Charity or Solidarity?

The work of ASF members is often carried out in collaboration with NGO:s, which may be classified as charitable organisations. In our discussions we often refer to vulnerable groups who deserve the support of charitable organisations. Are we ourselves perhaps charitable organisations? We do not specifically say so but we are probably perceived as such both by members and by outsiders.

There is a connection between the two concepts of charity and vulnerability. Charities need vulnerable groups to support and vulnerable groups need charities to support them. Which are the vulnerable groups to be supported? A newborn infant is certainly vulnerable if deprived of intimate contact, especially contact with a parent figure. Often women are described as vulnerable. This is an expression of patriarchal society, where men like to see themselves as strong and brave breadwinners and the protectors of the family. Evidence shows however that women work more than men and are better protectors of the family than the average men.

One of the most obvious cases of vulnerability is the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. After her accident in 1925, when she broke her spine in several locations (on top of her polio) she ended up in bed. Instead of accepting her vulnerable situation, Kahlo had mirrors arranged in the ceiling of her room and started to paint the most beautiful portraits of herself, those that made her world famous.

Many members of ASF are registered as charity organisations. Many also work practically as recipients of donations from charities. Basing their work on donations from western middle class groups and tailoring projects to fit such aims. The disadvantages of such projects are the temporary nature of their work and the fact that they do not aim at system change.

In many parts of 19th century Europe charity organisations provided housing to the poor which was often connected with strings: the inhabitants had to avoid drinking, a promiscuous life and other aspects of what was considered to be “indecent” life.  The emerging labour movement studied the charity housing organisations but they decided to reject that method. Instead they adopted a principle of solidarity. The labour movement regarded people as citizens with human rights, instead of dividing them into vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups.

In ASF solidarity should also be expressed by all members supporting the charter. Instead of vulnerability, we should talk about the unprivileged, the deprived or the oppressed. By for example supporting the efforts of slum inhabitants themselves we express solidarity rather than pity. Let us make ASF a solidarity organisation and stop talking about vulnerability. 


Dick Urban Vestbro
ASF Sweden