This past weekend, I presented two workshops at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, an annual Reproductive Justice conference held on the campus of Hampshire College. Outside of presenting my workshops, reconnecting with friends, and networking, I didn’t have much time for anything else. But I was able to attend one workshop, facilitated by Sahar Pirzada and Sadia Arshad of HEART Women & Girls, a national organization that promotes sexual health and sexual violence awareness in Muslim communities through health education, advocacy, research and training.
In “Muslim and Reproductive Justice: Empowering Our Community through Dismantling Stereotypes”, Sahar and Sadia used the RJ framework to make the connection between how stereotypes influence the lived experiences of Muslims. One exercise they led the group through, called the Knowledge Power Chart, was so informative that I couldn’t wait to share it. The goal of this exercise is the have participants examine how we understand the world, how our understanding of the world impacts our behaviors and the policies we create, and the real world impact these policies can have on our communities.
Here’s what you need:
- A large space to write on, such as a chalkboard, whiteboard, or flip chart paper
- Something to write with, such as chalk or markers (erasable, if you’re using a whiteboard)
Divide up your writing space into three sections and label them like this:
Under the Knowledge column, guide the participants in naming the stereotypes they have heard about a certain group. Next, have participants name the policies they are aware of that are associated with this group under the Policies column. Last, have participants list the consequences that behaviors listed under the Policies column can impact that group.
Here’s an example:
Knowledge: Examine how we understand the world
Policies: Our understanding of the world and how they impact our behaviors and the policies we create
Real World Consequences: Real world impact these policies can have on our communities.
As Sahar and Sadia guided us through this exercise, it jogged my memory of being in my AP U.S. History class. The instructor asked the class to name some of the stereotypes associated with Black people. Now, this class was mostly white, and located in Cobb County, Georgia, and it was jarring to hear several of my classmates fire off the stereotypes they either had themselves or they’d heard from others about Black people. I don’t remember what led to this conversation, but I do remember being one out of 3 Black students in the class who sat there and listened. Even among people you consider friends and classmates, it’s amazing what preconceived notions people can have.
Stereotypes can have far-reaching implications, not only in how we view the world but also how policies can impact how nonprofits and agencies provide programs and services and the types of funding they receive.
During this exercise, the participants were able to list lots of stereotypes and connect them to current policies related to religious discrimination and sexual health. I did noticed, however, that people saved the most well-known stereotype–Muslims being terrorists–to the very end of the list. Even Sahar and Sadia openly made that observation to the group. I wonder if it was because the participants wanted to be respectful of the facilitators, who were Muslim women, and not jump right out the gate with this stereotype. There were also participants in the room who identified as Muslim, and I also wonder if they felt the same way as I did in my AP U.S. History class.
Sahar and Sadia ended the workshop with providing ways to flip some of the stereotypes listed on their head, including how to combat the dominant narratives/stereotypes about Muslims, challenge oppressive policies, and address real world consequences:
Combatting the Dominant Narrative:
- The Arts
- Media advocacy/production
- Building authentic relationships
Challenging Oppressive Policies:
- Community organizing
Addressing Real World Consequences:
- Humanitarian relief
- Direct services
- Cultivating healing spaces for our communities
Using this activity will help participants see how policies are based on stereotypes and our limited views of the world can be detrimental to many marginalized communities, and will bring forth a call to action to challenge these policies. Try this activity and let me know how it goes.