Connecting Across the Movement to Sustain One Another
By: Olga Valeria Espinoza, FCAM Communications Officer
While the COVID-19 crisis has brought significant challenges for women’s movements, they do not relent and they continue to create alternatives to connect with other women and to thrive from within. Chicas al Frente (Girls to the Front) is one of the groups that is making it work. They are a collective from Costa Rica that carries out monthly events, inviting diverse women to share their knowledge and awareness about a specific issue, from a gender perspective, as defined by members of the group and their participants. The monthly events are held in safe spaces where everyone can share their point of view, free from discrimination and violence, based on mutual support, understanding and respect. We spoke over the phone with Rocío Jiménez, a member of Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM) grantee partner Chicas al Frente.
FCAM: How has the organization experienced the pandemic? What are you all doing?
It has been a real challenge for us to move into the virtual realm, our main activities and our strength have always been in-person gatherings. In this context, while not all work has become virtual, a lot of it has and for those of us that spend all day on calls, video calls, and online classes for those of us in school – it’s tiring. Add to that, finding strategies for organizing as a collective. It can all become monotonous.
When the pandemic began and we asked ourselves what we should do, we knew we could not stand back and do nothing. We came up with the idea of “QUICK CAF”, which means rapid Chicas al Frente. We made between four and six virtual sessions adding up to 45 minutes every week in our Instagram account. The idea was to learn from this crisis in the best way possible. We did a QUICK CAF about yoga, about skin care, how to make homemade masks with materials you have at home, about creative writing, etc. They were “lighter” topics, but we felt that this would help women clear their minds in the midst of this sudden and painful situation. In Costa Rica before the pandemic arrived, the news we saw from other countries in Central America was really violent, with thousands of deaths caused by the coronavirus. When the virus arrived in the region there was so much terror and panic. The QUICK CAF videos were not meant to solve everything, but at least during that short time viewers could forget about what was happening all around them.
Between 50 and 80 people participated in these activities, and it went well. Then in May we saw spirits drop, we were exhausted, we were tired of the virtual events and the news, so we decided to put a pause on the program and focus on our monthly events. We did one on mental health called “Putting Myself First, and My Mental Health, Too,” which we divided into two parts so it would not be quite as long. Later we did another, “The Pandemic: a Glance from Central America.” The first was to question how our mental health has been viewed throughout history, to demystify certain terms and shake off taboos that exist around mental health. We thought this was especially important given the current context. And the glance from Central America was really rewarding, we spoke with Central American feminist collectives to gain perspective on the day-to-day experiences of the pandemic throughout the region.
It has always been important for us to come together and create alliances, and it was vital to have this conversation and identify new ways of building a collective and erasing borders. This activity was organized with other FCAM grantee partners, including the Equipo de Monitoreo Independiente de Honduras from Honduras (Independent Monitoring Team–EMIH), Colectiva Amorales from El Salvador (Immoral Collective), Casa de los Colores from Nicaragua (House of Colors) and Las Tripas from Guatemala (The Guts).
FCAM: Earlier you mentioned alliances; why is it important for you all to connect with others?
Regional alliances have always been very important to us. Even before COVID-19 it was hard for us to meet because not everyone has a reliable internet connection, and because of money and the cost of travel. That is why the gatherings organized by FCAM are super important because they really help us get to know one another, build alliances and stay connected virtually. In the current context, we want to link up and make the experiences that we are living more visible. What we are living through in Costa Rica is not the same as in Nicaragua or Honduras. Each government has taken different measures and economic measures, and all of that affects us.
Initially with our project with FCAM we came up with the idea of creating the Central American Feminist Economic Network (Red Económica Feminista Centroamericana), and then we realized that this was too ambitious and that we would start in Costa Rica first. But we are continuing to work to expand the connections we have in other countries with short sessions that we have tried to do with these connections.
FCAM: How are you handling the issue of self-care?
We have experienced exhaustion ourselves – we were making weekly QUICK CAF videos and then all of a sudden, we looked around and realized that we were not looking within the collective, and much less within each of ourselves.
The pandemic left one of our members out of work, and she was suffering both physically and emotionally. When we stopped to reflect, we decided to change the agenda and talk amongst ourselves in a few sessions about how we were feeling. In one meeting, we ended up talking for an hour and a half about how we were feeling and we did not move forward with the agenda. All of a sudden it was all we could do, and at first there was some frustration within Chicas al Frente. Taking those pauses has been restorative and without the recommendation from FCAM we would not have done it. Sometimes we give and we give, but we forget that we are also bodies with limits. We have tried to keep this recommendation from you all front of mind, and as a result we are going to begin to implement more concrete actions for the collective.
FCAM: In a global and local scenario so complex and hopeless, what gives you strength? What keeps you going?
Hopelessness will always be there, not just in this context. There are many people that already lived a life of immediate hopelessness. It is the work of our collective, and not just us but the entire movement, to do away with that hopelessness. These situations of hopelessness give us a reason for doing what we do, when we see something is wrong and we know we have to do something about it.
We invite you to visit Chicas al Frente’s social media pages: