“This space was created with the idea that we would change the world, but then COVID happened and it changed us.”
Activist - Dominican Republic.
2020 was a year of challenges for everyone. Government-imposed lockdowns and measures increased the complexity experienced by a region that was already facing a context of crisis. Not being able to meet in person was a huge obstacle, transforming the actions of movements that work for the rights of women, trans and non-binary people, and nature.
The Urgent Action Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean has faced similar challenges. Throughout the entire year, we had to suspend in-person meetings with the region's activists and organizations, we had to shift all our activities to online, and provide special attention to the new needs that emerged from this unprecedented crisis.
In this context, we held our first virtual Outreach Visit. Each year we select a country where we have identified the need to strengthen ties, increase our understanding of the context and organizations that are part of women’s, trans, and non-binary movements, and share UAF-LAC strategies to support them. Given that we weren’t able to travel for face-to-face meetings we met online and made use of the advantages offered by this modality. Hence, we were able to visit two countries: the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Between December 4th and 16th, we met with twenty-nine organizations in the Dominican Republic and seven in Costa Rica.
In the Dominican Republic, we talked with LBTIQ organizations, anti-racist collectives, organizations that work for the rights of migrants, Afro-feminists, Dominican-Haitian women, and those who work to defend the territory. We listened to their perspectives and reflected on the challenges they have been facing, including the lack of recognition of nationality for the children of Haitian migrants; an exacerbation of racism in the country – which women's organizations are facing currently; and the implications of living in Bateyes or communities surrounding sugar mills.
The organizations that we met with also told us about their work to fight child marriages; the women's movement's efforts to decriminalize abortion; the high levels of femicides, which go unregistered since only “intimate femicides” are registered and thus the violence lived day to day by women is made invisible and impedes an effective State response. Concerning LBTIQ rights, the organizations documented high levels of discrimination as 59% of the country’s population believes that homosexuality should be legally punished. The prior influences the sub-registry of trans-femicides and police violence, especially against trans women who participate in sex work, in addition to high levels of impunity on these crimes.
On the other hand, even though organizational initiatives in Costa Rica are not as visible as they are in the rest of Central America, we met with organizations of trans people, defenders of territory, and people who work to defend migrant rights. They shared diverse perspectives on the situations faced by the country’s women's and feminist movements.
The pandemic has been an excuse to continue dispossessing and displacing rural, indigenous, and small-scale farmer communities. With concern, we heard about legislative changes that harm the territories, such as the privatization of water and bills to control, privatize, and prevent the free circulation of local seeds, in addition to the criminalization of defenders of territory.
Costa Rican organizations alerted us to the high rates of violence against trans women; although the country has seen legislative advances, the implementation of public policies has been slow, thus barriers persist to access education and healthcare services. Finally, we also had the opportunity to talk with some organizations that work on migrant rights. Costa Rica is a transitory country for migrants and has historically received migrants from Central America, mainly Nicaragua; in this context, more migrant people are experiencing xenophobia, especially in the labor market. Also, the pandemic slowed down the refugee process, which in normal conditions can take over a year, leaving migrants in a situation of increased vulnerability and instability.
Despite multiple challenges in both countries we visited, the organizations have continued, transforming their activism within the context of the pandemic. The women's, trans, and non-binary movements have been strengthened and they have created new online coordination spaces and alternatives to continue working and caring for themselves during the health crisis. We thank the women, trans, and non-binary people who allowed us to converse and get to know them, as well as the trust they placed in us by sharing their stories. We hope to meet again soon!
You can find the infographic that summarizes these powerful online spaces here:
The Bateyes, are rural communities that were created around sugar cane crops, made up mainly by Haitian migrants who arrived to work on the plantations and live under precarious conditions today.