In an IDP camp in Kabul, I noticed the henna on the women’s fingers and the jewellery on their wrists.
On my way back from the airport I was telling my Mum about this and my interest in their choice to keep these items although they are clearly a luxury. In turn she told me about something she saw that had a profound impact on her during her last visit to Mumbai. She was in a taxi driving back to the airport and passed the familiar sight of people who were living under one of the bridges. All around is waste. What struck her, however, was one of the older women there sweeping. She was surrounded by waste but despite the futility of keeping the floor clean she was sweeping the small area that she called home.
It then struck me that these moments highlight something that we so often forget in ‘development’ or ‘humanitarian’ work – and that is the importance of human dignity at the individual level. We talk so much about ensuring that we respect the dignity of those we work with, but we do so little to protect these personal expressions of it. We concentrate on minimum standards and legal frameworks, not recognising that the lipstick given to a female prisoner may mean more to her than the free legal council at that moment.
For me the same is true for the ‘flashy’ aspects we see amongst those struggling in the UK. That flashy phone is a statement – a statement that although they my struggle to make ends meet, they are not ‘that badly off’, to prevent others realising that they are struggling, maintaining their pride. It won’t be expressed in those terms, but I’m sure it is felt in them.