‘Pass the mic to women rather than speak for them,’ Oxfam director tells Labour Conference

24 Sep 2019 News

Charities and politicians should be “handing the mic over” to people they think might be voiceless instead of trying to speak for them, a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference heard yesderday. 

Saranel Benjamin, director of women's rights and gender justice at Oxfam, was speaking as pat of a panel discussion on feminist development policy which also included Diane Abbott MP, shadow home secretary, and Preet Kaur Gill MP, shadow minister for international development.

She said: “I’m way past the stage of giving a voice to the voiceless or speaking on behalf of those that are voiceless.

“I just say pass the mic up to those that you think might be voiceless, because they have a voice.”

She added that Oxfam is creating platforms and environments for women so they can ask for themselves what they want from governments and agencies.

Decolonising international development

Meanwhile, Abbott spoke about progressing a decolonised approach in international work, through a mutual exchange between women beneficiaries and those in government and in charities.

She described visiting a project in Ghana where women sang for her, as making her feel “like a colonial governor”.

She also called for innovation to encourage women into economic activity, saying "if I've been to one project where it's women sewing stuff, I've been to a hundred".

On the Labour Party's activity on international development, Kaur Gill said the Department for International Development should shape government finance more and take ownership of the money available to it to carry out its work.

The shift in international work

Speaking about the allegations of sexual misconduct against women by Oxfam aid workers in Haiti last year, Benjamin said: “Hearing about the fact that women and girls had to endure such trauma at the hands of international development actors, I think it’s shocked us into some sort of awakening.”

She added: “I’m happy to say that within the international development sector, with the NGOs I’ve been working with in the last two to three years, I can see the shifts that are happening.”

She said there are pioneers in the sector being innovative and trying to decolonise international aid, adding that the giving of unrestricted funding is one method.

On the climate crisis

On a separate note about the climate crisis and international work, Abbott said charities and government should listen more to diasporas of those already affected by climate change and living in the UK.

She said these groups know what the climate crisis means and are a primary source of funding to “put the roof back on” after disasters, for families in their countries of origin.

She added that the Labour party is looking at migration policy and keeping families together.


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