My learning experience – 36th International Human Rights Training Program organized by Equitas

The 36th International Human Rights Training Program was organized by Equitas, an international human rights-based organization, aiming at empowering human rights educators and activists to better carry out human rights education and advocacy in local, national and global level with more participatory approaches. In this year’s training program, there were more than 100 participants from different fields of human rights education and advocacy in everywhere of the world. Throughout the 3 weeks study we have discussed 6 main topics in relation to human rights education (HRE), namely Building a Culture of Human Rights, Seeking Common Ground, Applying a Human Rights-based Approach, Educational Evaluation in HRE, Actions for Social Change, as well as Providing Open Space Technology. The whole course was also a human rights education-based training involving diverse participatory approaches like small group discussions, large group discussion, commenting between groups, role-play, energizers, debates and case studies, which could serve as a perfect paradigm for human rights educators and activists to conduct further diverse HRE in the future.

The quite apparent conflicts between different cultures, religions and working areas surprised me during this training. On the last day of the first week’s study, we had a group discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). During this discussion, a number of misconceptions and clichés showed up, such as “If same-sex people could get married, then I could get married with my dog, my parents and my children…” I never imagined that even in this high-leveled training full of human right activists, these narrow-minded attitudes could dominate the discussion in several groups. It is understandable to own misconceptions or discrimination on LGBT people, for some of the participants who were coming from countries where LGBT or same-sex behaviors are strongly illegalized by the government with death penalty or imprisonment.

However it is still promising as LGBT issues were followed up at different sessions in the following two weeks. I was so satisfied by witnessing a lot of positive attitude changes from different participants. Human rights advocacy is a long-term goal, especially for the equal rights of LGBT people. Even in developed countries such as the USA and Canada, the living condition of young LGBT people is not always as good as we imagine.

The second concept that shocked me a lot is the permanent prejudice inside our brains. We were born with prejudices and grow up in a specific environment where we could not meet every person and cover every issue in our life. There are thousands more issues and attitudes beyond our conceptions and experiences. Prejudice is born with ignorance and incomprehension, and it requires tolerance and critical reflections to eliminate by active human beings.

It is not exaggerating to state that IHRTP is a life-changing experience as many of our experience and conceptions have been challenged by multi-cultural communication. Not only the topics we are not familiar with, but also the fields we have already known or professionalized. In the past I always regarded it difficult to utilize international treaties, since they seemed extremely obscure to understand. However, in reality if we spend several hours in reading and discussing each of the treaty, it is no longer that difficult to understand the importance of these treaties in our work. These off-line readings inspired my passion on human rights issues in a totally different angle, and I found it very worthwhile to master these basic tools as comprehensive human rights advocators.

Another positive change is that I am more self-confident to carry out rights-based participatory trainings in the future. For instance, how to utilize diverse participatory approaches such as small group discussions, large group discussions, role-play, case studies, and Open Space Technology, how to develop right-based schedule with multi-cultural aspect taken into consideration, how to carry out effective evaluation and monitoring, and how to serve as a more considerate and skillful facilitator in different right-based trainings.

Equitas could apply a more positive strategy, say, involving more LGBT identified people in the IHRTP in order to better advocate equal human rights for LGBT people during the training course in Canada. On one hand, with their positive participation, homophobia and transphobia dominating conversations could be avoided during the discussion. On the other hand, these LGBT identified people could help to popularize basic information and knowledge in relation to LGBT issues as well as gender equality and gender diversity, so that Equitas could save more time as well as human resources. Another effective approach is to add some simple questions in the application form or in the pre-trainings questionnaires, like what is your attitude toward homosexual or transgender people? With these answers they could be aware of the attitudes of participants, and avoid the unnecessary conflicts beforehand.

Michael (Yan Liu) – Youth Voices Count member/ Core Working Group members- China

Michael Liu is a 28 years old a community-based researcher and a human rights activists in China. In the year of 2011, he began to work at a local community-based organization in north-east China, Consultation Centre of AIDS Aid and Health Service, focusing on the issues of sexual marginalized populations, including LGBT, people living with HIV and sexual minority-oriented sex workers in northeast China. In 2012, he became a core member of Youth Voices Count. After receiving a number of training and internships outside of China, he began to carry out human rights-based training and workshops in China, such as Youth Sexuality Education Training, Anti-blackmailing Training for Youth LGBT, and CBO Capacity Building Training, etc.