In September 2013, after I finished the MA in Gender and Development at IDS, I came back to my country, Mexico. Being back was great, although after some months in my hometown (Nuevo Leon) I felt a bit desperate. Neither my family nor friends understood what my postgraduate studies were about. They referred to my professional activities as: “those things you do”, “Elena works for women related stuff”.
Talking about gender
I tried, several times, to explain what gender is, why it is important to raise gender awareness, wishing that after explaining it they would understand what I do. Most of the conversations were in vain. I realised people didn’t really want to know what gender is about. They would rather block out everything I explained, because they said, “women and men are already equal”, “there are no such thing as gender gaps”, etc. I had to be creative to get people to understand gender.
I decided to focus my energy and explanations on those who were into “other matters” that were somehow gender related. For instance, autonomy, safety in public spaces, discrimination, poverty, citizenship and economic empowerment. My sister and close friends told me that it is difficult to understand and talk about gender because it is so personal; but that people might relate through a self-awareness process about their citizenship, violence, education, etc. I realised the key was to talk about it without mentioning it. I wasn’t happy with doing that, but I found out that people were more receptive, and eventually more willing to reflect and to question some of the gender mandates they grew up with.
To keep those conversations growing I started four projects. Three communitarian projects aiming to raise gender awareness through life experiences, and an online course about gender called “Regias autónomas” (Autonomous and outstanding women).
Autonomous and outstanding women
The objective of Regias autónomas is to sensitise stereotypes concerning gender roles, encouraging women to take workshops in “male tasks” such as electrical and carpentry. Here in my hometown “role obligations” are commonly used as patriarchal bargains among couples. Workshops help to open up conversations and to question gendered dynamics at home, school and workplace.
In the future, we plan to open ‘autonomous and outstanding men’ to offer workshops for men who want to learn how to iron, do grocery shopping, etc. Currently men and women are welcome to all workshops.
Regias Autonomas workshop poster
Women as decision makers
The next communitarian project I started was the production of a documentary which was released on 29 January 2016 called “Women as decision makers”. I worked on it with VMA (producing house) and Sandra Monobe and it’s the result of a creative, therapeutic and thematic alliance. In the documentary, we aim to start new conversations regarding women’s leaderships in all areas, especially but not exclusively, at grassroots level. This project shows the experience of 21 communitarian leaders. Unintentionally, it captures that violence is in one way or another present in their lives. Regardless of violence, all of them have continued to succeed. The participants highlight that alliances among gender-aware women, across ages, class, ethnicity, sexualities and educational backgrounds, are needed to strength their leaderships.
Women as Decision Makers Teaser Trailer 2015 – (English subtitles click ‘CC’ bottom right)
I have to say that the Participatory Research Methods class I took at IDS really influenced me to do this project. I’ve found visual content more effective to sensitise. So far, 3 enterprises, political parties, several NGOs and universities have contacted us to screen the documentary on their workplace to reflect about women’s leaderships, gender awareness the importance of alliances among women.
Following the film, we are planning to release an online series of 26 chapters (20-30 mins each). We filmed over 100 hours! For that we will be starting a crowdfunding campaign which will be promoted through facebook, for every 2,300 USD we collect, a chapter will be released. There’s so much effort and heart in this project that we want to spread its message, and also we want it to grow.
Developing a new app
Last, but not least. I have designed an app to map women and men safe perceptions in public spaces. The objective is to use the information gathered to provide the government with statistics and data to show the importance of crosscutting gender in urban planning. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough funds to develop it. Although most of my projects are for civil society and are free or low-cost, my consultancy is not a NGO.
Widening the conversation
Two years have passed since I finished my master’s degree, and I can see that what I read and learnt during the MA programme at IDS has enriched my understanding of gender issues greatly. Importantly, I found out how to share and give knowledge a purpose. After these years I conclude that although conversation among genderistas are needed to deepen and exchange knowledge and experiences, the real challenge is to raise gender awareness among those who know nothing about it. Creativity is a good way to start those conversations and reflections.