My experience for the past four weeks during the US Department of State sponsored professional fellowship program as a gender advocate has made me learn that gender issues are the same around the world. The internship at Safe Passage, an organization in Northampton working towards preventing and responding to sexual and domestic violence, in particular has made me learn that men and women all over the world are still subjected to norms on masculinity and femininity that at times lead to violence and hinder their active participation in society.
Equality is a journey
Biases in cultures and norms on masculinities and femininity are experienced in all societies and gendered dynamics and issues of power and control are a global phenomenon. They are not only an African issue. I have been intrigued by the fact that despite the differences between northern Uganda and Massachusetts, and the fact that the US has not experienced war recently, both societies still face similar gender challenges. I have observed that equality is a journey that the world is still travelling, even if there has been a lot of progress, and that it is still very important for institutions to strategically plan to handle gendered dynamics that affect access to justice for vulnerable groups.
Dealing with trauma and conflict
Other than the subject of gender, I have also learnt that humans have basic, natural approaches to deal with trauma and conflict. These approaches are universal and cut across all societies. It is encouraging to learn that familiar approaches are being used in other societies across the globe to resolve conflict or support individuals and communities transitioning from a conflict related setting. Hearing from psychologists, professors and activists about storytelling, dialogues and the need for safety as methods used to support survivors deal with trauma has been encouraging. These are methods we have been using at the Justice and Reconciliation Project for years as tools for research and psychosocial support.
Local approaches to transitional justice
A visit to South Bronx in New York where I met individuals who used storytelling as a healing process for a community that had been experiencing gang related crime, domestic violence and teenage pregnancy was very enriching. I have gained confidence in the local approaches to transitional justice we use knowing that someone else around the world is doing the same. It is also interesting to learn that humans regardless of their race, color, religious beliefs and economics look out for similar approaches of healing and moving forward after conflict. This to me shows that we are all the same and more reason to work towards equity.