Monday, June 19, 2017

Gender Inclusivity in Women’s Self-Defense

What does it look like to incorporate gender inclusivity at an organization built around women’s self-defense? This was the topic of discussion for 13 IMPACT Chicago instructors, board members, staff, and volunteers at our recent gender training.

We began by pulling apart the concepts of sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, as well as the difference between binary and non-binary identities. We practiced IMPACT-specific scenarios on gender neutral language, pronouns, and answering inquiries. We identified aspects of clarity (for example, the Core program is absolutely open to trans women and women of diverse gender expressions), and questions without clear or one-size-fits-all answers, such as: is the Core program a good fit for someone who identifies as agender, or non-binary, or genderqueer?)

While talking about gender diversity and inclusion in IMPACT can seem like entering a new realm, it is really at the core of IMPACT’s work. While we are a self-defense organization for women and girls, IMPACT has always emphasized the diversity of womanhood and the variety of intersecting identities, experiences, and beliefs that each participant brings into a Core program or workshop. Furthermore, our mission calls on us to build a nonviolent world for all people, reflected in our all-gender workshops, bystander support training, and programming at LGBTQ organizations. So in many ways, discussing gender diversity and inclusion is just being more intentional and specific about values that have always been foundational to IMPACT.

As we work to both program for women and for gender inclusion, we believe it’s important to be honest about IMPACT’s strengths as well as limitations. For instance, the Core program may not feel like a great fit for people of all genders as a lot of discussion focuses on the experience of being a woman in our society--but with IMPACT’s 3 decades of expertise and variety of program options,  we can customize other workshops for all types of people. We look forward to ongoing discussions and trainings on this topic, and welcome the challenges and opportunities that come along with respecting and valuing gender diversity.

Rachel Marro
IMPACT Chicago Instructor-in-Training

Editor's Note:
Rachel led our gender workshop. She has 4 years of experience leading programs on LGBTQ identities and inclusion, and currently works at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

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