Hesperian Health Guides

Communication is powerful

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.


HealthWiki > Health Actions for Women > Chapter 3: Gender and Health > Communication is powerful


Common qualities thought to be feminine are being passive and obedient. Women and girls are not expected to challenge or contradict what men say. Their opinions are often ignored, and women may be criticized, isolated, or punished for speaking out, or for simply saying what they need or desire. Changing this can take a lot of courage, but having a voice and making it heard is one way of having power.

a woman speaking to a man while she sits at a sewing machine.
I went to the bathroom because I needed to go. You know I always complete the quota, so I don’t think you have the right to cut my pay because I went to the bathroom.

Study these 3 examples of communication and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.

A man does not allow his wife to go to community meetings. Other women have invited her to go with them, but she is afraid to tell her husband that she would like to join them.


HAW Ch3 Page 58-2.png
Weak or passive communication: a woman gives in to what another person wants, puts others first in ways that hurt her, stays silent when something bothers her, apologizes a lot, cries a lot, hides her feelings, does not act to defend her rights. She tells the other women she is not interested, and she spends the rest of the night sulking towards her husband.
HAW Ch3 Page 58-3.png
Fighting or aggressive communication: a woman does what she wants with little or no thought for others, makes threats or demands, avoids listening to others, becomes angry quickly when others disagree with her, shouts, shames or judges others. She is angry with the women and criticizes them for being involved in things that don’t concern them. And she is angry with her husband, because he goes to meetings while she stays home.
HAW Ch3 Page 58-4.png
Strong or assertive communication: a woman respects herself and others, stands up for her rights, listens and talks calmly, tells others her thoughts, needs and feelings clearly, says "no" without feeling guilty, asks for help when she needs it, shows confidence in the way she looks and speaks. She explains to her husband why she is interested in the meetings and tells him, "The group meets once every 2 weeks and I would really like to attend. I can still meet all my responsibilities at home. Can we talk about how we can make this work?"

You can practice using assertive communication in role plays about negotiating sex. See Communicating for healthier relationships.

Clearer communication with "I" statements

How can we communicate our feelings, opinions, and desires strongly, but in a way that also shows respect and consideration for another person? Try using "I" statements.

An "I" statement is a way to clearly say your point of view without blaming, judging, or threatening the other person. You say how a situation is affecting you, how you feel about it, and what you would like to see happen.

Learning to use "I" statements may feel strange at first. It is a very powerful way of speaking. But once people try it in their relationships and become more comfortable with it, they will see how well it works.

ActivityHow to make an "I" statement

  1. First, say what is bothering you and how it makes you feel. You can say more about what is bothering you and why, but only if you can say it in a way that does not blame or insult the person.
  2. Then say what you would like. It is important not to make this a demand or requirement. If you do, the request will feel too aggressive.
  3. Then ask how the other person feels about what you have said or requested.
a woman speaking to a man.
When you come home late from the bar, I am sad because I would like to spend time with you. And I worry about the money I need for food for the children. I would like to discuss how you and I can both get what we need. Would this be OK with you?



Support the trainer

Supporting women to be good communicators means being a good communicator (and listener!) yourself. Everyone doing this work needs help. Be prepared before starting an activity. Practice or talk it through with someone else so that you can be as relaxed as possible when you are leading an activity. Make sure you have another person who can listen to you reflect on the activity after it is over. Keep in mind that your own relationship to gender roles might come up in the course of doing these activities.

2 women speaking together.
I noticed Nadia didn’t say much during the practice session. What do you think I should do?
She’s shy, but she’s been to every meeting, so I know it is important to her. Maybe you should pair her up with someone she knows well next time so she feels more comfortable.