Monday, June 29, 2009

not one---but TWO internships!

As promised, I am going to write a little about my work and all that I have been involved with over the last few weeks. I came to work with la Fundacíon Mujeres en Igualdad, an organization that works on issues of transparency, anti-corruption and gender-based violence. A claim to fame: they were the first NGO in Argentina to have a website!

My project with M.E.I. is to write a comparative report on gender violence and equality laws throughout Latin America and come up with implementation recommendations for Argentina. In March of this year, Argentina passed a law against gender-based violence. This is an important distinction from domestic violence laws because it broadens the definition and includes the workplace and the public sphere. While many countries in Latin America have very progressive laws, the implementation is rarely scaled up because of a lack of monetary resources.

Argentina has a history of strong women’s rights work, being the first country to pass a quota law mandating that 30% of all candidates must be female and must be serious, electable candidates. This has resulted in much greater participation by women and it is clearly visible throughout the country. We had elections here yesterday and it was impressive to see the quantity and quality of female candidates.

However there is still a strong machista culture that pervades throughout society, particularly in the media. With this new law, there is hope that women will better understand their rights and the incidences of violence against women will be reduced.

In 1999 M.E.I. brought a lawsuit against the largest ice cream chain in Buenos Aires, Freddo. In this case, they alleged that Freddo discriminated against women by refusing to hire them in their shops. This was the first case brought on grounds of equality following the new constitution of 1994. They were successful in the case and Freddo was ordered to hire women or face a daily fine. And the lawyers who brought the case to court….well, that brings me to the second organization with whom I am working!

La Asociación Civil para la Igualdad y Justicia (ACIJ) has a mission to contribute to the improvement and strengthening of Argentina institutions, promote the respect of fundamental rights and work to defend the most vulnerable groups in society. My roommate in Cambridge, Marissa, was working with them this summer and I heard they needed some additional help in their Program Development and Fundraising department, so I offered to come in a few days a week. They were the lawyers that brought the case with M.E.I against Freddo, so it was an easy transition to work with both organizations.

With ACIJ, I have been working closely with a woman named Gillian who is a Stanford alum and who has been in Latin America the last few years. We are working on evaluating their fundraising strategy and find new streams of funding. It is difficult for Argentina to compete for funding in Latin America because it is viewed as a country that is fairly well off in comparison to Guatemala, Bolivia or Mexico. My work with Kellogg Foundation is helping me evaluate their work and help them position themselves with foundations and other funders. It has also been really interesting to look at all these different funders and see where they working and how I might be able to collaborate in the future.

In addition, I have spent two days with ACIJ working in the villas (slums) of Buenos Aires. In one, we were doing data collection around the transportation in the villas and how the children get to school. There is a paucity of schools in these neighborhoods and children often have to travel very far to attend schools. Many public services are denied in these communities and after being in Buenos Aires, it’s quite fuerte. Many of these kids are going to end up illiterate and then what kind of chances will they have. I think I am beginning to understand that interventions need to occur at a really young age to have the greatest likelihood of success. It made me realize the importance of the work my mother has done her life with small children. The parents only seem to try up to a point and then they too give up---and the system certainly does nothing to help the process. They almost make it harder at times.

I spent another day collecting data in another community around the cleanliness of their water and the connection to health risks. They are not connected to the city water and so get their water from wells. However, these wells are greatly contaminated by the tanneries and other industry in the area. The people are drinking water that is highly dangerous and can increase your risk of cancer, miscarriages, and other life-threatening illnesses. Even within this community, there is a big distinction between those that can buy water and those that just drink the tap water without even thinking of the consequences. But how do you tell a community that the water they are using is contaminated with the feces of animals?

Marissa is currently working on this case that will be brought against the government that will challenge the court to provide these citizens with a right to clean water. It has been very interesting to learn with her and to actually speak to the people affected by this issue. It is these simple services that we take for granted in other countries that must be greatly defended in others.

Because the election was yesterday, I spent a lot of time in the last few weeks attending panels and debates between the candidates. It got to the point where I knew them by name and everything. I went to one around women’s issues and it was impressive to have the room completely filled. It was standing room only! I attended another debate that was held in a villa (right near Retiro) and it was outside without any microphones and primarily people from Peru and Bolivia.

I feel very lucky to have had all these varied experiences and there are still many more to come! Every day I am learning more about myself and where I can envision my future.

On the social front, I have a close group of friends from the states and Canada and a few porteños. We go dancing a lot, host dinner parties and enjoy laughing together. I am moving to a new apartment on Wednesday and will be moving in with a girl from Canada who also works at ACIJ and attends law school. We are moving to the San Telmo neighborhood that is best known for its narrow cobble-stoned streets and tango bars. It will be nice to explore a new place, but I will miss my neighborhood in Palermo with its tree-lined avenues and enormous parks.

I hope you are all doing well. I miss getting good hugs from my friends and family and can’t wait to see you all!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An overview of Argentine history

To avoid having you all think that I am just down here enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Argentina, I want to share a bit about Argentina and the context in which I am working. My next blog will be completely devoted to my work.

This is going to be a very brief summary and will not capture most of the nuances in any country’s history----but here goes: the Spanish colonized Argentina, resulting in the majority of their indigenous population being wiped out. From 1860 until 1930, Argentina was a rapidly expanding economy, with an influx of 5 million immigrants and new investment. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, that “meteoric rise” interrupted both the economy and their history of civilian rule. Until 1976, Argentina had several military coups and a mainly sporadic and unstable economy. Perhaps the most famous leader who emerged in those years was Juan D. Peron, who was elected in 1946. Peron continues to be a very controversial figure in this country, with many believing him to be a visionary leader and others who suspect that his intentions were not always so positive. Under his regime, they nationalized the railroads, utilities and promoted industrialization. And of course, by his side was his lovely wife, Eva Duarte Peron. Her charisma and empathy for the people, “el pueblo” garnered an enormous amount of support.

I am going to skip all that occurred between Peron’s two different terms in office and go straight to the “dirty war” and the dictatorship that accompanied that era in history. This internal war was framed y the military as a war between national security and the “subversives”. Using this language, the military launched missions against civilians, mainly leftists, that resulted in the killings of tens of thousands of people and even more that simply “disappeared”. You still see advertisements in the newspaper on the anniversary of these disappearances from family and friends who are searching for their loved ones. It is truly torture to never know what happened to them. I cannot do justice to all that people suffered during these 7 years, but it obviously made an incredible impact on the country and resulted in many intellectuals, Jews, and other marginalized communities fleeing the country. The presidents following the dictatorship failed to punish the military officers involved and it has only been recently that they are being brought to justice.

In 1994, the government created a new constitution, which is quite progressive and based more on positive rights than in the United States where we are only granted negative rights. It mandates that international pacts (such as those from the UN regarding human rights) supersede national law, guarantees civil rights and equality for all inhabitants (not just citizens!). Obviously, this means the government has obligations to provide a great deal for its inhabitants, something that is often not done. However, both my internships work to support and challenge the government to “cumplir” with its promises. It is an exciting time to be in Argentina: they have their first elected female president, who is married to the former president (apparently the people have a thing for power couples), cases are being brought to court about same sex marriage, access to information and transparency is being demanded by the people and they are working to revitalize their economy. The inequality in the country continues to be stark and many people live without access to clean water, transportation and other vital public services. The gap between rich and poor is widening---just as it is in all of Latin America and there is still much work to be done!

Phew….and that was my brief summary. I will put my work information in the next one, but I hope that gave you a picture of the political environment in which I am working.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I have now been in Argentina for more than two weeks and it is hard to condense all that has occurred into one blog posting, but I will try. When last I wrote, I was on my way to Iguazu falls. Situated on the border of Brazil and Argentina, it is considered by many to be one of the most impressive natural wonders in the world. Most of the individual falls have drops between 269ft and 210ft. The largest one, known as la Garganta del Diablo (the Devil's Throat) is 490ft wide and 2300ft long. Clearly it is impossible to take a picture that captures the view, but I tried. I have also attached a video of the falls. Truly spectacular to be there! The falls give you an energy unlike anything I have ever experienced (except maybe some of the falls in Iceland). People kept telling me there wasn’t much water in them right now, and while there was sufficient, it did show that there has been a drought lately and they have not been getting a lot of rain.

I was unable to cross over to the Brazilian side because of visa issues, but I spent the next day sitting in a park outside the pueblo where a river differentiates the borders of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. It’s called “la triple frontera” because of the difficulty of monitoring the area, it has a reputation as a haven for organized crime and drug-running. I didn’t experience any of that, and instead enjoyed walking around the town, talking with some of the locals and resting before heading back to BA (Buenos Aires).

Before I had left for Paraguay, I had arranged to move into a studio apartment rented out by a local actress. The place was slightly run down, but the location was amazing, so I figured with a little cleaning and all of her stuff out, the place would be just fine. Wrong!
When I arrived at the apartment, she had not moved any of her stuff out, hadn’t cleaned and was just completely disorganized. After two days of dealing with this, while sleeping at Marissa’s house (3 blocks away!), she finally left. I am now settling into the apartment, but I don’t think I will stay more than a month because it just has a bad energy for me. Instead I will try to move in with a friend of ours, Kathrin, for the month of July. The apartment madness caused a lot of stress in my life, but I also learned a lot of lessons about moving to a new country and taking time to check out a lot of places before rushing into something because of pressure. To feel better, I got a haircut!

In terms of work, I have decided to work at two different organizations. With Mujeres en Igualdad, I am analyzing and comparing laws around gender violence and creating a report on best practices and methods to facilitate successful implementation. I have also started working at another organization called ACIJ (Asociacion Civil para la Igualdad y Justicia). With ACIJ, I will be evaluating their fundraising strategy (which is surprisingly exciting for me) and working in their Villas program, which works in neighborhoods that are very disadvantaged. I am excited about the variety of work I will be doing and the different energies from the two places. I have already had one week working full-time at both organizations, and next blog, I will post up some of my thoughts about each job.

As I write this, I was supposed to be on my way to Cordoba for a long weekend, but I was taken over by a brutal 7+ hour food poisoning episode. Never have I experienced such pain! I don’t know if it was the food (since others ate the same thing), but I have a fear that the milanesa I ate was actually meat. I guess I don’t really have a choice about being a vegetarian for life!

I hope you are all enjoying your summers and I look forward to hearing many stories!