sex, love, and gender violence – jb

We have just finished our third class in both schools. I’m really enjoying the topics that we are discussing. Linda, Diana, Melanie and I broke up the classes into male and female to talk about several topics. Splitting the males and females is very common here. CPAR said that even in their programs and group discussions they do this. In Tanzanian families it is quite common for father’s to make the final decision. This cultural norm could influence the way in which women and girls participate in group discussions. By splitting into males and females it creates a space where women and girls are not influenced by the men and boys. With that being said, the students are still shy. I think they are still warming up to us, especially the girls. They appear less engaged than the boys; this is my observation, not truth. Is their participation a result of their culture? Is it because of language barriers? Is it both?

Melanie and I have been working with the boys, while Linda and Diana have been working with the girls. We thought it might be good to keep this consistent throughout the program at both schools. We don’t have much time here, so constantly changing who facilitates the boys and who facilitates the girls may affect participation because of the students comfort level. We want to be able to build a consistent stable relationship with the students so they feel comfortable to participate. That way we all get the most out of the program. I was really interested with the opportunity to talk with the boys. I feel as though their ideologies will challenge me the most. It can be so difficult to discuss personal beliefs, especially when the people you are talking with have very different opinions than your own. This is something that I need practice in. I am/was eager for this opporrtunity.

On Day 2 we talked with the students about gender inequality in Tanzania, assertiveness, love, abuse, and gender violence. They all had really good ideas and were able to identify how women and men are treated differently in society. We all facilitated a smaller group. While I worked with the boys, I got them to reflect on how they have felt when they were mistreated or abused, or when they have witnessed someone being mistreated or abused. All of the boys in my discussion groups thought that it was important to defend people who were being mistreated. When we participated in a later activity I took note that some of the boys contradicted this earlier thought. For example, they believed that it’s important to defend people who were being mistreated, and that if a man sees another man beating a woman, he should stop it. But some also believed that there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten. Later, some of the same students who agreed with both statements asked what they should do to stop violence in the home. My observation was that they appeared to struggle with some of their own personal beliefs and thoughts. This is good, I think, because it shows how they can reflect on their thoughts, and their ability to develop their own beliefs.

We also talked about sex with a woman. In our small discussion groups I asked the boys “do you think it is a man’s job or a woman’s job to initiate sex?” Many of the boys said it was both a man’s job and a woman’s job, some said it was a man’s job, but no one said that it was only the woman’s job. I followed up with the question “if a woman tells you no, what should you do?” The boys agreed they should convince her, and if she repeatedly said no then they may try to force her to engage in sexual activity. It was hard to hear that, especially as a woman. I revised the question, and asked them “if you told a woman no, should she try to convince you? What if you continued to say no, could you trust this woman?” All the boys said no, and one said that he would leave the woman. I felt this was a powerful moment. You could tell the boys were uncomfortable, trying to laugh off the question. Some kept their head down, trying to avoid the revised question. Maybe they didn’t want to think about it; but I felt the energy change. The ability to change roles, I believe, was not only powerful for me, but for them too. At least I really hope it was.

Where does this mentality come from? I believe it’s embedded in patriachy, in culture; it’s learned. Canada, North America, the Western world is not exempt from this. I know, as a female, from the perspective of a woman, I can relate to what these boys are saying. I know there are times when I have felt like an object who is suppose to submit to a man’s sexual desires (not needs, they can control their behaviours). It has felt, like sometimes, their desires deserve more attention than my comfort. Somehow me saying no means I am being coy or that I need to be convinced to do otherwise. I’m not sure if this is malicious. I wonder if men have considered the role reversal, if they have thought about being forced or convinced to engage in sexual activity if they have told someone no. I would like to believe that awareness, being able to reflect on one’s behaviour, and open communication between partners would allow men to consider a woman’s comfort over their sexual desires… My hope is that by having these conversations, the mentality of convincing or forcing a woman even if they have said no, will change.

jb

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