Friday, 12 August 2011

poverty, inequality and cultural privilege

the human rights commission diversity forum is an annual event that has been going on for several years. you can get a background information here. this year, for the first time, it's going to be held in hamilton, at the claudlands event centre on 21 - 22 august. it's an excellent opportunity for the people of the waikato to get involved in discussions around various aspects of diversity.

the main part of the forum starts from sunday afternoon, and the only problem is that there are so many wonderful sessions happening at the same time. at 1.30pm on sunday, there are two sessions run by organisations i'm actively involved with - the session on raising awareness of religious diversity hosted by the waikato interfaith council, and the session on domestic violence run by shama (hamilton ethnic women's centre).

however, i won't be at either of those two sessions, because i've been working with poverty action waikato on a session that deals with the intersection between race and poverty. it's called living in nz in your culture: poverty, inequality and cultural privilege. i was really keen to have a session on poverty as soon as i attended a meeting in april regarding the forum, where the HRC was seeking expressions of interest from organisations wanting to host sessions. i approached poverty action waikato because of the excellent programme they'd put on for international women's day - i've put up posts about them here and here.

the purpose of the session on sunday 21 august is to gather stories from people who live with or have ever lived with poverty, or who work with those living in poverty. the key focus is on the way racial or cultural discriminations feeds into poverty and vice versa. the goal is to compile these stories into a document, which the human rights commission have assured us they will use to push for policy change and which we also hope to use to push for social change.

of course, we understood immediately the challenge. it isn't easy to share stories at a time of vulnerability, and particularly in a culture that is so judgemental. it's hard to share personal stories at the best of times, and to share stories around things which society deems a failure is that much harder still. so we've had a think about how we can create a safe space for people to share.

one thing we have done is provide a variety of mediums. if people feel comfortable with small group discussions, we have those. if people want to leave short and simple messages on post-it notes, we'll have those. if people would prefer to share through a longer written piece, we'll have the materials available. and for those who don't feel comfortable with writing, we'll have a dictaphone and a booth, so that can provide a short recording. in all cases, we will preserve anonimity.

in all the demonstrations, rioting and public agitation across the middle east, europe and now england, there is the common thread of people feeling disaffected and angry at economic inequality and the daily struggles of survival. there is the common thread of voices needing to be heard. in a nz context, this is one small way for people to have a voice. maybe it won't make a difference, but hopefully it will. there are enough people around this particular project who care and who want to take the message further - as far as we possibly can.

so. i'm asking those of you who read this to promote this event and to encourage people to attend. please use your organisational and social networks to pass on the message.

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