Aside from researching women’s grass roots organizations and urban planning in Medellin, I have been looking at Honduran asylum seekers in the U.S. Many of the asylum seekers in the U.S., as well as other countries such as Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, and even the United Kingdom, are women.
Since 2016, I have been speaking with immigration attorneys in the U.S. attempting to understand the difficulties Hondurans face with the U.S. asylum system, as well as trying to understand why they left Honduras.
In recent years, thousands of Hondurans (men, women, and children) have been fleeing violence. What type of violence? I had the opportunity to speak with some Honduran asylum seekers and many spoke about domestic violence and gang violence. Though they never said it explicitly, I would include state violence. Many Hondurans fled the country after attempting failed various protection strategies, including lack of state protection.
Violence in Honduras (and Central America) and the sudden rise of Honduran asylum seekers is a complex phenomenon. I explored this in a chapter entitled “Gender, Race, and the Cycle of Violence of Female Asylum Seekers from Honduras”, which was recently published in the book RACE, CRIMINAL JUSTICE, AND MIGRATION CONTROL (2018, Oxford University Press). The book is edited by the excellent Mary Bosworth, Alpa Parmar, and Yolanda Vázquez and is product of a workshop they organized in September 2016 at Oxford University. Their work and insight, as well as the wonderful discussions with the participants of this workshop, gave me insight to grasp the complexity of what is going in Honduras right now.
I started fieldwork again in January after a month vacation. Even if I had taken vacation, I would not have been able to continue fieldwork as everything slows down at the end of the year in Colombia.
I picked up my fieldwork where I had left off in December last year: speaking with female community leaders from some of Medellin’s comunas (which are the low-income areas).
So far I had interviewed civil servants working at the Secretary for Women, and activists of the women’s organizations and grassroots movements. The conversations with these women last year made me realize that they moved their agendas and social demands on a city level.
Yet, what was happening on the neighborhood level? Were they connected to the city-level movements?
Some of activists of the women’s grassroots movements told me that they worked with community leaders on a neighborhood level (“el nivel comunitario”). Some of the ideas proposed to the local government came from neighborhood demands; and most of these demands had been proposed by women.
I decided to start talking to female community leaders. So far I have spoken to three community leaders: two from the comuna 1 and one from the comuna 8, two low-income areas in Medellin. Here’s a summary what I learned:
- Community leaders make demands on neighborhood level (not city level).
- Demands aim at influencing urban spatial policies on neighborhood level (in Spanish that is known as planeación territorial).
- Housing, security for women, and access to public services are the main concerns of many neighborhoods, particularly women because they have less access.
- Most of these demands remain on a neighborhood level. The exception is access to water. Community leaders -most of them women- from low income settlements have taken this neighborhood level demand to city level. It is now part of the urban agenda of the city.
- I recommend Dr. Marcela López’s work on this subject. She did fascinating work on water inequalities in Medellin. Check out her website Contested Urban Waterscapes.
I’ve learned a lot from and will continue interviewing female community leaders to understand more about their local planning initiatives.