Sometimes this project can seem very complicated to explain to people, as it has so many moving parts. I would say that essentially, this program is about changing (negative) habits and using an agreed upon goal to practice more positive, useful responses. Brinda gave a very simple example to illustrate this concept. She said that many of these women have been taught that to be considered a ‘smart girl’ or a ‘smart woman’, they should always answer immediately when someone asks them something.

“Can you wash all these clothes for 100Rs?”

“Yes, of course,  I will do it.”

It is only later when they have thought it through that they realize it will take a lot longer than the money is worth, and that they have agreed to something that they don’t feel comfortable with or that they don’t feel is fair. But because they have been taught they need to answer right away, they keep on repeating this habit and find themselves in situations they may not want to be in.

So we re-define ‘smart’. It is not smart to answer without thinking things through, and it is not smart to agree to something without fully understanding what you are getting yourself into. Instead, ‘smart’ means that you fully consider the consequences of what you are agreeing to before you reply, because then you will realize that you cannot wash that amount of clothes in the time you were expecting, and you will realize you are not comfortable with that salary. Then there is the practical application, how do you actually change the habit, what is the new response you will replace it with? When someone asks you if you agree to something, you thank them politely, and say let me think about it and I will get back you tomorrow.

Basically it is looking at habits and automatic responses that are not benefiting the women, becoming aware of the habit and the need to change it, and then replacing the habit with a response that better serves their needs. They then work together towards an objective and they are able to actively practice these new responses or ways of thinking in their lives, for a goal they have identified as important to them.

This example is very simplistic, but that is the foundation of what we are doing. However, many of the groups are tackling large issues that require  them to shift ingrained modes of thinking and ways of doing things around gender roles, domestic violence, sexual harrasment and class differences. Another example would be the creation of group cohesion. Rather than attempting to address major social problems as isolated individuals, they are realizing they can turn to each other and use the power of the group to deal with issues. So they are breaking the habit or way of thinking that going it alone is the only option to address challenges. But to actually apply it to their lives, first they have to overcome many of the barriers to trusting and working with each other that have developed in these communities, and that is not an easy process. But as I mentioned before, with an experienced facilitator who is able to build trust, these women are beginning to understand they have a lot more power to change and direct their circumstances than they realized.

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