Preparing a message - last part: democracy, victimhood, human rights, communication. The end.

25 October 2005

8.  How democracy can be made to work
9.  How to cope with vulnerability and combat victimisation
10.How to defend women’s human rights
11.Towards a ‘bloodless knowledge revolution’

8.  How democracy can be made to work
Helen O’Connell called for a transformative politics: ‘…sustainable development and the elimination of discrimination and poverty can only come about through the strengthening of democracy. Democracy as promoted by the west, meaning elections every few years, is not what we mean. Important though elections are, we are talking about democracy at every level from family, to workplace, to international bodies, with the right to information, transparency and accountability at the core.  We describe this as sustainable democracy… We need a critical mass of women who will work to transform the political and decision-making structures themselves, their ways and hours of working, their secrecy, sexist attitudes, corrupt practices, and male-domination.  But at the same time we need to work to transform the agenda and priorities of our political structures. Peggy Antrobus and others talk about transformational leadership, which is not only transformational in style, but has economic, political and social transformation as its goal.’

Mu Sochua also offers a vision of transformational leadership: ‘Women as commune leaders see development as an entire cycle that begins with basic education and health. Development is complete when the community as a whole can provide for each other and protect its resources. In Cambodia where the power of the village chief rules, the strength of the farmers can only be sustained when we assist them by providing information, with advocacy skills and with legal protection. This is why leadership development is important and the role of NGOs can make a difference. I believe in the people's movements that are being formed everywhere, in all sectors… I work along many young leaders. They are factory workers, union leaders, students, sex workers, people living with AIDS. My strengths come from learning from their strengths.’

Inge Relph perceives ‘a pattern here of missed opportunity to build grassroots organisations as a priority...ideally before conflict breaks out and as an immediate priority post conflict. Somalia comes to mind where the investment that Womankind Worldwide and others had put into supporting the Save Somali Women And Children network meant that there was a cross-clan movement that could be mobilized and have critical mass to advocate for the needs of women during the transition and reconstruction.’

9.  How to cope with vulnerability and combat victimisation
Our bloggers shared accounts of the victimization process. Galia Golan writes, ‘women are on the disadvantaged side of militarized society. Clearly gender relations are affected by the militarization of a society.  In militarized society you have the elevation, adulation and privilege of the male protector. The male is seen to play an essential role for the society, for the nation, leaving the women in a sub-ordinate, auxiliary position, at best a helper.  In a society at war, male qualities are those that are most respected: strength, power, aggressiveness. These qualities are deemed more important than the soft qualities associated with women.’

Sam Cook observes, ‘the notion that men are there to protect women…is one that may seem relatively harmless to some. We see, however, that this notion then motivates attacks intended to demonstrate male community member's inability to fulfill their function and role and thus humiliate them and signal their defeat. It thus become about more than notions of masculinity that see men as "attackers" but also about those that require them to fulfill other less obviously harmful roles.’

Marren Akatsu-Kubachi writes about electoral violence against women: ‘Where I come from, that is, Kenya, we have only 7 percent of women in Parliament… In Kenya, politics is a dirty game as I guess it is in every country. Women have to be prepared to face both verbal and physical violence when they join politics. The verbal violence can inflict more damage than the physical as the opponents, some who may be fellow women, hit below the belt, many times on assumed crimes. One of the ‘best’ targets is to direct the dirt on the moral virtues of the women.  She will be called a prostitute, drunkard, a woman of loose morals, a home breaker etc. If she is divorced the word divorcee will become a dirty word. She cannot campaign in social gatherings in the evening like the men as she will be called a woman of loose morals, ‘tanga tangaring (roaming) the bars.  If necessary she will be beaten up to teach her a lesson.’

How do we cope with vulnerability? Maura Stephens’ friend has one answer – self-defence and assertiveness training. Sarah Lindon discusses another possibility advocated by Judith Butler – that post-9/11 we realize that the human condition is one of vulnerability to others and learn to live accordingly.

10.  How to defend women’s human rights
In our publicity work, we encountered a tendency to attempt to pit women’s rights against human rights as if they were mutually exclusive. Cindy Weber discussed the arguments of Robert Whelan from Civitas, a UK think-tank: ‘Robert crafted his argument in support of human rights as a way of arguing against women's rights. Robert's argument is that human rights are universal rights, belonging to all humans, and that this therefore makes women's rights not just superfluous but 'special' and 'Western'… Robert's position makes several suspect assumptions - that rights are universal (and presumably easily universalized) to humans, that this universal claim to human rights is based in human nature, and that if human rights are not taken up this is not a systemic problem but an individual one. Translated into the debate between human rights and women's rights, what we have here is a suggestion that the trouble with women is NOT that they have been systematically excluded from political participation but that they have failed to claim their human rights and uphold them. By implication, it follows that it is silly to then grant women even more, extra special rights when they can't even effectively exercise the rights they already have, the rights that are already available to them.’

Sarah Lindon cited Judith Butler on the same point: ‘Butler says, in discussing international human rights, “I think we are compelled to speak of the human... And to find out how human rights do and do not work, say, in favour of women...” While her version of ‘human rights’ is one open to change, they are also an eternal truth claim and must be negotiated peacefully. Why is this important in building peace and security? 'Human rights' is one of the conceptual tools in this struggle. Butler identifies “a critical democratic project, one which understands that the category of the ‘human’ has been used differentially and with exclusionary aims, and that not all humans have been included within its terms, that the category of ‘women’ has been used differentially and with exclusionary aims, and that not all women have been included within its terms, and that women have not been fully incorporated into the human, and that both categories are still in process, underway, unfulfilled, that we do not yet know, and cannot ever definitively know, in what the human finally consists.”

11.  Towards a ‘bloodless knowledge revolution’
Many bloggers talked about the media and the communication aspects of advocacy work – ‘how to use the media to advance the women’s agenda, including peacebuilding’ – as well as how to use film documentary and story-telling which is more persuasive than ‘UN-speke’. Perhaps because this was a self-conscious media exercise, it raised this question up the agenda. There was discussion of Inge Relph’s encounter with Robert Whelan on Woman’s Hour – the daily UK radio programme for women; discussion of women Presidents and their impact as a media story; discussion of the coverage of UN peacekeeper abuse and its timing; and in the middle of the blog – the arrest of the owner-manager of a democracy radio programme in Cambodia.
Then there was the proposal to find out more of the diversity of views amongst Iraqi women: Inge Relph took up a suggestion of Scilla Elworthy’s to raise the issue of whether an e-poll of Iraqi women would be useful. ‘Iraqi women themselves need to have the freedom to articulate what they want. But have they had a chance to say how they want to claim their rights?... What about an E-POLL of Iraqi women?... If we had solid opinion figures on what Iraqi women want, we could use them in several ways - press, report to the FCO and State Dept, lobby Iraqi leaders, and support Iraqi women in an informed way.’
Boitumelo suggested that NGOs should budget for media coverage, holding out the possibility of a ‘bloodless revolution of knowledge’. She asked what had happened to the powerful underground communication that was used in South Africa until democracy came along, adding the provocative question -  ‘Is democracy a lullaby to put us to deep sleep?’
Jo Wilding took this up: ‘Boitumelo Mofokeng wrote (Oct 3), “I ask myself, if women owned half the media in the world, what stories would we be telling and how these would be educational and empowering to women. I have seen and continue to see women's columns of major newspapers still profiling women in a stereotypical way, functioning as if there's no Gender Commission, UNIFEM, etc. Media for me is a tool that we need to advance our cause.” Boitumelo, I agree. The media needs to represent the people, instead of telling us what we’re supposed to think. I’m not convinced things would change merely because women owned half the media – if they were women with the same intentions as Rupert Murdoch and the other filthy rich men who own the media now we’d be no better off (think of Condoleezza Rice, for example). Media co-operatives, on the other hand, offer the potential for collectively owned and run outlets to provide information, drama, news, social commentary and so on that pay a fair wage but do not exist primarily to make profit for essentially uninvolved owners or shareholders.’
They were joined by Mu Sochua: ‘One thing for sure is that we need to teach every woman to learn to speak to the media and to speak, full stop. There are so many things that are taken for granted by women about what we do, how we feel, how we act. We think that it needs no explanation. It is obvious that men understand us, that the society supports us. Wrong.’
Angela Castellanos took up the theme: ‘Over my long experience as communicator working in international development and women issues, I have noticed how often the value of communication is depreciated, since it is understood just as a dissemination. If we want to ensure that this Resolution is fully in the agenda, we need more than dissemination… We need to develop communication processes aimed to turn information into action. We need to develop communication processes aimed to empower women to push for this Resolution implementation.  We need to develop communication processes aimed to engage policy-makers to work towards its implementation.’

Sanam Anderlini wants positive stories of peacebuilding to join the stories of UN peacekeeping abuse: ‘I don't think that the coverage on peacekeepers abuse is counterproductive to our message - it is outrageous that peacekeepers and civilian humanitarian staff exploit those who they are meant to protect.  The question is why does the media fail to report on the positive work that is being done by ordinary people? Why is rape and violence news, and peacebuilding never worthy of coverage?  Maybe if the public demanded news about these things, the media would take some action.’

Many bloggers began with statements about how they hoped to learn from each other: ‘The forces that work against peace, justice, equity, the environment, and human rights do so by dividing and conquering. It is easy for those of us engaging in our various struggles to become splintered, fractured. We concentrate on our own most immediately pressing issues. But we must add on to our already over-full plates the task of keeping dialogue open amongst us, of helping our far-flung sisters (and brothers) in the many efforts we are making around the corner and around the world. This discussion is a fine example of such an endeavour. I am so pleased to be a part of it…’ – Maura Stephens

‘I am reassured that I am not alone in tackling such complex and at times traumatic matter in the work that we undertake. Also, I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone finding it difficult to make the time that I wish I had for this project due to work commitments. Though, I share in the belief that this is an important and potentially vital project that can make a significant difference to all our work through the sharing of experience and expertise.’ – Mary Blewitt

Jelena Djordevic illuminated new forms of solidarity, and the difference they made: ‘This was the solidarity that had been nurtured during the war in EX-Yugoslavia (and in other war/conflict affected areas) when individual feminist activists and groups were coming from all over the world to support us, to bring small gifts, to express solidarity, to spread the message to the world, to take us away for a trip where we could re-build our energy. Support was also coming from various feminist donors who were giving grants to strengthen our efforts on the ground (understanding our needs). This form of global feminist solidarity meant, for many of us, our own physical and psychological survival in the most difficult moments of conflict. Though this global solidarity was not enough to respond to many other challenges that activists face in conflict, this support was crucial in giving us strength and encouragement to continue our work. The question that came up was how to make this feminist global solidarity network stronger, more strategic, for the purpose of sustaining our activism and for the purpose of maximizing its responses to the challenges during the conflict as well as during the time when “the peace starts”?

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