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!


  1. a) what do you mean you "miss getting good hugs?"
    b) i now see why you refuse to eat freddo ice cream. it's really delicious, though, i swear.
    c) you're going to love san telmo.

  2. Wow, you really seem to be busy with great experiences. Having a good group of friends to share the experience with must be amazing!

  3. Hi Zara, I am a student at Harvard Law school and I am heading down to Buenos Aires to do research on domestic violence next month. I found your blog on Google and I would love to hear more about the work you have done and get reccomendations from you about organizations to visit while I am down there. If you'd be interested in talking to me, please shoot me an email at I would love to hear from you as it seems like your work is very relevant to my project!