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.

 

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(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.

 

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(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.

 

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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.

Research, blogging, achievements, and failures in 2018 -and looking at 2019

I know my last post was in September (gasp!)… I’m not going to say what I ‘should’ have done to keep this blog up-to-date. What I have learned is that I need to schedule my blog entries now that I have less time as head of the department. I will summarize what I have done since that last post:

Gender and City Research in Medellin

I have continued to do my research on Gender and the City in Medellin. Right now I’m focusing on analyzing the data I’ve collected. I’m doing slowly…yes. My funding stopped in October and so now I’m on my own (that is, no student assistant). It’s ok but it’s going slow because I’ve had to do other activities as department head. I’ll continue this analysis and have a rough draft of a manuscript, which I presented at APSA at Boston and that I want to revise. That manuscript is about preliminary findings from the first set of analysis of interviews to activists of women’s grassroots organizations in Medellin. My research shows that women are also urban planners in this city. This seems obvious yet it isn’t in the literature. Most of the studies on Medellin focus on crime, violence, Social Urbanism, participatory planning; women, however, are either absent or invisible. What I bring to the table is their visibility as urban planners in a city with a history of violence, crime, and armed actors.

I want to continue this research yet comparing it with another city in Central America. Why? Because Central American cities, especially in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, have similarities with Medellin -such as, the presence of armed actors, different forms of violence (gangs, criminal groups); despite these similarities, there are of course differences not only in the armed actors, but also state institutions on the sub-national level. So, I hope to write a research project in 2019 involving Colombian and Central American cities.

I’m starting to write manuscripts based on this study. I just mentioned that I want to revise a draft manuscript. And right now, there’s a manuscript about gender and housing under review. I’ll keep you updated.

Gender and City Research in Central America

I started a new research on Central American migration and I obtained funding to carry out library research at Tulane University in New Orleans. The research aims to understand how the global agenda of crime and migration control produces gendered forms of violence in the Central American region; specifically, I look at the case of Honduran asylum seekers.

This research stems from my work as an expert witness for Honduran asylum seekers in the U.S. and I plan to work on this research for around 18 months.

Other work

Aside from these two researches, I have been working on other manuscripts. One got published: “Transnational and local entanglements in the ‘cycle of violence’ of Central American migration” in Global Crime. But two manuscripts were rejected. Rejection is normal, yet it is not easy. We have all had a manuscript rejected and we will continue have this experience. It doesn’t happen once. It’s part of the job. Still, it’s not easy. But I’ve learned to deal with it. The reviewers gave me great comments to improve the paper and will certainly use them to revise my manuscript and submit to another journal. I still believe I have something to say and well the paper needs a bit more work. I’m almost there… I know.

And so, I write this last blog of the year describing my achievements and also failures. In 2019, I want to write regular blogs entries and continue my research in Colombia and Central America.

I wish my readers happy holidays and the best in the New Year!

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)

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.

Madrid

Street, Madrid. (Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera)

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

On this day- International Women’s Day –

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. I received various messages from female and male friends and acquaintances which said, “Feliz día de la mujer” (Happy Women’s Day). I saw the same message on Twitter and Facebook. Some of these messages and videos were very inspiring, such as a video showing all the female Nobel prize winners (I love Marie Curie!). The video made me think of a women who has inspired me since I first ‘met’ her: Sor Juan Inés de la Cruz.

Yet, of all the messages I received and read about International Women’s Day, one stuck. It was sent by sister: a PDF file of a 2017 special report about violence against women prepared by the Observatory for Violence from Honduras.

I skimmed it when she sent it too me and the figures were disturbing. There were 389 registered cases of feminicides, most of women killed were between 17 and 24. Women who are homemakers and in charge of the social reproduction at home were more likely to experience violence and even death.

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These figures took me to the reality of many women in my home country and on the planet. A reality that involves systematic violence against women and that I have read over and over when I prepare expert reports for women fleeing the male spouse and/or partner who beats them, or the persecution of an armed actor. This violence is accentuated by a state that either can’t protect or is not willing to protect women- I highly recommend Cecilia Menjivar and Shannon Drysdale Walsh’s article, “The Architecture of Feminicide: The State, Inequalities, and Everyday Gender Violence in Honduras” Latin American Research Review, 52(2), 2017.

And so on this day: International Women’s Day, I celebrate the women who courageously  refuse to conform to violence or any form of unjust subordination because of their gender.

The cycle of violence of female asylum seekers from Honduras

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.

 

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.

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.