Update on my research stay at Tulane: what have I been doing?

Since April 1, I’ve been a Richard E. Greenleaf fellow at the Latin American Library (LAL) at Tulane University. What have I been doing? This fellowship allows me to do library research on Honduran migration and gender-based violence. It’s been a great month checking out the collections at LAL and speaking to people who work with Latino communities in New Orleans.

I realized that New Orleans is home to a large Honduran community that has been here for many decades. Honduran migrants and Honduran-Americans talk about before and after Mitch waves of migration arriving to New Orleans. This coincides on what I’ve been reading on Honduran migration at the library. Hondurans have been migrating to the U.S. for decades, but patterns of migration changed considerably in the 1990s because of lack of job opportunities and Hurricane Mitch, which destroyed around 80 percent of the country’s infrastructure. Many Honduras had no other choice but to leave and the U.S. form of aid was giving Hondurans the Temporary Protection Status visa (TPS) to work in the U.S.

By the late 1990s, many Hondurans had a family member in the U.S., New Orleans was not an exception. I’m hoping I can meet and speak with more members of the Honduran community to get an idea of their experience in the U.S.

Aside from reading and downloading articles and reports that I do not access to back home (as well as getting to know this beautiful city), I also gave a talk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Lirio's Talk Flyer

(Flyer of my talk at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana)

The wonderful Ellen Moodie -professor Dept. of Anthropology- invited me to talk about Honduran migration and so I flew up there to present some rough ideas based on what I have been reading at LAL and previous research done on Honduran migration.



(Foto by Ellen Moodie; me left).

I spoke about the global processes involved in the migration of Hondurans principally to the U.S. (many Hondurans are migration to Spain). Hondurans leave because of violence ad crime, yes, but this needs to be understood within larger global processes. Poverty, inequality, violence, crime are not essential to Honduras or Central America.

This year, the idea is to develop these ideas into a book on Honduran migration.


Research Fellow at the Latin American Library @ Tulane

This is the first post this year on my website. I have been so busy at my work at the UNAL that I haven’t been able to update my website, my blog on gender and city, nothing. From September 2018 to January 2019 public universities in Colombia were on strike. The main student movements in Colombia were able to reach a deal with central government and in late January we all headed back to class. Since then, I have been focused on finishing the second term of 2018 in 2019.

The good news is that I got a fellowship to do library research. In April and May I will -I am- a research fellow at the Latin American Library @ Tulane. I will be researching gender-based violence and Honduran migration. I’ll give a talk in May based on what I have research. Will be posting soon about my work here.

First day of class: Continued training project for female entrepreneurs in Envigado, Colombia

Since the first week of September, I have been coordinating a project on continued training for female entrepreneurs in Envigado, a municipality right next to Medellín. The project is financed by the Secretary of Gender Equality at Envigado and aims at offering two continued training programs for female entrepreneurs. Our team is made up of five excellent teachers. The project also includes visits to small business in Envigado to carry out surveys to learn more about the business’s gender equality practices.

Today was the first day. The teachers introduced themselves to the 35 women registered in this program. The female students will take five modules on gender equality,  empowerment, and entrepreneurship until December 2018.  I’ll be posting about this project, so stay tuned.



Teachers of the continued education program from female entrepreneurs introducing themselves in Envigado, Colombia. (Photo: Angélica Tobon)

My “summer” plans

It’s been a while since my last post in May. In Colombia, there is no “summer” as in the U.S or in Europe -in Germany where I used to work, the semester or term stopped in mid-July and then Semesterferien until October. In many Colombian universities, professors work straight through these ‘summer’ months and, depending on the university, get some days off. We get fifteen days, but many universities do not give any days.

So what have I been doing? I wrapped up teaching in late May and have been catching up on my research on gender and the city in Medellin. I finished doing some interviews and analyzed the data I have been collecting since late 2016. I have also been busy writing conference papers. I have two conferences these coming months: next week’s ICA (International Conference of Americanists) in Salamanca, Spain, and the APSA conference (American Political Science Conference) in Boston in early September. In both of these conferences, I’ll be presenting results of research on gender and urban planning in Medellín.

In April and May, I worked on a grant proposal for a research fellowship in the U.S. In June, I got a phone call that my research proposal had been selected (Yay!!). The research is about the Central American migration crisis and it will focus on Honduran migration. My grant covers library research. Really, really happy! 🙂

In these busy months, I took some days prior to the conference to sightsee Madrid.


Street, Madrid. (Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera)

I’ll be posting about the ICA conference next week. I hope everyone is enjoying their summer.

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.


(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.


(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.

IMG_0957 2

(“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.













Conference and Workshop in Bogotá, Colombia “Repensar los cercamientos en Colombia desde una mirada regional y global” 23-25 April 2018, Universidad del Rosario

It’s been quite a while since my last post. It’s been a busy month where I have been teaching, grading, submitting manuscripts, evaluating work (master thesis, articles), writing expert reports for Honduran (mostly women) fleeing different forms of violence (domestic violence, gang violence), testifying telephonically in U.S. immigration hearings.   A lot has been going on as you can see.

What have been up to? These past two weeks I’ve been working on a workshop on gender and international relations for undergraduate students of Political Science (I will write a post on that next week) and an upcoming conference I will attend in Bogotá.

 The conference and workshop entitled, “Repensar los cercamientos en Colombia desde una mirada regional y global: El papel de la territorialidad, la colonialidad y la temporalidad” and is organized by academics from four universities (Uni Rosario, Uni Amsterdam, FU Berlin, and Universidad Nacional de San Martin in Argentina). The event will take place from 23 to 25 April 2018 at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá D.C.

I’ll be talking about security and violence against women in Medellin, exploring the challenges urban women have in the context of peace building in Colombia.

Here’s a summary of the event in Spanish:

Captura de pantalla 2018-04-12 a las 9.17.30 a.m.

The event is open, so if you are in Bogotá D.C. and are interested send an email to  f.i.mueller@uva.nl o jairo.baquero@urosario.edu.co 

Hope to see you there!


Different levels of urban planning: the community level

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.

Back from vacation: My plans in 2018

After my last entry in December 2017,  I took a vacation until mid January. In Colombia, December and January is the long vacation period. I rested, went diving, read literature, saw movies (nope, no Hollywood). I started working last week. I’ve been preparing my syllabi, started writing and doing my research -in general, organizing my calendar.

What are my plans this year? Aside from teaching at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, I will continue my research on gender and the city in Medellin. Last week I made phone calls to community leaders, setting up appointments with them. I also went to the Planning Department in downtown Medellin to inquire about gender and urban planning. They gave me an appointment for the following day (hurray!).

This year I’ll be traveling a lot: I will be attending the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) in Barcelona, Spain in May. I organized a session and will also present a paper on female asylum seekers from Honduras. In July, I will go to the International Congress of the Americanists (ICA) in Salamanca, Spain. There too, I organized a session on the Latin American city from a gender perspective, and I will also present a paper on both women’s movements and planning in Medellín and, in another session, on gender-based violence of Honduran women. I am still waiting the reply of an abstract I sent to another congress.

So a lot will be happening this year: travel, fieldwork, teaching, writing, and surely much more.