Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (Sometimes)

With apologies to John Gray, who authored an entire book under this title, I couldn’t imagine a better, more accurate assessment of a day-long meeting we had a couple of weeks ago in Chacra seca, an area just outside of Leon, Nicaragua.

It’s an area that has received perhaps more than its share of development projects and funding; the colonial flavor of Leon ensures a strong presence of international aid.  We visited with area farmers, men and women both, who have participated in  a series of social development activities aimed at strengthening their abilities in claiming their rights, voicing their needs and expectations to leaders, understanding their collective assets and systematically solving their own problems.

The process has been facilitated by the social workers and technicians at PRODESSA, a longstanding partner with WPF and an organization which has brought its extensive experience and deep knowledge of community development to this western region of the country.  In part, they are here specifically because of that extensive development history, a litany of aid which has resulted in far less success than perhaps it should have.  (PRODESSA relates the story of how this new audience wondered whether they might receive money for attending the meetings that were designed to assist them.)  Our morning was spent with them, learning about their approaches and results at Chacra seca.  The afternoon was spent interacting with the participants themselves.  Both sessions energized me, from the process-oriented methodology of PRODESSA to the real-life experiences of the participants themselves.  And at the end of the day I was left with a somewhat curious observation about how men and women can be so different in the course of transformation.

In the first part of the afternoon, we were given the opportunity to meet with the women from the community, to hear about their interactions with PRODESSA, what they had learned and how it may have impacted their lives thus far.  Their comments sounded nothing short of transformational:

“We’re now not afraid to go anywhere.”                                                                “Fear has been left behind.”                                                                                        “I have felt fulfilled.  I am a person of age and yet I have learned….”        “From unity has come strength.”                                                                               “There’s a path to follow.  We’ve received a grain of sand on which to  build.”

The women repeatedly cited personal, substantive changes in their lives and outlooks, brought about through sessions of training and introspection, reflection and identification of the strengths and assets that collectively they hold.  They have begun to see themselves in a completely new light, one which affirms their wisdom and potential.

Following our session with the women, the men of Chacra seca joined us in discussion of the impacts that they have felt from their work with PRODESSA.  As in the session with the women, the forum was an open one, without prompt or guide from anyone.  We sat in the same circle as with the women and essentially asked for responses to the same questions: what was it like to work with PRODESSA, what had they learned and what kind of impacts had been experienced thus far.  Their comments were nothing short of, well, short:

“We now have chia.”                                                                                              “Our health care is much improved.”                                                        “There is a better poison.”                                                                                 “Our roads are so much better.”                                                                                 “They have helped us with the plantain difficulties.”

For the men, what PRODESSA brought to the table was tangible and technical.  They may have valued discussions and ideas about self-sufficiency in problem-solving, but the real importance to them resided in the very concrete learning which they encountered, wherein specific techniques, products and practices became identified and could be used immediately.  The men tended to see the solutions to various problems in a new light, rather than sensing change within themselves.  The contrast of their reactions with the women’s was palpable.

That’s not to suggest that one group’s outcome was better than the other’s.  Indeed, one might argue that one solid answer to a problem is worth many times the value of increased self-esteem or potential problem-solving capacity.  The two perspectives were simply different and for the right reasons.  While women certainly understand and value the practicality of a specific improvement as well as the men, they also occupy a far different niche in the social structure than their male counterparts.  They recognize the need to cultivate their collective voice, to stretch their independence and rise to the same social standing and value as their men, issues which the men generally don’t even need to think about.

The beauty and the strength of the PRODESSA methodology is that it meets its audience in whatever strata they are in.  It addresses the needs of people based upon whatever those specific needs may be, not according to a formula or a mere assumption of what might be helpful.  It allows its participants to gain what they require based upon their own experiences and wisdom, and it’s why PRODESSA has been so successful in the territories served.  It has lifted both the women and the men of Chacra seca, even when they have come to their transformations from very different planets….


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