UNESCO Chair in Youth and Adult Education at the Federal University of Paraiba, Brazil
The issue of identity or to be more accurate ‘identities’, is at the heart of recent antagonisms in diverse countries. Identity refers to the multiple elements of our individual and collective identity. It includes such dimensions as ethnic, sexual, gender, national, linguistic, cultural identities. Implicit in the notion of identity is that of diversity, and diversity which is one of the supreme qualities of life in all its forms, demands understanding as the basis for living together. Understanding is not the same response as tolerance. Tolerance is passive. Understanding is active and has to be created. It is a learning process which involves educating both sides.
For these reasons, Rima Abboud’s article on the Aswat – Palestinian Gay Women’s movement is important and illustrative. Aswat was born from the need voiced by a group of Arab women to express three different dimensions of their oppressed identities – that of woman, of Palestinian and of non-conformist sexual identity. And, at the same time, to assist Arab women to understand that these identities were shared by a number of women living in isolation and oppression.
Aswat’s strategy has been to educate and inform, recognising that the lack of education related to sexual orientation and gender identities leads to historical prejudice and to discrimination. The telling of personal stories both in workshops and through publications has been one of the principal strategies chosen to reach out to the LGBTQI+ population. But as Rima Abboud herself writes, “Inclusion (…) is not merely limited to partnerships with groups and individuals with similar identities”. This raises the question as to whether Aswat does not run the risk of preaching to the converted and of not reaching a wider public which needs to be educated to understand and accept sexual orientations which are different from its own.
The challenge is not to reduce the struggle for recognition of the LGBTQI+ population to a question of sexual orientation but to understand sexual orientation as part of a more universal struggle for justice and equality. As Abboud says “We believe that one cannot promote LGBTQI+ issues without taking a stance against oppression, occupation and discrimination of other groups and peoples or by being complicit in orders that perpetuate oppressive and discriminative mechanisms”.
The different is always in some way threatening because it extrapolates our own experience. As adult educators our challenge is to explore the reality of diversity to help students comprehend the relation between diversity and life and to understand that rather than being threatened by what is different and converting it into a motive for inequality and exclusion, we need to recognise the infinite wealth and diversity of social experience and the knowledge generated in that process.
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