18 11 / 2013
18 11 / 2013
So, I’m in the Peace Corps. I should understand what peace is, right? Actually, no. I had to put a lot of thought into this post and I’m still not sure if I’ve really gotten to the heart of the matter. I don’t think I am alone, though. Most people would have to think about what they really mean when they say they want peace.
The reason I started thinking about this topic recently is because the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded not too long ago. It was given to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. When I first read about this I was angry, but then I thought: Ok, Maybe I just don’t know enough about this organization. So, I did a little bit of reading (probably not enough), and I have to be honest, I and still angry. I find this awarding to be just so literal. This group is helping to stop war, so they are creating peace. Now, a world without war and a world that is safe is certainly one that is peaceful. The work of this group is amazing and useful and does deserve praise. But do that deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? And do they deserve it more that others who were up for the award?
I would like to see someone at the grassroots level receive this award. Last year it was given to Obama (not exactly grassroots) and this year it was given to a national organization. But there are plenty of people working very closely with the people who are affected by the issues that prevent peace. They are risking their lives every single day; and they are working for things like education, food security, and gender equality. These are the things that will truly create peace in the world; a lack of these things is at the root of most problems like war and terrorism. Fewer wars would start if more children were fed and went to school. And terrorism would lose its hold and its strength if more women were educated and empowered. It would be nice if the Nobel Peace Prize people would recognize this fact. It needs to be recognized by more influential people if we are going to move forward with creating a peaceful world; something I am still naïve enough to think is possible.
14 8 / 2013
"Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start
with what they know. Build with what they have. With the best
leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will
say ‘We have done this ourselves’."
12 8 / 2013
I have been asked recently to reflect on how my Bioethics education has affected and influenced my current work and it got me thinking. I use my bioethics education everyday in small ways; mostly in analyzing and interpreting the problems I face. Bioethics taught me how to do this; how to look at every angle, look through every lens, and leave nothing out, because that one small thing could make all the difference. But there are some particular areas I have used my bioethics brain here in Africa:
1. Community-based aid
A constant and mind-boggling problem that anyone involved in providing foreign aid faces is what is the best way to deliver it. The Peace Corps attempts to use a full-on community-based approach. This means that people in the community identify problems, think of possible solutions, and then fix their problems. This is all done with only the assistance of the volunteer living in the community. The volunteer is there only as a partner and supporter to whatever the community members think is best. This is why we Peace Corp volunteers live in tiny villages with no electricity and running water; why we learn and speak the local language; and why we commit to living in one place for two years. All of these things help us to integrate fully in the community and gain the trust of community members, making a “partnership” more successful. This kind of community-based aid is something we learned about briefly in my bioethics courses. It seemed to be the general consensus and the conclusions of research that this kind of approach is best because it is so sustainable. With this kind of aid, community members feel empowered and want to continue the work in their community because the project is really their own. I do still agree with these conclusions but working in Africa for a year has made it clear just how difficult true community-based aid is. I remember in class we compared community-based aid and other kinds of aid. We concluded that community-based aid is far more sustainable but takes much longer and takes a lot more work. I can fully attest to this statement now. Truly sustainable aid is slow. Especially when you are working a culture that likes to takes its time anyways. It’s worth it; I know this. But in practice it is very hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have also learned that some things do not require such an intense community-based approach. Education, for example, is sustainable in and of itself. When we plan and hold boys and girls educational conferences there is a lot of community involvement. The teachers and speakers are all local and amazing at their jobs. The venue owners, cooks, and cleaning staff are helpful and supportive. But it is really the volunteers who have created the idea of these conferences. The volunteers arrange travel, food, accommodations, lessons, and money. The volunteers really start these projects with a big push and then the local teachers and community members take over. This initial push is not the ideal community-based model. But these conferences are some of the best things we do. They inspire local teachers to educate and help their students in a way that encourages them and gives them a future. And a large group of students learns to be confident, to be healthy, and to be peer-educators. The education started by volunteers on these short weekends spreads. This makes it sustainable.
That was a lot of information but what I really want to say is this: Community-based foreign aid works. It is sustainable and ethical and worth the work. However, it is slow and extremely challenging. It is also not always needed as intensely as diehard community-based supporters would like you to think. This is something that is important for foreign aid workers to know and remember.
I have mostly been involved in HIV/AIDS education and not in treatment or clinical trials. I see this as an advantage because education, especially of young students is really the way to make an impact on the HIV/AIDS problem. In bioethical analysis of HIV/AIDS education, we debate what kind of education should be given. Should it be abstinence-only, condom education, or a combination? Most aid organizations now believe in a combination approach; ABC education (Abstinence, Being Faithful, and Condoms). This is used by most organizations because research shows that it works. End of story, right? Wrong. Being raised catholic automatically makes me nervous at the idea of discussing condom use and education. This has been ingrained in me. If you follow and believe in all of the tenants of the Catholic faith opposition makes sense. The problem is, the majority of people I work with here are not Catholic or do not follow all of these tenants. And I don’t think it is right to force these beliefs on people. Of course, condoms alone are not the answer. I truly believe this. But leaving the possibility of condoms out, especially when used in a loving and committed relationship, even in a marriage, by people who are not Catholic and do not understand or need to understand the ethics of the Catholic Church is not right.
Another things to remember in the context of HIV/AIDS education: sex is viewed differently here in Africa. It is difficult to explain or even grasp what this “view” actually is, but I can say that the view is predominantly male influenced. Until women receive the right to make their own decisions about sex and to influence the cultural norms on sex, it’s very difficult to even have this discussion.
3. Girls Empowerment
If you have read my previous posts you know what I have learned about this topic. Girls are oppressed in very obvious and very subtle ways all over the world. Stopping this is the answer to so many third world problems. If you do just a little reading, or experience just a little work in empowering young girls, this becomes so obvious. In our bioethics curriculum, we did discuss the gender issue at times. However, this was often done in the context of the first world situations. I do remember discussing female genital mutilation (FGM). I remember generally being against the practice, but also having a discussion about whether it was right to judge other people’s cultural practices in this way (a good discussion, I know). But, after living in Africa I am completely against FGM and I do not feel like I am judging cultures. I do not oppose this practice because I feel that my culture is superior; I oppose it because I fully support women’s rights in every part of the world. I feel like if we fight for women’s rights in Africa and “win”, this practice will quickly and rightfully disappear.
I also strongly believe that more of these third world gender equality issues should become a part of the mainstream bioethics discussion.
4. The importance of an expanded worldview
Above I said that bioethics has taught me the importance of looking at problems from every and any perspective you can. It is easier to do this if you have actually experienced the world and the lives of the people whose eyes you are looking through. Expanding your worldview makes you infinitely more aware and it makes you a better problem solver. It, therefore, makes you a much better bioethicist.
03 8 / 2013
"If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world."
01 4 / 2013
"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."
01 4 / 2013
So, this will be my last post on the topic of women’s empowerment and I’d like to talk about where the men in our lives fit into all of this. I don’t want to be one of those feminists who scares men away or has the reputation of being a man-hater because it’s not smart and it’s not productive. I want to not only educate my girls but the boys as well. Although it is common to hear us girls say we don’t need men, it’s not true and it shouldn’t be true. We don’t need men who are abusive; we don’t need men who are chauvinistic; and we don’t need men who are unsupportive and nonchalant when it comes to these issues. What we do need are men who are supportive; men who realize the massive problems that exist in this field and want to help.
In order to get these kinds of men, our boys need to be educated. As a volunteer, we do boy’s empowerment conference as well as girl’s empowerment. One major topic at these events is gender issues and gender equality. You’d be surprised the kind of misconceptions that exist here; things that the boys don’t think twice about because of the way they were raised and the society they grew up in. For example, if I tell a man here that I don’t think I ever want to get married (which is not necessarily true- I just try to get creative in responding to marriage proposals), they think I am joking. They find the idea of an unmarried woman absolutely ridiculous. But, by simply sharing a new thought or starting a discussion, boys can begin to think in a different way and, best case scenario, this way of thinking will spread. Worst case, we have a few more boys that are educated in a way that is useful to this cause.
In most struggles for equality throughout history, help from the “other side” has been essential and, well, inspiring. I love hearing stories and seeing pictures of white people fighting for equality during the Civil Rights movement. I always wonder whether I would have been brave enough to do that. Just like then, we now need brave men to stand up and fight against the injustices that plague women across the globe. I think that when it comes to doing this, men can be harsh towards one another. Being a “feminist” man is seen as being wimpy and unmanly. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and this view needs to change. Real men are courageous enough to stand up to injustice and real men are brave enough to be humble.
11 3 / 2013
So one of the topics covered in Half the Sky and mentioned throughout the book is forced prostitution and trafficking of women and girls. I have to admit, this is a topic I have avoided reading about in the past because, beside genocide, I think it is the most horrifying thing going on in our world today. Girls who are often too young to fathom, in astoundingly high numbers are being bought and sold like animals. They are used and abused with a kind of cruelty that makes me want to cry (and I did cry when I was reading about it). One thing that really stuck out to me when I was reading about this problem was the debate over how to begin to solve it. There is one group of people who believe that making prostitution legal, while monitoring it and controlling it through strict laws is the best solution. They use the example of prohibition as part of their argument. While another group believes that making prostitution illegal and destroying it completely is the best solution. I whole-heartily agree with the second group. If we want women to be liberated they need to be empowered. By letting prostitution remain legal we are doing the opposite of empowering. If girls and women live a place where this is tolerated they grow up learning that it is ok for women to be objectified and used; and the men and boys in their lives learn the same thing. I understand why some may argue for legalizing and controlling prostitution. It is probably a faster and simpler solution for a problem that is completely out of hand; a problem that we need to fix NOW, as women and girls and hurting NOW. But a large part of fixing a problem like this is all about starting a movement. Giving women the courage and confidence to stand up, say what they believe, and then do something about it. Keeping prostitution legal will only discourage and silence these voices.