We began today by visiting la Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta Santa Barbara in Zone 18, a private school in the Colonia Santa Barbara which has been the pilot school for “Hombres Contra Feminicidio” since May 2008. We were happy to begin in Zone 18 because it is the “red zone.” Though it is named red to signify blood, for me it was hard not to make a mental connection to the red river that flowed right beneath the hill we stood on.
Lucia met Zully Soberalis, the director of the school in a march in Guatemala City for International Women’s Day in March 2008. When Zully heard about the campaign that MIA was launching, she said she wanted her school to be the first for “Hombres Contra Feminicidio” because she has personally experienced gender violence and knows that it is not uncommon in the households of her students. So MIA brought in seasoned activist and good friend Julio Revolorio to facilitate the campaign just two months later, and since May 2008 there have been weekly gender workshops. I was able to see Julio in action last July 2008 during a delegation with MIA and the kids just adored him. They had organized little skits to perform for us and their sense of gender inequality was developed for their ages.
Now, a year later, there is a different male facilitator, Edgar Avalos, and Simon and I got to watch Edgar and Lucia co-facilitate 5 periods of classes.
It was a strange experience because the classes were full to capacity (about 30 per class, but the room was small) and there were no ceilings, just the four walls and the roof.
We could hear everything that was happening in the rooms around us and it was incredibly easy for the students to tune out or talk amongst themselves because of all the noise/chaos. Also, I noticed that on the walls there were some projects about values. They were poster boards which said what people should not do and had newspaper clippings as examples of murder, theft and even “the risks of oral sex.” Keep in mind, this is an elementary school. Under the article about oral sex the student wrote the “definition” of adultery: “married women don’t have to go off with various men.” This poster received 100%.
This is what we’re up against. Here we are trying to transform students in a school that gives an A-plus to woman-blaming, incorrect information in a town where violence is normalized. Add to that that we are in a country where the front page of every paper is plastered with a murder scene and every centerfold boasts a female model in a bikini. It reminds me of the idea of how horror films show a scantily clad woman doing something sexy, thus arousing the male audience, right before slashing her to bits, thus sexualizing the violence. However, in this case, the newspaper desensitizes the reader with horrific murder scenes and then shows scantily clad women, thus creating a correlation between the two-and desensitization to the women as well. And the papers say that the women who were killed somehow asked for it based on what they were doing, where they were going, or what they were wearing. This shameless victim-blaming and lack of respect for female life is feminicide.
In the classroom Lucia and Edgar were able to deal with these ingrained ideas about women-as-victims, and the public/private gender binary in an age-appropriate manner. The students were asked what safety precautions girls needed to take when walking on the street and there were several that were automatic: don’t dress “indecently”, don’t walk alone, don’t walk at night, don’t talk to strangers, ask God for safekeeping before leaving, and on and on. Next it was the boys turn. “We don’t need to take precautions” they proudly stated. This brought up a lively conversation about socially constructed gender roles, the fallacy of the idea of men-as-indestructible, and the inevitable “which gender is really stronger” debate, which all ended with expanded minds and hopefully, further thought on these matters.
It felt good to see the children learn and interact and I am hopeful that they will grow up thinking differently about gender and violence, but it was also sad to see how unprepared these same students will most likely be for future academics based on their chaotic learning environment and the impoverished colonia that they are currently in.
– Marina Wood is a recent graduate of the Women’s Studies program at Cal State University Long Beach. She has been volunteering with MIA since 2007 and is interning in Guatemala as a facilitator for the “Hombres Contra Feminicidio” campaign for 10 weeks. Marina has been involved in the struggle to end oppressions since her first protest in 2002 against the Afghanistan War and plans to continue learning, educating, and fighting for human rights until the violence stops. The issues closest to her heart are sexual assault and femicide prevention and amnesty for migrant persons in the U.S.