WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Reflections on a time in Cabo Verde

Cabo Verde Flag

This article was originally posted by Natália Marques on her Medium blog on June 4, 2018.

I landed in Cape Verde on June 17th. I’ve been here for a while already, but as someone who has just spent the last four months away from home, I know that the adjustment period to living in a foreign country lasts essentially the entire time you are there.

I’m here as part of an internship with the Center for Research on Women and Families (CIGEF). My internship involves participation in a much larger project of labor inclusion for the young women of the community of Bela Vista, Praia. As an intern, I will be conducting workshops on the topic of women’s empowerment, and gender-based violence, as a way to contribute to the end goal of including the women of Bela Vista in the formal labor force. Luckily, I will not be working alone, I will be partnering with Mira, a student studying English at the University of Cape Verde (UNI-CV). Together, we will be researching gender-based violence and leading these workshops.

Last week, I visited Bela Vista. It does not look radically different from other parts of Praia, apart from a larger prevalence of spontaneous settlement housing. Those who cannot afford regular housing will stake their claim to a plot of land by building a tiny, one-room structure, and then slowly adding on to it as they are able. This type of housing often lacks basics such as running water and bathrooms.

Many members of the community, notably the women, are employed in the informal sector. This means that the women that I pass by every day on my way to CIGEF, selling fruit, candy, or cigarettes on the sidewalk, might be from the community of Bela Vista, and might be the women who I end up working with closely.

Based on what I have learned so far, Bela Vista has been characterized as an underserved community. But there is always so much more to a place than it being “underserved”, and I am eager to learn more about Bela Vista’s people and their celebrations, past-times, diversity, food, apart from only their struggles. I was very glad to visit Bela Vista’s community center last week, where I will be holding the workshops.

That being said, I also do want to focus on the struggles of the people of Bela Vista in a more productive way, as in, are there community leaders that are currently fighting for better conditions for the community? Who are they, and what exactly are they concentrating on?

Especially as I am doing research and leading workshops on the issue of gender-based violence, which from what I hear is a prominent issue in Cape Verde. How to the women of Bela Vista understand gender-based violence as an issue in their lives? How do they understand gender, as it applies to them? Do they see obvious, unchanging biological differences between men and women? Do they see a need for women to be liberated?

I am extremely curious to know how these women conceptualize the world around them, as it relates to issues of gender. And I have started reading critical pedagogy, and an important principle that stood out has been that there are no new ideas that I can introduce as an educator. I am not here to teach these women anything new about their lives, I am not here to tell them that they are oppressed, that they must memorize and regurgitate the latest gender theories that I learned in college. I am here to “lend theoretical coherence to available evidence” (as Theodore Mills Norton states). If a theory is valid, the evidence of it is out there in the world. If the women of Bela Vista are deeply affected by gender-based violence, and this violence is mass violence that has the potential to poison an entire community from within, and the only way this violence can be combated is through a radical feminist understanding of the world, then these women and I can work cooperatively to stitch together the evidence that proves this to be the case. If this cannot be done, then the theories and the teaching methodology have failed in their principal objective: to remain rooted in reality. These theories are on trial here, not the “correctness” of theoretical knowledge of Cape Verdean women.

Therefore I want to be the type of educator that challenges both herself and her students to sift through evidence and reach conclusions together. I don’t want to teach anyone anything really, because I don’t think I know much at this point in my life, and because I am very aware of the implications of a white western woman educating proletarian African women. I am very aware of the choices I must make as someone who has been tasked as an educator within a group of people who will share radically different experiences from myself. Intersectionality theorists such as Crenshaw argue that sexism is not universally experienced by all women. Women who grew up in Bela Vista might have very different ideas of gender, and the role it plays in their community. I must learn from them as much as they must learn from me.

These next few days, I need to challenge myself to continue reading about radical pedagogy, gender & feminist theory, theories around abuse and gender-based violence, as well as how this phenomenon exists in Cape Verde specifically. I need to inform myself so that these workshops are as useful to the women of Bela Vista as possible. I hope that I can commit to writing these posts weekly, so that next week I can return by sharing more research that I have done around the topic of gender-based violence in Cape Verde. I am also challenging myself to write each post in both English and Portuguese, so that I can strengthen my language skills.

P.S. This internship experience is made possible through a collaboration between the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and CIGEF, and by funding from the Anchor Point Fellows Program at Wellesley College.

Natália Marques is Political Science major at Wellesley College (Class of 2019) and the second intern participating in the WCW-CIGEF internship program.

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How the Power of Representation Transformed My Wellesley Experience

Headshot of article author, Budnampet RamanudomBy the end of my first year at Wellesley College, I knew that I wanted to explore the world of research. I had taken the first of many gender studies courses to come, and left class with a head full of questions that I not only wanted answers to, but wanted to take a stake at answering. A stroke of luck brought me to an event for students to meet with research scientists at the Wellesley Center for Women. A stroke of better luck brought me to Dr. Linda Charmaraman.

She was the only researcher I gravitated towards, the only researcher I left my resume with. Conducted research on media and identity? Check. Person of color? Check. Personable and inviting? Check, check, and check. One application, two interviews, and a letter of recommendation later, I was offered a position as a research assistant for the next school year. Little did I know that by accepting the offer, I would also be gaining an invaluable undergraduate experience shaped by inspiration, warmth, and empathy.

There is something really special about being able to work with someone who looks like you. This is something you often hear as a Wellesley College student, though its meaning is often one dimensional ( Women in politics! Women CEOs! Women in STEM!). I really came to understand the power of representation in two ways: when it became personal and when it became central to the research I was helping bring to life.

Quote from the article: I was learning so much from someone who shared my most salient identities...if she could do it, maybe I could too.The power of representation became personal when I began to cultivate a mentor-mentee relationship with Linda. Our weekly/bi-weekly research check-ins were not only crucial for the advancement of the qualitative research we were conducting and my own research skills, but also for developing my own sense of worth and potential. Little by little, I was able to learn about Linda’s life and experiences, research and otherwise. I found out she was Thai (like me)! I found out that she also struggled in her undergraduate years (who knew that researchers were not perfect?). She spoke about her queerness in ways that normalized my own burgeoning questions about sexuality and gender. She validated my questions, hopes, and fears no matter how naive, incomplete, or overwhelming. I was learning so much from someone who shared my most salient identities - - from a successful academic whose work brimmed with passion. If she could do it, maybe I could too.

Themes surrounding representation were also crucial to the research that Linda was allowing me to take part in, providing an important link between the personal and the professional. In our new round of research, Linda entrusted me with the task of selecting the participants for our qualitative interview. I took a chance and spoke to Linda about my interest in highlighting South and Southeast Asian participants, knowing fully that this demographic/ group of people who looked like me seemed to be underrepresented in bodies of research. I will always remember the feeling of being able to capture the lived experiences of people who looked like me - - to be able to document their narratives in a way that emphasized the diversity of the Asian American community. In one interview session, a fellow Southeast Asian American student ended the interview with an emotional thank you. She told me that it meant so much for her to not only be able to contribute to a body of work that sought to capture her experiences, but to know that the academics themselves were also Southeast Asian. She told me that she had never seen herself in research papers. She told me that she was excited. Representation really matters. Representation has a real impact on real people.

Now at the tail-end of my Wellesley College experience, I now understand how lucky I was to be able to engage with such meaningful work so early in my academic life. I hope to be able to continue to contribute to the world of academia in a way that is similarly passionate and emotionally driven. I want to live my life knowing that I am actively working to raise the voices of those that are being systematically ignored. I hope to do all of this with the same kindness, patience, and grace that Linda has given me.

Budnampet ‘Pet’ Ramanudom ’18 was the Linda Coyne Lloyd Intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women during the 2015-16 academic year. She studies Computer Science and Women and Gender Studies at Wellesley College.

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