Gender Sensitivity Training

Posted: April 7, 2011 in Stuff

Jeez, guess I got punished for my last post. Yesterday morning, my organisation sent me as their representative on a day long gender sensitivity training course. Here in Gaza?!

The training was organised by UNICEF – they do something for kids out here, apparently. But I hope the poor kids never have to deal with the obnoxious militant Australian woman who conducts the training. She’s enough to put you off women, and Australians, for life.

Anyway, things started in good Arab fashion, almost an hour late. No one cares though. You just stand around drinking coffee and smoking. Finally everything was ready and we took our seats. We were given headphones so that the Arab speakers could listen to the real time translation of the lecture, and English speakers could understand questions posed in Arabic. The translator sat at the back of the room on a raised platform and reminded me of a dj, but a dj who actually does something impressive.

We were asked to introduce ourselves and a microphone was passed around. It seemed to me that the microphone wasn’t working, and yet everyone was dutifully holding it up to their mouths. When it got to the fat Doc, I decided to draw attention to the fact that it wasn’t working. I tapped the mic with my finger, at which point the dj-translator flung his hands to his ears to remove his headphones. Poor fucker.

But the fat Doc is used to looking a fool. That’s something alcoholism teaches you. Well, not alcoholism per se, but waking up in the gutter or pissing your trousers or in bed with your ex wife. Or taking a swing at someone but missing and hitting a wall and breaking two bones in your hand, which I’ve also done.

Anyway, to get the ball rolling, the militant Australian wanted to encourage us to distinguish between gender and sex.

‘You’re born with gender, you want to have sex?’ offered the fat doc. What did I care, I already looked like a fool.

‘No, that’s not right. Gender is a social construction, whereas sex…’ yadder yadder yadder.

I was the only non-Palestinian in an audience of about 40, which was split roughly half and half between men and women. People here are not shy about speaking their minds in public. When the issue is one as sensitive as gender, that can be quite amusing. However, it seemed to me that everyone else in the audience was having a tricky time getting their head around the difference between gender and sex, until it transpired that the dj-translator was translating both terms with the same Arabic word. The fat man enjoyed that.

However, after a while I began to feel that the militant Australian was bullying her audience. I mean, they all work for Palestinian organisations which are dependent on foreign money, and they know that, and she knew that, and I thought she was lording it over them a bit. She said some stupid stuff too, like telling us that it’s wrong for these organisations to use the word ‘children’. Apparently you have to say ‘boys and girls’. Why? Because, she told us, when she sees the word ‘children’, she assumes that it partakes of the historical global inequity and only refers to boys. Dumb cow.

For all her gender sensitivity, there really wasn’t a lot of cultural sensitivity to complement it. In fact, if I was even more obnoxious, I might have asked, ‘How would you respond to the suggestion that this training is a neo-colonial, cultural imperialist enterprise which arrogantly attempts to impose a Western value system on Palestinian society, in flagrant disregard of local sensitivities, and does so by dangling the carrot of aid donations before hungry Palestinian eyes?’

Instead, I said, very meekly, ‘I just have one question, and I would be grateful to hear from anyone: how does gender equality training relate to Islam?’

That really set the cat amongst the pigeons. Cue heated debates all round the room, and not a little friction. But after the obnoxious Australian, it was music to my ears. The fat doc sat back and placed his hands on his belly, well pleased with his work.

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