by Sydney Piggot, Director of Programs and Projects, YWCA Canada
Taking part in the Inter-Council Network’s recent discussion on public engagement and global citizenship education reinforced to me how interconnected we are, despite being at home for weeks on end. Panelists and participants joined us from across Canada and around the world to talk about what it means to do this work during a paradigm shift caused not only by the coronavirus pandemic, but also by the rise in awareness of the injustices that so many communities are facing right now. Whether it is state violence against Black and Indigenous people, gender-based violence, or lack of access to Internet and technology, there is no doubt that people have woken up to the realities of those who are made vulnerable. In this context, public engagement and global citizenship education becomes even more important, but how do we make sure that the spaces we create are inclusive, accessible, and centre the voices of those most affected by these inequities?
Having this opportunity to share my ideas and learn from the incredible panelists who joined me was so valuable in answering this question. Each person’s perspective and experiences made our collective solutions richer. The three key messages I left participant with are
Give credit where credit is due. Social movements do not grow overnight. As educators and advocates, it is important to know our roots and acknowledge them. By building upon the incredible work of those who came before us and those who work alongside us, we make these movements stronger.
Ask yourself: Who is not able to be here? As we shift more and more to online spaces to conduct our work, we must make an effort to understand how the spaces are inaccessible or unsafe for many. The digital world is a mirror of the physical world and replicates the same systems of oppression that exclude so many communities. We need to continue to address these inequities–like poverty, racism, colourism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, etc.–as much online as we do in person.
Take the time to educate yourself first. Our environment is changing quickly and what we may have accepted as “normal” a few months ago is no longer our reality. Before we attempt to educate others, we need to educate ourselves by listening to the experiences of those most impacted by injustice. We need to make a concerted effort to address needs as they are presented to us by those with lived experience, and not based on our assumptions about what works best.
I’m looking forward to seeing these solutions in practice and continuing to learn how to do public engagement and global citizenship education better.