“Is the woman in the headscarf part of my community? Is the black man a part of my community? We need to ask hard questions about ‘community.’”
These thought-provoking questions were posed at the NGO CSW session of March 14, 2016, “Women’s Leadership for Community-led Development.” Speakers came from such NGOs as The Hunger Project, The Hunger Project-India, the Alliance for Women’s Solutions, Women Thrive Worldwide, Global Strategy – Ford Foundation, and Save the Children International.
The concept of “community” was highlighted due to one speaker’s assertion that the term can easily be conceived of in such a way as to exclude and marginalize certain groups or individuals. An example she used was that of nations setting refugee quotas in recent times in relation to humanitarian crises in places like Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan. She took particular issue with the conception of “community” as tied to a particular place, especially in light of such crises. Governments of nation-states pick and choose who to accept, and how many to allow in, while millions of people are desperate to escape oppressive, life-threatening situations.
Including this and other reasons for relocation, the speaker talked of the global transformation that is seeing women, men, and children from all over the world moving both within and across national boundaries. What does “community” mean to them? What could it mean? What should it mean? She emphasized the common humanity of all.
Further, the speaker noted that even within specific locales, people’s sense of “community” often differs based on their social status and other factors. She said that a Dalit (“untouchable) woman has quite a different conception of who is part of her community as compared to an Indian of the upper caste. As well, many migrant laborers move from rural to urban regions, and back again, throughout their lifetimes. She called for more of an understanding of those in such in-between spaces.
“I’m sorry, but our problems are yours, and your problems are ours,” she said to thunderous applause from the audience.
The perspective of women on “community” tends to be more inclusive and participatory to all – indeed, more global. Women, having suffered their own exclusions in societies everywhere, are in a unique position to stand up for all others who face exclusion in our global world. And they want to hear others’ unique stories, needs, and desires, and then act based on an understanding of that. We are one people. All belong. All are loved.