Leveraging Privilege

Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right. – Professor Warren G. Bennis

The past few weeks have been heavy with anxiety and pensiveness for me. And I am sure such is the sentiment shared by many in our capital who have been deliberating in short or long over the gang rape and death of Hana Lalango. I would like to imagine all deliberations have been constructive – seeing the case for what it is as a violation of human dignity and infringement on the right of the girl child, without diluting it with speculations.

The Hana Lalango case has opened the space for many people to come forward towards sharing other violence committed against women and girls in our immediate environments that have till recent sat simmering under a thin veil of business as usual covered under “sew min yelal” or what would people think obsessions. These obsessions of course have a strong pillar of support that sustains and perpetuates them. One is the tendency to blame victims and survivors of violence. A few years ago following the tragic case of Aberash Hailay – the flight attendant whose eyes were gouged by her ex-husband – instant reactions took the form of uproar, which quickly turned into speculation – “what did she do/say to him?” “She must have done something.” Such speculations in their attempts to justify a violent act committed on a woman and/or girl is not only a blame shifting mechanism, but also evidence of an individual’s acceptance and sensitization to forms of violence inflicted on women and girls. That rape, sexual harassment, physical violence, intimate partner violence and the likes are accepted and go down in mindsets as “things that can happen to a woman from time to time depending on what she says, wears, goes to, etc” is an erroneous and particularly dangerous approval by society for the continuation of such deeds.

This case has made me reflect very much about privilege – my own and that of others and how those of us who find ourselves in better off situations exert and utilize the privilege possessed. What does it mean to leverage the privilege at hand – of mobility, of education, perhaps of influence and of money? Does one sit at an uptown café simply divulging the latest on this case over Birr 150 coffee and pastries? Or can one leverage his/her privilege towards waking up Self, family, neighbor, community and ultimately a nation to the social crisis we are glaringly facing yet refuse to see through the 700-dollar Gucci sunglasses?

The educationally privileged have the capacity to engage in dialogue at various levels and stir long-term conversations towards attitudinal and behavior change within their circles of influence.

The influentially privileged have the social capital to convene those that can make sustainable interventions and lobby for the filling of gaps that perpetuate such manifestations of violence.

The monetarily privileged have the financial resources to support local women’s organizations that clearly know the ways but lack the finances to deliver the necessary preventative measures and victim support systems.

Leadership is not about sitting around and waiting for an entity, an authority to fill gaps. It is about locating ourselves within a complex system, understanding our place in the complexity and what we possess to positively influence an environment, then acting in that direction. It is about taking ownership and believing you have the capacity to contribute even in the smallest of ways.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Violence Against Women/Girls (VAW) exist in a complex and intertwined system. The complexity exists. The change happens over a long period of time. The work is focused on shifting mindsets, behaviors and attitudes. It is frustrating trying to tackle its manifestations. Yet it is not something we can continue ignoring as a nation. Some of us may not see its manifestations. Some of us may be oblivious to it. But I guarantee you; it has long lasting and detrimental effects on the psyche of a nation!

The choice is on us. We can choose to be complicit and tell ourselves we want to focus only on “positive things” because GBV & VAW are “dark” and “too difficult” to tackle. Or we can choose to acknowledge that being a leader is about mobilizing action to tackle complexities for positive outcomes. It is said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly\’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. This quote highlights the “butterfly effect” metaphor in Chaos Theory which in a nutshell tries to articulate how a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.

As the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence comes to a close today – December 10th – on International Human Rights day, it is my wish and that of my feminist friends and colleagues that many will leverage their privilege and begin the hard work towards ending GBV and VAW. We can’t continue sucking our lips and saying “wey gud, min yishalal?”

How can you leverage your privilege towards social transformation?



Billene also blogs at www.africanfeminism.com