March 15 2019
We had our first day out painting in public spaces in the neighborhood Mapendo which means “love” in Swahili. What was incredible was how within minutes of the group of girls arriving and painting the wall, young men approached us, with some degree of aggression, and asked the girls why they were taking “their” jobs? Soon after a woman arrived and engaged in a discussion with some other men, and speaking on behalf of the girls painting, said something like, “let women also do the same work as men, we are capable too.”
Having these kinds of community discussions pop up so frequently already as we start working in the public spaces highlights that what the girls are doing is far outside the societal norms. It’s a reminder of how strong community expectations are that a woman’s place is in the home, and how few opportunities women and girls have to work in different sectors. The girls themselves are very eager to climb the ladders, be covered in paint and to have the attention of the community in this role – it’s something that they are extremely proud of.
I’m looking forward to this public process of painting, as there will be many opportunities for community engagement on the issue of gender norms. It’s a tricky thing to discuss. Norms are so ingrained that it’s difficult for most to recognize how unequal the playing field is, and why it’s important to promote gender equality. Norms change slowly and so not all of these discussions will be friendly. We believe though that this kind of exchange is meaningful and works to slowly shift perceptions. We are working now on how the girls and our team can best engage the community on these types of questions and discussion so that it becomes an opportunity to learn another perspective and not simply an argument.