Hardships, Harsh Realities and Hope

by Susan May

The women I teach are exposed to violence not only in their homes but in their workplaces and their educational institutions

Violence is a harsh reality for many women going to school in the nineties. Many of the students I teach have shared stories with me not only about their experiences with violence and its affects on their learning but also about their hope for change and a better future. I am privileged to have learned from the “lived experiences” of these students, and in this article I want to give to others what they have given to me. I do so because like Penny, who is both a graduate student and a women's shelter counselor, “I do not think of the women I work with as them/other. I think of them as experts immersed in the complexity of violence.” Indeed, many of these women's stories are compelling and inspirational, as they attest to the power of feminist education and reflective learning.

The women I teach are all graduate students in an adult education program at a Canadian university. They are part-time, distance learners, most of whom are raising families and working as educators while at the same time studying in a Masters program. Through working with these women, I have witnessed the hardships and harsh realities of their lives and I have seen the multiple forms that violence takes: physical, attitudinal, financial and systemic. More importantly though, I've learned about what I call violence synergy: that violence is interrelated and complicated, rarely isolated or sporadic. The women I teach are exposed to violence not only in their homes but in their workplaces and their educational institutions. They have taught me that violence affects other people in their networks as well, including family members, friends, colleagues, and teachers.

What is particularly striking about these learners' stories, however, is the hope they contain. Despite the violence women struggle with at home, at work and at school, they tell encouraging stories about how they have coped, using feminist learning processes, with the hard times and harsh realities. They have hope for better futures and are convinced that feminist education and learning processes hold the key to positive change.

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