How do you eradicate an age-old abusive practice so entrenched it has become woven into a people's identity?
What if the practice serves to assuage powerful, visceral fears? What if the practice also meets some real needs, such as for food, housework and sex?
Pretending for a minute you could even end the practice, how would you then prevent it from raising its ugly head again?
One of the leading promoters of human rights in Africa, Emile Francis Short must also be a master of strategy. In his tactic case study entitled Powerful Persuasion: Combating traditional practices that violate human rights, you can study the 10-year campaign he led in Ghana to free thousands of women and girls from religious enslavement.
It is a riveting story. I am especially grateful to Mr. Short for letting us in on the sophisticated design of his highly successful campaign. Somewhere in there, I got a glimpse of a powerful strategizing tool that could be more widely used. I'll call it the Motivation to Solution Strategy Tool.
In Ghana, formerly used as a hub in the slave trade, another form of slavery was still prevalent until recently. The practice is called trokosi, a form of religious servitude. As atonement for a breach of social rules or a crime committed by someone else in their family, young women and girls were sent to a life of misery, rape and exploitation at the hands of local priests.
"In approaching an abusive customary practice", Emile Short says, "you must understand why the culture has developed it. Customary practices do not exist without reason. What needs does the practice serve? What problem is it attempting to remedy? Some customary practices were created for historic reasons that no longer exist, while others fulfill current needs or respond to real fears or concerns. These motivations must be understood, because if a practice is to be changed, there must be an alternative method of responding to the causes that lie beneath it. Otherwise it is likely to resurface even after a successful campaign."
In truth, I have no idea how formal was the process that went into the design of the fascinating table found in Powerful Persuasion (see p. 12). All I know is this tool allows for a crucial examination of the driving forces behind a problem, and a search for avenues to address them. To the left, one finds a list of causes headed "Motivation upholding the practice"; on the other, "Solution or argument" heads a list of potential strategic responses.
How the tool works
1. Identify Motivation: the Needs, Fears and Beliefs that support the problem
Take a sheet of paper (large newsprint or blackboard if working with a group) and write on top which situation or practice you want to affect.
Draw a line in the middle. Write the header for each column: MOTIVATIONS on one side, SOLUTIONS on the other.
Explain that the situation or practice you want to change exists for a reason: it serves a purpose, however twistedly. It feeds on a number of needs, fears, ideas and habits. Your goal is to unearth these.
First, you may want to conduct a brainstorm about what needs the practice may be serving. Don't be too concerned at this point about validating or organizing your thoughts. Later, you may look at your list again, and see if you need to go deeper. Fears, especially, may be hiding other unrecognized needs.
After the brainstorm, you can organize your list if you want, trim it down, group items together, etc.
2. Find alternatives, arguments and tactics
Now go over the list on the left. Look for alternatives, arguments and tactics you could use to address each motivation. Write these down under SOLUTIONS.
For each major NEED, look for alternatives, for other ways these could be met through better, more positive means. Offering replacement practices will make for easier and more durable solutions than trying to suppress the need. Sometimes, as in the case of sexual crimes, means of coercion or repression may have to be an option.
When dealing with FEAR, acknowledge needs such as for safety and protection. Assuage those fears with new reassurance mechanisms. Bring in real-life experiences if you can (testimonies are great for that).
When dealing with CUSTOMS, suggest change is possible. The recognition that customs do change over time may be the hardest part. This creates the opening you need to even suggest a specific change.
When dealing with other supporting BELIEFS or IDEAS, come up with powerful arguments that could be used to bring respectful challenge. Your goal with these arguments is not to defeat and humiliate. Your goal is to change the outlook and make everybody win.
This simple tool allows you to tackle a problem in radical new ways. This exercise allows you to unearth the roots of a problem... And going for the cause rather than the symptoms, compañeras y compañeros, means more effective, durable action.
The best part is: this tool can be used by anybody!