“If I were to be born again, I would be a woman,” says RG, looking at the rest of her classmates during the construction of a mental map on the blackboard. “I used to think that women were worth less than men and had less self-esteem”, but “I have learned that I am a very resilient person and that I empower myself.” These words are spoken in a classroom that has become a small refuge of “freedom” in a place that is actually a prison. She is one of the students of the RenovArte project, of the Me Sumaría association, who works with the inmates to reinforce their self-esteem and prepares them to be more self-confident when they can leave in third grade or with total freedom. They read the lives of references like Rosa Parks or Frida Kahlo and have built a blog where they express their emotions and post interviews. Gender violence, inequality and the weight of stereotypes are closely linked to their life trajectories and to having passed through this prison. In fact, the deputy director of Treatment of the Las Palmas II prison, Raquel Aragunde, recalls that around 90% of women who go through jail have gender violence present in their environments. At the moment, there are less than a hundred women among the 970 people in this prison. “They are women with an intense life experience,” recalls Bárbara Hernández, the project’s social educator, who admits that she has learned a lot this year with the 10 students who have gone through it, since gender inequality “runs through us all” . “I have also been transformed with you and I feel more empowered,” she admitted in class this Monday morning.
In this small space (which is normally located in its own women’s module, but which this Monday has been moved to an activities room) they meet twice a week with the workers of the Me Sumaría association. Raquel Aragunde, who is also a psychologist, remembers that participation in activities is completely voluntary, but that this project is widely accepted. Inma Carretero is the founder and director of the association and points out that the dynamic is very practical and that it is intended that women carry out a conscious work on their reality, their role in society and do so through creative projects in which they participate and develop different skills. The main objective is to reinforce their self-esteem and that they are clear that they are capable of achieving the goals that they propose. “I am in the fourth year of ESO. I would like to do Baccalaureate and study Psychology”, explained this Monday RG, who is also convinced that when she gets out of prison she wants to continue in the Me Sumaría project, which has a school at IES Felo Monzón where he works with students of various characteristics, competencies for life. Volunteering is also among your goals.
She is not the only one who has dreams for when she gets out of prison. “I would love to play the piano, have a stable home, stop smoking and continue learning”, says ZM, who during the dynamic has insisted that another of the lessons is that today women “do not have the need to depend on any man financially. Before he depended on him even to sign a paper. ” He has also highlighted the importance of learning digital skills (thanks to a kind of Intranet created with content that they bring in a pen drive teachers). He defends that having learned to use the tablet or computer programs with laptops is important for “when you go out, look for jobs and courses” and insists that everything learned is positive for a “better future”. “I just lack the freedom to put what I have learned into practice,” he insisted. “I dream of living in a house in the country with my family and my husband, if he waits for me, and opening a dining room for the children, because in my country many children do not go to school and do not have books or notebooks,” he says CH For his part, MB prefers to take small steps, continue in the project and help the comrades who need it “so that the struggle continues and this does not stop.”
Climate of ‘sorority’ above all
In the classroom, whose door is painted in burgundy tones, sisterhood is breathed in an atmosphere of accompaniment and help among women. There they all listen to each other without prejudice and support each other. DC assures that when she entered prison the world came over her, she was very sad and closed in on herself. Raquel Aragunde remembers that she had to pay psychological attention to her and when she attended her for the first time when she arrived at the hospital, she was very affected. “I was terrified of being with other women in the module and did not want to go out to the patio,” she says.
DC, who is very proud of her daughters who come to see her frequently, indicates that she has undergone a great change thanks to Me Sumaría, where she has felt heard and where she has cried a little less every day until now she is better. When she leaves, she hopes to take care of herself a little more since she has become aware that women have many more burdens and before she always felt that she did not have time for anything.
Educating the little ones in equality is one of the statements that came out during the classroom activity. ZM assures that inequality is fought “by moving little heads” and that she tells her daughter that she can dress as she wants. Those who have children also assure that education is the key. They believe that the basis is in respect and in insisting that “we are neither more nor less.” AL also pointed out that men should be more involved in household chores and in raising their children, adding that it does not understand why a man and a woman who work in the same department do not charge the same. “Women are working for equality, but there is still a lot of personal and work harassment,” said another of the students.
The students stand out among the resources that they have used this year the book ‘Tales of rebellious girls’. “I was inspired by Frida Khalo because despite her physique and her illness she never cared what they said about her and she overcame all that. For me she is an important reference point,” highlights one of the students. Another remarks that she who has marked her is Rosa Parks, “it is the African American who denied a seat to a white man”, highlights another. The teacher clarifies that there are always stories that affect more personally than others, because we can feel identified. AL is another of the brave women who assures that her mother has been a great inspiration. In the classroom, she said that she learned to read and write at night by candlelight and that she ran an oil and vinegar tent. Professor Bárbara Hernández recalls the importance of studying internationally recognized women, but that “the referents from the immediate environment are the ones that push us,” she said.
How are stereotypes built?
Being aware of how gender stereotypes affect is key to having the information and empowering yourself in a patriarchal world. The students answer when the teacher asks how gender stereotypes are constructed. Most target television and the media. “Women are still seen as an object,” RG emphasizes, adding that “they continue to be judged by their physique and not by their intelligence.” “Women are more than a piece of meat, we can be many things,” he settled. The students debated about this reality for a few minutes, during which time they recalled that women often star in advertising ads related to the domestic sphere, such as a washing machine. But, in addition, they are usually women who fall into the stereotype of what society considers beauty. To the question and how does it affect us? One student stressed that girls or adolescents do not love each other because they fit into a role of beauty. “There comes a time when we are what society wants, because if not, we do not fit in as a woman”, but “we are all different.”
Since December 2020, Me Sumaría has worked with these women through workshops, dynamics, theater, interviews with women who have published on their blog, have written biographies, autobiographies, have drawn how they looked, how they felt … “Me Sumaría has helped me because I felt like a caterpillar when I arrived, I didn’t want to do anything and now I am a butterfly “, MB highlights.” I have learned to be more sure of myself and not be so impulsive, “explained AL. enough to write in words everything I have learned, “explained RG. The teacher remarked that it is important that now that the end of this year of the program is coming, they also do individual work and are very aware of the risks that exist once they leave the jail, since although they have changed, their environment is usually the same. Therefore, he insists that they have a roadmap and that they have the strength of mind to achieve all their objectives.
Other programs in prison
Raquel Aragunde explains that this is not the only program to empower women and combat gender violence. There is also Sermujer, which has been taught by students in the Master’s Degree in Gender Violence. Likewise, it works with men convicted of crimes of gender violence or who have committed sexual assault or abuse. They are intervention programs that he considers essential. On the other hand, in the prison there is a comprehensive care program for people with mental illness, as well as others in collaboration with entities and associations aimed at eliminating drug addiction (together with Yrichen), social theater, employment programs, cultural offer with the Cabildo de Gran Canaria. The Ombudsman has already highlighted in some of his visits to the prisons of Gran Canaria the importance of applying the gender approach, in applying in their social file if they have been victims of this violence and has influenced in guaranteeing access to women both in second and third grade to education and training programs to increase their employment possibilities by carrying out interventions that compensate for the evident inequality detected in the workplace.
The women who participate in RenoVarte claim to feel liberated in this space, where they can unload their backpack, so heavy many times from such painful experiences. The project workers and the Deputy Director of Treatment emphasize that they are very active women who also participate in other activities. Its continuity will depend on the budget for next year, but they hope that the course can be resumed next January. Inma Carretero explains that the main challenge is to work together with other associations to eliminate drugs so that the work is more complete. He would also like to increase it to three times instead of two per week. “It is a program with a lot of acceptance, where women create synergies between them”, remarks the deputy director of Treatment.
This is the blog with activities and reflections on life that they have done with Me Sumaría.