It has been a year exactly since I boarded a plane and arrived in Nicaragua. At the time, I knew that there would be a myriad of challenges that would face me in the coming two years; one easily identified was gender and the differences that come with being a male and female in Nicaragua.
I have been a proud feminist for many years and I take pride in the fact that I have educated myself on my privilege and how to be an effective ally to women and all gender expressions. I have also been more inclined to speak out on the inequalities and mistreatment of our fellow human beings based solely on their gender whether it be male or female. Some of the most visible aggressions in Nicaragua are towards women, and although some do exist against men, the most pressing issue to me was working towards gender equality by elevating women on the social board and educating my fellow men. I decided to become a counselor for the young boys camp called CHACA.
While preparing for the camp I was nervous and anxious about what we were trying to do. Through CHACA, I was trying to disassemble the cultural prevalence of machisimo and superiority that can sometimes trickle down to the young boys of the country. I was especially afraid that my attempts would be met with fervent opposition and that I wouldn’t have the capacity to stand my ground and press the old way of thinking with a new inclusive one.
During one of the last sessions of the camp an opportunity arose for me. One of the boy’s in my group said that if a women dresses a certain way then maybe she deserves some of the blame. I heard this and I was prepared to answer and to argue, so I responded, in as fluid of Spanish I could, “How many times when you are getting dressed are you worried about what other people will do to you?”
All of the boys responded never.
I followed that with well then why should women have to have less liberty than you with the way they dress. I waited and braced myself for the backlash of what I just said, for the excuses, for the denial. To my surprise the boys stopped and thought for a moment. Then they agreed. What surprised me even more was that they moved the conversation further. They went on to express that assault is a crime no matter the cause and that the criminal is the one at fault.
Instead of feeling anxiety and fear, this interaction, combined with so many others throughout the camp, stirred a courage and hope in me to continue these types of conversations. I was reassured that people can learn and change their behaviors when confronted with a calm tone and conviction. Boys who are taught to respect women, to think for themselves, to behave like gentlemen can, actually, do so.
As the camp went on the group participated in high-level discussions about gender and machisimo in such a way that I was in awe as to how they transformed.
In the beginning of the week, they were whistling at a group of women who happened to be at the camp as well. By the end of the camp, they were discussing street harassment and how to respect women in a public space.
Instead of the fear that I had when entering camp I left with the courage to continue these conversations with men and women in my town. While I am sure there is a statistical difference that CHACA is making in the communities as well, I have personally felt and seen the difference within the boys who have become more enlightened men.
– CJ, ENV 66