Between Their Stories and Our Realities -- Chapter 7


Chapter 7: Women Hold Up the Sky

The video Women Hold Up the Sky presents the story of an African-American grandmother named Dot, who is responsible for her granddaughter Joy. Both live in the streets of New York.

Dot is a poor woman who does not have access to the necessary resources for survival. She seeks out government support, contacting a social worker to ask for some kind of housing. The government cannot offer her what she needs, but the social worker feels obligated to follow-up on the case of the little girl because the law requires that she must live in suitable housing.

Dot searches for another way out, so that Joy can stay under her care. Because she cannot find any work she registers in a social work program and cleans parks in order to receive some social benefits.

All doors are closed for Dot. She cannot find work, adequate social assistance or housing, or a good counseling service. Her granddaughter is taken away from her.

Approximate duration: 11 minutes

How is the story of Women Hold Up the Sky related to the Women's Convention?

The video deals with discrimination against women and girls (Article 1), and the responsibilities of states to prevent discrimination (Articles 2, 3, and 4). It also shows systematic violations of the social, economic and cultural right of Dot and Joy.

A. Raising Awareness and Sensitivity

Possible Activities:

Our Reactions

The coordinator can prepare cards with the following:

  • Dot's desires and opportunities
  • Joy's childhood
  • Government responsibility
  • Social services
  • Nancy's feelings
  • Poverty
  • Vulnerability
  • Human rights

Then put the cards in a bag and ask the participants to sit in a circle. One at a time, each participant can take out a card and explain how she or he feels about the phrase.

Goals, Emotions, Desires and Intentions

The coordinator can divide the group into small teams and propose to each one:

  • Discuss Dot's goals and why they seem to be unattainable.
  • Debate about Nancy's feelings, separating into Nancy/professional and Nancy/personal.
  • Imagine Joy's desires.
  • Analyze the intentions of the Government.

The teams can then present and discuss their conclusions.

B. Analysis and Comprehension

Possible Activities:


Vulnerability is frequently caused by marginalization and exclusion from the socioeconomic system and the processes of decision-making, and by the lack of access to resources and opportunities based on equality.

The coordinator can ask the group to construct a definition of discrimination. It can be noted on a blank poster.

Then read Article 1 of the Women's Convention and compare it to the definition by the participants.

Finally discuss the following question: In what ways does the system in which Dot and Joy live discriminate? Participants can respond to the question using scenes and dialogue from the video.

Government Policies and Social Assistance

Many governments sign and ratify human rights treaties, including those requiring steps in favor of disadvantaged groups like women. However, many governments don't follow through when it comes to putting their promises into practice.

The coordinator can divide the group into three teams, A, B, and C.

Group A is will receive a card with Article 2 of the Women's Convention on it. Group B will receive Article 3, and group C, Article 4. All groups can be given a copy of the list in Appendix C of this manual of all the countries that ratified the Women's Convention.


In each group, read the content of the article and discuss its meaning.

Search in the list of States Parties to the Convention to see if Dot's country (USA) or the participants' country has ratified it. Think about the commitments that a government must make to defend and protect human rights.

Discuss why certain countries like the United States refuse to ratify the Women's Convention, and other countries -- including "developing" countries -- approve all human rights treaties that are written. How is a particular government's attitude toward ratification of a treaty related to the following statement?:

The human rights discourse is a highly political discourse.

Rights and Duties

"... States Parties to the International Covenants on Human Rights have the obligation to ensure the equal rights of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights...."

The group can create two teams. One group can list ALL RIGHTS that they consider important and/or possess as a citizen; the other can list ALL DUTIES.

Then these lists can be exchanged. The teams can cross-out those rights or duties that are not achieved, enjoyed or carried out. Both posters can then be presented. All rights and duties will be read, and those that are crossed out will be noted.

To initiate a final debate, the coordinator can present the following questions:

  • What are the punishments for those responsible for the human rights violations (economic, social and cultural) against Dot and Joy?
  • What are the punishments against Dot and Joy for not being able to complete the duties dictated by law? Is it fair to punish someone because of poverty?
  • Who is responsible to guarantee these rights?

C. Strategies for Change

Possible Activities:

Planning Political Action

In small groups:

  • Characterize the government policies and the social assistance offered by the government in the video.
  • Characterize the government policies and social assistance offered by the government of the participants.
  • Issue judgements of each policy.

Then list the claims and demands that we should make as citizens before the government. Think about and formulate plans to make these claims and demands viable and visible in our communities.

When each team has finished its work, present the conclusions in front of the group.

Searching for Another Ending

Think about the conclusion of the video, when the social workers come to take Joy away. Identify points and arguments that were not taken into account when coming up with this drastic solution.

Imagine another conclusion to the story, taking into account other points of view, especially those of Dot and Joy.

D. Evaluation

Possible Activities:

A Project Without Discrimination

Invite the group to imagine that they are project evaluators. The coordinator needs to find some kind of project or plan that has been developed within the community. It could be the project of a school, a small business, health center, etc.

Divide the group into teams. Taking into account the ideas analyzed in the workshop, each group can evaluate whether the project contains any forms of discrimination (class, sex, age, race, religion, etc.)

Then the teams can propose modifications or other changes to the original proposal. Each team can present its conclusions.


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