If you’re reading this, you’ve also probably read some sort of news about what’s going on in the world. You’ve probably engaged in politics or a political issue in the last few days. It’s hard to avoid, these days, and it’s important to stay informed.
But if you haven’t engaged with politics, I don’t blame you.
A huge part of international development is knowing what’s going on in the world, because this field specifically is about recognizing gaps and breaks in systems and figuring out how to address them in a manner that does the least harm. I knew this going into university, and I have always done my best to stay up-to-date with current events. I try, and I fail. Because staying informed is hard. It’s exhausting. The news is almost always bad. The whole world is hurting, and it’s easy to look at the huge problems we face as a global community and feel so very small and useless. I get overwhelmed by all of this, and have now gone about a week without checking my news apps or following the links my friends share on Facebook or tweet. I need a break, for a minute.
Taking breaks from the news, though, is an enormous privilege.
I can afford to not read about 45 or the impact of his executive orders because I’m not part of the demographic he’s targeting. I can sit back and close my eyes for a second when he bans immigration and refugees, because my family were the “right kind” of immigrants, because I live in Canada, because the threats to my safety and security are not as immediate as they are for other people. Knowing what’s going on is important, but for me, it’s not life-or-death. And that thought makes me sick to my stomach.
I had the privilege to attend the Canadian High Commission’s Regional Young Women Leaders Dialogue this week. I sat in a room with dozens of women my age, from all over South Asia, and we talked women’s participation in politics, inclusion, barriers, and, most importantly to me, privilege.
As a part of her workshop, Bing Arguelles from Equitas International led us in a privilege exercise, in which volunteers received a short one-sentence bio of a character. We all stood in a line, and took steps forward as Bing read statements that applied to our characters. My character was a young, single mother, earning minimum wage. By the end of the exercise, I had taken only two steps forward, because I didn’t feel that statements like “you have never been judged for the way you live your life” and “you can study whatever and wherever you want” applied to me. Other characters had stepped forward in agreement to every statement; one girl, not at all.
I have done this exercise before, applying the statements to my own life rather than a made-up character, and I knew how powerful it could be. But, more than the visual representation of privilege, I was struck by the conversation it opened. My counterparts shared their histories, their vulnerability. I learned their motivations and fears and that these women don’t have the privilege of closing their eyes to what’s going on because what’s going on is impacting every facet of their life.
It was an honour attending #FemParl, meeting people my age, engaged and active in their communities. I knew the challenges facing women all over the world, I’ve lived them. The issues we talked about were not surprising to me. What surprised me was how complacent I’ve let myself get. How easy it is to keep my blinders up and not pay attention to 45 or terrorist activity worldwide or environmental issues. The women I met at FemParl had so much energy, and I left the day feeling like I want to do more, to be more. To take fewer breaks and take more action.
When too many people took breaks from the news, a fascist was elected president. When too many people rested in their privilege, borders were closed and refugees sent back into a conflict they never wanted to be involved in. When too many people close their eyes, people die.
I’m really, really tired of reading the news. I hate seeing what’s wrong, because I hate knowing that I can’t fix it. The challenges right now are really big, not only for women but for People of Colour, for the LGBTQIA community, for immigrants, for Muslims, for the disabled. One of the ways to overcome the barriers we face, discussed at FemParl, was to “start talking and never stop talking”. And just as I have the privilege to be able to ignore the news, I have the privilege of being in a position where I can be heard. And just like women before me and beside me, I’m not going to shut up. Because my silence is my complicity.