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!

 

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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.

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.

 

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!

 

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.