From Mexico to Liberia: Building bridges for gender justice

By Rodrigo Barraza García | February 4, 2021 | Africa & The Middle East | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity

Editor’s Note: This blog is also available in Spanish.

GFC’s Rodrigo Barraza traveled from Mexico to Liberia to share experiences supporting girls’ empowerment in Latin America. Find out what he learned on his journey.

The campaign for gender justice is a global commitment. Although it must take specific cultural contexts into account and start from a strong community base, it involves all of us.

We all have the enormous responsibility of creating new spaces of justice, questioning and dismantling privileges, and opening channels of dialogue that allow us to build relationships free from violence and discrimination.

At Global Fund for Children, the fight for gender justice is an everyday commitment. It is the constant drive to build a world in which young people of all genders feel safe and valued and have the same opportunities to build full lives no matter where they live.

Since 1997, we have worked with grassroots organizations and local leaders to drive social change through programs rooted in the unique needs and contexts of their communities. Our work promoting gender justice spans more than two decades and includes initiatives designed to change gender attitudes in Latin America, fight trafficking in India, and promote healthy masculinities in England.

In 2020, we started a regional initiative in West Africa, partnering with eight grassroots organizations located in rural areas of Liberia and Sierra Leone. These women- and youth-led organizations are tackling violence against girls in their communities, while empowering girls to exercise agency and autonomy over their bodies and their lives.

Program Manager Rodrigo Barraza poses for a photo with participants of the second regional convening.

Program Manager Rodrigo Barraza poses for a photo with meeting participants during the second regional convening of the Ending Violence Against Girls in West Africa initiative. © Global Fund for Children

Like any powerful social change initiative, this one began with questions:

How do we connect eight organizations, operating in different contexts, and with different agendas and strategies, to work together in a coordinated way for gender justice? How do we transcend specific local actions to create effective movements for social change?

The quest to answer these questions forced us to look inward. We discovered that the best way to respond was to generate new questions. This is the magic of questions: They always help us move forward.

What if we start with ourselves? What if we promote broader cross-team collaborations that allow us to understand gender-based violence as a global problem, and that, at the same time, allow us to share knowledge, promote collaborative learning, fuel advocacy, and tackle root causes?

This is where the adventure begins.

After more than three years at GFC promoting gender justice and the construction of healthy masculinities in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, I received an invitation from GFC’s Africa team to share methodologies and lessons learned at the second regional convening of the Ending Violence Against Girls in West Africa initiative. The main objectives of the December 2020 meeting were to reflect on the processes of construction and reproduction of gender stereotypes and to strengthen youth leadership within organizations.

The invitation was the result of a deep process of internal reflection in which we as a team identified numerous similarities between our regional initiatives and between the efforts that our partners carry out in different parts of the world. It was time to take risks and bet on deeper intercultural dialogues. After all, we are Global Fund for Children – not a sum of disconnected efforts, but a network of collaboration and mutual support.

My first reaction was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. It was my first trip to West Africa, and I knew very little about such a diverse and complex region.

Meeting participants put their hands in a circle.

Convening participants put their hands together. © Global Fund for Children

We soon faced the first challenge: how to travel from Mexico to Liberia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Would it be possible?

It was the words of my wonderful colleague Amé Atsu David, a Liberian-based gender specialist and the coordinator of our Ending Violence Against Girls in West Africa initiative, that restored my strength and hope. “If there is will,” she said, “anything is possible.”

After hundreds of calls to airlines, embassies, and airports, and three COVID-19 tests, three flights, and 35 hours later, the first objective was achieved: I was in Liberia.

It was the first time that Amé and I had met in person, although we had already shared many hours of dialogue and planning via Zoom.

I was so excited! Everything seemed new to me, and I had many questions about Liberia, about the work of our partners, and about the food. Amé was very patient and generous. Thanks to her answers and our daily walks, this new world suddenly started to look familiar. I no longer felt like a stranger.

The planning process for the convening was fun and productive. Amé and I both believe that gender is not a training, but a lived experience, so we developed participatory methodologies – based on games and activities – that would promote deep reflection and translate into action.

Finally, the day came! It was time to meet the partners and begin our four-day convening. The nerves and the questions returned. What if they don’t accept me? What if we don’t understand each other? What if I really have nothing to do here and my experience is useless?

A meeting participants places their hand on drawings of other hands.

One of the activities during the convening involved tracing participants' hands. © Global Fund for Children

Our partners gave me the answer.

With their energy, their good humor, their laughter, their songs, their dance, their creativity, and their drawings, they showed me that I did not have to worry.

We looked at each other, we recognized each other, and we learned to listen to each other. We shared our many experiences, and then we identified the learnings that we could bring to our specific contexts and struggles, and those that we could not.

Most importantly, we realized that something very deep – which transcends borders, languages, and cultures – unites us all: our shared dream of building a better world for girls and young women.

That bond, which now connects us, is impossible to break.

At the end of the meeting, we wrote a letter to girls in Africa, Latin America, and around the world:

Participants in the meeting writing a letter to girls.

Convening participants writing a letter to girls. © Global Fund for Children

You are strong, you are brave, you are special, you are unique, and you are beautiful. Don’t give up. Keep fighting because your family needs you, your country needs you, and the world needs you.

And remember, you are not alone in this fight. We believe in your vision, and we have faith in your dreams.

At GFC, we will continue to build bridges of collaboration between partners and within our team. By supporting each other, listening to each other, and working together, we learn to better support, listen to, and work with and for children and youth across regions.

Now, we know that we are not alone either. We are one heart and one voice, from Mexico to Liberia to the United States – and to anywhere else with committed people who fight for hope, justice, and dignity.

With a focus on rural Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Ending Violence Against Girls in West Africa initiative aims to address the root causes of violence against girls by empowering adolescent girls to advance their rights. This initiative is a partnership between the NoVo Foundation, People’s Postcode Lottery, and GFC.

Header photo: GFC Regional Capacity Development Specialist Amé Atsu David leading an activity during the second regional convening of the Ending Violence Against Girls in West Africa initiative. © Global Fund for Children

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