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!

ICA Conference and some unexpected news…

In my last post I said I was heading to ICA and that I would post about the ICA conference in Salamanca, Spain. The conference ended a month ago today. I wanted to write post right after the conference, yet I got unexpected news…

ICA went really well. I presented on the two topics I’m researching in two different panels: one on Central American migration and the other on Gender and Urban Planning in Medellin, Colombia in a panel I co-organized.


(University of Salamanca, Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera)

While I was in Salamanca, I received news that the dean had been appointed me head of the department where I work (Political Science). Everyone at the department is head at one point. I started on July 23, 2018, ever since I have had meetings (two to three) almost everyday.

One of the struggles is scheduling my writing. It’s tough when you have so many meetings a day. Some days I’m able to squeeze in 15 minute writing sessions. But there are days where it hasn’t been possible to write. I’m still figuring out how to schedule writing (and have the concentration to do that) when I have so many meetings a day.

I will keep doing my research on gender and urban planning in Medellin. I have another conference coming up -APSA (American Political Science Association) next week. Also, I’ll be heading a project on women’s empowerment in a municipality near Medellin. I’ll be posting about that project once it has started.

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.

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.

Looking back at 2017

This is my last entry this year. Some things worked this year, other things didn’t. I did some things that I’m really proud of and other things are helping me make decisions for 2018.

I started this blog this year. My purpose was to document my research on gender and urban planning in Medellin, Colombia, where I work and live since 2014. Blogging has been a new experience for me. When I started the blog, I wasn’t sure which language I should blog. Being based in Latin America, it made sense to blog in Spanish. I wanted the blog to be read in different parts of the world, so English made more sense to me.

Since April, I’ve been conducting fieldwork. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with civil servants working at the Secretary for Women, activists of women’s social movements and organizations, and in December, with female community leaders. Their stories have given me insight on gender issues in this amazing city.

Though my main focus in this blog has been gender and urban planning in Medellin, I also included in this blog the case of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Honduras, is my country of origin and have been researching the country since 2003. Violence and crime and lack of state protection have become main causes of forced displacement and migration especially of women and children. One of my plans in the future is to compare Medellin and Tegucigalpa.

Aside from fieldwork, I participated in various workshops this year. In June, Frank Müller invited me to co-organize and participate in the workshop “Securitizing Housing” at the Center of Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I presented some ideas based on my fieldwork in Medellin. Shortly after, I was invited to a workshop at the Lateinamerika Institut at the Freie Universität Berlin.

In November, I was invited to workshop on violence prevention in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It was the first time I gave a presentation to practitioners and policy makers. The trip coincided with the elections. The aftermath of Honduras’s elections was unexpected; I witnessed the electoral crisis and wrote a note about it in The Conversation. The Honduran elections were on of the main disappointments this year.

On a positive side, two chapters about Honduras were published this year:

  • Gutiérrez Rivera, Lirio, Stronen, Iselin Asedotter, and Margit Ystanes. (2017). “Coming of age in the penal system: neoliberalism, ‘mano dura’ and the reproduction of ‘racialised’ inequality in Honduras”. In: The Social Life of Economic Inequalities in Latin America. Decades of Change, edited by Iselin Asedotter Stronen and Margit Ystanes. Basingstoke, Palgrave  Macmillan.


  • Gutiérrez Rivera, Lirio. (2017). “The World of the Rondines: Movement, order, and control in a Latin American prison”. In: Carceral Mobilities: Interrogating Movement in Incarceration, edited by Jen Turner and Kimberly Peters. London: Routledge.


Also, I have been doing expert reports for Hondurans seeking asylum in the U.S. So far, the Hondurans for whom I have written expert reports and have testified telephonically in immigration hearings have been granted asylum.

Another positive note was passing my trial period at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. I started at the Department of Political Science in 2016. Previously I worked at the School for Urban and Regional Planning at the same university. Although it was the same university, it was a different department. So 2017 was getting to know students and colleagues.

I have some manuscripts on the pipeline. I was hoping to finish one before vacation, but couldn’t. I realize my brain needs to rest completely from academia, from thinking. One manuscript was rejected. Rejection is hard and in the past weeks I have been processing it. I’ll be ready to take on that manuscript next year after vacation.

And I am off on my much-needed vacation. I haven’t been able to take one this year -I usually go on vacation twice a year. Self care is one of my top priorities. This end of the year, I will disconnect. Ten days in the Caribbean, in one of Colombia’s islands where I will read literature, go diving, and rest.

Wishing everyone happy holidays and the best in 2018!


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.


(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?


(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.

“It’s tough”: Mainstreaming gender among local state institutions in Medellin.

During fieldwork, the Secretary for Women and Women’s and Grassroots organizations talked about the need and urgency to “change the way of thinking” the traditional roles of men and women. “Colombia is a patriarchal society and women are still subordinate in many ways to men” said one of the activists.

Various civil servants I interviewed at the Secretary for Women mentioned in various occasions that still a lot needed to be done to achieve gender equality. “Women do not have the same access to the city as men do”, said the head of one of the programs for security for women.

The Secretary for Women and Women’s and Grassroots organizations talked about mainstreaming gender as one of the many ways of achieving gender equality. I spoke with one of the staff members working on this program in the Secretary for Women. “It’s tough”, she said. “We had to bring people from abroad, experts from Chile and Mexico. We organized workshops, seminars, forums that gave information to civil servants in the other secretaries of the municipality of Medellin about the importance of gender mainstreaming. For instance, changing the data systems to include information by sex. Some secretaries didn’t see the relevance in that. Others were more open and we even conducted workshops to make civil servants (men and women) aware of gender biased attitudes. But there is still a lot of work to do”.

The Secretary for Women in Medellin -product of the city’s Women’s and Grassroots Movements

When I started fieldwork in Medellin this year, I went to the Secretary for Women (Secretaría de las Mujeres) to ask about information about state programs aimed at protecting and improving the situation for women in Medellin.

The Secretary for Women in Medellín has a interesting history. It was created in 2002 during Sergio Fajardo’s administration (the mayor who introduced Social Urbanism) as a response to the women’s and grassroots movements’s demands of an institution within the local state that addressed women in Medellin. As various civil servants working at the Secretary for Women told me during the interviews, “The Secretary for Women in Medellin is the only institution with the local state created bottom-up…It is a result of women’s organizations and grassroots movements”. I thought this was incredible and understood the proximity of the Secretary for Women with the cities’ women’s organizations and grassroots movements, in particular the MESA DE MUJER DE MEDELLIN. Some members of the MESADE MUJER DE MEDELLIN had either worked at the Secretary for Women or had been appointed head of the Secretary.

Since its inception in 2002 and with ups and downs with each administration, the Secretary for Women has worked closely with the MESA DE MUJER DE MEDELLIN on various programs aimed at improving women’s lives in Medellin. I had the opportunity of speaking to the head of the following programs: Gender Mainstreaming, Gender Equality, and Medellín: A Safe City for Women and Girls. But these projects will be the subject of another post….


What contributes to women’s insecurity in Medellin?

During fieldwork in May and June this year, I spoke with activists working in the many women’s movements and grassroots organizations in Medellin organized under the MESA DE TRABAJO DE MUJER DE MEDELLIN. All of the activists I interviewed described the situation of insecurity that many women experience in Medellin in both the private (e.g. the home) and the public spheres. Women tend to avoid certain public spaces (e.g. dirty areas, parks with little illumination) in the city because they are afraid of being harassed, beaten, or raped.

What contributes to women’s insecurity in Medellin?

According to the women’s movements and grassroots organizations, aside from patriarchy and machismo culture, state urban planning spatial policies -known as the Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial or POT- contribute to making the city unsafe for women. All municipalities in Colombia by mandate must have spatial planning policies. Furthermore, these spatial policies must be revised after some years. After revising Medellin’s POT, the MESA DE TRABAJO DE MUJER DE MEDELLIN observed that the urban planning spatial policies:

  • Were gender blind.
  • Did not address public security for women, only security in general. Thus, violence against women tends to be neglected.
  • Created a built environment unsafe for women.

During the revision of Medellin’s POT in 2014, the MESA DE TRABAJO DE MUJER DE MEDELLIN went to various participation spaces demanding state urban planners and practitioners the inclusion of a gender perspective. Here too, they encountered obstacles. For instance, some urban planning practitioners initially refused to include a gender perspective in the POT.

Today, Medellin’s POT includes the principle of a gender perspective. Despite this achievement in urban planning spatial policies, the MESA DE TRABAJO DE MUJER DE MEDELLIN pointed out that the gender perspective in the POT was still too abstract.

“This is the next step”, one activist told me, “turning the gender perspective in Medellin’s urban spatial policies into practices for a safer city for women”.