I had the great honour of having coffee on Tuesday with Donna Kennedy-Glans. Donna has an impressive bio having worked many years in the energy industry, including a stint as a VP at Nexen, is an active volunteer in the community, and runs a business called Integrity Bridges focusing on corporate, gender, political and community integrity. She has also written two books; Corporate Integrity: A Toolkit for Moving Beyond Compliance and Unveiling the Breath: One Woman’s Journey Into Understanding Islam and Gender Equality. Donna is also now the PC candidate for Varsity in the next Alberta Provincial election.
Donna and I talked about one of my goals of taking on the issue of polarization within the scope of this documentary project. I’ve written a few posts on the blog about it now. So she has shared some writing she has produced on the subject that I share now with you.
By Donna Kennedy-Glans http://integritybridges.com/
But why is this so hard; why is implementation of equality laws persistently derailed?
How have political agendas managed to obfuscate issues and polarize people from each other and themselves? It has become obvious to me that in order for political engines of any party (sometimes egged on by special interest groups with agendas) to secure power and influence, it is necessary to present their position as being in opposition to the recommendation of another group. It is nearly impossible to resist inclusion in these categories. To sort out the players in this rapidly evolving world stage—to put everyone into tidy, static pigeonholes—we attempted to define nations, political parties and individuals using conventional labels: liberal, conservative, neo-conservative, democratic, progressive, traditional, tribal. But, old labels didn’t work. So, we adopted new language to classify worldviews. Scholarly experts in many fields—politics, economics, spirituality, philosophy, human rights, culture, the military—corroborated the clash of civilizations theory in bound treatises filled with isms.
Terrorism, fundamentalism, nationalism became everyday expressions.
With few exceptions, this polarized positioning—which nearly always garners power—is done at the expense of the issue itself.
Global warming is a perfect example of this. Science could—and should—attend to research on whether or not global warming is happening in the normal course of study, since, of course, that’s what scientists do. And the research outcomes would be observed with great interest by all of us going about in the world. But it is simply not necessary to prove or disprove this theory in order to take action. Moreover, the action needed is something nearly all people agree with: who would disagree with a strategy to continually take measures to protect the environment, conserve natural resources and protect our wildlife and wilderness for future generations, to the best of our ability in the short term, while making long-term plans for down the road? You will be hard pressed to find a responsible person who disagrees with this course of action, and ideas to advance these goals could readily be explored and acted upon if framed and presented properly. But the issue has been deliberately politicized—polarized—to the detriment of us all. And while we are distracted by endless posturing and ludicrous debate over theories that may never be proved, the issue has nearly been lost.
It has been hijacked, in fact.
Exactly the same is happening with gender equality.
If you look, you’ll see clearly how we’ve been encouraged to see these divisions as normal; naturally-occurring fissures. To cope, we’ve been convinced to compartmentalize the various facets of our lives—family, faith, community, workplace, global citizenship—and ignore the proverbial forest for the trees. But, in a post 9/11 world, dividing our lives into tidy pigeonholes is futile. As an individual, I see the world through the layers of values nurtured in the various communities to which I belong. As a lawyer and a citizen of Canada, I’m professionally and politically convinced that gender equality is an inalienable human right. As a member of an immense clan with Irish-Scottish-English heritage, agrarian middle-class roots and Protestant faith, I can’t close my eyes to the legacy of expectations nearly hard-wired into my DNA through generations of cumulative cultural and religious conditioning. The many communities to which I belong have differing opinions on the roles, rights and responsibilities of men and women in society.
For myself, I needed to break down these walls that divide. I needed to live in the midst of Empire.
There is hope. With access to the information highway at our fingertips, it is becoming more and more difficult for elite minorities to control how information is presented and to monopolize how issues are framed. This change opens the door to alternative choices.
With a front-row seat to a re-awakening of dialogue about the roles and rights of men and women in the poor and recently medieval Muslim country of Yemen, I’ve been surprisingly inspired. For me, Yemen is a litmus test on how Muslims across the globe are approaching the centuries-old quintessential question: How can newly-minted gender laws, universal human rights and globalization’s incentives for equality be harmonized within my Islamic faith and my culture?
The reality is that feminism and spirituality continue to knock heads more than any other two ideals, and not just in the East. I’ve been equally interested in the way in which these goals remain elusive in Western culture and indeed all cultures. Cultures are shaken by the imposed stricture—the impossibility—of picking one basic human right over another.
Moreover, both feminism and freedom of religion are doomed to failure until we successfully integrate them both into the same human reality, or at least include them within the same continuum of choices.