Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Author: Weiru Ye

Rethinking Gender and Violence

I really enjoyed the session on gender by Professor Moorti. One of the major take away for me is to use and speak more about “gender” rather than “women”. This really connected me back to a previous panel on a similar topic that I attended.

Earlier this summer, I attended a panel at Pulitzer Center in Washington D.C. on Women in Conflict Zone where  journalist, NGO workers and war photographers all spoke about their experiences. One of the panelists suggested that there is so much attention on gender that it actually distorted the truth on the ground. For NGOs, it became much easier to apply for grants if they have a focus on helping women living in conflict zones while in reality, there are actually many more men who need immediate treatment because many of them became soldiers. Another journalist noted a similar phenomenon citing the Boko Harem kidnapping that happened several years ago in Nigeria and the journalist noted that while there are actually more boys being kept hostage by Boko Harem, they never became the attention of media.

While I was left pretty confused after the lecture, I think it would have made more sense for them to speak about gender rather than exclusively on women, which reinforces the idea that women fell victimhood during conflict and needs extra protection.

It was also interesting to me that journalist and NGOs might have different missions and approaches to gender. For journalist, if their job is to report an event as comprehensively and accurately as possible, then does it mean that an additional focus on gender (for example, the emphasis on abducted school girls) might be against their ethics and distorted the truth? Or is it that journalists also need to conceptualize and acknowledge different forms of violence that all genders experience?

Ways of Rememberance

In yesterday’s session, we discussed truth commission and its role in post-conflict society. I find it incredibly interesting to bring this conversation back to China and envisioning a future that is more just.

In China, we’ve also had a pretty violent history with  many large-scale traumatic events that are structurally unjust and have imposed violence on many people. The Cultural Revolution is the first large-scale events that came to my mind- lasting more than 10 years and have wronged many people because of ideological and class differences. I have limited knowledge about how China was able to get the entire society back on track or seek justice for the victims to pull the society together. More than thirty years later, the word “harmony” has been a major goal for Chinese government. On the surface, the rapid development seemed to have brought peace and silenced the victims, yet I wondered if the unhealed trauma has haunted Chinese society and is responsible for much of the violence that we observe today.

This posed an interesting case as the government responsible for all the atrocity in the past is still in power and actively seeks to eliminate the remembrances, how is it possible to ask for justice or structural changes. Remembrances becomes political. While the Japanese invasion of China and the “century of Humiliation” are repeated and taught in our history textbooks to define our sense of national identity, other parts of history are simply forgotten, for example, the Chinese invasion and continued occupation of Tibet.

In class, we discussed different forms of memorials and how do we symbolically remember history and show our gesture. It is upsetting to think that in China there is no such gesture to admit the wrongs that the government has done to its own people or the wrongs we’ve done to ourselves.

Measuring Reconciliation?

The session on evaluating the effectiveness of reconciliation is incredibly interesting. Dr. Cole discussed multiple ways that we can attempt to see how people’s attitudes have changed. For example, we can use survey to quantify how the level of trust has changed. It is not surprising to hear that some of the short term reconciliation projects failed to work on paper, because changes in attitude don’t happen over night.  I find it interesting to reflect on the work that I’ve done previously with an NGO that does work on reconciliation between China and Tibet. They have a multifaceted approach which includes school-building that uses infrastructure as the base of their work. However, they also promote a mission-driven curriculum in school so that these Tibetan students will come back and devote to the own community that raised them. This is a very rare example of foreign NGOs that are able to operate and serve the Tibetan communities in China. Thus, in their outreach work, they use their own stories as an example to appeal to their audiences and spread the message that tangible change is possible in Tibetan despite the difficult circumstances. While this is not a project on direct reconciliation between the Chinese and Tibetans at first sight, it does build some sort of trust between the Chinese authorities who witness the good that they did through building this school and the Tibetans who might change their mind and believe in the future that will get better. However, it remains to be true that no matter how much reconciliation happens on the local level, if the larger structural change does not happen, meaning that if the government does not change their view on ethnic minorities residing in China or change their repressive policies, it is hard to scale up the ground work.

Rancho Cielo

The visit to Rancho Cielo is interesting because it is a sustainable program that tackled different problems related to gang violence.

Rancho Cielo has an emphasis on being financially sustainable. While it is not driven by business profits, the emphasis on making revenue definitely makes it a more sustainable program. We’ve all heard about the countless of stories of organization that are reliant on grants and have to halt programs once their funding run out. Unlike some of the donor-oriented non-profit work, it also avoids reliance on donor money as these youths are now equipped with tools and knowledge to be financially sustainable. In addition, I also like its emphasis on private-public partnership. Some of its programs are funded by governments while others are supported by private institutes and its own incomes. It pulls together support from different sectors to solve problem, which to me is really how it should work. Gang violence should not entirely be the government’s business nor should completely rely on social workers and NGOs.

One of my favorite things about it is that it provided options, with its multifaceted programming. They could choose to work on different sectors and there is no narrow definition of success here. For example, as Susie said, while some of the youth were able to successfully find job in high-end restaurants, some others may want to make different uses out of their skills. In addition to their vocational education, the center also runs a non-traditional education model. Many of these youth joined gang because they were failing in the traditional school system and there was not many options available for them. Thus, Rancho Cielo explored a different model that will provide them recognitions equivalent to a high school diploma and give them option to receive basic education while recognizing that the school system is not for everyone.


Conversations a way to bridge

The session on Living Room Conversation is extremely interesting. I really believe the importance to having conservations with people who hold different political beliefs and this is the only way  to override differences.

This Living Room Conversation model similarly presented many difficult problems that have no easy solutions.  For example, to have an effective conversation, it requires participants and hosts to have had honest and thoughtful reflections on the topics, especially when many of these topics are tough ones. This became clear even during our group practices. During our session, we discussed privilege and status. In my group, our discussion went quite smooth and our discussion reached a common ground despite our varying background because we all have spent some time reflecting on the privilege. Thus, during the session we can reflectively and critically engage with the guiding questions.  I can imagine this end up being superficial chat if none of us has had some personal thoughts on this.

It also requires participants to have had previous experience engaging in similar conversations. In our case, many of us are U.S. college students and having this type of discussions  is actually quite common in our classroom. As I was thinking about hosting similar platform in China, it will involve a lot work, such as familiarize people with the rules and norms.

It was interesting to me that the first thought came to my mind when hearing about Living Room Conversation is that it helps to bridge different political belief across the spectrum. However, in some case,  age or regional differences are actually more dominant. For example, when discussing climate change, people from the coast and the Midwest might have very different views. While this maybe driven by their political beliefs, one’s regional background undeniably play a huge role in shaping one’s opinions.  I definitely think this is a good step to begin conversations, although there are so many more steps to follow. How to engage people who are unwilling to hear and learn from the other side remains a huge challenge.

Prison visit in Salinas

The prison visit really touched me because it is the first time that I ever visited a prison or ever met inmates. This is a stigmatized community and it has never come to my mind prior to our visits. Thus, I was quite shocked to learn that there are over ten thousand people imprisoned in Salinas Valley and is a huge employer in the local region. I’m always aware that the mass incarceration problems in the U.S. yet, it is only now that I get to understand the structural violence that prison imposes on inmates and see the daily struggles that inmates experience both prior to, during and after serving their terms in prison.

Hearing from prisoners highlighted how the current justice system based on “punishment” has failed. As Julie said in her session, punishment does not equate justice. We see the repetitive patterns of inmates keep going back to prison and it becomes a non-stop cycle. If anything, our visits showed that. More importantly, it is generational. There is a high percentage of inmate who grew up without two parents because they were also imprisoned. Thus, many of them were put at disadvantage since they were born. It really made me reflect on many things that I always take for granted as simple as having parents who care about my education and friends who share similar aspiration from an early age.

As one of our group members pointed out, our society is not ready for them. Many of these people, having spent years in prison, will have a different time adjusting to the life outside of prison. Yet, the strong stigma associated with the prisoner identity and a lack of social recognition will make their life harder. It makes me sad to think that many of them, who look forward to starting a new life outside of prison, will so easily be dragged back to their old ways of life if there aren’t enough support given to them.

Transitional justice

On July 28, we had a session on Transitional Justice which I find extremely interesting. The part that I find most interesting is its component of trauma healing. Professor Rubenstein brought up the case in the Philippines where they used local healing as part of trauma healing in their “post-conflict”. This suggests that it is extremely important to take local conditions into account and it is extremely important to know see peacebuilders as “expertise” who bring peace but rather use local traditions as a source of expertise and take it from there. It also tells us that transitional justices can take place in and should take into account so many different forms. We also touched upon the importance of memories. Rubenstein pointed out that the act of mourning (and thus reinforcing the memories) could also prolong the process of trauma healing, especially for people who are directly affected by the conflict. This poses an interesting dilemma – how do individuals heal and remember without simply forgetting?

The conversations we had in class about different violent injustices done by the government kept make me thinking about China and the Cultural Revolution that took place more than 30 years ago. The violent ten years of pure chaos completely destroyed many families and the futures of many people. Yet, China never truly achieved or even attempt to achieve “positive peace”. The histories of cultural revolution were simply left behind and many direct victims never received the justice that they deserved. While China praises today itself for its “economic development”, it almost felt to me that the government is using development as a way to buy off “peace” (similar to many other countries).

Development and anthropology

On July 26, we had a session on Structural Pathologies of the Development Enterprise by Kent Glenzer. It was extremely interesting and reminded me of many discussions that I’ve come across when studying anthropology. Anthropology started off as a discipline that tries to understand “the colonized other” and it has come a long way.  Anthropology similarly asks the questions: what is this other that we are trying to understand and help? What power do we (anthropologists) hold? How to reflect on ourselves as anthropologists and our presence in different communities? These questions should similarly be asked by people doing international development work and there should be always be reflections on the roles that development practitioners take. It is extremely important to keep questioning what it is the vision of modernity and society that we imagine it to be as we do development work? This remains a problems that I see in international development and the way that donor systems work. People are caught up with the goals set by their donors, which do not often reflective of the needs of the community and their objectives are shaped by their own Western-oriented views of a “developed” society and do not necessarily take into account different local needs and their visions.

I am interested in exploring more about the intersection of development and anthropology, and how in the field of development academia engage with practitioners.

Structural change and development

The lecture on structural violence is thought-provoking and I really enjoyed the theoretical aspects of it. The question that came to my mind when discussing structural violence is what is the “structure” or “system” that we are discussing? As easy as it seems to point out many structural problems that remain in society, it takes quite a bit of analysis to understand what’s going on in the larger picture. In addition, we often portray structure as something invisible and shape all aspects of life, yet how does human agency play a role in this and shape the structures that we live in?

To understand structural violence, it requires us to take a step back and understand the larger picture, especially when coming to the work on conflict studies and international development. This also introduces an interesting dilemma that has always been in my mind – if we recognize that there are many structural problems that need to be identified and addressed, how do we actually start from making small changes? It is important not to undermine the incremental changes that have smaller impact yet always be critical and recognize that without tackling some of the more structural and fundamental issues, the problems won’t be solved.

Understanding conflicts

Hi, this is Weiru. I come from China but spent my high school in the States before attending UWC Costa Rica. Now I’m a rising junior at Middlebury College majoring in Anthropology and Religion. My interests in conflict studies and peace building mainly come from my experience of growing up as a Han majority in China on the east coast (where all the resources are concentrated and is relatively well off in comparison to Western China), which has shaped my ways of seeing conflicts as intersectional/interconnected.

After coming to the U.S. I started to read news about numerous cases of self-immolation by young Tibetans in Western China and the becoming of a police state in Xinjiang Province, where Uyghur makes up the majority population. Thus, I grew interested in learning more about ethnic conflicts in China and has since been trying to find ways to contribute to the conflict resolution effort. However, I always tend to see conflicts as intertwined with privilege, race, gender and many other factors. And ethnic conflicts in China don’t stand alone, but are exacerbated by racial discriminations by Han ethnic majority in China, the economic development projects that CCP implement in Western China and etc.

With the intention of learning more and contributing to the causes,   I interned at an NGO called Machik this summer. Founded by two Tibetan women in exile, Machik has worked relentlessly for Tibetans within China through leading projects on women empowerment, incubating social entrepreneurship and etc. Though it is not explicitly an organization dedicated to conflict resolution, it has broaden my perspectives to understand how to approach conflict transformation in different ways.

Through SPP, I’m also interested in seeing what different organizations are doing on the ground  to bridge the gap between communities in conflict and think creatively and broadly about resolving conflicts. I’m also excited to be in classroom and hear from experienced practitioners and learn more about  approaching conflict resolution academically!

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