On November 2, 2012, the organization “Society Without Violence” (SWV) came to my town, at the request of myself and Laura, to hold a gender workshop for females at my college. Approximately 29 women and girls attended the workshop, which was an incredible turnout.
We did this as part of the Gender Equality Initiative of which Peace Corps worldwide is a part. Two of my counterparts and I (as well as Laura and another woman from our town) had attended a gender workshop last winter, and they were supposed to carry on at least 10 hours of trainings back in our town afterwards. But after doing only two trainings (about gender, gender-based violence, and trafficking), my counterparts told me that it was very embarrassing and hard for them to give the presentations and lead the discussions. They agreed that these were probably important topics to discuss, but they were not comfortable doing it.
So we brought in professional help. Society Without Violence leads these sort of workshops often, so we thought they would be a good choice to help out. They are very familiar with the topics, have fun games and activities to keep the atmosphere open and accepting, and they are Armenian so they can easily lead the discussions in everyone’s native language.
The mission of SWV is to share their Human rights skills and knowledge with others; to educate and inspire young women and girls to be active in the political, social, and cultural life of the republic; and to empower women and girls to become leaders and human rights defenders.
The workshop lasted 4 hours, and covered the topics of Domestic Violence and Women’s Leadership and Empowerment. It was led and facilitated by Lida Minasyan, the program manager at SWV.
The workshop started out with an icebreaker to get to know each other. It was the icebreaker where you say your name and a word that begins with the same letter as your name; then the next person has to say your name and the word association, and then their name and a word association; then the next person says the first two peoples’ names and words, and their name and a word; and so on. With so many participants, it lasted quite awhile. It was especially interesting and funny, because the word associations were by Armenian letters and words. What starts with Է in Armenian, besides Էշ? Not the smartest word association on my part, it turns out. The way I look at it now, is that the word for “donkey” in Armenian is like the alternate “cock” for “rooster” in English. It is technically correct, but is never used, and feels extremely weird for a native speaker to say it out loud. (Armenian children learn the word cock in English class, and it’s the work of all the Americans to teach them that we actually say rooster. How would they know? How was I supposed to know that the word I chose during our word association game—Evelyn, Esh—would put everyone into peals of laughter every time they got to my name?)
Anyway, after the ice was completely broken, we moved into various games and discussions about the meaning of gender and gender equality; gender roles in Armenia; stereotypes associated with gender; and the difference between biological and social gender characteristics. It was an Armenian from Yerevan leading the discussions, and everything was completely in Armenian, so I didn’t catch everything being said. In talking to her afterward, it was interesting to hear the different viewpoints that had been discussed, and to discuss the differences she has observed from doing this workshop in Yerevan, versus the more conservative and traditional regions of Armenia.
The discussion moved on to the different types of violence, divided into gender-based violence and domestic violence. After defining and learning the terms, the audience was shown a film by SVW about gender-based violence on Armenian television.
Finally, the women and girls learned about leadership and what makes a leader. They were encouraged to look around, see what change they want to have happen in their community, and then take responsibility and start working toward that change themselves. Lida encouraged personal action rather than waiting for someone else to step forward and take charge.
Afterwards, the girls expressed great interest in the topics covered. They said it was very interesting and would like to see SWV come back and hold more sessions. I hope that now that the conversation has been started, they will feel more comfortable talking amongst each other about this.
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