How do men and women use language differently, and in what ways does language embody power relationships? Why is it that 50% of the population is female, but women only hold 17% of seats in parliaments? How can speaking up, and using platforms such as the media to do so help advance gender equality? These were some of the questions addressed by the Women Can Do It training, hosted by the Norwegian People’s Aid from the 17th to 19th of March. The ACTION Support Centre and one of the women from the South African Somali Women’s Network (SASOWNET) had the privilege of attending this training, which brought women of different backgrounds, ages and races together to discuss ways in which they can empower themselves within patriarchal structures set up in society. It took gender issues from the theoretical to the practical by focussing on equipping women with skills and tools that they can use within their organisations and communities.
One of the sessions looked at the domination techniques that women are often subjected to, and how to overcome them. For example, women can be made to feel invisible when they aren’t given a platform to speak, when their comments or suggestions are ignored or not responded to, or even just when men continue with other activities like reading the newspaper or their phones while being talked to. It can also take the form of ridicule, which is particularly hard to handle when it takes the form of jokes that are easily disguised as innocent humour. Withholding information from women also occurs when men share important facts and information amongst themselves but not with women – this disempowers women from taking part effectively in matters that affect them, as it’s difficult to maintain a strong position without relevant information. Ways to counter this include women developing their own information sharing networks, confronting those who use ridicule, developing effecting ways to give feedback, and communicating confidently.
In another fun and interactive session, participants were given the opportunity to sharpen their public speaking skills by preparing a three-minute impromptu speech that was video recorded. Although this was an intimidating and daunting task for everyone, each participant did really well and was given constructive criticism that would be of great assistance in the future. Gaining this confidence is a major step in helping women to speak out against gender oppression and rally support.
The training was empowering and eye-opening, and highlighted the importance of women standing together to fight their daily struggles such as domestic violence, oppression and gender inequality. We are grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to participate in the training and look forward to future trainings of this calibre. We also believe that the hands-on toolkit provided by the training will be an immensely useful resource in our work with the South African Somali Women’s Network, and hope to share the tools with them in upcoming meetings.