Why make women suffer twice?
I was moved to write this article after hearing the news reports that in 2011, after the Haiti earthquake, some of the Oxfam staff who were supposed to provide emergency assistance were on another mission – one of sexual exploitation of women.
I live in Medellín, Colombia. I am part of a grassroots women’s organization that works with NGOS, some of whom have had projects funded by Oxfam over the years, although we have not been funded by them ourselves.
What happened at the Haiti mission is very serious. I think sexual violence is a sickness of patriarchy that penetrates deep inside men, and it’s necessary to do all possible to make them change their behaviour.
I also think that throwing so much dirty water at Oxfam is unfair. When I read about this a lot of questions came up for me, such as: why has this news come out now after seven years? In the news they said that the people who committed these abuses were sacked or resigned. I asked myself: who wants to smear the reputation of Oxfam and the work that this charity does?
In Colombia, Oxfam's contributions has improved the lives of hundreds of working-class women, through supporting them to get involved in politics and advocate for their rights.
I don’t know Oxfam up close, but I know some wonderful, supportive women who work there because they’ve been in charge of projects that I’ve been part of.
And I want to say that for 10 years I was part of a network of diverse, grassroots women, La Mesa de Mujeres Populares y Diversas, who defended the right to a decent life in the cities of Cartagena, Bogotá, Medellín and across Latin America in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.
The work that this group does is exceptional. On the one hand, it positions grassroots women’s work in the cities that they live, where they defend the right to life free of violence, through realizing their social and political rights.
Through this work, working-class women in these regions are empowered to change women’s lives. We have learned from other women in Latin America, from the mobilization strategies in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru because, thanks to the work we did, and the support of Oxfam, we could exchange knowledge with women from other countries.
I, a working class woman from the barrios populares of Medellín, had the chance to be part of the World Social Forum in Brazil where we debated the lot of impoverished women in Latin America: how their rights are violated – and more importantly – what collective strategies we have to defend the right to a dignified life.
I have learned that patriarchy is a culture that lurks in all corners. And you transform this culture by making the personal choice to defend women. And no institution, whether public or private, is exempt from the evils of patriarchy.
We must be alert to detect and change this culture. I call on Oxfam not to stop its efforts to carry on working for a dignified life for grassroots women. I call on the governments that provide the resources for this work to be done: please, do not withdraw it. If you do, you will be making women victims once again, and allowing patriarchy to brutalize women by taking away the resources that they need to fight against violence.
And I call on the media, like New Internationalist, that publishes testimonies of women that have got ahead thanks to the economic support of Oxfam, to be balanced and not to speak only of the negative.