This is the fifth in a series of posts about my recent foray into the interior of Papua.
I really enjoyed my first experience doing field work. It gave me a lot of things to think about and maybe less fortunate for the participants, it gave me opportunities to learn through practice – facilitating discussions and seeing what worked and what didn’t.
There were moments when it seemed kind of pointless to go to a village for three days – what could possibly be accomplished in that amount of time? Obviously, not much. Fortunately, the church and P3W have a variety of programs in which they train and send out community workers and pastors to do more long-term programs. Still, there’s a long way to go in community development in the area.
I was brought along on this escapade to facilitate workshops on gender roles and domestic violence, because gender is “my area.” Meaning that I’m passionate about gender issues, I read a lot, and I have plenty of opinions. Someday, I’d love to be an expert on the topic.
I had previously done one domestic violence workshop at our Jayapura office with moderate success. I slightly modified the same workshop for a group of about 25 women in Anggeruk. The topic was power and its relationship to domestic violence. First we talked a bit about gender roles. In their culture, what are the wife’s responsibilities? What are the husband’s responsibilities? In small groups they discussed who controls resources and makes decisions for the family.
Many women said they made decisions in partnership with their husbands. I was pretty surprised, based on my understanding of the culture. But when I asked, “who holds more power, the husband or the wife?” They all unanimously and immediately said, “the husband.” So I said, “what about being equal partners?” And they were like, Oh, right. We had some good discussions about that.
Unfortunately with all the preliminary questions and discussion time, we were already towards the end of our two hours. I wish we could have jumped right into how unequal power leads to domestic violence at the beginning and had more time to talk about it, but the introductory steps were necessary. What I’ve found from discussions of these sorts of issues is that many people here have never been asked to think about these things. It’s not very effective to start anywhere except at the very beginning.
For our group in Nisikni, I changed the format a bit. We had about sixty participants, mostly women but also men. First we listed the daily activities of men and women. Then we broke into four small groups and each group was given a picture representing some aspect of gender relations.
I presented a picture of a typical, traditionally dressed family from their culture and asked them a few questions, for example:
What is happening in this picture? A family is coming home from working in their garden.
Who do you think is probably physically stronger – the husband, or the pregnant wife? The husband.
So why isn’t he helping his wife carry the bags of potatoes home? Because the wife is the one who carries the potatoes.
This is where we really started to get going – discussing the value of husbands and wives working together.
At one point, a very thoughtful woman sitting next to me said, “my husband bought me, so I do what he tells me to do.”
What could I say? Her statement did not surprise me. I know it’s a common practice. Still, I was in no way prepared to respond. It’s been three weeks. I still have nothing. I wanted to say, That’s not right. One person cannot purchase another. You are God’s child, not a man’s possession. But none of that would change the fact that it happened. I feel the weight of women’s oppression around the world, but I will never understand it the way that she does.
In the course of our small group discussion the same woman also said, “these ideas we’re talking about are great, but my husband isn’t here to hear them. How can anything change unless he changes?” Yes. Exactly. This is the problem with treating domestic violence and other gender issues as “women’s issues.” You can talk to the survivors all you want, but that’s never going to change the offenders’ attitude and actions.
Although that woman’s husband was not present, other men were. I turned to them and asked them what their thoughts were. They were less excited about changing the status quo than the women were.
Interestingly, I was working through a translator, who was a man, to talk to my group of about ten women and four men – many of whom, particularly women, do not speak Indonesian (they speak the Yali language). The man who was translating summed up the men’s opinions in saying, very patiently, “this is how our culture works. It’s how we’ve always worked. It’s a very old culture, and it’s not your culture.”
I acknowledged that his point was very true. Their culture is thousands of years old. We all have different practices and ways of doing things – within Papua, different parts of Indonesia and around the world. But then I asked, what is more important, cultural traditions, or following Christ’s teaching? (They are all devoutly Christian, and in fact their culture has already been changed dramatically by their faith over the past several decades). So I just threw out the idea that Christ’s teaching is based on love and servanthood. Once we accept that teaching, it changes the way we relate to other people as we follow Christ’s example – regardless of what our culture dictates. It’s as true for me as it is for them.
I of course butchered this explanation at the time, and as usual when I speak in Indonesian, it took a few tries before my audience began to understand what it was I was saying. I referenced a passage in the Bible that says that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, which I now know is Mark 9:35, but I definitely did not have that information on hand at the time.
My translator said, “Oh! You mean 2 Corinthians 5:17!” and went on to say something indistinguishable in Indonesian. I hesitated for a second and said, “yep! That’s the one!” No idea.
That night I looked up the verse he had mentioned and it was much more applicable than the one I had failed to accurately describe:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.
He concluded the discussion by saying, “I think this really gives us something to think about.” I agreed. I think it gives us all something to think about.
A short time later, gathered in the large group again, a lay minister and community leader said three things that were very unexpected. He said the men of their village had sinned in not honoring their wives. He said they needed to continue this conversation in their community Bible study groups. And he asked for a complete set of the training materials for each of the seven church congregations in the area.
We didn’t have a lot of time in each community, but we’re planting seeds. And we’re praying that God’s spirit is working in each of our hearts, with the promise that in him, we are all made new.