Saturday, May 26, 2012

Men as Partners

I spent four days last week at a conference called "Men as Partners." I will begin with a bit of sad news—my camera was stolen just before I left for the conference.  The good news is that my friend Daniel took lots of pictures and let me copy them onto my computer, so I will be able to show you a bit about what it was like. Here is a picture of me with Daniel. He was born in Haiti so he grew up speaking French and Creole.  He moved to the USA when he was 30 and is now an American citizen, as you have to be to be a Peace Corps volunteer. He has a real advantage here because he is working in his native language when he speaks French.
This conference was attended by Peace Corps volunteers and one or two men from each of their villages.  The men had to be people the volunteers thought were motivated to work for gender equality.  It was really a training of trainers, because the attendees are expect to go back to their homes and use the techniques and information they learned here to work for gender equality.

Even though women have equal rights according to the Burkina Faso constitution, at the village level the life of a woman is not easy.  It is traditionally the responsibility of the women and girls of the family to get water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing clothes, to keep the house and courtyard clean, to cut or find the wood for cooking, to cook the meals, to wash the clothes, and so on.  Wives do the shopping for food with whatever allowance their husbands give them. When it comes time to eat, men are served first.  After the men have had their fill, the older boys eat, and after that the women and children eat what is left. Men do whatever work they do outside the home, but at home they expect to relax and be waited on.  When guests arrive, the women get chairs for them and bring them a cup of water while the man of the house chats with the guests.  Women are always the first up in the morning and the last to go to bed at night.

This conference was rather typical of training sessions in Peace Corps.  There is a plan for each day, with two 2-hour blocks in the morning, separated by a 30 minute coffee break, lunch, and two afternoon sessions of an hour and a half, with a 15 minute coffee break. The first day was devoted to the topic of gender, the second to violence, the third to health, specifically HIV/AIDS and family planning, and the fourth to engagement. The first day was devoted to separating sex, as a biological fact, from gender roles, which are assigned by society. People thought about what they liked about being a man or a woman and how things would be different if they were of the opposite sex. Different forms of violence were discussed, including physical, psychological and sexual violence.  The attendees were well informed about family planning and sexually transmitted diseases. On the final day, for engagement, groups went to 10 different locations in the city and talked to 10 different groups of people about one of the topics we had covered. This gave each man a chance to practice leading or helping to lead a training session on a topic he had just worked on at the conference. Later each community filled out a action plan, explaining one activity they would do when they returned to their homes.

Here is a picture of the room in which the conference was held.  You can pick me out by my white hair.
The training was intended to show many different ways to convey information, other than the lecture method that is so common here. They usually have some kind of audience participation.  Sometimes they ask questions to draw the ideas they want to discuss from the audience. Another frequent tactic is to divide the attendees into small groups with each group discussing a question and writing ideas on "flip chart" paper.  Here are some folks engaged in discussion and recording ideas on a flip.
This is what the room looks like after a number of groups have presented the flips they wrote out during their discussions.
Another activity is called "vote with your feet." One area is designated TRUE and another area is designated FALSE. The group leader reads a statement and you walk to the area that represents your opinion. Here are the people who thought a statement was false.
 And here are the folks who thought it was true, with one of the folks explaining why. Because most of the folks who came to the conference were already pretty well educated about the issues most of the differences came over interpreting exactly what was meant by a statement.
To show what can happen to a girl who tells a teacher about being raped, we all stood in a big circle, with the "victim" in the center and a number of people holding signs indicating their role or relationship with the girl.  She was handed the end of a string that was then passed around to each of the people she was taken to see.  Each time she saw a new person who asked her to explain what happened, she was given a sheet with "tell your story" written on it. By the end of the story there was quite a tangle of string, the girl had eight papers saying "tell your story" and she had not yet been taken to anyone who could give her emotional support or counseling. It really made the point that the victim continues to be traumatized by such treatment and we discussed alternative ways to help in such a situation.
Another activity that Burkinabè really enjoy is improvisational theater.  Groups are given the outline of a skit.  People select parts, plan generally how the skit will go, and have a lot of fun. Here is one skit involving a pregnant girl, who is being played by the man in the yellow shirt.  People often take parts of the opposite sex, which is another way to make people think about gender roles.
All of us like to eat, and here is lunch.  I am sitting with my homologue for the conference, the man who is the program director for the radio station in my town.
At the end of any Burkinabè conference there are speeches and certificates.  Here is one being presented.  Notice all the people taking pictures! A certificate is a big deal, especially since each one was signed and stamped by the directrice of the Peace Corps Burkina.
And the obligatory group photo, referred to by some as the family picture.  After four days people do begin to feel a bit like a family.

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