Guest Column

OPINION: Enabling gender healing in a multiply-wounded society

2019-11-25 09:14
Ethekwini municipality male workers march to the City Hall against gender-based violence. (Darren Stewart, Gallo Images, file)

Ethekwini municipality male workers march to the City Hall against gender-based violence. (Darren Stewart, Gallo Images, file)

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We cannot only talk, write about and perhaps analyse the challenges we sit with endlessly; we need to get our bodies into doing the work, write Laurie Gaum and Desireé English.

Dr Mamphela Ramphele applies her call to leverage the Springboks' win to bring about real change to some urgent challenges in our context. As the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence take off we're reminded of South Africa's wounded nature which has this year surfaced both through its xenophobic reaction to the African other in our midst, but also to the gendered other in our homes and society.

Following Ramphele's statement sometime earlier that the woundedness of a society needs to be owned, we want to focus here on how the nation's gender-wounds can be tended to for the country to make real progress in this regard.

We do this by looking at a process which links onto learnings from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) but then applies it to bring about gender equity and reconciliation, addressing a fault line in our society which has again been laid bare by events this year. Gender-based violence is seen by some as "tragic" and destructive responses by men to a rapidly changing environment in which they often haven't learned the tools to explore more constructive, nontoxic and nonviolent behaviour. Here we in no way want to minimise the legitimate anger women in our context express towards the suffering which is often inflicted on their bodies.

Mamphela Ramphele: Let's leverage the Springboks' win for real change

The Gender Equity and Reconciliation workshops which we co-facilitate at the Universities of the Western Cape and Free State and at Chrysalis Academy to name but a few places, draw on an American model which seeks to create "safe-enough" spaces in which women and men can meet each other to share their stories of gender wounding and injustice. Through a carefully crafted experiential process such groups succeed in breaking through to powerful experiences of healing.

We seek to do what Prof Phumla Gobodo-Madikizela said of the TRC namely that we need to "make public spaces intimate". In the dialogue so created we steer clear from men re-centring themselves as often happens in confrontational conversations, but we also steer away from mere male-bashing. We create equal space for an authentic encounter with the gendered other. Women and men and people experiencing themselves outside of the gender-binary are encouraged to go to the vulnerable places in order to express their emotions and share them with each other while also deeply listening to the other's experience.  

While this work has been founded by American couple Will Keepin and Cynthia Brix, it got entry into South Africa through a first workshop held in Parliament in 2007 under the auspices of the then deputy-speaker Nozizwe Mdladla-Routlege. Several South African facilitators have been trained and Gender Equity and Reconciliation workshops have been conducted on many South African university campuses while Gobodo-Madikizela has also overseen research of the work.

What are some of the learnings from the process of Gender Equity and Reconciliation and can they be replicated in order to bring healing in our multiply-wounded society (Martha Cabrera)? Those of us having gone through the above-mentioned process bear witness to the powerful work that is done through this intensive encounter.

While in the South African context and in other countries around the world rich material of gender conditioning so gets unearthed, the truth-telling provides building blocks for envisioning and creating an alternative reality. The shift in awareness which takes place through a first-hand sharing of and listening to each other's life experiences, means that new pathways can be forged to rebalance relationships and to work towards a partnership-model in gender relations, rather than a domination (hierarchical) model (Riane Eisler).

One of our co-facilitators usually answers the question what society needs to do in confronting our challenges as far as gender is concerned as follows: "The best we can offer is process, process, process… ".

We cannot only talk, write about and perhaps analyse the challenges we sit with endlessly; we need to get our bodies into doing the work. We need to all start doing in the first place our own work and so own our work, taking up and processing our pain and find "safe-enough" spaces in order to share our experiences as we're encountering the other.

In so doing we can find greater healing, realising that healing is a process which takes time. If we don't do so however, we'll continue inflicting endless harm onto ourselves, onto each other and onto our society. And we won't make the necessary advances to become a society at peace with itself.

- Desireé English is a coach, trainer, process facilitator and project manager. For more information on Gender Equity & Reconciliation contact her at desiree@grworld.org. Laurie Gaum is a facilitator of workshops in gender, masculinities and sexualities.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    16 days of activism  |  gender-based violence
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