No One is Voiceless: Reflections on I-3
– Written by Zack Lee, Linking, Learning, and Communications Officer, Voice Philippines and Indonesia
Can you believe it? It’s already been a month since our first Inclusion Innovation Indaba! We’re still recovering from all the excitement and energy everyone brought to the event. If you missed it, photos are already on our facebook page. Videos are being edited and will be coming soon.
In the meantime, we received a wonderful surprise email from Elsie Masette, Meddy Lugasa, and Lee Mondry of Positive Vibes and QYUG. They are a Global Innovate and Learn grantee, representing the Strengthening the Capacity and Voice of LGBTI project in Uganda and Tanzania. They said:
“The Indaba provided us the space to really engage, deeply with a community of practise across the globe, and to think about things for which there are no easy answers or simple solutions. We’re grateful for this Indaba to have met colleagues who encounter similar challenges and questions and who so graciously shared of their experiences.”
They included the distillation of their discussions into several key reflections. With their permission, we are publishing below what they shared with other I3 participants. We hope these trigger new reflections in your own practice and remind us that we are part of a larger, collective community with similar challenges and questions.
Thank you Elsie, Meddy, and Lee.
- No one is voiceless. Everyone has something to say, something worthwhile, some truth of their own – from the power of their own experience – that has meaning and value.
- Marginalisation does not remove voice or extinguish it. Instead, it excludes people from spaces and opportunities where that voice can be recognised and expressed, and appreciated. Extreme marginalisation – resulting through persecution and violence or threats to safety – suppresses voice, but it does not remove it.
- We should always be questioning and cognisant of the challenge of advocacy and activism: expressing voice and visibility in a hostile, punitive environment. We need to consider how to work safely, more responsibly, more ethically, more sensitively with communities for whom visibility means vulnerability, and a compromised identity could mean all kinds of harm and loss. Whose interests are represented by policy engagement with legislators in urban settings and state capitals? Advocacy and lobby assume that people engage with their external environment to speak to power and call for change. But what if those very identities are criminalised? What if the external environment is hostile and unsafe? What if the very fabric of society is coded around acceptable norms, and conditioned to aggressively reject anything that deviates? Where does the push-factor come from towards advocacy of a particular kind by communities? And do those push factors reflect a particular paradigm from a particular social and cultural context? Are they always appropriate for the paradigms and contexts of – for instance, highly marginalised and vulnerable populations.
- In a human rights sector driven towards activism and advocacy, there are steps/stages before people in marginalised communities can speak truth to power. Before people can express voice to respond to their external environment, there is a process through which they must come to voice; to construct their own narrative to themselves about themselves within their internal environment. Coming to voice within is a prerequisite to expressing voice, and may include making choices for oneself to not engage that external environment.
- Several processes support these developmental stages in coming to voice:
- personalisation (looking in, looking back, looking out, looking forward);
- participation (opportunities for people to legitimately and authentically engage in processes and with material that is about them, that belongs to them, that affects them, and to speak to that material – interpret it, give it meaning);
- accompaniment (in suppressive environments especially, people sustain their will and energy and confidence for movement and response when they are consistently, intimately, appropriately companioned by supportive “others” who believe in and affirm their human capacity to make their own responses in their own time);
- facilitation (“enablement” as a defining practice to characterise “the work”, as opposed to “intervention”); stimulating and supporting human responsiveness, rather than providing solutions to deficiency.
6. If people are the subjects of their own response – with the energy and ability to choose a way of being in life and in the world, that is good for them at the time – and, if coming to voice within is a fundamental stage towards expressing voice without, these beliefs, values and principles have important implications for organisations that wish to support and programme with communities:
- to facilitate, protect, defend, promote spaces for authentic and legitimate participation by communities;
- to respect the capability, insight, intuition and sensitivity of local communities to say what things mean, and to make choices about direction; to lead;
- that respecting the leadership of communities does not mean organisations abdicate, or abandon communities. Accompaniment means participation – to learn, to appreciate, to acknowledge, to support – in the space where one does not lead;
- to support the inner work of personalisation within individuals and collectives where coming to voice is a healthy foundation for movement;
- to design programmes in a way that are sensitive and considered of the local realities of people and places, and to do so with communities so as not to presume or usurp local knowledge and expertise; or to implement activities that compromise the privacy, dignity or safety of people at the margins;
- to facilitate, rather than intervene.