Men and women

Monday morning we received some 45 of the 64 expected managers to help them understand the implications of setting up a wheelchair service in their centers. We had divided our roles between the three of us and are each responsible for 3 to 4 sessions.

The social workers came in uniforms. They look like police officers but without a whistle and a cap. This was a good thing we decided, as they look rather intimidating. The other participants come from health centers run by the government and from the national rehab center. Only one person is in a wheelchair, the PR manager of a wheelchair users group who Maggie and I invited at the last minute. The make up of this group stands in sharp contrast with the Philippines where wheelchair users occupy some of the highest positions in agencies that look after people with disabilities.

It is very tricky to teach with a translator. Participants get easily bored when the translator talks to us in English and we miss of course a great deal. But from time to time we can see people perk up as they talk about the universal organizational phenomenon: managers who don’t understand them and do bad things to them. I reminded them that they too are managers and therefore can break the chain.

When not in front I sit by the side chatting with the translator who is not on duty. We argue about American’s role in the world (her: you are bombing people into democracy). I try to explain that, while I am not in favor of bombing anyone and anything, the situation is a bit more complex, especially when it comes to Islamist fundamentalists.

She is an interesting mix of Europe and Asia – a Portuguese father and a Mongolian mother, both attracted as young idealists to Moscow to be part of the communist movement in the 50s or 60s. She points out to me that under the communist regime, Mongolian women earned the same as men, everyone had access to health services, education and housing, though standards may not have been as high as in the west. After the start of Mongolian democracy in 1990, these numbers have been slipping and ordinary people are worse off, especially the women. In the west these advantages of communism were usually ignored or downplayed. But I do remember these facts well as I studied Russian history, political economy and social life as part of my graduation electives. It seems that here the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.

We got into this conversation because I had noticed that most of the participants were women. However, I was told, these were midlevel managers. The ones at the top were most likely men who are highly political party bosses. Our translator has little love lost for the way her country is governed these days, with corruption and bribes creating economic hardship for many.

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