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I have heard it said, many times, that we should “place ourselves in the shoes of someone else” to understand others better. My experiences so far have made me question if this really is a good idea.

In fact, I have come to believe that this seemingly innocuous cliché could actually be harmful. Before we learn about a person and the context(s) in which their decisions function, we are ill equipped to give advice based on what we would do. As we all know, our perspective on any situation is inextricably linked to our personal experiences: experiences that may be limited in scope or relevance to those of someone else. Therefore, we need to work together and try to help each other become aware of the convoluted intersectional forces that actively influence the decisions we make as well as their immediate and long-term implications. 

I posit that we make an effort to gain a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of how one might effectively operate within one’s own specific context. The best ways that we can do this is by encouraging each other to develop our ideas, providing tools and skills that people can tweak and use for their benefit, and doing what we can to get our respective contexts involved as supporters or partners.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, all of our efforts are connected. The key is to remember that we all have something to learn from each other. The most important and sustainable efforts always involve mutual growth. 

Based on what I have witnessed so far, I believe that Operation 1325 employs these fundamental concepts—both at the office and on the field. For this, among other reasons, I am excited and thankful to be their intern.

Prior to my arrival, in the summer of 2011, I spent several months in Battambang Province, Cambodia interacting and learning with grassroots organizers from Cambodia’s leading opposition party.  As MP Mu Sochua’s intern, I had the opportunity to assist opposition party leaders with shaping and executing women’s and youth leadership trainings. We worked together to inform farmers and their families of their rights and opportunities within their local political spheres.

In the summer of 2012 I revisited the region to continue my research. I am happy to report that we celebrated the efforts of the candidates who won well-deserved seats in their commune councils. Two of them are competent and hardworking young women!

By engaging with actors at various capacities within multiple rural communities in Battambang, I came to understand the importance of contextualizing analyzes of challenges and successes. I relearned how critical it is that we listen carefully, both to that which is spoken and tacit, and encourage one another towards goals that we have identified together.

I look forward to digging deeper into issues relating to Women, Peace, and Security through the lens of the historic UNSCR 1325. By cooperating with organizations and reaching out to stakeholders and decision makers alike, I believe that we can shape and witness sustainable advances.

May we always, always be grateful. 

In solidarity,

Mari Haraldsson
Intern, Operation 1325