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.

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.

 

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.

Violence against women and femicides: A serious problem in Latin America

The city is an unsafe place for many women. This is what I often heard from activists  of  the women’s grassroots organizations in Medellin, as well as civil servants working at the Secretary for Women. According to a recent local news report, 40 women have been killed so far in 2017 Medellin simply because they were women.  40 femicides so far.

I remember speaking to one of the activists of the Mesa de Trabajo de Mujer de Medellin. She told me in May that femicides had gone up in Medellin, and yet no one was talking about it. “[Femicides] are an invisible topic, especially for this administration. They talk about capturing narcos, drug traffickers and yet they ignore completely the fact that women in this city are being killed and that these femicides have gone up.”

Violence against women and femicides are a serious problem in Colombia. According to the Colombia Legal Corporation website, from 2002 to 2009 there were 627,000 cases of mistreatment towards women. 11,976 women involved in those cases were assassinated. These numbers are staggering.

Violence against women and femicides are not only a problem in Colombia, it is a severe problem in Latin America. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean website, approximately 12 women are murdered daily in Latin America because they were women. The countries with the highest levels of violence against women and femicide are: Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.

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(Source: Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean)

Violence against women has become one of the main reasons of the forced internal and external displacement of women from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Just as the case in Medellin, where femicides and violence against women are overlooked by local government, so too is this subject neglected by local and central governments in the Central American countries.

Violence against women and femicides are serious problems in Colombia, Central America, and Latin America. Invisibilizing it makes it worse, for women of course.

 

 

 

Bringing Gender to the Classroom

At the Universidad Nacional de Colombia one of the courses I teach to students enrolled in the Political Science undergraduate program is International Relations. In all of my courses, I always include gender. My course on International Relations was no exception.

This week, the subject was gender and international relations. Instead of giving the classic lecture on gender theory and international relations, or discussing the assigned reading, I decided to invite Gloria Moncada, a public servant working at the Secretary for Women in Medellin and responsible, among other things, for executing and supervising projects on gender mainstreaming within the state institutions of Medellin.

I think it is better to grasp the complexity of international treaties that states sign and ratify (for instance, gender equality or gender mainstreaming) by listening to the first-hand experiences of someone within the state institution attempting to execute these agreements through projects.

How does it work? What obstacles do public servants at the Secretary for Women encounter?

Gloria Moncada gave an excellent presentation to my students about Gender and Development and how it translates into the many projects carried out by the Secretary for Women. Despite international agreements signed by the Colombian state to implement gender equality and gender mainstreaming through varios development programs on the local level, the Secretary for Women have encountered various obstacles such as: coordination and competition with other local state institutions or the negligence in some institutions to separate some data and censuses by sex. Because of this, gender inequality in some areas is invisibilized.

How do you change something unknown?

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(Gloria Moncada, Secretary for Women. Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera)

Gloria not only spoke about the struggles of mainstreaming gender within state institutions in Medellin, she also spoke about gender violence -a pandemic in Medellin – the influence of armed actors on local planning initiatives, and the impact of the privatization of social services on gender. In these three cases, gender inequality is accentuated, and women are the most affected.