Hesperian Health Guides
Communication is powerful
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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.
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.
|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.|
|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.|
|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.
Activity How to make an "I" statement
- 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.
- 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.
- Then ask how the other person feels about what you have said or requested.
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.