Thursday, July 31, 2014

The women of Gressier Haiti part 3

On July 10th ElevateHer entered Gressier Haiti to host a women's conference to encourage the women there to heal and find life from chaos.  This blog is part 3 of an update describing our time together in Haiti.

Part 2-Here
Part 1-Here

Part 3-The women pushed back

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Mathew 18:15-17

I'm constantly having to remind myself that the work of elevating women will be a process and it will not be achieved over night. Changing cultural attitudes against women will be a process. And women embracing a life of freedom, seeing themselves as worthy and valuable participants in society will be a process.

I sometimes forget that there are some cultural systems that are nearly impossible to change and there will be resistance when one tries to speak against those systems of oppression, even by the ones suffering under those systems.  I sometimes forget to be patient in the work of helping women find life.

During the three days spent with the women in Gressier, we experienced resistance from the women as we discussed matters that challenged certain thoughts, attitudes and practices that kept them in bondage and could put their lives at risk.  We kept pushing to offer them a different narrative.  We kept challenging them to let go of shame, we shared with them that some secrets can ruin their lives and the lives of their children and we encouraged them to embrace their sisters in their communities so they can heal as a community. 

However you can tell the strength and power of the old story. The old story is all they know and though it may be a story of pain and oppression, it's familiar and "safe". One sister came up front to share but it was more of a put down for women in unhealthy relationships.  Again I pushed back by saying "One woman's pain could be every woman's pain; if a sister is struggling love her, feed her and encourage her; do not put her down because her story could be yours, or your daughter's".

Another example was in regards to the women engaging their husbands and significant others in the conversation, whether it be in terms of using condoms, testing for stds and asking for fidelity in marriage. I used the example of Matthew 18:15-17 to encourage the women that there are biblical ways to enter their partners in the conversation especially when sin, disregard and dangerous/risky behaviors are present. One woman raised her hand and said: if you are married to your husband, I don't think it's necessary to involve others in these types of personal matters (as described in the above scripture). She continued: "Perhaps you can cook him a meal, approach him kindly and gently and have these conversations with him, surely he'll listen".

After she made her comment, I asked  the other women "how many of you have the kind of relationships our sister describes, where all it takes is a good meal and good timing to have your husband value your concerns?" Many of the women laughed and shook their heads to indicate that that is not their reality.

The truth is women in developing countries and developed countries continue to not have the power to negotiate and speak on issues concerning their bodies and their well being.  And when you attempt to give them permission to do so, you will be confronted with fear and great resistance.

And I get it. This is a constant struggle of mine. I'm always thinking: How dare I enter their lives and preach a message of their worth, when all around them a different message is being preached? How dare I speak of truths that empower them, when they can't even ask for their partners to use condoms? I understand their push backs, it's almost like they're saying "you come here and try to give us hope and send us back home to the same homes and communities that oppress us and rob us of our dignity"?

How does one live in the same conditions when they've been given information that can be empowering? You resist. You fight back.

In counseling terms this is called cognitive dissonance, in layman's terms it simply means when two things/ideas don't go together, we subconsciously try to do something to achieve balance or to alleviate the discomfort. Their resistance could be a way of fighting the dissonance, the discomfort present. 

As they push back, we, at elevateher, will continue to challenge thoughts, ideas and systems of oppression; systems that are ungodly and put the lives of women, children and communities at risk.  Next year we will return to Gressier as our work is not done. 

We were honored that these women opened up to us and shared their lives and their stories with us.  We do not take this privilege lightly.  Even now, we're planning and praying to see how we can best serve our sisters.

Please continue to pray for us and Join us as we elevate women wherever the Lord sends us.


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