You're listening to Ted Talks Daily, I'm Elise Hu. When we think about politics, we often think about Congress or casting ballots on Election Day, right.
But we forget that one of the most basic political units is the family sibling disputes or what we should eat as a family where we should take trips.
They're all compromises and negotiations of power. In today's archive talk from TED Summit 2019, human rights activist Hajer Sharief shows how her regular family dinners growing up taught her how to participate in politics to make decisions for the household even when she was a child. This is cool and something we could all incorporate around our own dinner table.
Twenty years ago, my family introduced a system called Friday Democracy Meetings every Friday at seven pm. My family came together for an official meeting to discuss the current family efforts.
These meetings were facilitated by one of my parents and we even had the note taker. These meetings had two rules.
First, you are allowed to speak openly and freely as kids were allowed to criticize our parents without that being considered disrespectful or rude.
Second rule was the Chatham House rules, meaning whatever is said in the meeting stays in the meetings. The topics which were discussed in these meetings varied from one week to another.
One week we'll talk about what food we wanted to eat, what time us kids should go to bed, and how to improve things as a family. While another meeting discussed pretty much events that happened at school and how to solve disputes between siblings, by which I mean real fights at the end of each meeting will reach decisions and agreements that will last at least until the next meeting. So you could say I was raised as a politician by age of six or seven.
I mastered politics. I was negotiating, compromising, building alliances with other political actors.
And I even once tried to jeopardize the political process, these meetings sounds very peaceful, civil and democratic, right. But that was not always the case because of this open, free space to talk, discuss and criticize. Things sometimes got really heated. One meeting went really bad for me. I was about 10 years old at that time and I've done something really horrible at school, which I'm not going to share today.
But my brother decided to bring it up in the meeting. I could not defend myself, so I decided to withdraw from the meeting and boycott the whole system. I literally wrote an official letter and handed it to my dad announcing that I am boycotting I.
I thought that if I stop attending these meetings anymore, the system will collapse. But my my my family continued with the meetings and they've often made decisions that I disliked. But I could not challenge these decisions because I was not attending the meetings and thus had no right to go against it. Ironically, when I turned about 13 years old, I ended up attending one of these meetings again after up.
I called it them for a long time because there was an issue that was affecting me only and no other family member was bringing it up.
The problem was that after each dinner, I was always the only one who was asked to wash the dishes while my brothers didn't have to do anything about it.
I felt this was unjust and fair and discriminatory, so I wanted to discuss it in the meeting, as you know, the idea that it's a woman or girls rule role to do household work is the rule that has been carried out by many societies for so long.
So in order for a 13 year old me to challenge it, I need that. The platform in the meeting, my brothers argued that none of the other boys windows are washing the dishes. So why our family should be any different. But my parents agreed with me and decided that my brothers should assist. However, they could not force them. So the problem continued. Seeing no solution to my problem, I decided to attend another meeting and propose a new system that would be fair to everyone.
So I suggested in front, instead of one person washing all the dishes used by all the family members, each family member should wash their own dishes.
And as a gesture of good faith, I said, I'll wash the pots as well.
This way, my brothers can no longer argue that it's not within their responsibility as boys or men to to wash the dishes and clean after the family. Because the system I proposed was about every member of the family cleaning after themselves and taking care of themselves.
Everyone agreed to my proposal and for years that was our washing the dishes system. What I just shared with you is a family story, but it's pure politics, every part of politics includes decision making and ideally the process of decision making should include people from different backgrounds, interests, opinions, gender, beliefs, race, ethnicity, age and so on. And they should all have an equal opportunity to contribute to the decision making process and influence the decisions that will affect their lives directly or indirectly.
As such, I find it difficult to understand when I hear young people saying I'm too young to engage in politics or to even hold the political opinion. Similarly, when I hear some women saying politics is a dirty world I don't want to engage with, I'm I'm worried that the idea of politics and political engagement has become so polarized in many parts of the world that ordinary people feel in order for them to participate in politics, they need to be outspoken activists.
And that is not true.
I want to ask these young people, women and ordinary people in general, can you really afford not to be interested or not participate in politics?
Politics is not only activism, it's awareness. It's keeping ourselves informed. It's caring for the facts when it's possible. It's casting a vote.
Politics is the tool through which we structure ourselves as groups and societies. Politics covers every aspect of life.
And by not participating in it, you're literally allowing other people to decide on what you can eat, where if you can have access to health care, free education, how much tax you pay when you can retire, what is your pension? Other people are also deciding on whether your race and ethnicity is enough to consider your criminal or if your religion and nationalities enough to put you on a terrorist list. And if you still think you are strong, independent human being unaffected by politics, then think twice.
I'm speaking to you as a young woman from Libya, a country that is in the middle of a civil war after more than 40 years of an authoritarian rule. It's not a place where political engagement by women and young people is possible nor encouraged.
Almost all political dialogues that took place in the past few years, even those gathered by foreign powers, has been with only middle aged men in the room. But in places with a broken political system like Libya or in seemingly functioning places, including international organizations. The systems we have nowadays for political decision making is not from the people for the people, but they have been established by the few, for the few.
And these few have been historically almost exclusively men. And they've produced laws, policies, mechanisms for political participation that is based on the opinions, beliefs, world views, dreams, aspiration of this one group of people while everyone else was kept out.
After all, we've all heard some version of the sentence. What does a woman, let alone a young person who is brown, understands about politics?
When you're young and in many parts of the world, the women you often hear experienced politicians say, but you lack political experience. And when I hear that, I wonder what sort of experience I do, referring to the experience of corrupted political systems or of waging wars, or are they referring about the experience of putting the interests of the economic profits before those of the environment?
Because this is political experience, then, yes, we as women and young people. We as women and young people have no political experience at all. Now. Politicians may not be the only ones to blame because. Ordinary people and many to young people as well, don't care about politics and even those who care, they don't know how to participate. This must change. And here is my proposal.
We need to teach people at an early age about decision making and how to be part of it. Every family is its own mini political system that is usually not democratic because parents make decisions that affect all members of the family, while the kids have very little to say.
Similarly, politicians make decisions that affect the whole nation, while the people have very little to say in them.
We need to change this, and in order to achieve this change systematically, we need to teach people that political, national and global affairs as as relevant to them as personal and family affairs.
So if we want to achieve this, my proposal and advice is try out the family democracy meeting system, because that will enable your kids to exercise their agency in decision making from a very early age.
Politics is about having conversations, including difficult conversations that leads to decisions. And in order to have a conversation, you need to participate, not sign off like I did when I was a kid, and then learn the lesson the hard way and have to go back again. If you include your kids and family conversations, they will grow up and know how to participate in political conversations and most importantly, most importantly, they will help others engage. Thank you.