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?