… a woman stands in the middle of the room, her arms outstretched. Two other women are trying to sculpt her body into a different position, but each time her limbs are moved she moves them rigidly back into the same position. The sculptors soon despair at being able to re-shape the person, and give up. ‘It can be very difficult or impossible to change someone else’, one woman later explains, ‘if that person does not themselves want to change …’
… four women sit in a circle holding hands and playing a children’s game. One goes out, and the others continue to play. Then the fourth returns holding a wrapped gift, but collapses on the floor while delivering it. ‘My brother went to the market to get me a gift, but on his way home he was shot by a soldier. He made it home but died after handing me the gift …,
… a man stands trembling with sticky tape over his mouth and eyes, while two other men move his limbs about and take turns posing for snapshots in front of him. ‘When I saw the photographs of prisoner abuse in Iraq’, one later explained, ‘I felt it in my body, as if it was happening to me …’
These dramatised scenes about personal experiences of power and powerlessness are from a training workshop in Beirut with non-governmental organisation (NGO) leaders from the Middle East
and North Africa (MENA). Coming from organisations in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Yemen, the
participants worked on issues such as human rights, women’s empowerment, street children, reproductive health, refugee resettlement and earthquake relief.
They had been invited by a Lebanese university to attend a course on ‘the challenges of participation and governance in the MENA region’. Within this, two facilitators (Peter Taylor and myself) from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) led a workshop on ‘meanings and methods of participation, power and empowerment’.