The Dynamics of Power: De-constructing the Single Narrative of the Rural Woman.
By Danielle Agyemang (ACDHRS)
The printed text in my development theory books often blur. The heavy discourse seemed to always be drenched in self righteous proclamations, burdened assumptions, bland sameness and unexplored, unconquered nuance.
The rural woman: bearer of culture, soured by responsibility. She is reduced to simple irony, scorched by the very sun that cultivates her being and her crops. She is strong but she is unwilling; she is loyal yet invisible. Passive, oppressed, fearful, uninspired , victim, ignorant, poor…
On the 20th,-21st of June 2013, The National Forum to build synergy and capacitise regional pressure groups on advocacy and lobbying skills for the promotion and protection of women’s rights, empowerment and political representation was implemented in Pakalinding, The Gambia by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), UNDP, and The Ministry of Finance and Ecomomic Affairs.
The objectives of this forum were to build capacities in advocacy and lobbying, resource mobilization, leadership & group management skills, Women’s political empowerment, participation and representation in governance. It was also an opportunity to learn and share experiences from the different regions for better and effective action towards improving the livelihoods of Gambian women.
‘Resource persons were selected from various stakeholder institutions within the region, Lower River Region to deliver the relevant information and skills to the 35 women representatives of the pressure groups,(which were established through the Raising her Voice Project) who attended this two days training'(Report 1, 2013).
The women at this forum represent the 5 regions in The Gambia. By text book definitions, they are rural, they are indeed poor. However, they possess a richness that defies their academically and socially prescribed identity as abject and voiceless.
The room, vibrant with diverse backgrounds, set the tone for sharing and perspective. Patterned fabric, reflective of their intricate and colorful experiences, were suited and large head ties, worn like crowns, graced the heads of these women. Their clothing, just as loud as their voices were exuberant and exhilarating; a complete contradiction to the homely, sickly woman printed in campaign ads that beacon they type of empowerment that could be bestowed.
Alert with conviction, they eagerly brought forth the issues in their respective areas. However, the conversation did not stop there. They came with solutions and action plans, questions and suggestions that actively incorporated them in the process of development, and most importantly in pursing their rights and empowerment.
Contributions from the participants included the desire for further training, capacity building workshops, consensus building, greater infrastructure, reduction of GBV, Government to revisit the taxes levied on basic food items so the cost commensurate with the purchasing powers of the ordinary person, To maximize the returns from vegetable production, leaders should advocate for production staggering to avoid glut in the market, and much more.
Articulate and sure of what she wants, she discussed political strategy and identified structural as well as cultural barriers in achieving their rights. She proclaimed that the lack of resources often confine their productivity and sustainability but it does not dampen the fire they feel in their hearts to create transformative change and assume leadership positions in politics.
Another, shared her experience with group management, cohesiveness and garnering adequate support; while, another woman discussed the failure of women to pursue their rights because of family pressure and fear. This particular contribution was the catalyst for the debate that energized all the women to speak at once. High and low tones of Mandinka flooded the room; some voices, louder and bolder than others, demanded attention, as others pleaded for understanding.
The women nodded, cheered and clapped in agreement as the eldest lady in the room spoke so passionately about democratic process, transparency and accountability as integral parts of participating in governance.
I love how these women speak of power and leadership; it is not a foreign language or alien concept. It is not something that they speak of in retrospect. It is inherent, yet something they want to build on. They speak of power and leadership as if it lived and thrived only in their language, only in their communities and culture. They owned it, it could not be given nor taken away.
These women are not complacent! They are angry, frustrated, hopeful, inspired, motivated; very unlike how they are constructed to be.
The realized complexities of these women that this forum brought out, challenges the norms and linear perceptions of them, which are often reiterated and perpetuated by society, culture, religion, and even the entities that work to ’empower’ women. Regarding rural women through the lens of a single narrative has the potential to subjugate them to even more hardship and violence as their power becomes less realized and their voices less heard. There is much danger in overgeneralizing and colating the experiences of rural women.