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SPEECH | “Leave no one behind but alsoLET NO ONE GET TOO FAR AHEAD” (Part 1)

(This is a speech given by Irene M. Santiago at the Opening Plenary of the Global Cyber Peace Conference (Asia and Oceania) organized by the Rotary Peace Fellowship Alumni Association on June 27, 2020).

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening to everyone wherever in the world you are! First, let me say that I am incredibly proud of the Rotary Peace Fellows – many of whom I had the privilege to teach – for putting this timely cyber peace conference together. I am pleased to kick start our conversation about our vision of the world after – as the title of this conference
says – the “great pause”.

This “great pause” is really the “great rupture”. It’s like giving birth. For a feminist like me, I can see what this process is all about: the rupture that is going to give birth to a world much better than we had before a tiny protein- and-fat-wrapped thing called Corona ruptured almost everything in our lives.

Yes, our world flipped.

Our routines flipped. Our priorities flipped. Our preoccupations flipped. What mattered flipped. In the process of these many flips, for some miraculous reason we could see more clearly. We started to ask some fundamental questions about LIFE! And we were surprised, and on some levels, pleased.

Such fundamental questions as: What is essential. Who is essential. What has value. Who is valuable. And significantly, what is a leader. Who are these leaders.

During this pandemic we saw heartwarming gestures of caring for one another such as people leaving food packs in public places so the hungry would be sure to eat. We saw the increase in the number of people growing their own food and sharing this with their neighbors. In answer to the collapse of the global supply chain, a system of bartering goods and services flourished
made easier by the internet.

The frontliners in our health system; the people who restock shelves and work the check out counters in our supermarkets; the cleaners who disinfect our streets and public places; the farmers who grow our food; the people who continue to deliver food and other essentials while we are locked down; the security people who make us feel safe; the media people who keep us informed: we realize they are indeed essential to our lives!

The question of what we value has so far been tied to what we count. As long ago as 1988, Marilyn Waring, a New Zealand feminist, academic, and former politician, wrote it so well in her groundbreaking book, “If Women Counted”, later re-published as “Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth.” She criticizes a system which “counts oil spills and
wars as contributors to economic growth, while child rearing and housekeeping, are deemed valueless.” She adds: “In a sane world, it would seem, humankind would place a high value on life and those able to provide it.”

Winnie Byanyima, now head of UNAIDS, when she was head of Oxfam International, spoke often and well about the obscene gap between the rich – nay, the ultra rich – and the poor. She cited that only 62 people owned the same collective wealth as 3.6 billion people! In other words, the global 1% now own more than everyone else combined! If that is not obscene, I
don’t know what is!

I am distressed when I hear people working on peace and development say that the root cause of war is poverty because it makes us go around in circles thinking we are doing everything to make poverty go away when in fact we are chasing our tails. Poverty, in spite of all the poverty reduction programs that have been going on for ages, has in fact grown to the proportions

Winnie talks about. Poverty, I do not tire to say, is like fever. It is a symptom, a manifestation. So what is the disease? It is called INEQUALITY.

You have all heard this before: how unequal treatment is accorded to different classes and groups of people from the time the baby is in his or her mother’s womb, to the time the child is born, to the age when the child is due to go to school, etc. etc. We have heard of all the disadvantages the poor experience in education, health, right up to housing, jobs, any kind of advancement. There has been a lot of questioning about the focus on “helping the poor”. But something Winnie Byanyima has said shifts the focus in a way I would like us to think about. She says: “Leave no one behind but also LET NO ONE GET TOO FAR AHEAD.” TO BE CONTINUED)

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