From Central America to Arizona: The Road to Refuge
Earlier this year, MADRE worked with the US Human Rights Network to facilitate an international delegation of six Indigenous leaders to the Tohono O’odham territory and southern Arizona. These women, from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cameroon, Kenya, and Nepal, have all seen their lands divided by colonial borders created to exclude and control. Yet they believe, as Eduardo Galeano writes, that “the world was born yearning to be a home for everyone.”
And so they came to Arizona, to demonstrate that migration is an Indigenous issue and to lay the groundwork for a global campaign of solidarity with the Tohono O’odham and with the migrants seeking refuge on their land.
At MADRE, having partnered with grassroots women’s organizations throughout the region for 35 years, we’ve seen how repression and instability have also produced epidemic levels of gender violence. For instance, during Guatemala’s 36 years of civil war, tens of thousands of Guatemalan women and girls were raped, tortured and murdered. These attacks were part of a deliberate strategy to traumatize individuals and terrorize entire communities. Since peace accords were signed in 1996, the perpetrators have rarely been brought to justice, further normalizing gender violence.
Guatemala now has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world; the number of women murdered in the country has tripled since 2000, and with rampant impunity, less than four percent of homicide cases result in conviction. With no protection for those at risk and no accountability for the crimes that have been committed, it is no wonder that so many of those fleeing to the US are women with children in their care.
"We could no longer grow food. Every morning it's a little worse until you realize all is lost. After my daughter was born, we had less to eat every year."
On Motherhood and Marginalization
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
Palestine: Motherhood Under Siege
That was my favorite part of the story—not the idea of peace, which I knew I should wish for, yet couldn’t imagine—but the notion that it might one day be possible to cross the border.
One young woman, 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar, found her calling as a first responder, treating those injured by Israeli army gunfire and teargas. During the ninth week of the march, she was shot dead. News of her death reached me through my friend Majda who is part of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, where Razan had trained as a volunteer medic. My organization MADRE has supported the group’s “backpack clinics” since Israel’s 2009 bombing of Gaza.
On the phone that day, Majda and I began planning to replenish the first-aid supplies needed in Gaza with a shipment in Razan’s memory. We talked about our own children and about the unimaginable heartbreak of her mother. Just one week after her daughter’s death, Razan’s mother donned a medic’s vest and took her daughter’s place caring for protesters at the border.
The Two Koreas: A Dream of Peace
The peace walk was held on May 24, the day the UN launched a new agenda on nuclear disarmament. In Korea, the women told us, denuclearization is not an isolated imperative. It’s a prerequisite to the dream of making their country and their families whole again. And overcoming the nuclear threat, in Korea and everywhere else, is inextricably linked to taking on the culture and economy of militarism that holds so many of our countries hostage.
Mothering and Migration as Acts of Hope
This work gives us all a lens to reconsider issues like international trade agreements, development, climate change, national security, geopolitical relations, nuclear weapons proliferation, and the military-prison-industrial complex. These are not only women’s issues—as women’s human rights activists have long argued—but mothers’ issues. You don’t have to be a woman or a parent to know this. You only need to understand that the policies that govern the most pressing questions of our time require a fundamental overhaul from serving the powerful to protecting the vulnerable. And that is what mothers have always done.