That's how I always felt about anthropology. I felt connected to the art by being about to learn about the world as wholly as possible. Feeling that we need to understand this world before we can help it, development research was a great way to do so. I imagined myself working for a research institute or the research department of an NGO, personally interviewing the people we want to help and finding out how we can help them. That was the drive behind this scholarship: to learn about programs that try to empower women and ask the women themselves how they want to be empowered.
Doing this work is another story. I enjoy interviewing survivors of sexual violence, because I learn about where they come from, what kind of programs they seek for empowerment and what they're dreams are for the future. With this information, I was hoping to publish a paper discussing their needs so better programs can be created. But during all the interviews, I felt I left them just as vulnerable as they were before. I began to feel that I was taking something from them, their story, a piece of them, to use for some high language, post modern academic paper that they will never see nor understand. To add insult to injury, most people who makes decisions on empowerment programs would never consider my findings because they are too wrapped up in what donors want anyway.
Where's the empowerment.. for anyone? I feel I left them not changing anything, leaving them as powerless and as scared of their future as were before I came. I can give them love, of course that helps, I'll always believe that. But that's not a tool they can hold onto, that's a feeling that will fade once I leave. I may have touched some lives, but my work is not sustainable. And in all honesty, where's the empowerment for me? I have felt powerless this entire trip, lost in the colossal mess of Bangladesh's corruption and violence. There were times I lost interest in my work completely because what was the point?
But this weekend, for the first time in the last 10 months, I finally felt I did something right.
My roommate Saba has self-defense training that she attended in India. Looking at the materials, I fell in love: physical and mental self-defense techniques and positive confidence building in a 2-3 day workshop with a group of women only. I begged Saba over a month to let me do a few workshops with her before I leave. While we're still in the process of planning with a few NGOs and universities, we held one 2-day workshop in our living room this past weekend with 8 of our girlfriends.
I never was so happy this entire trip. Combining my own personality traits with my knowledge on sexual assault, I was able to teach other women (our friends) why we face such tragedies as women in patriarchal societies. With Saba's help, we trained our friends how to escape from an attacker by hitting the the most vulnerable parts on a human body. We talked with them about how to define and assert their boundaries. We shared tips in positive personal decision-making and how women overcome the sexist barriers in front of them. It was only two days, it was just our friends (which, most of them are already quite aware of gender violence and are already pro-feminist).. but I felt so f-in good! What I loved was that personal feeling of empowerment being able to empower others. We ended the workshop not knowing how much they will remember, but at least we put these techniques out there and created a safe space for women to share all the awful experiences they keep to themselves. I really loved being a trainer.
So this is my career path: become a trainer on women's empowerment. Who knows where that exactly will lead, training companies on sexual harassment to sex education to confidence building techniques for young girls. I've found several promising organizations in the new city I'm moving to in September. Finally, I'm excited about my future, my empowering future, again.