JASS Blog Archives for March 2010

by Hope Chigudu on March 11, 2010 on 12:26 pm

The latest dispatch from Hope Chigudu, this time from the North of Malawi, with Sindi Blose

It’s difficult to know people till you meet them in their environment. The workshop situation can present what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian writer, calls, “The Danger of a Single Story”:

“You can’t tell a single story of any place, person or people. There are many stories that create us. The single story creates stereotypes. There are other stories that are just as important to tell. The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. The consequence of the single story is that it robs people of dignity – it emphasizes how we are different, rather than how we are the same. … When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we discover a kind of paradise.” (Google Chimanda Nogizi Adichie’s speech at Ted Talks)

In their communities, the ‘JASS girls’ have created what constitutesa kind of ‘bank account’ of relationships nurtured by trust and collaboration that they can draw upon to mobilize individual and collective assets to achieve a common purpose.

We visited Judy and Lilian (and some of the women) of Women’s Forum in Northern Province of Malawi. The Forum deals with various and complex issues related to women’s empowerment, in a disempowering environment. It was clear that Judy and Lillian have been able to speak above the loud noise that usually muffles ideas and political instincts of women living with HIV and AIDS. Judy and Lilian have not allowed their energies and agency to be stifled by lack of resources. Their plan was based on mobilising women to demand ARVs to be brought nearer to the people. They did. They invited key stakeholders in the health Ministry, HIV and AIDS organisations and the chiefs. The two of them organised numbers of women to demand mobile clinics to take ARVs to the people. The work they have done is powerful, inspiring, and transformative. They have not covered all the communities but they will, eventually.

Then there is the story of young women whose plan was to work more with young people in schools to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS and other, related issues. They took us to two schools to show off their mobilisation power. Violet, one of the young women that JASS has trained, is always shy and hardly says a thing during the workshops. We saw her transforming there, right before our eyes. She talked to young people in the most interesting manner. She engaged all her senses! She was participatory as she talked about trafficking and HIV and AIDS in the context of the world cup in Joburg. She created her own language that young people understood. One could see that the language she was using was empowering, thrilling, and told more than one story. There was an air of poetry, a sense of hope and a deep commitment to what she was doing. Mouths open in amazement, we felt connected to her (and other young women who were with her) at the deepest level.

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by Martha Tholanah on March 10, 2010 on 10:59 am

The gathering on the 6th March 2010 was a public one at the National Art Gallery in Harare, Zimbabwe – one of the events taking place this month to commemorate International Women’s Day. The panel discussion was part of a full-day series, punctuated by the young women who run YOWLI – Young Women Leadership Institute – with their exciting and Zimbabwean contextualized Vagina Monologues; women poets and women musicians, and films on women by women.

Morals and/or Pleasure: Women Media and the Creation of Discourses on Sexuality – this was the title of a panel discussion I was part of on the 6th of March.

There was Reyhana, a freelance journalist, and with the Humanitarian Information Facility Centre. She aptly brought with her posters she had made with newspaper cuttings of stories that covered women and men. The stark difference on the portrayal was hard-hitting. I suppose many were so much bombarded with negative media messages that they had not taken the time to think through the negative media portrayal of women and the impact that might have on societal attitudes on women. She was in effect challenging media practitioners on the way they portray women, and the thought that needs to go into writing as a practitioner should think about doing no harm. The point that came out was that the media tends to put labels on women, and many times these labels are negative, disempowering, and tend to portray women as lesser beings, only seen when the negative happens. There was also a reminder to the readers of the material produced in the media (and news media has a very powerful effect and influence on our way of thinking and perceiving things) to be analytical and critical of that messaging.

There was Catherine, who insisted to be introduced to the audience as a woman. Catherine’s focus was on her experiences as a girl child growing up, as a woman – deciding on her adult life and her career choice (law); which have had her confronting constant negative stereotypes on what a woman should be, and how she should behave. She also touched on one contentious advert that has PSI (Population Services International) fill our Zimbabwean landscape with billboards insinuating that small houses are the cause of the spread of HIV infection – and, of course, small houses are women. Catherine did a blog on this advert on the Kubatana website where she aptly describes the adverts which are truly horrific and, I believe, a sure way of destroying our society through entrenching such negative and damaging stereotypes of women.

Third to speak was Charity Maruta, on her making of the film Sex in the City, a film that used local people, exploring how sex was discussed, understood and practiced in Harare. The issues all came down to power, money, technology and control.

The discussion provoked such strong reactions, and some unbelievable. A couple of men’s response was that these messages would be listened to by society if they let men say it! Obviously for me, that means the struggle continues, and we need more women like Catherine, Charity and Reyhana to continue carrying the torch as we women forge ahead in crossing the line, and no more going back. We truly commemorated it in style, dramatizing, performing, saying and discussing the things that are usually not verbalized in our society.

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by Hope Chigudu on March 10, 2010 on 10:10 am

This time we moved from the workshop rooms to the communities. We are humbly learning from the experience of the those who live on the margin, from their perspective, from their perseverance, from their assertiveness, from their desire to make something of their lives, from their love for one another and their determination to survive the ravages of HIV and AIDS. The ‘graduates’ of JASS whose projects we have visited, so far, are implementing their plans.

We visited Lena’s project. It’s built around the mass production of healing herbs. Malawi is poor and not everyone can afford ARVs. So we met women and some men organising around herbal gardens. Young ones, old, and in between - we met them all. As we talked, we realised that it's not just the herbs that are springing up; new passions are also springing up from within communities. They are springing up among the people who have been pushed to the margins of society. For us as JASS, we are privileged to tell the world that the forgotten women, the excluded ones, are right here, where it hurts. JASS’ political project is on creating spaces to make their voices louder, their needs known and their ‘bodies’ visible. It’s not surprising then that yesterday we shared mats, drinks and sisterhood, we stood in solidarity with them, they shared collective pain, their dreams, their sacred stories, their collective yearnings that another kind of world is possible. Together, we imagined a better life and a better society. As we listened to the whispers of hope from these who live on the edge of society, two women chiefs spoke with the kind of courage that defies poverty. We were compelled to believe that grassroots movement in Malawi is not possible but has already began. On our way back to town, drained, tired, sweaty but excited, Sindi whispered, ‘Hope, our liberation is bound up with that of these women, I would like to come and stay with them much longer.’

Today, we head north. It’s a long trip but we are motivated by the knowledge that where hope has been stolen and dignity trampled upon there is a crying need for the space to imagine a better life and a better society. We shall co-create the space.

Hope Chigudu is on the road in Malawi.

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