Between Their Stories and Our Realities -- Chapter 6


Chapter 6: Daily Heroism

The video Daily Heroism brings us to a small village in Senegal, and tells the story of Assaita, the only woman of the community who holds a political position. She is the rural counsel's vice-president. From that post she tries to change traditions that discriminate against women, but her authority is questioned.

Assaita uses her power to protect an eleven-year-old girl who doesn't want to marry the man who has been chosen for her. Also, she criticizes female genital mutilation and tells the women in the community about their rights.

The village's men, tired of Assaita's decisions, decide to punish all the women by burning their radios and forbidding their access to information. While some women criticize Assaita's actions as well, many others, and her husband, support her.

Approximate duration: 15 minutes.

How is the story of the video Daily Heroism related to the Women's Convention?

The video addresses the political rights of women, and their right to participation in the political life of the community and in the government. See Articles 7 and 8. It also deals with Article 16 setting out rights related to marriage and responsibilities of men and women within the family. It also addresses the practice of female genital mutilation, a type of violence against women's bodies (see General Recommendation No. 14), and obstacles that we face trying to change cultural stereotypes (see CEDAW Article 5). Finally, the video deals with difficulties in women's access to basic resources like water, the rights of rural women (see Article 14), and the right to information (see Articles 10, part h, and 13, part c).

A. Raising Awareness and Sensitivity

Possible Activities:

Standing In Her Shoes ...

Participants can sit in a circle and each one can choose the character in the video that she or he identifies with. Then each participant can explain the choice.

The coordinator can point out the characters that have been chosen most and least often, and ask the group to think about the reasons why.

Women and Men ... Heroines and Heroes

The coordinator can write the following titles on two blank posters:

  • Women in the video
  • Men in the video

Participants can write characteristics under each title.

When all characteristics have been listed, the group can debate some of the following questions:

  • What are the similarities and differences between men and women in the video, and men and women in our communities?
  • Who are the ones in the video we could call heroines or heroes? In our communities? What characteristics do they have?

B. Analysis and Comprehension

Possible Activities:

Political Participation

Full citizenship rights do not simply include the right to vote. Enjoying full citizenship means that one can participate in the implementation of governmental policies, participate in government, and in non-governmental organizations or public associations.

The coordinator can read Articles 7 and 8 of the Women's Convention, then present the following statistic:

Women hold only 10.5% of the seats in the

world's parliaments or legislative bodies.

The group can divide itself into three teams. Each one can be given a set of questions to discuss:

  • Think about some causes and consequences of the limited political participation of women. Consider both qualitative and quantitative participation.
  • Analyze women's participation in the video: Assaita and her contribution to her community, and the difficulties that she encounters in accomplishing her political role; and reactions of the other women, her husband, and the other men toward her activities.
  • Analyze the participation of women in politics in participants' communities. Who are the women who take part? What do they do? What obstacles do they face? What are their contributions?

Then each team can present its conclusions.

Finally the coordinator can present the following cartoon:

Well then, Manolito is the Minister of Finance, and I am the Chancellor ... and you? I am President!

Absurd! A woman can't be President!

And why not innovate? After all, we are playing!

Because, even when we are playing, we don't let someone who wants to innovate be President!

Female Genital Mutilation

In some countries, genital mutilation of a woman's clitoris is practiced as soon as a girl reaches puberty. This act, which is a fundamental violence against a woman's body, causes serious infections, physical pain, and profound psychological scars. It seems to be related to the idea that women do not have the right to experience sexual pleasure, or the right to make decisions about their own bodies.

The coordinator can ask participants to express how they felt when they were faced with the words Genital Mutilation.

For each emotion, the group can list consequences for the complete health of women (physical, emotional, psychological), taking into account the right to healthy sexuality.

The group can then discuss other methods of control over a woman's body that exist in other parts of the world.

Finally the coordinator can pass around magazines, construction paper, paint, markers, glue, etc., so that participants can make a poster which is a tribute to a woman's body, as it is naturally, without torture, violence, or artificial controls.

Information and Cultural Change

the right to information is fundamental if a woman wants to know her reality, understand it, and change it if necessary. If women have information they can advance in their fight for their rights.

Have the group write on a poster the importance of radios for the women in the video. On another poster, list some of the criticisms that men made about the radios.

Read Article 1 of the Women's Convention, and relate the words exclusion, distinction, and restriction to the importance of radios or any other means of communication. The group may also want to analyze Articles 10, part h, 13, part c, and 16.

Then divide the group into teams of 4 or 5 people and ask each one to prepare a newsletter, testimony, interview, or other type of informative text that could be presented on a radio program. This piece of information should address a theme related to the discrimination that women suffer, and violations of their rights.

Each team can present its work to the rest of the group as if they were "on the air."

Finally the coordinator can open a debate about some of the opportunities that communication and information offer in fighting women's discrimination. It would also be interesting to discuss the disadvantages of certain types of media.


Concepts of marriage and family vary according to specific cultures, but all should ensure that treatment of women within a marriage, legally and privately, will be based on principles of equality and justice.

The coordinator can read Article 16 of the Women's Convention.

Next, present the following dialogue from the video, written on small cards:

  1. It is what a spouse should accept from her husband! (Awa's mother)
  2. Since when may women choose their husband? (Awa's grandmother)
  3. You make the decisions in this house.... You don't respect me, nor respect my words! (Keba, Assaita's husband)
  4. My domestic authority, you negate it! (Keba, Assaita's husband)
  5. These are things that bring wrong ideas to women and girls. (Village man, referring to the radios)
  6. She wants no more than three kids. (Village man, referring to Assaita)
  7. Your third wife does not respect you, nor does she respect me. It is she who wears the pants in your house! (Father of Assaita's husband)
  8. All that a woman possesses is the property of her husband. When she is a girl, it is her father's property. (Ibou, village man)
  9. These objects (radios) prevent women from completing their duties, as mothers, and gives them irresponsible ideas about our values and cultures. (Village man)
  10. Keba, ask your woman to choose between you and politics! (Father of Assaita's husband)
  11. Assaita, you cannot sit down higher than men do, sit down on the floor! (Village man)

For each card, participants can think about the rights that have been violated with these words, and explain the discrimination, prejudices, and stereotypes that are behind the expression.

Participants can describe similar expressions that have been heard in their communities. The coordinator can lead the group in making replies to these.

C. Strategies for Change

Resolve a Problem

The girl in the video, Awa, wishes to kill herself in the village well because she does not want to marry the man chosen for her.

In groups of 6 to 8 people, try to find some kind of solution to Awa's problem. Think about, for example:

  • Where does the problem come from?
  • Who can help her?
  • Are there opportunities for resistance, or assistance from the people living in her community?
  • Are there rules or laws or human rights agreements that could be used to defend the girl's rights, and how could they be used?

Each group can present its conclusions to the rest of the participants.

Participation in Politics

The coordinator can ask the group to imagine that: In a few months there will be new elections in your community.

The group can be divided into two or three teams representing diverse political parties. The objective is to elect a new Minister for the Advancement of Women.

Each team, using a sensible evaluation of the community's needs, will prepare a PLAN OF ACTION.

  • Think about new policies to be implemented.
  • Propose some concrete projects that the government could finance.
  • Take into account the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, and consider some of CEDAW's propositions toward that goal.

To create the Plan of Action, teams can use the Women's Convention and General Recommendations (in Appendix C of this manual), and their propositions for "appropriate measures."

Each group can elect a representative to play the role of the candidate. She or he will present the team's plan as if running for election.

To conclude, the group can debate about the themes included in the different Plans of Action.

NOTE: It would be interesting to compare these Plans with those that actually exist in participants' communities.

D. Evaluation

Possible Activity:

Power of Words

The coordinator can present the following sentence:

The most powerful arm of the oppressor

is the mind of the oppressed. -- Steve Biko

Each participant can then explain what these words mean to her or him, in relation to what has been learned in the workshop.


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