Shifting Mind Sets
How do I change a mind set premised on a belief system that is cemented in cultural brainwashing and socialization centuries old? Women have been brought up believing that they are third-rate citizens in their communities. In fact, where I come from, the status of women comes after that of children (men are at the top, of course), cows, goats, dogs and cats!! Women do not even believe women like themselves can be leaders. So, when a woman rises up to lead, women are the first ones to pull her down. The systemic brainwashing of women in our families and communities through religion, traditions, culture, and education, has left a permanent mark in their psyche – they find it hard to believe in themselves. They believe they cannot change the way things are and the way things are done. This is one of the most challenging barriers in my work with women in my community.
Our society is very patriarchal. Men feel threatened by women who question the institutions and cultural practices that put down women. Husbands will force their wives through threats not to attend women-led organizations that empower women to see and create possibilities in their lives. Women have no support system when cultural practices abuse their human rights since our legal systems and religious institutions are no better.
To overcome these barriers, personally, I have learned about women’s human rights and joined hands with organizations that work to enlighten male leaders on the unique needs of women living with HIV/AIDS and their children, what they need from leaders and how leaders can support them. In addition, I have supported women to create groups that act as support systems when husbands die. Within women’s groups women support each other in crafting ways to overcome their daily challenges. These women’s groups have become life-line support for new members who do not know what to do when they realize they are HIV positive. I have supported widows get legal help when relatives or other unscrupulous community members try to steal their property by linking them to paralegal personnel who train them on human rights awareness and link them to human rights organizations that help women claim their property.
Currently I use PulseWire and other online communities to highlight the problems women face in my community by writing about them, pointing them to resources and offering solutions they may choose to try out to solve their problems. I also learn about creative ways women are addressing similar challenges in other parts of the world. Recently, I shared my thoughts about peace education in PeaceXpeace and connected with an organization interested in partnering with us to do peace education training for teachers in Kenya.
In PulseWire, I have posted my organization needs in the Action Center and found resources useful for us in Resource Exchange. I have announced our Women’s Congresses as well as connected with great women through conferences announced in Global Gatherings. Women learning from women will help shift mind sets.