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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.