By Ireen Dubel
Twelve feminists from all over the world meet in upstate New York, September 2014. They meet to pilot the methodology of The TMI Project for Gender at Work. They have come to dig up stories for knowledge building about their work experiences as gender experts, feminists working in development agencies in various parts of the world.
What they know upon arrival is that they are expected to write. They have come to write stories about their role as intermediaries between the agendas of their organizations and their personal drives to contribute to improve the lives of marginalized women through empowerment and tackling of persistent gender inequalities. Each of them only knows a few of the fellow participants. The majority does not know what they are actually in for.
Day one, the magic happens. Trust and confidentially are guiding principles, without having to be formally agreed upon. Facilitation is of course key.
Three women, who have gone through the same TMI Project methodology, share their stories during the opening session of the workshop. They tell deep stories about their personal experiences of discrimination and marginalization, not as victims, no, as women—who and where they are, now and where they want to go to.
The three-day meeting turns out to be a most creative, exciting, inspiring, reflective encounter.
The methodology of the TMI Project is rigid. After the opening session and expectation sharing, writing, pen on paper without lifting it—no laptops or iPads—is driving the process.
Stories are shared, told, enriched over the days. The end result is amazing. Twelve authentic, compelling stories about the politics of being feminist change agents and working in a variety of organisations and bureaucracies, are staged, performed. Laughter and tears fill the room. Each participant is empowered in her own personal way. Some achieve major leaps from misery, pain and the sense of being stuck. Others share experiences never told, experience the liberation of shedding and the affirmation of deeply personal experiences of pain, sorrow and loss. Competition and hierarchy are absent. Each story is validated as the personal expression and experience of deep gender inequality issues that are on the agenda, both in the work and personal domains of the participants.
The stories are publishable. The methodology can be used to produce stories for gender training modules, for evidence reporting to back donors, for fundraising in the gender & development and business worlds. The methodology enables knowledge development and sharing about the deep individual, organisational and institutional dimensions of change that Gender at Work wishes to generate.
This methodology deserves replication, multiplication, through training of trainers, through wider exposure, through in-house donor familiarization and many more ways. It has the potential to recognize, validate and affirm. The revelation of one of my fellow participants: “I am stepping into my power.”
Ireen Dubel is Senior Advisor on Women's Rights at the Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (Hivos). She was a participant at a recent workshop organized by The TMI Project (an upstate New York-based organization that aims to “change the world, one story at a time”), and Gender at Work. The workshop took place over three days in September and invited feminists who have worked at the front line of confronting gender discrimination.