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Chile will write its new Constitution building on a more diverse, plural and female ‘we’

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren24 May 2021

By Camila Cociña, Ignacia Ossul Vermehren and Lieta Vivaldi

 On Sunday 16th May 2021, Chileans elected the 155 citizens that will write the new Constitution. With the country voting in favour of a gender-balanced assembly, with indigenous and minority representation, we discuss what this latest development means for inclusion in Chile and the possibility for change and hope elsewhere.

Elisa Loncon, one of the nine Mapuche women elected for the Convention. Source: https://www.instagram.com/elisa.loncon/

How does a people collectively rewrite the trajectory of its own history? How does a people mobilise its differences to set up their own collective rules? How to write a “we” that has never been spelt out before? The people of Chile have started to recognise and build together their own “we”, one that is female, indigenous, working class, diverse, and is coming from places not usually in the spotlight.

What is happening in Chile?

The elections last weekend saw the latest development of a process of constitutional transformation that was triggered by the simmering social unrest that exploded in October 2019 across the country. As we discussed in a previous blog, in October 2020 Chileans voted in mass to overhaul the 1980’s Pinochet-era Constitution, determining that this new Constitution would be written by an assembly composed exclusively by elected citizens, half of whom would be women.[1] Following this popular mandate, the poll on the 15th-16th May 2021 elected the 155 members of this Constitutional Convention, which will function for the next 9 to 12 months with the exclusive task of writing the new constitution.

New mechanisms for inclusion

The election of the members of the Constitutional Convention is a crucial milestone in a unique transformative national process, which has relied on social mobilisations, territorial organisation, political negotiations and agreements, formal democratic processes, violent contestations, resistance to human rights violation, and thousands of organised actions that have strengthened a collective sense of self determination. During the last decade, several processes paved the road and created the political conditions to promote renewed mechanisms for institutional inclusion. These events included social mobilisations around specific social justice agendas – including feminist mobilisations – as well as an attempt of constitutional change led by the previous central government (2014-2018), which involved self-organised local assemblies, and a rich public debate about potential mechanisms for the writing of a democratic Constitution. These processes only intensified after the 2019 social outburst, with the emergence and raise of countless local political instances in urban and rural areas, including spaces of discussion and co-learning, and territorial and  feminist assemblies, which have’t been waned by the difficulties of the pandemic.

In a post-2019 scenario of political crisis, it became very difficult for the political class not to acknowledge the existing gap between the formal tools of political representation and the deeply democratic and diverse processes taking place across the territory. Then, the institutional arrangements for this Constitutional process agreed between November 2019 and March 2020, were pushed to incorporate several explicit inclusion mechanisms: The gender quota system, designed prior to the election, enshrined a historical agreement for gender parity of 50% both in the nomination of female candidates as in the elected ones; indigenous groups’ representation (7 Mapuche, 2 Aimara, 1 Rapa Nui, 1 Quechua, 1 Atacameño, 1 Diaguita, 1 Kawashkar, 1 Yagán and 1 Chango); and electoral mechanisms to allow independent actors outside political parties to be competitive in the election.

This is positive in at least three ways: First, it mirrors Chilean society more closely – women represent more than half of the population, and for the first time 10 indigenous groups in Chile are recognised and represented in a formal political process; second, it prevents the overrepresentation of white, upper class, heterosexual men that has been reproduced historically in other spaces of democratic decision-making; and third, it will allow the interests of women, indigenous groups and working class people – such as achieving recognition of specific rights that have been historically invisible – to have a better chance of being incorporated into the constitutional text.

Results: A more honest and plural ‘we’

Beyond the pre-established inclusion mechanisms – which had an indubitable effect in terms of the output – the results of May 16th presented a picture of Chilean society that no previous election had ever shown:

  • Gender: As said, the gender quota mechanism was established both in terms of number of candidates, as in terms of elected members – in other words, entry and output This double mechanism was key to encourage political parties to present competitive female candidates. In the National Congress election of 2017, for example, there were already mechanisms to include at least 40% of female candidates, but this only translated into 23% of female representatives elected (see the analysys from Arce-Riffo and Suárez-Cao). By contrast, in this 2021 election women candidates performed better than men, and the correction instruments to ensure parity of output benefited more men than women, with eleven cases in which women had to give their place to their male co-runners in order to ensure equal distribution of female and male. As a result the convention is now formed by 78 men and 77 women. .
  • Indigenous: Indigenous groups had 17 reserved seats, which constitutes an unprecedented mechanism of recognition in the country. The low turnout (22,81%) of indigenous people reflects that there is still a possible distrust in formal political processes and representation through institutional spaces. Among the elected (9 women and 8 men), there are emblematic traditional and spiritual authorities, such as the Machi (traditional healer) Francisca Linconao, who obtained the first majority of the Mapuche votes. Machi Linconao spent nine months in pretrial detention accused of terrorist activities in 2016, and was later acquitted of all the charges in a case that raised international concerns about the violation of human rights of Mapuche people by the Chilean state.

Distribution of seats in Constitutional Convention, after gender and D’Holt corrections. Original image by Macarena Segovia in CIPER, available here – https://www.ciperchile.cl/2021/05/17/convencion-constitucional-mecanismos-de-paridad-redujeron-a-29-la-brecha-de-representatividad-de-las-mujeres/.

 

  • Age: The new Constitution will be written by a relatively young assembly. The average age of the elected members is around 45 years old. Independent elected candidates are the youngest, with an average of 41, while the two traditional rightwing and centre-left coalition are the oldest with an average of 48 and 49 respectively.
  • LGBTIQ+: There are at least 6 (3,9%) self-identified LGBTIQ+ elected members. There were 38 LGBTIQ+ candidates, two of which were transgender candidates but weren’t elected.
  • Class and occupation: The social composition of the Convention is also significantly more diverse than traditional representational bodies. In Chile, as elsewhere, schools are a very clear proxy for class. While in the current Chilean Congress more than half (54%) of representatives come from paid private schools, from the 155 elected members; 49 come from public schools, 40 from publicly-subsidized private schools, and 43 from paid private schools – and most of them are not from traditional elite schools (see infographic here). Likewise, in terms of occupation, even if more than 60 of them are lawyers – as could be expected given the nature of the constitutional body – the second most common occupation is teachers (20) and the rest are distributed in 39 occupations that include activists, accountants, social leaders, environmental scientists, technicians, nurses, designers, journalists, housepersons, and so on.
  • Progressive and grassroots forces: Finally, one of the main surprises of the poll results was the support to transformative and emergent political forces. Conservative ruling parties, under the “Chile Vamos” coalition, got only 37 seats – less than a third of the convention, which would have allowed them to block initiatives within the Convention; this is an important loss compared to the previous performance of the current president’s coalition, even if they collected significantly more financial resources for their campaign; the traditional centre-left parties, “Unidad Constituyente”, got 25 seats; this is less than the 28 seats gained by the newly formed left coalition “Apruebo Dignidad”, which includes the Communist Party and the emerging force Frente Amplio; the rest of the seats are distributed among independent candidates, 27 of which ran for the “Lista del Pueblo”, which grouped activist mobilised during the 2019 social outburst outside the traditional political system. As the table below shows, progressive forces of Apruebo Dignidad, Lista del Pueblo, and the indigenous seats had a significantly larger representation of elected women, with 68%, 67% and 59% respectively.

Constitutional Convention, by coalitions and gender. Image based on information available here, by plataformacontexto.cl

 

Opportunity for a truly transformative institutional process

The plurality of protagonists of this process – which are best captured by the diversity of the 155 elected members – opens up the possibility of recognising claims, struggles, knowledges and ways of living that have been historically rendered invisible by dominant discourses and practices, in a highly unequal and centralised country. At last, we see how a country full of complexities and particularities can be represented in their difference and not only by a white, middle class, heterosexual elite, that for years has impossed an absolute and “universal” thruth leaving behind the rights of so many people.

The possibilities of this transformative institutional process fills many Chilean people with hope. Getting here has only been possible through the articulation of complex processes of social mobilisation with political action. It has required active efforts and mechanisms to give space to the life experiences of sectors that have been historically discriminated against and excluded from traditional political spaces. This moment has been shaped by a combination of formal mechanisms and the grounded efforts of the people of Chile to articulate claims and voices in new and democratic ways. In doing so, it recognises the composition of the country as it is, and as it wants to be. In a context in which sisters and brothers are fighting for their rights and freedoms from Colombia to Palestine to Myanmar and beyond, we see in this unique experience a hope; one that shows the possibility of a change mobilised by the radical construction of a plural ‘we’.

 

[1] Chile will be the first country in the world that writes a Constitution with gender parity. This is possible due to the gender parity system established in the nomination (same number of men and women as candidates), as well as in the election, to make sure that the elected positions are distributed evenly between men and women.

 

Camila (Univeristy College London), Ignacia (University College London) and Lieta (Universidad Alberto Hurtado) are academics from Chile working on women’s rights, feminist theory, poverty, planning and urban equality.

Reflections on Reflexivity 2: Lowering My Gaze

Davina Appiagyei6 May 2021

This is a personal reflection written for the Overseas Practice Engagement module on the MSc Social Development Programme. It was written in May 2020, and is part of the SDP Reflection in Practice series. 

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Recently, I have asked myself several questions; what it truly means to be adaptable, what it truly means to shape a community. I have asked myself about my hasty acceptance of the writing of Heyzer et al (1995) and Moosa-Mitha (2016) who discuss the importance and responsibility of ‘safeguarding’ and ‘protecting’ the ‘rights’ and ‘environments’ of all individuals in development within the global south; but not why I have never considered the ways in which we fail to protect and safeguard the rights of our own in the Global West. These are large questions. Questions we may never find a definitive answer to, but questions which have discussions (not answers) I have gone some way in attempting to articulate. I suggest that we must all (development practitioners, students, lecturers, politicians and world leaders alike-) lower our gaze.

I do want to acknowledge that these past few months have been unprecedented; every single human being is treading lightly on what is completely new and terrifying territory. Not a single person of any tribe or tongue could have predicted or prepared for what was to come, and it has been both humorous and harrowing to look to our world leaders, who also know nothing of how to truly lead their people and guide their countries. We criticised and laughed at Boris for his poor personal presentation when addressing the nation; his delayed reactions, unkempt hair and confused speeches, but we didn’t acknowledge the fear and stress he too must feel. We criticised our institutions for replacement Zoom lectures that were frustrating; hard to engage with and hard concentrate on, but we didn’t acknowledge that for many lecturers, redesigning curriculums in days must be equally frustrating; hard to engage with and make meaningful; even harder to concentrate on.

Many of us have been forced to reckon with ourselves during this time; and in the last ‘Reflections on Reflexivity’ I acknowledged my unconscious bias as a British educated individual. I acknowledged that what informed my desire to pursue a career in development was not any lived experiences or even witnessed experiences, but the unequivocal assumption that I was in a position to make change, and what’s worse – that I would be right to. I asked myself who or what gave me authority to dictate what change in the global south should actually look like, and quickly realised that the truth laid in the remnants of colonial white supremacy of knowledge and understanding, of social organisation, and of life. I realised that I had tapped into a certain western privilege within education and academia which meant that I would be “legitimated” more automatically; respected more immediately (White, 2002.) But what has been odd recently, is that I have realised that this very system that put me on my (personally perceived) pedestal, is not as wonderful as it so wants us to think. Yes, I am British-born, raised and educated. My passport is red and my accent is ‘London’, but I am still and will always be Black. I am ‘British’ but I am really actually Black-British. I am still pushed into certain literal and metaphorical categories and queues before I am even able to speak or ‘prove’ (which I shouldn’t have to do in the first place) that I am worthy of respect.

I immediately think of Fraser and of Sen. Arguably, I am a fully integrated member of society. I have full and abundant citizenship rights. I can exercise freedoms that many cannot, and I have the capabilities and agency to live my life the way I want to in several ways. I am seen and I am ‘recognised’ in the political sense and ‘represented’ in censuses and visible statistically, but not in the real felt sense. It struck me quite funnily that I had been reading these texts through an ignorant rose-tinted lens. I was reading to inform my research on others without realising I was processing what also pertained to me. My mind was cast to ‘Rethinking Recognition’ by Fraser (2000) and how she argues that “misrecognition is neither a psychic deformation nor a free-standing cultural harm but an institutionalized relation of social subordination.” When reading about the Hegelian concepts of mutual recognition beyond economic and material representations of distribution I never thought about myself. When reading about “the stigmatizing gaze of a culturally dominant other’ I wasn’t thinking about my personal experience UK and when I read about “internalised negative self-images” I never thought about my own.

I realised that in class I hardly ever spoke up unless I was certain that my contribution was worthy. This is not because I am inferior, nor unqualified, but because I knew that mediocrity was not acceptable for a black person. I know that we need to work ‘twice as hard to get half as much’ – a truth I had so deeply internalised that I never even thought to acknowledge it. I started to realise that the power dynamics Alex referenced in class when speaking about communities and their defining and dividing categories impacting participation; were the very same power dynamics we needed to address on home soil.  I realised that the distorted identity and “internal self-dislocation” suffered by the “de-esteemed” groups Fraser references was as true for me as for those in (what I perceived to be) suffering groups in other parts of the world.

This is why I realised that I need to lower my gaze. As much as I am still desperately passionate to see and contribute to justice all over the world, I must first reckon with the injustice at my doorstep. I have raised my head and stretched my neck to question the inequality far across the pond, but have completely shut-out the immediate and pressing inequality right at my feet. Before I write and research about making meaningful social impacts in the countries we don’t inhabit or know, why can’t I start with the communities around me? Why are there more white and western writers on African policy and sociology than Africans, and why do more Africans yearn for a white or western education? The absurdity of it all has led me to question my gaze and exactly how I can lower it in a meaningful way; just as Fraser (1995) asks how the eclipse of a “socialist imaginary” centred around exploitation and distribution can shift to acknowledge a “political imaginary”; one centred around identity and culture.

Our final term was focused around producing a research proposal (through virtual meetings over Whatsapp and Zoom calls in the UK) to be implemented for real in Indonesia. I found irony in our classes’ constant criticism of “predetermined development solutions and narrow terms of consultation” (O’Meally, 2014). I thought about how our strong disapproval of the “instrument of domination” (Pottier, 2003) that is the ‘external and western “criteria of relevance” (Mosse, 2004) was exactly what we had succumbed to. The idea of a ‘remote’ engagement was uncomfortable in its premise. I googled the words definition too; ‘distant’ or ‘having very little connection with or relationship to’ and grew even more concerned about how I never thought that part of learning adaptability and reflexivity is accepting the truth that circumstances unduly shape outcomes and distort intentions. The truth is that although it is slightly problematic, the only other choice would have been to completely cancel or postpone the engagement as a whole. Postponing or cancelling the engagement would have been like postponing a whole communities’ real and lived experiential issues because it was ‘inconvenient.’ We cannot treat our work like some kind of entertainment show or display. We cannot put real livelihoods on pause and revisit them when we are ready or more comfortable to.

In my groups case, we addressed Tenure Insecurity in Sungai Jingah; a riverside community in Banjarmasin, Indonesia. My role in particular was to read around inclusive citizenship and how it can be enhanced within our context. I read around the inclusionary and exclusionary lenses of social interaction (Lister, 2007; Holston 2008); the ways in which a felt sense of belonging strongly influenced identity (Kabeer, 2005; Bose 2013.) I read about the ways in which “forms of injustice are rooted in hegemonic cultural definitions deny full personhood to certain groups” (Kabeer, 2005) and how those threads of injustice are then woven into policy. I then thought about the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide; how more and more people have begun to wake up to the “social subordination” (Fraser, 2000) and oppression of racism and white supremacy. How people are waking up to the disgusting truth that more black people are targeted and incarcerated, less black people have the economic and social opportunities of their white counterparts and how at a crazily disproportionate rate, more black people are dying from COVID-19 than any other group. I read on Fraser, Kabeer (2005) and Lister (2007) on how inclusive citizenship constitutes wealth creation and distribution and political engagement; how it affects the development of social capital and “participatory parity.” I realised that whilst this was useful for shaping our research proposal in Indonesia and engaging with how tenure insecurity is so closely related to identity, belonging and citizenship, it was a very apparent reality I too was facing in my own community and when engaging with my own life and experiences. And whilst my issue may not be about securing tenure rights in order to enhance and sustain a livelihood, it is about claiming my fundamental human rights and equality in order to create and sustain a livelihood.

I know that I will continue to work to build sustainable and well-informed solutions to the issues of disparity and inequality faced in other parts of the world, but I will also make an equal and parallel effort to dismantle the institutional structures of oppression where I am. I will make a more deliberate effort to talk about race. I will work with my community to “jettison internalised negative identities and to produce a self-affirming culture of our own” as Fraser says. I will work on building platforms on which individuals can co-learn and co-produce knowledge to cultivate change and I can’t stop until it happens. I know, just as I’m sure many other black people right also know – that this is an EXHAUSTING task. I can admit to shutting off from realities and ignoring pain to be able to fully function. I can admit to multiple breakdowns over the past few weeks over the sheer force and size of the issue we are challenging (and the fear and hopelessness that comes with acknowledging it.) Even in this very moment, as I write these very words, I am tired. I am tired of fighting for equality; which should never be a debate in the first place. I am tired of literally having to chant that I matter? I am tired of being tired, but what this course has taught me as a development practitioner, what learning adaptability and reflexivity has taught me, and what this pandemic (which came like a rudely awakening slap in the face) has taught me, is that we can never give up. We can never turn our backs on injustice just because it is uncomfortable. I said in the last reflection that I don’t have the answers or solutions for change and for shifting discourse, and the truth is that I still don’t, but one thing I know – is that it starts with this. It starts with speaking; for our lives begin to end the moment we become silent on the things that matter’ – Martin Luther King.

 

 

Sources:

  1. Bose, P., 2013. Individual tenure rights, citizenship, and conflicts: Outcomes from tribal India’s forest governance. Forest Policy and Economics33, pp.71-79.
  2. Fraser, N., 1995. From redistribution to recognition? Dilemmas of justice in a’post-socialist’age. New left review, pp.68-68.
  3. Fraser, N. (2000). Rethinking recognition. New Left Review. 3. p107-118.
  4. Heyzer, N., Riker, J. and Quizon, A. (1995). Government-NGO Relations in Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan Limited.
  5. Holston, J., 2008. Citizenship made strange. Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil, pp.3-35.
  6. Kabeer, N., 2005. Introduction: The search for inclusive citizenship: Meanings and expressions in an interconnected world. In In N Kabeer (ed.) Inclusive Citizenship: Meanings and Expressions. London: Zed, 05..
  7. Lister, R., 2007. Inclusive citizenship: Realizing the potential. Citizenship studies11(1), pp.49-61.
  8. Moosa-Mitha, M., 2016. Reconfiguring citizenship: Social exclusion and diversity within inclusive citizenship practices. Routledge.
  9. Mosse, D. (2004). The Goddess and the PRA: local knowledge and planning. Cultivating Development. An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice, pp.75-102.
  10. O’Meally, S. (2014). The Contradictions of Pro-poor Participation and Empowerment: The World Bank in East Africa. Development and Change, 45(6), pp.1248–1283.
  11. Pottier, J. (2003). Negotiating Local Knowledge: an Introduction. Negotiating Local Knowledge : Power and Identity in Development, pp.1–29.
  12. White, S. (2002). Thinking race, thinking development. Third World Quarterly, 23(3), pp.407–419.

 

About the SDP Reflection in Practice series.

The module social development in practice places emphasis on building a reflexive lens to co-learning, and research practice. This is captured through individual and collective reflections, which offer a space to develop an ethical practice attentive to the complexity of social identities, relationships, and power structures inherent in any social change programme. 

Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Sierra Leone and Indonesia

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren3 December 2020

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren (DPU), Nina Asterina (Kota Kita) and Hawanatu Bangura (SLURC)

Abu on the football pitch at Thompson Bay (Sierra Leone). Photo Credit: Angus Stewart

The 3rd of December is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. We reflect on this year’s theme “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World” through DPU’s research “AT2030: Community led solutions” in informal settlements Sierra Leone and Indonesia.

While we know that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, there is no global data specifically on informal settlements. After conducting the rATA WHO survey last year, we found that 26% of people surveyed across four informal settlements in Indonesia and Sierra Leone experienced at least ‘some difficulty’ in seeing, walking, hearing, remembering and/or communicating. One third lacked the assistive products they needed. Despite being a major issue, disability tends to be overlooked in urban and development research.


The impact of COVID-19 on disabled people in informal settlements

 Between April and August this year, we conducted a research on the impact of COVID-19 on older people and disabled residents in Sierra Leone and Indonesia. Distinct effects emerged, including loss of livelihoods, reduced educational opportunities, unequal access to government support, limited social life and poorer access to information. Moreover, COVID-19 recovery narratives emphasising the importance of ‘healthy bodies’ have exacerbated these difficulties and increased stigma towards disabled people (see video with stories from Indonesia here).

However, the research also highlighted how community-based organisations in the global South are stepping in to provide support, whether through life-saving resources, accessible information, new spaces for disabled people’s participation, or innovative collaborations in the city. As has been the case across the world, the pandemic has brought into focus the experiences of those more vulnerable members of the community.

Making disability visible in communities

 While research in informal settlements has tended to overlook or co-opt the voices of disabled people, making disability more ‘visible’ has its tensions. A first step that challenges rather than reinforces stigma has been to engage with the specific lived experiences and priorities of disabled residents.

 An important output of Phase 1 of the research has shown that the methods, implemented through grassroots organisations with a participatory approach in the communities, can facilitate an emerging collective and positive identity around ‘disability’. Many participants who did not initially want to refer to themselves as disabled, started to see disability as a more positive, political, group identity.  Providing spaces for disabled residents to participate in the wider decision-making process of low-income communities, can further foster solidarity between disabled and non-disabled members of the community.

The leadership of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) have themselves felt influenced in the way they approach disabled residents. As FEDURP’s country head said in a speech during last year’s Celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities: “We knew that disability was a big issue, but we hadn’t engaged with it, neither including disability in the discussion nor working with disabled residents specially. FEDURP is now committed to working with people with disabilities.”

Coming together to foster a political identity around disability

Mural Painting in Pelambuan (Indonesia). Photo credit: Kaki Kota

International Day of Persons with Disabilities has become an important event in giving visibility to disability in the two communities in Sierra Leone. This year, Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, FEDURP and Dr. Abdulaya Dumbaya (a disability activist and Head of the Springer Trust Fund) will be reflecting on how COVID has affected disabled people, discussing disability rights and sharing stories of resilience in the communities.

In Pelambuan, a low-income neighbourhood in Banjarmasin, Indonesia, the celebrations this year led by NGO Kota Kita will be marked with the painting of a mural on the theme of “Community participation towards an inclusive neighbourhood (kampung)”. The mural aims to translate community voices and aspirations — particularly those with disabilities — and build collective identity through an inclusive approach.

As a physically impaired male participant in Pelambuan said, “I am really happy to participate in this mural project. I like the idea of turning our aspirations into images on the wall. I hope this activity can inspire other neighbourhoods to strengthen their community participation.”

Through making disability more visible, and engaging with tensions that may arise, the research has been able to create space for disabled people to take a shaping role in the community. Recognizing days such as this is an important step in continuing to do so.

 

The action research project “AT2030 Community Led Solutions” is led by DPU’s Julian Walker as part Global Disability Innovation Hub’s programme and funded by UK Aid.

A historic victory for gender equality in Chile

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren2 November 2020

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, Lieta Vivaldi & Camila Cociña


On Sunday 25th October, Chileans voted to overhaul the Pinochet-era Constitution. The country also determined that this new Constitution will be written by an assembly composed exclusively by elected citizens, half of whom will be women. In doing so, Chile will become the first country in the world to write a Constitution with gender parity.

Manifestation in Santiago for International Women’s Day, 8th March 2020. Galería Cima has recorded from above all events in Plaza Dignidad since October 2019. Source: Galería Cima


The protests and the overall claim for Dignidad

On 18th October 2019, simmering social unrest in Chile exploded. Led by students in response to Metro ticket price rises by 30 pesos, protests spread across the country, exposing deep inequalities and systemic injustice. “No eran 30 pesos, eran 30 años” (“It wasn’t 30 pesos, it was 30 years”) became a mobilising slogan for protesters that claimed several demands to address multifold inequalities experienced by the majority of people.

The protests were framed, in broad terms, as a response to the failure of the neoliberal system. While economic and social policies have for decades led to successful macro level indicators, the model has deepened disparities in terms of distribution, political power and representation. The consequent human rights violations and police brutality that followed the protests, only deepened the sense of injustice. Issues of representation of ethnic groups and women in politics played a key role, as well as demands related to pension, health and environmental issues, summarised under the overall claim for Dignidad (Dignity). The demands for change were so fundamental, wide-reaching and varied, that less than a month after the beginning of the protests the political establishment agreed on setting up a route map to write a new Constitution through a democratic process. One year and one week later, the country was finally given the chance to vote on whether or not to write a new Constitution, and if so, who would be responsible for writing it.

 

A new Constitution to address entrenched social inequalities

The results were overwhelming. With a large turnout across the country, 77.6% voted in favour of a new Constitution. Crucially, 78.99% determined that it should be written entirely by elected citizens, half of whom will be women, rather than both citizens and members of parliament.

How and why did a mobilisation driven against inequalities find an answer in a claim for a constituent process? And what do the results and the nature of the body in charge of writing the new Constitution tell us about the fight for gender equality in Chile and Latin America?

When social mobilisations and violence exploded in October 2019, many figures from the establishment claimed that they ‘didn’t see this coming’; while the statement seems to project some humility, it is hard to comprehend it in a country where the depth of inequalities and the ‘social gap’ had been widely researched and socialised by organisations from diverse sectors, as encapsulated by the report “Desiguales” (“Unequals”) published by UNDP in 2017. Even more, mobilisations and unrest against injustices in different arenas had grown exponentially: while students’ mobilisations for public education trembled the political agenda in 2006 and 2011, the last decade witnessed the emergence of massive protests around gender and indigenous rights, environmental concerns, and pension issues.

Looking back, what all these mobilisations had in common was a call for what the 2019 mobilisation coined as ‘dignity’. From a social justice perspective, the distribution aspect of inequality was only one of the elements at stake: claims for representation and parity participation have been central to all of them. While some legal reforms were introduced in each of these sectors as response to citizens’ claims, the impasse for structural change seemed to be always the same: the burden of the Constitution written during the dictatorship in 1980, and its limitations to adapt to the claims of the majority while concentrating power in a few. Unsurprisingly, the demand for a new Constitution had been growing as a significant claim by civil society groups and new political forces (who in 2013 articulated the campaign #MarcaAC), and also by authorities that led President Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018) to launch a first attempt of re-writing a democratic Constitution through self-organised local assemblies (for an assessment of that process, see here).

But the demand wasn’t just for any new Constitution, or any constituent process. While significant in itself, the overwhelming triumph for writing a new Constitution is as telling as the nature of the politics of representation of the body that will write it up. This representation was determined in March 2020, when parliament voted for any citizen-based constitutional convention to be gender equal, following long-term demands for gender parity. In voting for a new Constitution written exclusively by elected citizens, Chile has voted to become the first country to enshrine the equal representation of women and men in the writing of its Constitution.[1]

Poster in Santiago’s street. It reads: ‘Against all violence: neoliberal, clasist, racist and patriarchal. We resist to live, we fight to transfor”. Source: Ignacia Ossul, December 2019.


The key role of feminist movement(s)

 Chile has historically been one of the most conservative countries in terms of gender rights in Latin America; abortion was only made legal in 2017, and only on three grounds. Yet, it was the first country in Latin America to establish a Department of Women’s Services in the 1990s which became the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality in 2016. During Michelle Bachelet governments (2006-2010; 2014-2018) many progressive gender bills were put forward, such as the newly passed abortion law.

Progress has not been limited to legislation. Many believe last year’s extended protests were made possible by feminist groups, who played a key role both in setting the agenda and in mobilising people on the street. The 2016 feminist protests of “Ni Una Menos (‘Not one [woman] less’), in which thousands of women in Chile and across Latin America marched to demand the end of gender violence, is also seen to have prepared the ground for last year’s mobilisations. In May 2018, the “Chilean feminist revolution” took place. It began in universities with demands for equal rights in higher education, to stop sexual assault and to incorporate feminist theories and authors to the syllabus. These demands expanded later to different social inequalities caused by patriarchy and neoliberalism that were an important precedent to feminist demands from October 2019 onwards.

Many of the most enduring, widely shared and internationally recognised images of the protests were based in feminist demonstartions, whether through the performances of Un violador en tu camino” (‘A Rapist in Your Path’) by art collective “Las Tesis” and the giant textile banner “Borda sus Ojos in which women from across the country embroidered an eye to denounce police brutality implicated in 359 recorded eye injuries. The banner was subsequently displayed this year in the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

During December 2019, thousands of women gathered in the national stadium in Santiago to perform “Un Violador en tu camino” (‘A Rapist in Your Path’) by Las Tesis. Source: “Las Tesis, Estadio Nacional” by pslachevsky under CC license.

The outcome of the plebiscite directly reflects the demands of feminist groups for more representation and parity in political participation in decision-making spaces. This victory has already set a precedent for representation and inclusion of other groups, which has been taken forward by a bill to include additional reserved seats for indigenous peoples in the writing of the Constitution, currently being debated in parliament.

The details of the referendum results, at this early stage, seem to manifest some of the intersectional claims for recognition and participation that had been raised over the last decade: first, the social gap and concentration of power of elites resistant to change was manifested by the fact that the option against the new Constitution only won in the three richest districts of Santiago,[2] which has led some to say that “No eran 30 pesos, eran 3 comunas” (“It wasn’t 30 pesos, it was 3 districts”); second, in a country where participation in elections had systematically decreased since the return of democracy in 1990, this plebicite witnessed an increase of turnout particularly in poor and segregated districts, such as La Pintana and Puente Alto in Santiago, with increased turnout from young urban groups, who were consistently seen as the most politically disaffected group; and finally, looking at the districts in which the support to the new Constitution was the highest (with triumphs of around 90%) they tend to be small towns or rural areas that had been at the eye of the storm of environmental conflicts over the last years, led by local communities against extractive companies. All in all, these results speak of a hope for change precisely from those groups that have been marginalised from the narratives of development and growth that have dominated the country, and women are not the exception.

Mapuche and Wiphala flags in manifestations, which took place every Friday in downtown Santiago. Source: Camila Cociña, December 2019.


The Constitution from a feminist perspective and how it could bring about change

In terms of gender equality, the opportunities in the Constitution for social change are immense, both in the recognition of women in decision-making spaces, as in the potential for a gender approach to the creation of the Constitution. Although the equal participation of women and men in the Constitutional convention alone does not guarantee feminist outcomes and the protection of women’s rights, particularly considering the wide diversity of age, class, ethnicity and political beliefs of the women involved, this remains a significant step towards improving gender representation in the country.

Before 2015, Chile had one of the lowest rates of female parliamentary participation in Latin America: 15.8% compared to the average of 27.8% in Latin America. It was only after the introduction of a new law on gender quotas for 40% of the candidates, that the percentage of elected women increased to 23%. This is still lower than the average in the region and far from Nordic countries, that have 42.5% of female representation in parliament.

To think a Constitution from a feminist perspective is much more than including an article establishing that men and women are equal before the law. Formal equality has proven to be completely insufficient in order to really guarantee women’s and sexual diversity rights.

On the one hand, feminist demands involve expanding rights that have been historically made invisible, such as domestic and reproductive labour, sexual and reproductive rights, and the prohibition of discrimination; additionally to incorporate gender perspective to rights that are already in the constitution, such as health care, education, and so on. On the other hand, a gender perspective implies questioning the politics of representation of diverse identities, knowledges and claims; then, writing a feminist Constitution means also to ensure a mechanism to distribute and negotiate power, ensuring that multiple and often marginalised identities are recognised in decision-making processes in the long term.

The constituent process is an opportunity to expand this approach to all government bodies: the equal representation of men and women in each state branch and institution is also crucial to ensure the inclusion of women and sexual dissidence in processes of decision making. Furthermore, Chile has subscribed and ratified international treaties with commitments to ensure several women’s rights, and the way in which the legal system includes them to then apply them by national courts, is also a matter of the constituent discussion. Last, the state should have specific obligations and duties in order to incorporate gender perspective in public policies, judicial decisions and national legislation.

Even if the outcome of the Constitution is unknown, the decision to vote for gender parity of those writing the Constitution is an enormous win for Chile, and a model for democratic politics of representation and parity participation around the world.

Graffiti in Santiago. It reads: ‘No fear / It was sadness, it was rage, it was us / New Constitution!’. Source: Camila Cociña, December 2019.

 

[1] Additional to these three districts (Las Condes, Lo Barnechea, Vitacura), there were another two small districts where the option against the new Constitution won (Antártica and Colchane, both of which are rural areas with military bases), making it to a total of 5 out of the 346 districts of the country. For a complete analysis of the territorial distribution of the results, see “Cartografías del apruebo: notas de trabajo”.

[2] Even if similar processes in other countries have ensured minimum quotas for women as candidates and elected representatives, this will be the first case in which the final composition of the body in charge of writing the new Constitution will be actually composed by 50% women. For more information, see “Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation”.

 

Ignacia (University College London), Lieta (U. de Chile and UAH) and Camila (University College London) are academics from Chile working on women’s rights, feminist theory, poverty, planning and urban equality.

Disability, inclusion and cities: can COVID-19 trigger change?

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren8 October 2020

COVID-19 has exacerbated the disadvantages experienced by people with disabilities in low-income communities of the global South. Here, the authors explain how urban community organisations are offering effective short-term support and inspiring inclusive longer-term strategies.  

DPU, Indonesia (Kota Kita)

Disabled people living in informal settlements have been not only affected by the general consequences of the pandemic, including decreasing support from carers, family and friends and difficulty accessing basic supplies, but also by the threat of increased stigma and exclusion.

However, some community organisations have mobilised: providing life-saving resources, accessible information, new spaces for participation and innovative collaborations. In doing so, they have also mapped strategies for inclusive urban development.

Taking a local look at disability

While we know that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, there is no global data specifically on informal settlements.

An indication of scale can perhaps be gleaned from the WHO Rapid Assistive Technology Assessment conducted in 2019 as part of our research project, Community-led solutions: Assistive Technologies in Informal Settlements, led by The Bartlett Developing Planning Unit and Global Disability Hub.

The assessment surveyed 4,000 people across four settlements in Banjarmasin, Indonesia and Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was carried out by our partners, Indonesian NGOs Kaki Kota, Kota Kita and the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC).

We found that 26% of people surveyed experienced at least ‘some difficulty’ in seeing, walking, hearing, remembering and/or communicating. One third lacked the assistive products they needed.

In April-August this year, the project expanded to include a response to COVID-19. Kaki Kota and FEDURP took the lead, providing support and conducting interviews with disabled people in informal settlements to understand the impact of the pandemic.

Disproportionate impacts

We found that disabled people often saw the impacts of COVID-19 as similar for disabled and non-disabled residents, such as loss of income and poorer access to basic supplies.

However, distinct effects on people with disabilities also emerged, including:

  • Loss of livelihoods: Many disabled people depend on begging or practice trades which are greatly affected by social distancing (for example, masseurs with visually impairments in Indonesia). Lower income decreases access to food and water.
  • Reduced educational opportunities: In Indonesia, parents of disabled children have found it difficult to adapt to online teaching, having to modify learning materials and cope without sign language support.
  • Unequal access to government support: In Sierra Leone, only recognised disabled groups received support, overlooking many residents of informal settlements. In Indonesia, the bureaucracy around government cash transfers has been a barrier for many disabled people.
  • Limited social life and capacity to organise: In Indonesia, social distancing has seen activities for disabled people cancelled; many cannot afford internet access to join online alternatives. Risk of infection has also limited the chances for disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to meet or provide in-person support.
  • Poor access to information: In Indonesia, signage about social distancing is not accessible for people with a visual impairment, causing even more difficulties for using public space.

COVID-19 response narratives emphasising the importance of ‘healthy bodies’ exacerbate these difficulties and increase stigma towards disabled people. Social distancing rules have limited offers of help from the public, such as support crossing the street.

Local leadership reaches the right people

Community-based support is vital in a pandemic, to manage information and resources and control the outbreak. However, we found that disabled people tend to have less contact with community leaders, lower levels of participation and limited use of communal spaces, meaning they are liable to miss out.

A targeted approach is needed, and community organisations are well-placed act: FEDURP and Kaki Kota delivered water, food parcels and face masks (transparent masks for sign language users) to people with disabilities in low-income communities.

Both organisations built accessible sanitation points and distributed coronavirus information in a range of formats; Kota Kita’s accessible support guide met the disabled community’s demand for better information on COVID-19


After COVID-19: inclusive urban development?

As urban development organisations – rather than disability specialists – FEDURP and Kaki Kota could situate action on disability within wider initiatives. This ensured that disabled people can access mainstream community resources, as well as raising awareness of their needs across sectors.

As locally embedded organisations, Kaki Kota and FEDURP could make quick decisions and corroborate community-level data. Kaki Kota shared georeferenced disability data with city authorities, enabling support to reach disabled people. They also formed a disability-focused consortium of community-led organisations and NGOs, supported by the Government of Banjarmasin.

The community-led responses discussed here show how local organisations can play a vital part in knowledge production about disability in informal settlements, not least by engaging with DPOs and disabled people directly as research collaborators. They also show how community organisations can scale up inclusive interventions by collaborating with other organisations and authorities.

There is a real opportunity for this thinking to transcend the current crisis and place disability at the centre of an inclusive approach to development, both for and with disabled people.

 

This blog post has been written with valuable inputs from Julian Walker (DPU-UCL), Hawanatu Bangura (SLURC), Yirah O’Conteh (FEDURP), Nina Asterina (Kota Kita) and Kesuma Anugerah Yanti (Kaki Kota).

 

This blog post was originally published on the IIED website on 1st October 2020.  The authors wish to acknowledge the support from the IIED team for this piece.

 

“AT2030 Community led solution” focuses on how disabled and older people in informal settlements in Banjarmasin (Indonesia) and Freetown (Sierra Leone) are able to achieve their aspirations, and the role that Assistive Technologies play in their strategies to do so. Julian Walker is the Principal Investigator. The project is part of AT2030 programme, funded by UK Aid and led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub.

A Half Full Beirut

Samia Khan15 March 2019

One person is forcibly displaced every two seconds in the world and over twenty-five million people are now refugees worldwide as result of conflict.[1] They journey seeking settlement in a place where they can secure livable circumstances.

Humanitarian literature on refugees is clear to distinguish the types of protection at play; UNHCR for example determines that the three ways to protect a refugee is to rehabilitate, repatriate or resettle.[2] A majority of refugees in the Arab world who have fled failed states and armed conflicts have resettled in neighbouring countries and still continue to do so.[3] Throughout the past 70 years, Palestinian refugees have been through several phases of vulnerability and displacement, affected by their immedeate struggles, but also by a shifting set of tensions: deterritorialisation, urban pressures and geo-politics. Arab host countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and ‘temporary’[4] camps set along the West bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza strip[5] lack the proper infrastructure and regulatory frameworks to integrate refugees which complicates resettlement processes. With the arrival of refugees as a result of the Syrian crisis of 2011[6] existing refugee camps and displaced communities in host countries such as Lebanon started to overflow by a population of over another million[7], and reached a crisis point that needed immediate attention.

Recent events show how political unrest impact the plight of refugees. Lebanon was without a stable government for nearly two and a half years before starting to form cabinet structure very recently.[8] This political unrest suspends efforts for urban planning which tackles the influx of refugees. The economic infrastucture is still recovering from the conflicts the country witnessed, particularly the 1975 – 1990 civil war and the armed conflict of 2006 with Israel. Though efforts were made for public and social reconstruction, economic growth was insufficient and large areas were bought by private sector for real estate development to help the Lebanese economy thrive.[9]

The extended political crisis resulted in an eminent economic downfall. Tax reforms, suspension of bank loans and Lebanon’s debt of $81 billion being the third largest in the world, soared real estate prices.[10] According to a recent conversation with a local activist, Elza Seferian, “ the ‘unliveability’ of Beirut is like a Pandora’s box for me. The price of renting a room in Beirut is as costly as Paris. Affordable housing is scarce.”.

With refugees from neighbouring countries moving in at an exponential pace, existing refugee settlements such as those for example in Sabra, Shatila and Akkar are overpopulated and in dismal living conditions.[11] The lack of space in temporal arrangements pushes refugees to the capital to rent spaces in tower buildings, that were abandoned by private sector initiatives. ‘A half full Beirut’ is a notion that is derived from the complex situation in Beirut where private sector developers have run out of money and are unable to complete real estate projects[12] leaving Beirut’s skyline half empty. However, these abandoned spaces have been vacant on the formal market for years, yet are rented out to refugees albeit on extortionate rates[13], hence are more often than not ‘half full’.

 

Refugee laundry seen hanging outside of abandoned building project
half inhabited by refugees in Hamra district, Beirut
Photo courtesy: Elza Seferian, 2017

 

Beirut is lacking in affordable housing for middle-income and this historical issue for locals has now extended and become part of the refugee experience.[14] This shows a fracture in the market. With the relocation of refugees from camps to capital, they become an active part of the urban population and drivers of the formal and informal real estate market.

State led initiatives to mitigate refugee housing issues has been quite limited in Lebanon. It is one of the countries that has not signed the 1951 International Convention for Refugees which was established in by UNHCR. The convention’s core principle “asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom…”.[15] The civil society, though unstructured, is the major agency of support for refugees alongside non governmental organizations.[16] A detailed mapping of Civil Society Organizations and their scope in Lebanon can be found here: https://eeas.europa.eu/archives/delegations/lebanon/documents/news/20150416_2_en.pdf

Refugees rely on housing arrangements made by CSOs and NGOs such as ACTED[17], URDA[18], ANERA[19], DRC[20] and more.[21] They are ready to take on any opportunity for housing they can secure. Without formal paperwork, documentation or legal rights, refugees become susceptible to exploitation. The real estate black market thrives on premium rental rates, making refugees susceptible to forced evictions and other forms of abuse that pose no repercussions on the landlords.[22]

Though private sector developments are abandoned, they stand on land bought by private companies from the government, stripping the government from authority over majority of Beirut’s land or the real estate projects. In light of these conditions, the following conclusions can be considered:

  • Government can strenghten legal frameworks and negotiate alternative uses for abandoned spaces to provide more liveable urban solutions to locals and refugees
  • Since CSOs and NGOs possess the role of primary support to refugees and low income households with housing, agency can be established between the private sector and civil society to liaise with discontinued developments and create affordable housing schemes
  • Refugee integration schemes can be enhanced by CSOs and NGOs by creating a rigid framework of lease documentation to closely monitor the resettlement process

There is a pressing need for housing in Beirut yet an abundance of uninhabited spaces. Perhaps if the underlying opportunity within these spaces was recognized and organized, a solution could arise for the housing crisis that affects millions.


Samia Khan
is a graduate of the MSc Building and Urban Design program at the DPU


Additional Resources:

http://portal.unesco.org/en/files/27465/11162415081UNDP_NGO1.pdf/UNDP%2BNGO1.pdf

https://openmigration.org/en/analyses/syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-still-reluctant-to-go-home/

https://website.aub.edu.lb/ifi/publications/Documents/policy_memos/2017-2018/20180318_you_can_stay_in_beirut.pdf

https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/publication/8889.pdf

https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/45502

http://aub.edu.lb.libguides.com/c.php?g=276479&p=1843038

http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@arabstates/@ro-beirut/documents/genericdocument/wcms_240130.pdf

http://blog.blominvestbank.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/In-Depth-Review-of-the-Lebanese-Real-Estate-Sector-in-2015.pdf

http://website.aub.edu.lb/ifi/Documents/op_ed/20190208_sjc_op_ed.pdf

http://reporting.unhcr.org/node/2520

http://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/UNHCR%20Lebanon%20Operational%20Update%20-%20January%20-%20June%202018.pdf

https://www.alnap.org/system/files/content/resource/files/main/20150907-noplacetostay.pdf

http://www.undp.org.lb/communication/publications/downloads/intgov_en.pdf

https://www.daleel-madani.org/civil-society-directory/cooperative-housing-foundation

 

 

 

[1] https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

[2] https://www.unhcr.org/50a4c17f9.pdf

[3] https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/03/29/refugees-and-displacement-in-middle-east-pub-68479

[4] Refugee camps are often thought of as a temporary solution under the assumption that refugees will one day return to their home countries. These camps have now evolved to urban slums as the influx in the Middle East increases.

https://www.ft.com/content/b27283ce-ed29-11e8-8180-9cf212677a57

https://unhabitat.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/From-Refugee-Camps-to-Urban-Slums.pdf

[5] https://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees

[6] https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War

[7]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321779706_Syrian_Refugees_in_Palestinian_Refugee_Camps_and_Informal_Settlements_in_Beirut_Lebanon

[8] https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2018/12/21/why-lebanon-struggles-to-form-governments

[9] http://www.lb.undp.org/content/dam/lebanon/docs/Operations/LegalFramework/UNDP%20Lebanon%20PS%20Strategy.pdf

[10] https://www.apnews.com/d7faca02c8024f8da57ffa6987500e2d

[11] https://www.thenational.ae/world/shatila-s-population-unknown-as-palestinian-refugee-camp-bursts-at-seams-1.178993

[12] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-02/beirut-s-ghost-apartments-are-haunting-the-economy

[13] https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/reportsfeatures/the-refugee-effect-on-lebanese-rent­

[14] http://www.executive-magazine.com/opinion/comment/charting-a-path

[15] https://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10

[16] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/pubs/BeyondIslamists-Lebanon-4.pdf

[17] https://www.acted.org/en/countries/lebanon/

[18] http://urda.org.lb/en/details.aspx?ID=1718

[19] https://www.anera.org/where-we-work/lebanon/

[20] https://drc.ngo/where-we-work/middle-east/lebanon

[21] http://joannachoukeir.com/List-of-NGOs-in-Lebanon#.XHKhsZMzaRs

[22] http://www.executive-magazine.com/business-finance/real-estate/renting-on-lebanons-black-market

Crafts as a way into politics: Chilean arpilleras

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren22 February 2019

Co-authored with Trinidad Avaria

What are the role of crafts in political processes? Can crafts be a tool for individual or collective awareness? Can they open space for social justice for women? In December, we undertook an explorative workshop in the city of Santiago to answer some of these questions with women making Chilean arpilleras (burlap in Spanish), which are tapestries embroidered with scraps of recycled fabrics. The workshop was organised by the Chilean NGO Casa del Encuentro of Fundación Santa Ana that works with low-income women and their children, providing practical work skills for women and a safe space for children to play.

The motivation of the workshop came from our personal experiences. Having both grown up in Chile, we were familiar with the craft and we were aware of its political connotation during the military regime (1970-1980s). Over the last decade, we have both worked with low-income women in the country, looking at the cross section between gender and class, in a country that remains mostly unequal, segregated and machista. And this specific craft was an interesting entry point to discuss women’s participation in social and public life.

“No compromise on justice”
Image: The William Benton Museum of Art


The history

 The first arpillera workshops were organised in 1974 by the Catholic Church, Vicarate of Solidarity and the Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared. Concerned by human rights violations and women’s struggles, they supported a space for women to grieve and help each other, through sewing and embroidery. Thousands of low-income women participated in workshops making arpilleras, the motives of the embroidery was a way to denounce the cruelty of the dictatorship. As such, the production and sale of the arpilleras was clandestine. They were sold abroad, and were bought by people in exile as well as left-wing European supporters.

More than 200 arpillera workshops in low-income neighbourhoods across Santiago, transformed the private and feminine nature of sewing and embroidery into the production of “political objects” that both challenged the dictatorship (Grindon & Flood, p. 11, 2014; see also Krause, 2004), and provided emotional relief for women (Frank, 1996). In doing so, they strengthened their political awareness by socialising with other women in the same situation (Baldez, 2002), and encouraged each other to take action. Ultimately, the making of arpilleras was a way for many women to engage with politics (Boldt & White, 2011).

Women

In Latin America, it has been widely documented by feminist researchers that women’s political participation has been initiated by their roles as mothers (Baldez, 2002; Chaney, 1979). This does not necessarily challenges their traditional gender roles, but instead uses it to become active in the public sphere (Classic examples include, Madres de Mayo in Argentina and Ollas Comunes in Chile).  After the dictatorship, women were expected to go back to their traditional roles, as they no longer existed in a state of exception. However, what happens when democracy is institutionalised, but women remain in a position of inequality? What spaces to participate exist and how can they access those spaces? Almost 40 years have passed since the official arpillera workshops closed. However, low-income women in many parts of the country continue meeting to make tapestries, passing the knowledge from one to the other.

Fundación Santa Ana works in two of the same areas where these workshops started decades ago. In their experience, they see how the role of women is still shaped by deep gender and class inequalities. These are manifested in low employment opportunities and strong reproductive responsibilities, leaving them bound mostly to the private space of the household and with few spaces to socialise, beyond with their families. This does not only have consequences for the women themselves, but also to their children. As the NGO has documented, women confronted with the loneliness of raising children mostly on their own are likely to transfer that frustration to their children. It is in this context that the workshop emerges, as a way of understanding how women from the same area are able to play a different role and take up other spaces of socialisation and engagement beyond the home space.

The workshop

Workshop in Santiago de Chile exploring the meaning of arpilleras today, December 2018. Source: Authors

In December of 2018, we ran a workshop with Renca’s arpilleristas (women that make arpilleras) and women from the area. The arpilleristas have worked in the craft for 20 years, and lived through the dictatorship (although many would not discuss it), continue making arpilleras to sustain their households, and say that arpilleras “saved their lives” from depression, separations and other afflictions. During the workshop, they taught the craft and shared their stories.

From the workshop we can see that contemporary arpilleristas’ work does not necessarily target a specific political event, however it remains an important activity as a source of income – selling finished items in Chile and abroad – and as a space to socialise and support each other. Although living conditions are radically different to those during the dictatorship, the growing economic inequality of the country, paired with a machista culture and conservative gender legislation, keeps low-income women in a challenging position. As such, the three aims of arpilleras during the 1980’s – (i) economic support, (ii) a space to socialise, and (iii) create awareness and become effective leaders, remain relevant today.

References:

Baldez, L.(2002), Why Women Protest: Women’s Movements in Chile, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Boldt, K., & White, T. (2011). Chilean women and democratization: Entering politics through resistance as Arpilleristas. Asian Journal of Latin American Studies, 24(2), 27-44

Chaney, E. (1979). Supermadre: Women in politics in Latin America. Austin TX: University of Texas Press.

Grindon, G., & Flood, C. (editors) (2014). Disobedient objects. V&A Publications.

Krause, W. (2004) The role and example of Chilean and Argentinian Mothers in democratisation, Development in Practice, 14:3, 366-380.

The William Benton Museum of Art (2018). Accessed: https://benton.uconn.edu/exhibitions/arpilleria/images/

 

Ignacia is a Research Associate at UCL and has a PhD in Development and Planning (UCL). Trinidad is the director of Casa del Encuentro at Fundación Santa Ana and has a Master in Psychoanalysis (Universidad de Chile).

Cultura Negada: Reflecting on Racialised Urban Violence and Practices of Resistance in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Federica Risi9 July 2018

Prominent academic debates around violence in the city most often seem to be concerned with how structural economic and political drivers codify violence into the urban space. To appropriate Harvey’s terminology, with how urbanisation by dispossession – in other words marginalisation – of urban groups contributes to increasing crime rates and gangs-related violence. It is only in recent decades that ‘institutional’ abuse  – perpetrated by police forces under the blind eye of the Hobbesian state – as well as more structural forms of selective and – most often –  race-based violence are confronted[1]. And yet as a category of analysis of the urban, violence emerges as a causally less linear and more nuanced construct.

Measurability of course is an issue and deserves being questioned. What indicators are taken into account when defining urban violence? What types of data are considered? Who collects them? How are they read and  disseminated? The action research conducted in Salvador, as part of the MSc Social Development Practice overseas field trip, has evidenced how municipal – and national – indexes reflecting increasing rates of homicides as related to organised-crime, robbery and drug trafficking overlook important aspects of the realities of violence lived everyday by vulnerable urban communities. Vulnerability on its end also warrant a discussion on methodology. Drawing from the Participatory Action Research (PAR) tradition in urban planning, vulnerability is here understood as socially (re)produced and as related to asset ownership (Moser, 1996; drawing on Sen, 1981) and the capacity to cope with shocks; whether environmental, economic, political or all of these combined.

In this blog series, I undress some reflections on how Salvador, the blackest city of Brazil, epitomises such a nuanced appreciation of how violence is urbanised, that is, how it becomes spatially codified in the city;  and in turn is itself an agent of urbanisation. Graffiti[2] is offered as an entry point for the analysis.

 

Aesthetics of inequality. View of Saramandaia, Salvador, Brazil.


In context..

The Bahian capital is a city of contrasts and embodies the clash between the gentrifying force of globalisation as it manifests in the built environment and locally grounded social action reclaiming identity as forgotten history. Identity as ethnicity. Identity as part of the rich African heritage of Brazil and its institutional neglecting. As Kwame Dixon (2016) aptly elucidates in his book Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, the country abolished legal slavery in 1888, but provided no institutional mechanism to free former slaves from racial discrimination. Almost a hundred years later, when Brazil returned to democracy in the 1980s, burgeoning blocos afros[3], black social and political movements revendicating Afro-Diasporic consciousness emerged to seek racial justice and equality, to claim their ‘right to the city’ as a right to live and exist in the city.

 

Despite having one of the oldest and largest black populations of the Americas, Salvador has never elected a black mayor nor has the Bahian State chosen a black governor to date (Dixon, 2016). And, if urban violence seems to follow the racial and spatially confined pattern of poverty in the city, with residents of majority black, poverty-stricken neighbourhoods being more likely to be killed than their better-off, white neighbours (Chaves Viana et al, 2011; Huggings, 2004); institutional memory as well as public opinion as shaped by the media exert more intangible, narrative forms of violence on these vulnerable groups. These narrative forms of dispossessions become activating agents of citizenship and identity revindication from within the city.

“Minha Vida” – My Life. Graffiti in Barra District, Salvador, Brazil.


I wanted to talk about cultural syncretism, I ended up taking about violence…

It would be amiss to document and account for the richness and multitude of cultural manifestations in Salvador without engaging with how these are shaped by violence in the city, and how, in turn, they impinge on it.

A graffiti tour of Ladeira da Preguiça, literally “Slope of Laziness” helped vividly retrace the institutionalisation of racialised violence in Salvador. In the 17th century, the road, which historically connected the port area[1] (cidade baixa) to the upper city[2] (cidade alta), was used by African slaves to carry goods on their shoulders while being shouted at “to move faster” (Moreira, 2018). With the development of more easily accessible routes in modern[3] Salvador, the Ladeira and its people were abandoned by public power. The area, as a result of its narrow streets and vacant warehouses, slowly lent itself to organised crime and, most recently, to drug-trafficking.

In recent years, the stigma[1] of violence and insecurity –which is almost as damaging as violence itself– eventually provided the perfect justification for the municipality to push forward a privatisation project that was meant to regenerate –and gentrify– the area. Local moradores (“residents”), however, joined forces and, in 2013, collectively mobilised to rehabilitate the Ladeira, reconstructing collapsed mansions and painting decaying façades with colourful graffiti referencing the African Diaspora; exposing Brazil’s institutionalised culture of exclusion as a means to call for the city to remember and for reclaiming their housing rights. A vibrant cultural centre was founded by residents themselves, Centro Cultural “Que Ladeira é Essa?”, to breath a culture of resistance through art. By calling attention to Brazil’s rich African heritage, the centre offers classes of  capoeira, afro-samba dance and percussions as well as painting and graffiti workshops. Cultural offerings then become an element of aggregation, an instrument for articulating a powerful counter-narrative to deconstruct stereotypes.

To say that civic action is a reaction to violence would be simplistic and necessarily reductionist. Nevertheless, the tradition of survivalism through art and symbolism[2] has permeated the urbanisation of Salvador as emerging from the oppression and structural exclusion of black populations within the city (for a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of Brazilian popular culture read: Assunção, 2003).

 

Reflecting on causality

On the one hand, local practices of resistance rooted in the syncretism of Salvador’s condemned[3] neighbourhoods are an unapologetic expression of resistance to the stereotyping narrative of the city. A violent narrative of violence; one that lexically and imaginatively reduces majority black-afro-descendant communities to urban realities of degradation, crime, and carencias (“deprivations”) . A narrative that is reminiscent of colonial oppression and a revivified vehicle of neoliberal domination.

Capoeira dancer. Graffiti in Pelourinho.

 

On the other, it is precisely because of this concatenated cycle of oppression-marginalisation that non-white urban communities find themselves more exposed to violence stemming from their surrounding, built as well as non-built, environments.

 

In this direction, there is room for critical urban theory to expand its scope to explore how violence – and even more so the fear of it – shapes city making. In fact, if market forces and political discourses are key determining factors in the urbanisation of violence, in its physical as well as narrative manifestations, violence too influences how people (re-)claim the city, how they move inside the city, use collective spaces, build or adapt their houses.

 

Our co-investigation with local urban collectives and social movements in Salvador has revealed how urban violence and fear thereof shape the social production of urban habitats and community practices around culture, housing, use and production of collective space and mobility. Further considerations and findings from our field trip will be collated in a report produced with our partner, the research group Lugar Comum, and published in the coming autumn.

 

References

Assunção, M.R. (2003). “From Slave to Popular Culture: The Formation of Afro-Brazilian Art Forms in Nineteenth-Century Bahia and Rio de Janeiro”. Iberoamericana, Vol.3, No.12, pp.159-176.

Dixon, K. (2016). Afro-Politics and Civil Society in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. University Press of Florida.

Huggings, M.K. (2000). “Urban Violence and Police Privatization in Brazil: Blended Invisibility”, Social Justice, Vol.27, No.2, Issue 80, Criminal Justice and Globalization at the New Millennium (Summer 2000), pp. 113-134.

Manco, T., Lost Art, and Neelon, C. (2005). Graffiti Brasil .Thames & Hudson: London.

Moreira, W (2018). Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

Moser, C.O.N. (1996). “The asset vulnerability framework: Reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies”. World Development, Vol.26, No.1, January 1998, pp.1-19.

Moser, C.O.N. (2004). “Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap”. Environment and Urbanization, Vol.16, No.2, October 2004.

Resident. (2018). Interview. Graffiti Tour, Ladeira da Preguiça. 09/05/2018.

Sen, A. (1981). Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

 

Federica Risi is the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the MSc Social Development Practice. Herself a DPU graduate from the MSc Environment and Sustainable Development, Federica has experience in participatory action research focused on urban risks. She is also a Research Associate at the Pastoral Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), where she is conducting an investigation on South-South Cooperation between Peru, Brazil and the Horn region.

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[1] Residents reported that identifying as black and “saying you are from the Ladeira, it’s like admitting you are a criminal”, which “[…] stops you to get a job and continue education” (Resident, 09/05/2018).

[2] Capoeira  and Candomblé rituals for example, emerged as practice for African slaves to compensate for the loss of identity (Assunção, 2003, p.160).

[3] Carnival Blocks.

[4] In the sense of being publicly perceived as unsafe and rife with violence.

[5] Where Portuguese ships would arrive to deliver materials and goods, historically, the part of the city dedicated to commercial activities.

[6] Here, were established the main government offices and churches; also where the aristocracy resided.

[7] Referring to the end of Portuguese colonial domination and Brazil’s independence in 1822.

[8] In the October 2004 No.2 Issue Vol.16 of Environment and Urbanization, with the article ‘Urban Violence and Insecurity: an Introductory Roadmap’,  Caroline O.N. Moser draws on Galtung to extend the notion of violence as going “beyond situations of overt brutality to include more implicit forms such as exploitation, exclusion, inequality and injustice” (p.6). In this sense “…violence [can be] built into the structure [of society,] …show[ing] up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung, 1969 cited in Moser, 2004, p.6).

[9] Drawings and writings scribbled or painted through a variety of techniques on public walls; “a vehicle for [the excluded] of the city to assert their existence and self-worth, and to do it loudly” (Manco et al., 2005).

 

Refugee reception and housing practices in Greece. Notes from a workshop on inclusiveness and development planning.

Carlotta Fontana Valenti23 May 2018

This is a short story from a contested place: the town of Kilkis, located 40 km’s away from the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) where, as in other rural areas in Greece, the economic crisis brought unemployment and depopulation. For its crucial location at the crossroads of migration routes, Kilkis has also been at the centre of the tragic events during the so called refugee crisis of 2015. Over a mid-November night that year, Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia decided, almost simultaneously, to close their borders and modify the conditions of entrance to those in transit towards Northern Europe.

Thousands of people found themselves stranded in a small village of 154 inhabitants. This is how Idomeni became the largest unofficial camp in Greece and remained such for more than a year. In the absence of international aid, activist and citizen groups were active in the area since the summer of 2015 providing basic assistance to those living in the camp or in transit. Lately in 2016, with the arrival of international agencies, two military-run camps were formed in the surrounding areas of Kerso and Nea Kavala hosting 4.000 persons each.

Camp accommodation remains an inadequate and hopeless response to displacement, generating exclusion and contributing to increase physical and social segregation between residents and newcomers, preventing any form of encounter and reinforcing the narrative according to which displaced population constitute a threat to the local community. The unsustainability of the situation became evident to a group of local volunteers from Kilkis who soon started mobilising local resources to find a better solution to the crisis. Capitalising on hospitality practices rooted in the history of the country (Greece welcomed displaced population after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and from the Republic of Turkey between 1918 and 1930), families in Kilkis opened their doors to refugees.

It is in this context that the OMNES volunteer association started operating to implement a three-folded pilot project based on: 1) providing dignified housing for vulnerable people; 2) facilitating trust-building between residents and newcomers through the creation of an inclusion centre; 3) supporting income and skills generating activities to promote social and economic development starting from local resources. OMNES’ holistic approach to inclusion recognises home as the core of physical, social and psychological wellbeing of its occupants (Dayarante & Kellet, 2008) with the belief that, by providing dignified housing solutions, people in transit become better able to find security and trust toward collaborating with the local community.

As part of a small initiative funded by seeds research funds of DPU and embedded onto a longer term action research engagement with local governments and NGOs operating in refugee housing provision and hosting practices in Southern Europe, I embarked on a visit to Kilkis during an international workshop/Urban Laboratory held in Thessaloniki between 12th-15th of April. The initiative, ‘Planning for Inclusive Cities’, aimed to bring together Mayors, Institutions and CSO from Greece and others cities in Europe to open a cross-country dialogue  and a learning exchange platform on inclusive practices.

As the Vice Mayor of Athens argued during the workshop “Inclusion is our future challenge and cities are the ‘battleground’”; but “cities” another participant argued “cannot be left alone in dealing with inclusion. The task requires the broad involvement of state actors and the effective coordination of multiple stakeholders”. Across the discussion panels, from both politicians and local actors, Kilkis’ pilot project was regarded as the paradigmatic case for the promotion of inclusion through local development.

Nevertheless, despite its successful outcomes, some questions arose. What is the long-term sustainability of a pilot project if it remains an isolated case within an atomised landscape of accommodation practices? How could the Kilkis project be scaled up at country level, and what is the potential applicability in cities such as Athens or Thessaloniki that present a completely different social fabric? What became clear during the three-day workshop is that Greece is working toward the decentralisation of reception, accommodation and housing for refugees, as part of a national effort to reconcile inclusion and development.

The challenges to think differently the city, its design and its management in this era of increased migration and movement are great therefore calling for more action research to experiment solutions and policies that could inform new visions for city. The workshop, and the alliances that emerged with locally active NGOs as Help Refugees,  OMNESPhiloxenya International, Greek Universities such as Harokopio, Crete and University of Macedonia in Thessalonikki , and the involvement in European pilot projects for Urban Integration (UIA Urban Innovative Actions)  will be conducive to the development of a research proposal aligned to existing DPU projects led by Camillo Boano, Giovanna Astolfo and Ricardo Marten, including Refugee Cities and Borders and Camps; it also capitalises on and creates further opportunity for the annual BUDDcamps and the DPU SummerLAB 2018 in Athens.

 

Carlotta Fontana Valenti is a recent graduate of the MSc In Building and Urban Design in Development. Trained as architect, she works between Italy, Portugal and France. Recently, her research interest focus on migration studies, reception practices and the relationship between society and space.

Subjective realities in divided Nicosia

Camila Cocina Varas13 December 2017

As part of the DPU summerLab workshop series, the workshop “Inhabiting Edges” took place in Nicosia, Cyprus, during September 2017. The workshop was led by Camila Cociña and Ricardo Martén (DPU) and Silvia Covarino (Girne American University), and aimed to explore and critically understand the history and politics of Cyprus’ borders, navigating the complexities of the last divided capital city in Europe. In this series of two blogs, Bethania Soriano and Sharon Ayalon -participants of the workshop- reflect on subjective realities, developmental disparities, and regeneration processes in divided Nicosia.

Part 1 can be viewed here.

By Bethania Soriano and Sharon Yavo Yalon

This post draws from our DPU SummerLab experience in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, which is considered the last divided city in Europe.

The SummerLab provided the opportunity to challenge preconceived notions of the oversimplified reality that centres around a dichotomised conflict pitting Greek-Cypriot against Turkish-Cypriot. By engaging with the materiality of the city and its social networks, we attempted to uncover nuances and complexities in a context of deep-seated division, territorial and politico-ideological contestation. We were interested in framing division and its impact from the standpoint of the actors that cross Nicosia’s visible and invisible thresholds in an attempt to meet the ‘other’, forming unlikely allegiances to build a sense of identity that bridges fault lines in their landscape. Thus, we conducted fieldwork, collecting different perceptions on belonging and uncovering particularly situated narratives.

Exploring both sides of the divided city, we recognised that the agents who productively engage with difference were mostly young artists, not only from the expected majoritarian ethnic groups, but from an international expatriate community that congregate in Cyprus. As a young musician told us:

“My father is Cypriot; I grew up in Colombia, Chicago and then in Cyprus.

People from all over the world live here. This is Cyprus – we are cluster-f***ed.” 1

Thus, we discovered shared spaces of ‘encounter’ such as the two twinned cafes, Hoi Polloi in the north, and Kala Kathoumena in the south, as the gathering places of the artistic community on each side of the buffer zone – areas emblematic of tolerance and sought-after common ground. The informal interviews conducted in these spaces highlighted, in the evocative and charged language used by the interviewees, the importance of capturing voices beyond the well-known register – those whose stories will not feature as officially promoted, sanctioned narratives.

Location of café’s and interviewees routes showing southerners crossing to the north and vice versa.

When asked to comment on the prevailing mentalities from people in the north and south, a young British-Filipino singer articulated her thoughts in a candid way, disconcerting in its lyrical tone:

“… the south is a ‘rock’, whereas the north is like ‘air’.

In the north people are chaotic, relaxed, middle-eastern… when we play, they dance and smile back at you. In the south people are serious and philosophical, more reserved and conservative… and really scarred by what happened.” 2

Reflecting on the young woman’s comments, the south is portrayed anchored in the solidity and rigidity of the perceptions and views of its inhabitants; in the reaffirming and reinforcing of memories and official narratives of occupation and suffered injuries.

“In the cover of all school notebooks, there are these slogans – ‘Do not forget’. The school books are all branded, so we are constantly reminded…” 3

Whereas in the north, the rarefied and ephemeral re-imaginings of identity and belonging are expressed in the ways people wish to highlight and confront narratives of prejudice:

“People from the south think in the north you can get raped… they [Turkish-Cypriots] will steal your children.” 4

Motivated by the need for political survival against the longstanding embargo and isolation from the international community, many Turkish-Cypriots are interested in carving a sense of collective Cypriot identity that includes southerners. Even if that involves selective forgetting of past injuries, some are choosing to ‘draw a breath of fresh air’ in order to survive:

“…it is important to move from a narrative of  ‘This is who we are’, to a narrative of ‘We do not know who we will become’… ” 5

However, across Nicosia diverse voices can be heard. Alongside few Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots who dared to venture beyond rigid confines and shed some of the values of their communities, others were conflicted:

“Now I realise that I only had half a childhood – I only met half the people I could have… only made half the friends… only had half the experiences.” 6

“I tried to cross with my friend and we walked all the way… but when my friend saw Ataturk [statues] and all the [Turkish] flags he got scared and turned back.” 7

“Before the [Ledras Street] crossing, people never thought the south was so ‘close’ – there was an initial shock; then the shock of all the similarities!” 8

Hoi Polloi in the north, and Kala Kathoumena in the south.

In conclusion, the quotes reproduced above testify to the individuals’ ingenious capacities to articulate, negotiate, ascribe meaning and ultimately either normalise or contest the ‘everyday’. Their struggles for belonging co-exist with the need to develop and affirm an identity, breaking away from any restrictive ‘cluster’ to reclaim their place in the city. Whilst examining Nicosia’s overlapping, subjective realities, we learned that identity is not necessarily bound by place, but it is relational and situated – it can only be conceived in regard to the material reality of place and its sustaining social networks. Identity is also fluid and in constant transformation.

 

  1.  Young Colombian-Cypriot man who grew up in the United States and Cyprus; artist.
  2.  Young British-Filipino woman, in Cyprus for the past 17 years; living in south Nicosia and working as an artist and singer in north Nicosia.
  3.  Young Greek-Cypriot aspiring artist, living in the south and frequenting the artists’ cafés in north Nicosia.
  4.  Turkish-Cypriot male student, commuting from Kyrenia/ Girne into north Nicosia.
  5.  Dean of Architecture, Design & Fine Arts at Girne American University, Assoc. Prof Dr Mehmet Adil,

addressing participants of the SummerLab.

6 and 7.  Young Greek-Cypriot man, living in south Nicosia and often visiting the north side.

  1. Mayor of North Nicosia, Mehmet Harmancı, addressing participants of the SummerLab.

 

Bethania Soriano is an independent researcher based in London, particularly focused on the politics of contested spaces – the ways in which people negotiate the environments they inhabit, adapting, reclaiming and ultimately shaping space by virtue of their everyday practices. She studies areas with long-established ‘geographies of difference’, in contexts of conflict transformation, and where minorities strive for spatial justice and social inclusion.

Bethania trained as an Architect and Urban Designer in Southern Brazil and holds an MSc in City Design and Social Science with distinction, from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

Sharon Yavo Yalon is a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, based in Haifa. Her research enfolds the linkage between art and urbanism and the manner in which local identity, spatial (in)justice and social (ex-in)clusion are forged or  deconstructed by artistic activity in cities. More specifically, she focuses on artistic interventions in contested cities and the ways in which they affect and are affected by urban segregation patterns and boundaries. Sharon is a practicing architect and artist, graduated summa cum laude BA and MSc in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion IIT.