s Day began with a headline from the Guardian that screamed: ‘You need to hear us’: over 1,000 female aid workers urge reform in open letter. Alexia Pepper de Caires, one of the organizers of the letter alongside Sarah Martin, Danielle Spencer and Anne Quesney, sums up their motivation succinctly: “The whole point of the letter is, ‘You need to hear us, because we’re the ones who are telling you what’s happening.'” The letter calls for “fundamental reforms to shift the patriarchal bias in aid” and is signed by over a thousand women in 81 countries.
An easy ask? No. But if anyone is up for the task, these 1,000+ women spread around the globe are. I am. If gun rights activism in the US is anything to judge by, the next generation of aid workers surely is. The women you say hello to in the hallway, or grab drinks with after work, or report to, or that report to you, the women with whom you exchange all-knowing glances at the coordination meetings, definitely are.
As we wrote in 2015:
There is solidarity here. And a growing space in which people feel empowered to speak with louder and louder voices about practices that have, up to now, been considered “part of what you signed up for.” These are the words of a friend’s boss when employees asked, three times, about staff well-being during a global all-staff meeting.
My friend’s boss is wrong. He doesn’t yet realize that we have already been carried farther down along the shore than we realized. Not only by our own small strokes in the big blue sea, but also by the undercurrent of others’ actions and testimonies, which grow stronger and wider as they join with other currents. A sea change is underway.
Yes, it’s tempting to Continue reading
This post is written by an anonymous Missing in the Mission blogger.
Post-truth. Fake news. Alternative facts. As I look back at my diary from early 2016, it’s striking how much my landscape has changed; pre-Brexit, pre-Trump, I could describe the world around me, I knew what I was advocating for and my words worked. There were some touchstone certainties, however painful some of them were, and a trust, and shared understanding, in the words that described them. I was writing an alternative world into being, a different vision, but I was starting from somewhere else.
‘Elite’ evidently no longer means resourced, connected, networked, privileged, advantaged. From its use in recent months, it seems ‘elite’ now means has ideas, shares ideas, thinks about things, values creativity and art. By this definition, most of the women I have worked with in humanitarian crises are elite, though the opportunities they have to act on any of their thoughts and ideas are so constrained they barely exist, and saying those thoughts out loud could easily get them killed. Events are reported as Continue reading
This post is written by Leora Ward. Leora is an aid worker and life coach who supports women in the humanitarian and caring professions through her organization, Healing in Service.
I was 24 when I first started working in West Africa, 25 when I moved to northern Uganda, and 26 when I took my first job in Darfur, Sudan. At the time, I got many comments from family and friends about my choice and decision to move so far away, to a war-torn country nonetheless. Some people found it idealistic, others thought it was “cute”, and then others called me a bleeding heart. I didn’t really take it personally at the time and never responded. The fact is that I didn’t have the words at that point to truly explain WHY I went into the humanitarian field. And, ever since then, I have bounced between altruistic responses about wanting to create a better world, to savior-like ones that sound something like, “well, someone’s got to do it!”
It wasn’t until much later that something clicked. I have coached women in the humanitarian and development fields for almost 2 years now. In doing so, I have gotten to know myself better and also understand the real reasons WHY we do this work. It seems Continue reading
Exhale. We made it. We’re in 2017. The churning jowls of last year didn’t devour all of us, even if they ground our souls to gristle.
Why did 2016 feel so existentially threatening? For those of us involved in international affairs, especially humanitarianism, the broad political trends were hard not to take personally. Brexit was a stunning reminder—a wake-up call?—that growing global cooperation is by no means a given; many components of the Leave Campaign demonstrated the power of xenophobic falsehoods, fear-fueled hatreds that then reared their ugly heads time and time again throughout the Republican campaign for the American presidency. As these efforts and others, like the “no” vote for Colombian peace, drew to their nasty, lamentable ends, we became increasingly distrustful of those around us: are my neighbors closet xenophobes? Are my friends secretly racist? What do my family members really think? The gap between public polls and private voting booths left us wondering if civility had crumbled behind closed doors. The loss of trust was one of 2016’s greatest casualties.
As humanitarian aid and international development workers, we were right to take far-right political campaigns personally: they targeted our livelihoods, which reflect core sets Continue reading
This post is written by an anonymous contributor.
“Cosmic Bruise” by artist Ivy Michelle Berg, available at: ArtbyIvy
Like many who work in humanitarian aid, when I am asked about why I do it, I dissemble and misdirect, I make a joke or change the subject without actually answering. Sometimes I tell the truth as a joke, and hide it in plain sight. “World Peace” is such a reliable cliché to raise a smirk and avoid the question. To say out loud why I really do it, to put those words into the air, is too hard. I am afraid of the look I will see in the other person’s eyes, and afraid of their judgement. I am afraid that if I am honest, I will have to say it through the medium of a jaunty pop song, possibly from the 80’s. Because the truth is, I do it because I believe in love and I believe love can make the world a better place. Saying it out loud sounds so adolescently idealistic, so sentimentally naïve at best, self-righteous, arrogant and sanctimonious at worst.
I left my job at the end of last year in a maelstrom of mess; stretched out to the point of coming unravelled, shattered by too many emergencies, and a level of hostility within the organisation that I was entirely ill-equipped to withstand, profoundly disillusioned. I felt like the worst kind of fool for believing in any of it, and no longer had any faith in my own judgement. In the months since then, I have been trying to work out what happened, to parse out what it was all about, and to find my way back to myself.
I know about fear, as so many of us do. I know about those moments of absolute clarity when we think we may actually die, today, now. I know about the exquisitely heightened alertness of being in a moment that could go either way; a checkpoint guard toying with Continue reading