Feminism has been my chosen lens to view society and it's evils for as long as I have been able to criticise society. It is only since a few years that I have learnt to call it Feminism. Psychology has been my professional choice to view society and my interaction with it. When I learnt about the course called 'Responding to Violence against women through Feminist Counseling' organised by CEHAT and Tata Institute of Social Sciences I knew I wanted to be there.
The objective of the course was mainly to introduce a new approach to empowering women survivors of violence (sexual, physical, emotional) but also to introduce Feminism i.e gender equality as a premise and underlying goal in any counseling (with woman or man or transsexual or child/adolescent) and bringing attention to gender socialization messages.
The main premises the course was based on were:
Gender as a social construct - Gender is more social than biological. Our physical bodies define our gender roles much less than our society does.
Power and control - Tools of patriarchy to be challenged. The feeling of power and the need to control to maintain power were seen as the main triggers of violence. This can be generalized to communal, caste and class based violence too.
Understanding Privilege and inter-sectionality - For example a 'upper' caste woman from a majority group could have in certain situations more power than a 'lower' caste man from a minority group. An analysis and an awareness of one's privilege in society as well as one's disadvantage helps in understanding the power and control relationship with society and be aware of one's own power equation.
This basically means that a feminist will logically challenge communal, caste and class hierarchy and a Minority/Dalit rights activist will logically challenge gender inequalities. Essentially we are challenging the POWER - CONTROL relationship.
With these premises as a background, the Empowerment Feminist Therapy model was introduced. This model was used and developed by feminists of the women's movement in the West as a technique for responding to violence against women. It was initially called the 'consciousness raising approach' used in Violence and Rape crisis centres in the USA and Europe.
The main principles are:
- Interdependence of personal and social identities of the person. Being aware of the socio-economic situation the client is living in and bringing the clients awareness to it.
- The Personal is Political - relating personal life experiences to the larger social context and seeing the pattern of power.
- Egalitarian relationships i.e potential of the client to bring change in her own life and social change.
- Valuing Women's perspective - Acknowledging, validating and believing women's view of the situation.
The course was therapeutic, emotional and empowering for me as a women. I am a lonely feminist in day to day life, it was empowering to see lawyers, doctors, social workers, psychologists, nurses saying 'I am a Feminist'. I felt a sisterhood with these women from all over India doing brilliant work to address violence against women. For the first time I met women declaring themselves as Feminists and the fact that their professionals lives reflected this perspective.
Feminism is a way of life for me, I learnt strategies to adapt the principles of feminism in my work as a psychologist and a development worker. The way I see it, the principles of Feminist Counseling should be included in all Psychology and Social Work curriculum and Gender-Based Violence addressed as a public health problem in training for medical professionals.
I would love to hear what you think about Empowering Feminist Therapy? Had you heard about it?What do you think about its principles?