Understanding The Sensitivity Of ‘Sensitization’

by | Aug 21, 2019

Taking reference from the definition applied by business dictionary, the word Sensitization means to “Attempt to make oneself or others aware of and responsive to certain thoughts, issues, situations or phenomenon.” This would mean paying someone a thought to speculate upon so that they consider for themselves if they need to change or interpret their lives in other ways.

I came across this word during my India Fellow Induction where, through sessions, we (fellows) were the ones being sensitized. In the development sector, “Social Sensitization” is regarded as a medium through which communities are made aware about their problems and are given new perspectives. Through training, counselling sessions and awareness programs, professionals talk about issues, push people to think about it, find out if they envision those as problems and then see if they need any assistance.

It is important, I realized. I witness it more like an artwork. The perspective might be someone else’s, but the contemplation is one’s own. It is more like a subtle means to make one realize their situation and is definitely a better way than giving talks.

This blog is a confession to say that sensitization, particularly in social context makes me worried these days. I feel myself at a place where I try to restrain myself from giving any unsolicited advice to others or share my perspective. I don’t know if others feel it or not but working in this sector and dealing with such sensitive issues, the idea that we are here to help others, sometimes induces ego. There is this power that I see in myself when I dispense with my community, which someone might suppose is natural but it hampers the whole process of being compassionate towards them.

It has been 5 months since I started working with Aajeevika Bureau. I have got fair chances to immerse myself into community, the larger one as well as the immediate one (team members and group of volunteers). My area of work is majorly with women migrants. 80% of families migrate from different parts of Banswara, Rajasthan to cities like Surat, Ahmedabad, Kota and Udaipur. Women are more prone to risks such as human trafficking, work harassment, poor health status and domestic violence.

I was excited to be a part of an organization working on human rights and social inclusion as it involves dealing with human psychology. Also, it has always been my topic of interest and therefore, I felt myself fit for the role. With this, like with anything else, came the challenges. Understanding human psychology is one thing but its usage is altogether different. It is hard to gauge why people think and behave the way they do. It’s important as well. Not only in social sector, many other professions demand it. In fact, during my college days, we were made to understand its importance to know how to impress our clients. I have to say, I failed at it.

I believe in saying things as they are, to avoid complexity. The sector demands one to be humble and authentic, but at the same time, you just cannot blurt out your opinions everywhere. These issues are sensitive and one has to tactfully handle it as the stakes are high. The platter that you serve others should be likeable and suitable for them, a skill that I need to learn.

One day, Pinky, who cleans the office, came in her free time. She says she likes to talk to us as she learns new things. The organization is willing to help her set up a tiffin service center and motivates her to take it up. For starters, we have made her a stamp-pad so that she can make official bills. That day, she told me about her kids. She said that her younger daughter, who is just 5, should start learning household chores. I asked her “What about your son? Shouldn’t he be knowing it too?”. She said “Didi aise thoda hota hai, ghar ka kaam to ladki ko aana chahiye.” (What are you saying Didi! Girls should know all of this). I said “Bilkul aana chahiye, par dono ko”(Yes, definitely! But, both of them should know, right?). To which she replied, “Sab ladkiyo ko hi karna padta hai didi, shaadi ke bad mujhe hi taane sunne ko milenge ki maa ne nahi sikhaya” (Girls need to do everything, or else after she gets married, her in-laws will say that I didn’t teach her anything).

I was blunt now, “You being a mom, can take stand for your daughter and change things around. If you yourself would think that this is only her responsibility, she herself would never think of her life beyond this.” She quietly listened. I could see her not making any eye-contact and left the room. I realized how I could have said it in a better way, being more compassionate. For now, she thinks that she is not being a good mother to her daughter but the fact is that she herself has been conditioned that way. Ever since then, I have tried to think it through before saying anything. With this, all other fears came in and the thoughts have been mind-churning for me. I critically examined all the training sessions which were conducted for the volunteers and reflected upon a few things:

  • You can talk your mind and give people advice, there is no harm. But you can’t be sure about how the other person would take it. Their reactions are not in your control. What if the other person revolts and it turns out into some mishap?
  • It creates a lot of unrest in other person’s mind, thinking that they have been wrong all their lives or they are being discriminated by their loved ones.
  • It becomes more difficult for a person who is less privileged, as first they themselves have been conditioned/socialized that way. It takes time for them to understand their condition, adapt to it and then bring that change around.
  • Our notion of happiness and empowerment can be different from the people we are trying to sensitize. So how can we standardize the thoughts/perspectives for everyone? Isn’t it wrong? Well, at least for me it feels wrong as I am still in the process of understanding things. That’s also the reason why training sessions are generally kept open-ended. The right and wrong aspects are never coerced as one’s idea of right might differ from others’.

Issues like public health, nutrition, sanitation, PDS, NREGA are still easier to talk about as the whole family sees the benefits of it and accepts changes. The fight is with the authority. But issues like gender, maternal health, domestic violence and casteism need a tactful approach.

After training sessions and workshops we see many cases where women become rebellious as they are suffering from emotional trauma. In most of the cases, it results into increased violence or the family restricting women from stepping out of the house. Some of our trainers also admit that watching women cry during training sessions makes them question things.

One of the training sessions with women in Banswara, Rajasthan

The sensitization is one part of bringing out change and the results are not immediate. After the training, back in their homes, women face all kinds of abuse for taking a stand. Some of them are counselled while a few lead to legal actions. These factors need to be understood in this process:

  • When we tell them to see if they want to take a stand and fight for such issues, it becomes our responsibility to tell them openly about the repercussions they can face and what all they can do to deal with it.
  • Sensitizing the victim about their condition could be step one, but then the whole family also need to be sensitized. For example, Men should also be given training on women issues so that they can empathize with women.
  • I feel that rebelling about every thing does not always work. Sometimes, we need to take a step back and handle things tactfully. Such ways can be taught in training sessions, so that people adopt them on a day to day basis and change the environment around.

For me, it has been a huge learning experience. I see it as my first lesson on empathizing with the community. It made me realize that before taking any action, I need to look through different lenses and dissect through each and every thought that comes to my mind. It’s important to look beyond the obvious.

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