Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Do We Have a Global Responsibility?

As a very passionate activist, I often find myself having conversations with people about why I feel the need to, say, help women in Africa who are subjected to FGM, when I live and work in America. It's not my problem, they usually say. Not my responsibility. Can't I at least stick to my own country? We've got a war going on, the economy to worry about, all sorts of problems. Don't I have better things to worry about?

People insist that I should mind my own business and keep to myself.

I just can't do that. Here's why...

For starters, the world is not as disconnected as we'd like to think. A recent study suggests that the six degrees of separation theory was pretty dead on (it's also been studied in mathematical theory, but I don't have a link for that). But even more than that, for all of our differences, people around the world are just like us. They have families to love, jobs to keep, and rights being violated. If I can help them just the teeny, tiniest bit by taking action and urging others to take action too, why the hell shouldn't I?!

Also, helping with one cause doesn't stop me from helping with another. I can write to authorities in Iran asking them to stop a woman from being executed by stoning AND write to congress about ending the war in Iraq. I can donate a suit that'll never fit me to a woman who really needs it AND cast a vote on Election Day.

There is of course the image of the big, bad, American feminists trying to tell Third World Women how to live their lives. I've given this a lot of consideration, and I just don't think it's as prevalent as people think it is. Women in other countries deserve to lead their lives with lives. I don't want to you to lose your culture, but I do want you to have access to birth control and safe abortions, stronger rape laws, the ability to leave your husband if he beats you, etc.

So, DO we have a global responsibility? Do we even have a local responsibility? I agree with JK Rowling on this one: we have imaginations so that we can use our cognitive ability to empathize with people all around the world in situations we will never face. I think our responsibility is to act on that empathy if we really feel it. So long as you are communicating with the people we want to help, rather than giving them the help we think they might want.

In the end, I think it is a personal choice. If you can barely make ends meet for yourself, I don't expect you to donate anything to someone living halfway around the world. And if you do have more than you need, but you don't want to for whatever reason, I won't make you. Just don't try to stop me from doing it, because I won't.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we have a global responsibility? Or should we clean up our own house before trying to bust into others?

5 comments:

Habladora said...

Great first post!

I'd have to say that you have the right attitude - we should help others where we can, but in ways that don't dictate to women what choices they should make or how to live their lives. Having said that, it is hard for those of us living in the west to know just what people far from us actually want or need. Any time we can provide opportunities, I believe we've done well. My own activities, however, have focused almost exclusively on local causes.

frau sally benz said...

Thanks Habladora!

daedalus2u said...

Another very useful viewpoint, though one not usually thought of in a feminist context is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

http://www.chinapage.com/sunzi-e.html

The connection I wanted to make to JKR is Sun Tzu’s observation that. “The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat”.

The “failure” that JKR experienced would not have been thought of as failure by many women in still less fortunate circumstances. It was only the presence of the rule of law, the ability to get out of a failed marriage, her excellent education, access to health care and food for herself and her child, and many other things that living in the UK provided that allowed JKR to turn her “failure” into ultimate success.

If she had to support herself and her child by picking through rags, by subsistence farming, by begging, by sex work, by any of the other jobs that millions of women are forced into to support themselves and their children, she would not have been able to turn that into success.

The only reason that she had those circumstances that allowed her to be successful was because people who didn’t need them caused them to happen.

It was living in the UK that put her beyond the possibility of defeat. It is the lack of the rule of law, lack of ability to leave an abusive marriage, lack of education, lack of access to health care, lack of access to employment that forces women to tolerate abusive relationships to “put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat”.

Yes we do have a global responsibility; a responsibility to all of our fellow human beings. Ignoring that responsibility is what causes evil to happen as in Edmund Burke’s statement “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”.

As a parent my core belief is that to allow your own child to grow up malnourished, uneducated, ignorant, bigoted, unable to think or feel compassion for others is to be defeated. I think that if JKR had allowed that to happen, I think she would think of herself as a failure, despite being the 12th richest woman in the UK.

frau sally benz said...

As a parent my core belief is that to allow your own child to grow up malnourished, uneducated, ignorant, bigoted, unable to think or feel compassion for others is to be defeated. I think that if JKR had allowed that to happen, I think she would think of herself as a failure, despite being the 12th richest woman in the UK.

Wow, very well-said. I would also agree that would have been failure indeed.

Renee said...

I could not agree more with this post. As human beings if we intent to validate our shared humanity it is important to challenge all instances of oppression. Borders are a social construct to divide us from one another and honoring that construct is nothing but an excuse for a failure to act.