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Video excerpt from SAL/UER workshop on racism at the Global Climate Action Summit

Draft Program on Climate Change, for your comments (updated March 5, 2019) (short version now available)

 

All Was Well: Beijing through Gabriella’s Eyes

COMBATING LANGUAGE OPPRESSION

Mary Susan Yankovich, No Limits delegate from Canada, and I committed to make things work well around languages within our No Limits Workshops. We wrote a note for all our Delegates about using language, especially for English and other dominant language speakers. Many members of the No Limits Delegation had a breakthrough in their thinking about non-English speakers. Our Delegates made the biggest effort I have ever seen around languages. Besides Mary Susan and me, eighteen people thought about language as their No Limits for Women job at the Conference. All took shifts to pay respectful listening attention to other No Limits Delegates to work through their feelings about language oppression. Thirty-four of us did translations at No Limits for Women workshops and support groups. We translated into French, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, American Sign Language, British Sign Language, German, Dutch, Kikuyu, Assyrian, Chinese, Hungarian, Romanian, Italian, and Swedish.

On average we were able to offer four languages other than English at each workshop. We tried to match the workshop issue with the provided translations. Because we posted the languages available one or two days in advance, people came because they knew they would be able to participate.

Most of us were not able to do a professional job, but our effort made it possible for many people to participate at the workshops who otherwise wouldn’t have. Because we needed everyone who could speak any level of any language, we didn’t have the luxury to agree to statements like, “Use me only if you don’t have a better one,” or “I think I’m not good enough.”

For many translators this was their first time to translate. As translators got beautiful appreciations from the people who depended on them, they got more relaxed and pleased with themselves. Workshop leaders did a good job supporting the translators—all tried hard to speak slowly, and many actually did, some for the first time. (However, at the meetings which were for our Delegation only, almost everybody sped up.) We took a big step at this Conference in the direction of being fair and relaxed in our communication.

BUILDING ALLIANCES BETWEEN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLD

It made sense to contact delegates from my part of the world, but it wasn’t easy to find them. Central/Eastern Europe was under-represented. Hungary, population ten million, had eighteen NGO representatives. At one of the two workshops (out of a total of 3400) on Hungary, I supported a speaker who was a key Roma leader. (“Roma” is the non-oppressive term for people usually called “gypsies.”) I spoke about the advantages of the type of society “before the changes” to balance the criticism expressed by other Hungarian women present.

At another workshop I made eye contact with a woman from Slovenia (former Yugoslavia). The speaker, from the US, was talking about the Bosnian war. She mixed truth and nonsense. X—, the woman from Slovenia, raised her hand and said she wanted to correct the presentation with first-hand information. She was not allowed to talk. She jumped up and ran out. People got confused. I said I would be back and ran after her. Catching her in the stairway, I put my arm around her. Recognizing me as someone from a neighboring country, she burst into tears and cried loudly for a good thirty minutes. It was enough to tell people watching that things were all right with her, that she just needed to cry. She told me afterwards that watching the news of the Bosnian war every night for more than three years had caused cancer of her eyes. Although she was not able to come back to the workshop, she did come to the workshop on the First and Second World that Susanne Langer and I did. I asked her to come to the front of the workshop to be listened to without judgment, criticism or the need to justify how she felt - while she sorted out her own thinking in the midst of such emotionally difficult circumstances. She said our workshop was the only place for her at the conference where people really respected her and what she had to say. Thanks to Charlotte Lowrey (Regional Reference Person for the Re-evaluation Counseling* Community in New Mexico), I am helping a Balkan Women’s Peace Parliament to happen. I suggested that X— be a delegate.

SUPPORTING WOMEN FROM "FUNDAMENTALIST" COUNTRIES

I knew there would be criticism of ideas and women from “fundamentalist” countries. One of my goals for the Conference was to be useful in these conflicts. I realized at the opening ceremony that nobody went to make friends with women in chador (scarves that cover the head), so I did. They were journalists from Iran. I kept the tone light and didn’t bring up “important” issues. I made clear that I was interested in getting to know them and wanted more contact during the Conference. I asked questions we could laugh about. One day these women asked me to an outdoor exhibition about Iran presented by women living outside Iran. I realized that this would be the time and place of heavy attacks. I was right. When we got there the immigrant women, joined by a big white, Western European and US crowd, started to yell. It was scary. I made myself busy looking at the pictures and tried to think. Because there was no communication between the two sides and the attacking was directed at people, not ideas, I decided to step in.

“This is not the way to talk to anybody,” I said. This was enough to make myself the target, and the white and immigrant group came on me full speed. Tons of anger and disappointment were expressed loudly with angry movements. Cameras were turned on. There was nothing I had to do—just stay there calm and smiling and sometimes say “no” in a calm, friendly way. After about ten minutes (it felt like ages) I managed to get the two groups of women to talk with each other about the exhibition, and some of them listened to each other for short periods of time. There was some communication—they agreed that some of the pictures could not have been taken in Iran. Then the slack was over. I was not able to do anything at that point, so when the ones in chador decided to leave, I went with them. It was hard because I was in more agreement with the immigrant women.

Two days later, I saw the man who had been one of the angriest persons in the “down with Iran” group. I went up to him (that surprised him) and asked what he thought about the conflict. He burst out in anger again, telling me that he had lived for decades under dictatorship in Brazil. He had no tolerance for oppression. I stayed calm, and he told more about his own and his people’s sufferings. After a while I managed to turn his attention to why the dictatorship finally failed in Brazil. He said, “People like my father stopped cooperating, stopped believing the lies, and there was some help from the outside.” It was easy for me then to say, “That’s what I’m working for by building these relationships with both sides and trying to make them talk to me and to one another.” It took another half an hour before he realized that he and I actually were saying the same thing.

Some days later, getting on a bus, I recognized a woman sitting alone and disconnected. I sat next to her, took her hand, and asked, “What happened?” This was enough for her to tell her life story. She was a top underground freedom fighter in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation and later civil war. She had negotiated with Ronald Reagan, the Pope, Margaret Thatcher, and Mitterand. Some of her colleagues were killed. She was in prison and tortured, but she continued. Since she left Afghanistan (she now lives in Scandinavia) she has worked to unite people living outside their “fundamentalist” countries to fight those oppressive regimes. “And today I succeeded,” she said. “We formed the organization and gave a big press conference. We have people from five countries.” She wanted to work with people/women still living in those countries! She cried for another half an hour before we got back to the hotel.

Gabriella Molnar
Budapest, Hungary


* Re-evaluation Counseling (also called Co-Counseling) is a process whereby people of all ages and backgrounds can learn how to exchange effective help with each other in order to free themselves from the effects of past distress experiences, including the effects of oppression.  No Limits for Women uses the tools of Re-evaluation Counseling to create a system of ongoing mutual support in which women can help free each other from the emotional harm done by sexism.  It also provides the opportunity to develop fresh and intelligent prospectives on the global and local issues involved in the elimination of sexism/male domination by women and male allies

For more information about Re-evaluation Counseling, see: <https://www.rc.org/page/about>

For more information about No Limits for Women see: <https://www.rc.org/publication/foundation/nolimitsmission


Last modified: 2015-01-22 17:48:56+00