Different The Same: Speaking from Heart to Heart
The Peace 50 community brings together influential, concerned, active, and responsible women from different countries and fields of activity. Each of the participants is not only an experienced expert but also an implementer of social projects contributing to the preservation of peace and development of the world. This year’s Summer Peace Summit brought together about one hundred women from 16 countries. Miriam Leitner and Theresia Romberg-Frede, co-founders of the Different The Same project dedicated to Chinese women, were among the Summit’s speakers for the first time.
co-founder of the Different The Same project dedicated to Chinese women
co-founder of the Different The Same project dedicated to Chinese women
The concept of Different The Same project is based on the idea of similarity of people despite their cultural diversity. Miriam Leitner and Theresia Romberg-Frede have started a project with interviews and very personal and sincere stories of Chinese women. Such open conversations have visually shown that all women are unique but at the same time their life positions and systems of values share much in common.
Different The Same project is a heart to heart conversation. It is a dialogue that German women started with Chinese women, thus erasing borders not only between those two countries but also among all countries of the world.
– Where did the idea to start a project featuring Chinese women come from?
– We are two German women who first met in Beijing. Both of us had lived abroad before, but China was a different experience for each of us. This country seemed confusing and fascinating, intimidating and beautiful at the same time. It was simply very different from any other country that we had visited before.
It was interesting for us to communicate with the residents of China, especially with women. Most of our queries were related to the role of women in society’s life and in their families. Why are so many children brought up by their grandparents in the country side? How do Why are so many children brought up by their grandparents in the country side and how do their mothers, mostly migrant workers, cope with it? How do women organize motherhood and work? Do they have easy access to the labor market? How do they handle the rapid changes in society? Which causes alienation between the generations? Do young women still have to fulfill their parent’s traditional expectations regarding marriage and motherhood? What do women really think about the One-child-policy and how were their families affected? What values are important to them personally and with respect to the education of their children? Which topics are currently important to women in China?
We thought it might be easier to address our questions if we asked the women to be part of a project, to give them a chance to contribute to a better understanding not only between us, but to anyone who would be interested in what they had to say.
We also wanted to encourage people to put off their fear and prejudices and speak with each other in an open manner. We are deeply convinced that listening to each other is the most important step to a more personally connected and peaceful world.
– Who supported your project?
– When we started, we only relied on the emotional support of our families and friends. At the same time, we had enormous feedback from the wonderful Chinese women. They were open and sincere with us and trusted us so much that they shared their private stories. They understood and shared our wish to foster communication bridges connecting the world. That was incredibly valuable for us. Our activity was highly appreciated, and the project was even funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung in the context of “Grenzgänger China – Deutschland 華德無界行者”.
Thanks to support of Dr. Nora Frisch, a book featuring 45 women has been published at Drachenhausverlag. So far, it is only available in German.
– What new things did you discover when communicating with women of Beijing? What would you regard as unique about those women?
– First of all, we were pleasantly surprised with their openness. It was very easy to find women who accepted to contribute to Different the Same. Many of them weren’t used to being heard, some even said they had never before spoken about some of their problems even with their husbands or friends.
Our interviews were very emotional, from sadness to happiness, from despair to hope.
We came across the interviewees by chance and very often didn’t know anything about them until we actually started talking. However, we became very close to each other in course of the dialogue. We were astonished that each interviewee was special in her own way.
Many stories surprised us.
On the other hand, some topics came up regularly: the difficulty in finding a husband (especially for educated women), the social pressure to marry before becoming thirty, the poor living standards and lower level of education on the countryside, the burden to fulfill their parent’s expectations, the desire to force less pressure on their own children, and the frustrations of trying to combine old traditions with modern life.
We realized that some of their stories sounded like those being told in Germany by our grandmother’s generation. Back then, they had to work on the fields and at the same time take care of their children.
Just reminds us that it is not really the nationalities or cultures, but the circumstances that play a greater part.
The challenges that Chinese women face in their mother role are similar to those in Germany, although in China, grandparents play a more important role. One thing we did not understand before starting the project was why mothers seemed to give away their children so easily. We learned that, of course, it was not any easier for them than it would be for us, but there are various social and economic reasons that force them to do so. We discovered that the disparity is not based on our value systems regarding motherhood, but again on living circumstances.
– You publish positive articles. We also share the concept of socially responsible media. We believe, it is necessary to speak more about kind deeds and inspiring stories in today’s world. However, negative news seems to be more popular…
– We do not make any money with our project and are independent from media companies. Thus, we were free to follow our own curiosity and personal interest. We did not want to ask too much about social, historical, economic, or political issues. We talked about such topics only if the women themselves started to talk about their impacts on their lives.
It was very important for us to show a realistic and pluralistic picture of China, one that focuses on people and not on a system. We were looking for similarities rather than differences.
We did not want to only highlight the problems of women as being migrant workers, belonging to ethnic minorities, suffering from abortions, or having to leave their child behind.
Instead, we were interested to see the whole picture.
We also wanted to talk to women we could relate to. That is why we spoke with a truly diverse group, women from all ages, different levels of education, from the city and countryside, all social backgrounds, workers, teachers, and artists alike.
To be able to have an open and honest conversation, you must communicate openness and it must be clear that you start a conversation without any preconceived notions about any political or historical events.
The women entrusted us with their life stories because they knew that our project promotes understanding and they hoped to reduce prejudices.
– Do you think it is important to establish intercultural bridges similar to those created by you and your project?
– Yes, we definitely think that mutual understanding can only be achieved by listening to each other and communicating. We think that humans can relate quite easily to personal stories and feel empathy towards each other, even if living in very different parts of the world. These intercultural bridges are a counterweight to what we hear daily in the news.
Learning about others is always learning about oneself. We are convinced that despite our diverse cultural backgrounds there are many similarities between us. Of course, that means that we have to question ourselves. We are forced to think about our own values, privileges and conditioning. It’s exhausting to question yourself, but that is the premise of sincere tolerance.
When I (Miriam) came back to Germany I realized that I needed to change my view on the people living in my village. Why was it easier for me to relate to women in China than to the farmers in my hometown?
You do not need to travel far to establish intercultural bridges. Sometimes they are needed right where you live.
That is why I recently started to interview, and portrait farmers and I found out that they are as willing to talk about their lives as the Chinese women were.
If you show honest interest, many people are willing to open up and hope to thereby create an understanding which can be a foundation for a great relationship.
– What is the role of women in establishing intercultural communication?
– Women should use their voices to promote openness, tolerance, and love. We must be more confident in our own interests, reduce our prejudices, and make our common goals visible. We think that women can get in touch easily on a personal level, we share a lot of knowledge and we should be aware of our similarities. If women strengthen their voices through cooperation, they can help solve people's problems. That is why we are very grateful for the work of P’50 and for being able to contribute to this summit!
Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov