Venue: Community Development Journal conference Edinburgh,

Time: late afternoon,– 2nd July 2015

 I was attending the session on Raising Refugee Women’s Voices facilitated by Fiona Ballantyne in which shared how her organization has tackled key issues around asylum and international protection, and the extent to which ‘institutions’ have responded to the insights and aspirations of refugee and asylum seeking women.

Two women both from Africa shared their experiences- one was a young lady who had an excellent job in Africa but had decided to move first to the US and then to the UK to experience a new culture. The second lady had to seek asylum in the UK due to the political situation in her own country. In the midst of this an issue came up that we need to have specific interventions catering to needs of refugees and migrants.

Responding to this the first African lady responded, “They call me an economic migrant but please don’t label us. We are human beings, treat us like human. We bring a lot of value to the host country. Would you have known how we live, what we wear in my country if I was not living in your country.”

Added the second African lady, “ I agree fully. They put us in boxes, outsiders decide what is good for us. I was told that I was not competent to be a counselor. But through my hard work and determination, saving little by little I was finally able to complete the course in counseling.”

What is your message I can take back to my community in India, I  asked the second lady. She said, “Don’t put labels on people, it can erode their confidence and also cause conflicts in the community. When we are talking of countries without borders, why do we categorize people? But the can the world stop this categorization? I suggest you ignore such people. Work on what you are good at and you will succeed like I did.”

My personal takeaway from the session was that we people working in the development sector need to be conscious of the context from which different people come from. However, we need to be careful that we don’t highlight the differences in the community as there can be a danger of creating a rift amongst community members. How would you feel if some external person put you in a category to which you did not relate to? or which instead of bringing others together, created barriers? Why not connect as human beings!

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Comment by Birgitta Schomaker on July 12, 2020 at 18:25

Rituu, as stereotyping and all forms of 'othering' is such an important topic currently, globally, it would be great if there would be a synopsis available of your blog and following thread of comments. Thank you. 

Comment by Birgitta Schomaker on July 12, 2020 at 18:22

Hi Rituu and all, a very powerful story about 'othering' - how we unintentionally end up creating or amplifying rifts between community members. At this time it seems we are collectively waking up to unintentional, unconscious ways of discriminating - literally - stressing differences instead of commonalities.  What is our common humanity, beyond our diferences in skin color, class, education, sexual identity, sexual orientation?  How do we bring our shared humanity to the surface?

Last week we had a meeting with volunteers in a community building project. One of the women shared how she felt dehumanized by being 'branded' or 'framed' as a refugee.  She led a good life in Damascus, Syria, before she had to flee to Europe. It was really hard for her to share the pain of being seen as refugee only, as she appreciates so much the Dutch people that are well-meaning in the way they offer help. A Dutch woman was in pain also when sharing how ashamed she feels that she doesn't know how to approach the 'newcomers'. She is in charge of an urban farming project. A man from Eritrea who lives in a refugee housing project, was interested to help in the garden but he left as he didn't want to engage with the talking. 

The result of this revealing dialogue is that we will now check all texts (flyers etc.) with the Syrian woman, to be sure we are creating a welcome for everybody. We also want to be mindful of language. What languages and nationalities need to be represented when we host activities? We need to put an effort in creating diverse hosting teams, in order to be effective hosts and facilitators for the local, diverse community. 
On this website you find articles with many different angles to 'othering' and belonging. Here an artist and racial equity activist from India writes
" (...) even with our depth of cultural and familial experience, we must watch the desire to be seen as “innocent” in terms of living out patterns of oppression and colonization as individuals and as groups. This work requires holding tensions, which is a hallmark of spiritual practice; our traditions I just spoke of also carry dark oppressive pasts and presence of homophobia, female infanticide, and caste systems."

Wherever we live in the world, we all carry the burden of living within a society that defines what is the standard or the norm (and what makes one belong), or what is abnormal and different (and makes some people not being welcomed). The experience of belonging is a privilege. Do we have the courage to explore this sensitive topic?

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 11, 2015 at 10:16

Hi Naila and all, how do we ensure that we keep the balance between this categorization and being sensitive to the communities? Thanks

Comment by naila rizvi on August 11, 2015 at 10:13

I agree with Yasmin Karim,,,as she mentioned how can we make our work more gender sensitive or to get substantive equality if we dont categorize people,,but in above cases it is harmful for the economy a country if the state ignores or underestimatesthe people on the basis of  their origin

Comment by BIHONEGN TEFERI AYNALEM on August 11, 2015 at 9:28

I agree with her. Really this categorization and labeling in a wrong way is more abundant on Africans and other developing countries. But we are human beings, we should be treated as a human being, even though we are black Africans.

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 11, 2015 at 9:27

Thanks John! If we are working with a community we should be aware of different population groups but not need not highlight that. One question I like to ask in the community is - who is missing?

By sharing your personal example you have hit the nail on the head. Grateful.

Comment by John Donnelly on August 11, 2015 at 9:18

I agree with Yasmin in that labelling and categorizing can be useful in some contexts. When labelling and stereotyping have negative connotations problems arise. It is the negative aspects that should be avoided which I think is largely stereotyping!

I have experienced labelling and stereotyping many times in my work. As a white Australian I have been labelled a 'rich white man' many times by persons in what Australians would refer to as developing countries. When I stand in that location I probably am a 'rich white man' in comparison with those with whom I stand. However when I am home I am far from being a 'rich white man'. When I have tried to explain this I have been told that all Australians are rich. From their perspective and by comparison to themselves this may be correct. However this is far from correct within Australia.

Labelling and categorizing can be useful and needs to be contextualized. Stereotyping is not contextual and is mostly negative.

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 11, 2015 at 9:08

Thanks Albie and Yasmin...happy to learn from your experience. Yes, we need to be sensitive. My experience is of using Constellation's way of working - SALT which creates a non-hierarchical, non-judgmental atmosphere which encourages people to share authentically, without inhibitions because they are not being judged.

Comment by yasmin karim on August 11, 2015 at 8:54

Sometimes in development you have to categorize human beings to address their different needs and concerns but not to label them. It should be a careful process if the people are categorized. Label people is different than categorization. For example categorize young women vs older women  but because of their different needs and concerns and this categorization can help to address the needs rightly. Label can create hater and conflicts . see what is happening in the world . it s all because of labeling people based on stereotypes. plz don't label any one. 

Comment by Albie Colvin on August 11, 2015 at 8:35

Thanks for the great insights Rituu.

I am currently in Nepal and feel the same would apply here, where many of those affected by the earthquakes could have been categorised in ways which differentiate them rather than unite them.

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