15 Minutes on Localizing and Decolonizing Aid

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World-where in 15 minutes or less, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better.

Lama Alsafi (00:22): My name is Lama Alsafi and I’m the host of this podcast. This month, we’ll be bringing you four special episodes as part of our March4Women podcast series. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be talking to four incredible women working in different sectors and different areas of expertise to learn more about women’s leadership here in Canada and around the world. As always you’ll hear about how you can get more involved by learning from advocating for, and supporting women to lead.

Lama Alsafi (00:48): Today we’re talking about decolonizing aid and localization in the context of international development and humanitarian work-and how women are leading the charge in this very critical area. Our guest today is Everjoice Win, an activist in feminist and social justice movements in her own country of Zimbabwe, across the African continent, and globally for over 30 years. Everjoice has worked in international development, focusing on women’s rights and has lent her expertise and experience to several organizations. Everjoice joins us remotely from Johannesburg, South Africa today. Welcome to the podcast Everjoice. We’re so happy to have you here today. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Everjoice Win (01:32): Thank you for having me.

Lama Alsafi (01:34): Thank you. Everjoice, can you please explain a bit about your background and the work that you’re currently doing?

Everjoice Win (01:40): So my work largely over the last 30 years has involved working directly with women in communities, under trees, in classrooms, talking to them about the law, many laws that had been passed many African countries so that women could take advantage of them and have their rights upheld. My work has also involved producing a magazine for women so that they could read about these rights for themselves. It has also involved focusing on sexual and reproductive health rights so that women know about their bodies, particularly in the context of this region, where we had the problem of HIV and AIDS. My work also involves, you know, really supporting women, whether they are facing domestic violence, whether they are facing unequal power in the home. It’s been helping women form movements and organizations, which would fight for their rights. It has also involved influencing policy, particularly at the global level. So that included lobbying and advocacy with the African Union, with the European Union and also at the United Nations.

Lama Alsafi (02:49): Everjoice, for some of our listeners, localization and decolonization of aid might be new concepts. Can you explain to our listeners what these ideas mean to, and why are they so important for the future of international development and the humanitarian sector?

Everjoice Win (03:05): Decolonizing aid really is about acknowledging that the roots of development work as we know it today, come from or are rooted in colonialism. It is also about the way in which development has tended to be done. I.E. You know, resources, knowledge, so-called capacity has often been seen as one directional, right. I.E. it comes from the North going to the South. So, you know, roughly speaking, that’s why we are now talking of decolonizing aid in terms of saying, we need to change that picture. It is not as one directional as it appears to be because local people, particularly women and their organizations, know best what their situation is, what their problems are, and they should be the ones in the driving seat to say, these are the solutions that we want. These are the resources that we need. And these are the spaces where we need to go and influence change whether at the national level or a global level.

Everjoice Win (04:10): It also means changing the faces of those who are in leadership, right, of development organizations. So very often, if you look at the humanitarian sector, for example, you hardly see any women let alone any women of colour, right? So we are saying as part of decolonization and localization, it’s about acknowledging the agency, the rights, the needs of those who are directly impacted by problems. It’s, it has to be informed and led by those whose lived experience we’re talking about. And they’re the ones who should make the decisions, influence the decisions. And they should be the ones, you know, in the driver’s seat, as much as a lot of the money comes from the Global North. But we are saying decisions about how that money gets used, how it gets allocated, what are the priorities that are decided? What are the programs that are implemented, whose knowledge is acknowledged and used? That work is being done by local people, local women and their organizations. So that’s what we’re really talking about to say, honouring acknowledging, valuing the work, the perspective and the leadership of those who are directly affected.

Lama Alsafi (05:27): Everjoice, do you think that the Global North has been reluctant or slow to change in this area in terms of like, what’s been the reception to this call for a shift in the power balance from a Global North to Global South relationship to a more South-South or more equal footing relationship, in the international development sector and with the big NGOs?

Everjoice Win (05:48): Let me say, from my perspective categorically, I think the larger development community, the ones that deal with more longer-term problems, I think they have been a bit more willing to change. And I think we have seen a lot of change, certainly in the last 50 years. We have seen the development community, really listening to the voices of the local people and making sure that, you know, they and their organizations are at the forefront and certainly influencing. And you have seen certainly the rise of local NGOs, national NGOs in many, many of our countries. You know, you’ve seen the growth of the feminist movement globally. But I will say categorically, the one sub-sector of the whole development sector that has been a bit reluctant-not a bit very resistant to change, very slow to change-around which these conversations are now happening is the humanitarian, you know, sector.

Everjoice Win (06:46): So certainly, you see, for instance, it is not uncommon following a disaster to find mostly, let me say men and white men sitting around the decision-making table, whether it’s a Global Northern country, or particularly even in the country that’s affected. And that is still happening, you know, in 2021. And the excuse has often been that, you know, in disasters, you need to move more quickly, and we need to move a lot of resources, around and we need a lot of heavy lifting. So we don’t have the time, you know, to talk to local organizations and they have no capacity-and that’s a word that’s often used. But as I said earlier, they are the people who are the first to respond. When any disaster strikes, it’s the local people and their organizations, it’s the local women.

Lama Alsafi (07:37): Everjoice, what does a truly intersectional and feminist approach look like in the movements towards localization and decolonization of aid? And what’s the most important thing for NGOs to understand as we undertake this work and as the sector undergoes long overdue reform?

Everjoice Win (07:54): So for me, a truly intersectional approach, I will just highlight a couple of things. One, it has to be women and girls centered. So you need to talk to the women, you need to talk to the girls. Secondly, it needs to center their needs, their practical needs, their immediate needs, and their longer term human rights needs. Thirdly, it means centering women and girls’ voices, their agency, their leadership. Fourth, it also means that we look at different age groups. It means we look at race. It means we look at ethnicities. It means we look at whether the women are with disabilities or not. It means we are looking at issues like those who are living with HIV. So in other words, an intersectional approach means you don’t just center gender, right? Which is the power relations between men and women. It means you also bring in these other various factors, which contribute to discrimination and exclusion, and how these also come together with gender and how they intersect to make worse, or to reaffirm the discrimination, the exclusion of women. And therefore it means when you’ve taken all of these factors into account, you need to find strategies to challenge, to uproot, to change that status quo. And finally it means taking into account and working with women in their diversities, their movements and their organizations, no matter how small they are, because it is collectives that make bigger change and a more sustainable change happen.

Lama Alsafi (09:37): Everjoice, what does a “gender-just recovery” mean in the context of COVID-19? What are the critical elements to achieving equity and gender justice as we rebuild post pandemic?

Everjoice Win (09:48): So I want to start by saying there is nothing that COVID-19 has exposed in terms of gender inequality that we did not know, or that governments did not know. All that COVID has done is that it has exposed the unfinished business of what we agreed and what governments committed and agreed to in all of the various global conferences of the last century. So a gender-just recovery and a rebuilding post pandemic means, in summary- and I’m just, you know, picking the highlights here-we need to see a lot more resources going directly to women’s organizations and movements. Your average women’s organization lives on a shoestring budget. And you can imagine in terms of the needs that have been exposed, particularly if you look at the most recent research done by WHO on violence against women and girls. So give resources to women’s organizations and movements, because they are the ones who are working directly with women and they know what the needs are, and they have the best analysis and the best approaches.

Everjoice Win (10:59): It also means we need to look at the care economy, which we have long ignored and just pretended that women somehow are super people that can go to the productive sector of the economy and work in offices and government offices and NGOs, and then at night, they come home and they do the other reproductive roles. And in order to support women, and in order to shift the burden of unpaid care, it’s important that governments provide public services that are free, accessible, and affordable, particularly for women. It means we need universal health care, as we have seen that our healthcare systems globally were not really gender sensitive and not responsive to women’s needs. It means providing, for example, early childhood education, right, provided by states so that women can also then spend time doing other productive work. It means the provision of public education, which we have seen the majority of poor girls from across the world have not been able to fulfill their right to education in this past one year.

Everjoice Win (12:08): It means we need to look at the informal economy, because that’s where the majority of women in many countries in the Global South are employed. But it was the informal sectors that were mostly affected by lockdown. So, and now when governments are talking about COVID recovery packages, we see the money going to big business, but nothing is going to the informal sector, where the majority of women are located. And finally, I think the key message is if COVID has taught us anything, it is that we all need to spend a bit more time listening to women and girls.

Lama Alsafi (12:48): And lastly, Everjoice, how can our listeners support the forward movements towards the decolonization of aid and localization? In particular, how can they help ensure women have the rightful places at the decision-making table throughout these processes?

Everjoice Win (13:02): So I think, as supporters of development organizations, as taxpayers who pay, you know, your money to your governments, and then some of that money finds its way into aid. But I think it’s incumbent upon you to ask NGOs and your government the difficult questions. And sometimes just simple questions. If you see a panel discussing COVID and there is no woman, ask where are the women? Where are the girls? Look at our websites as international NGOs, as NGOs are coming to you and calling for your support and ask us, what are the pictures that are there? How are we depicting women and girls? Does it show that they’re, you know, they have agency and they’re not just victims? Are they playing leadership roles? Are they speaking? Do they have a seat at the table? Ask what it is that women and girls are saying are the solutions to the problems that they have. And finally ask your government where the aid money is going. Ask for accountability, particularly from those governments that are saying they have a feminist foreign policy, or they have a feminist aid policy. Really just ask them the simple question, what percentage of this aid money is going directly to organizations, to movements that work directly with women and that are seeking to change the status of women?

Lama Alsafi (14:31): Everjoice Win, it’s been a sincere pleasure to speak with you today and to learn from you. Thank you so much for taking the time to connect with us.

Everjoice Win (14:41): Thank you for having me.

Lama Alsafi (14:43): And thank you to all of our listeners as well. We hope you’ve enjoyed our March4Women series and will continue to enjoy it for the month of March. We’re certainly glad that you’ve joined us and able to learn from so many incredible women who are leading the charge for a better and more equal world for us all, such as Ms. Everjoice Win. A reminder that you can find every episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify, iTunes and on care.ca/podcast.