What do Motherhood, Women’s Issues and International Cooperation on Development have in common?

While the smarter lot of you mentally ennumerate the common denominator of these three most important aspects of my life, let me get ahead and share what’s on my mind: MEDDLERS. I’m thinking about meddlers.

1. Motherhood and meddlers

I’ve only been a mother for 20 months, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the same problem suffered by babies and mothers. Despite of this fact, there are those who still insist on imposing their beliefs, recipes and answers on other people.

Generally, I’ve observed that mothers are usually open to suggestions. Yet, I can’t help but notice the initial reactions to an advice they reject: insistence, further display of proof on the recommendation’s effectiveness, openly unfair judgement and finally, criticism. Surely, one should not have to go through all these just because they decide not to follow an advice. As for the “well-meaning” purveyors of knowledge… don’t they understand the fact that each of us is molded by our particular circumstances, pasts, beliefs and aspirations? Therefore, the solutions or remedies we end up choosing are adapted to our unique situation.

I always wonder whether “wanting the best” for the mother and the baby is the real reason why some people really force their opinion on others. The way I see it, if somebody truly desires the best for the other, then there must first be comprehension: of the problem, of the context and most importantly, of the diversity. This would allow for a better flow of communication. This would facilitate the process of achieving that “best” for the person in need.

In my short experience in motherhood, I learned that happy babies (a common goal for parents) result from being well-fed, well-rested and being around happy caretakers. Equally important is the confidence with which their caretakers do their jobs: if the caretaker is relaxed, the baby is most probably also going to be relaxed. So basically for me, what would really help mothers taking care of a baby is to feel empowered, to have self-confidence and be convinced that they’re doing a good job in raising a human being. The rest can be learned from books and online fora.

I’m lucky to be living where I am, to have resources that I could tap and people who truly support me. This period of my life would be much tougher otherwise.

2. Women’s Issues: when the champions become the meddlers

Currently, I find that that the foundation of women’s rights movement from the past has been eroded in time. I’m talking about solidarity and compassion. These two characteristics are strongly present in the feminine and have fueled the fight for women’s freedom and equality (equity) with men. Lately I’ve been noticing though, that a lot of arguments supporting the advancement of women’s rights sound more of a modern-day colonization than a genuine concern for our sisters’ well-being and progress. By “wanting the best” for all of us women, the very champions for our rights and development are forgetting that even though women may have the same basic needs and rights, the manner of procuring what they need, and the way with which they exercise their rights (if ever they choose to, at all) should be delegated to them- they know better than us what it means in their own societies to advance and progress. They know better than us how they want to live their own lives.

Consider how women’s rights movements started locally, where women gathered and started the battle for a more just treatment socially, economically, and politically, to name a few. When globalization came about, it was only natural for these initiatives to be projected onto other territories, crossing the national frontiers. Even though the intention was (it still is) noble, the explanation of its necessity as well as the method of implementing it are both flawed. Flawed because I believe some activists skipped a couple of vital steps in order to practice solidarity and compassion: inquiring and then listening. One can’t help but think some simply assumed that women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the exact same concerns as the ones living in Phoenix, Arizona.

From then on, a certain type of mentality has been imposed and women who did not adhere to such beliefs were criticized and in some cases, even marginalized by those who were supposedly fighting for their sake. Ironic.

3. International Cooperation on Development: helping or meddling?

When I graduated from college, the main lesson that really stuck was: “There is not a ‘one-size-that-fits-all’ solution to the same problem experienced by two or more different groups/communities. The answer should always be adapted to the specificities of each situation. “

The goal of exerting efforts towards cooperation for international development is to redistribute resources: from those who have them to those who do not. Obviously. Easy enough to understand. Now comes the dilemma of “how” to do it.

Studies have already proven that solutions imposed by developed countries with no grassroots basis usually end up becoming a waste: of money, time, effort and natural resources. Any Developmental Economist would agree that the solutions must come from a collaborative effort between the one who’s helping and the receiving end. That’s why it’s called “cooperation”, right?

However, it has always been the donor “wanting the best”, the donor’s criteria that seemed to dominate in this field: what they believe is “just”, what they think is “effective”, and what they “know those people need”. Thankfully, times are changing and workers in international cooperation are more sensitive to this topic. More and more, the aid given to a target community takes the form of enhancing the existing, local capacities rather than imposing a foreign technique. There is still a long way to go but awareness of this issue is already a big step forward.

Conclusions

While motherhood is a relatively new event in my life, it has deepened many notions in me, and is currently opening up other aspects of my understanding that I never even thought existed. On the contrary, women and development issues have always been part of my life, having grown up in a family whose bread and butter comes from the intent to make this world a better place.

Knowing what I know, I try to believe that it is truly the sense of compassion that moves people to torturously insist on the reliability of their solutions. I try to convince myself that they simply wish to see in others the same fruitful effects of their applied techniques.

Unfortunately, no two situations are equal. So basing on this, the person receiving the advice may consider that the proposed solution doesn’t fit his situation.

In my constant need to map out methods, this idea occurred to me: within the framework of “helping”, I suggest that under the “advice” category, two sub-categories be opened in the form of advice accepted and advice rejected. Help that was given or offered doesn’t have to end in relaying an opinion and leaving it as that. A person with a real concern to help, to make a change, would see if the other would take up on his counsel or not. And in the case where it is rejected, he would try to find out why; perhaps not to annoyingly try to solve the problem, but to learn.

Advice

Learning would mean the world between the meddlers and the “legit” bearers of help. An informed person in front of another who’s in a dilemma could do more by simply listening, than one who would blindly exert an effort to achieve a change in the situation.

I encourage you to think about it.