Mónica Mendoza is a 24 year-old psychologist and women's rights defender from Colombia.
She works with the Corporation for Solidarity Development (Corporación Desarrollo Solidario - CDS), carrying out actions to prevent violence against women and promote the autonomy of their bodies by raising awareness on their sexual and reproductive rights. CDS also promotes psychological well-being and offers psycho-legal support and training to victims of gender-based violence.
Recently, Mónica joined the ILC Gender Expert Network, a safe space for ILC members to come together and share knowledge, skills and resources on gender justice.
To better understand how gender-based violence and land rights are interconnected, we talked to Mónica about her work and her expectations for the ILC Gender Expert Network.
What is gender-based violence?
Especially in rural areas, Latin American societies are still deeply patriarchal, leading to widespread machismo and high rates of violence against women - between 17-53% across the continent. In Colombia, 40% of women have experienced gender-based violence, with indigenous, Afro-Colombian and displaced women being the most vulnerable.
“Often with gender-based violence, women don’t realise they are victims of violence,” explains Mónica. “For example, they may be consistently insulted by family members, but they do not see this as a form of violence against them. For many women, violence is so normalised that they stop seeking even their basic human rights which they are owed, such as the right to access and own land”.
How can land rights prevent gender-based violence?
Despite being responsible for providing 45% of household food, women across Latin America own only 18% of the land in the region. Mònica is convinced that equal access to land is a crucial step into combating gender-based violence. According to sources, women who own land are up to 8 times less likely to experience domestic violence and over 60% less likely to experience long-term domestic abuse by their partner.
“I believe that a critical point of tackling this is to implement public policies that promote productive initiatives and land title equally between men and women,” says Mònica. “This is because having equal access to land would help tackle the gender gap that exists between men and women, which contributes to machismo and violence.”
How is CDS changing things?
CDS’s work is about promoting empowerment and ultimately increasing women’s understanding regarding their rights. They make sure that women are aware of what violence is and how it manifests, educating them on physical, patrimonial, and psychological violence. They also provide legal aid to allow women to make a claim for their rights when they are victims of violence.
The organisation has taken on board women’s participation with ‘Women’s Thursday’ where groups of women meet every Thursday for open discussions, creating a feeling of empowerment amongst them. The inclusion of female leaders/focal points allows a ‘role model’ style of learning too where women can learn from those in leadership positions to help them recognise their rights. All of this creates a support network for women who are suffering from violence.
“Men are also becoming more involved within the programme,” explains Mónica. “Initiatives at the community level are clearly changing patterns of violence and machismo within society”
Working at the family level and with men has also been key to ensuring changing patterns of behaviour for children so they do not grow up with misogynistic attitudes which may lead to violence being normalised.
“I am excited to be part of the ILC Gender Expert Network and particularly about being able to listen to others' experiences globally in regard to gender justice,” explains Mónica. "It will strengthen the work of my organisation and enhance my female empowerment and knowledge on the subject.”
Building upon Mònica' s experience and knowledge, as well as on the wide expertise of the members of the ILC Gender Experts Network, ILC can grow as a gender just coalition. We trust that across the ILC membership there is a treasure of wisdom that we want to share with other members. This is why we created this network of gender experts and we will keep featuring them through dedicated blog posts while organising learning events for and with the Gender Experts.
The interview was conducted by ILC gender intern Solomon Hayes