designing the dialogues


The second time the groups met, we usually saw a smaller, more suitable number. Although we asked for about 15 women for the pilots, often upwards of 20 women showed up. Their schedules at work and at home meant they often had to leave early, or arrive late. But they all got a sense of what Brinda was doing, and what would be expected of them. In the actual dialogues, we saw anywhere from 8 – 15 women, which were appropriate numbers for the kind of groups we were running. The dialogues ranged from 60 to 90 minutes, and if the group was too large, there would not be enough time for everyone to speak.

The format of the deliberative dialogues is:

Introduction: facilitator makes an introductory statement

Quick responses: to enable members to turn over discussion topics in their minds, let it sink in and take root

Facilitated discussion: listed below are some potential topics for discussion – the women are encouraged to think in terms of the steps they can take in their own circumstances

Question/Answer: all participants, including facilitator, coordinators, researchers, etc. are willing to answer group questions that may or may not pertain to the session

Homework: every participant will be encouraged to take up at least one aspect they would like to change in their home/workplace/community and to come back with results for the next session

The points and values that will be focused on and reiterated throughout the dialogue process:

  1. Enable women to understand their own context and possibilities
  2. Provoke them to take a deeper look at their own situations and struggles, and to find solutions or strategies to address their problems that come from themselves or the group
  3. Enable them to think constructively, ie. in terms of small but significant actions they can take or facilitate others to take
  4. The women come to the meetings with significant pre-knowledge and experiences essential to the dialogue process. This constitutes the basis of further learning
  5. Mutual learning is achieved through a non-hierarchical, informal mode

Topics may include:

  • Images associated with women
  • Gender division of labor
  • Issues of violence
  • History of patriarchy
  • Health problems women face
  • Barriers to accessing health care
  • Access to resources
  • Wages, work and employment
  • Barriers/lack of skill/knowledge that hinders women from challenging poor wages, working conditions, etc.

Examples of how topics can be applied in the dialogue process:

1. Images associated with women: ask the participants to share various preconceived notions about women and to quickly summarize the biases against women. This is to make participants become aware that they themselves may unconsciously hold these biases and to analyze how these get reiterated by our own notions and those of the family and community

2. History of patriarchy and truth about themselves: Elicit from participants qualities they attribute to themselves/their daughters/their mothers and those they attribute to their husbands/brothers/sons. This is to help participants understand that gender discrimination is not an inevitability which cannot be challenged or changed, and that demanding gender justice and equal opportunities for women is fully justified. It is also to portray from their own responses the positive qualities of confidence, assertiveness, independence and nurturing attitudes that are within them and each other.

The dialogue process is a collaborative effort, and cannot succeed without participation from the group, or without a facilitator that not only deconstructs hierarchical, privileged societal and belief systems, but is also able to practice these non-hierarchical values in their own lives and in the dialogue process. When I chose a facilitator, I looked not only at their resumes and what they said, but also how they conducted themselves in their everyday interactions, and whether they applied the values they said they believed in to their own relationships with those who had less power and privilege than them. That requires honesty, self-awareness, openness and the ability to admit your mistakes and make changes. Seeing the effects, seeing the women respond and want to be a part of the group and be willing to open up shows the importance of choosing the right facilitator. When you have a facilitator who knows how to build trust and cohesiveness within the group, and when the group is committed to the process, the results can be transformative.

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