The people who have come to this workshop are quite diverse, as compared to the typical workshops we organize for health professionals.  We have representatives from various community organizations, managers and chief medical officers from hospitals and representatives from the local administration (the prefecture) – recognizable by their khaki uniforms.

We talk a lot about ‘engaging the community’ but when you have barely literate women sitting side by side the doctors you quickly see what the challenge is. I can now imagine what some of those COGES meetings are like. Even the body language of those concerned speaks volumes.

In the groups, 3 or 4 people sitting around the computer brought by the hospital manager or doctor – the local administration and community group representatives have no computers – one can see the dynamics just by noticing the physics: the women with their chair slightly pushed back, sometimes even in second rows, some leaning back; the men in khaki – some leaning back, some on their phones while several of the women in khaki are bent forward and appear quite engaged; and then the hospital folks at their computers, they are at the wheel – I suspect this represents reality.

Many of the hospital people, and some men in khaki, had already gone through our leadership program and knew the process, the way we work. They are by and large better educated than the community reps.

But when the district teams had selected their challenge it included nearly always ‘the problem of the women’ as it is sometimes referred to. This meant that the men had to listen to the women to understand the issues – mostly that they were appointed to the committee without any orientation or training in how to function well on a committee.

There is much implicit bias. Even those supposedly ‘enlightened’ showed this implicit bias by their words and behaviors.  You can ask ‘why?’ in two different ways, expressed by two similar sounding but entirely different words: inquisition and inquiry. Yet, even if the ideal of equality is still a faraway goal in this country, I see movement. In this workshop one in four participants is a woman. This is progress. And of those not representing women’s group, many are women in khaki, representing the power of the state at the local level. That too is progress.

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November 2017
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