Opinion piece Monika Hauser on solidarity
Authors and representatives of public life write personal opinion pieces for goethe.de/kultur about a particular concept that influences their life. Women’s rights activist Monika Hauser believes that many people have lost sight of the fact that solidarity should be taken for granted in civil society.
I witnessed an impressive demonstration of solidarity when travelling in Northern Iraq. Kurds there opened their houses to the hundreds of thousands of people who were fleeing from the campaign of terror waged by the “Islamic State” and other rebel groups. There are many families in Dohuk that are not particularly well off themselves, already live in cramped conditions, yet are willing to put up numerous refugees in their houses or garages. Everyone is pulling together and showing solidarity with one another. We in prosperous Germany have taken in a similar number of refugees, but are supposedly already reaching the limits of our capacity. This contrast between the two societies is huge.
In my experience, women’s rights activists worldwide also show this kind of empathy and solidarity. They are no longer willing to accept the violence that their sisters are experiencing. Giving support is something they find very empowering, which in turn gives them great strength. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that solidarity does us good, too.
“Solidarity is not something we unlearn”Monika Hauser | Photo: © Lena Böhm/medica mondiale When the word solidarity is mentioned, I also think of the young people who came to Munich train station in 2015 to welcome the refugees. Sadly, many people have lost sight of the fact that we should support one another as a matter of course. After all, our first impulse when we see someone fall over is to help them up again. We do not unlearn this ability – I believe it is still there. But clearly many people no longer feel they have the necessary strength to act and to empower themselves – and thus to demonstrate solidarity.
The opposite of solidarity is egotism. Sticking with our topic of refugees: the Dublin II Regulation illustrates how Greece and Italy are being let down in an entirely egotistical fashion. As empathetic beings, we cannot accept what is happening in the Mediterranean. We must protest against this every day. By not doing so, we destroy something in ourselves. We urgently need to bring about a paradigm shift so that solidarity is held up as the civil society norm. We all feel this empathy in us, yet we act so often in a contrary manner.
“A sense of powerlessness”People in difficult situations often seem to find it easier to show solidarity than we in the West do. Many of the questions and concerns that we have here in the West do not even exist in countries afflicted by misery and hardship. Despite a lack of structures – to accommodate refugees, for instance – people there have a different sense of confidence that all will work out. There is no easy answer to why this should be the case.
The failure to act certainly stems in part from fear, and such fears are greatly fuelled by those who benefit from such a policy. Many people do not see how neoliberal and global developments are interlinked. They then fall quickly into the fatalistic attitude of feeling they cannot change anything anyway. They feel a sense of powerlessness. A Congolese women’s rights activist in the heart of a war-torn region does not think about powerlessness – she simply acts. She supports the women who are fighting violence in her village and says to herself: “If I end up being killed as a result, that is just the way it is. At least my life as a feminist has a purpose. And there is no alternative in any case.”
Influenced by the Bosnian war, the gynaecologist Monika Hauser established an organization in 1993 to help women and girls who had been raped. This led to other organizations being founded – which today are independent – in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Albania, Liberia and – in cooperation with partners – in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda und Northern Iraq. Among other accolades, Hauser received the Right Livelihood Award for her efforts.
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