Handout 9 - Power Relationships

Throughout many of the activities we will discuss the unequal power balances between men and women in intimate relationships and the serious repercussions this can have for the risk of STIs, HIV and unplanned pregnancy. For example, a woman often does not have the power to say if, when and how sex takes place, including whether a condom is used, because of longstanding beliefs that men should be active in sexual matters and women should be passive. In other cases, a woman who is dependent on a male partner for financial support might feel that she does not have the power to say no to sex. However, it is important to remember that power in and of itself is not always bad. Power means strength and it is how we use this strength that makes the difference.

The following list describes different kinds of power that can be used in different ways:

POWER OVER: Implies having control over someone or a situation in a negative way, generally associated with the use of repression, force, corruption, discrimination and/or abuse. This type of power takes something from someone else and then uses it to dominate and impede others from gaining access and winning it.

POWER WITH: Having power based in collective strength – having power with other people or groups, finding a common territory among different interests and constructing a common goal that benefits all in the relationship. This type of power joins the talents and knowledge of various individuals and is based on support, solidarity and collaboration.

POWER FOR: This type of power refers to the ability to conform and influence ones own life. It refers to having resources, ideas, knowledge, tools,money and the ability to convince oneself and others to do something. With a large group of people with this kind of power, we form ‘power with’.

INTERNAL POWER: Relates to the ability of self-evaluation and knowing oneself. It refers to the ability of a person to imagine a better life for him or herself and having hope, the sensation that s/he can change the world, and the feeling that s/he has rights, that is having self- confidence and the feeling that they are valued because of who they are.

In conclusion, women are people and people have the right to make decisions about their body, life, health, sexuality, work and social participation. We should not allow women, or anyone, to be treated objects.