PACT and GWG held event on how our identities impact our field experiences
“Identity is everything: how people perceive you, how you access opportunities, it is linked to your privileges both serving and being allowed to represent a peacebuilding effort, and it impacts the influence you have over resources and over populations…” — Dalia Amin
On Monday, March 28, 2022, the NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs (CGA) Peace and Conflict Transformation club (PaCT) and Gender Working Group (GWG) engaged in a conversation with practitioners and regional experts in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Throughout the event, 30 students, professionals, and academics reflected on how our identities as women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and peacebuilders, amongst others, influence our experiences when we work in the field.
The conversation was moderated by CGA Clinical Professor Dr. Anne Marie Goetz and inaugurated by former President of UN-GLOBE, Hyung Hak Nam. The event was also joined by OutRight International Program Officer for Asia and the Pacific, Faith Sadicon, Sudanese activist and Fullbright Research Scholar, Wala Ali, and CGA alumni Dalia Amin and Elizabeth Carrera, who work as Search for Common Ground’s Country Manager for Iraq and Senior Program Officer for Vitamin Angels, respectively.
Peacebuilding and risk-taking
PaCT believes that peacebuilding involves all activities that target direct, structural, and cultural violence. It involves the numerous efforts that are required to build lasting peace from international development and gender-related projects to advocacy for human rights, and any work that uplifts the voices of local and marginalized communities.
As peacebuilding practitioner and CGA Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Thomas Hill always says, “at times, peacebuilding requires that we put ourselves at risk, as risk builds trust, and trust builds collaboration and value.” Therefore, a key part of peacebuilding is engaging in reflective practice. Taking risks is not about blind trust, but informing our risk-taking activities… So what better than consulting experts themselves on how to better prepare, present ourselves, and avoid unnecessary risk in the field?
Ideas shared by the panelists included:
- Our identities are multidimensional and complex. Many times this may mean that our identities do not fit under a single category or label.
- In some contexts, identity can be a luxury, not a choice: we can sometimes take our right to claim an identity for granted, but not every person may have that right.
- We should question the concept of survival — basic human needs also relate to having spaces where we feel safe.
- Always scan for allies when you walk into the room and work together!
- Recognize your own privilege and power and speak out against discrimination!
- Do research on local realities and listen to ideas from diverse people on the ground before implementing programs — how would they interpret the situation and work to improve conflict dynamics in their communities?
- Recognize local norms to engage with each member of the community to the fullest.
- Avoid extractive interactions: always share back your data, results, and findings with communities in an accessible manner.
- Apply new lenses and perspectives to programs you are already a part of.
- Manage your own expectations and be persistent — what are your main personal objectives when you go into the field and what is possible in the time you have?
- Take CGA opportunities to work in the field. Leverage the Workshop in Applied Peacebuilding and do fieldwork for your thesis/capstone.
- Take steps to build your risk tolerance. Build your safety networks, know your limits, reflect, and phase into risk.
“Lean into your identities, when possible. Your identity and lived experiences are valid perspectives to the projects and work you do…” — Elizabeth Carrera
“It’s sometimes easy to feel isolated or conflicted as a peacebuilder when entering a context that isn’t necessarily friendly to a part or parts of your identity. The event put on by PaCT and GWG was so helpful in that it allowed me to hear from working professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds about how they practically manage the ways in which their identities interact with their work.” — Stevie Robinson, MSGA student
“After the event, I thought a lot about my identity in the field. While I am proud of my queerness, I recalled that identity sometimes is a privilege. I have hid my identity in the past, having worked and volunteered in Tanzania and Rwanda, and born in China. In certain contexts, I now believe that it is more important to focus on the immediate humanitarian need and put identities aside.” — Ran Zhu, MSGA student
Pía Madanes Quintanilla and Ava Strasser are currently pursuing a M.S. in Global Affairs at New York University (NYU) with a concentration in Peacebuilding and focus on Gender Studies. Pía is currently President for PaCT and Treasurer for GWG and Ava is the Event Organizer for PaCT.