Sunday, April 13, 2014

Something I Learned Volunteering for Sri Lanka Unites

By - Alina Berger,

In my experience as a volunteer from Germany, Sri Lanka Unites consists of an inspiring ideology, mixed with an ambitious team most of who are volunteers. Sri Lanka Unites conducts workshops, reconciliation centers, leadership conferences and also runs a project against women’s harassment.With these projects SLU tries to tackle issues of racism and hatred as well as harassment against women. At first glance the project for stopping harassment against women and a movement for peace and reconciliation seems to be different from one another, but let’s focus on the similarity of both.

The main topics of both the projects are differentiation and segmentation between human beings in our society, which are used to legitimize unequal living conditions, a different treatment and they also include assumptions about the behavior of a person. The distinctive features can be gender, “race”, ethnicity, religion, class, health, sexual orientation and many more.These differences are often associated with hierarchies among peopleand the feeling of being superior or inferior. Obviously they can lead to discrimination like racism and sexism relating to specific demographic groups.

Behind the implementation of equal opportunities and the fight against discrimination is the basic understanding of equality of every human being. So in the fist both articles of the universal declaration of human rights is written “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (Article 1)and furthermore “(…) without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (…)” (Article 2).

We are living in a diversified world where everybody is unique. But instead of living this way, we often think in categories, try to classify and evaluate humans to make life easier. But the axes of differentiation are not based on just one category; instead, everybody has a lot of categories incorporated and in fact it is more complex. It is not only ourselves defining our identity, but a huge amount are others who are judging us.These attributions are located in a powerful and hierarchical social context, which is meaningful and socializing. But it is important not to produce naturalizations of categories, because the categorizations are modifiable and they depend on history and culture.

But how is it possible to change stereotypical thinking? Regarding the aim of anti-discrimination, learning processes of individuals and in the society are necessary and they also find their expression in the behavior and actions. You have to accept and respect diversity in our whole society and also in every individual.You should not forget that nobody feels always superior. Sometimes you are in a less privileged position, so you should have empathy for others in such situations.People who take advantage of suppressing others often feel oppressed themselves and try to compensate it through suppressing actions.A constructive self esteem should be based on your talents, your personality and positive social actions, not on oppression.

It would be a paradox trying to solve the issue of hatred between different ethnicities through reconciliation and simultaneously to ignore the injustice and oppression women have to go through. The aim of reconciliation is not only to face ethnic problems, so harassment against women and many other issues are still included in this topic.To emphasize the point: How can someone say that the various ethnicities have to accept each other and should be treated equally, but women should not? Where should be the difference?
Just think about your feelings and thoughts during or after a situation you or somebody else experienced injustice, regardless of the reason. Think about the principles in life which are important to you and how you can follow them. The most important questions you should ask yourself in this context are:

•    What kind of a society do you want to live in?
•    What is your part in this system and what a person do you want to become through your actions?
•    Thus, how can you change the society into a better place through your personal actions?

And don´t forget: Even the longest journey begins with the first step.

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