Hank Gonzles neighborhood in Ecatepec, Mexico State (Nidia Bautista)
Posted by Nidia Bautista – MA Candidate in Global Journalism and CLACS at NYU
Sitting in a cafe in the heart of Mexico City, my source, a high school teacher and organizer working in Ecatepec, Mexico State (Edomex), describes the most populous municipality in the country as a perfect example of the peripheral edge. Ecatepec is the periphery, he says, abundant in neoliberalism’s human waste and a place especially dangerous for women.
He has been organizing youth in Ecatepec to denounce feminicide through performance and protest for years and after initially talking via telephone we agree to meet in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico. As one of my first interviews upon starting my reporting, I felt safe conducting the interview in a neighborhood I’m very familiar with. I’ve spent over three years studying, working and reporting in Mexico City. Navigating the city comes easy for me and despite reports that the violence that’s plagued the rest of the country for years is now more visible in the capital, I have always felt comfortable traveling the city by myself. I have learned to be a fearless, confident, and street-savvy denizen in Mexico City.
This familiarity however was confined to the borders of the city and before this research trip I had traveled to Mexico State only a handful of times. Among other challenges, I have confronted the fear and uncertainty that comes with learning to navigate an unfamiliar and difficult transit system and asserting myself as a woman journalist in one of the most dangerous places for women in the country.
Posted by Isabel Caballero-Samper – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU
A year and a half ago, when two Argentinian backpackers were murdered in the Ecuadorian beach town of Montañita, the hashtag #viajosola (I travel on my own, conjugated in the voice of a woman) became popular throughout Latin America. Maria José Coni, 22, and Marina Menegazzo, 21, had been traveling together, with each other, but commentators wondered why they had been traveling “alone” (making the question code for “without a man or a chaperone”). The two young women were even accused, by a psychiatrist consulted by an Argentinian news outlet, of being “víctimas propiciatorias”, encouraging victims.
At the time, the hashtag made me think about my own experience of travel. I had traveled through Europe by myself, visiting friends in some cities and going to others on my own. But in my own country, Colombia, I had never traveled alone.
Me in Bogota, preparing to leave for my field research on the gender dynamics of the recently demobilized Farc guerilla in the Colobian region of Arauca
Colombia is a country dominated by fear. When I was a kid in the late eighties and early nineties, bomb threats, scares and actual explosions were everyday events because of Pablo Escobar’s terrorist campaign that included bombing malls. And even after the worse years of drug related violence had passed (or more exactly moved on to Mexico, where the drug violence is said to have “Colombianized”) very high crime rates in the cities and a civil war in the countryside kept Colombians fearful of everything and everyone. (Or more exactly, in this stratified colonial society, of those who were not “gente como uno”, people like us: poor people, nouveau riche drug traffickers, and rebellious peasants).
When I met MJ, a sex worker, we spent almost eight hours talking. She has a delicious sense of humor; she has a joke for everything- “perhaps to make life more livable” –she says. We were sitting at a grocery store in the north of Bogotá, in the middle of a huge street, where cars often get crowded in order to reach the following avenue. This is, however, one of the wealthiest zones in the city.
MJ told me that she would take me to many places where prostitution takes place. As she described some of them, she started to talk about her experiences in each of them. In one of them she had a fixed schedule: from 9am to 5pm. She arrived there through a newspaper advertisement. Drugs, alcohol and smoking cigarettes are not allowed there. It is a traditional family home. Nobody, except its clients, would ever suspect that prostitution is allowed there. When sex workers enter the house, they must turn their cell phones off: the client is the only one that matters.
I went to El Dandy for the first time on a Wednesday night. El Dandy is a brothel where only biological women work. It is the only brothel within the zone, but it is divided into two separate locals, owned by the same people. The brothel is nothing like those in Hollywood movies. It is an abandoned, old house standing in the middle of a silent street. In the street just in front of it there is a mountain where slums have been settling and growing towards the top. Two local gangs and the local police are fighting for the sovereignty of the territory on a daily basis. Later on, MJ explained to me that they are frequent clients, and they pay better than others. They never quarrel with women from El Dandy.
I was very nervous. MJ introduced me to the women who administer the place: two women. V and M where very kind to me. They gave me a cup of Aguardiente – a Colombian liquor- to welcome me. They knew why I was there and they appreciated that I was there. Women at El Dandy drink Aguardiente in order to keep themselves warm. At night, the city gets so cold that I myself went there dressed as if it was winter in New York. They also get paid for the number of bottles that their clients consume; some of them told me that they have learnt how to spill some of the cups full of aguardiente that their clients offer to them, without them noticing.
Fatima Antonio Gonzalez at her desk in her office in the Municipal Palace of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
“I am the first female municipal secretary in my town,” Teotitlán del Valle, says Fatima Antonio González. She was named to the position by the current municipal president at 23 years old in 2010. As municipal secretary, she deals with community records and documents.
Teotitlán del Valle is one of 418 towns governed by the indigenous system of usos y costumbres in Oaxaca, Mexico. While Antonio González earns a small salary, government posts in usos y costumbres systems are considered service to the community and are done to give back to the community and not for money.
At the time that she was named to the post, Antonio González was collaborating on Teotitlán del Valle’s Plan for Municipal Development, which identified community needs and goals for the current government’s 3-year term. She was one of the few in her generation to earn a college degree in economics. She says that only 5 or 6 out of the 30 or so community members her age have a college degree.
I’m in Oaxaca, Mexico for the summer doing research for my thesis on the role of women in traditional indigenous usos y costumbres-style governments. Oaxaca has 418 towns that are run by usos y costumbres, a form of government recognized by the state constitution. In these communities, only 18 women have ever become president (the highest office), and in about 80, women have not been allowed to vote.
Sergio Beltrán stands in front of a mural in his shared office space at The Hub, Oaxaca.
My first interview is with Sergio Beltrán, who just co-founded a new NGO in July called Herramientas para el buen vivir (Tools for Living the Good Life). Beltrán has spent the past 15 years working with towns run by usos y costumbres. He has collaborated on projects relating to technology, such as community radio stations, ecology, such as dry bathrooms, and the economy, like ecotourism. Most recently, Beltrán has been doing workshops on gender equality in Santa María Yucuhiti, a Mixteca indigenous community in southwestern Oaxaca state.
The Oaxacan state government passed laws in the late 2000s guaranteeing gender equality and freedom from violence, and Beltrán helps educate community members on what those laws mean. “The most urgent work is with the men,” says Beltrán. “The women are already informed.”
I came to Peru to study how the illegal mining for gold in Madre de Dios province, on the Peruvian border with Brazil and Bolivia, has increased prostitution and human trafficking. The weak presence of the state, combined with the opening of the Interoceánica highway, the growth of illegal mining for gold, the trafficking of goods (arms, drugs) and people, and a high rate of population increase have resulted on severe social, cultural and environmental effects in the area.
According to a research conducted by INFOS Peru, for every new illegal mining camp in MDD, 45 “prostibares” (brothels) open, and between 2004 and 2011 there were close to 1.700 denounces of human trade in the area (RETA). In MDD, the illegal mining camps have grown keeping pace with brothels.
Despite the core of my research was in Madre de Dios, my fieldwork started in Lima. Before going to the field, I needed to have a bigger picture on how human trafficking for sexual exploitation was understood by the Peruvian state. I interviewed Ricardo Valdés, from Capital Humano y Social Alternativo, an NGO specialized in human trafficking.
In keeping align with my methodological approach utilizing multimedia to conduct collaborative ethnography; the latest installments of the project were interview workshops. In general, skill development workshops are a major component of this project. The workshops focus on creative reconnaissance and technological skill building activities. The participants and I work together (and with local experts) to learn more about different aspects of photography, video, and audio equipment and techniques, editing programs, blogging, creative writing, and more. Furthermore, another purpose of the meetings and workshops is to familiarize the participants with the greater New York City area.
Last week, I met with the young ladies, in groups of two, at Washington Square in Manhattan. Throughout the day, each participant was able to enter and observe New York University’s Bobst Library (where they were granted limited access to the stacks and facility!), the Tisch School of Art’s ITP lab (the Interactive Telecommunications Program, where we borrow the 5D camera and audio recording equipment), and the CLACS office and rooms (the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, where the footage was actually recorded). Each pair played artistic directors in setting the stage for their interview session. Unfortunately, a light decided to begin its slow, blinking decline during the “talk show” style interview, but the cameras kept rolling in order to maintain the “flow” of the conversation. Claritza and Valin decided that a conversation style would be the most comfortable and effective approach. Continue reading
ANSES relies heavily on technology. Each of the recipients I interviewed first learned about the program by TV advertisements. Those who qualify can enroll and set appointments via text message.
It is hard to believe how fast my month of research passed. While in Buenos Aires, I worked at a local ANSES office to learn about the effects of Asignacion Universal por Hijo (AUH), a conditional cash transfer, on women’s empowerment. Interviewing recipient women brought me to see that, in many cases, the grant helps empower a recipient woman by way of strengthening her identity as a mother and enhancing her sense of self-fulfillment. Recipient women told me again and again how AUH helped them to feel that they could now be the mother they had always hoped to be. With the help of the grant, a woman is able provide the food, school supplies, clothing, and other basic needs for her children. The women I interviewed emphasized that they want the best for their children, and without the financial help of the grant each month, many recipient families cannot always afford many things for their children, including a balanced diet or clothes and shoes that properly fit. While the monetary value of the grant is small (about 40 USD per child), the impact it has on low-income families is substantial. With the grant, many families find that they can afford send the children to school where they will learn, make friends, and grow up equipped to be in a better economic position than the previous generation.
Ready for a bus ride across town.
Last year’s Tinker grant recipients stressed the importance of persistence while in the field. For the most part, I’ve been getting in touch with exactly the contacts I’d been hoping to find, but some people have been more difficult to track down. What really brought me to my research question, whether or not Asignacion Universal por Hijo empowers women, was an annual report put out by a private organization indicating that deaths from domestic violence are on the rise in Argentina. I wondered if this had any connection to the implementation of AUH, so I come to Buenos Aires with high hopes of meeting with the director of the organization. She was quite difficult to hunt down, but when I finally did get to meet with her, she shared some great information with me. Persistence in the field really does pay off!
When I first arrived in Buenos Aires, I got in touch with a woman named Majo who has a great network of people working on social programs and women’s rights in the local area. Majo has been an incredible help in getting me directly connected with all the right people. I had tried calling and emailing the research organization several times with no response. Majo had not been able to get in touch with anyone at the center either, so she suggested that I accompany her to her weekly meeting the last two Wednesdays. Every week, the Buenos Aires Legislature hosts a meeting of approximately 35 women’s rights-based organizations where these groups can collaborate, plan events and awareness campaigns, and all stay in touch about developments in women’s rights in Argentina. Majo said that the founder of the research organization attended this weekly meeting, so I was excited to finally have an in. Continue reading