“Life is violence.”

11Apr12

Physical abuse is an epidemic in the communities these women come from. In some groups, 100% of the women may experience violence in their lives.  But rather than being able to find support from each other, hierarchies are created out of these experiences, where the women who don’t experience violence often feel superior to those who do.

This has led Brinda to ask the question, “What does violence mean to you?”

The purpose of the question is to explore issues like verbal and emotional abuse, and that although some women may not experience violence, abuse is occurring in all of their lives. It is also an attempt to break down the hierarchy that is built up between women who are physically abused and those that are not.

Many of the women told stories of their abuse, almost matter-of-factly at times. It was heartbreaking to hear the social belief structures that underscored the abuse and made it seem normal and like an inevitable part of life. But I was most affected by one woman who had these very direct eyes. One of the coordinators was sitting beside me that day, translating as the women were talking. They were going around the room answering Brinda’s question.

This woman said, “Life is violence.”

She talked about how her husband was an alcoholic who didn’t contribute financially at all to the family, and who did nothing but sit around all day and watch television. She did not mention it directly, but most likely she was a victim of domestic violence, and had probably experienced abuse throughout the  majority of her life. She wondered why women even continue to live except to take care of the children they brought into the world. “Otherwise, what is there to live for?” She did not break down, she said all of this with a very clear gaze, but you could see the pain behind her face.

This is what the deliberative dialogues are meant to be. I think any significant change in a person’s life begins with being able to sit with another person, or a group of people, and have the opportunity to speak their truth, to be able to say exactly what they are feeling and what is going on in their lives, personally, socially and politically.

All this pain had been building up inside this woman, and she had no one to speak to about it. There was nowhere to go to express her anger, she could only look around at her life and accept it. At this moment, she was able to say what was happening to her and express how it made her feel to a group she felt safe enough to confide in. As another women in the same group said, “I never talk about how I feel when I’m hurt, or what I go through when my family distrusts me.” In such a conservative culture, these are almost taboo areas.

The objective for the participants is to then strategize and become aware of how they can create confidence or courage within themselves, and then to see if they can express their confidence to others, and in their life. This means defining what confidence and assertiveness means to them in a concrete, realistic, and at times very modest, goal, and then actualizing it. They are then accountable to a supportive group that will work with her to make it happen. The challenges we are dealing with may be massive social issues like domestic violence, unfair labor laws and sexual harassment that we can’t swoop in and “solve” with a few workshops. However, we can build the capacity of the participants to learn more constructive and powerful ways to communicate and interact with each other as a group, to approach problems with new tools for exploring alternative methods of thinking and responding, and to formulate their own options and strategies.

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