• Saturday, November 28, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Building Feminist Democracy in Mesoamerica: Just Associates (JASS)

    JASS Mesoamerica Regional Allies

    Latin America is a region where the global community is increasingly looking for leadership in the search for alternatives to neoliberal capitalism. The term buen vivir, or ‘good living’, is at the heart of efforts in the region to forge a more democratic and just development that rejects the violence of modern economic and militarised development. The region has suffered a violent, racist and sexist past in the name of modernity.

    Rejecting this, countries like Ecuador and Bolivia are trying to balance indigenous ways of living with community and nature and local and global notions of  economic progress. Throughout the region, governments are learning – painfully at times – that it is crucial to work not just with powerful international forces but also with their own civil society, listening to the voices of the poor men and women.

    In this struggle for democracy and justice, it is vital that women find their voice and place to defend their political space, territory and also their bodies. Just Associates (JASS) works globally to strengthen women’s voice, visibility and collective organising power throughout the world. They support women taking leadership to fight for their rights – whether it is women forging economic democracy or women putting an end to gender-based violence (GBV) and political repression. Their work acknowledges that it is vital to build cross-country alliances, document and make known the gendered nature of violations faced by women’s rights defenders and engage human rights institutions in responding and increasing their protection. They  ensure that women’s voices are heard so that human rights and development institutions and governments are able to respond more appropriately to the demands of women on the margins.

    The MDG3 Fund supports the work of JASS to strengthen the participation of marginalised women in three regions and 24 countries. In Mesoamerica (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama), JASS has worked with the support of the MDG3 Fund and other strategic alliances to create safe spaces for women to deepen collective analysis, build solidarity, help end violence and fight for their collective rights.

    JASS has adopted a mix of face-to-face support in capacity-building programmes and networking; solidarity outreach through immediate responses to emergency situations and longer-term support; and consciousness raising through radio and on-line social media.  JASS has worked with old and new feminists in the region to build innovative strategic approaches to strengthen feminist strategising.

    The Observatorio/Women Crossing the Line is a unique feminist political programme working with Feminist International Radio Endeavor (FIRE) to spotlight and reinforce women’s transformative roles and local actions in struggles across Mesoamerica.  This is enhanced by the newsletter and radio programme La Petatera, which documents what is happening in the region – tapping into the powerful tool of radio as well as social networking to ensure women’s voices are heard and to link women across countries.

    The face-to-face work of JASS in the Region is carried out by the Sea Change Feminist Leadership schools grounded in feminist theory and artistic expression. The schools build the capacity of young and experienced community women leaders and organisations to respond to the risks and dangers faced in the region. In continuing the work of building networks that ensure collective action, the Feminist Transformation Watch (FTW) mobilises women from Mesoamerica and beyond to become eye‐witness observers and on‐line champions of their efforts, lending their voices and credibility in defense of women. FTW strengthens and publicises women’s social change efforts.

    A critical focus in all of these activities is the fight to end femicide and violence against women (VAW) at all levels. As the JASS website documents, women human rights defenders in Mesoamerica are facing many dangers and threats, whether they are promoting their work or civil, political, indigenous, sexual or reproductive rights.  Ending VAW is a vital human rights and political strategy in the region, as threats against women’s bodies are occurring with increasing and disturbing frequency. In building a just and more democratic society, bodily integrity and autonomy for women cannot be separated from other political and rights demands.  Through its different strategic actions, JASS promotes connections among grassroots and local-to-global organisations that respond to women’s immediate demands to be free from violence.

    In Mexico, for example, 12 land rights activists were unjustly imprisoned for protesting government efforts to force them from their homes in order to build a new airport in 2006. Support from JASS and The Nobel Women’s Initiative supported an advocacy campaign to free them after more than four years in prison. The ‘Atenco 12’ were liberated in July 2010 by the Mexican Supreme Court. The success of this effort affirms JASS’ approach: commitment to stand with partners for the long-term, using a strategic combination of organising on the ground and international solidarity and advocacy.

    In 2010 JASS held workshops to support women human rights defenders in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico to build a cross-movement coalition fighting for the rights of women defenders to defeat armed factions, the state as well as intimate-partner, family and community violence. The workshops and activities gave young women leaders -poor urban and rural community women – the confidence, information and skills to navigate the risky contexts in which they are living and fight for justice and gender equality grounded in true democratic change.

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