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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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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.

 

My “presentation” on forcibly displaced women and asylum seekers in Tegucigalpa, Honduras amid the electoral crisis

I recently travelled to Honduras, my country of origin, to vote on the presidential elections on Sunday November 26, 2017, to give a presentation on forced displacement of Hondurans and asylum seekers in the United States at Plan Internacional, and visit my family.

I was excited and looking forward to giving my presentation on forcibly displaced Hondurans and asylum seekers in the U.S. to practitioners and policy makers working on violence prevention in Honduras. As an academic, one of my aims is to bridge the gap between academia and policy makers. How many times have I asked myself: how can research influence policy?

The presentation was scheduled on Thursday November 30, 2017 at Plan Internacional. I  based it on my work as an expert witness for Hondurans seeking asylum in the U.S. as well as conversations with U.S. immigration lawyers who have helped me understand the difficulties that Central Americans face in trying to obtain asylum. As I wrote in my previous blog entry, forced displacement and migration of nationals from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala is a serious problem. Violence and crime are the main factors of forced displacement, affecting especially women and children from social and economic disadvantaged backgrounds.

My presentation at the weekly meeting at Plan Internacional was about this phenomenon. Because the audience were practitioners and policy makers working on violence prevention at NGOs or the government (Secretary for Education), my presentation included suggestions for prevention of violence, gender-based violence, and state protection.

However, the unexpected happen. Sunday’s elections took an unexpected turn. The irregularities of the electoral authorities plunged the country into a crisis. I recently published a note in The Conversation analyzing the electoral crisis in Honduras. On the day of my presentation, protesters from the opposition, Alliance against the Dictatorship, had begun and the government deployed the police and special units. I received a call while I was on my way that the meeting was cancelled due to the crisis and the uncertainty in Tegucigalpa. I understood, but I could not help feeling a bit down. Lorena Reyes, one of the organizers who had arrived at the building, suggested that we meet anyways and drink coffee. “Some people might arrive because this cancellation has been so last minute”.

I arrived and a few minutes later three practitioners showed up. Lorena suggested we go to a café and that I talk about my presentation. We entered a café, organized the tables, introduced ourselves -meanwhile 3 more practitioners arrived- ordered breakfast, and I started talking about my presentation to a small audience who worked with NGOs (Save the Children, Plan International, US Aid, Interamerican Bank) and the Secretary for Education.

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Eating breakfast and discussing violence prevention in Honduras (Photo: Aminta Gutiérrez) 

 

 

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After two hours discussing forcibly displaced Hondurans, asylum seekers, as well as policy suggestions for violence prevention -we moved outside because of the noise inside the cafe (Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera).

 

So it wasn’t all lost after all. Just as Honduras’s elections were unexpected, so too my presentation that day. I spoke about my work as an expert witness for Hondurans seeking asylum and the factors behind the violence -which are not only local, but also global.

I mentioned mentioned the local factors or ‘push factors’ of the forced displacement of Hondurans:

  • Violence from gangs and maras
  • Domestic violence mainly from male spouses and partners
  • Lack of state protection

Practitioners asked that I expand a bit on lack of state protection. I mentioned that when victims of violence seek state protection, they generally go to the police. State protection -or rather the absence of it- is gendered. For instance, male police officers discourage female victims of violence to file reports.

Some of the recommendations I gave for policy on violence prevention were:

  • Focus on and work with grassroots organizations.
  • Include a gender perspective in work with local communities, community leaders, and grassroots organizations. For instance, establishing a Center for Gender Equality in the neighborhoods that informs residents of their rights and about gender-based violence.
  • Establish an action plan for victims of violence.
  • Training police officers on gender relations and gender.

The practitioners and policy makers made recommendations based on their work in the field such as change in traditional forms of punishment for children and the need to include a psychologist in schools and in the action plan to help victims deal with trauma.

Despite the electoral crisis in Honduras, which, as I write this blog entry, remains unresolved, practitioners, policy makers, and an academic we are able to meet and discuss not only about violence and forced displacement in Honduras, but also on possible solutions.

 

Forced displacement of Central Americans

Aside from my research on gender and the city in Medellin, I am also looking at gender and the city in Central America, particularly in Honduras.

I have researched urban violence in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, security policies (also known as “Mano Dura”), as well as violence in prisons in Honduras.

In the past years, immigration lawyers from the United States have been contacting me to provide expert reports for Hondurans seeking asylum. Talking with US immigration lawyers and, in some cases, with Hondurans seeking asylum or attempting to not be deported, I became aware of the situation of forced displacement of many Hondurans, their attempts to seek protection in their home country and abroad, as well as the difficulties to obtain asylum.

The situation of forced displacement of Hondurans (as well as Salvadorans and Guatemalans) is serious. Reports by international organizations such as “Women on the Run” by the United Nations Refugee Agency and human rights agencies such as Amnesty International  indicate that Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are witnessing high levels of forced internal displacement and many were leaving their home countries. Media, human rights and international organizations point out that forced internal displacement and forced migration of Central Americans to the United States is gendered. Most of the forcibly displaced persons are women and minors (some traveling with their mothers and others traveling alone).

What are the root causes of the forced displacement of Hondurans?

Last year, I wrote a blog entry Fleeing the Cycle of Gender-Based Violence in Central America: Female Asylum Seekers from Honduras, for University of Oxfords’ Border Criminologies. Female asylum seekers from Hondurans leave the country because they are caught in a cycle of gender-based violence which affects especially women from socio-economic disadvantaged backgrounds. I identified varios stages in this cycle of violence: abuse starts in the private realm and later it occurs in the public. In the private area, women experience abuse in their childhood by their parents or a family member. Later, women are abused in their homes by their male partners. Violence increases when their male partner is part of a gang or the maras. In some cases, male partners and/or gang members abuse women in public space. Finally, the Honduran state is also part of the cycle of gender-based violence. State authorities (e.g. the police) do not investigate crimes involving gender violence or are very slow in investigating these cases. In some cases, the police discourage women to file complaints.

I have been exploring other root causes of the forced displacement of Hondurans. Some of the reasons respond to local and regional processes (e.g. weak institutions, poverty, inequality), but forced displacement in Hondurans (and Central America) is connected to global proceses as well.

I am still exploring these issues, trying to understand it, develop an argument and write an article. It’s tough, writing is hard, expressing your ideas clearly, concisely is an everyday challenge for me. I’ll get there. The forced displacement of Hondurans and Central Americans needs to be on the map, so too the stories of the persons who are fleeing persecution.