Many international organizations are undergoing a process of self-reflection and considering whether they are genuinely inclusive. Do they unwittingly embody structural racism? Are they perpetuating embedded colonial attitudes and practices?
Peace Direct suggests structural racism is endemic in the aid sector. Their recent report “Time to Decolonise Aid” says, “Following the Black Lives Matter protests that began in US in 2013 and gained global prominence in the summer of 2020, those working in the aid sector have been forced to confront the reality that their own work is steeped in structural racism, something which has been barely discussed or acknowledged until very recently.”
Contexts force international organizations to ask whether there is value for those identified as needing help to receive support from people from other cultures, who can never fully appreciate all the historical nuances of another country. The situation in Afghanistan brings all these questions into sharp focus.
Criteria for AFSC to engage in any situation outside of the U.S. include an invitation from civil society and agreement from the host government. To be acceptable to the host government, we may not always be able to work with a rights agenda, and we are sometimes unable to work with some marginalized groups if the government opposes this. That means that sometimes we are unable to hold governments to account when they deliberately undermine social equilibrium and equality. Sometimes our colleagues and partners are put at risk when they act to protect their freedoms. Intervening in another country raises complex questions, especially for AFSC as an American organization, with a commitment to “Do No Harm” principles. And, if our foundational belief is that people hold the answer to their own problems, what is our role?
We hope that we can create space for different voices to be heard, and we hope we create diverse and inclusive engagement. In such a role, we do not stand against governments, whatever their actions, but try to help them listen to the voices of their people. How does this work in countries such as Myanmar or Israel? It is a slow and delicate process to create an environment where the most overridden voices may be heard.
Questions around racism naturally arise when any organization operates in multiple countries, led by Global North headquarters. Natalie Lartey of the International Institute for Environment and Development | Linking local priorities and global challenges (iied.org) identified six dimensions of racism as she undertook an anti-racism audit:
- Color blindness refers to not seeing race, racism, the contribution it makes to development, colonialism, and not recognizing whiteness and the privilege that comes with it.
- Saviorism is a sense that those in the Global North have to “save” others.
- The white gaze represents modernization theory. This is based on the concept of Global North countries believing other countries need to be modernized and operate in the same way that predominantly white countries operate.
- Neutrality describes the concept that the international development sector claims to be neutral, when in fact delivery of aid is very political.
- West-centerism involves recognizing that through development we promote the use of Western concepts and embed them in other countries. Examples include Western categorization of gender, race, and concepts of poverty. The idea that small economic wealth means there is a lack has been exported and is the key intrinsic foundation of the majority of international development programming.
- Exclusion refers to the failure to tell the stories of what Black and Brown people do to improve health, sanitation, and so on. The development sector has taken ownership of this.
Two issues that AFSC has grappled with are 1) the provision of fair and equal benefits for employees from different countries, working in different countries, and 2) the frequency with which we still engage white Global North consultants when we aim to prioritize the appointment of consultants from the Global South. This often happens as we either advertise in places where people from the Global South are less likely to look, or we engage consultants who we already have a relationship with when we struggle to find alternatives. To address the former issue, AFSC contracted Birches Group. Through their input, we re-evaluated and harmonized our entire pay and benefits scale across the globe.
To address the latter issue, we ask for your help. Please read on to assist AFSC in engaging consultants from the Global South:
Calling for Global South specialists:
Do you have skills in interpretation, translation, filmmaking, developing toolkits for civic actions, data analysis, health and pandemics, advocacy campaigning, or other useful experience in aiding civic actions protecting civic space during pandemics?
If you are both from and based in the Global South, and have skills to share, please send us either your CV or a short bio listing your relevant skills and experience. If you can share links to any of your work, that will be useful. The initial call is to help AFSC identify and engage more Global South consultants. If we gather a lot of names, we may, with your approval, develop a resource page on this site that may serve others.
Please submit to UnderTheMask@afsc.org with subject line ‘Global South specialist'. Please be in touch with any questions or queries.