personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

You can give me the right answer about rights, right?

The second day is over. As I left the workshop rooms, all the facilitators were still working away, preparing for Day 3. It was a busy day, from a visit by the Canadian ambassador and Senegal's Minister of human rights to an old friend. The latter was a surprise and a pleasant one for everyone. It was my friend Mai, a human rights facilitator who was the first person I co-facilitated with almost ten years ago as part of Equitas.

The participants had a more tiring day than yesterday and grappled with the universality of human rights. In our facilitators' debrief this evening, the invited participants all mentioned the lack of time to discuss the issues as well as a frustration among some participants at the facilitators' lack of "positionnement sur les questions." In other words, the facilitators would listen to everybody but not give the "right" answer. Participants used to being fed the "right" answer wanted more direction from the facilitators.

The facilitators were only doing their job. In a participatory approach, it's normal to have your own ideas, opinions, beliefs and values thrown back at you. That's supposed to happpen, and the facilitator's job (or at least part of it) is to ensure that the learner gets to a point where they can critically reflect on their beliefs and values and maybe, just maybe, change them. But it's also the facilitator's job to tell the learner that the road may be a bit bumpy, and they may very well get frustrated along the way.

It sounds straightforward, but there are circumstances where it's hard - for me at any rate - to keep a degree of objectivity when a participant has a belief that is blatantly contrary to my vision of human rights. The death penalty is the most common issue, but other issues related to discrimination against women based on cultural or religious traditions ranks high up there as well. I don't think these issues have popped up much in the past couple of days, but now that we've opened up the subject of the universality of human rights, I'm sure the debate isn't over. The participants came here trying to learn more about rights because they educate others about rights, but in so doing they're realizing that they need to question themselves on the universality (or non-universality) of these things called rights. That's putting their own experiences, values, and beliefs into question. No wonder they ask facilitators for the right answers about rights. This is messy stuff.



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