When Open Heroines ran the first Open Gender Monologues (OGM) in December 2016, our vision was to create something powerful — by allowing people working in open government to express themselves on topics of gender. Our aim was for the Monologues to be participatory and respectful, and at the same time, a safe space for people to talk, listen, and learn.
The format of OGM is based on the Vagina Monologues play, and we called our event the ‘gender monologues’ because we aspire to move beyond just female experiences in the space. We wanted to hear from all genders — women, men, gender queer, LGBTQ — on their experiences in open government.
The Open Heroines community is diverse, consisting of more than just straight or cisgendered women. Therefore, our monologues would match that valued diversity and be inclusive as possible. Specifically, we aimed to:
- Create a safe space;
- Share negative AND positive experiences;
- Identify barriers and blind spots;
- Engage men.
After running the monologues both at the OGP Summit in Paris in 2016 and the OGP Summit in Ottawa in May 2019, the format and the event itself got positive responses from both men and women. Today on our blog, we are sharing our considerations and lessons learned in how to run this type of event — followed by some of the Monologues that were shared.
We aim to provide guidance for others on how to run open and inclusive events, as well as share some Monologues with our wider audience.
So, how do I run the Open Gender Monologues?
- Collect stories in advance. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing on the spot, even anonymously. By collecting stories in advance, you’re able to share more voices and stories that might not otherwise be heard. For our event, 3 weeks before the Monologues, we set up a Google Form to allow people to submit stories anonymously or with identification.
- Assign a facilitator. The facilitator role is important. They set the scene for a safe space, prevent toxic comments, and ensure that everyone feels comfortable. This can be emotional work, and preparation is needed for it — which can include reading some stories before the event, and brushing up on active listening skills beforehand.
- Ask and appoint volunteers to read the anonymous monologues. We try to ensure that the audience understands that the volunteers reading anonymous monologues aren’t personally connected to those stories. We also believe that not all volunteers should be women — men can read stories written by women. We think this sets the tone and allows men to share and take part in the conversation as well.
- Make sure volunteers are spread across the room. This creates an inclusive atmosphere across the whole room.
- Open the stage for others to share. Don’t interrupt others, and don’t defend yourself. It’s best if people can express themselves in more than one language. Having interpreters in the room is definitely helpful.
- Adhere to the Chatham house rules. Don’t share or put someone on the spot who shared a story spontaneously on social media. A safe space allows sharing without taking points out of context.
- Share the stories you collected on the online form. If the author gave consent to it.
With the above guidance, we hope to facilitate others in hosting Monologues and events where sharing stories is encouraged.
Below are the Monologues from this year’s OGP Ottawa event, presented and written directly as they were submitted to us.
“I was traveling overseas with our director. We were going to conduct a workshop on Social Accountability for a government agency in another country, and I was the lead technical trainer. As we passed through the Kuwait airport at our layover, we went to the security gate to catch our connecting flight. “Why are you here?” the guard at the security gate barked at me. He continued, “This is not your gate,” in the same barking tone. I wondered, “how the hell did he know where I was going?” I plonked my laptop bag on the security machine belt and handed him my passport and boarding pass. Only then did he notice our director behind me, who put his bag down as well. No mea culpa there; there never is. He quietly handed my passport back and let me through. I visualized myself giving him a tight slap that would have brought the blood rushing to his stern face. For the rest of the trip, I joked with our director that I am the domestic servant and he is the rich Arab Sheikh. The irony and sickening misogyny of the security gate experience was not lost on me, despite the joke. Am I invisible?”
“Last year, I attended a large annual international summit in Washington DC. In multiple breakout sessions, with less than 50 attendees in each session, I noticed how many times I was ignored when I had my hand up to make a point. Repeatedly, there were ‘experts’ — academics or members of large funding agencies, usually from the USA and usually white men or women — who were called on to make comments about work and knowledge related to my country or other countries in the developing world. Ironically, my opinion (being from one such country) was never important enough for the moderator to call on me. There never was enough time to listen to diverse voices. It was so frustrating that at one session, the woman sitting across from me at the table could see me almost having a melt down over the injustice of such conferences, and clueless moderators who seem to want to listen only to people like themselves. I didn’t fit the bill, not by a long shot. And it made me so angry, that I wondered why I travel such a long distance to attend these meaningless summits.”
“I am pansexual and genderqueer and I am beginning to take my first steps in this field. I have been very lucky with the support I have received from both female and male contacts so far. Nevertheless, every time I meet someone new in a professional context, I feel very anxious; I go through a million different scenarios of how they will react when they find out about my sexuality or my gender identity. The professional environments I have experienced tend to be/appear to be quite heteronormative, so being out can feel like taking a big professional risk. This mental stress takes away from my creativity and enjoyment of these professional encounters and it makes me feel hypocritical. What if someone else in the group is also struggling with this? Am I in any way contributing to showing them that they are not alone, that this can be a safer and more inclusive space? I hope I will find strategies to overcome these barriers and give more visibility and voice to the queer community in this field.”
“I create political communication for the digital environment. I usually work with governmental institutions to teach them how to establish channels of communication with the average citizen using social media and tech tools. I recently finished a project with the Electoral Tribunal of Justice of the Federation (TEPJF), Mexico’s most important electoral authority, to measure the perception of their work during the 2018 election. The objective was to evaluate the public knowledge of the mechanisms implemented by this institution to raise civic engagement during elections. Presenting the results to the authorities of the TEPJF was very challenging because I am a young woman in a field dominated by mature men with considerable political experience but no previous knowledge of how to use social media. My clients questioned every single word, even I said if social media and civic engagement are part of my expertise, until one of the men of my team arrived. Suddenly, all questions were redirected to him and he started repeating my whole speech. After he finished talking, no questions were asked and he was congratulated for my research. At the end of the presentation, one of my clients asked me to print a tweet for him. Yes, a tweet…”
“There is something very encouraging in attending board meetings of your own organisation and find babies there. It sends a positive message that it is ok to be involved with work and having a child, that we should not see children as a constraint, but a normal thing. It sounds simple, but we don’t take children or other caretaking activities into account when working in civil society and we should lead by example and accommodate it not only on paper but also in action. So many times I saw that there was an intention, but not the resource to make our work more family friendly.”
“I am an invisible woman. I’m one of many — I see my invisible sisters and wonder how we can change and stretch and mentor new voices. I’m hardworking and happy to help, but this means my work, words, thoughts, ideas are spoken by the men (some more senior, some not) and occasionally the women of my organization — never me. They are happy to exploit my time and resources, but if I ask for credit or recognition or to be in a more visible role, I am told it is “more strategic” for it to be [a man] instead. If we are ever going to make change, it’s time to shine a light on the hard working invisible women, stop mansplaining to women and give women the space to speak and shine as experts in their own right.”
“The International Open Data Conference in 2015 in Ottawa was my first international conference and I had just turned 25. I went to a a networking happy hour, meeting lots of new people and feeling completely out of my element. I spent most of the event talking to a small group of people, including a man who was from one of my organizations key partner orgs. At the end of the event, I realized I didn’t have data on my phone and tried to take photos of a friend’s map on her phone. The man from the partner org said his hotel was in the same direction as mine and he would walk with me. I told him it was ok but he insisted. We talked on the way and everything was friendly. I made a note to mention my boyfriend a bunch, trying to ensure that my intentions were clear. We got to my hotel and I said thanks and goodnight. He looked at me, confused, and asked if I was serious. He honestly thought I was going to invite him up to my room. The following day, he excluded me from professional conversations, practically ignoring me. I convinced myself that I had done something wrong, that I had said something unintelligent and that was the reason I was being excluded. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that my rejection of his sexual advances had excluded me from professional conversations. Four years later, I’m back in Ottawa with Open Heroines, trying to make sure women who experience sexism in the open government space aren’t made to feel like they are doing something wrong.”
“What does the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 have to do with global development? To start, our institutions are highly problematic. The players here range from the very wealthy to the very poor. The spectrum covers everyone: institutions that preach our inclusivity in many places, high and low. When referring to the subprime mortgage crisis, we — the international NGOs — are the banks. We advocate for inclusion, diversity, even dare I say, equality. We are supposed to serve the vulnerable. Instead we choose a selective vulnerability. All of this while we pat ourselves on the back for the amazing work that we do. Where are the efforts and real spaces to ask questions? Am I naive to think that these should exist? This toxic dependency does not leave options for change. You either are a part of it, or you leave. This reflects even more dangerously when coupled with the “white saviour” complex. Fragility and whiteness are interwoven and will be “bailed out” — and I don’t know how to get out of this pattern of covering things up. People know, and we just sit there, saying,“Well at least it isn’t sexual harassment. Bullying happens everywhere.” Allegations, claims, and perceptions just downplay the survivors to the point where I want to punch a wall. There is zero responsibility and zero accountability. There is theft from humanity by being complicit and looking the other way, and theft of the true vision and goals that these organisations claim to stand behind.”