I Can’t, Yes I Can: Discovering Strength, Shifting Perceptions

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Indira Johnson, artist and non-violence educator, recently facilitated a project, I Can’t, Yes I Can with the artisans who work with MarketPlace. “The goal of the I Can’t, Yes I Can, Project was to get women to identify and take advantage of their strengths and the power inherent in these strengths while encouraging them to access the avenues of hope that are available to them”, explains Indira.

As our readers know, we have been dealing with the issue of domestic violence for five years now. Research has shown that gender inequality and the lack of value of women is the primary cause of domestic violence in India and it is often considered acceptable in society. From an early age girls are told what they can or cannot do as individuals.

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The 1st session addressed these issues symbolized by the words “I can’t” which they then wrote and drew on fabric, squares.  The women represented issues like “I can’t go anywhere alone”, “drive a car”, “there were different rules for me and my brother”.

The 2nd session focused on strengths and power. Some of them identified strengths like being hard working, efficient, team oriented, responsible, understanding, and helpful. The women wrote and drew images of their strengths on fabric squares. It came as a surprise to some of them that after struggling to draw at first, they really enjoyed it, and even listed it as one of their strengths.

In the 3rd session, the two groups came together to prepare their I Can fabric squares so they could be strung together in rows of flags. On Artisans’ Day, they took turns to explain and share the workshop process and their experience with the rest of the group. Then the whole group was invited to tear up the I Can’t fabric squares into strips, which they tied in between the I Can flags. This ritual tearing allowed the women to symbolically destroy the notions of what they cannot do.

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The strings of flags were triumphantly carried by the women from the celebration hall, through the streets of Golibar to the Marketplace office where they were they were installed in rows across one of the entry doors. They chanted “we are strong, we can do anything” as they marched and stopped traffic.

“The whole process gave the participating women an opportunity to reflect on the ways society and culture has placed restrictions around them and how their inherent strengths can slowly change their own and the perceptions of others. We learned that together we can test the old value and belief systems, and jointly work to collaborate in the transformation and re interpretation of the traditions and myths of our cultures”, sums up Indira.

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