In the first of a series of profiles of new Rise Up Fellows engaged in our Gender Equity Initiative, Marcela García Vázquez shares her experience finding renewed inspiration and empowerment through Rise Up’s Advocacy and Leadership Accelerator in Mexico.
Before attending Rise Up’s Advocacy and Leadership Accelerator in Mexico, my organization, New Moon, mainly focused on facilitating autobiographical writing workshops for women in prison in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. We helped women share their stories and feel empowered through the process. Each year, at the end of the workshop series, we compiled their stories and published them in a book distributed free of charge to other organizations and government agencies. When women left the prison, some of them became involved with the activities of New Moon and participated as workshop facilitators or provided advice to women wanting to regain their freedom.
Our strategy has changed in a tremendous and radical way since I joined Rise Up. Before joining Rise Up, New Moon worked at a low-level without having a larger economic impact on women. Rise Up pushed me to mobilize my community and strive for larger-scale change and because of that, the New Moon team has gone from a 4-person organization to a 17-person organization, with many exciting new plans in place.
I am inspired to work with women prisoners because they are the most vulnerable and socially marginalized in our society. As women, they live complicated lives and suffer from discrimination inside and outside the prison. Most of the women who are currently in state prisons in San Luis Potosí were born and raised in poverty and faced gender-based violence. Additionally, as women prisoners they lack rehabilitation programs, which are critical to preventing recidivism and supporting reintegration into society after incarceration. In contrast, men’s prisons offer education services, carpentry workshops, and sports programs. Women prisoners do not have access to educational programs, work opportunities, employment alternatives, quality medical services, economic empowerment programs, or recreational facilities.
I applied to be a part of Rise Up’s Gender Equity Initiative because I learned that they provide opportunities for people like myself to grow professionally and strengthen my organization in order to better serve my community. Just before Rise Up called me for the interview, I was getting tired of the work and was beginning to lose hope. When I learned I had been selected for their program I felt very fortunate. I also felt deeply motivated by a new and hopeful energy that restored my happiness, my faith in myself and in my community, and, above all, my desire to continue this work I am so passionate about, and which gives purpose to my life. Rise Up was the inspiration I needed at that moment and pushed me not to give up on advocating for social justice on behalf of women who do not have a voice.
During the Rise Up Accelerator, the most important thing I learned was to believe that I can be an effective agent of political and social transformation and that I can influence the decisions of our governments. I learned techniques and strategies for dialogue and negotiation with decision makers, so that we as women can have a say in decisions that affect the most marginalized social groups in our community.
New Moon now aims to influence the creation and implementation of prison technical training courses and prison-to-work programs across the state to contribute to women’s economic empowerment and to improve employment opportunities after prison for all 500 women prisoners in the state. New Moon will also build the advocacy capacity of these women, so they can raise their voices and share their needs with the President of the Human Rights Commission and with the Director of the Women’s Institute of San Luis Potosí to improve the design of the employment and training programs.
My hope for the future is that women become more aware of and knowledgeable about our power and our rights, so that we can influence the entire structure of municipal, state, and federal governments. We can and will fight for better laws and policies and programs that promote the development of women in all walks of life without having to sacrifice our humanity or our ancestral heritage.
The success of New Moon’s project would ensure that all women prisoners in the state have the opportunity to productively integrate into society and earn an income for themselves and their families once they leave prison. I’ll know that I succeeded when the women who have been in the state penitentiary no longer reoffend and live a life of crime, but instead become powerful entrepreneurs and advocates for themselves and others.
Thank you for trusting and believing in me and this project.