Photo By Nema Etebar Photography
Post Written By Kashay Sanders, VOICE Program Manager
Last week, the VOICE staff conducted an Appreciative Inquiry style focus group with teachers from roughly five different schools that VOICE works with and campers from four or five different schools. Appreciative Inquiry is when a type of inquiry that seeks feedback less focused on the problems with an organization and more geared towards understanding what the organization does well and how to capitalize on that.
I, along with the field coordinators and our regional manager, took charge of the session with campers from the five schools, totaling to about ten girls. Before the session, the regional coordinator and I were frantically scratching out and re-wording questions, afraid the girls wouldn’t understand what we were getting at, slightly skeptical about their ability to be as critical as some of these questions required. We proceeded to have our assumptions smacked in the face by the power, thoughtfulness, and insightfulness we saw from the girls in this focus group.
From this conversation-structured inquiry, I learned so much more about the girls than I would have otherwise. The girls wanted to be cardiologists, teachers and VOICE camp counselors in the future. One of them said that VOICE helped her see how important her mother is and how valuable her work is even though she doesn’t get paid for it. Another discussed how she witnessed a near relative go through the horror of becoming pregnant too young and how frail and sickly the family member is because of it.
But there was one girl whose comment still resonates with me a week later. It was after the session was largely over and we asked if the girls had any last questions. One girl stood up, and spoke in Hindi.
The girl began to speak with passion and judging by all the Hindi speakers’ faces in the room, she had said something important. I turned to a field coordinator and asked, “What is she saying?”
The field coordinator said, “She’s asking why. Why is it that girls’ face these hardships and have to beat these odds? Why is it that they go through this suffering?”
The girl continued and my field coordinators continued to translate, telling me the girl was asking over and over again, “WHY…? Why…?”
Why? I felt my heart sink. Of course, the answer could be hyper-intellectualized, as you do when you sit in any class on feminism. You can talk about patriarchal structures and a system that was built on men’s power and dominance and continues because of those who benefit and have always benefitted from it—in other words, privilege. You can talk about the historical disrespect and misunderstanding of the female body, and those who see it as a tool for reproduction over all else. You can go on and on. And on.
But somehow those explanations didn’t seem sufficient in that moment. I turned to the field coordinator and said sadly, “There’s no answer we can give her for that.”
Averil, the co-founder and Acting Executive Director of VOICE, said, “You’re right. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that most boys won’t have to think about and go through what you will. But, we’re working at VOICE to help make it fair and make it easier for girls to beat these challenges.”
It was the best answer we could give her and probably the most positive spin one can put on these deep-seated issues of oppression and discrimination. While it is essential for us to understand why structures of inequality exist in order to avoid replaying such events in the present, for these girls, caught in the everyday residue of this history, what matters now is—how they can harness the resources they have and how they can play with and gain agency within the limitations placed on them girls to ultimately break free from the system.
Even so, her question echoes, “Why?”
And I can’t think of any satisfactory answer. A testament to the necessity of the work we do.