Rights for all, except…

Written by Kelsie De Haan, Political Intern, Opportunity International Australia

Language is one of the most powerful tools that we can employ. Words have the power to build people up or to tear them down. They can be liberating, oppressive or bring about much needed change. That is why the discourse surrounding refugees and asylum seekers here in Australia is such a powerful one. This conversation upholds systems which abuse human rights and oppresses a vulnerable group of people and it needs to be recognised as such.

“Illegal immigrants”, “queue jumpers”, “boat people” and “potential terrorists” are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe asylum seekers and refugees. These terms have become interchangeable without anyone stopping to think about what they actually mean. They are used to portray this group of people as an enemy, an inconvenience and a threat. They are loaded with negative connotations, which can be used to manipulate the Australian public to hold particular prejudices. If we think of asylum seekers and refugees as law-breakers it dehumanises them and can shut off any compassion we would otherwise feel. It also allows those in power to deny the responsibility they have to uphold the rights of those seeking asylum in Australia. Instead, asylum seekers and refugees are positioned as a threat to Australian sovereignty and framed as a political issue not a humanitarian one.

The most blatant lie we are fed is that seeking asylum is illegal – it isn’t. Rather it is a basic human right outlined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The international community has time after time condemned Australian asylum seeker policy, deeming it an abuse of this basic human right, specifically the practices of indefinite mandatory detention, children in detention and the separation of families in detention. In fact, in 2012 Australia was found guilty of 143 violations of international law regarding their treatment of refugees. Further, Australia’s current approach costs $400,000 per-refugee, per-year and costs for running the offshore detention program between 2013 and 2016 cost $9.6 billion. We spend horrendous amounts on an oppressive and unjust system that violates human rights rather than using these funds wisely to ensure the protection of this vulnerable group.

But, rather than empathising and caring for refugees and asylum seekers who have had to flee their homes, we call them illegal and imprison them indefinitely. We treat them as criminals rather than victims and instead of protecting them, we physically and mentally abuse them.

How did we let it come to this? We underestimated the power of words. Dehumanising and threatening language is used to place these people outside of our scope of justice.  Asylum seekers and refugees have been placed outside of our moral boundaries, meaning we have been influenced to believe that fairness and justice don’t apply to them. We have been taught not to care.

With over 22.5 million refugees in the world, fleeing from war, persecution and violence, we need to expand our scope of justice again to include them. We need to care. Every day, 28,300 people are forced to flee their homes, running from war and persecution into systems of oppression and injustice. The refugee and asylum seeker threat is not to our national sovereignty, but the threat is to their wellbeing. Change is needed to ensure the safety and protection of these people; we need to ensure our government policy upholds the rights of this vulnerable group.

 

 

 

 

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I Know My Rights

Written by Kelsie De Haan, Opportunity International Australia Political Intern

Everyone should have access to the most basic of rights. That much we can all agree upon and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights backs me up on that on. It outlines what people are entitled to simply by being born human. It also outlines the responsibility the state has to uphold the rights of their citizens and provides a guideline to moral and ethical behaviour.

In 2005, a report was released outlining the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) which demonstrates how rights and responsibility play out at a global level. One of the key components of this is the state’s right to sovereignty which is forfeited if they do not uphold their responsibilities to their citizens. For example, to protect them from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It doesn’t stop there. Those who uphold the first responsibility are then given the added responsibility to help other states uphold it. Again, if they fail to prevent these atrocities or even perpetuate them, the international community assumes the responsibility to protect through intervention.

The right to sovereignty carries enormous responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of the citizens and we rightly expect this from our leaders. We readily criticise leaders who perpetrate human rights abuses and citizens pressure their own governments to take up the responsibility to intervene. For states to have the right to self-determination and self-government, first they must demonstrate their fulfilment of responsibility to promoting peace, protecting citizens and caring for the environment.

Somehow, things seem a little different at an individual level. The concept of responsibility tied to rights is often overlooked. We tend to be so quick to declare our rights and then dismiss our responsibilities. We expect the right to welfare as a citizen but we don’t like the responsibility of paying taxes – some even avoid paying tax and therefore impede on another’s right to receive adequate welfare. We love that we have the right to free speech, but are quick to shoot down other opinions that are different from ours – even attempting to silence through intimidation and violence. We revel in the right we have to live in freedom and safety but bemoan a speeding fine we receive when we put the safety of others at risk.

When we claim our individual rights without considering our responsibilities to those around us, it becomes very dangerous. It can lead to a place where the responsibility to respect another’s rights and protect their freedoms is overshadowed by the idea of ‘my rights over your rights’. Or in other words, ‘me first, you are not as important’. When this rhetoric is used, conflicting rights become the norm and solutions become less clear. It’s complicated. We see this daily in Australia where an individual’s right to seek asylum is in direct conflict with a state’s right to sovereign borders, or the right to free speech versus the right to live free of fear and hate speech, and even the pro-choice versus pro-life debate as it reflects the conflicting rights of a mother and her unborn child.

How do we justify privileging one person’s rights over another? It sounds awful when it gets stated like that, but we do it every day. I’m sure we would like to think that the ‘good guy’ always wins, but unfortunately it is more often the person with the most power who has their rights recognised and prioritised. When the responsibility to consider the needs of others is removed from the equation, conflicting rights are resolved through oppression of the disadvantaged by those in power. History shows us that oppression of a minority and the suppression of their rights appears to be the default setting, changing only when someone in a position of power draws attention to the injustice and allows an oppressed voice to be heard.

If being powerful is the prerequisite to exercising rights, this leaves women and children in a very vulnerable position. Fortunately, there are organisations like Opportunity International Australia and others whose sole purpose is to uphold their rights and empower them to a life free from injustice and poverty.  Yet for many other minorities, oppression and silencing of rights is a reality they face every day as a result of our reluctance to accept responsibility – responsibility to care for others, to make sacrifices for those in need, to listen to others and to simply be a responsible global citizen.

So, know your rights. Ensure that you have access to them. Make a stand for them. But don’t stop there. Know the responsibilities that you have because of your rights. Ensure others have access to their rights (no matter who they are or if you agree with all of their opinions), and make a stand for them. Use your rights to uphold those of others, not to oppress them.

How to Ruin Your Whole Day

“Don’t read the comments.” It’s something I say frequently to my wife, especially when reading an article online on a topic that she cares about. Even just a short amount of scrolling through the comments is enough to ruin your whole day. People can be incredibly mean-spirited about any issue and are quick to come up with witty remarks to discredit and embarrass. It’s just easier and less taxing to not engage in it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my own advice and it just about did ruin my whole day. I was reading an article about Andrew Forrest and how he made the largest philanthropic donation in Australian history. $400 million. Unbelievable. To a number of different causes which is ultimately going to impact thousands, if not millions of people. This was a day to celebrate with joy and laughter. But then I read the comments.

Andrew was accused of many things and hatred was heaped on him about issues of tax evasion right through to grandstanding. All I felt was sadness. Now Andrew is a big boy, he can look after himself and I don’t think comments on the internet will have an effect on him, but my sadness was more about the state of our culture and how we respond to people doing good things. Again we see the pervasive tall poppy syndrome rearing its ugly head, as attempts are made to tear down anyone who shows any sign of leadership or a desire change the world. I hate that part of our culture. We complain about a shortage of strong leaders in politics and business, but we kill them off before they have a chance to develop. Surely there is a way we can foster an environment where we can develop strong leaders without expecting perfection or begrudging them when they are doing well.

No living person in the history of Australia has done anything like this. It is without precedence. But at the same time it is not an isolated event. There are a number of wealthy Australians who give consistently and generously, but they like to fly under the radar. We wish that they wouldn’t. Generosity is something that we should celebrate. The more we know about it the more we can celebrate it and normalise it. The hope is that because Andrew and Nicola Forrest have opened up about what they are choosing to give away, others will begin to do the same. The more we can normalise generosity, the more generous we will become and that is how we change the world.

 

Tension

How do we function as people after seeing some of the things this world has to offer? Many have seen such devastation and experienced trauma beyond what can be articulated. For some it is a daily experience, for others it is an occasional glimpse which jolts the brain for a while.

In relation to poverty, we all know it exists but when we are not confronted with it regularly it is so far removed from our daily life that it has little to no impact on our thought process. If you have ever travelled to a developing country and been exposed to those living in extreme poverty, or spent time with the homeless in Australia, then no doubt you will be struck by the contradiction that we live in each day. I recently spent some time in the Philippines and I was confronted by the gut-wrenching conditions that people find themselves in. I walked through a few slums and something within me disconnected. For me to continue to function in that moment, surrounded by one of the things that I hate most, I held my breath and kept walking, lest I stop and become so overwhelmed by the devastation that I emotionally journey to a place that I can’t make it back from. That was my coping mechanism; I’m not proud of it but that’s what happened.

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In retrospect one of the hardest things to comprehend was this…

Poverty begets poverty. It sounds strange but it’s true. One of the main causes of poverty is…wait for it, poverty. If you are poor and don’t have enough food to eat today, it is most likely that tomorrow you will be poor and won’t have enough food to eat. Poverty is perpetually keeping people from working their way out of poverty.

It’s not just physical symptoms either. Poverty removes any sense of self-worth, any idea of what could be possible if the situation changed, any hope and dreams of what life could be like. It is the cruellest of task masters which only allows you to focus on survival for today, takes you hostage and keeps you captive in your current reality. How can you hope if your experience has never given you anything to hope for? How can you dream if you have never been taught to?

This is what life looks like for 767 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Can you imagine what could happen if all of these people were empowered to reach their full potential. We have all witnessed the force of one or two people who are thriving and creating an amazing life for themselves and others around them. Imagine that multiplied by 767 million.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would all recognise that any success that we have achieved in life has only come about because someone invested in us and allowed us to believe that we could. Be it a parent, relative, teacher, peer, etc. For many it would most likely be more than one person, in fact a number of people at different times. Not to mention the head start of receiving nutrition, education and an opportunity for recreation. All of this adds up to a great head start, which is what we can offer to those living in poverty.

Poverty begets poverty, unless a hand up is given.

How Do You Remember Well When You Don’t Want To?

It’s not uncommon for me to be confused by a mix of emotions. I’m getting used to the mixed bag that comes up during this time of year. Australia Day, Easter and now Anzac Day, all bring with them joy and sorrow, often at the same time. It has created a new emotion in me, I call it the ‘happysad’. Most of the time I will try and avoid it, but any emotion avoided only builds up to appear in other ways, creating unexplained grumpiness and ruining the day. In an attempt to enjoy Anzac Day this year, to somehow remember and celebrate the sacrifice of so many in the all-too-many wars that have happened and continue to happen, this is me sitting with the ‘happysad’ mixture.

It starts with a question, which, like the new emotion, is complex and doesn’t make much sense.

How do you honour the sacrifice made without glorifying the violence and devastation, mixed sometimes with pure evil, but not forgetting that we exist because of what has gone before, without condoning the use of young men and women as pawns in a greater battle of egos, but acknowledging that we owe a great deal to brave men and women who have faced something I never have (and hopefully never will), although recognising that it’s not right that they had to face that either?

Or, to put it more bluntly, how is it possible to hate something (like war) with such a deep seeded passion, but enjoy its fruits because I live a luxurious life of freedom in Australia?

Here’s what I have so far.

You remember it well. That involves stopping and reflecting on what has been. Listening to stories, honouring those who were there and embracing it as part of our history. Avoiding this reality will only serve to show disrespect for those who have taken part in any war, and their families, friends and communities.

You learn what you can. For me, war teaches that life is valuable. That should go without saying, but it is true. Every person killed as a result of conflict, large or small, is a loss for all of us. In saying that, there are very few winners in a war. The side that claims the victory is the side that has lost the least. That hardly seems like winning. Everyone gets damaged in a fight, when the scale of the fight is larger than a few people, those who get damaged the most are often the people on the sidelines who aren’t involved. Collateral damage is not the cost of doing business, it is a long list of people in the wrong place at the wrong time, who have names, a family, hopes and dreams that will never become reality.

You live well. Without a sense of guilt or shame, but with a strong sense of responsibility shaped from the understanding that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Whether we like it or not. The least we can do is to live in such a way that we benefit those around us, near and far, through a generous life.

It’s not a complete list, but it’s a starting point to embrace the ‘happysad’ day that is Anzac Day.

You Can Never Be Too Poor…

Times are tough. This is always going to be true for someone, somewhere in the world. Even if the global markets were growing at record rates, things would be hard for some sections of the community. If my one term of Economics at University taught me anything, it’s that growth in one area usually means that other areas of the economy may be struggling. It’s a delicate balance but when things are tough we can hope that another part of the market will expand.

When times are financially tight, we adjust our budgets and often the money that we have allocated for giving is repurposed. If the Federal Government is any example, then you can hardly blame people for doing this (Australia now gives less in Foreign Aid than in any time through the 60 years that Australia has been supplying aid). Let us also not forget that, ranked according to Gross Domestic Product per capita, Australia is the 15th wealthiest nation in the world. Not bad for 24 million people floating on an isolated island in the Southern Hemisphere. Even if we weren’t in the top 20 wealthy nations, we can always find room to give.

Don’t get me wrong, there is wisdom in handling our money well but being generous is a core part of being financially wise. There is a World Giving Index which measures the generosity of each country based on an average score of the amount of people who have helped a stranger, donated money and volunteered some time in the last month. For the third year running, the most generous country in the world is Myanmar. I know, I was surprised too. Sure, the US, Australia and New Zealand make out the rest of the top 4 but Sri Lanka is number 5. Also, the most generous country when it comes to helping a stranger is Iraq. Think about that for a while. If you could nominate of a country that might possibly have an excuse for not trusting a stranger enough to help them out, surely Iraq would be at the top of that list. But no, 81% of Iraqis had helped a stranger in the last 30 days. You don’t need to have all the money in the world to be generous.

Giving is a part of life. Generosity is a life philosophy. What I have learnt from those living in some of the poorest parts of the world is that you can never be too poor to be generous. The amount of money you earn does not shape how generous you are, your mindset does.

You can start being generous now.

 

Happy “Aussie Battler” Day

Most call it Australia Day, some call it Invasion Day and others call it a day off work. It’s our annual day of confusion that we celebrate with BBQ’s, beach, cricket and Australian Flags draped or temporarily tattooed on sunburnt bodies.

Whichever way it is perceived and celebrated, the intention of this national public holiday is to, according to the official Australia Day website, “encourage a sense of national unity and belonging by promoting and engendering alignment with core Australian values”, whatever that means.

The core Australian values are as follows…

Respect – of self, of others, of law and the environment we all live in

Tolerance – of difference and freedom of each individual

Fair go – both in the way we act but also in providing opportunity for all

Mateship – Spirit of egalitarianism and compassion for those in need

On the face of it these are worthy values to uphold and as egalitarian Australians we like to consider that most of the time they are achieved.

Probably one of the core Australian values that isn’t mentioned on website is the mentality of being an ‘Aussie Battler’, or the underdog. This has given strength to our country over a number of decades as we have created a great nation out of some convicts and other random travellers. The flipside to this mentality is that we seem to be against those who aren’t ‘battlers’, those who are better off than we are, which actually is contradictory to the values stated above. I didn’t know what poppies were when I was growing up, but I knew that the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ was real and I was happily part of that culture.

We find ourselves living in tension, wanting to respect, tolerate, provide opportunities and compassion for other Australians and people from all walks of life (I’m not sure if this stops at the Australian border – the website didn’t specify how far the values were to reach), but at the same time tearing down anyone who is too successful or gets too far ahead of us. We are a complicated people. In case you have ever wondered why we struggle to find quality leaders in our country, you can thank our ability to cut people down when they start to stand out. We have killed them off before they had a chance to flourish.

Australia has grown into a very different place in my lifetime and the average ‘Aussie Battler’ is earning $78,832 a year which is more than 99.7% of the rest of the world, according to globalrichlist.com. What this means is that we have become the tall poppies to over 7.2 billion other people. (To be honest, it has probably been that way for a long time, but we now have more information that tells us that).

I think it is well past the time when we forgo the underdog mentality, because we are not an underdog, and we should lose the Tall Poppy Syndrome, because we are the tall poppies. It is time to increase our focus on celebrating the success of people who are leading the way and at the same time to look for those who are struggling around us so we can lift them up. It shouldn’t be that hard, there are 7.2 billion of them around the world. How you do that is up to you. For me, it is about empowering women to work their way out of poverty through the work of Opportunity International Australia. I encourage you to join me as a way to embody respect, tolerance, a fair go and mateship.

Generosity Gym

The idea of a fresh start is appealing. A clean slate from which we can start again to create the life that that we want.

In theory that is what the new year brings to us every December 31. As part of that process of renewal, I am sure that ‘join a gym’ is on the list of many people thinking about what a healthy lifestyle looks like for them. I have known many people who joined a gym, signed up to fitness classes or purchased a bike/treadmill/weights with the greatest of intentions. For some it has worked, but for the majority it has been less than successful and they are left questioning their wisdom and financial outlay. Perhaps you have been there yourself and that is something you remember as you think about what can be different in 2017.

Now it can be easy to use these experiences to justify not trying for any change in 2017, saving yourself money and time, but let me encourage you to still join the gym. It’s a new kind, which doesn’t require you to learn how to use fancy equipment, stand next to super fit and healthy people or feel any guilt whatsoever. I call it the Generosity Gym (patent pending…may need a catchier name) – a place where you train yourself through giving. There is such a thing as a ‘giving muscle’ and just the same as any other muscle, if don’t use it, you lose it. The benefits are numerous, including feeling good about yourself and your place in the world and making the world a better place for others. Working out your giving muscle actually makes life better.

Instead of paying out large sums of money for a membership to a corporation that you will most likely have to cancel anyway, you can pay that money to an organisation that is changing the lives of mothers living in poverty, by empowering them through a small loan. What better way to start the new year than by using what you have to reach out beyond yourself for the benefit of others.

It doesn’t take much either, $70 can provide 1 loan for a mother living in poverty in India, Indonesia or the Philippines. This will enable her to start a business, put food on the table and send her children to school. The average price of gym memberships in Australia is $65 a month, so you could potentially provide a loan every month and with a repayment rate of 98% the impact is ongoing.

If you are still keen to join the gym and are convinced that you can see it through, you’ll be happy to know that you can look after your body and give generously at the same time.

Happy New Year!

 

Don’t Be Stingy.

I feel the tension at this time of year. Often the news will report on how many billions of dollars that Australians spend on Christmas related paraphernalia, gifts, food etc. and it is hard to stomach. Whilst giving gifts to each other is great, the sheer enormity of some of the unnecessary stuff that we buy sets my thought process into a negative place where I imagine what that money could do if it was spent in other ways. How much emergency aid and relief it could give, how many small loans could be distributed to those living in poverty so they can start a business, or how many refugees that could house. We could choose to put our money towards these things, but we choose to spend it on Christmas. That’s what we want to do.

The tension I feel is related to celebrations and how important they are in building relationships, strong communities and social capital. It is incredibly valuable to celebrate the annual festivals that we have in our calendar, because that is a part of our culture and makes up some of our identity.

So I sit with the tension.

Then I realise that it is ok that this tension exists. Because it is not necessary for us to choose between the two options. We don’t have to be generous with our money to care for the poor at the cost of celebrating. We also don’t have to celebrate Christmas and leave the poor outside, cold and hungry. We can do both.

There is a strong Jewish tradition which encourages the people, when celebrating festivals, to do so with your family, friends and household, and to extend it even further than that.

“This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns.” Deuteronomy 16:14

They have a good balance. One that says we have the freedom to celebrate and enjoy the festivities together without the feeling of guilt, because this is good for us, our families and our community. At the same time, we can find ways to be generous to the poor in our celebrations. How this is done is non-prescriptive. Some people I know buy gifts that empower the poor on behalf of others, others host countless people for a Christmas meal, and still others volunteer their time on Christmas day. What it looks like for you is your call. But let me encourage you to find a nice balance this year, where you can celebrate and be generous to the poor at the same time.

So, don’t be stingy with your celebrations, and don’t be stingy with your generosity this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Electricity Isn’t Sexy…

It’s not, to most of us.

When it comes to not-for-profit organisations, the majority of people are not excited by the idea of lights being turned on, or computers and printers being plugged into the wall. To be honest, the imagery isn’t great and it reminds me of the tedium one would experience if they worked at Dunder Mifflan in Slough.

What excites me, and most people that I talk to, are stories of transformation where money given to a charity has changed the life of the recipient, or rescued them from a dire and needless situation. People being helped and receiving love because of a gift. That’s what fundraising is all about. Leave the information about electricity out of it.

I’ll let you in on a secret – electricity make the stories come to light (not even an intentional pun…). Without lights and power for computers and printers, then the stories of transformation and life altering development work simply would not exist. You can’t tell a story without the means to discover a need, figure out how to meet that need and then assess how it all went in your attempts to do that. Guess what? It all takes electricity.

Electricity is just one example of the un-sexy side of charities and not-for-profits. There are also reports and spreadsheets (oh so many spreadsheets) and emails. All of this, plus much more, works together to create the brilliant outcomes of transformation and then to tell people the story.

The un-sexy stuff is what most people call the “admin costs”. I know of some people who donate to charities and request that their entire donation amount goes towards covering the “admin costs”. Electricity, among other things. They are unusual but they are not strange. They understand that even though it seems un-sexy, it is absolutely vital to the work in the field. In the case of Opportunity International, the 4 million clients who currently have a small loan to start a business and work their way out of poverty, simply would not be able to do that if it wasn’t for the ‘admin cost’. Funding the un-sexy stuff in the office is part of the bigger picture of how we change the world.