This article was written by Leila Emdon, project leader for Gender Justice and Reconciliation at the IJR, and Megan Robertson, intern Building an Inclusive Society Programme.
Through a newly established Gender Justice and Reconciliation Project, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) participated in Women’s Month 2015 by hosting the South African branch of Gender Reconciliation International (GRI) for a 3-day gender reconciliation workshop for women and men working in civil society organisations.
GRI has developed a tested and transformative process which has successfully been introduced in eight countries including South Africa. The achievements of GRI in South Africa and links to IJR are numerous, but amongst them is the endorsement in 2013 of the Gender Reconciliation methodology by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (the patron of IJR) and Rev. Mpho Tutu.
A friend and mentor once said to me, “the Personal is Political” (which is actually the title of Carol Hinisch famous 1969 essay). There are many interpretations of this phrase, the one that resonates with me comes from Paula Rust, a feminist activist and scholar who writes – “The personal reflects the political status quo (with the implication that the personal should be examined to provide insight into the political)”. Therefore I ask: How can practitioners bring about change if they do not work on themselves? A question that I believe sits at the heart of GRI’s work.
Like IJR, GRI works to confront deep wounds within individuals and communities and is founded on the notion that through reconciliation community wounds can start to heal. In IJR’s Building an Inclusive Society programme in particular, the notion of woundedness is unpacked and confronted in community healing platforms similar to those of GRI. One of GRI’s core principles is that “transforming cultural foundations of gender imbalance is best done in groups or communities”. They hold the philosophy that “Just as a physical wound knows how to heal itself, so too, the human psyche instinctively knows how to heal itself.The process of gender reconciliation entails creating conducive conditions, and then allowing the healing process to take its own natural course.”
Gender is a deeply personal aspect of identity. It is informed by our cultural, socially ascribed roles and personal stories. Given this, I was eager to learn how GRI creates a safe space in which participants can confront their wounds and begin the process of reimagining new ways of being with themselves and others. I found that every activity and reflection of the GRI workshop formed part of the wider objective: to create a safe and accepting space in which to confront, dismantle and reimagine our own personal gender wounds, assumptions and narratives. This was not an abstract and academic workshop, but an interactive, creative process where we built trust, engaged with our stories and emerged having shared a profoundly personal experience. Adding to the value of their methodology, was that unlike many others working in the field of gender, GRI works with women, men and all genders together. In this way, practitioners became participants in their own journey of gender reconciliation.
On the first day of the workshop the facilitators drew a circle on the board and wrote in the middle ‘comfort zone’, around that they drew another circle and wrote ‘stretch zone’, following that, another circle and wrote ‘stress zone’. At the beginning of the workshop we started off in the comfort zone, and we were invited to enter the ‘stretch zone’, a place where we needed to stretch ourselves, while at the same time never venturing into the ‘stress zone’. With this established, trust was carefully built in the group. We were then invited to be part of processes where our wounds and stories could be explored in a carefully facilitated and safe way.
One of the highlights for me was the experience of being witnessed. The celebration ceremony on the last day allowed men and women to honour each other, and in doing so, healing and reconciliation happened. The workshop provided a space where we explored our own stories, fears, beliefs and wounds in a communal space. This workshop challenged me to confront and ultimately reshape my own gender wounds and beliefs. Confronting ourselves within the safety of a group empowered us to make a change in the world outside.
This methodology is shared widely through the facilitation training GRI and I can only imagine how IJR can draw from this methodology to impact the many communities and groups we work with.
A big thank you to the facilitators Judy Bekker, Jabu Mashinini, Zanele Khumalo and Louis Laurens Botha Gaum, and to my colleague Refiloe Hlohlomi. You can find out more about GRI by visiting their web page and watch this video.