[EDEQUITY WEEA Project Dialogue]Another project....

From: Ann Muno (annmuno@earthlink.net)
Date: Tue Feb 12 2002 - 15:38:03 EST

I work with an organization in Seattle called Powerful Voices (PV). We
offer a program called Girls RAP (Rights! Action! Power!) for students in
four public middle schools.

With great interest my staff and I huddled around the screen this morning
reading your comments. Seems many of us offering after school programs are

learning (or re-learning) that before we can help girls take leadership on
equity issues, they need to be able to create a common culture of respect
(or as I have interpreted Jill Denner's phrase "equity within gender" to
mean). Below I've copied a short article from our recent newsletter. The
article illustrates the ways we have struggled to create a common culture
of respect in our program. I'm excited to share thoughts on this topic and

look forward to comments.

Also, I want to comment on your second question about the need to "raise
awareness first before taking action". We have found that it's not a
linear process and each group of girls we work with is so different.
 Sometimes we do a little bit of awareness raising first, and then girls
are able to take action; other times girls' awareness is raised to the
point where they can hardly wait to do a project. (And we don't want to
stifle their great energy.) We work very hard to train instructors to read

the group and follow its lead. Our curriculum is made up of modules that
are theme-based ("What's It Like To Be A Girl Today", "What is Activism",
 "What Inspires Us To Action", etc.) and instructors can pick and choose as

they see fits the group.

Again, I'm thrilled we are able to share thoughts regarding after school
leadership programs. Isn't it great that our ranks are growing?

Ann Muno,
Program Director
Girls RAP (Rights! Action! Power!)
Respect in Girl's RAP Culture

An old friend recently asked if there were any challenging things about the

work we do at PV. She continued, "I mean, you work with girls, they are SO

awesome." Yes it's true, I thought, girls are awesome. But the myth
that "girl culture" in single sex programs is somehow free of the sins of
the larger culture needs to be dispelled. The most challenging aspect of
the work is girl culture. Well, by that I mean creating a true culture of
respect within the program. In any culture, language and rights are
distinctive, and in Girls RAP Culture, respect is the common language girls

and instructors must create and then speak together for an entire school
year. Respect for self, others and girls' rights forms the core of our
curriculum. Yet, as a group of girls and women from different life
experiences, we are forever learning that respect has many faces. Here I
want to share how the struggle to create a common culture-a great privilege

we undertake-shapes and defines the girls and women in this program.

The way each girl experiences respect at home deeply influences how she
gives and receives respect elsewhere in her life. It is critically
important to take time to learn how she answers questions such as: What
does respect mean in her family? and How does she give and receive respect
at home? Most girls will tell us that "listening and taking turns" are
signs of respect in their home. But this means different things in
different homes. One girl feels she is being respected when she is allowed
to play her own music; at another home, giving respect means you would
never play a certain type of music. How do we bridge so many different
definitions of respect when some directly conflict with one another? To
add to the complexity, just because a girl feels she is listened to at
home, does not mean she knows how to listen to others. In fact, learning
to listen may be the most important lesson she learns in the program.
 Girls will tell us that getting respect at home implies some type of
yielding to her heartfelt need for self-expression and power. Since this a

language we have always cherished at Powerful Voices, we try to help girls
work with these words and develop the life skills that go with them.

For adult participants in the program, then, the next layer of challenge
has been to identify a few truths about respect and the common themes that
relate to self-expression and power. These themes successfully bind Girls
RAP culture. In Girls RAP self-expression means a girl has found space to
let down her defenses. One girl uses silence as her defense; another
speaks so loudly that she denies self-expression to others in the group.
Developing a culture of respect gives a girl the space to use her voice in
a way that is powerful to her and the rest of the group. And when a girl
successfully finds her voice in RAP, she no longer feels the need for
protection from others. She learns that somewhere in this balance of
silence and speech lies what we mean by respect in girl's culture. Our
role as adults is to help her learn this lesson and this is an extremely
challenging part of our job. In order to be effective in this area, we
adults have deeply considered questions the same questions ones we ask of
our girls: "How is respect shown in our homes", "How did we know we were
listened to when we were growing up?" "Are definitions of respect bound to

culture (and age) or are there universal elements?" and "What ways can we
build our abilities to bridge cultural differences related to respect?" Our

answers to these questions have become an action plan for developing skills

for building bridges between the ways respect is learned in a girl's home
and the ways we strive to create it in Girls RAP culture.

Given these challenges, one might wonder why it feels like a privilege to
work with girls to develop a common culture of respect. The answer is
simple; we know there are very few places where girls have to agree on a
set of behaviors that they call Respect. Girls in our program seldom
interact with one another outside of our program. They often don't live in
the same neighborhoods, ride on the same buses or hang out together at
church. As Joanna Kent, one of our instructors describes it: "The group
is our house. When the girls talk about their households, their cultures,
their expectations and their norms, we need to remind them that together we

created the house rules for our time together. Together we agreed on a
system of behavior and expectations that we thought would help us grow. If

this system is not working, if the rules seem to be failing us, then
together we can rewrite them. But we need not blame the rules. We created

them together and together they can be changed." We'd like girls and
adults to be able to leave the RAP Group and create other spaces where
respect and girl's culture have common roots.

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