Mapping Anti-Violence Strategies

body_map.jpg

Among the often unacknowledged side effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the war on drugs are the economic and physical violence they inflict on women, particularly brown and black immigrant women. Driven from their homes, where U.S. policies and practices make it difficult or impossible for them to earn a living, or widowed by the disastrous militarization of the war on drugs, which has killed an estimated 120,000 people in Mexico in the last nine years, or fearing for their lives, as femicide against workers and students throughout Mexico has increased, women go north. 

They may be in economic thrall for years to the “coyotes” who smuggle them over the border, but the real physical dangers cannot be overstated. One sign of such danger is the growth along the U.S.-Mexico border of small storefronts that offer women short-term contraception or pills. The women know that they have a very high probability of being raped on their journey north and want to prevent pregnancy.

If the women make it to their destination, new types of violence and exploitation await them. In research in Chicago, my colleagues and I heard heart-wrenching stories. The women we worked with described daily assaults on their emotional and physical wellbeing, ranging from being denied bathroom breaks to being hit on by supervisors to barrages of invective.

Economic violence often results in physical violence. Therefore, we have to pay attention to and care for the bodies of the women affected. Rather than seeing themselves as helpless victims, women can act on their own behalf, and many are doing so to gain control over their violent environments.

As an example, my colleagues and I have worked with immigrant women to first identify their bodily harm and then map the places in their communities where they are most vulnerable and plan strategies to change the environment. The women work in small groups to develop trust with each other, then they draw life-size silhouettes of themselves. The group facilitator asks questions about the impact of violence on their bodies, and they paint, draw, collage, and write their answers on their “bodies.”

From the personal maps of their bodies, they go to the political maps of their communities. They discuss the different uses women make of spaces in their community, their right to use space, and when and where they are afraid to walk or enter. The next step is a community audit, in which the women walk, observe, comment about, and take notes of what is safe and unsafe, what is useful or not, and what is accessible or not in their environment. During walks in Norristown, Pennsylvania and Yautepec, Morelos, Mexico, the women cited cracked sidewalks that made it difficult to pass with a baby stroller, the lack of trees for shade on a hot day, shot-out street lights, and mounds of garbage in some of the alleys that provided cover for assaults. After the community audit, participants draw a map of their community and mark the positive and negative spaces. The group decides on the issues it wants to address and develops a strategy to make changes.

In Norristown, the body maps will be used in a public exhibit to raise awareness about gender violence, and the participants are working on developing a cooperative piñata-making business that will also give them some political leverage. They are working on electing council members who can be pushed to change the map of their community. In Yautepec, the women helped one of the group members who was robbed of all her flea market merchandise. They all (very poor women) pitched in and gave what they could of old clothing, tools and kitchenware so that she could resume selling. They have also organized to work with the local government to close down a drug/party house in their neighborhood.

Although not yet widespread, this comprehensive mapping shows promise as an inclusive way for society to challenge patriarchal and consumer-driven economics that contribute to unsafe cities for women. 

Sweet.jpg Elizabeth L. Sweet is a visiting assistant professor at Temple University in the Department of Geography and Urban Studies. She researches connections between the economy, violence, and identity in Mexico, Russia, Colombia, and the United States.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine. 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

 

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 44 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 13 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.