Panelists Deliana Garcia, Mei-Ling McNamara and William Ryerson employed their diverse fields of expertise and profession-based perspectives to tackle questions surrounding the issue of “Protecting Those Most Vulnerable” Thursday during the Conference on World Affairs.
The main subjects discussed at the panel included who the most vulnerable members of society are, in terms of susceptibility to human rights violations, as well as the importance of empathy, storytelling and policy in addressing the lack of security possessed by certain groups.
The most vulnerable members of society, as noted by the panelists, include women and girls, physically and mentally disabled individuals, racial and ethnic minorities and victims of trafficking, slavery and sexual assault.
“To really contemplate vulnerability is one of those things that could paralyze you,” said Garcia, a migration health expert, on the various inequities that exist between individuals in society and the complexities that arise when attempting to mitigate them.
Vulnerability, she explained, is largely situational and experienced when there is an imbalance of power or the circumstances of a certain scenario are not clear.
“It’s easy to dehumanize people when they don’t have a face and a name,” said McNamara, a journalist, on the relevance of sharing the personal accounts of individuals who experience different everyday realities. Racism and ethnocentrism, according to her, begins when people don’t know each other.
Additionally, she highlighted the difficult ethical balance between protecting the sensitive parties interviewed while also ensuring that their story is made visible.
In regards to how human rights violations can be combated, reproductive health expert Ryerson emphasized the importance of both effective policy making and changing the mentalities of individuals. The power of story and personal narrative, he said, can be a useful tool in implementing this change.
“In many ways, the biggest gap is getting from the boardroom of the parliament to the bedroom of the people,” Ryerson said on the importance of implementing both legislative and belief-related changes.
As far as what others can do to help those identified as most vulnerable, the panelists voiced differing approaches. Ryerson recommended researching before donating and contributing to organizations that operate at a manageable scale. Being an informed voter and citizen, Garcia said, is a key component given the dominant role the U.S. plays in international humanitarian efforts. McNamara suggested meeting with people who have been directly affected by the cause you find compelling in order to gain lasting insight.
Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Heidi Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.