Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.
Assignment: You are a UN Humanitarian Aid worker who has recently been sent to Liberia to provide aid to women, men and children in surrounding IDP camps. Using the readings, notes from the guest lecture, and film, state what steps you think the UN must take to ensure the safety, health and well being of these communities. What information must be recorded and why? What services must be delivered, and how?
This week’s blog assignment ties into our most recent video assignment, in which we discussed the effects of war and conflict zones on women. I will approach this blog post the same way I approached the video assignment: through a transnational feminist lens.
Transnational feminism is, succinctly described by the blog Transnational Feminist, a “commitment to practice which recognizes differences and borders while building solidarity and transcending those borders.” It rejects the idea that there is an international sisterhood between all women, in which there is some sort of commonly shared womanly experience. Closely tied to postcolonial theory, it recognizes various historical, cultural, political, social, and economic contexts in which women live, and the intersections they share. The most important part in best understanding the unique experiences of women worldwide is listening; that is, letting women tell their own personal stories. If knowledge is power, true power is knowledge production – and the threat to empowerment lies in the single story.
So the first step the UN should take when attempting to aid the Liberian population – or any population, for that matter – is to acknowledge its status as an outsider organization, and to recognize the value of the experience of the people. It is only after listening to what the people have endured, experienced, and now really need and want that any positive change can be enacted. For Liberia specifically, it is listening to the young men and boys who were forced to fight and take part in violence; it is hearing the stories of the inhabitants of the many internally displaced person (IDP) camps; it is understanding the trauma, both physical and emotional, of the victims of violence and sexual battery; it is, in essence, working as hard as you can to get the firsthand accounts of the Liberian people’s experience during the regime of Charles Taylor, the civil war, and the shift to the new government under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
After viewing the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell in class and listening to the stories of the women who prayed and protested for peace, it seems to me that one of the services that the Liberian people need are health services: general health to stop the spread of infectious disease, access to nutritious food and clean water, sexual health services, and mental health services and counseling. The state of the IDP camps as shown in the film were squalid at best, with a large amount of people occupying a very small, cramped space – which accelerates the spread of illness. Another improvement that could be made on the IDP camps could be evaluated through a gendered lens: should the men and women occupy different spaces? Do they want to have different spaces? What does their culture and religion dictate? It ties back again to listening to what the people want, and help them achieve it.