Grassroots development initiatives by women on the border are a critical asset to long term security in the U.S, Mexico border; they strengthen the local economy, are designed by the community itself, and utilize holistic approaches that integrate culture, health, education, and housing, among other factors. Despite recent national and international focus on the empowerment of women, development, and border security, border women’s community development efforts have been excluded from meaningful investment. For these reasons, La Mujer Obrera will spearhead a planning effort with other border women development organizations to create a framework for a Border Development Commission that could support sustainable women-centered comprehensive community development on the border. The conditions of women on the border are urgent, and immediate funding is required for these efforts.
Introduction: Well Meaning Funders Missing the Mark
In the past week, the United Nations and the Clinton Global Initiative both underscored the critical importance of investing in development and empowerment of women and girls as a fundamental pathway for communities and countries to achieve prosperity, health and well being. Over $6 billion in commitments were made by public and private entities to achieve these objectives in the coming years.
In the United States, President Obama and Congress are committing billions of dollars to create jobs, promote development and strengthen border security. The Obama administration has established various initiatives dedicated to creating and implementing strong, sustainable communities by connecting housing to jobs, fostering local innovation, and helping to build a clean energy economy.
One border city (El Paso, Texas) received $1.2 million to create a comprehensive plan for growth to make sure roads, schools, health services and the like can accommodate the influx of thousands of soldiers and their families generated by a growing military base.
Through all of these efforts, the goals are to:
- Integrate economic and workforce development, housing, land use, transportation, green space, arts and culture, education, access to technology and infrastructure development
- Achieve economic growth, prosperity and revitalization, social equity and inclusion of the most marginalized community sectors in access to opportunity, public health, food access and environmental sustainability, and energy use and climate change,
- Reduce transportation costs for families, improving housing affordability, saving energy, and increasing access to housing and employment opportunities,
- Ensure that housing is located near job centers and affordable, accessible transportation,
- Establish healthier, more inclusive communities – which provide opportunities for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to live, work, and learn together,
- Build more livable, walkable, environmentally sustainable regions,
- Create new green jobs, spur economic growth, and
- Assist regions to become more competitive on a national and global scale.
However, the established planning and development infrastructure in the U.S, such as local and regional government agencies, Community Colleges, School Districts, and Public Housing Authorities does not include women workers. Few resources or policies are being directed towards solutions to problems faced by the women and families whose conditions are worsened by government’s policies, including NAFTA and the “War on Drugs.”
Women workers and their families on the US Mexico border, whose socio-economic indices historically are equivalent to those of many so-called “third world countries”, have not benefitted from these development funds and initiatives. And now with the global economic crisis, and the spiraling violence and disintegration of communities in neighboring Mexico, the conditions and futures of women workers and their families are reaching a desperate state.
Border communities reel with 10%+ overall unemployment, and even higher rates for women workers. Border communities such as El Paso, aren’t creating enough jobs to absorb the unemployed with college degrees, let alone the women workers. However, women workers on the border have not waited passively for someone else to “rescue” them.
Border Women’s Development Efforts: An Untapped Asset
Women workers on the border have worked to lay the foundation for viable plans for creating sustainable livable communities while empowering women and girls, just like those called for by the United Nations, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Obama administration.
By working to achieve their vision of sustainable communities, grassroots organizations of women workers on the border have developed local economic engines that provide meaningful, long-term workforce training and jobs in areas including education, housing, micro-enterprise, childcare, food security, health, and cultural programs. Their work is the stuff that economists, feminists, and social reformers tout as models for genuine community development.
A Call to Action for Long-Term Security of Border Communities
For this reason, La Mujer Obrera in conjunction with women workers’ development organizations all along the border seeks an immediate investment of $1.5 million for a year-long effort to:
1) Develop a comprehensive plan and proposal for a “Border Development Commission” in support of women workers’ development organizations and efforts on the border and
2) Organize and help convene a national summit to identify public-private initiatives in support of the Border Development Commission and border women’s efforts to restore their communities from the damaging effects of international trade policies, global economic restructuring and the current “war on drugs” raging on the border.
3) Provide urgently needed economic sustainability support for women and their organizations whose development achievements and future plans are now in jeopardy because of the lack of investment and political support for border women’s development programs.
With this funding La Mujer Obrera, as one of the oldest and most advanced women workers’ development organizations on the border, will lead the planning effort to create a framework for a Border Development Commission that could support sustainable women-centered comprehensive community development on the border, including strategies for:
1) Creation of jobs and businesses and sustainable community economic development motors
2) Workforce training and life long learning linked to enhanced adult functional literacy
3) Education embedded within a supportive community and family environment for infants through advanced college studies (ala Promise neighborhoods)
4) Promotion of, and full access to, comprehensive preventive and primary healtheducation and services
5) Food security that links urban and rural communities, and ties health and nutrition education to access to culturally appropriate affordable local food sources
6) Access to multi-media technology infrastructure and capacity building that bridges the “digital divide” engulfing Latino and low-income families and communities, especially on the border
7) Building and rehabbing affordable housing and community infrastructure,supportive of myriad family and community formats (single family, multi-family, senior, mixed income, etc), but engendering healthy and sustainable family and community dynamics and using cutting-edge sustainable green design and construction strategies
8) Arts and culture that celebrates creativity while nurturing individual and community growth and understanding
9) Civic engagement that underscores the critical linkage between an informed involved populace and a healthy sustainable community development process
10) Diverse modes of transportation that foster communities and promote health and environmental security.
To do so, the funding will support La Mujer Obrera and other women’s development organizations at-risk on the border to continue to operate and grow their current development programs in 2011, and to derive from that experience the proposed framework for the Border Development Commission and its support for comprehensive development. The funding also will support the women’s participation in organizing a national summit of leading political, philanthropic, business and community leaders to identify funds, policies and other mechanisms that can support the formation of the Border Development Commission and the implementation of the women’s development plans for the border.
Like La Mujer Obrera, there are other communities of low income women on the border, who have the vision and drive needed to create spaces where cultural arts and grassroots micro enterprises can flourish, restoring economy, pride, and dignity in their neighborhoods. Despite their forward-thinking vision and tireless efforts, the women find themselves fighting their hardest battle ever – sustainability in the weakest U.S. economy in decades and a future being designed without them.
The efficacy and urgency of investing in low-income communities and women’s development efforts has been documented in various studies including Policy Link and theNational Women’s Law Center. Local and national media have focused on border violence and security issues, but have missed the solutions that border women stand ready to implement once they are provided with a meaningful investment.
For these reasons, there is an urgent need to establish a Border Development Commission, and a summit to identify strategies to support and invest in border women workers’ development. Public-private initiatives need to prioritize border women’s efforts to restore their communities from the damaging effects of international trade policies.
As Gloria Steinem said when she visited La Mujer Obrera, “There is no safe space for women. We have to create that space. We have to build that community”. The conditions of women on the border are urgent, and action towards justice and equity is needed now.