|Poverty of the Heart|
|Speaking at the UN Ingrid Stellmacher explores 'poverty of the heart' and launches the Dignity Diaries, a campaign to explore what dignity and honour really means
When The price we pay for dignity & Honour is poverty of the heart
Ingrid Stellmacher speaking at the United Nations
The below includes extracts from her speech
Patriarchy breeds poverty. Excessive patriarchy breeds not only poverty, but polarisation of power, exclusion and discrimination. Contributing to levels of violence that become the norm. We see this happening all over the world and everyone in this room knows it. But poverty has many faces, many facets and there is one more aspect of poverty that I consider to be crucial to humanity that is not spoken about, that many in this room will not about. Poverty of the heart. And how it shapes the way we think and the way we see the world because if we live in a world without compassion, how will we know what it looks like? And what does being unable to recognise it do to us?
We are all familiar with economic poverty, when women are excluded from contributing fully to life; keeping their world small. Limiting not only potential prosperity for them and their children but ultimately men and boys of the family as well. Limiting the contribution of women, limits prosperity for families, communities, limits the economic growth of not only their own country, but ultimately effects other countries by way of the global economy. When women lose we all lose.
Everyone in this room knows patriarchy breeds poverty of choice. When women are excluded the right to determine who has power over their own body; their own minds never mind their own lives. When girls as young as eight years of-age, many already maimed by the pracice of FGM, are sold to pay off debts, with no choice over being married off to ancient men to have children with, when still only children themselves.
Everyone in this room, knows that patriarchy breeds poverty of education, access and opportunity including basic health education for their children. When babies and infants are dying of malnutrition in Afghanistan not just through lack of food, but through lack of the basic education allowed to young mothers on baseline nutrition and what babies need to be healthy. Not because that information isn't ‘out there’ but because women themselves are not allowed ‘out there’. Out of their homes to access education for themselves and their children, by their husbands, their brothers, their uncles, cousins, in the name of dignity and honour. Arriving at clinics sometimes so late in their child's illness that when they do get there babies are often too sick to save. Dying of starvation is tragedy enough, but dying of delibrately created ignorance and access to the right to health is a crime - because such deaths are avoidable.
And poverty of the heart - what is it? It's what happens to us inside our heads, when neural pathways in our brains, typically fired in the process of every day activies are fired in the process of repeated negative behaviour or activities instead. Like continual discrimination, continued exclusion or violence most frequently against women and girls. Repetative negative behaviour, repetative negative speech - or silence - a powerful weapon of exclusion; negative actions and thoughts, limit the range of those neural pathways. The terrain of that way of thinking and acting become ‘wired’ into our brains in profound ways that affect emotional capacity and brain development itself. What we believe is normal, framed as the values we hold, research shows, means that we see the world that way. Through the values we hold and that others control in society as a whole.
That lack of development to connections in areas of the brain, through destructive behaviour, limits the ability to exercise compassion, to recognise emotional responses in others, slows the ability to communicate effectively, emotionally, and the most basic requirement of all for humanity, limits the connections in areas of the brain that enables empathy. The way we treat one another, speak to one another, look at one another, or exclude one another, affects our mental and emotional development.
The playground phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me' is a lie. While words may not physically break your bones words can certainly wound and neuroscience shows they do hurt. The brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imaginary. Whether you are hurt physically or emotionally, your response to what people say or how they treat you fires the same synapses in your brain as if you had been hurt physically. That’s why we wince when we see someone run head on into a post and smack themselves in the face! We wince because we can empathise with them, because we can understand how being hurt feels and how we would feel if it happened to us. Because in some sense it has. Hurting others, even institutionalised, hurts us. The same areas of the brain are active in us, the viewer, as the person slamming into the post. The difference in what we feel is simply one of degree.
But what if you don’t know what compassion looks like because you rarely see it? What if you don’t know what empathy is because few people in your world ever show it - such feelings are simply denied? What if you think violence is normal because in your world it is? And what if you're stopped from coming into contact with others who do know it isn't?
Studies show that repeatedly using violent or destructive behaviour and negative language towards others arrests natural brain development, not only of the individuals being mistreated but the perpetrators themselves. It is a vicious cycle of destruction for everyone involved. Forever treating a single group or person badly literally leaves those neural pathways to possibilities and capabilities neglected in our brains and our emotions become the 'road less travelled in our heart.
Research also shows that different values activate different thought structures within the brain and even show that different areas in the visual cortex of the brain, the area which processes what we see, is activated in different ways according to different cultural values. Creating a fundamental difference in the way we see the world, act in it and act towards others.
The window into our worlds are indeed through our eyes - making sense of what it is left to what our brain sees. And if what we see is imposed on us through cultural norms of violence and inequality we literally become prisoners of that way of thinking, of that way of seeing and that way of being. Some call it dignity, some call it honour, some call it tradition. Others call it by another name - a crime.
This affect of long-term negative behaviour of course occurs not only when applied to how we treat women and girls of course - that's just the group we are focusing on mainly because the rate at which violence occurs is mainly with the group, women and girls over others, but applies to any marlinalised individual or group. And when that negative treatment is practiced by whole cultures and institutionalised in law and political then destructive learned behaviour becomes not only acceptable but the norm. It becomes acceptable to impoverish and penalise women and girls for being born the wrong sex.
I believe it is time for an open and honest conversation about what dignity and the lack of it does, and honour means. And what the feelings of shame and guilt really do to us. Which is why today, we are launching a global conversation to explore and redefine what dignity and honour really mean.
The good news is that 'arrested neural emotional development’ can be reversed. Your world can grow bigger and more beautiful. Unexplored emotional areas of our brain can be activated, due to pasticity and new pathways in the language of empathy and compassion forged. We can become whole again.
Surely it's time for a sensitive, insightful conversation about the impact of sacrificing women and girls on the altar of humanity in the name of dignity and honour. For men as well as women, boys as well as girls, because the question of dignity and honour crosses borders, ages, genders, issues and cultures, impacting us all.
I have been collecting conversations on this in a series of interviews which is now a programm called the Dignity Diaries. In one of these interviews that I'll show you today, Ziauddin Yousafzsi, the father of Malala Yousafzsi, the brave Pakistani schoolgirl short in the head by the Taleban for daring to go to school, Ziauddin, now UN Special Advisor for Global Education, vividly describes how 'he did not clip the wings of his daughter in the name of false dignity and false honour'. 'Freedom is her right' he says, underplaying his own bravery in ensuring it.
There is a moment in the interview when his voice drops and he quietly shares how 'he feels ashamed to be a man sometimes', when he thinks about how badly and unfairly men have treated women in his culture. It was a moment of humility, revealed with tenderness and honesty. When someone opens their heart you cannot fail to be touched by the pain and truth you find there. The vulnerability of that moment made me want to weep. He said explained 'Every daughter is like Malala in wanting an education'. While I am sure that desire maybe true, sadly every father is not like him.
Ziauddin's family is an extraordinarily strong family unit. Zauddin had to open his hear and learn new things in his life when he came to the UK and we should all keep our hearts and our minds open. He confessed that before he came to he had never prepared breakfast for his wife or family because it was not the way in his culture, not dignified behaviour for a man. This was women's work. Interesting how dignity was attributed to men rather than women. Sitting at the breakfast table in his house in Birmingham life is very different now, so is he and all his family. Life is richer when shared. Small things, small changes, small moments perhaps, but it is the small things that make a difference. What is life after all but a series of moments? It's what you do with them that counts. Ziauddin and his family have done a lot.
Entwined with dignity and honour are shame, guilt and humiliation, and from the Dignity Diaries, Andre Mostert from South Africa, talks movingly about ‘white guilt’ and how it affected him growing up under Apartheid. What touched me most is when he recalls the moment black South Africans finally got the vote and the lines of people waiting were so long, that he and his friend decided not to 'queue'.
"The world had moved on, but for us spoilt white boys, it was just voting right? So we go to a bar and watch it on TV. And I'll never forget, we were sitting there watching journalists talking to people standing in these lines for hours ,that went on forever, and this one journalist goes up to an old black woman waiting in line and says to her;
'How long have you been waiting in this queue?
'My whole life."
Everyone here today, in this Dag Auditorium, here at the UN, working for years to help others affected by the kinds of poverty I touch on, have been waiting in that queue their whole lives too. Waiting and working to get to the front. We all have. Everyone in this room is working to change what has always been just because of prejudice and precedent, to help make the world a better place. We are slowly moving forward and the good news is there are millions of people in our queue with more joining everyday. The front of the queue is getting closer simply through the sheer weight of numbers.
Changing hearts as well as minds has never been so important. It changes our actions and who we are. What will your legacy be?
Sign up to the campaign and let's talk about the elephant in the room, before the discussion about dignity becomes extinct too.
Interviews with Ziauddin Yosafzsi and Andre Mostert can be found by clicking on the link 'New Global Conversation' Dignity and Honour Campaign on our home page.
Ingrid Stellmacher, 11/03/2014
Nelson Mandela in his own words
Rather than write the about the loss of this very special man, I felt it better to leave you with his own words on how he led what was a very
Nelson Mandela's ability to use words to breathe life into his cause was one of his most powerful weapons in the struggle for black equality in South Africa.
Here is a selection of some of his most compelling quotes.
Conclusion of his three-hour defence speech at his 1964 trial for sabotage and treason:
"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.
"But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Letter from Robben Island, April 1971:
"There are times when my heart almost stops beating, slowed down by heavy loads of longing. I would love to bathe once more in the waters of Umbashe, as I did at the beginning of 1935."
On his time imprisoned on Robben Island (from Nelson Mandela's autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
He was 46 when he was sent to prison
"I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one's own mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything. Did I make the right decision, was my sacrifice worth it? In solitary, there is no distraction from these haunting questions.
"But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one's spirits strong even when one's body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty."
Message read by his daughter Zinzi to a rally in Soweto in 1985:
"In the name of the law, I found myself treated as a criminal... not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of my conscience. No-one in his right senses would choose such a life, but there comes a time when a man is denied the right to live a normal life, when he can only live the life of an outlaw because the government has so decreed to use the law.
"The question being asked up and down the country is this: Is it politically correct to continue preaching peace and non-violence when dealing with a government whose barbaric practices have brought so much suffering and misery to Africans? I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I, and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return."
Describing the day of his release from prison in 1990 (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"The cameras started clicking like a great herd of metallic beasts. I raised my right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy."
On fatherhood (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"Perhaps I was blinded to certain things because of the pain I felt for not being able to fulfil my role as husband to my wife and father to my children.
"It seems the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives... to be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a job I had far too little of."
On prison (The Long Walk to Freedom, 1994):
"A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness... The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity."
On reconciliation (on acceptance of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, shared with then President FW de Klerk):
"The value of our shared reward will and must be measured by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise...
"But there are still some within our country who wrongly believe they can make a contribution to the cause of justice and peace by clinging to the shibboleths [dogmas] that have been proved to spell nothing but disaster.
"It remains our hope that these, too, will be blessed with sufficient reason to realise that history will not be denied and that the new society cannot be created by reproducing the repugnant past, however refined or enticingly repackaged."
Presidential inauguration speech, 10 May 1994:
"We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall without any fear in their hearts, assured of the inalienable right to human dignity, a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."
"Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another... The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless Africa!"
Address to international Aids conference, Durban, July 2000:
"In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/Aids, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now, and right now.
"Let us not equivocate: A tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. Aids today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods, and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria. It is devastating families and communities; overwhelming and depleting health care services; and robbing schools of both students and teachers...
"Aids is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future... Something must be done as a matter of the greatest urgency."
Message to the Live 8 concert in Edinburgh, July 2005:
"Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times... So much of our common future will depend on the actions and plans of these leaders. They have a historical opportunity to open the door to hope and the possibility of a better future for all...
"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up."
A rare public rebuke for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, speaking at a dinner in London to mark his 90th birthday:
"We watch with sadness the continuing tragedy in Darfur. Nearer to home we have seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe."
At the opening of the 2010 World Cup:
"The people of Africa learnt the lessons of patience and endurance in their long struggle for freedom. May the rewards brought by the Fifa World Cup prove that the long wait for its arrival on African soil has been worth it. Ke nako [It is time]."
On his public image (from Mandela's second autobiography, Conversations With Myself, 2010):
"One issue that deeply worried me in prison was the false image I unwittingly projected to the outside world; of being regarded as a saint. I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying."
Peace and stability must be at the heart of the global development agenda
Every minute, someone dies from armed violence somewhere in the world (pdf)
, according to human rights groups and peace campaigners. Though the number of international conflicts has decreased in recent decades, achieving lasting global peace remains an elusive goal.
Next week, world leaders will gather at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss, among other topics, a new global development agenda. The body's eight millennium development goals, which include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, expire in 2015, giving UN member states the opportunity to shape the future of development. They also have the chance to position peace and stability at the centre of the debate.
In countries marred by conflict and disaster, development tends to focus on promoting economic growth and progress in specific social sectors such as health and education. Fundamental issues for lasting peace and stability – rule of law and justice, good governance, social cohesion, economic and environmental sustainability – are often left at the margins.
If we continue with the current model, the already costly global and local implications will increase. We are seeing increases in the recurrence, longevity and diffusion of conflict, the incidence and severity of disasters, degradation of the environment, depletion of natural resources, transnational crime, volatility in societies previously characterised as stable, financial crises and various forms of inequality. These trends are interconnected.
At the UN development programme (UNDP), where our mandate directs us to respond to crises and support long-term progress, it is our experience that sustainable development is tied to the advancement of lasting peace and stability.
To my surprise, I often hear arguments against including peace and stability in a new global development agenda. One of the most common of these arguments is that building long-term peace and stability is separate from the work of long-term human development. In fact, peace and stability do not fall outside of the boundaries of development. The two must go hand in hand.
Violence not only claims lives, but also unravels the very fabric of society, leaving schools and hospitals destroyed and a devastated population suffering the physical and psychological toll. If we look at the facts, nine out of ten countries with the lowest Human Development Index have experienced conflict within the past 20 years and about 40% of fragile and post conflict countries relapse within a decade
Investing in peace, stability and transparent and accountable governance is fundamental to long-term development and prosperity. In Ghana, once known for political instability, military coups and violence, nationally led efforts with international support to address inter-ethnic tensions and promote dialogue across all sectors of society has paid off.
Ghana boasts 25 years of stability, four peaceful elections and has achieved significantly larger and more rapid increases in its human development index (HDI) than predicted for countries at a similar level of HDI value in 1990.
Another argument I often hear is that mixing peace and security efforts with development work can compromise national sovereignty. The reality is that early action to address the root causes of crisis, such as social inequality or low access to justice and security, is key to preventing brewing tensions from escalating into full-blown conflict. Waiting for the security council to intervene under "exceptional circumstances" may prove too late for many thousands of people.
In today's world of social media and instant connectivity, ideas and even violence can spread like wildfire. One dramatic and tragic act of protest by a fruit seller in Tunisia ignited simmering tensions across borders in the region.
The uprisings that followed were a reflection of tensions and social and economic inequalities that had been beneath the surface for years. Had an alternative development pathway based on inclusive growth and the rule of law been followed, the outcome could have been different.
Some also argue that we cannot work effectively towards these goals because peace and stability cannot be measured. Though our experience with measuring progress against these outcomes is more limited than our experience with measuring progress towards socioeconomic outcomes, the fact that they are measurable is beyond dispute. A plethora of initiatives, tools and mechanisms exist for the purpose of identifying and measuring conflict- and violence-prevention outcomes, including within the UN organisations.
In Timor-Leste, for example, when returning refugees and internally displaced people destabilised the country's fragile peace between 2007-09, the UNDP and its partners trained community mediators to decrease tensions around land ownership and helped the government to establish a department for peace-building. Up to 13,000 families were able to return peacefully to their homes by 2010.
To evaluate these and other results, UNDP tracks success in terms of milestones a country achieves – from accepting the need for development and conflict prevention to including such prevention (pdf) within national policies.
While armed violence and conflict continue to take lives, destroy infrastructure and deplete employment opportunities, their most destructive force lies in derailing states and societies from their long-term development goals and prospects for a better future. During the forthcoming discussions surrounding the next global development framework to succeed the millennium development goals, world leaders must work together to include peace, good governance and stability at the centre of the debate.
In our right minds?
57th Commission on The Status of Women
'In our right minds', was the perfect title for a session at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Not because it’s the name of Dale Allen’s one woman show, the main speaker at our event, but because who in their right minds, of all the delegates, NGO’s and agencies attending one of the largest international forums in the world, could possibly think that we can actually ‘prevent’, never mind ‘eliminate, violence against women and girls in our lifetime? The title theme of this year’s 57th meeting of the Commission?
I had the privilege of being the opening speaker at the session, sponsored by Montage Initiative; a US based organisation working to create sustainable livelihoods for women in India. The participants purposefully reflected not only a range of expertise and experience but also the rarity of wisdom and youth as well as generation and gender; constituencies that must work together to help counter violence against women and girls.
The wisdom manifested itself in the form of 78 year-old veteran activist and scholar, Dr Mohini Giri, former daughter-in-law of President V Giri of India, and Head of India’s Guild for Service. Dr Giri, who saw first hand the affects of widowhood in India when her own father died, and who was later herself widowed, helped found the Guild in 1972 and works tirelessly to improve the lives of widows in her country. Numbering a staggering 42 million, many of them barely surviving and living on the streets, widows find themselves betrayed by a culture commonly lacking in compassion for its women, in a country beset by corruption that is flagrantly active at all levels of society and governance.
Dr Mohini Giri - Head of Guild for Service, India. Photo by 'ar'
Dr Giri’s tiny bespectacled frame belies her huge passion and commitment, undiminished with age, that bubbles just beneath the surface. Her opening words, that ‘patriarchy breeds poverty’, were received with nods of agreement from an equally distinguished audience and her sense of urgency for action only increased with the announcement that she had just delivered a declaration to the UN, requesting the rights of widows be formally recognised as a United Nations Mandate.
Violence against women and girls has for so long been firmly framed as a ‘woman’s issue’; a messy subject like menstruation; a taboo that no one wants to talk about, with some cultures in silent collusion more than others. But the thing about women’s issues is that they are for the most part, more about men than they are about women. Particularly in cultures where men have absolute power over women and corrupted that partnership absolutely in many cases, disastrously holding those cultures back socially, emotionally and economically. Even in the case of FGM, where it is mostly women themselves perpetrating and perpetuating the practice, it is with men in mind, marriage, and the need to be identifiable as a virgin, that young girls continue to be subjected to this ritual. Who will want them otherwise?
Which is why it was essential to have a male voice on our panel to provide that additional perspective to the discussion. That voice was the UN permanent representative to El Salvador, Ambassador Carlos Enrique Gonzales-Garcia, and this year’s Vice President of the Commission. For how can we talk seriously about ‘women’s issues’ without including men?
UN Per Carlos Garcia-Gonzales, El Savlador. Photo by 'ar'
The lack of men on other panels in some of the sessions I personally attended was disappointing. In an early one on eliminating violence, where increasing political accountability and addressing structural violence was high on the agenda, not a single man was on the panel comprising senior UN agency heads and government ministers from around the world. As heartening as it is to see women heading these organisations and holding ministerial posts, when the obvious absence of men on the panel was raised during question time by a young man working for the UN himself, the response from the chair was decidedly brief and vague, as if wrong-footed by a question that was totally unexpected.
Self deprecating and with equal amounts of humility and humour, Ambassador Garcia animatedly spoke about the need for accountability, calling for an end to impunity in cases of violence against women and the need to work together. Not just top down, through political policy, or bottom up through social movements but sideways as well. Integrating and collaborating with one another, with organisations dovetailing to create a whole approach to issues as never before. Not just soft power in action but the judicious use of smart power in pulling it all together.
Garcia is a huge advocate of El Salvador’s ‘City of Women’ Initiative - Cuidad Majure in Spanish, supported by the country’s first lady, Vanda Pignato, who is also the Secretary for Social Inclusion. It is more than the usual one-stop social shop for women providing refuge from violence, however. City of Women will provide childcare, police support, help and education on legal and civil rights, job training and a raft of other meaningful integrated services.
The plan is also to provide entrepreneurship opportunity as never before, creating confidence as well as competence. Crucial components for what could create a huge cultural shift regarding women if this initiative’s success equals its ambition. And with these centres set strategically around the country, connecting holistically with one another, not only will whole communities benefit from such collaboration, but the whole country as they form a new social, emotional and economic infrastructure driven by women. This is not just an initiative with guts but one with heart and a model to be applauded, adapted and adopted around the world.
And finally at the other end of the generation scale, the youth and enthusiasm on the panel came from the Co-Chair and founders of Montage Initiative’s Student Advisory Board, Klevisa Kovaci and Sharon Pedrosa. These young stars from Fairfield University are no longer leaders in the making for they have already demonstrated they are leaders and role models, working for the empowerment of young women not simply as a cause to champion but as a way to convert energy and ideas into action.
Klevisa Kovaci & Sharon Pedrosa, Chair & Co
Founders, Student Advisory Board, Montage Initiative. Photo by 'ar'
With polished professionalism Klevisa and Sharon spoke about creating a ripple affect of change through the board they had founded and model they created for youth empowerment. They outlined the need for other organisations to be more aware of how educational opportunities in Service Learning can reap real dividends for both parties if viewed as an investment and how they themselves had benefited from Montage’s student programme.
Given meaningful mentorship and responsibility, rather than filing and making tea, these young women had become not only mentors themselves to their peers but real decision makers in their own right. Along with several other Montage student colleagues, they had organised and co-ordinated most of the UN event themselves and even the camera crew filming the session were students from another university. Showing just what young men and women can do given the opportunity to collaborate and shine.
As Sharon put it, “Only a year ago we visited the UN during the Commission on the Status of Women for the first time with Montage and now look at us; we’re actually speaking here! And if we can do it, anyone can do it”.
Last in the line up came Dale Allen. Reading with authority as she stepped slowly through the room, her entry was theatrical. Wearing a full-length black cape she read from a large book, quote after quote, of different religious text from around the world that collectively demonised and denigrated women throughout history. The largely unsuspecting audience were spellbound by her delivery as much as stunned to hear women officially declared not only worthless but also evil across the continents, through the ages and in every holy book.
Dale Allen - Photo by 'ar'
Travelling quickly but seamlessly through time, Dale recounted how women of early cultures were honoured as goddesses, protectors and co-creators. How their fall from grace began slowly with the advent of the alphabet, writing and reading. The different way in which the brain needed to process this new form of information was also the beginning of its rewiring and the great switch over; like going from analogue to digital. From previously, image orientated right brain soft skills of creativity, empathy and intuition associated with feminine qualities, to left brain, hard analytical skills of logic, reasoning and linear thinking; traditionally attributed to male ways of seeing and being in the world.
Leonard Shlain, put forward the hypothesis of the alphabet as the ancient female nemesis, in his book the ‘Alphabet versus the Goddess’ published in 2004, in what he describes as the 'conflict of word over image'. As a consequence the written word became the God of all things; over symbols, sex and of course women. Dominating a world where feminine attributes had previously held the greater currency.
But technology and the keyboard is our saviour apparently and its widespread use in our offices, our homes and on the move, by both sexes, is activating left and right brain connectivity in a new simultaneous conversation as never before. Rewiring new areas of our brain and encouraging not only new pathways of connectivity but greater access to creativity and enabling men in particular, to see the world through new eyes. If the left brain/right brain theory holds validity then announcements from the scientific community last year that the human race had reached its evolutionary limit, as there is no space left inside our skulls for our brain to grow larger, then perhaps our brain rewiring itself is where the real action and evolution is; the sum being greater than its parts.
'The human race has reached its evolutionary limit'
The human race is now exposed to more information in a single day than our 15th century ancestors were exposed to in an entire year. But while the proliferation of ‘experts’ online makes more information available to the masses it does not necessarily make us wiser as a result. Information is simply knowledge. The wisdom lies in how you apply it. If Shlain’s theory is to be believed, not only is the use of our keyboards helping to balance out our brain but being bombarded by images through our TV’s, PC’s and hand held devices 24 hours a day maybe another contributing factor. Images being processed in the right, more ‘feminine’ part of our brain.
Dale ended her contribution with a heartfelt song about the long and lonely wait for the return of the soul; the archetype that is woman and the feminine, to an eruption of emotion and applause. Joanne Watkins, my close friend, colleague and CEO of Montage Initiative, had achieved what she set out to do; deliver a session on empowering women using different ways of engaging; through words, images and theatre and one that will be remembered for the unique why in which stories were told and issues were touched.
Memorable as it is however, in the time it has taken you to read this, somewhere in the world a woman has been raped, a child abused, and a life will have been broken forever. Against the backdrop of the cavernous collective wound of daily violence against women, that mankind continues to inflict on itself, what difference do all the statements, sharing and networking at a meeting of this magnitude make?
What can we take away from our own session and this year's Commission as a whole? What was clear, is that language and meaning is a key factor in both the sharing of best practice and its delivery. The shameful failure to agree acceptable conclusions at the end of last year's Commission was due to differences of language and terminology in the final draft document, which contained so many strike throughs and deletions it was rendered virtually incomprehensible. A repeat of a similar roadblock has thankfully been avoided this year.
'We want more mentors and less monsters'
Now more than ever we need smart, collaborative, strategic thinking and action if we are to succeed and making use of technology and big data in creative ways. Both as organisations, and in the use of our tools, approaches and resources from every possible avenue. Conventional and crazy; top down, bottom up and sideways. From left of field and right to the heart; from social media to individual effort leading to widespread co-operation at scale. Culture change comes through a number of different influences; including education, communication and imagination. Their effects converging in the mother of all tipping points when the 'hundredth monkey has joined the 99' and the timing is ripe for change. Most of all change comes when people have had enough. It is crucial for men to be involved in the culturally sensitive conversations needed at every level along with the concrete commitment at the top that is sadly lacking right now. We need more men to stand up and stand by us, as role models as well as change agents. We want more mentors and less monsters.
While introducing an additional perspective of difference between the sexes that could supposedly change mankind for the better if united, does pose an interesting hypothesis, the real meaning behind Dale's story is to help women understand and maybe even remember, that once upon a time it was different and that they must hold on to the hope that one day it will be again. This is what keeps us striving towards our common goals on the long road towards fighting violence against women and girls. We know that culture change is a long and complex process and that working together we can make a difference. The belief in that is part of why we have come. Not to just to share and learn together but to renew our hope together. For without that, our task surely feels insurmountable and we will have lost everything.
Poetically, hope comes in many forms. The ancient Greeks had a Goddess of Hope named Elpis, who alone stayed on earth to comfort mankind after all other spirits had fled. That the ancient Greeks made the quality of hope itself feminine is perhaps even more relevant in the present.
The Greeks had another Goddess named Nemesis. She is the Goddess of Retribution whose job it was to restore balance to the world. In order to do so, however, she had first to destroy it to pave the way for its rebirth. If we can't stop the worldwide epidemic of violence against women and girls soon, the perpetrators might beat Nemesis to it.
Elpis - Greek Goddess of Hope
Ingrid Stellmacher, 08/03/2013
Ingrid Stellmacher, 28/09/2012