I was and am delighted to have been placed at the Women’s Empowerment Desk (WED) in the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) for my Fellowship. The work at WED encompasses my passion for equality, empowerment and a gendered lens in the development sector. I was further motivated and excited to learn that I would be getting an opportunity to attend their ‘Training for Trainers’ (TOT) on ‘Sexual and Gender Based Violence’ (SGBV) immediately after the Orientation organized for all the AIF Clinton Fellows of 2020-21. My apprehensions about virtual trainings were allayed quite a bit by the Orientation. However, I was curious to know the ways in which training on such a sensitive topic could be delivered virtually.
Sexual and Gender based Violence Training of Trainers
The TOT for me, was the most fascinating gender training I had ever attended regardless of its digital nature. Organized by WED for all levels of gender trainers or even novices within the Tibetan community in India, it conveyed a very valuable and real insight on gender and SGBV perspectives prevalent in the community to me. I was also able to truly comprehend how the passion and solidarity to affect change and break stifling gender norms resonated across communities. The training was facilitated by the Nandita Bhatt, Director of the Martha Farrell Foundation (MFF), a non-profit organization based in Delhi.
This training was unique in many ways but I have tried to sum up the factors regarding it’s virtual delivery which were very innovative and creative for me under the following three aspects:
Participatory Training methodology in a virtual context
From the beginning of the training itself, it was clear that the virtual aspect of the training had been carefully considered. The training design, content and delivery were adapted to accommodate the limitations of a digital landscape as well as embrace the possibilities. This was done by making excellent use of all manners of virtual tools like Jam Board for collective group discussions, Polling for anonymous surveys, Breakout Rooms for focused group discussions and something as simple as the mandatory requirement of all participants keeping their Video on at all times for a semblance of face-to-face interaction (except in cases of network issues).
I was especially impressed with the use of the Jam Board for ensuring group participation and clarifying basic concepts of Sex, Gender, Power, Violence, Harassment and finally Gender based Violence. Each of the above were written on the Jam Board by the facilitator and every participant had to give their own interpretation of these words which was recorded for everyone to see on the Jam Board. All of these were later used by the participants to collectively come up with their own definition of Sexual and Gender based Violence.
The above exercise was extremely successful in not only engaging all the participants in the training but also with each other. It informed everyone present about different perspectives people had regarding these concepts. This helped us deliberate and formulate a unique definition of SGBV together even being miles apart physically.
Virtual Safe Spaces
As the training was on a highly sensitive issue, it was important to ensure the participants comfort and safety which is difficult to establish if there is a lack of physical presence. However, I was amazed to see the very fruitful creation of virtual safe spaces. They were formed by guaranteeing the workshop to be a confidential and non – judgemental space even in a virtual capacity. This was reinforced by a number of activities like the one described below.
To put participants at ease and encourage open sharing, a Poem exercise based around gender-based violence in our lives was conducted. The participants were divided into groups and sent into breakout rooms (in Zoom) to discuss any gender-based violence they had come across in their lives. It could be a personal story or about someone they knew and wished to share without revealing any names. The groups then had to sew all the stories shared into a poem and finally share it with everyone in the training without any part being identifiable with any particular person.
My group members all shared stories about facing gender-based violence at different ages in their lives. We decided to weave them all into a prose about one person who has these experiences from childhood to adulthood. Surprisingly and sadly, it fit together seamlessly. This exercise gave us all a sense of solidarity and also helped us realize the extent to which certain violent acts have been normalized and are commonplace behaviour in everyday society.
This exercise encouraged many of us in sharing our personal stories be it anonymous or not and was the best example of a virtual safe space in formation.
Simulated Training facilitated by participant groups
As this was a virtual training designed to instruct and inform other trainers about effective ways of delivering their own SGBV trainings which might or might not be virtual, there was time dedicated to give participants an orientation on conducting trainings virtually as well as to use the different virtual tools available effectively.
To make participants essentially understand the concept of delivering SGBV trainings, they were divided into three groups and asked to conduct a simulated training on SGBV with all training members as their recipients. Each group was given a hypothetical scenario with an incident in different contexts which very briefly were:
1. Sexual harassment at workplace;
2. Gender-based violence in a school;
3. Lack of awareness about SGBV within Tibetan settlements
Each group had to design a training based on their scenario and adapt it for a virtual setting. On the last day, all three groups were allotted time to conduct a part of their training session as they would for their target audience. This was then analysed and evaluated by Nandita to help us improve our performance and impact.
The learnings from the training design, implementation and evaluation contributed immensely in helping all of us understand the implications and processes involved in digital SGBV trainings. This kind of simulated exercise has made us all better equipped and prepared to be the effective digital Gender Trainers we all hope and have set out to be.
As a part of the organizing team, WED asked me to create an evaluation form for all the participants to get a sense of their learnings, growth and satisfaction from this Training. One of the questions the WED team had wanted me to pose was whether or not attending the training virtually led to meeting the participants learning needs and expectations. 80 % of the participants responded very positively to this and even noted how this would help them in their own future virtual trainings.
I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with all the above participants. The one word that I had associated this Fellowship with in an activity during the Orientation was Growth. So far, this has proven to be very true and I hope to continue learning and growing as my journey goes on be it virtual or not!