UTEP Students and Faculty Form Delegation to the UN Women's 14th Feminist Conference
Lopa Banerjee, Chief of the Civil Society Section, UN Women and Ines Esteban Gonzalez, Partnership Analyst, UN Women, participated in the 100 Years of Women Conference on the UTEP campus in April 2017. Ms. Banerjee and Ms. Gonzalez’s visit included a series of meeting with students, leaders and community partners. Ms. Banerjee was a keynote presenter in the Women’s Conference. An interview with her, conducted by University Communications, is available at https://www.utep.edu/chs/sw/.
During their visit, Ms. Banerjee approached Drs. Guillermina Nuñez-Mchiri, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Dr. Eva M. Moy, chair of the Department of Social Work, regarding the creation of a delegation of UTEP students and faculty to participate in the 14th Feminist Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean (EFLAC), held in Montevideo, Uruguay on November 23-25, 2017. EFLAC is a venue where community, academic and policy leaders convene to strategize about how to advance the gender quality agenda in the region and globally.
Drs. Moya and Nuñez-Mchiri worked with Ms. Esteban Gonzalez to identify students to complete the delegation. From the list of nominees, four students were selected to participate, including: Julissa E. Corona, Master of Social Work major; Patricia O. Carrete, Bachelor of Science in Nursing major; Liliana B. Gomez, Bachelor of Women’s Studies and Linguistics major; and Yvette Belinda Diaz, Master of Sociology major. This invitation represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for faculty and students to participate in a gathering of more than 2000 feminists from Latin American and the Caribbean.
UTEP and UN Women provided partial travel support for the delegation. These partial scholarships were instrumental in leveraging additional financial support from several UTEP administrators, including President Diana Natalicio; Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, Dean of the College of Health Sciences; Dr. Elias Provencio-Vasquez, Dean of the School of Nursing; Dr. Stephen L. Crites, Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Dr. Guillermina Nuñez-Mchiri, Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program; and the UTEP Student Government Association. The initiative also received support from other UTEP faculty members and private donors.
At the conference, the students led a two-hour conversation with 35 feminists from Panama, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Honduras, Nicaragua, the United States and Mexico on Intersectionality: gender, identity, and migration in the borderlands of the United States under the theme of Diversity, Autonomy and Power. The discussion offered a space to present and explore the realities of those who cross the borders from the perspective of intersectionality, gender, class, ethnicity and nationality, and introduced factors that intertwine to enrich and nurture our international region. Additionally, reflections on political changes at the national and state level affecting the border region, along with the social and economic justice movements, were discussed, highlighting fundamental values of feminism that is inclusive and accessible for all.
In summary, the commitment and perspectives by students and the women who participated in the 14th EFLAC were salient in providing a rich experience on the intersectionality of gender, identities, policies and education beyond our border. This represents an excellent opportunity for students at UTEP and faculty to share and communicate practices related to migrant’s rights, women’s rights, reproductive justice, environmental justice, labor rights and education. This conference was the perfect space for UTEP students and faculty to practice EDGE skills, and to be immersed in experiences that highlight the uniqueness of their education and experience with community work in El Paso that was of great benefit to the rest of invitees at EFLAC.
Delegation members will continue to be diligent in the areas of advocacy, education and research. They will present their experience outcomes at the 2018 Healthy Exchange series in March at the College of Health Sciences. In addition, University Communications is working on pieces for the UTEP magazine and webpage. What follows is a summary of their post-EFLEC reflections. Students are also working on reflection papers for their classes and editorials to the local newspapers.
Patricia O. Carret: EFLAC XIV allowed me to meet international feminists, activists and leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean creating social change through their different disciplines. Recurrent issues discussed included immigration, basic human rights, gender equity, reproductive and sexual justice, and self-care. Even with the differences that each attendee had, it was fascinating to find that at the end of the day, we all deal with the social problems and inequalities no matter our nationality or location. At the end of the day, we all have a social responsibility to work harder to take care of one another. As a nursing major, this was extremely important as I kept reflecting on the importance of oppression and disparities, and how in our country there’s still so much more that we can do in terms of health care services and access. It is imperative that we collaborate and work together between disciplines to assist the unprotected.
Within the nursing profession, only 4% of all nurses are Hispanic, and I plan to be part of that small number. This event has allowed to ground myself and recognize the importance of committing myself to gender equity. As a Latina I will strive into invite other females into sitting at the table, allowing our voices to be heard, and take positions of power in our community.
To my friends from ONU Mujeres, EFLAC, UTEP and all women and girls, I would like to express that while our countries (both US and México) are facing very complex political changes, it is imperative that we remain together. It is crucial that we understand that taking care of one another and of ourselves is an act of radical political resistance. We need to stay strong together and seek every opportunity to empower our community to be better. Stay safe, stay strong!
Liliana Gomez: My experience at the 14th EFLAC was life changing. From the people I met to the culture I was exposed to, I felt that the whole experience really made a huge impact on my life, my education and my professional goals. Some of the topics discussed at EFLAC influenced me and struck a chord within me that inspired me to really focus on those areas in my life. Those topics were reproductive justice, immigration, economic equality and independence, and femicides in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The information that I learned will help my professional goals the most because I have decided that I want to make a career out of advocacy work, and I think that the things I’ve learned really open my eyes to feminist issues on a global level. Education wise, I think the things I’ve learned have helped me become a better-rounded student and allows me to bring up new topics to discuss in my Women’s and Gender Studies classes.
EFLAC made me recommit to the advancement of gender equity and rights, and I think I’m ready to take on bigger challenges that the feminist community faces. It has inspired me to get involved beyond just my community. To the women of EFLAC, thank you so much for your hospitality. I met so many beautiful women, both inside and out, who sparked a new fire in me to reach beyond our border and taught me so much.
To the United Nations Women’s Program (ONU Mujeres) thank you so much for seeing something in me and giving me the opportunity to attend EFLAC and experience it; I really learned a lot. And finally, to the women and girls of my community and UTEP, I hope you will stand beside me in the fight for gender equity and rights, and I hope I can inspire you all to change the world because we really are the future of our world. This was truly an experience I will never forget.
Julissa Corona: “A nuestro país vamos!” (To our country we go!), said the woman sitting next to me on the airplane as we departed to Miami from Montevideo, Uruguay. Like me, she identified with two nations but strongly connected with the country of residence where she had developed roots and connections over a period of time. Yet, the belonging and sentiment attached to the country of origin was strong. Like this one, every encounter in Montevideo was an opportunity to learn and reflect on differences and similarities and how those reframe my own perspective.
As I was walking out of the 14th EFLAC, a quick interaction with some colleagues from Argentina triggered in me a sense of responsibility and strength for the work ahead. It was a group of three women. They were so kind yet intense on defending women’s rights. I identified with a social worker who had practiced in Argentina and was engaged in activism. I asked her to share a suggestion as I was starting on my academic career as a master of social work student. Her face lit up immediately, and with a big smile, she held my hand. Deeply looking over her glasses and into my eyes, she said “Nunca pierdas la pureza, la carrera es difícil pero no te desanimes, prepárate, y que seas ese puente.” (Never lose your pureness, the career is difficult but don’t get discouraged, prepare yourself, and be that bridge.)
The examples described are only a portion of my experience, but I hope they paint a picture of how meaningful this experience was for me. I am very thankful for the opportunity and plan to continue the fight for social equality. As Dr. Moya said, the future is in our hands. I am committed to making a difference wherever my career takes me.
Yvette Belinda Diaz: The greatest learning experience I had during this is event is understanding how women worldwide continue to strive for equality and dignity. I learned that women are diverse, yet we are united in a collective effort to be heard.
My graduate course readings usually pertain to women and the oppression that they have gone through and that they continue to struggle for justice and equality right at this moment. The greatest foundation that I have comes from the matriarchal system perpetuated in my family on both my father’s and mother’s side. All of the women in my family are very strong and lead the family systems.
The greatest commitment that I have starts with myself, with my self-care, embracing that I am a woman, that my goals are to transfer my knowledge to my children, to my students, to my friends and to anyone, to help them better understand that we are to respect each other as human beings, as women and as men; that equality can only happen when we are taught about it; that we must change in little portions instead of trying to change the entire world, and we must start by “being that change you want to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi said.
I want to thank the ONU Mujeres and UTEP for having taken interest in me, to the EFLAC Committee for putting on such a detailed and wonderful place to express diversity regarding women’s issues. Being able to meet and greet women from different backgrounds and different socioeconomic statuses, in the beautiful city as Montevideo, Uruguay. The feminist encounter left me with a big responsibility to understand that women’s issues continue to be expressed in very diverse ways, and that women from all walks of life gather in one place to voice out messages for all women, for justice, for respect, and for unity.
I have become very inspired with the whole idea of feminism, and I would like to continue with work that relates directly to women’s issues, such as proposing a nonprofit organization in Cd. Juarez-El Paso – one that leaves out “fronteras” (frontiers) and works hand-in-hand with the UN to create monthly and yearly agendas. Lastly, I want to give special thanks to Dr. Nuñez-Mchiri for nominating me for this conference. She is a very strong woman who seeks to unite talent with action. I also want to give special thanks to Dr. Moya for guiding me and the group to accomplish what we did during this unforgettable encounter.
Liliana (Lili) Gomez
I am 21 years old, and was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and am majoring in linguistics with a minor in women’s studies. I will graduate in May 2018, and plan to attend graduate school for Speech and Language Pathology. I am vice president of Triota, a national women’s honor society. Triota believes that women should be represented in leadership, academics and in the community. I work for a local organization known as West Fund, which provides gap funding for people seeking abortions. West Fund believes in gender inclusivity and takes an intersectional approach when identifying issues within our community and its relationship with reproductive rights. Additionally, I initiated a project for my Intro to Women’s Studies class that focuses on sex education for high school LGBTQ students.
I want to educate young people using a comprehensive sex curriculum that is inclusive of all sexualities, as opposed to a heterosexual abstinence-only curriculum. I love my studies and the work I do because it allows me to use a feminist perspective when making connections between my education, extracurricular actives and the community. El Paso sits in a unique location, especially when it comes to reproductive rights. El Paso has extremely strict and absurd laws for people seeking abortions, including a 24-hour waiting period; parental consent and notification; mandatory sonograms; public funding restrictions; and a 20-week ban. Comparatively, New Mexico lacks all Texas’ abortion restrictions and in New Mexico, Medicaid may be used to cover the procedure. Meanwhile, the medical procedure is outlawed in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Our location on the border also plays a role in the unique needs of the community. For example, the recent attacks on immigrants, the use of deportation, family separation, and the militarization of the border, directly violates the human rights of community members. Anti-immigrant policies are undermining people’s health and safety, much like restricting access to reproductive health services only fortifies social inequalities. Communities like El Paso are disproportionately affected. For example, when it comes to abortion access, we do not have as many clinics in our immediate area as other cities like Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. Abortion is not just a reproductive justice issue; it is a race, class, sexuality, immigration, youth, inclusivity, family, ability and religious issue. By looking at abortion through different lenses and recognizing the intersectionality, we can begin to construct creative solutions to foster individual autonomy, security, and healthy and happy families.
Patricia Odette Carrete
As a college student at UTEP, I am working towards becoming a registered nurse grounded in service learning, social justice and gender equity. My passion is community and public health. I grew up in Veracruz, México, where my parents and family still live. I relocated to the United States at the age of 18, to earn my first bachelor degree in Fine Arts.
During that time, I was able to develop creativity, writing and critical thinking skills, which I now use daily as a nursing student. I worked for the Center for Students with Disabilities (2010); then as an art instructor at La Fe Preparatory School, a charter school for children living in the Segundo Barrio of El Paso, a resilient and socioeconomically poor area of our community (2013); I then served as a research assistant with the University Social Justice Initiative (2015). I am now a full-time student and full-time employee at the University Library. All of these opportunities have allowed me to grow and strengthen my service and social justice skills. I am an active member of community based organizations within the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border region, including: Texas Nurses Student Association, National Association of Hispanic Nurses, United for Reproductive and Gender Equity, Student Organization Leadership Cohort (2016-2017) and the UTEP Leadership Conference Organizing Committee.
My commitment to serve these organizations resides in my compromise to make a difference in the lives of girls and women, and ensure that we have equal rights and representation. I am growing in leadership development, service learning and global citizenship. I feel education and social action are critical. Areas where I am working on making a difference include gender equity, and LGTBQ rights and its correlation with race, class and access to health. I use painting, artistic expressions, poetry and nursing to support and serve students, members of the LGBTQI communities and survivors of intimate partner violence.
Julissa E. Corona
I was born in La Chorrera, Panama. At age 16, my parents considered it was in my best interest to leave Panama for the United States since the situation was not very promising in Panama. In 2003, I arrived in San Antonio, Texas to reside with my mother’s sister. Once in the US, I realized my dreams of attending college and becoming a professional were just dreams. Once my visa expired, I had no way of attaining a legal status. At the same time, I was not going to let a legal document get in my way. I started learning English by repeatedly watching the same television shows. While waiting for my residency to be approved, I attended cosmetology school and started working shortly after graduation.
After a few years of working, I realized that it was time to start college. I was terrified because of my limited English proficiency. I am thankful that I decided to prove myself wrong and accomplish graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology, with a Clinical/Counseling concentration with honors. This was important to me because my parents made a tremendous effort to provide a better future for me. In Panama, we were very poor but they collected the money necessary so that I could have a chance.
This is my story and I say it proudly because, with the help of many others, I overcame poverty, injustice, and the lack of opportunities. Today, I humbly educate myself to provide better services to others. I had tremendous opportunities that changed my life and I hope to give back to others. I have met people from all over the US who were affected by inequality, racism, discrimination, and social injustices. While their negative experiences impacted them, it also made them stronger and more resilient. I identify with them. I was there and all I needed was an opportunity. The struggles I faced made me stronger, resilient, and motivate me to help others.
Yvette Belinda Diaz
I have a Bachelor in Interdisciplinary Studies degree and a master’s degree in special education, and am an ongoing life learner, pursuing a second master’s degree in sociology. Currently, I am researching women that were displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement, an agreement signed on January 1, 1994, between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to create a free trade zone. The agreement was supposed to protect American workers’ jobs, but instead it left millions without a job, and specifically women in the textile maquiladoras in the border regions. I have emotional and close ties to the issue, because my mother was one of the displaced “Textile Maquila” workers. I knew firsthand what my mother felt, when the factory she worked at was closed down; the economic hardship that her family had to go through. My mother and many of her co-workers went through similar situations. They were abandoned by local government and nothing else was offered to them. Although there were political and nonprofit organizations that promised them training and money, nothing was ever accomplished. These women for so long have been without a real voice, and I would like to give them a voice by telling their stories, giving voice to the “Mujeres de la Frontera,” “Mujeres Trabajadoras y Valientes.” (Women of the frontera; working and valiant women.)
Eva M. Moya
I am an associate professor of Social Work and interim chair of the Department of Social Work for the College of Health Sciences. Working with vulnerable and resilient communities for the past 33 years is at the core of my social work and interdisciplinary practice. My expertise includes community-engaged scholarship initiatives focused on homelessness and interdisciplinary education. I also train facilitators on the use of the Photovoice methodology to address gender and health inequalities, as well as working with vulnerable and resilient populations like persons experiencing homelessness, intimate partner violence and mental health distress. I teach graduate macro and policy social work courses off campus in community-based settings like the Opportunity Center for the Homeless. In these communities of practice, graduate students learn about multidisciplinary efforts, and real experiences and struggles associated with being homeless. I presently co-direct the Health Opportunity Prevention and Education Clinic initiative, a multidisciplinary health clinic where faculty and students from the School of Nursing, Clinical Laboratory Sciences, Pharmacy and Social Work come together to practice, learn and do service.