Thursday, October 28, 2010

U.S.-Mexico Border Women Will Hold Hunger Strike in DC

Ten women whose families have been impacted by the violence, poverty and unemployment engulfing the Ciudad Juarez/El Paso border region are launching a hunger strike in front of the White House at noon on Monday, November 8. They want an end to the federal government’s abandonment of their families and communities.

The fasting group will arrive on November 8 and remain through the 17th. The hunger strike will begin on November 8 at 11 a.m. with an opening ceremony. The women will remain onsite until 6 p.m., and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day thereafter. A daily program will take place from noon to 1 p.m. highlighting different themes related to poverty, women, and border issues. We will add the thematic schedule to this blog when it becomes available. You can support these brave sisters by accompanying them at the White House and/or by signing their online petition to Congress urging our leaders to support the kind of development initiatives in the border region that could improve the lives of the people there.

The women, who live in El Paso and have family members on both sides of the border, are part of the nationally recognized grassroots organization, La Mujer Obrera, one of many organizations on the U.S.-Mexico border committed to long term development.

Historically, border communities have suffered the brunt of federal decisions from international trade policies such as NAFTA to the ‘war on drugs,’ which impose economic and social policies that benefit corporations and have long term negative repercussions at the community level. Border women are angry that their livelihoods, communities, and futures have been written off as “unfortunate but necessary casualties” of these policies.

While national and international conversations about the border focus on short-sighted security initiatives, border women have been creating long term security through grassroots economic development, despite tragic personal experiences with border violence in Ciudad Juarez and profound poverty in El Paso. But those accomplishments and future plans are now at profound risk because of a lack of federal investment.

Nationally, billions have been authorized for jobs benefitting mostly men in the construction industry and border security, primarily benefiting private security firms. U.S. transnationals operating maquilas and those seeking to profit from the violence and poverty in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico are reaping millions. Yet the border communities struggle with 10%+ unemployment, and even higher rates for women workers.

“Real community starts within the community itself. By investing in the places where we live, work, and play, we reduce the chance that people will have to leave seeking economic opportunities or resort to illegal activities to make ends meet. This is true for both sides of the border,” said Ana Gomez, one of the women participating in the hunger strike.

Border women are pursuing their own version of security and employment, on both sides of the border. The women have created their own jobs and community development alternatives amidst the dire conditions.

Their work at La Mujer Obrera in El Paso is one example. Through a daycare, restaurant, festival marketplace, and a network of artisan women in Mexico, the women are creating genuine border security.

And like La Mujer Obrera, there are other communities of low income women on the border, who want to create jobs, change lives, and work to break the cycles of poverty and abuse, restoring pride and dignity in their neighborhoods.

Despite their innovative approaches, women on the border have been excluded from plans for the border’s development and security.

Although the border region bears extreme poverty and underdevelopment, funding streams exclude border women’s development efforts because they are not “in a third world country.” In addition, the established planning and development infrastructure in the U.S, such as local and regional government agencies, Community Colleges, School Districts, and Public Housing Authorities, does not include women workers.

For these reasons, La Mujer Obrera in conjunction with women workers’ development organizations on the border seeks an immediate investment to:

1) Organize and help convene a national summit to identify public-private initiatives in support of a Border Development Commission and border women’s efforts to restore their communities from the damaging effects of international trade policies, global economic restructuring and the current “war on drugs” raging on the border.

2) Provide urgently needed economic sustainability support for women and their organizations whose development achievements and future plans are now in jeopardy because of the lack of investment and political support for border women’s development programs.

The women are fighting their hardest battle ever – sustainability of their initiatives in the weakest U.S. economy in decades and a future being designed that does not include them.

The conditions of women on the border are urgent, and La Mujer Obrera and other women’s organizations on the border are demanding justice and equity now.

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