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Empowering women in Colombian prisons

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I had to go to prison to understand how education for innovation is the path for empowering millions of Latin American and Caribbean women economically. I’ve never committed a crime; I belong to that group of people who believe education is the most sophisticated tool we have to opening any door.

In 2016, I founded MujeresConDerechos.org with the idea of reminding society that all girls and all women are powerful. For this reason, I have dedicated myself to gathering the most influential leaders through summits, marches, and a television program. The attention and support I have received has been converted into generating innovative programs for girls and women most in need.

We had an amazing opportunity in October 2017 to put into practice the methodology of innovation I had created at Harvard University and that I had successfully tested with 1,500 youths living in rural areas of Mexico and Colombia. Now, I would be able to test my theories with 170 women in a medium-security prison in Sogamoso, within Boyacá.

The first day we visited them, the other women who went with me left terrified. A prison is a hell designed to disempower and mutilate human potential daily. However, I insisted we return and begin our program, “Nuevos Comienzos Innovando” (Innovative New Beginnings). The first two months, we dedicated ourselves to working with them on the concepts of confidence, forgiveness, strength, peace, and leadership.

It was incredible to see over a short period of time how these ladies went from being hermits and melancholy, to participating and hopeful with our process. By 22 December 2017, we were capable of laughing, crying, and hugging while we planned powerful goals for a better future.

Charlie Ruth Castro leads an exercise class for inmates.

A prison is a hell designed to disempower and mutilate human potential daily.

My methodology for digital empowerment bases itself on a very simple principle: we are all capable of seeing ourselves as superheroes through the use of innovation when we put our strength to resolving the more general and common problems affecting our community.

These ladies have come to understand that the three problems most affecting women in prison are their separation from their children, the lack of information regarding staying healthy in a highly unhealthy space, and interpersonal disputes about debts owed, that end in shocking punishments, such as the infamous “dungeon” – a dark, cold, and repugnant space where they could be held for up to 72 hours.

With these women, I’ve had the most profound discussions about justice, the economy of crime, liberty, and transcendence. The methodology we used has inspired them to plan their own brand and line of beauty products made from organic herbs. Those least interested in these persons having a decent job and re-entering society are the public servants of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute of Columbia. The challenges, as well as humiliation, they have produced for the team and the women of our program are innumerable. But advocating for a more just society demands arming yourself with patience, and being creative in order to focus on the solutions and not the problems.

The majority of the women who took part in my program arrived at this prison due to crimes such as drug microtrafficking and theft; some landed here for homicide, kidnapping, or extortion. Almost all of them are mothers, and nearly a third of them are the second generation in their families to commit a crime. Most come from rural areas and bands of poverty within medium-sized cities. Almost all of them chased the fantasy of making money and becoming self-sufficient via the activities that led them to crime. A great many of them know their legal past will mark them and if they do not learn appropriate work skills or work on themselves from within, they are condemned to repeat the same mistake on the outside.

However there are two things that almost all these women share: they come from an impoverished Colombia and they face a culture that is violent against girls and women. My team and I feel grateful these women allowed us to research and work on a reality that affects so many. Despite how difficult it is to believe, we have concluded prisons are where we will find the potential to transform the country. Yes – impossible to believe, but they are.

The women in this prison made it possible for me to understand that the inequality and violence we see in the world today has its origins in gender inequality and lack of access to an empowering education for millions of girls and women.

It is time to invest in the education of innovation for our girls and young women. If we equip them with the tools that allow them to understand problems as opportunities for solution, or go as far as to teach them to use new technologies to create sources of employment, and to achieve excellence in the jobs of today and tomorrow, we can secure their economic empowerment, and we will be supporting the innovative and sustainable industrialization of our countries.

Charlie Ruth was one of six young innovators recognized during Rotary Day at the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya, in November. Read more about the innovators. Follow Charlie Ruth Castro @CharlieRuth

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Saoirse McHugh: We need to talk about capitalism

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N HER FORTNIGHTLY column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos.   

A most ludicrous situation is taking place in which we are disrupting weather systems we have relied on for centuries, poisoning drinking water, destroying habitats that provide food and fuel and pushing ourselves outside of the relatively stable climate we have enjoyed for the past few thousand years.

Despite all of this, most of our media and the great majority of our politicians refuse to talk about the reason why I believe this is happening. What is driving us to continue down such a grim and unpredictable path? The answer is capitalism.

Extracting profit from resources (often privately owned) and labour only to reinvest in further extraction has wreaked havoc on our world. The accumulation of profit as a shaping force in society leaves so much unaccounted for and undervalued.

In general, there is no cost given to implications such as resource use, pollution, and (much and all as I don’t like the term) ecosystem services such as air and water cleaning, pollination and nitrogen cycling.

When these are factored into cost it can have an alleviating impact, but of course the natural world does not trade in dollars and no amount of money can ever compensate for species extinction, coral reefs dying or the damage caused by oil spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The need for growth and the relentless expansion into and enclosing of new commons, such as carbon use and genetic information, means that capitalism is entirely incompatible with a finite planet and a just world.

Despite all this it is rare to hear our economic system discussed openly in Ireland outside of a few groups or lone politicians. It has developed the impression of being outside of our control, almost like some God imposed this system upon us.

When the conversation comes up politically, our elected representatives shy away from it and speak in vague terms about prosperity and growth. They do not delve into the idea that not only do we have the power to begin changing our economic system, but we have a moral and environmental imperative to do so.

‘But look at North Korea and Cuba’ 

I am not fully sure why there is such hesitancy to speak about capitalism. Is it because decades of American television have well and truly damaged the ability to talk about it without somebody bringing up the Soviet Union and communism?

I myself have had so many conversations where capitalism comes up and is met with: “But look at North Korea and Cuba, look at how many people died in Soviet Russia.” No doubt atrocities occurred in countries which were under a different economic system.

However, that argument ignores and minimises the atrocities that have been carried out in capitalist countries. The suffering and destruction capitalism has caused and is continuing to cause in the world is immeasurable.

It is a system with its origins in colonialism and to this very day there is a massive extraction of wealth from previously colonised countries. The social, physical, and economic violence used to keep these relationships in place is beyond comprehension and much of it has become accepted as normal.

It is ridiculous to talk about environmentalism without talking about capitalism, yet many people do so. Not only is it a part of our lives but it is the system within which we all operate.

It is all that most of us have ever known and for that reason people tend to avoid the conversation, perhaps for fear of looking radical or outside of the world of common sense.

The promises of green growth or sustainable capitalism are tempting, yet I fear that every year spent chasing these will-o-the-wisps is a year lost while continuing to worsen our predicament.

There will be no climate justice until we move to a different economic system. We need to halt the extraction of wealth from previously colonized countries and, more than that, repay and compensate these countries as fully as possible.

Obviously, it is not just capitalism that damages the environment. There are discussions of petroleum-based socialism and of communism focused on growth, which are extremely damaging too but we have arrived at a time where capitalism is the dominant economic model.

There is no point in skirting around the issue, we need to transform our economies and recognise that any politician who is not engaging in the conversation about our economic model and ways to change it is wasting everyone’s time. 

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Letter: Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness

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Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness. All Hanson offers is more of the same prescriptions that brought us to climate change, inequality, huge government, corporate and private debts, erosion of our infrastructure, a health care crisis, international turmoil, etc.

How about some ownership and something new? If we redefine the goal as sustainability instead of growth, universal equity in services and opportunity, building community instead of dominance, and building a world for the seventh generation in the future, then we must acknowledge that capitalism as we have known it is broken.

Rather than try to pigeonhole the opposition with a derogatory label, let’s find a way to utilize human character to fulfill the promise of a better world for all living creatures both now and in the future.

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Let’s restore our values, do away with capitalism

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One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures, the writer says.

In this past decade, we witnessed a degeneration of politics across the spectrum, with social media, notwithstanding its use, becoming the worst platform for corrosive politics.

We also witnessed moral degeneration and character assassination as influenced by capitalism.

The moral degeneration in SA is very high and that directly reflects the politics of our country.

This open letter is an invitation for us, more especially ANC and Alliance partners, to think critically about who we are as a society and perhaps champion ways in which we can restore some of the values that we have lost.

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One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures. And one of our loopholes as the ANC from 1994 onwards was not to restore our values of ubuntu and revive the black family unit.

Twenty-five years into democracy, it is in our hands as ANC to dissociate ourselves with capitalism because capitalism is an evil that causes the corruption we are seeing now.

It is capitalist ideas that are behind killings of our comrades.

Capitalism is an inherently evil system that thrives on hate, jealousy and inhumanity.

Viwe Sidali, Duncan Village, East London

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