The Power Paper Exercise

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The Power Paper, conducted during community activist selection workshops, was the first reflection in a series related to uses of power, and power imbalance between women and men. In The Power Paper, group members quietly reflect on a series of questions about positive and negative uses of power, their image of power, times in their lives when they have held or lacked power, and other thought-provoking reflection questions.

Participants are then invited to stand in small groups of 4, each holding a corner of a large sheet of flip chart paper with one hand. The facilitator explains that they are to imagine all of their personal power lies in that paper, being held by themselves and three other group members. At the count of three, they are told, they can each take their power.

Facilitators watch carefully as some group members become aggressive and take more than their share of the power paper, and others remain calm. Most groups tear their papers apart in some variety of mild scuffle, and some group members receive tiny shreds of power while others take almost the whole sheet. However, in each community activist selection session, at least one small group of four did not tear their paper—they whispered to each other and collectively decided to keep their power together.

The large-group discussion that follows the paper tearing in each workshop led to incredible reflections about the differences in our theories and our practice related to power sharing in households, relationships, between men and women in the community, and the country as a whole. It led one man to confess his bad behavior toward women in his life, and to ask the group to help him change. As one young woman explained with tears in her eyes, “as soon as you said that you would count to 3 and for us to take our power, I started shaking and begged my group to keep our paper together. It became really important to me that we didn’t tear the paper—that we kept our power together. Because that paper is our homes—and that paper is Haiti.”