changing hearts, minds, and systems

i went to a talk the other day by an allegedly distinguished anthropologist and researcher. one of the things she said which i more than slightly disagreed with was that individual change, while important, was less than structural change. while i acknowledge the real differences between  individual behavior change and systemic reformation, it’s still a fact that systems are made up of individuals, and that one individual can make massive changes- both good and bad- in all kind of ways.

one example which comes to mind is Guyana’s abortion laws. Radical for allowing termination of pregnancy for any reason and not requiring parental or spousal permission, on paper Guyana seemed like a shining beacon of women’s sexual and reproductive heath rights in the Latin American and Caribbean region. However, because key, powerful individuals remained judgmental, disapproving, and more committed to oppressive religious ideology than women’s sexual and reproductive rights, they were able to stymie full and proper implementation of this progressive abortion policy for two whole decades- leaving Guyanese women (especially those less economically advantaged) at the mercy of bottomhouse butchers and other opportunists.

in another scenario- one bigoted trans/homophobic magistrate was able to deny access to justice for all transgender Guyanese by ordering the police at the Georgetown Magistrate Court to block “crossdressers” (really just biological males wearing “traditional women’s attire” ie skirts or dresses) from entering the courthouse gates. yes, there are larger systemic changes that are needed, but in order for that to happen, oppressed individuals need to find the strength to stand up and demand their rights and lawyers willing to fight the legal battles need to show up. so, once again, we come back to the lowly but essential individual.

eye contact with another, a shared smile, conversation, hug- this is the glue of human society and well being. without it we are sick, fractured, and soul-less. and so, while we picketed yesterday, today we shared out free hugs and handshakes. there’s only one Earth; we are in it together and must learn how to live and love together.

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