Article about violence and migration in Honduras

My latest article entitled, “Transnational and Local Entanglements in the ‘cycle of violence’ of Central American Migration” was recently published in Global Crime.  The article is based on my work as an expert witness for Honduran asylum seekers in the United States.

Here’s the abstract:

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Bridging the gap between academics and policy makers: Academic Roundtable with the Secretary for Women

I love researching, but I also want my research to contribute to policy.  I’ve struggled with this, wondering how to do it. The blog post by Sarah Morton, “Bridging the gap between research and policy” from LSE Blogs is helpful. I admit that I’ve yet to work with policy makers. I’ve always wanted to do it. Sarah Morton writes that it’s is important to develop trust with stakeholders, and this may take time.

I think this is where I’m at: developing steps with one of the stakeholders involved in the topic of gender. Since 2017, I have been conducting interviews to staff working at the Secretary for Women in Medellín. They have been really open and helpful, talking about their work, their programs, and connecting me with women’s organizations and activists in Medellin.

One tireless, hardworking staff member, Gloria Montoya, has been invaluable for my research and in helping me understand the work of the Secretary for Women. She’s come to my International Relations class to give talks on gender and helped set up the  recent fieldwork to San Antonio el Prado so that my students could visit the Secretary’s programs aimed at rural women empowerment.

Yesterday (May 17), Gloria invited me (and other universities) take part of an academic roundtable to update the Policy for Urban and Rural Women in Medellin organized by the Secretary for Women.

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(At EAFIT University with the Secretary for Women. Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera)

The policy focuses on Security, Health, Peace, and Education, Participation. I worked at the Security roundtable. Two civil servants from the Secretary for Women, a student from EAFIT and UNAL, and me discussed the situation of (in)security of women in Medellin and what changes were needed in the current strategies to protect women. We noticed that most of the strategies were aimed at intervening when women had already suffered some form of violence (e.g. domestic violence), yet the current strategies did not seem to tackle the prevention of gender-based violence. We discussed that a possible strategy could be including information of gender-based violence in schools.

Another issue we found important was sexual harassment in academic spaces. It has become epidemic and only recently visible in the media in Colombia. Unfortunately, it is very common professors (mostly male) harassing female students (and male students). I’ve had female students come up to me to tell me how uncomfortable they have felt with some male professors. At the roundtable, we realized that sexual harassment in academic settings do not appear in policy strategies.

This roundtable was the first of various meetings that will take place between various universities and the Secretary for Women. This experience was new to mee and I’m learning. I definitely look forward to more discussions with policy makers to improve the lives of many women.

 

 

Gender and International Relations in the classroom and in the field: Female farmers at San Antonio del Prado

One of the courses I teach at the Dept. of Political Science at the National University of Colombia in Medellin is International Relations. I’ve structured the course as an Introduction to International Relations since students are enrolled in the Political Science program. In this introductory course, I make sure that my students read some topics on gender.

This semester (in Colombia, the semester usually runs from February to late May), aside from the main theories in IR, I included a workshop on gender and international relations. The purpose of the workshop was to look at a program for women carried out by the Secretary for Women in Medellin. Some of the programs carried out by the Secretary for Women adhere to international agreements signed by the Colombian national government for gender equality. Because Colombia is decentralized, local governments are relatively autonomous regarding how they implement gender equality programs. I thought it would be interesting that my students -and future political scientists- explored these municipal programs for gender equality. What is working? What isn’t and why? What is the impact?

On April 20, 2018, we visited a program aimed at empowering female farmers in the municipality of Medellin. Interestingly, 70 percent of Medellin’s land use is rural (30 percent is urban). Along with civil servants from the Secretary for Women, we visited two greenhouses headed by female farmers in San Antonio del Prado, which is part of Medellin’s municipality and considered rural. At the ‘finca’ (or farm), we heard the staff of the Secretary for Women and then we heard two female community leaders and farmers, who also ran the greenhouses. They shared their experiences with the program of female empowerment.

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(Political Science students of the UNAL listening to rural community leader and farmer “Carmen” from San Antonio del Prado -far left-, Medellin Municipality. Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera).

The program from the municipality had certainly improved their lives economically. In the sense that they had become economically independent, or had learned to administer their income (which was new to them). However, they faced various obstacles.

One obstacle was the difficulty to sell their products in the city. Doing this required obtaining very expensive registers which they could not pay. What they did was sell in alternative markets known as “mercados campesinos” (farmers markets), in the city.

Another obstacle was buying seeds to grow in their greenhouses. Many peasants in Colombia are forced to buy seeds sold by multinationals such as Monsanto or Bayer in order to grow their crops. As anthropologist Laura Escobar Gutiérrez explains in her article “Seeds of Struggle“, this is because of the Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with United States which requires Colombia to “join the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) of 1991, a system that restricts farmers’ rights to use the seeds they grow”. As “Carmen”, one of the rural farmers at San Antonio del Prado explained, the seeds are very expensive and are impossible to buy.

Despite these restrictions, “Carmen” and the other female farmers do not give up.  Female farmers and their families continue working on the greenhouse project.

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(“Carmen” -below left- and Political Science students of the UNAL, showing us one of the greenhouses at San Antonio del Prado. Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera).

Rapid urbanization was another problem that worried both the Secretary for Women and the rural communities. Despite being predominantly rural, San Antonio del Prado has been undergoing urbanization. Rural land is now being destined for urban purposes. Furthermore, these urban projects (for instance, multifamily housing projects) are impacting the rural communities in negative ways. One problem is the access to water. Farmers need water to grow their crops. Yet, as “Carmen” explained, San Antonio del Prado’s water is being redirected to provide water to the housing projects.

Even though female farmers at San Antonio del Prado felt they had benefited from the Secretary for Women’s programs aimed at empowering female rural farmers, free trade agreements and rapid urbanization are limiting the empowerment of female farmers and, in general, rural communities in Colombia.