“Never do something ‘for’ young women without them”
My name is Perla Sofia Vazquez Diaz. I am Mexican, 30 years old, and a feminist.
I became politically active in youth and feminist organisations when I was 16. Today, as I am no longer so young myself, I have started working as an advisor, in particular supporting the creation of new spaces for young feminist advocacy.Next to being an advisor to some larger funds such as Mama Cash and the UNFPA, I am an advisor to FRIDA and to REDLAC. FRIDA is an international young feminist fund that will provide support to local feminist initiatives. REDLAC (Latin American and Caribbean Youth Network for Sexual Rights and Reproductive Rights) is the only young feminist network in Latin America and the Caribbean that supports local sexual rights advocacy by and for young people.
For me being a feminist means that I seek to transform power relationships that limit my own life, as well as the lives of others. In my work I love challenging young men and women to think about the questions that feminism raises. To think about power in relationships, for example, about traditional gender roles and how to transform them. I like to do that especially with people in their own communities because it is at the local level that reflecting about power in relationships becomes real and has real immediate and longer-term impacts.
In particular, I love working with young women in youth collectives or organisations. I love their analytical skills and their ability to develop strategies that will have an impact. I am inspired by their capacity to transform this world for the better, in spite of the restrictions that their local contexts place on them.
3. Why is girls’ and young women’s activism so important?
Young women today still live in economic and cultural contexts that place symbolic and economic restrictions on their ability to participate in public life or to transform their lives.
We live in societies that demand that young women have a certain kind of body, that we consume particular goods, that we behave in a certain way. Young women see their sexuality restricted or are stereotyped – if we are not virgins at a certain stage, and then mothers, we are not “real women”. Parents do not allow young women to go out or take part in community activities, because public spaces are seen as “unsafe” and girls need to be “protected”. Young women have access to very few resources to empower themselves in such a way that they can build their own identities.
When young people work together in groups, they learn to challenge power, they gain practical political skills, and begin to envision cultural, educational, and political alternatives. You learn, you are challenged, and you are inspired because you realise that transformation of daily injustices is possible.
Youth organisations make young people stronger and provide an education about being an active and engaged citizen that you do not learn in school or from your family. And I find that youth groups keep bringing in new people; as a result, youth organisations stay relevant and inclusive. It sounds like a small thing, but I think many civil society groups tend toward an elitism that I don’t see in youth groups.
4. Could you share with us some of your successes?
I would mention two important milestones in my own activism. One was coordinating Elige, from 2006 to 2010, the first Mexican organization created and led by people under 30. Elige was founded in 1999, and there have already been four generations of young women leading the organisation!
One of our main achievements was to be actively involved in the decriminalisation of abortion in Mexico City. I was one of the few youth advocates to testify before the Supreme Court on why young women in particular were demanding the decriminalising of abortion. Abortion was decriminalised in April 2007, and it was a landmark for Latin America. Almost five years later, 71,937 young women (15-25) have been able to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.
The creation of FRIDA is another success. I was involved in the founding of FRIDA, and I serve as one of its advisors for LAC. FRIDA is the first fund to have an exclusive focus on supporting young feminist groups. FRIDA’s goal is to support local groups – groups that often may not be legally registered – that are transforming their reality and seeking to build a better world. In FRIDA’S first call for proposals, we received 900 applications from young feminist groups around the world, which reflects how few opportunities for support are available to local youth groups.
5. What is the most important lesson that you have learned in recent years?
One lesson that I have learned is related to supporting groups at the local level. Governments and development agencies allocate significant resources for addressing issues facing young people, but local groups have difficulties accessing these resources. It is critical to ensure that those resources reach local youth groups, particularly young women’s groups, because they are the ones that are marginalised. Getting resources to local young women’s groups is a matter of economic justice.
6. What would your message be to organisations supporting girls’ and young women’s movements?
That their organising efforts are valuable. Not only for their own communities and lives but also to allow other generations to live in a better world.