In college, I thought the Gender Studies major/minor was unnecessary and only the crazy feminists studied it. I never thought of myself as a feminist, because let’s face it, most people scoff or turn away from the word. In graduate school, I took a course called Gender, Education, and Development. Throughout the class, I wondered why gender had to be a component. I thought, if all children were going to school, that was good enough. I also wondered why every development intervention had to include a gender component. By the end of my program, I knew how important it was to include, and sometimes focus on, women for development.
Now, in Peace Corps Colombia, I have finished twenty months in country. I find myself using a gender lens in many places: in the house, on the street, at school, in youth settings, among others. I did not really focus on gender until my fourth month of service, March 2014, when I joined the Women in Development/Gender and Development (WIDGAD) Committee.
The female Barranquilla volunteers came together to begin a girls group, Quilleras Unidas, and we had monthly meetings in which we invited our female students, grades 8 through 10, to learn about leadership, health, female situations around the world, and more. We were relatively successful with it, but as the school year came to a close, attendance began to wane. We have started it again this school year, with decent attendance for now.
I also became involved with Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) last June. It was by far the highlight of my service at the time, seeing tenth grade girls learn more about themselves and appreciate our work in helping them grow as young women. This year, I am one of the directors. I am focusing on evaluation, too, to ensure such youth development projects are impacting our populations.
In March of this year, I met a woman who works for the Secretary of Women/Gender Equity for the Atlántico department. I have now begun a relationship of observing and potentially supporting what the office is doing for gender equity in the small Colombian department. The Secretary is working with the twenty-two municipalities in Atlántico to adopt a public policy on gender equity for their department. The Secretary’s office has developed contextualized processes for each municipality and travels to work with technical tables (part of the local government structure) to discuss challenges, successes, and lessons learned.
Here I am now, with seven months left of service, though it often feels like an eternity. While nothing is confirmed yet, I plan to extend in some way to continue working on these projects and causes since I do not see myself leaving them behind in November. I began working with Jeimmy Bernal, our Gender Point of Contact, to talk about how to integrate a gender component to every Peace Corps training, how to support volunteers in gender-related projects, which also include boys’ initiatives, and how to strengthen the WIDGAD committee. I hope to set up my current girls’ projects to be more sustainable, evaluative, adaptable, and replicable for current and future volunteers. I also hope to provide support to current and future volunteers in implementing gender projects. I finally hope to continue my connection with the Secretary of Women/Gender Equity and learn more about and support local efforts.
In this small pocket of Colombia, girls and women may be able to strengthen their roles in their machista communities in conjunction with the work of the Peace Corps and local government.