Explorations with a new group ~ Supriya Puri

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The journey over the last couple of weeks with the girls at Pehchaan has been of wonderful revelations. Exploring different avenues of social, affective and emotional domains; has been the key in decoding how individuals perceive the world and how the human experience differs from one person to the next.
Working with various modalities within the art based spectrum facilitated a comprehensive understanding of individual processes without making overt observations embedded in interpretations. One can gather behaviour and thoughts through these means without over-reaching personal ideologies as art as a construct, supersedes conscious patterns and helps to create meaning by simply being a custodian of unconscious manifestations that are brought to fore in a very organic way.
In order to bring about change, one must gauge where, what and how, can the shift be encouraged without imposing individual ideas of where it might seem relevant. The past couple of sessions have been a container of just observing, the overt manifestations, reactions as well as creating causes and conditions which sustain and persist the current way of being, without introducing structures and activities that inhibit free expression for the girls
Facilitating, or providing scaffolding for them has been the main area of focus, so that the element of social appropriateness and good vs bad do not seep inhibit natural reactions. Whenever such an instance occurs, the girls are encouraged to question the validity of norms and standards of conformity that they have come to absorb from their social environment.
To understand their coping mechanisms as well as how they view the social construct within which the operate, along with cognitive, affect, emotional and physical parameters an art based tool, called 6 piece story making was conducted individually as well as in pairs. This session gave wonderful insights about their inner dialogue and inter vs intrapsychic conflicts.
This gave us a fair understanding of what the focus of the next sessions would be, in terms of affirming and establishing immediate goals. As the follow up of the story making session, a container for object relations and improvisation was conducted which focused on using different day to day objects, for instance, a mirror, a pen or a scarf and establishing different meanings to the ones with which they are associated, originally. This  proved to be of immense assessment value as it re-affirmed the line of thought that improvisation and affective expression would be limited and it was observed that very few of them were able to use their imaginative capacity to the fullest potential. The reasons for the same are multi-layered but fall within our current understanding of all these young individuals.
Moving ahead, working with rhythms, body, movement and encouraging exploratory play would remain the guiding principles towards actively bringing about awareness of the self and the other and eventually hoping to create an ease of dialogue about concepts under the broader purview of gender and sexuality. This will be a long journey indeed, but one which both Devika and I are looking forward to undertake.

Vagina Dialogues with Haiyya

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We began our Sexual and Reproductive Health-Gender workshops in April 2016. Engaging intensively with a group of adolescents, talking about the changes in the body, decisions that are made about the body, relationships, sexuality, and conversations about gender seemed more and more urgent. The aim is to create a non-judgemental, safe space, where the participants as well as the facilitators can engage with thematic areas and ask questions without any fears.

It was during a conversation with Zarina’s mentor Gayathri, that she suggested we tie up with Haiyya to facilitate a session with gynaecologist. Haiyya’s  mission is to strengthen participatory democracy in urban neighbourhoods across India and to build an aware, deliberative, and active citizenry by implementing, supporting, and sharing community organizing strategies to hold our government – and people – accountable for solving civic issues. One of their campaigns is around the reproductive health and rights of single women. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for not just the girls in the core team of Aagaaz, but also their female mentors to know more about their body and their rights.

The session was organized for the 26th of March in Gayathri’s living room. Mrinalini from Haiyya and Dr. Ankita, a 29 year old gynaecologist along with Gayathri led the conversations. The group as always was full of curiosities. Conversations and questions ranged from an understanding of the female reproductive system, to childbirth, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, rape, legalities, rights, and much else. In Dr. Ankita, the group found a friend, who was talking to them without any moral strictures or even assumptions. The mentors too were active participants in the conversation. We realised that sexual and reproductive health is such a taboo and veiled zone that even those with more access and education often don’t have the right information.

We ended the conversations by creating lines of communication for the girls in case of any distress related to their bodies. Dr. Ankita, Gayathri, Mrinalini, all volunteered to be available in case a need arose. The evening was full of information, laughter, thought, and some brilliant sweet and savoury snacks Gayathri made along with chai. The 19 girls/women lingered on in the room till much after goodbyes were said and photographs taken. Few more friendships were forged that evening. Ankita will be back with us in a couple of months for another session – this time on cervical and breast cancer.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Sessions

While working with adolescents we have realized the importance of the emerging questions and ideas that shape us when we come of age. The group at Nizamuddin has a variety of growing individuals who are beginning to learn more about their bodies, their relationships, their sexuality and the gender roles they play.
Discussions and dialogues around sexual health and gender are closely interwoven into their understanding of themselves as individuals, as actors and as active critical thinkers.  Based on their questions, we have had several sessions with the group about menstruation, masturbation, changing bodies and stigma of blood. We have also tried to facilitate separate sessions for girls and boys and encouraged them to share the observations and factual information with people of the opposite sex as well.
Lately, a lot of work has happened around topics connected to personal space and consent.  Since these topics seem to be currently connected to their lives, it made sense to understand their perspectives and give them an opportunity to see things differently. We made use of theatre based games, discussions and videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZwvrxVavnQ.
Additionally, we have been talking about notions of masculinity and femininity. It’s still an ongoing discussion and a need to delve into other aspects of gender-based education has also surfaced.
Do visit our website for more information on this aspect of our work and the resources we use: http://aagaaztheatre.org/sexual-and-reproductive-health/ .