JASS Blog Archives for May 2014

by Valerie Miller on May 29, 2014 on 2:38 pm

Rodeadas de la naturaleza y calor tropical Nica, nos animan las brisas del lago Managua y los jardines de Cantera.  Este centro histórico de educación popular creado por mujeres es nuestro hogar lindo durante esta semana de reflexión y aprendizaje. Entre risas y lágrimas, canciones y bailes, 31 mujeres de toda la región se reúnen para ampliar y profundizar su liderazgo y accionar colectivo. Son mujeres indígenas y rurales junto con compañeras de JASS que exploran y comparten ideas e intercambian sus historias, luchas y retos de liderazgo frente a sus contextos difíciles y cambiantes. Entre la alegría y energía creada, el dolor de la violencia que han vivido emerge y el grupo toma tiempo para apoyarse y renovarse. 

Al entrar en la sala, se siente la alquimia y solidaridad que se va creando entre todas. Es un espacio seguro, amplio y fresco de confianza y creatividad, sus paredes llenos de papeles y dibujos de diferentes colores con las reflexiones de los grupos. Alrededor se sientan mujeres de diferentes culturas y generaciones y en el centro del círculo hay hojas de palmera y flores bellas junto con velas de varios colores. Y en el mero centro, nuestra tinaja de alquimia donde combinamos nuestros saberes para producir nuevos conocimientos. La tinaja sirve como símbolo de la misma visión metodológica—la construcción colectiva de los conocimientos.

Comenzamos cada día con un ritual de celebración y meditación—donde una compañera comparte una reflexión cultural y otras encienden las velas en el centro para honrar la luz que existen en todas. Seguimos con una multiplicidad de actividades como la biodanza que refleja la energía y alegría de la vida por medio del movimiento y que nos une en una forma mágica con sus ritmos y música. ¡Perfecto para el auto cuido! Igual nos une y nos inspira el compartir las trayectorias de nuestras ancestras y mentoras.  Honramos sus vidas de lucha y esperanza colocando sus imágenes e historias en un mural que nos rodea. Seguimos tejiendo los elementos del corazón-mente-cuerpo todos los días para realizar una integración de temas y actividades y de nuestras fuentes múltiples de inteligencia—lo cerebral, lo emocional y lo corporal.

Compartimos  momentos de reflexión sobre la historia de lucha de las mujeres tras los siglos y sobre el poder en los diferentes ámbitos de nuestras vidas desde el íntimo y privado hasta lo público. Analizamos  tanto las formas que nos han oprimido como las que nos alientan y nos dan vida, fuerza y valor. Siempre buscamos superar la victimización que nos puede paralizar y afirmar nuestras identidades múltiples que nos dan poder.

Reflexionamos sobre las ideas iniciales de cada una sobre el liderazgo que visualizaron en el taller anterior por medio de dibujos individuales. Ampliamos y profundizamos nuestra apreciación conceptual de ser lideresa por medio del debate y power point. Luego se dibuja en grupo las nuevas visiones colectivas del liderazgo y las comparamos con las anteriores. Al contrastarlas, encontramos diferencias grandes que nos hacen reír al reconocer que los dibujos originales eran muy individualistas, muchas veces con las figuras de lideresas gigantescas y todo poderosas. Ya los nuevos dibujos reflejan una imagen más integral y dinámica de un liderazgo compartido, colectivo, respetuoso, integral, y reciproco.    

Para reflejar y abonar nuestra propia sinergia y alquimia, hay momentos cuando depositamos nuestras ideas en la tinaja y las mezclamos. Así fortalecemos los círculos de confianza y creatividad que más y más están iluminados por nuestra luz colectiva.

Como ha dicho una compañera del taller, “Lo más bonito de todo es que nosotras mismas estamos definiendo la conceptualización de las palabras e ideas desde las diferentes visiones y perspectivas de todas.”

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by JASS on May 13, 2014 on 7:24 pm

Written by Julie Lun (Caing Ngaih Lwin)

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the whole world,” goes a popular saying honoring women. But why is it that there are so many women today who are “in chains”, marginalized and discriminated against?

Sometimes I wonder why the rest of the world is silent for the countless women and girls whose human rights are violated. Does the problem lie in the morality of the people? Thanks to the One Billion Rising campaign, I am now aware that one in three women have been abused, raped and have experienced some form of violence once in their lifetime.

In Myanmar, two women are raped every 25 hours, according to a 2012 report. One of the two is a girl-child. The United Nations (UN) also reported that 70 per cent of women in every rape or abuse case are silent about their experience. Only 30 per cent come out in public.

Myanmar is a country where “patriarchy” (or, plainly speaking, a system where men are treated better than women) is very dominant. As we in JASS define it, patriarchy is a “systemic and institutionalized male domination and the cultural, political, economic and social structures and ideologies that perpetuate gender inequality and women’s subordination”.  As a system, patriarchy works together with other institutions such as religion, cultural beliefs, education, the state and the media. When put together, all of these systems comprise what we call the “Master’s House.”

As an ethnic woman, I experience a lot of discrimination and inequality especially in educational opportunities and decision-making. When women of Myanmar are left behind in every opportunity, we are afraid to speak out even when we experience unfairness.

‘Patriarchy’ in My Family

Women paying respect to, taking care of and obeying their husbands is rooted in our culture. In my family, my mother always listens to the decisions made by my father. She is not allowed to participate in decision-making regarding family matters. When my mother made “mistakes”, my father would beat her up and verbally abuse her several times. In my younger days, I was also afraid of my father, so I never dared to answer back or say a word.

Because of the cultural situation in our province, my mother was not able to complete her studies and only knows basic reading and writing because she spent most of her life as a housewife tending to her family and her kitchen.

Fortunately for me, I was brought up in Yangon City, the capital of Myanmar, so I had the chance to study well. I realized how important education for everyone is and I want to spend my precious time in school – not only in the kitchen. Having the opportunity to attend higher education, I am now working as social development worker.

In working for the Women’s Empowerment Program in Myanmar, I have encountered a lot of cases of domestic violence. I feel challenged whenever I hear news from our community and daily journal. I read one case of a woman who sustained a lot of injuries and went to the police station to complain. She wanted to sue her husband for having abused her but the officer only said, “Yes, madam, I understand. Can I ask you few questions? Do you have children? Think of them. Do you want them to be fatherless?” Then she could not say anything more and just went back to her home with sadness and painfulness. I really do not understand why the officer neglected the woman asking for help. Why can’t the law protect physically and mentally abused women? This is the reality of living in the Master’s House!

Myanmar Women of Today

The role of women in Myanmar is so significant and they play a vital role in our society. Nowadays, women are not only doing housework and spending time at home; there are also many women making a stand and working hard in their chosen professions. A few of them enter the world of politics to make a difference. Others are in the business arena. But there is still no guarantee of safety for women in our society. Harassment and verbal abuse and other forms of violence against women are still happening and women are being neglected.

Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the Southeast Asia region and the challenges to women in Myanmar remains related to poverty. Problems arising from this abound – such as maternal mortality, illiteracy, violence, human trafficking, sexual harassment and unsafe migration. Violence against women is an “embedded” cultural norm and limited access to education, subjugation of women within the family, work and society in general compound the situation for the women of Myanmar.

Cultural norms and social practices continue to hinder opportunities for women for further process and development. Cultural and social norms should be flexible to women; it should change based on the circumstances in our lives. Our society needs men who respect women rather than men who “protect” or who “take care” of women.

Being a woman and a development worker I will continue dedicate my life for the most vulnerable women and I am eager to advocate and stand for transforming their lives. The good news is, I am not alone. Women of Myanmar who want change are growing in numbers. Beyond rocking the cradle, we’ll confront and smash the Master’s House together.

Julie Lun is a woman activist from Myanmar who has worked in the humanitarian field, especially for the rights of women and children since 2008. She  is one of the regional coordinating group (RCG) representatives of JASS Southeast Asia (JASS SEA). Currently, she is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Services and Development Studies at the Asian Social Institute (ASI) in the Philippines.

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by JASS on May 9, 2014 on 3:58 am

Fungai Machirori, founder of Her Zimbabwe, sat down with fellow feminist journalist, Pat Made at the JASS Southern Africa Strategic Planning & Review to explore the ins and outs of communications for feminist movement building and the importance of getting people to talk differently so that they can think differently.

Fungai: I’m here with Patricia Made; we’ve been together at the JASS Southern Africa Regional Strategic Planning for the last three days. Pat, what are your general impressions about this process?

Pat: I think that it’s been more than a strategic planning process. In many ways, it became a space for us to really reflect and come to a critical analysis of the situation or context that we are working in. And I think that was really valuable for us. Often, with these kinds of strategic planning processes, you come up with your objectives, your activities and how you’re going to do it and what results you’re looking for.  [But this JASS meeting] forced us to look at the environment we work in first. We took a step back to unpack what we really mean by feminist organising, popular education methods and consciousness raising. [One thing that was] so valuable to understand is that it is actually knowledge and communications that sit at the centre of this work. And for JASS Southern Africa and the region in general, we need to position another discourse that uses feminist analysis to look at the interrelation between race, class and gender and how this impacts on the political, economic and social development of our countries. It was exciting. Taking the analysis forward and turning that into actions and activities gets us [and our organisations and movements] far beyond what we often do when we write out short-term plans and actions. I found deep meaning and value in the critical reflection, deep analysis and wonderful communication between women.

I think the language we use in women's rights and feminist work has to be language that’s grounded in women’s experiences and that helps women, no matter where they’re situated in the countries where JASS works to say, ‘A-ha! I’ve had that experience.’

Fungai: What kind of language do you feel would span across different groups of women and their organising, to speak to a commonality of women’s issues and women’s rights, or that would make sense to a collective.Pat Made at the JASS SNA Strategic Planning

Pat: I think the language we use in women's rights and feminist work has to be language that’s grounded in women’s experiences and that helps women, no matter where they’re situated in the countries where JASS works to say, ‘A-ha! I’ve had that experience.’ Or ‘That happened to me the other day.’ So in other words, women begin to connect the dots through their lived experiences. We need to be able to make spaces and initiate conversations to enable women to do that but it’s more than just conversations. Once women have connected dots, then we have to understand what those dots mean. In terms of communications, it’s about creating room for continuous dialogue and helping women to understand how to analyse what they’re experiencing using a feminist analysis. It’s this critical analysis that will get us to the heart of the issues we need to organise around.

Fungai: Do you feel that in order to organise women need to embrace the ‘feminist’ identity? Do they need to claim or name themselves as feminists to be part of the process? As we know, there is a lot of resistance to claiming feminism in different parts of the southern African region [and around the world] and this is part of the dilemma we face as feminist activists.

Pat: The issue of how you identify yourself has a lot to do with location. And often we shift our identities depending on where we’re located. So it’s not always as simple as saying, ‘I name myself as this.’ I often believe, it’s hard to name yourself without understanding the values and what they mean for how you act, how you treat people in your everyday interactions. So it’s not just about naming but about living it. And to get to that point it takes a long time and a lot of constant self-reflection. So I don’t really believe you have to name and identify right away, you have to go through a process of constantly self-assessing, re-learning and shifting values, and beginning to live it in order to name it. So in these discussions—such as the ones that JASS has in communities in Malawi or Zimbabwe—we are providing a framework of analysis and it does not have to be called ‘feminism’ from the get-go. It’s a way of working with people to find a different way of looking at issues, looking at their experiences. These conversations help people to understand the lens we are using. And because it’s about looking at women’s rights and gender equality and gender justice within that, it’s not justice for just one group of marginalised women—it’s all marginalised women and men. So it becomes a collective agenda to bring about a just society.

Fungai: In closing, communication is your area of expertise—do you sometimes find that communication is given a back bench role and treated as an afterthought in women’s movement building and rights work?  What is your hope for the communications role in terms of creating prominence and relevance to the work that the organisation will be doing?

It’s about looking at women’s rights and gender equality and gender justice within that, it’s not justice for just one group of marginalised women—it’s all marginalised women and men. So it becomes a collective agenda to bring about a just society.

Pat: I think within our small [focus] group on communications, we began to understand our starting point. When you get people to talk differently, you can get them to think differently. And communications is central to that. If we want to change the frame and the thinking, we have to really use communications to change how people speak about what’s happening to them. And I don’t see any other way of doing it. The moment you open your mouth to do anything or take a flip chart to do anything, you’re already in the process of communications. So now you have to understand what am I doing with this communication? What am I doing when I teach? What am I doing when I sit down and dialogue? So whether we realise it or not, it is central to organising. And we have to step back and give more thought to its centrality in the work.

This interview was conducted by Fungai Machirori. All photos credited to Fungai Machirori.

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