The obstacle is the path.

Zen proverb


This activity involves small group work, imagination, and drawing to explore issues of gender equality and discrimination against women.

Related rights

• Freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex and gender
• The right to marriage and family
• The right to equality before the law


• To envisage a future world where equality is the norm
• To develop communication, imagination, creativity and skills to co-operate
• To promote justice and respect


• 2 large sheets of paper (A3 size) or flipchart paper per small group
• Marker pens of different colours, enough for all small groups
• A map, preferably a hiking map or any other sort of map that shows physical features, for instance, mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, villages, bridges, etc.


• Familiarise yourself with the map and the symbols used.

Key Date
  • 8 MarchInternational Women's Day
  • 3 NovemberWorld Men's Day


Part 1. Defining the problems and brainstorming solutions. 15 minutes.
1. Ask people to get into small groups of three to five people. Hand out one sheet of paper and the pens to each group. Tell them to draw 3 columns of equal width down the paper.
2. Remind people that in Equality-land, there is complete gender equality. Ask participants to brainstorm concrete examples of what this country would be like. One person in the group notes down the list in the first column.
3. Now ask the groups to think about how life is today, to reflect on each point in column 1 and to discuss what steps need to be taken to get from the present to their future Equality-land. In the second column, write the steps down beside each point.
4. Next, ask people to reflect on the obstacles they might encounter on the path to Equality-land and how they would overcome them. Write these down in the third column.

Part 2. Drawing the map. 40 minutes.
1. Briefly review what a map looks like. Point out the ways that contours are drawn, the shading for mountains and rivers and the symbols that are used for forests, moor land, buildings, power cables, and so on.
2. Now introduce the idea of other symbols. Ask participants if they know of any folk tales or other stories that use the metaphor of a person going on a journey to present moral ideals. Talk about the way a dark forest, for instance, may be used as a metaphor for evil or a red, rosy apple used to represent temptation. The traveller may show moral strength swimming across a fast flowing river or humility helping a distressed animal.
3. Hand out a second large sheet of paper to each group. Ask each group to make their own fantasy map to represent the landscapes of the present and the future with a path or paths running between them. They should make up their own symbols for the geographical features and for the obstacles that will either hinder or help the traveller as he and she journeys along the path from the present to Equality-land.
4. Bring everyone back into plenary and ask participants to share their maps.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Start with a discussion about the way the different groups worked together and how they made decisions about what to represent and about the way they drew the map. Then go on to talk about what Equality-land might look like in reality, and the obstacles to reaching it.
• Did people enjoy the activity? Why?
• Which was the easiest and which was the hardest column to fill in? Why?
• What were the main features of Equality-land?
• What needs to change in order to build a society where there is gender equality?
• In relation to the right not to be discriminated against, can policies of positive discrimination be justified as short-term measures to boost gender equality?
• If you had to rate your country amongst all the countries of the world for equality of opportunity for both men and women, how would you rate it on a scale of 1 to 10? 1 is very unequal, 10 is almost ideal equality.
• Why is it so important to focus on women's human rights?
• Apart from women, which other groups are discriminated against in your society? How is this manifested? Which human rights are being violated?
• How can disadvantaged groups be empowered to claim their rights?
• What role has education to play in empowerment?
• What role has human rights education to play in empowerment?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

Ensure that the groups think of concrete examples of how life in Equality-land could be. Try to get the groups to come up with their own examples, but if this is difficult you can suggest they think about the number of women in parliament, the number of women at the top of business, differences in income, the number of hours that men and women work in a day and how they spend their leisure time, sharing domestic chores, the numbers of part-time workers, domestic violence, harassment at school and at work or how men and women are portrayed in the media.

Don't over emphasise the need for symbols because metaphorical ideas are not easy for some people. If participants get stuck thinking about how to picture their ideas, you could start them off by suggesting a woman uses a bridge of education to go over a river of prejudice against women who want to be a lawyer, or a man could find a jewel of satisfaction through working as a nursery teacher, looking after very small children. Of course you will have to think of examples of gender stereotyping that reflect the reality in your society.

VariationsGoto top

The groups could make models of the landscape using "junk". In this case, you will need to have a good collection of small boxes, tubs, tubes, paper, stones, nuts, bits of string and wool, paper clips, etc and also glue and card for the bases for the models.

The method of drawing a map from the present to the future can be adapted to most issues where you want participants to think freely and imaginatively about finding solutions to problems.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

Having spent time thinking about gender equality now and in the future, the group may like to use the method used in the activity "Timelines" to "look back" at famous women; encourage them to explore how the concept and practice of gender equality has changed through history. Search on the Internet for "timeline famous women".

Alternatively, you may like to explore issues about discrimination and the right to cultural identity within the context of sustainable development in the activity "Makah whaling".

Ideas for actionGoto top

Look at your own school, club or workplace policies about equal opportunities in relation to gender and discuss how the policies are implemented and whether or not any changes or extra efforts need to be made to bring your institution to the status of Equality-land.
Put "arguments for parity democracy" into a search engine to find the link to the very practical European Women's Lobby (EWL) lobbying and action kit. You can also find out more about women in politics on

Further informationGoto top

The concept behind this activity is that of "Empowerment". Empowerment is difficult to translate and sometimes also difficult to explain, even in English! "Empowerment" is both the means and the outcome of the pedagogy that some people call "Liberatory" education. One definition of ‘empowerment' from Oxfam is: Empowerment involves challenging the forms of oppression, which compel millions of people to play a part in their society on terms that are unequal, or in ways which deny their human rights.