Women in Migration - encuentro in Mexico
#Analisis #WomenInMigration | This week I have the pleasure of being at the 7th Meeting of the Mesoamerican Network Women, Health and Migration where female defenders of disputed territories, women’s rights and the rights to migrate came together. The goal is to analyze the context in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, to construct a joint agenda and link local efforts to global initiatives.
History of the Red Mesoamericana Mujer, Migracion y Salud
The network exists since 2008 when the founding members, amongst them ADES, decided to coordinate the efforts of various community organizations, NGO's and individuals that were active in protecting and reclaiming the rights of migrants - particularly often invisible female migrants.
The idea is to not only support female migrants and their families locally or nationally, but take a regional approach. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are countries of origin (with outward migration) and Mexico is an outward, transit and destination country. Many organizations were located in Southern Mexico, close to the Guatemalan border, or along the main migration routes. But providing information in the departing countries about the rights to and risks of migrating, as well as fighting for and creating decent living conditions that eliminate the need for forced migration, has to go hand in hand with providing shelter, food and legal counseling to migrants en route. (See more on their website)
"It's almost as if we were the same country!"
The first exercise was to analyze the national contexts on gender-based violence, the right to migrate or not migrate, and the defense of territories.
After each country presented their situation, a comparison of the four countries showed that
Gender based violence and feminicide is a topic in all countries. On the one hand, the high prevalence thereof, and on the other, the structural violence by the state which a) routinely classifies feminicides as crimes of passion or homicides, thus misrepresenting the amplitude of the issue and making collecting correct data impossible, b) doesn't provide any budget or institutions that tackle the roots of gender based violence and c) excludes violence against female migrants from all statistics, thus rendering them invisible.
Migrants and human rights defenders are criminalized and assassinated with complete impunity. And the situation isn't improving: Guatemala and Honduras are in the process of passing laws that will reduce their protection and the scope of community organisations (seen as enemies of the state, especially in the defense of territories).
Violence is one of the driving factors for migration, but all countries have signed agreements declaring them "third safe countries". Thus, Mexico and the US can refuse refuge and deport/return migrants to these safe/violent countries.
But it’s not all gloomy:
Collective community strategies work! Feminist, indigenous, campesinas and other movements are well established and fight for the rights of women, migrants, and human rights defenders. Where we need to become better is not only fighting bottom-up and doing advocacy, but also reclaim the governments and institutions and change the political power (meaning: become the new government?).
Community radios are an extremely powerful tool to democratize news, generate discussions and reflections and provide alternative sources of information. Every country/region has their radio and they are all part of the community organizations.
This type of collective analysis can't be done via skype, or by reading different country reports.
To me, it really hit home when a woman said that "it's like we're one sole country!" in response to the similitude of the issues in the four countries that were present. And it’s not the first time I've noticed this. In other meetings, it was very similar: although every case and every community had its particular stories, the common thread repeats itself over and over and over again. The issues are structural, not individual. Thus, the criticism is also structural and change needs to be structural: it's not (only) about one persons’ behavior, one law, one judge’s decision, one unjust incarceration or deportation. We have to change our way of thinking "us vs them" (particularly in regards to migration), of ignoring how we are intertwined and how our actions have consequences beyond our family or friends.
Walk the talk, please!
The meeting didn’t stop there: Especially important for advocacy, we reviewed the key international agreements and cartas that fight for the same things as the network. The goal at the global level is to ensure that, whenever there are discussions and declarations of women’s rights, the network includes the issue of female migrants. In spaces where migration is discussed, it includes the gender focus. And the same for health: we include migration and gender in these international discussions.
Again, the obvious smacked me in the head when reading the comitments of “Women in Migration” (WIMN) (a civil society organisation), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action or the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (multilateral agreement, which was negotiated with the help of Switzerland): They are all demanding/declaring the same thing as the community-based organisations in Mesoamerica.
Stop gender based violence,
Stop criminalization of migrants and xenophobia,
Ensure basic needs of humans are respected,
Ensure the commitments to protect human rights are fulfilled, etc.
These aren’t purely local issues. The criticism mentioned above applies just as much to Mesoamerican governments, as to the European and Swiss governments that are moving in the opposite direction of international conventions they've signed.
Unfortunately, many of the multilateral agreements and declarations are politically binding, but not legally. There's a huge gap between what we say and agree in order to maintain the moral high ground of the free and just "west, liberator of the rest!" - and then there's what we actually do.
What will the network do?
To not be part of the people that talk but don't walk, the network spent more than half of the meeting on reviewing and establishing annual plans of joint activities in institutional strengthening, capacity building in communities, and communication and advocacy. Every organization and individual made commitments for 2020. Often, daily business and national contexts are so all consuming, that we forget the power of the collective and networks - these meetings remind us that it's not that difficult to integrate a larger perspective into our work.
One thing the network intends to do is focus on integrating a youth network, produce information material for female migrants, advocate for shelters for women, etc. This is in addition to what the different organisations are already offering, such as shelters, legal advice, emergency kits, psycho-social attention for women that have experienced violence (quasi 100% based on their experience), working on changing the public image towards migrants, and of course - trying to improve the local conditions to make forced migration a thing of the past.
The meeting was intense, and most people were just too knackered to even participate in the cultural event in the evening. But it also renewed motivation and energy - especially in fields that is so stagnant or regressing that disheartenment is unavoidable. Most importantly, it builds personal relationships and networks - the basis for any bottom-up movement which relies on solidarity, on volunteer work and on sheer determination and conviction that we can do better than what we're doing now.