Women Organizing! Inspiration at Mujeres Unidas y Activas and The Women’s Building

Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith
Master of Arts in Urban Affairs candidate (’16)

This past week I had the opportunity to attend one of Mujeres Unidas y Activas’ (MUA) regular meetings at The Women’s Building in the Mission District. Through research that the Urban Affairs graduate team is conducting this semester, I have been able to connect with and observe the important work MUA is spearheading in San Francisco. MUA’s mission statement says: 

Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) is a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women with a double mission of promoting personal transformation and building community power for social and economic justice. Their work includes creating an environment of understanding and confidentiality, empowering and educating our members to provide mutual support, offering trainings to build economic security and leadership, working in diverse alliances on the local, regional, national, and international levels, and organizing campaigns to win immigrant, workers’ and women’s rights.

The meeting started off with a viewing of a short documentary on the 43 students who have been missing from Iguala, Guerrero in Mexico since September 26th, 2014. While not all of the MUA members are from Mexico, many of the women shared stories from their native countries detailing similar experiences of friends or relatives becoming desaparecidos. The video and the stories shared by the women at the meeting were highly emotional. Many women spoke of family members left behind to an unknown fate, and of fear of police and other authority figures due to violent forms of retribution if they chose to speak out. While I had heard of the missing Mexican students, and have learned about desaparecidos under Peron in Argentina in the 1970s, to hear personal and more recent stories of this type of violence moved me. These women fled their families, their homes and their communities. But let me be clear – these women are not helpless victims. They are empowered by each other, and moved to organize for change.

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The next half of the meeting filled me with hope. We watched another short news video detailing the execution deaths by militants of 142 students in Nairobi, Kenya just last week. One of MUA’s lead organizers reminded us that we are not alone. It does not matter the differences in details between what happened in Mexico last year and what happened in Kenya last week –militant groups, drug cartels, and governments – they all rule through fear and terror. They attempt to immobilize and weaken those who will not speak out. We are all a part of the same movement, fighting, sometimes inch by inch, for common decency and humanity. The women at MUA do not see themselves simply as Mexican, or Guatamalan, or as immigrants. They are a part of a larger movement of women fighting and organizing. They are empowered by their past experiences and by their networks of support in their new homes. Their work is not limited to their communities in San Francisco, but extends globally.

I was moved by the momentum I felt, and the community I observed at The Women’s Building this past week. The women of MUA come together to offer each other support, and they come together to organize for change locally and globally. This strength, to overcome one’s own struggles and use that knowledge to help others do the same, is truly inspirational. I am looking forward to working with MUA for the next couple of weeks as our research continues, and I hope to stay involved in their efforts beyond this project.

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