Various political traditions have been seized with the questions: “what is the meaning of freedom?” “who should enjoy freedom?” and “what is the content of this freedom?“. Different theoretical traditions provide different answers to these questions. The starting points are different, and so are the emancipatory visions. As an intellectual and political project, feminism grapples with women’s status in society, gender roles, gendered power relations and how various political traditions exclude women from their visions of freedom. From multiple angles, feminism provides a critical evaluation of the core claims and visions of freedom contained in political traditions such as liberalism, anti-colonial struggles, Marxism etc. This module will set up a conversation between some of the major currents of feminist thought, and political traditions such as liberalism, Marxism, and anti-colonial nationalism. With a focus on the different strands of feminism and where they stand in relation to these theoretical traditions, this module will explore broadened and enriched ideas of freedom. The module will also explore how – through interventions like queer theory – different currents of feminism have been challenged and critiqued for their incompleteness, blind-spots and exclusions. At the end of the module participants will assess whether feminism offers a radical vision of freedom in a world that is punctuated by horrifying levels of gender-based violence, inequality, the policing and surveillance of women’s bodies, and a lack of reproductive justice.
This module aims to answer these questions:
How does feminism help us to defend freedom?
How does feminism give us expanded notions of freedom?
How does feminism give us insights that are neglected in other traditions?
Part of our struggle as activists in creating a more equitable and just world is the need to rethink our ideas and practices around gender, power and consent. While the need for change in the world on these issues is overwhelming, the idea that we need to challenge our own practices in our movements and organisations is equally important. In an effort to contribute to this area of work, we at Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education have (in collaboration with Equal Education) created a set of materials for a workshop that can be run as presented here or adapted to your needs as required.
Key focus areas are:
understanding how gender stereotypes are constructed;
gender relations in organisational settings and social justice movements;
types of sexual harassment and understanding consent.
We suggest facilitators start by having a discussion with participants about the necessity of being sensitive and respectful during the process, and how feelings of discomfort and vulnerability might arise but are part of the process of learning and change.
In addition to this facilitators working with organisations or other groups that will continue to work together in the future should conclude with the drawing up of a charter outlining a way forward that will foster a progressive and welcoming space for everyone participating in that space going forward.
Activity 1: Some facts on global gender inequality
This exercise is intended to highlight that the position of women is key to ANY struggle for social justice, whether it be health, housing, education, sexual harassment, or violence against women and girls.
Read and discuss with participants the provided quotes by Thomas Sankara and bell hooks and lift out any insights and comments participants may have. What do they have in common? What differences do they have in emphasis and focus?
Activity 4: Sex, gender and sexuality
To understand the difference between sex, gender and sexuality.
Ask the participants to draw from personal experience, and think about what it means when they are told to “act like a lady” or to “man-up”.
Divide participants into small groups and give them these instructions:
Draw 2 large boxes on each sheet of paper (or print out the large templates provided to A2/A1 size), one titled “man up!” and the other, “act like a lady”.
Using the sticky notes and markers, write down the words or phrases that describe how you are expected to act when these ‘instructions’ are given to you. Stick these onto the drawn boxes/provided template on the wall.
Think of how you might be perceived (by colleagues, comrades, family, community etc.) when your behaviour doesn’t fit into these boxes. What are the words or phrases that describe this? Each group should have an anchor person who will write the associated words and phrases outside of the boxes.
Discuss reflections and commentary in plenary.
Activity 2: Introduction to the social construction of gender
To encourage participants to challenge socially-constructed ideas about gender.
When are gender stereotypes or stereotypical ideas of gender roles harmful/dangerous in organisational or activist spaces? How do these understandings of gender hinder social justice work?
Facilitators can choose from the selection of readings provided on women’s struggles in the workplace, social movements or other organisations.
Ask the participants to read the text/s in groups of no more than 5 (where possible) and use the following question as a guide for a discussion:
In what ways do sexism and prescriptive gender roles play out in your workplace or organisations?
Groups to report back in plenary.
Session 3: The insidious nature of sexual harassment – creating a comfortable and welcoming environment
Activity 1: Sexual Harassment World Café
To lift out the various behaviours that are inappropriate and cause discomfort in the workplace or organisations. The process should clarify the more subtle micro-aggressions people experience, how to tell the difference between welcome and unwelcome gestures, and help participants understand why these are problematic.
3 A0/A1 sheets of card (contrasting colours); Labels
Introduce the participants to the notion that while there are clearly defined cases of sexual harassment, there are many more subtle interactions that can leave people feeling exposed, vulnerable and disempowered. These behaviours can create an uncomfortable, even toxic working space, and be difficult to confront due to a multitude of reasons including the fear of repercussions or of not being taken seriously.
It is important to provide a trigger warning at this point, as the exercise may surface some uncomfortable emotions and experiences.
Divide the participants into 3 groups and task each group to take a sheet of card, markers, and one of the labels. Ask each group to create a list on the card under one of the following labels:
Unwelcome interactions between co-workers which are non-verbal & non-physical and make individuals uncomfortable.
Unwelcome interactions between co-workers which are verbal and make individuals uncomfortable.
Unwelcome interactions between co-workers which are physical and make individuals uncomfortable.
Once completed allow groups to view each others’ lists of unwelcome interactions, and then bring them to the plenary group for discussion. Go through each list and facilitate a discussion in which participants explore the commonalities between their experiences, what they find surprising, what the differences are between welcome and unwelcome behaviours and how to recognise, and why they think these behaviours continue to flourish.
Session 4: Sexual harassment, consent and power
Activity 1: Introduction – Sexual harassment in organising spaces
To highlight how prevalent sexual harassment is and how it manifests in movements/organising spaces.
Notes to facilitator:
Building on the ‘Sexual Harrasment World Café’ activity, provide an overview of sexual harassment and its prevalence in activist/organising spaces.
Sexual harassment is pervasive across many social spaces and institutions:
Workplaces (factories, offices), universities, religious institutions, trade unions, student organisations, social movements, civil society.
It is one of the major indicators of unequal relations in society, especially between men and women.
While most organisations commit to an environment that is free of sexual harassment, there are still far too many cases of sexual harassment within movement spaces.
Sexual harrasment can take many forms, including the following:
Unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct. Physical conduct of a sexual nature includes all unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape.
Verbal forms of sexual harassment include unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes or insults or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body etc.
Non-verbal forms include unwelcome gestures, unwelcome sexually explicit electronic messages, indecent exposure, and the unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects.
Quid pro quo harassment occurs where a person with more power, undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal or other benefits of a person with less power, in exchange for sexual favours.
Sexual favouritism – a person in a position of power and authority rewarding only those who respond to his/her sexual advances.
Activity 2: Sexual harassment myths and realities
There are many commonly held ideas about sexual harassment that are taken as true and uncontested. This session aims to explore some common myths about sexual harassment and the implications they carry for the struggle against patriarchy.
Divide participants into groups. Give each group a short statement that introduces a popular myth about sexual harassment in the workplace. On a worksheet, request the participants to share some thoughts about the statement:
Where have you heard this before?
Do you agree with the statement? Is it myth or reality?
What are the implications of this statement/belief?
While some statements may appear obvious, some will be harder to determine and members of each group will most likely debate and have disagreements about them. It is important for the facilitator to encourage respectful discussion and active listening.
Reconvene the groups in plenary to share their reports on the discussions. The facilitator can open the discussion to the floor. It is important to note that these myths are context-specific. Feel free to draw your own list of myths that might be more applicable to your context.
As a facilitator, be ready provide additional examples and to elaborate.
Activity 3: Envisioning a culture of consent
To encourage participants to think more deeply about consent and identify when it is and is not given.
Flipchart; coloured card; scissors; markers
Notes to facilitator:
Based on discussions around the popular myths on sexual harassment and assault, ask buzz groups of between 5 and 10 participants to identify key words associated with a culture of consent. These words will be used to populate a chart on Consent Culture.
Together in plenary, ask the participants to explore a separate and contrasting chart that depicts what consent is NOT. Wrap this activity up by reinforcing the discussion on the pervasive nature of sexual harassment and its implications for activists and their movements.
Session 5: A charter to foster a progressive and welcoming space
Activity 1: Creating a charter
To develop a shared set of principles and guidelines which will enable everyone to feel comfortable and welcome.
Flip-chart paper; markers
Notes to facilitator:
Ask participants to break into small groups of no more than 10, and discuss how their gender effects their experience of life and work.
Have them draft a set of principles that will foster an organisational culture that is welcoming and create a safe space for all within it.
Participants should report back to plenary to combine the principles into a single charter that everyone can unite around.
Other resources & activities
Resource/Activity 1: Visual glossary
To develop an understanding of the terms and issues around gender, sexuality, sexism and patriarchy.