Monday, November 17, 2008

a world of crazy contradictions

Today was one of those days when I felt particularly keenly aware of the full absurdity and painful contradictions of this world that we all inhabit, and as a result, more motivated to act. I was at a conference entitled Women, Peace and Conflict, an event “exploring how implementing United Nations Security Council Resoulution 1325 can address the impact of armed conflict on women and ensure that women are central to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building.” The conference was organized by the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence. I sat in the audience and listened to speakers such as Gisela de Carvalho, of Young Women Working Together in Timor Leste (East Timor as many people know it), and to Suraya Pakzad, of the Voice of Women Organisation, Afghanistan.

I listened to Suraya talk of the many legal instruments that had been signed and the international conventions ratified since the Taliban in Afghanistan, and how they were making no real difference on the ground. She showed pictures that have become too familiar - a woman kneeling in a stadium being shot in the head by a man; then a fully veiled woman in the street being beaten by men. Others less familiar - a woman wrapped in bandages following self-immolation from which she later died; a girl of about seven years old who had been raped; a woman who had lost parts of her foot, arm and hair due to violence. A later speaker spoke of a recent case of a 13 year old girl who had been raped and was then stoned to death for adultery.

Though I’d seen these kind of pictures and heard similar accounts before, for some reason as I looked at the all too common image of the kneeling woman with a man pointing a gun at her head, I was struck again with real force by how insane it seems that this coexists with the world I live in, where I can wear what I want, say what I want, see and be seen, act basically as I please without fear of reprisal, violence, or death. That ‘my’ world, which is separately only by geography and chance from the world in the photograph, can be so different, and exist simultaneously in human experience.

I just found it hard to hold in my head today the contradictions, that a world that had the technology, the projector and laptop on which those images were being shown, that had my phone, more powerful probably than a computer of 10 years ago, that could have Bebo and blogs and infra-red virtual keyboards projected onto tabletops, that could have a ‘hologram’ of a news presenter projected live into a studio covering the American election of its first black male president, that could fly me half way around the world in a few hours, that could put people on the moon and a spaceship on Mars, transplant hearts and faces, and even hold a conference with 200 participants in a nice hotel in Dublin with chairs, tables and bottles of clean water that have probably traveled hundreds of miles, that that world could also have women shot in the head for no reason by powerful men in front of crowds of thousands. This is not about Afghanistan, or those women or men particularly, or the specifics of any particular political or religious system, but about the much wider issues of colossal power differences, of poverty and hunger and ill-health and death, which exist in a world of plenty, at the same time as astonishing advances and capabilities, often in the same places in the world, often used by the same people.

It would seem almost laughable if it wasn’t so serious, that we even have to have this conversation or make these statements, that in this world which so obviously could be safe, secure, healthy and beneficial for everyone we have instead such gigantic and terrible violence and injustices. The contrast and the insanity of it seemed somehow particularly stark today, sitting in that hall, with all its trappings of normality, because safety, comfort, food, drink and rights of expression are normal, here, in this particular bit of this world.

The image which sparked this was just illustrative of the much worse things that people, and in the particular focus of the conference, women, experience every day, that are systemic and ubiquitous and by no means accidental. I do find it astonishing, and alienating every so often, that there is so little attention paid. That there can be so much coverage and money spent on a new film, or a football tournament, or a new laptop design, or a new car or a new phone, when thousands of people died today of preventable causes. And it is barely mentioned. Why is that not top of the news agenda all the time?

It is both astonishing that that is happening, and astonishing that at the same time in the norms of the geographic world I inhabit, it is possible and indeed normal not to be confronted with it every day, to be able to live, easily, as if it is not happening. This is not news, or a new observation – certainly it’s something that I’ve been conscious of at least since I was about 8 years old and could understand such things, as most people probably have similar realizations as part of the process of becoming conscious adults – it was simply that I was struck by it again today and it seems worth mentioning because it is so rarely mentioned.

I think this leads to a kind of insanity because so much effort is required to sustain the illusion, the separation of one type of life from another when they in fact co-exist, and because this world tells you that it is acceptable and indeed normal for large amounts of humanity to live this way when even a cursory examination tells you that it surely can’t be acceptable or at all normal. Thousands of people being killed unnecessarily every day, whether by violence, preventable disease or hunger, isn’t normal. The fact that disproportionate numbers of these people are women, affected because they are women, seems additionally crazy, that someone’s gender still has that kind of impact, here, on Earth, in 2008. That gender is still seen as some kind of reasonable ‘explanation’ for these painful realities, is also deeply abnormal.

Trying to believe that any of this is normal, or that it is somehow ‘not happening’ in the same world that is partially wealthy, secure, technologically advanced, et cetera, I think these kind of schisms are deeply unhealthy and probably damaging, to everyone. The schism between self and other, and the filtering mechanism that allows us to focus on some stimuli in an otherwise overwhelming existence, are essential parts of being a functioning human being and being an adult. But in the case of our currently deeply divided world, this ability (which often falters anyway in the face of the overwhelming evidence) to simply ignore the painful and horrifying realities of so much of what it is to be human in today’s world, makes it extremely difficult for anyone to be as fully human as possible, while of course this ability to maintain the illusory separation contributes enormously to the perpetuation of these problems.

Simply put, the world is massively divided, large numbers of people suffer and die for no good reason, we as collective humanity could easily stop this, but we do not. None of this gets much attention in the wealthiest and most powerful parts of the world which would seem well placed to change the situation. The starkness of the contradiction and the magnitude of the problem as well as its potentially simply solution can seem almost unbearable. So far, I’ve found that it is possible to live in this crazy world as a human being without going entirely mad by admitting the reality and acting, however minimally, to change it. If we bear it, if we don’t act, we must ask, are we even human?

2 Comments:

Blogger Snag Breac said...

hey tpw
you are a great writer
nice to hear your thoughts
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
c

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 at 22:24:00 GMT  
Blogger peacepyro said...

Powerful writing, it is so sad and brutally extreme, but we don't need to step so far outside of our own communities to realise that women suffer violence in their everyday lives. Granted, it is nothing like what the women of Afghanistan are suffering. The power balance is distorted, women have been bullied for too long. I heard a snippet on Kerry Radio, the other morning, a priest talking, he mentioned being a monk and in the monastery, a picture of a woman being held up, and describing women as dirty. This hatred is deeply ingrained in our pysche, i think :(

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 20:52:00 GMT  

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