Blog – Untapped Role of Creative Expression in Development Work for Social Justice

Kaarvan Crafts Foundation would like to honor, internationally acclaimed social justice day, February 20th. What is social justice? According to UN social justice is the principle to live a peaceful life with one’s neighbors. Many generative themes come under social justice such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion and culture.

Conflict exists everywhere in the world. The problem is that we have become too accepting of oppressive conditions existing in our individual realities. We have become too passive in our response to violence. Violence is a big concept to understand. There is a whole spectrum from structural violence to physical violence. On a much more intangible front is gender factor and how an individual’s biological disposition can limit choices and possibilities for both men and women. Being surrounded by imperfect governance, law & order, and patriarchal culture it is perfectly understandable of feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of reality.

Shhh… Kaarvan’s little secret to deal with complexity is not to over think things and just do! Embrace uncertainty! Kaarvan does this through immersive grassroots operational fieldwork in rural areas of Punjab such as Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, Kasur and Gujranwala reaching out to marginalized low-income females and building their economic capacity by provision of life skills. Understanding the impact of gender and its effects on society at large. Kaarvan strives to bring women at the heart of development. Acknowledging that if women were to work side by side with the men, the economic and social relief that they would induce is far greater than we can imagine.

In order to unpack gender factor and its ramifications for women’s role in development, Kaarvan has developed a holistic practice of learning from on the ground challenges present in rural areas as well as investigating interconnected topics of feminism, patriarchy, masculinity, femininity, class, and social inequalities. Each term needs to be critically examined in order to understand where inequalities and injustices seep into the society. Such criticality is essential to understand gender relations and power dynamics.

Bear witness to conflict/ to injustice but through a questioning lens. Look at the immediate situation but also look beyond that to what hidden beauty or untapped resources, relations or space can be unpacked. Transform conflict into a resolution. Do something about it in your own personal capacity — voice out your concern through various mediums (social media, video, blogging, photography, writing). Or hold community event, or create a club on the social topic, or connect with institutions.

To share this thinking of social justice and it’s hidden connection to beauty, Kaarvan held a series of workshops at Kaarvan Head Office, Beaconhouse National University (BNU) and Kaarvan’s Gujranwala Training Institute. Through interactive activities involving the use of photography, objects and imagination the topics of justice, beauty, social activism and empathy were explored. Why workshops? Workshop is an effective way to mainstream peace in education as it involves collaborative learning, deep listening and acknowledgement of different perspectives. In order to unpack the concept of social justice and beauty Kaarvan designed a week and half session that included two workshops and a personal project. Projects are also a great teaching methodology as it is an active form of experiential learning that helps develops an individual’s civic responsibility and participation in society

In the three workshops carried out thus far, Kaarvan has gathered some key insights. First, the power of social media to start a digital movement such as #metoo has led to the normalization of discussion on sexual education and discourse on physical abuse at public spaces. Years ago the word “rape” could not be spoken so openly says Miss Pakeeza, Head of Textiles Department at BNU. Zainab’s case has stretched our brains to another level altogether. People are discussing this topic almost everywhere now on streets, at homes, tweeting about. This has increased our capacity of acceptance and tolerance.

Second, the lines between liberal and conservative mindset are blurring. Usman adamantly said that a person need’s to fully embrace one ideology. Either be fully liberal or fully conservative. This middle ground is full of contradictions, leaving you at crossroads where you are neither here or there and can lead itself to hypocritical actions.

Third, in villages there is a lack of awareness of rights. Especially, the rights of the child regarding economic exploitation. The importance of play and recreational activities let the child unpack their full potential. Beauty lies in the simplicity of play in the bamboo trees and the children being each other’s support system.

Fourth, in terms of empathy and discussion of gender roles, utilization of objects helped make the abstract idea easier to grasp. As it quickly became visible how objects or toys carry invisible cultural learnings. For insistences objects commonly associated with boys such as cars, helicopters, building blocks are much more active than objects for girls like dolls, playing house or tea set are more passive. What would happen if let girls play with remote control helicopters? Perhaps the exposure to electronics would give her the space to reach her full potential.

What is the way forward? Begins with self. Self-awareness of our personal values, beliefs and behaviors and how these respond to conflict is the heart of transformation. Understanding that change begins with self and extends outwards to how we engage with others and our environment.

There is so much we can do… if we only try. Change will not happen overnight — it might take days, months, years or even centuries. Every action has some reaction. What is stopping us from acting?