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It Took Me A Long Time To Notice How Privilege Works At Model United Nations

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Model United Nations (MUN) was the answer to all my social interests, when I was in class 7. The events I took part in provided a wonderful platform for learning public-speaking skills, increasing awareness on social issues and helping young students network with a diverse range of peers. They continue to do so, even today. However, these benefits come at a cost. After all, exorbitant fees are charged for attending such events.

For the longest time, I didn’t realise my privilege in being able to attend these events. These MUNs, conferences and seminars look great on one’s list of extra-curricular activities. They also help build ‘power circles’ – only amongst those who can attend these events.

The restriction of access on economic grounds also creates a vicious cycle that reflects in the later opportunities that the attendees receive. This is similar to the discrimination that ‘unpaid internships’ create for young people, worldwide.

These are events meant to engage with creating social change and developing future leaders to address the world’s pressing issues. Ironically, these events do not allow a majority of the population to even be a part of this dialogue. The restrictions come not only in the form of fees but also in the forms of the strict dress code one needs to adhere to, the need for personal digital access and several other incidental costs.

While asking the students (who can attend such events) to no longer participate in such events may not be feasible, there are many things that young students and organisers can do to ensure more inclusivity at such events. So, how do we fix this?

Firstly, each and every person should recognise their privilege. You should realise that you have opportunities that others don’t, and also acknowledge the benefits arising out of these opportunities. Then, steps need to be taken systematically to ensure that more people can benefit from these opportunities by reducing the entry-level barriers. These are some steps that one can take:

If You Are An Organiser:

1. Have a clear financial-aid policy for all such events which should be made known to all applicants. Corporate sponsors will be more than willing to take on the cost of helping more students (of diverse backgrounds) attend such events.

2. Take steps to provide free MUN training for students of lower income backgrounds at various educational institutions, so that awareness of such events and the know-how required to participate is available to more people.

3. Advocate for a more relaxed dress code. Not everyone can afford formal clothes – just providing free entry won’t reduce the barrier of being able to attend, if the attire itself clearly demarcates social groups and identities.

If You Are An Attendee/Participant:

1. Don’t attend events that do not provide financial aid to participants who cannot afford the fees.

2. Train students at your own college/school or other institutes who probably cannot afford personal digital access at home for research, or don’t have access to peer circles that can provide mentoring.

3. If you can, take on the personal cost of sponsoring the attendance of someone else.

The MUN events are meant to allow people to learn how to be improve the world they live in. However, you cannot do this when only a fraction of the people are represented in this dialogue. You cannot build agents of change and social leaders from only the upper echelons of society.

The appropriation of the voices of people who need change the most is the worst thing that we can teach younger generations. What we need to do, instead, is to teach them to create a platform that allows for voices of all persons to be heard, without the need to pay fees.

After all, “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.”

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Image used for representative purposes only.

Image Source : Ministry of Finance, Government of India/Facebook
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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