By Gina Romero
In my most recent entry, I began to tell the story of the dialogue between civil society actors who have similar agendas, but require coordination in order to be more efficient in their collective action. In this entry, I continue with a specific case: multicultural dialogues and dialogues between different population groups.
America (for me, there is only one America and it is not the USA), or the Abya Yala as the indigenous people call it, has an immense and profound diversity of peoples and nations. We have more than 500 indigenous groups, and countless Afro-descendant communities – groups that in most of the continent are relegated from development and access to power. This disempowerment is evident not only in electoral politics and business development and public diplomacy, but also in civil society. America is an unequal and particularly hostile territory for ethnic groups, which suffer all kinds of stigmatisation, racism and exclusion.
Although the agendas of the indigenous and Afro groups are similar, because they are based on historical debts that the nation states have with them, the cooperation between ethnic groups on the continent has been very weak for many years, and the few leaders of ethnic groups that were able to participate in global or hemispheric gatherings dedicated to political advocacy had little impact.
Recognising this reality, in the last decade groups of constructive dialogue between Afros and/or indigenous people have emerged, which have led to incredible results in the diplomacy arena: for example, in 2015 the United Nations declared an International Decade for People of African Descent, to promote awareness and specific actions to improve living conditions and the dignity of people of African descent.
In the case of the Indigenous nationalities, I have taken part in building a hemispheric coalition called Coordinación Indígena de Abya Yala that is coordinating actions around citizen diplomacy with the participation of representatives of more than ten indigenous nations on the continent. They have not only created a platform of participation and representation in the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter American Human Rights System (IACHR) and the global human rights system, but have also been able to lead the only Summit of Indigenous Women leadership. Each year, this Summit gathers more than 500 indigenous women and men around the collective development of analysis and actions to push reforms that help them to lead more dignified lives on their own terms.
Fostering dialogues between non-Afro and non-indigenous actors (from civil society, governments and other sectors) and Afro and indigenous leaders requires an understanding of cultural differences that is based on different views of development, leadership, politics and many other aspects.
For example, it is important to learn about the huge differences between non-indigenous and indigenous feminism. Here, the intercultural dialogue offers a window of opportunity for reflection and learning: while most of the non-indigenous feminists do not want to include men or persons who identify as men in their activities (even male journalist and photographers are rejected in some feminist demonstration actions), most indigenous feminists understand that there is a complementarity in human nature, which is why political action needs to include both sexes, and that men are critical for the improvement of their political abilities as they need to pass on to women the knowledge they had acquired in the international arena where they have more experience.
On the other hand, when an indigenous or Afro group talks about global issues, they always include the ancestral perspective, the relation to mother earth (pacha mama) and the quality of life (“buen vivir” and “vivir sabroso”), which is a whole philosophy that most of non-indigenous, non-Afro individuals do not understand easily. The intercultural dialogue helps to close the gap between these different approaches.
I also have been involved in promoting actions for inclusion and respect of LGBTIQ leaders. As part of the inclusion activities that the organisation I lead, Redlad, carries out in the Inter-American System, we helped more than a decade ago to open the path for diverse social actors to participate in the OAS (we were not the only ones, but I can only tell our own story). Opening space for indigenous and Afro participation was not difficult, but allowing the participation of, for example, trans women (transgender, transsexual and/or transvestite), was quite a challenge. And our struggle started within our own organisation.
We have several transgender people (men and women) among members of our organisation and its governing bodies. As a conscious and intentional exercise of inclusion, we have ensured that we have at least one trans person in most of our meetings and project activities. At first, it was evident that they generated some suspicion and even rejection by some of our own members. However, in the process of integrating these colleagues, progress was made in many informal dialogue exercises in which people managed to connect through personal life stories, to overcome the natural (human) fear generated by difference, to embrace such difference as part of life itself.
The dialogues that we were able to carry out within Redlad allowed the people involved to change their perception, to understand sexual diversity in depth, and has allowed us as an organisation to ensure that our practice is consistent with our discourse (democratic values, inclusion, dignity). Here are a couple of testimonies that, at least in part, shed light on the results (external and personal) of dialogues that promote inclusion.
There are more stories here to tell, but I want to close this post by mentioning that the political and methodological approach that allows an organisation such as mine to create truly inclusive processes is intersectionality: the recognition that our societies are hierarchical and unequal, and this shapes the way in which certain individuals and groups interact with other groups and with institutions and power actors, and also determines their real scope to lead dignified lives. Dialogue is vital for recognising the differences between different groups, and for creating platforms to uphold rights, an improved distribution of power and better options for millions of people around the world.
About Gina Romero
Gina is the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for democracy and part of the founding groups regarding different civil society organisations of every level (Ocasa (Colombia), Redlad (Americas), the World Youth Movement for Democracy, the Global Youth network for Democracy (global)). She has therefore much experience and knwo-how in topics such as public diplomacy, integrity and networking and many more.
Gina Romero is a social activist, social entrepreneur and expert in civic education, youth empowerment, integrity and anticorruption as well as democracy strengthening.
She has wide experience in public diplomacy, networking, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of social projects for development. She is an international consultant on anticorruption and youth issues and is currently the Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy.
Gina is a professional in the field of government and international relations, and has a Master in the Analysis of Political, Economic and International Contemporary Problems from the Universidad Externado de Colombia, among other courses and degrees.
Gina has received recognition on several occasions for her work in Latin America and the Caribbean: Global Changemaker (2011), Drapers Hill Fellow (Stanford, 2012) and Historical and Accountability Fellow (Columbia, 2017).
She has been part of the founding groups of different civil society organisations at national, regional and global level such as Ocasa (Colombia), Redlad (Americas), the World Youth Movement for Democracy and the Global Youth network for Democracy (global).