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Pushing it downstream

One of the biggest barriers to change is CULTURE. Where women know nothing else but patriarchy, it is very difficult to engage with them about gender-related issues, even when they affect them directly.

Many Zimbabwean women believe that sex is solely about their husband's pleasure, that marriage and motherhood by 25 are the only markers of success. If such beliefs are deeply entrenched within a person, then it's a challenge to address and change them.

The other challenge - which is an offshoot of the first - is that you therefore normally only find 'empowered' women talking among themselves. How do you tell a woman who has no other means of survival (beyond her husband) to leave an abusive marriage? What would you advise her to do, knowing full well that she will become a social pariah if she speaks up? Some of what we talk about only applies to a certain class of women - the ones with social and financial currency who can walk away from bad situations because they own their own property - both physical and intellectual. And in a way, some of what we say is elitist, only benefiting those already in the know.

Culture is hard to address and has to be tackled sensitively, lest one's efforts be labelled propagandist or 'un-African'.

But the real key is to strengthen women's initiatives so that they are able to provide sustained support to women in vulnerable situations. Zimbabwe's Musasa Project - a women's organisation working against domestic violence - is a classic example of what I mean. Currently, they are able to provide female domestic violence survivors with only about 3 weeks temporary shelter because of funding challenges. After that, the woman is on her own in a country that looks down upon divorcees and has 80% unemployment. A similar situation happens at the Adult Rape Clinic which cannot provide any support to rape survivors beyond basic medical care and counselling.

If I, as a woman, know that the services that should help can actually add to my ostracism, will I take them up? In essence, what I am saying is that as much as information dissemination is crucial, there needs to also be systems strengthening to make women feel safe in making their decisions to speak up.

I believe that I am one part of the process - the information dissemination and advocacy part. Someone else is the systems strengthening agent, the policy formulator, the donor. Through World Pulse I am hoping to build relationships with people whom I can work with towards achieving holism in our approach to issues. I have been writing for a long time but I am always mindful of the fact that the people who access what I write are mostly women who can read for pleasure and appreciation and not the particularly marginalised who need to be reached.

More work is needed to push the word downstream because that's where it's really needed!

Comments

Leina's picture

Hello Fungai,the word is

Hello Fungai,the word is indeed needed downstream,I fully agree with you.You sound so thoughtful and realistic

Fungai Machirori's picture

Thanks!

Realism is always necesssary lest we sound more floral than useful. This is one of the reasons I hate NGO jargon. It makes you forget what you are really talking about often...

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Leina's picture

You are a solution

You are a solution

SAsong's picture

We are all pieces of the movement

I concur - Those that can speak should advocate and raise awareness, those that have strategic planning skills should develop programs, the list could go on...Thank you for doing your part and challenging others to identify where they fit in and contribute. The cultural barrier is so hard particularly when it is reinforced by one's environment. Women thrive on social support systems, so being ostracized is like a death sentence to some women in vulnerable situations. You mentioned financial independence - enough said. With an ability to earn an income a woman can gain autonomy and is empowered to truly live life on her terms.

More power!! Keep speaking and be the social conscience that others cannot ignore.

Hugz!

Fungai Machirori's picture

You are so right

Women thrive on social support systems. And the thing to then do is recreate them so that they 'move with the times'. Absolutely no point in giving me a book on domestic violence if I can't safely act on what it instructs...

I hate the fact that so many organisations still use reach/ number of print materials dissmeniated as an indicator of their success. Not really meaningful...

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

ariniaina's picture

Hi Fungai, Leina is right.

Hi Fungai,

Leina is right. You are a solution. Do not lose hope.

Keep it up dear.

Cheers,

Ariniaina

Thanks for visiting my blog http://ariniaina.wordpress.com

Fungai Machirori's picture

We are all solutions!

Thank you so much. Loved the blog and the way it gives us a taste of who you are.

Together WE can!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

vivian's picture

keep moving

Culture is a sensitive issue. It is quite difficult to discus among those who believes so much in it. But you are almost there, keep moving in what you are doing.

Vivian

''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

Mei Li's picture

pens.

Is it possible to engage with abused women through the written word? I ask because I taught workshops to women with substance-abuse, sexual-abuse, domestic violence issues and some who were transitioning from prison into safe housing. So many of them continued to go back into the same cycle. I realized when I was teaching that we could offer them all the resources imaginable - recovery counseling, health services, legal aid when children were involved - but if they weren't being taught to value themselves, what difference would any of it make?

I performed for them many times - I would take my most intimate poems and read them outloud. I wanted them to see my own vulnerability, my own struggles through breaking down what my culture says a woman is and should be.

For me, I had to sit down with them and talk about the mythology that surrounds us and how it made them feel.
I had to bare my soul, so they knew they could say anything.

The more open I was - the more bold they became.

Your post was wonderful, and I love this line from a response you wrote, "Realism is always necesssary lest we sound more floral than useful."

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Fungai Machirori's picture

You've piqued my interest...

So before responding I had a look at your post and had a boom bam bam moment. Using poetry as a tool for expression among oppressed/ repressed women!!!

You know someone I met from Pakistan told me about how, in a community her organisation works with, they use drama to allow community members to discuss relevant issues while affording them anonymity in that they simply act out roles, get given performance names and can distance themselves from the actual subject that way. It's been educational, entertaining BUT most of all non-stigmatising.

Poetry. Yeah, the same concept could work definitely. It's really a lot like body mapping. Just get women to write out their experiences, help them in discovering their poetic voice and publish it. It's been done before, I know. But not sure how much time people have put into the developing the women's creative writing skills and not just getting the poem out of them and then leaving them again.

We should thresh this one out a bit more!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Mei Li's picture

:)

The problem, at least here, is that people are taught writing skills in a very cold, grammatical, mechanical sense. They're not taught to write from the inside out. I'm teaching a workshop in Dec. that will teach women to write just in that way - being gently fierce, speaking for themselves.

I always engage with them first by creating a "word pool" together. On a chalk board we all contribute words - blue, creative, violence, damp, mountains, furnace, tile, moss, elation, erotic, happy - etc. Encouraging opposites when they list words is helpful too. If they say "rage" i want them to also think of "pleasure" even though i don't think that's the exact opposite.

After we have a word pool, I give them 15-20 minutes with a pen and paper and prompt them with a writing exercise. After that, they can share if they want to...or they can simply keep the work for themselves. The point is that THEY WROTE. It is an act of liberation. I begin each session with a poem I think they can connect with too. Poetry is known to be considered some elite form of literature - I do not believe that to be true. I think it is the manifestation of our stories in a sweet form.

I was teaching 8 week workshops with mapped out curriculum...discussing the body in one, the mythology that surrounds us as women in another...some women would not write at first, but were writing more than anyone in the end. It is a very scary thing to do...approaching the truth of yourself. I think it is often hardest to be honest with yourself, above and before and beyond being honest with other people.

Last night I tried to write a poem about the absolute truth of things I am dealing with. What ended up being created was a 2 page dialogue between myself...and my self. :)

It wasn't a poem...but it was a way to look at myself honestly. We need to be able to do that!

Eve Ensler, writer and activist, has done extensive work with women and the written word. She worked with women in prison, offering them writing workshops. Then, she took their work to the stage and had performers perform the pieces. The production is AMAZING and a film was made about it called What I Want My Words To Do To You.
Ah!

We can continue to thresh, absolutely!

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Fungai Machirori's picture

Bliss!

Wow - thank you SO much for sharing this. I am definitely keen to start thinking about how this can work practically for me and the women here.

Like you rightly point out, poetry is often seen to be elitist and not the language of the 'layperson'. And because of that, people pay little attention to it except if they have to.

I'd be keen to interrogate this idea of creating the poetic voice particularly among young women and girls. Why? For me growing up, poetry was the constant companion through the trials and tough times that come with life. It was the friend that I conversed with, the medium of my full expression. It taught me that I didn't always need someone to tell what I was feeling. I could handle it and make sense of it with myself.

And young women and girls need to know that particularly so that they can use this whenever they face challenges in life. Of course poetry can't solve problems and neither is it for everyone, BUT it's a chance for escapism and realism all in one.

Mmmm - I'm seeing this kind of activity being beneficial as a complementary life skills education type-of-thing that takes poetry and literature out of the classroom, ie. no focus on Shakespeare, John Donne etc etc who can make poetry seem so very masculine and medieval. Bring in the hard gritty real beautiful honest morose happy stuff.

There's one anthology that I read at about 18/19 that really made me understand poetry and it had the indelible line that read "Some of my worst bruises have healed into poetry".

Oh yeah, poetry is powerful.

And also it can be used as an income-generating thing. Do poetry workshops and then get the women performing, published etc. WOW - what untapped potential!

THANK YOU so much for getting my brain juices working. Who would have thought that posting that poem would lead to so much excitement!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Myrthe's picture

Fungai, I think you mention a

Fungai, I think you mention a very important point in your post. One of the challenges that women's activists across the world have to deal with, is that women's rights and women's empowerment is so often labeled as "foreign to our culture" or "Western" or "feminist", implying that empowering women is not necessary or damaging local culture or things like that. I live in a very different part of the world, but the same argument is used in Armenia, where I live. As you point out, women's empowerment has to be done in a way that is respectful of and sensitive to local culture. I also think it is important to show that empowering women is beneficial to the entire community, not just to the women themselves.

Another issue that you mention that I think is an important one is the problem of how to reach those women who need help, advice, opportunities, support etc. It is easy to stay in the same circle of people, preaching to the converted, but reaching out beyond that circle is essential. You are right: getting the word out is crucial for success!

Myrthe

Fungai Machirori's picture

Practicality is key!

Thank you Myrthe. Indeed, practicality is essential always. We need to alywas ask ourselves if what we are saying is practical and practicable.

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Ladybug's picture

Reflection on "Pushing it downstream"

I really enjoyed reading your post, Fungai.

Your piece eloquently underscores the need to increase accessibility to include "marginalized" women, as a means of combatting their unintended exclusion from the larger discussion of women's empowerment. Your identification of this crucial issue is the necessary first step towards granting these women a voice.

I also appreciate how you describe yourself as a component part to the larger "process" and present the Pulse Wire forum as a unique opportunity to achieve integration and collaboration.

Great work!

Catherine

Fungai Machirori's picture

Thank you

I am one. Alone I cannot do everything. But still I can do something.

I first read that many years ago and was not really sure I understood what that meant. But I get it now. I am a piece of the puzzle, a component of the solution. We must all think of ourselevs that way. Otherwise, we run the risk of thinking we are super heroes (heroines) who can solve everything ourselves. And that's not possible!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Sarah Diop's picture

Yes!

Fungai,

Yes, I agree with everyone. This was an inspiring, realistic piece. Your passion, intelligence and leadership shines through. Women need real solutions that can support them long-term within their community. We all strive for a idealistic world and for many of us its a far easier choice that we sometimes take for granted. I have been known to get lost looking at the big picture rather then the individual steps that will lead us towards that destination. I feel inspired by your story and grateful for the change that I am confident you will be part of.

Keep writing and inspiring!!

Wishing you many Blessings,

Sarah

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