Day 2 at Sazira secondary school was a content full session. The students decided to name their group “Badili Mtizamo”, which is also the name of our program. It means “changing the way we see things” in swahili, which is a fitting name because it implies a reciprocal relationship where upon both us and the students will come out of this program with a different perspective. We started the session by summarizing a handout that we had the students do last class where they had to decide whether the career, trait or activity listed was the role of a girl or a boy. For most of the jobs and traits a majority of students selected that both girls and boys carry out those roles, but they did identify some roles as more common for one gender over another. For example, fetching water, firewood and cooking were more commonly the role of a female, and tending to the animals and having a career as a carpenter was more commonly the role of a male. In this way gender roles do have real life implications, but with that said we really wanted to stress that the students should not let their sex restrict them from being who they want. “I have the right to be whom I choose to be”.
After that we separated the students by gender to conduct the focus group discussions on gender, discrimination, love, abuse, and assertiveness. We noticed from the last class that the girls were much more shy, quiet and reserved than the boys and we hoped that by separating them based on their gender that they would feel more comfortable to speak. Within my focus group the girls were still very soft spoken and hesitant to contribute to the discussion. Beyond the girls being more shy to begin with it also seemed that some of the students had difficulty with English. Translating keywords into swahili seemed to help everyone get on the same page. I noticed that while the students were hesitant to share their thoughts with me, after I posed a question the girls would have a discussion amongst themselves in swahili. Thankfully one of the students would translate for me and fill me in on what was being said. Being more of an introvert myself I am one of those people who are less likely to contribute to group discussions at my own will, because of that I also know that just because someone is quiet it doesn’t mean that their mind isn’t engaged. Getting the students to start thinking about the concepts is a good start. I expected it to be a slow process to get the students to feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts with us but I am hopeful that we will reach a point where we can engage in a two-way conversation. At the end of the day, as Inno pointed out, we can’t empower these girls, they have to empower themselves. The best we can do is to provide them with the proper tools and to build a good support group amongst their peers that will last even after we have left.
When we joined up all the girls to have a discussion on ways people try to force/pressure you into doing things you don’t want and ways to be assertive and say no, the girls seemed to be much more receptive of the information. They would laugh at our over-the-top demonstrations and nod along to acknowledge their understanding. We knew we were beginning to break through because one of the students asked a very valid question in response to our assertiveness tactics. “What if the other person becomes more angered or react in a violent way when I respond assertively?” We could feel that that was a fear that the girls shared. Is it worth it to stand up to the abuser if there is the risk of putting yourself in more danger? Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to fully address the concern but it is a discussion we fully intend to have in sessions to come.