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Johannesburg Empathy Workshop

Hosted with Global Shapers Johannesburg

· Empathy Workshop,Africa

South Africa is one of the most interesting places to do events because given their country’s history, this is a place where intersectional feminism can really flourish. But it is also a place with deep issues with gender based violence— in Gauteng Province, 37% of men ADMITTED to raping a woman.

After doing an fruitful session in conjunction with POWA in February, the Global Shapers Johannesburg Hub invited Phoenix Risen back to host an Empathy Workshop at OPEN Maboneng. Here are some of our key takeaways:

“I never realized that women are touched so much.”

We shared where our hotspots were— places on our bodies that were not sexual per se, but where we were uncomfortable being touched in public. For some it was their shoulders— when people try will touch your shoulder as a gesture of sympathy, or “side hug” to show affection. For others it is their knee— one participant shared that even when it is a close friend who touches her knee, she can feel their handprint there— and it’s particularly uncomfortable when their knee is bare. For other yet— it is their lower back, a gesture that used typically to steer a person in a certain direction or to indicate movement. Those messages are just effective as spoke messages, and do not necessarily need to be accompanied by a physical gesture.

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"Why do we instinctively go into hug women, but we stick our hands out to shake the hands of men?"

This is more a topic we need to talk about, especially with in the workplace. There are many ways to create connections with your colleagues or professional associates, and being physical is not necessarily one of them. Oppositely, some people also don't like handshakes because of germs, sweaty palms, and other reasons. Here are some more thoughts on hugs vs. handshakes.

Another shaper shared that "I'm a touchy person, and I mostly hug my friends (male and female - females sometimes get a kiss on the cheek/lips depending on what they are comfortable with - I let them lead), and some of my colleagues (male and female) and even business owners I've done deals with (unfortunately, men only to date, barring one female/husband team). But I know I have colleagues that aren't big on hugs, and would give them fist-bumps or something else that they are comfortable with, while keeping the "touch" element alive. This is something I would need to be very aware of as I venture into other countries and cultures."

“When men are being homophobic it is an indictment of what they do to women.”

One participant shared his thoughts as— “Men know exactly when they are being creepy towards a woman. When the places are swapped, and they perceive a gay man is being predatory towards them, they become fearful that that man will be as aggressive and forward as they are towards women. Even if this is not the truth, even the threat of it makes them feel insecure and therefore homophobic.” Despite South Africa being the very first country in Africa to legalize gay marriage, there is still rampant homophobia, especially amongst more traditional Afrikaans communities.

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“Men have no excuse to say they don’t know what is right or wrong, or where the gray areas. When we start talking about their girlfriends, suddenly they seem to know all the nuances of a word, a gesture, or a look.”

There is no gray area when it comes to sexual violation. An act is either consensual or not, and that needs to be actively communicated.

“People think women are not as powerful as men, so they simply think that women can't sexually harass men."

Men are dismissed by both men and women when their share their stories of sexual violation. In particularly traditional masculine like South Africa, society not only view men who share such stories as weak but often times don't even believe these stories. We need to reemphasize remembering the sexual violation is definitely not heteronormative.

Finally, while one participant very candidly shared that she was “struggling in the wake of wokeness”, she was encouraged to continue the conversation even though we may never find a definitive answer to these questions.

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