Men and Women Learning From Each Other

February 26th, 2016 by | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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On February 14, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I hosted a Men as Partners activity by asking two disability groups, Helping Each Other and Northwest Association of Women with Disabilities, to come together and participate in learning about gender inequality in the disability community.  The activity we conducted was called “Fishbowl.”   During the first half of the activity, women were asked questions relating to women’s issues and their life as women.  Men were required to listen and were not allowed to speak.  During the second half of the activity, we reversed.  Men were asked questions relating to women’s issues and their life as men.  Women were not allowed to speak and they were required to listen.  At the end of the activity, everyone had the opportunity to share their thoughts on what they learned from each other.  I relied on the handbook that Peace Corps provided us, “Engaging Boys and Men in Gender Transformation: The Group Education Manual” to conduct the “Fishbowl” activity.

Prior to the day of the activity, I asked the president of Northwest Association of Women with Disabilities, Ruth, who is also my counterpart, to inform her members to bring their husband or boyfriend to the activity.  At the activity, I noticed that no women brought their husband or boyfriend.  I asked how many of them have a husband or boyfriend and some raised their hands.  I asked why they didn’t bring one.  They didn’t respond although one said that her husband is out of town.  After the activity was conducted, I asked Ruth why did they not bring their husband or boyfriend.  She said almost all of them are not married.  The ones who claim that they have a boyfriend, they don’t really have a boyfriend.  It’s just a man with who they enjoy a company from time to time, and the man has relationships with other women.  This situation shows that for women with disabilities, being in a relationship is a huge challenge for them.  As I have said in the past, according to a study, only 5% of women with disabilities in Cameroon are married while 50% of men with disabilities are married.  Majority of the men with disabilities who were present at Men as Partners are married.

I started off the “Fishbowl” activity by asking “What is the most difficult thing about being a woman in Cameroon?”

One woman who is actually married responded by saying that women are expected to do household work such as clean the house, do laundry and cook. She said that she want to be able to manage finances and have rights to earn money.

The next question I asked was, “What do you want to tell me that will help them better understand women?”  The same woman who is married and another woman both responded by saying that they want men to participate in household chores and they want to be able to manage finances too.  One of the women added that she also want to be able to be independent and have her decisions and opinions taken into consideration.

When I asked, “What do you find difficult to understand about men?”  The women agreed that the most difficult thing to understand about men is their attitude.  Men see themselves as higher than women.

I then I asked them “How can men support and empower women?”  One woman emphasized again that they, women, want men to help them with cooking, cleaning, laundry and taking care of children so that they can work too. She also repeated that they want to have a greater role in finances.”

When I asked “What rights are hardest for women to achieve?” women not only shared their challenges as women but also as women with disabilities.  One said,  “For women with disabilities, it’s being able to get employment, get education and own a property of land.”

To get insights about their childhood life as girls, I asked them “What do you remember about growing up as a girl in Cameroon? What did you like and not like about being a girl?”  One who is not married and is not in a relationship with anyone shared that she grew up with an expectation that girls were expected to get married and have children when they grew up.”

Another woman added a challenge that they faced which is that families took so much care of them that they were not able to be independent when they grew up.

As a last question, I asked, “Who were your positive male role models?”  Two women said their fathers were their positive role models because they made sure that they got education while growing up.  Another one said, “My foster father because he was always available to take care of the family and was so respectful to his wife”

At this time, I switched gears and asked men questions.

The first question I asked men was, “What is the most difficult thing about being a man in Cameroon?”

One man said that his greatest difficulty is facing the high expectation of brining money to the home.

When I asked the following question, “What do you want to tell women to help them better understand men?”  One man said that men have sexual desires and they want sex.  Another said, “Men have ego.”

I then asked, “What do you find difficult to understand about women?”  One of the responses was that women ask a lot of questions.

In order to help empower women, I asked “How can men support and empower women?”  Some of the men agreed that helping them with cooking, laundry, cleaning and be involved in their children’s schooling is the way to go.  They also agreed that supporting women in their jobs would help too.

When I asked, “What do you remember about growing up as a boy in Cameroon? What did you and not like about being a boy?,” interestingly, one shared his bad memories of being bullied because he was disabled.  Right after he shared his experiences, I asked everyone, “How many of you were bullied in school as children.”  Almost everyone raised their hands.

The same person shared his experiences of being bullied said that he also had great memories which included enjoying playing outside.

Then for the last question, I asked “Who are some of the positive female influences in life?”

One man who was there to assist his sister who has a disability said that his sister is his role model because she has shown him what women with disabilities are capable of doing.  Another man said it was his teacher and another said it was his mother.

I also administered a pre- and post-test which included six questions about various equality issues and gender roles.  The responses were very interesting.  On the pre-test, six out of 20 participants agreed that changing diapers, giving the kids a bath, and feeding the kids are the responsibilities of a woman only.  However, on the post-test, every single one disagreed.  On the pre-test, four, one man and three women, agreed that if a woman betrays a man, he can hit her.  On the post-test, all responded by circling “I disagree.”  On the pre-test, five women and one man circled “I agree” under the question, “If someone insults me, I will defend my reputation, even if it means using violence.”  On the post-test, all except for one woman circled, “I disagree.”  On both pre- and post-test, all disagreed that it is okay for a man to hit his wife if she will not have sex with him.  On the pre-test, half agreed that it is the woman’s responsibility to avoid getting pregnant.  On the post-test, four woman circled, “I agree.”

At the end of the workshop, I asked everyone to share their thoughts on sharing their feelings about gender roles and equality.  They responded that they appreciated having a safe space to discuss their feelings and learn about other’s feelings.

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