Christian Peacemaker Teams work to 'undo' sexismby Anna Groff
When Christian Peacemaker Teams works with a local partner or a supporting church, individuals sometimes make false assumptions about the leadership within CPT.
"For instance they might assume that an older white man is the person to address," says Carol Rose, CPT co-director. "To work well as teammates, it is the people who are given the privileges by systems of oppression who need to take initiative to shift the focus."
This is one example of how CPT urges the people of privilege on their teams to "undo" oppressions around them. This encouragement occurs in CPT's "undoing sexism and racism" trainings, that also educates team members how to serve as allies to others in situations of sexual harassment and oppression.
Rose quotes Harley Eagle of the Mennonite Central Committee Anti-Racism Program to explain the program: "Awareness building of intersections of oppressions and intentional work in efforts to address the oppressions at their intersections."
Work undoing oppressions are "homework ahead of time," Rose says, and are important for team’s health in situation of high stress.
"The contexts where we work in war zones are incredibly stressful," Rose says. "Human beings need a lot of support in order to act out of their best selves when under stress."
Another example of "undoing sexism" often occurs during brainstorming meetings in teams.
When the team ignores a woman's idea more than a man who provides a similar idea, the man should publicly give credit back to the woman, says Rose. If that doesn’t happen, anyone in the group can acknowledge that the woman had the idea and the man has the opportunity to apologize.
After that, Rose says, it's important for all members on the team to move on and "acknowledge we all fall short of perfection."
The undoing sexism trainings began as a half-day training, which quickly grew into full-day training, within the rest of the CPT team teaming. Mini-training modules include undoing heterosexism and undoing Christian Anti-Semitism
Two majors incidents lead CPT to implement this training: First, several years ago CPT experienced a sexual harassment case in 2003.
"We added the undoing sexism workshop in 2004 as a result of looking at learning from that situation," she says.
A second reason for the undoing oppressions work involved understanding how oppressions within CPT have negatively affected people of color and women, especially young women.
"It's a problem throughout all the church," Rose says.
During the undoing sexism training, participants gather for a men's and a women's caucus. The men look at their male privilege and write a list of commitments to undo their privilege. The women's caucus group usually writes a list of what they, the women in CPT, want the men in CPT to respond to.
Susan Mark Landis, peace advocate for Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership, participated in the training in March as a member of the CPT steering committee.
Landis said during the training the men listed the ways they had benefited from sexism in the past. "They had trouble making a list," she said.
As individuals, the women listed ways sexism affected them.
"Each of us women asked for more pieces of paper; we had long lists of sexism we had experienced,”" she said. "On the one hand, this was a powerful exercise. On the other, I was in tears—as were other women—when I looked at the long list of ways I have experienced sexism over the 50 years of my life. I found this time overwhelming."
"I don't know that the CPT event is at all what Mennonite Church USA people need," Landis continued. "The more important point is that we not only need to admit that our institutions are rampant with sexism but that we need to deal with it, not once, but many times."
Rose acknowledges that training and policies themselves do not end oppression. But training connected with policies and an increased awareness throughout an organization to name problems does make a difference, she says.
"Certainly there are more women in roles of leadership than five years ago," Rose says.
Rose says CPT, as an organization, is relative new and this newness serves an advantage.
"We have started with women and men designing this thing together," she says "Where there are gifts that come of this other organizations are welcome to use them."
Materials for the “undoing oppressions” are posted on www.cpt.org.
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