After three months of tireless organizing–and coordination across seven countries–the nonprofit Latinas En Poder held their first ever “Transnational Women’s Summit in the United States, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean,” in mid-October.
By Dashiell Allen
The week-long event brought together grassroots activists, NGO workers, and elected officials, from across the region, to speak broadly about the issues facing women and contributing to the root causes of migration.
“We wanted to have something to say about the migration discussion in the [US] by asking women themselves in their countries of origin, why are they migrating?” explained Nitza Segui Albino, director of Latinas En Poder and a founding partner of the Latinx-run PICIS Foundation.
The Northern Triangle, made up of the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, is considered by some to be the “epicenter” of gender-based violence. In El Salvador a 2018 study showed that 13.49 out of every 100,000 women was a victim of femicide, while 67% reported having experienced “some type of violence.”
This is the first summit of its kind that includes both the United States and Latin America, according to Albino, who has worked in Human Rights and development for over 20 years, including as the Head of the Caribbean Unit at the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.
“Many issues that we touched on are human rights related issues that are supposed to be mandates by international conventions, but not many countries implement them as they’re supposed to,” she said.
One such example may be the 1951 Refugee Convention, which states that “a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.”
The summit took place–both virtually and in-person–in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and the US. Small delegations, made up primarily of Latina immigrants, traveled to a different country or territory to meet with civil society leaders. Then, taking advantage of the connectivity afforded by platforms like Zoom, they exchanged thoughts and experiences as a transnational collective.
The difficulties faced by women came into sharp focus during those discussions. One session was attended by the Honduran Representative Olivia Zúniga Cáceres from the opposition Libre party, who just days earlier had been attacked in what was alleged to be an attempt on her life.
“I can’t turn on my camera,” she said, “I have four fractures on my jaw and teeth.” Despite that, she said, “for me it is very important to speak in this event, because it gives power to women just knowing that we aren’t alone.”
Zúniga Cáceres is the daughter of the late Indigenous Lenca Human Rights Defender Berta Cáceres, who’s high-profile death in 2016 led to an Inter-American Human Rights Court case involving a former hydro-electric dam executive who was found guilty of plotting her killing.
That same session was also attended by Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, the first Black and openly LGBTQ woman to lead a political party in Puerto Rico, who spoke to the importance of always maintaining an intersectional lens. “Let’s not forget that laws and rights aren’t neutral…they respond to patriarchal and racist world-views that are still hegemonic within our society,” she said.
From the US, Palmira Figueroa, the Deputy District Director for Democratic Congresswoman and leader of the Progressive Caucus Pramila Jayapal, said, “as all of us here know, the migration system in this country is completely broken, unjust, and it impacts women and children at a much higher rate [than men].”
Everything was laid out on the table during the summit–from migration, to violence against women, to climate change, to land-grabs–and deliberately so, because Nitza Albino and the other organizers see all these issues as inter-connected.
“Not that it surprises me – but women really want to have this kind of connection,” Albino said.
She personally chose to spend her time in Guatemala, the same country visited in June by Vice President Kamala Harris, when she famously told Central American Migrants “Do not come.”
“The Biden administration made a promise that things were going to change for migrants. So far we’re still waiting for, you know, that change,” Albino said.
The summit culminated in an eight page manifesto, demanding “Social transformations in the mark of Human Rights to dismantle the patriarchal, neoliberal, and neocolonial model that sustains [the Americas].”
It discusses equality and discrimination, worker’s rights, education, sexual and reproductive rights, gender-based violence, and the need for equal financing for women-run organizations (women make up only 43% of nonprofit boards in the US, and only 33% of those with incomes of over $25 million).
Born in Puerto Rico, Albino first visited Washington DC to work as an intern for former Congressman Bill Richardson of New Mexico, and has been working to improve Human Rights in the Americas ever since. From when she first participated in student movements at home, she’s always “advocated for all kinds of rights, including a non-colonial system” for Puerto Rico. For her, that means independence.