Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Southerners and Texans

Before I left Truckee to head out on my current trip (Vanuatu and Kiribati - just 16 days) I was having a discussion with a roommate of mine about the difference between Southerners and Texans, and how Texans are not Southerners, nor do Southerners or Texans like that confusion (he's from TN and I went to college in GA so it's a discussion we've both had before). For people from the rest of the country it's not a distinction that matters particularly. But then, confusing people from similar regions and equating them is often a touchy point, calling a New Yorker a New Englander, or thinking Northern and Southern California are pretty much the same.

But then here I am, in a vast region of the world rarely paid too much attention: the Pacific. And while I'm trying to let myself visit each country anew, to answer the same questions, but start from scratch, not assuming that the realities related to the care of children are the same. But I find myself falling into the trap of generalizing about "the Pacific".  So, to try to get back on target with the child protection research I'm participating in, and to share some interesting highlights from the research so far I thought I'd talk a bit about rights.

My first day in my "Public Health and Humanitarian Action" course someone raised their hand and said "but what about approaching this from a rights perspective?" I'm sure people have varying degrees of knowledge about what a rights based approach is, but essentially it uses human rights as a framework for humanitarian intervention and development. Part of this approach, especially concerning child protection, is to teach children what their rights are. For instance the right to be safe and not be abused, the right to adequate nutrition, the right to education. The thought being that if children know that these are things they have a right to (or to be safe from) when those rights are abused they are more likely to tell someone/advocate for themselves etc, and are better prepared to participate in the process of realizing their rights.

So. It sounds pretty fantastic. Children know their rights. They advocate for them. Rights are realized. The sky is full of rainbows. What could possible go wrong?

Go ahead and translate rights into Solomon Islands pidgin. The closest word is power. Ah so now all the posters and billboards are advocating "Child Power" in a culture where children are better seen and not heard and are on the bottom of the proverbial totem pole as status and power are supposed to come with age. So it looks like children's power over adults is being advocated, trying to subvert traditional practices. So most locals ignore the programs and signs, some find them insulting, most think they are irrelevant.

But the promotion of child rights is a global strategy to encourage the realization of child rights. It makes sense in theory, but as is apparent here, not always in practice. In the Solomon Islands, as I wrote previously, children are not the center of families as they are in much of the West. Families don't move so children can go to a good school, children are sent away, for instance. The good of the family is paramount, rather than the good of its individual members. So promoting the good of individual members, particularly those that are "least important" is like trying to change the traditions there.

So what's a better option? Realizing child rights is an incredibly important goal, but as long as they are realized, is calling them rights, and having them understood as such by the local population, the most important thing? Perhaps awareness raising campaigns could focus on the strength of families? Healthy children make strong families. Educated children make families stronger. If your wantok are treated well and are successful they can support you in the future. There are many ways to approach it that are all more culturally relevant and locally acceptable than using the same child rights approach used else. What about adapting strategies to local conditions?
Also, just think how well received the campaign on women's rights is. Woman power? Yikes. Hopefully more on gender in the Pacific next time!

Until then, it's pouring rain here so no beach time for me and I won't come back with a tan. I do feel bad for all the tourists and honeymooners though!

I'll try to put up pictures once I find some faster internet, happy summer to everyone!

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