It is difficult to fully appreciate the importance of the historic moment we are living. The fact that we are on our way to a global intercultural meeting in Guatemala, with our esteemed colleague Rigoberta Menchu as host, along with the majority of other women who have been Nobel Peace Prize winners, amounts to a truly excellent opportunity to ponder our changing circumstances. We are a generation that has advocated across two centuries, characterized by a bewildering increase of high-speed communications, but where there are ever greater numbers of people excluded from the most minimal conditions for a human life, and deprived of the capacity for others to hear their voice.
Without exaggerating, everything seems to indicate that social injustice has deepened and that poverty has grown increasingly painful. All of this is happening as a consequence of an unrestrained concentration of wealth and inequalities that are the combined result of discrimination and political systems ill-suited to provide for justice and the free expression of an active citizenry. States have not overcome their incapacity to offer their peoples a standard of living that is known to be reachable. For those of us who work in the so-called field of development, it is like walking on sand without leaving a footprint or worse yet, like being caught in a labyrinth, thinking that the exit is near when in reality, the way out has been turned upside down.
I am coming with the expectation of listening to those who have struggled, and who continue to struggle to regain dignity as a central quality of humanity. We were born in the 20th Century when great advances in the field of human rights law were made. At the same time, we know that the struggles to win full recognition of the rights of all peoples, free of distinction, have become ever more challenging. We are all women, but we cannot forget that it was only well into the 20th Century that we became recognized as equal to men. When I was young, I did not even realize that girls were treated unequally. Later, not even a university education could clearly inform me how I had lost my freedom through marriage nor could I clearly perceive that I was unable to find work because I was pregnant. But, there is little new in these affirmations and our personal lives only reflect the historical period and the social limits of the world in which we grew up.
What I would like to underscore is that we have coexisted with oppressive systems. Little by little, we have learned that overcoming the historical denial of dignity requires the relentless struggle of many generations against unjust systems and the powers that would annihilate entire peoples. I have always asked myself: what determines whether one or another person becomes brave enough to directly confront those who wield their power to exploit and oppress others? Under what conditions do people come to understand that in a particular historical moment, there is no other option than to engage in struggle, even if at the risk of ones own life and wellbeing? The reality is that after listening to and reading about so many histories of the distant and recent past, I have concluded that there are certain moments in history in which free spirits reveal themselves, like shining lights. They become the indispensable beings that give life to political, social and popular movements which can finally make the leap forward to another historical moment. Fortunately, humanity has always produced people like these, individuals who cannot tolerate the social limits of the era and who likewise refuse to collude with the reigning systems of exploitation and oppression.
I have become somewhat obsessed with the idea of learning how new generations should be educated so that they develop a sensibility to injustice. Over the years, I have been convinced that this requires a look at the details. It is certainly true that the profound defects in contemporary political systems have to be rectified. But we have to refine the capacity to propose that political action take on a more acute character. Democracy has to be continually recreated, refounded, and revisited. More voices must be more freely expressed, without restriction by age or any other condition. I deeply believe in conscious political life as the most generous and hopeful means for changing the conditions in which we find ourselves. But I also recognize that some individuals manage to rise above the rest to help show us the way forward. These are the persons that we need to listen to and with whom we must engage in dialogue, so that even more critical spirits come forward and dare to raise their voices. It will be many voices, many minds, many free spirits, and many hands united that will result in all of the changes that humanity in its diverse facets requires.
Our drama is that we cannot continue at the same speed. We are going too slowly and we need to accelerate the pace of things. I am completely confident that the necessary movements and leaderships will emerge that can bring us towards new and distinct democratic forms. It is there where justice will have a privileged place and where dignity, the mother of freedom, will open up new doors, ever more human and reconciled with our potential.
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