Inclusion: let’s walk the talk

Posted on 26/04/2019
By Myn Garcia

Inclusion. It’s a buzz word. Inclusion finds itself in public policy discourse and conversations in development circles. Situated at the interface between policy and political processes, it is relevant in discussions and debates on citizenship and migration, cultural studies, economic theorising, humanitarian standards and the intersection of gender and climate change, among many others.

But we all know that inclusion is fraught with challenges. Raul Cordenillo in his article, Political inclusion is vital to sustainable democracy, argues that ‘foremost amongst these [challenges] is the increasing difficulty by which the needs and aspirations of citizens can connect with accountable and representative political institutions.’ He also cites the inequality of opportunity to engage in policy discussions and the lack of access to political institutions due to ‘frameworks or modalities for inclusive citizen involvement and engagement not being implemented or are simply not in place’ as a key issue.

‘The Foundation is committed to linguistic diversity, and believes that supporting translation and local languages fosters diverse traditions.’

At the Commonwealth Foundation, inclusion is key. Central to our work is the imperative to strengthen and include civic voices, those less heard, in the mainstream spaces where policy is interrogated and decisions are made. We refute the notion that there are people who do not have a voice. Rather we posit that people in all their diversity and in the margins, despite having a voice, are less heard.  Thus, access to spaces in the public sphere and the amplification of civic voices in matters of policy, governance and development are the areas that require accompaniment and support.

In March 2019, our cultural initiative, Commonwealth Writers, convened a small group of translators, writers, publishers, literary agents and cultural activists from South and Southeast Asia in Penang, Malaysia. The intention was to investigate imbalances caused by the relative lack of literary translation in the region.

Malaysian National laureate Dr Muhammad Haji Salleh (second from left) joined translators, publishers and writers at the Translation symposium in Penang, March 2019

But why is this important? The Foundation is committed to linguistic diversity, and believes that supporting translation and local languages fosters diverse traditions. To support translation is to encourage writing in local languages and the proliferation of diverse narratives. While Commonwealth Writers ‘recognises the value of English’s status (and others widely-spoken) as a “bridge language” – a conduit through which works spread beyond borders or communities – its prevalence has often obscured the vitality and range of creation in non-dominant languages in Commonwealth regions.’

‘We all know that inclusion is fraught with challenges.’

In the same month, through our Participatory Governance and Gender programme, we supported six women from West Africa, to be part of United Nations Women’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Annual Consultation of Commonwealth National Women’s Machineries in New York. This built on a dialogue on African Feminism which the Foundation co-convened with its partner, the West Africa Civil Society Institute in July 2018.

Pictured: dialogue on African feminism co-convened between the Foundation and the West Africa Civil Society Institute in July 2018

The New York delegation was intergenerational with more seasoned members mentoring those who have not yet had an exposure to a global space. In the Caribbean, the Foundation is supporting a governance dialogue on the intersectionality of gender and climate change, taking into account the impact of differentiated vulnerabilities.

Hazel Brown (left), feminist activist and pioneer delegate to the 1995 Commission on the Status of Women in Beijing, pictured with younger activist Shamima Muslim (right), whose attendance was supported by the Foundation.

At the last Commonwealth People’s Forum held in London in April 2018, women who have not only been ‘included’ but have actually been authorised to be decision makers in peace panels and processes came together to share their experiences and good practices. The Foundation’s grant programme features a range of projects that highlight inclusion of women in political processes, civic voice inputs to legislative reform, women with disabilities engaged in advocacy for the rights of people at a disadvantage, community-based organisations undertaking policy advocacy on social protection, and NGOs dedicated to promoting health rights and accountability in delivering health services. These are just a few examples of what inclusive governance entails.

Let us not just talk about inclusion. Let us accompany each other to demand for it and more importantly, to walk the talk.

Myn Garcia is the Deputy Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.