Multi-partiality: Embracing Multiple Identifiers

The key to the survival of liberty in the modern world is the embrace of multiple identities.

Timothy Garton Ash

When I did my second degree in Counseling, the school required the students to identify what type of people and cases we would find challenging to provide counseling services due to our personal biases. Therefore, I had to dig deep within to know myself better and see how that affected the counseling process. Through this, I learned that it is human to have an inward inclination to like and not like certain groups, people, colors, languages, sexual orientations, cultures, and so on. However, as professionals, we were asked to acknowledge them and refer them to others if our bias hindered giving fair services.

Minimizing the biases come as we are of our inward inclinations, why we think, feel, and behave the way we do; and work on understanding people from their perspectives. Therefore, I pushed myself to put me in others’ shoes to learn about them and see things from their perspectives.

Humanity is described with multiple identities because one may have different identifiers regarding the profession, religion, tribal and ethnic background, nationality, gender/sex, political stands, economic views, business affiliation, values, and so on. The multi-dimensional identifiers do not have to compete, wage war against each other, or diminish the other identifier to show one is better than the other. Instead, they can co-exist peacefully; each identifier may manifest in the proper context.

I recently learned a new word, “Multi-partiality,” in the training of dialogue facilitators at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies. In a dialogue process, neutrality and impartiality, not taking stances in dialogue issues, are not enough for they focus on not being biased.

Multi-partiality is a practice that supports facilitators in giving equal attention to multiple identities and experiences of people while they facilitate dialogues. Multi-partiality is a concept whereby facilitators give attention to those identities and experiences that might be absent, unheard, or marginalized. Dialogue facilitators need to be aware of social power imbalances and commit themselves to affirming the needs and contributions of those sidelined. Therefore, one needs to deliberately acknowledge the needs and voices of those with less power in the social constellation where power is unequal and treat all actors’ issues and concerns reasonably.

Multi-partiality is not limited to dialogue facilitation; it is a principle that also applies in the education sector, which assumes the mainstream curriculum is based on knowledge and experiences of the dominant groups and abandons minorities’ identities and experiences and forces others to an unconscious acceptance of the prevailing system. Therefore, in all scenarios, careful examination of historical disregards of minorities’ realities in society is needed; inclusion and fairness to pull their needs for equal attention should be considered.

Integrating different identities create space for all students and teachers when all acknowledge their positionality and biases and discuss issues within the space of multi-partiality, contributing to broader perspectives from different experiential knowledge. The totality of human experiences cannot be set with the dominant cultural identity.

As multiple identifiers of a person should not create intra-personal conflict if appropriately handled, giving each identity due attention in the right time and space, society also needs to uphold humanity because of diversity and how different social powers and identifiers can surface as perpetual conflicting stances prompting one to destroy the other. 

Equity, fairness, and inclusiveness are social principles that help us uphold peace in a highly polarized and divided society. This suggestion may sound too abstract, and everyone may not disagree with it. Therefore, what is important is how to translate the principles into everyday reality in processing conflicting interests.

Acknowledging our biases and historic power imbalances that led to the domination and subjugation of certain groups of society could be the primary mental exercise. Second, developing empathy by listening to others’ narratives is essential to validate their lived experiences. Third, using critical thinking and multi-partiality to accommodate one another and appreciate multiple identifiers may help live peacefully in the present.

March 8 is designated internationally to acknowledge women’s rights movements drawing attention to gender equality. As human rights issues are narrated from women’s perspective, violence against women, reproductive rights, and how they experience life due to fear and abuse require multi-partiality stances to consider our reality into the reality of men. Holistic perspectives on human rights issues can only be given attention when women’s views of gender equality are heard. 

I want to conclude my writing by drawing your attention to the fact that humans deserve peace. We all contribute to building peace when we know our bias, what is happening within and among us, and use our multiple identifiers deliberately as instruments of peace, not conflict.  

By Seble Hailu

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