Brazil is...well Brazil is a breath-taking country particularly to a homesick Colombian who hadn’t realized how much she has missed the “proper “sunshine.
I headed to Joao Pessoa a beach town in the northeast of Brazil, together with Mandy Marshall my boss and Co-director of Restored. We were invited to deliver a three-day session on Gender and responses to gender based violence (GBV) and more particularly, violence against women (VAW).
My main objective was to absorb as much as I could from Mandy’s knowledge and skills on delivery in this type of training as well as practice what I have learnt so far. This was achieved thanks to the generosity of Mandy’s training and an engaging and thirsty audience that participated with avid desire and depth of thought.
We were oversubscribed, we had 38 people. This was a first for me, as Gender and VAW Training in my experience is not a crowd pleaser. But that set the tone for the event. We had an amazing group of women and men who had recognised in their everyday environments, whether work or in their personal spheres, that VAW is prevalent and that as Christians we should be at the forefront of responding to it. From that point of view our job was easy, they were already there in terms of recognising the need and the urgency for a response from the communities of faith.
We started by setting the scene by asking people’s dreams for their country and their church (as a whole).
The collection of dreams included a Brazil where there is social justice, the end of corruption and equality. For the church the dreams were more diverse but unity and love where key words.
At first it may seem like an un-related topic, and spending a day talking about it a bit unnecessary, but as the training progressed the realization comes that this is a crucial topic. The abuse of power, which is at the centre of any type of abuse, has its origins in our own insecurities and our lack of sense of who we are. The fear of not knowing who we are fuels our desire to control others in an effort to find meaning, a sense of belonging, satisfaction. Another reason why it is important to talk about identity is because it reminds us of the value of the other, and how what we do affects them, to coin Mandy’s favourite question “ how is what we are doing affecting our relationships?”
In the afternoon of the first day we explored the issue of gender inequality using a problem tree exercise.
We divided the group in three to explore root causes, core problem, and effects around the topic of gender. They all had in-depth discussions around it and each group presented its results to the rest at the end. It was very encouraging to see them all discussing and participating. This exercise shed some light for us in terms of certain issues that needed to be address regarding VAW, particularly the need to differentiate between causes and contributing factors. Alcohol, drugs, infidelity and economic pressures were viewed as causes of VAW when in reality they are contributing factors. Inequality, sin, selfishness, a sense of entitlement over another person and the abuse of power and control are at the heart of VAW.
During meal times we had the opportunity, using our limited Portuguese, of interacting with the participants. The stories they shared about the work they do were of great impact for me.
On the second day we started the day with the circle exercise. Here women formed a circle inside and men formed a circle outside. Then the women had 15 minutes to discuss three questions:
-What does it mean to be a woman in Brazil
-What would they want men to understand about women?
-What it is difficult for them to understand about men?
Meanwhile the men were asked to remain silent as long as the exercise was taking place.
The women appointed themselves a facilitator and when Mandy told them their time was up they asked if it was possible to have a few more minutes as not everyone had had the chance to talk.
After that the roles were reversed and the men had to answer the questions about themselves and women. In turn, the women had to remain silent.
The men talked in no particular order, a few took most of the time and when Mandy pointed out their time was up they didn’t stop and continued talking for about 5 more minutes.
It was interesting to reflect back on this, as we had been exploring for the last day the concept of power and the use of power. Why didn’t the men stop when Mandy requested? Why didn’t they acknowledge her authority and ask for more time if it was necessary? All valid questions that brought interesting reflections on the practicalities of using our power well in the relationships we have established.
It was very important to hear about the work they are doing among young women and men, the impact they are already having as well as the barriers they face, their frustrations and prayer requests.
We then proceeded to explore domestic violence. We divided the group into four and gave each group a type of violence i.e emotional, psychological, economic, isolation and emotional abuse. They each proceeded to do a case study using real cases close to them.
We ended the day with an exercise to visualize why women don’t leave abusive relationships. The exercise consists of placing someone on the middle of a circle who plays the part of the survivor of abuse. This person holds a ball of string and starts by giving a reason of why she doesn’t leave the abusive relationship.As she says the reason the ball of string is a thrown to a person in the circle around her. This person in turns says another reason and throws the ball of string to someone else always retaining a piece of the string. In this way a sort of a web forms with the survivor in the middle. At the end a discussion is held on how everyone feels about the exercise. Then a pair of scissors is given to the group. Each person cuts a piece of the string giving one action that they will take to support the person inside the circle to make a choice and leave the abusive relationship.
On the last day we did our feedback session using a “breaking news format.” The Brazilian ingenuity and fun were obvious, and it was incredibly encouraging to hear how people summarized the key points explored so far in a fun but profound way.
To explore gender and the bible we conducted a bible study exploring the story of the rape of Tamar. As we explored the role of the men in the story and how they used or didn’t use the power they each had, several positions starting to emerge. A particular sticky point was David’s part. To what extent can we say David was a guilty part in this story. Could David have envisaged that Amnon, his son, was about to commit rape? This presented us with a good opportunity to talk about responsibility and power and being compromised. We have all sinned, but our responses to justice cannot be prevented because of our sins. David didn’t respond to the injustice committed to Tamar, he was the man with the most power in the story and he choose not to exercise it for the good of the vulnerable. It was a great way to use the Scripture to bring awareness once again about the use of power and the relationships between power and abuse.
We ended the training exploring models for responding to the issue of VAW and encouraging each person to take an individual commitment to do something in the short term in response to what they had learned on the training.
“I came with half an eye open and left with two eyes wide open!”
“I am so glad to have come and I have learned so much, I can’t wait to go back to my church and do all these exercises to bring understanding of abuse”