By Judithe Registre, Founder and podcast host
The quests for gender equality and social economic justice both have roots in migration. We are all refugees. If we trace our ancestry back just a few generations, most of us will discover that we came from immigrants, especially in the United States. In the early years of this country, our entire population was made up of people who had immigrated, largely for religious or economic reasons. Throughout our history, the United States has received immigrants from all over the world—France, Spain, Ireland, Germany, China, the Soviet Union, and Cuba, just to name a few.* America would not be what it is today—and neither would so many other countries—without its immigrants. Around the world and throughout time, humanity has improved because of migration.
Now, the world finds itself in a situation not unlike those we’ve seen before—huge masses of people are migrating, and the rest of the world, including the United States, must decide: Will we open our doors to incoming migrants?
Today’s refugee crises
There are currently 65.5 million people who have been displaced. Countries like South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are some of the most drastically affected. These displaced people are daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters, friends, brothers. They are people like you and me who have been affected by the fate of history, geography, and nationality.
Having lived and worked in places like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is a tragedy for me to see the plight of these people. To be displaced as a refugee is something that few of us can imagine, but we must find a way to empathize. We must put ourselves in their position. It is simply not enough to look at something from the outside and determine a solution. To truly and effectively solve a problem, especially one as big as the refugee crises, we must feel the impact of the problem on a personal level.
Of course, we cannot forcibly displace ourselves. We cannot become refugees in order to understand what it feels like. What we can do, though, is open ourselves up to hearing refugees’ stories and connecting with them on a personal level. This can be as simple as finding a place to volunteer, such as a church or a community center, and having conversations with the women and men there. It can be as simple as listening to stories or reading articles about these men and women, and opening our hearts to the stories we take in. It can be as simple as understanding our own history. What if we could effectively empathize, and then go beyond empathy in order to see the world from refugees’ perspective? This should not be difficult, since someone in your family was either a refugee or an immigrant. Once we feel that empathy and feel what life must be like for a refugee, we are one step closer to solving the problem. And certainly, this is a problem that we must solve. Our humanity depends on it.
Empathizing in today’s political climate
The level of empathy I am describing here is not easy, especially considering today’s political climate. Today’s world leaders are blatantly less open and compassionate, and these are the people who are acting as our role models. With these leaders at the helm, we citizens are constantly being desensitized to the suffering happening around us and around the world. Sadly, social media—while a gift to raising awareness—might also be normalizing some of these issues.
Considering the current state of the world, we cannot afford to be removed and devoid of compassion and empathy. If our leaders are not leading compassionately, we must lead compassionately. We put ourselves at risk if we intend to design a better world by searching outside ourselves for examples. We must start at the personal level and look within. We must find the answers in our own hearts and become the examples for others to follow.
I take great comfort in knowing that human beings can make up our own minds, despite our deep desire to follow the crowd. We are capable of making decisions and working toward our desired goals, and we are able to identify the proper courses of action and take them. Still, when our leaders ignore this, it can be difficult for us to go the other way. How do we stand up against a political tide of normalized insensitivity?
Inclusion for collective goodness
When countries are being led by one particular type of person (consider the United States, in which white men hold 65% of elected offices), countries are ruled by unconscious biases, unconscious ignorance, and unconscious privileges, of that one type of person. It limits identification and solutions of the best solution for social problems.
Leadership must be inclusive. We need more that represent their communities: more women, more people of color, more people from diverse backgrounds, more differently abled people, more LGBT queer people, more people of various ideas, in positions of leadership. There is no other way to create a unified, empathetic, understanding society than to consider the perspectives of all different types of people.
Because men tend to be actively fighting, most refugees are women and children. The refugee crises are women’s crises, which means we need gender equality for collective actions to solve the refugee crises. Placing more women in leadership positions will make the world look different. Women have a different leadership script. We have a different understanding and take different approaches to problems. This is not to say that all men should lose leadership roles, but we must have a balance in order to understand each other. We need global compassion in order to respond to the current crises. How can we understand problems of persecuted populations without having conversations with them? How can we take any steps to improve the refugee crises without having conversations with refugees?
When it comes to social problems such as the global refugee crises, the only way forward is through inclusion and compassion. We must open our borders, open our hearts to empathy, and open our ears to the stories of our refugee brothers and sisters. Once we can see us in them and them in us, once we understand that we are all humans, we are all refugees, and we are all in this together, we will be able to move forward.
*It’s worth noting that voluntarily migrating from one country to another is very different from being forced out of your home country as a refugee. But the two situations are more alike than we may realize. In both situations, people move and migrate for the same core desire: Safety. We are motivated to relocate to save our own lives, to save our children’s lives, to find better opportunities or securities. These motivators are not unique to immigrants or refugees today or in the early 17th, 18th, 19th or 20th centuries. Human migration for safety—be it economic security, religious security, or security during wartime—has been central to human evolution for centuries.