Note: Please have a look at the "Women's Rights, Gender Issues" and the "Evaluation, Monitoring, Learning" pages, which also contain posts pertaining to conflict.

This page still needs overhauling. Please bear with uneven formatting.

Effectiveness in art and in peace building

I have been meaning to jot down notes on this for months but things have been so busy...
Late last year the German Institute for Foreign Relations (known here as IfA) organised a day-long research dialogue with twelve women and men - half of them professionally involved in peace building, the other half in art. I had the privilege to participate as a representative of the peace building crowd. The idea, devised by researcher Vera Kahlenberg, was to explore together what "effectiveness" ("Wirksamkeit" in German) meant within our respective disciplines and practice.
Vera Kahlenberg divided us into "mixed" pairs, gave us a handful of broad questions and audio recorders, and sent us off, two by two, into quiet rooms with the assignment to dialogue for two hours. I was matched up with Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, an Argentinian-Armenian artist living in Berlin. I am at a loss trying to describe her rich and intricate work - take a look at her web site!
It was an extremely inspiring conversation. I realised that the way in which Silvina described her way of working was highly relevant to peace and development work. As Silvina sees it, the artist perceives herself and shares these self-perceptions with others, which generates new ideas among those who view or participate in her art work, as well as new questions for the artist.
Isn't that reminiscent of the "learning spirals", "feed-back loops" and "action research cycles" we use in development? But the thing that development workers often shy away from is critical questioning of their own self-perception and the motivations behind their actions. Development professionals are not "neutral", trivial machines whose only purpose it is to bring peace and welfare to "poor countries" according to a standardised path that would work in any context. We are human beings, carrying our own histories, our ties with many other people, and rich and sometimes contradictory aspirations with us, and we interact with other individuals, each of them unique and unpredictable! I believe that being aware of our own mental "baggage", and unpacking, re-sorting and enriching this baggage every now and then with other people's perceptions, makes us more effective in supporting others in their own development.
The other learning from this event has been about dialogue across disciplines. It has been extremely enriching and enjoyable to explain our conceptual worlds to each other and draw surprising comparisons. In a final plenary session, we reflected on discoveries made in these dialogues. Again, an inspiring, lively discussion that made participants eager to remain in contact, and to find new opportunities for stimulation from different disciplines.
Many thanks to the host institute, IfA, for making this happen! Vera Kahlenberg will generate a publication from this event.

(February 2011)

R2P and women in conflict

The feminist Gunda Werner Institut (Böll Foundation, Berlin) convened an experts' meeting on 27 May on the Right to Protect (R2P), a fairly new concept in international law, and its implications on women. The bottom line: R2P is innovative in that it places human rights above State sovereignty, traditionally held inviolable in international law. But this political concept does not come with new enforcement mechanisms: it is still the UN Security Council that determines whether a State has proven incapable of protecting its citizens' human rights, in which case R2P can justify military intervention. R2P is NOT an automatic license to invade; it is a looming threat or, phrased more positively, an invitation to governments to strengthen national mechanisms protecting human rights.
Women's rights have served as an excuse for military intervention, e.g. in Afghanistan. Have international invaders taken any targeted measures to enhance Afghan women's rights? The experts are sceptical. There is little evidence of international efforts to have women's voices heard - arguably, armies are not the place where you would expect that to happen (even though one participant in the meeting called for gender training for military personnel).
Recently, R2P has been invoked in connection with the Darfur conflict. Annette Weber, Horn of Africa specialist at SWP (German government think tank) points out that the nature of the conflict and the sheer size of the territory involved make military intervention an unlikely path to protecting civilians' lives. Meanwhile, classical diplomatic instruments have been underused.
(June 2009)

Mix & Match for Justice & Peace

Last week a workshop took place at Talitha Kumi school in Beit Jala near Jerusalem, bringing together people looking for new approaches to promote peace and justice in the region. Over five densely packed days, facilitators and mediators from three organisations presented their approaches: the ICATechnology of Participation, ARIA(creative conflict engagement) and IICP / Transcend (integrative conflict transformation). The aim is to create a fusion or toolbox that would combine the virtues of these different approaches. The final product would be shared with facilitators in Israel and the OPT who work on community and advocacy development. We had rich, insightful days. (Thanks to Barak Granot for his photographs!)
(March 2009)

Dealing with change

Development is about change. People in development agencies deal with change at many levels – including the personal one. Working in changing settings, meeting different people, eating different food, living far away from what we consider our homes require constant adjustment. This can be stimulating and enjoyable. It may also create tensions, which generate distress, conflicts... and ineffective work. Some humanitarian agencies offer optional counselling to staff in particularly difficult situations – but since it's not mandatory, people hesitate to ask for counselling or mediation.
Development is about people. Social workers in Germany, arguably development workers within their own country, benefit from regular, professionally facilitated team and group supervision. Supervision is used in counselling, psychotherapy (...) as well as many other professions engaged in working with people. It consists of the practitioner meeting regularly with another professional, not necessarily more senior, but normally with training in the skills of supervision, to discuss casework and other professional issues in a structured way. This is often known as clinical or counselling supervision or consultation. The purpose is to assist the practitioner to learn from his or her experience and progress in expertise, as well as to ensure good service to the client (wikipedia). I would be interested to find out if any international humanitarian or development agency has documented any experience with regular supervision – please post a comment (click on COMMENT under this text) if you know of any such examples!
(November 2008)

Land Matters

Today I had the privilege to attend the pre-premiere of Land Matters, a film by Thorsten Schütte on the complexities surrounding land reform in Namibia. The screening in Berlin was facilitated by IfA, the German Institute for International Relations, which, via its project ZIVIK, has funded activities using the film to promote mutual understanding and co-operation among people affected by the land reforms in Namibia. In the film, landowners of different backgrounds and - to a lesser extent - agricultural labourers explain what has driven them to take up farming and what their dreams, successes and concerns are. The film shows efforts undertaken by farmers' associations, run by people with European ancestry, to support new owners, who are predominantly black and inexperienced in commercial farming. It touches upon a range of issues - people's overwhelming desire to till their own land, racism, commercial farming vs. subsistence farming, economic justice, environmental protection - but in a beautifully subtle manner, which leaves it to the spectator to make up her own mind. I was particularly impressed by a scene in which landowners of different backgrounds discussed ways of coping with theft and poaching - it felt like a constitutional assembly: people putting their heads together to plan the rules and enforcement mechanisms that would shape their emerging community. Very moving.
(November 2008)

Dynamics of class and caste polarisation - Radhika Desai

Radhika Desai teaches politics at the University of Victoria, BC, Canada. On 3 November she gave a lecture at Humboldt University, Berlin: "Caste, Class and Religious Community - understanding the dynamics of class and caste polarisation". This was the first lecture of the series "Insider and Outsider" organised by the Berliner Südostasienrunde, a group of academics (since 2007) working on South Asia, with the support of the Max Planck Institute which looks into the history of feelings (Geschichte der Gefühle). 
Desai's extremely rich lecture contested what she termed common misunderstandings about Indian politics, such as the perceived dichotomy between a "tolerant, old" hinduism and "fanatical, modern" hindutva nationalism, the presumed irrelevance of caste issues in politics and the idea that caste and class represent separate logics. She spoke of the subtle ways in which the concepts of "Indian" and "Hindu" get equated, leading to otheringof Muslims or, a recent example, Christians in Orissa, a graduation of acceptability for these "others" ("good muslim - bad muslim") and a reordering of hierarchy within "hinducity" (e.g. socialists and feminists are no good Hindus). It is orthopraxy, the practice of caste as a unifying pattern of socio-economic relations, that unites hinduism - not orthodoxy (there is no dogma, according to Desai).

I was particularly attracted by Desai's distinction between developmental,"Indian", nationalism and cultural, "Hindu", nationalism, the latter creating boundaries defining presumed "real" Indians. Also elegant: her reference to Pierre Bourdieu's La Distinction, which shows how the ruling classes create an idea of what it is to be good - things that come easily to privileged people, such as the capacity to distinguish different schools of painting or to appreciate certain types of expensive food. This mechanism is alive and well in Europe, too. In India, makes it possible to shroud the power of class andcaste in a softening mist of education and refinement. Or, as Desai puts it, of course upper caste people have no problems with lower castes, it's because they never meet any of there representatives. "Or if they do, then the introduction goes - oh meet the brave untouchable leader, the amazing untouchable poet...".
(November 2008)

Sinani - Conflict Transformation and Development in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Sinani is a partner organisation of WFD's, a German NGO working in conflict-affected contexts. On 30 October, WFD hosted a workshop in Berlin with Berenice Meintjes, a psychologist with Sinani, who presented Sinani's "KwaZulu-Natal Programme for Survivors of Violence". The organisation has a rich website showing how Sinani combines conflict transformation, development and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment - find it among my links below.

There was one thing I found particularly striking in Berenice's presentation . She stressed that Sinani did not pre-select the communities to work in. As described by Berenice, Sinani enters a given community upon the community's request only, and without any plan: it is up to the local interlocutors to voice their interests. For example, in one place Sinani was requested to assist with the production of a music CD - they did, but via a process of clarification and negotiation to be sure the CD production would be a uniting element rather than a divisive one.
I'd wish international development NGOs could be as clear and open-minded in their work as Sinani seems to be! In many places, I have seen a routine which could be summarised as
  1. People at headquarters decide which countries to work in.
  2. People at headquarters and/ or in field offices decide what the strategic priorities for a given country are...
  3. ...then, they find local organisations to work with or/ and hire local staff to implement more or less pre-determined projects.
  4. The international NGO (INGO) hosts meetings at various levels. People are encouraged to participate - but more often than not, they are not given sufficiently clear information to fully understand the basic choices that have been made by the international NGO and are in no position to fundamentally challenge these choices, anyway.
  5. During project implementation, the focus tends to be on making sure things happen as planned (and getting the right kind of documentation for "back donors".
At first sight, this may look like the most efficient way to get things done in the sense of producing certain pre-determined outputs. But each of these five steps, especially when taken in an unthinking manner, may take those involved closer to disempowerment - and that is valid for both sides ("North" and "South") to the development game.
Should the focus of development intervention be "to get things done", or should it be to grow and unfold local talent, local capacities, local solutions?
If we are into development, then we must accept that we do not know today what we will know tomorrow. This does not mean that we have no rules - we need to formulate and abide by clear, basic standards known to everyone involved, e.g. to treat every person in a project as an end, not as a means of development, to "do no harm", to respect human rights as defined by international law. Within the basic rules we set to our interventions, we need to create a maximum of openness for "indigenous" initiative, enabling people to drive their own development processes. And we need to remain open to criticism, challenges and learning - if we don't keep developing ourselves, we're poorly placed to support others in their development.
(November 2008)

The Roots of Violence

Renowned German psychologist Alice Miller has published an excellent short article on her tri-lingual site

Here it is.

The misled brain and the banned emotions

The Facts:
1. The development of the human brain is use-dependent. The brain develops its structure in the first four years of life, depending on the experiences the environment offers the child. The brain of a child who has mostly loving experiences will develop differently from the brain of a child who has been treated cruelly.
2. Almost all children on our planet are beaten in the first years of their lives. They learn from the start violence, and this lesson is wired into their developing brains. No child is ever born violent. Violence is NOT genetic, it exists because beaten children use, in their adult lives, the lesson that their brains have learned.
3. As beaten children are not allowed to defend themselves, they must suppress their anger and rage against their parents who have humiliated them, killed their inborn empathy, and insulted their dignity. They will take out this rage later, as adults, on scapegoats, mostly on their own children. Deprived of empathy, some of them will direct their anger against themselves (in eating disorders, drug addiction, depression etc.), or against other adults (in wars, terrorism, delinquency etc.)
Questions and Answers:
Q: Parents beat their children without a second thought, to make them obedient. Nobody, except a very small minority, protests against this dangerous habit. Why is the logical sequence (from being a misled victim to becoming a misleading perpetrator) totally ignored world-wide? Why have even the Popes, responsible for the moral behaviour of many millions of believers, until now never informed them that beating children is a crime?
A: Because almost ALL of us were beaten, and we had to learn very early that these cruel acts were normal, harmless, and even good for us. Nobody ever told us that they were crimes against humanity. The wrong, immoral, and absurd lesson was wired into our developing brains, and this explains the emotional blindness governing our world.
Q: Can we free ourselves from the emotional blindness we developed in childhood?
A: We can - at least to some degree - liberate ourselves from this blindness by daring to feel our repressed emotions, including our fear and forbidden rage against our parents who had often scared us to death for periods of many years, which should have been the most beautiful years of our lives. We can't retrieve those years. But thanks to facing our truth we can transform ourselves from the children who still live in us full of fear and denial into responsible, well informed adults who regained their empathy, so early stolen from them. By becoming feeling persons we can no longer deny that beating children is a criminal act that should be forbidden on the whole planet.
Caring for the emotional needs of our children means more than giving them a happy childhood. It means to enable the brains of the future adults to function in a healthy, rational way, free from perversion and madness. Being forced to learn in childhood that hitting children is a blessing for them is a most absurd, confusing lesson, one with the most dangerous consequences: This lesson as such, together with being cut off from the true emotions, creates the roots of violence.
© 2008 Alice Miller

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