gadiehur at yahoo dot com
Gabriela’ss speech at Women´s Movement Conference in Milwaukee, May 2011.
Thank you very much for inviting me to this meeting I hope we can learn together and feel inspired about how to empower women and girls in our lives.
I am a native from Guatemala and I have lived in the US for 16 years. I came at the age of 17 and now after many years of study and practice I work as a counselor at Sixteenth Street Clinic providing services to undeserved population. I am also a consultant for Head Start and an active member of the Milwaukee Latino health Coalition which has as a mission to increase the health and well being of Latino communities by organizing power for social change.
I recently shared with a close friend how I come from a long lineage of women who are activists and workers for change. One example of this is my grandmother, who with two other women were the first three females to obtain a high school diploma in Guatemala what permitted them to enter university. We all have empowered women in our lives who have provided an inspiration to work for our communities in a local and at a global level.
Who are empowered women that have inspired your lives?
Looking back to my upbringing I can remember many other inspiring women in my life. I lived in Nicaragua during the 80s, after the Sandinista had won the revolution, and the country was surviving under an embargo from the US. Women were crucial during the revolution an unprecedented event in history. Women in Nicaragua fought as guerrilla and had important roles on the reconstruction of the country. I grew up hearing about the martyr Arlen Siu, a young woman who joined the Nicaraguan guerrilla at age 18 and was killed during an ambush by the Somoza army at age 20. I also remember seeing on TV Gioconda Belli and Rosario Murillo, both great writers, inspiration of empowerment and determination.
A present example of global perspective in empowering women close to me is the immigration process of Latinas into this country. I came to the US as a married woman during a time when the US needed my husband’s skills and the doors for legal immigration in his area of work were open. As a young immigrant I saw my self in need to learn English, strengthen my study skills in my new language and strengthen my social support system. I enrolled in ESL classes several evenings while my husband took care of our kids, I also enrolled in GED classes to refresh my knowledge in sciences and math. I created a play group for mothers with young children at the apartment complex where we lived, what gave me opportunity to have social support, cultivate friendships and practice my English skills. I consider myself a bicultural woman that is able to serve as a bridge between cultures to other immigrant women.
The process of immigration in a more global perspective affects women greatly. In my work as a counselor I have learned about many grandmothers that stay back in Mexico raising their grandchildren while their husbands and grown up children come to the US to work and send money to sustain their families. Many women who travel to the US are exposed to great dangers. In a recent documentary sponsored by Amnesty international I saw testimony from women from Latin America who start the trip towards US with the knowledge that in the process they are likely to suffer rape and as part of their preparation for migration they get a birth control injection.
Women who migrate to the US have an empowered position in their families. A good number of Latina women who have a husband and kids are able to stay home to raise their children and have the opportunity to study English and become the cultural brokers. The women who need to work to help support their families are strong women who are able to juggle one or two jobs, home care and parent their children.
A couple of weeks ago a young Mexican anthropologist visited Milwaukee and gave two talks about her work investigating deaths of migrants in the border between Arizona and Mexico. Rocio Magana a sociocultural anthropologist has been working in developing an ethnographic analysis of contemporary struggles over border control, humanitarian intervention and unauthorized migration. Rocio takes a look at the process of migration bringing voice to the people who migrate back to Mexico when their families are able to recover their bodies from the Sonoran Desert region located in Arizona.
Violence against Women is one of the focus areas for United Nations women. UN says “This fundamental violation of women’s rights remains widespread, affecting all countries. Women need strong laws, backed by implementation and services for protection and prevention.” Mujeres de Juarez is an example of the work done in regards to violence against women. Mujeres de Juarez is a non governmental agency in Ciudad Juarez a border city in northern Mexico. This organization works providing support to families that have lost a female family member due to violence. Some of these women are women who were traveling from south of the continent towards the US seeking a better future for themselves and families back in their own countries.
Rigoberta Menchu is the closest person who comes to my mind when thinking about the focus area of Peace and Security. Rigoberta Menchu is an indigenous Quiche woman from Guatemala, who was awarded in 1992 with the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work for peace and security for indigenous people in Guatemala. Peace and Security is one of the focus areas of UN. UN recognizes that women bear the burden of modern conflicts. Many times women are left by the men who leave to fight and they are exposed to extreme poverty, need to protect their children and recently in danger of being victimized by rape as a war weapon. UN states that specific threats to women must be identified and stopped, and women must be at the center of peace talks, and post-conflict reconstruction.
Rigoberta Menchu is a perfect example of this UN focus area Peace and Security. During the 1980s Guatemala’s 36 year civil war intensified and during these years Rigoberta Menchu’s family was persecuted and some of her family members assassinated. Rigoberta was forced to flee Guatemala and from Mexico she continued her work in defense of indigenous people. Rigoberta was an active player in Guatemala’s peace talk agreement in 1996 and continues to be an activist in Guatemala, working to build a better country.
Economic Empowerment is one of the other focus areas for United Nations women. Recently I read “Half the Sky” by Kristoff and WuDunn one of their stories talked of a young Pakistani woman who with a $65 loan from a microfinance organization started a small business selling embroidered clothing. Her small business grew and she was able to pay the family debts, bring back her daughter to live with the family and employ some of the neighbors in her business.
This example is no exception many times I have read of programs lending money to women. I also remember my father in law talking about how women who had small loans were the most responsible and creative in using money always putting the well being of the family first. Invest microfinance is a local example of global work in economic empowerment. Envest is a loan fund which manages a unique mix of programs that seek to alleviate poverty and promote an earth-friendly economy. Envest has microfinance projects in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua and their offices are located in Madison Wisconsin.
Leadership and Participation is the other focus area of United Nations women. This focus relates to the need that women take active roles in policy-making and leadership of their countries. Leadership is not narrowed to the need for women to participate as representatives and senators but the need for them to organize in grassroots movements that educate and transform their communities. In “half the Sky” there is an inspiring story of how women in Senegal have created a movement of education and empowerment to fight genital cutting. The story talks about how legislation was not affecting this practice until a group of women organized and started focusing on education, talking about human rights and opening the possibility to discuss what are the health risks of the practice. These women also discovered that the change needed was the support of the town’s people in order not to create rejection towards the women who were no longer practicing genital cutting.
United Nations has a chapter focused on women United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. They have six focus areas some of which I covered today in my talk: Violence against women, Peace and security, Economic Empowerment, Leadership and Participation, National Planning & Budgeting; Millennium Development Goals
A guide for global perspective in my life has been the idea that I am part of the world and the “suffering of any man or woman diminishes me”. I feel a strong connection with all people in the world and feel a strong call to work to make the world a better place. When I was 14 I read “For Whom the Bells Toll” and memorized the poem on the first page which has been my guide for work:
“No man is an Island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”