Almost a month ago, I experienced a situation of violence on the part of the company where I worked, the SURT Foundation (Fundación SURT). Before writing this text, I have spent much time thinking about the necessity and importance of making this act of violence public. After all, as many ex-colleagues of the Foundation say “It happens everywhere”, thus, from such understanding we could also say that many of the problems and injustices that we live day by day happen everywhere, then why talk about it if it is already normalized?
I don’t agree, nor it is my way of proceeding or being in this world; because as we feminists say, “The personal is political.” Why should I remain silent and pretend as if nothing had happened? As has been the case for many years with professionals who have left this Foundation, having been subjected to mistreatment. The bad practices of the directives of this company are vox populi in the field of social intervention in Barcelona and are also known by people working in public administration.
A Foundation that started and worked with good intentions, and with time, became part of the “Social Intervention Industry.” A kind of multinational which presents itself to all the open calls it can, with the aim of “implanting their models of intervention” that they call “empowerment”, and to venture into many social issues, because they believe that they know and can do everything. Reducing costs and loading more work on their employees.
The reasons for my leave – non-renewal – were supposedly due to “the violence service that did not grow and a lack of money to pay me, and to maintain an organic structure”, unsustainable arguments because they had won an open call that I elaborated during one weekend, while I was told it would serve to give continuity to the team. Since the days after my leave they have begun the process of hiring more people, to work in organic structures, as they call them.
The communication of this decision was violent and unexpected, I was the only person whose contract was not renewed. This fact, while being in itself violent and painful in its form and argued lies – although they try to minimize and relativize it as it is their practice, like the one of the abuser – leads me to the conclusion, in concordance with what ex-colleagues have said to me since I started to work there, that it is forbidden to question, to reclaim, – those who do so are left out. To argue my work, to question the verticality of certain practices such as counting on the free time of their workers, to question a model of intervention into violence, thought and imposed from above, a model that does not take into account the heterogeneity and different realities of the women.
The text I write, I do it in an act of self-confidence, as an act of freedom, as Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui says, in coherence with my convictions and political commitment. For many years I have been working in the area of violence and what I have heard and seen in the aforementioned Foundation is nothing more than a patriarchal violence practiced against its workers, paradoxically one of the problems against which they claim to fight.
Violence that makes me uneasy, that women workers talk quietly about what happens to them and silence themselves when they have the opportunity not to do so, to make it evident, trying not to disturb “the patriarchal order”, those silences in which everyone knows that something is happening but no one says anything, like the “family secrets”. This produces confusion and make me question, what price are they willing to pay to keep a job? Why it is so difficult to speak with one’s own voice? Is it because they believe that the other colleagues will not support them? Or is this abuse so normalized for them, that after all, it is not so bad?
And here comes another question in relation to the “empowerment” they claim to achieve with their users-beneficiaries, women at risk of exclusion and many immigrant women. On the one hand, I ask: what is empowerment? – A word so manipulated and emptied of content? Can it empower or help to empower those who have difficulty making their voices heard where they have to? And the immigrant women, those who they try to relocate from sex work to other labour areas – problematic and unethical like Inditex – would these women and many others not have much to teach them, women who have developed capacities of resistance, struggle, courage, survival while putting their bodies every day in hostile and racist milieus? Who empowers whom? Who does the narration of whom? Under what criteria and perspectives are the stories of immigrant women seen and read? From their generic white gaze? Or their discourses on interculturality repeated without any debate or analysis? An interculturality in that the “diverse” are the “users-beneficiaries”, but with little institutional commitment to have professionals of other origins.
On the other hand, the directives of the Foundation are “preaching” on issues such as conciliation of working life, uses of time, violence, etc. occupying spaces of representation where their voices are often legitimated socially and politically. Women who are part of that elite of white “directives”, with power in the field of social intervention.
Surely what I say provokes, as it is easier and more acceptable to stay within the political correctness and shut up, as I was suggested by ex-colleagues, saying nothing because the doors can close for me by the power these people have. It is true that they are known and re-known (for the work done by their professionals), but as I said at the beginning, there are many people who know this other side of the Foundation.
Many of the things I have written in this text, I have previously communicated to the people who work in the Foundation in a farewell letter. The same that was answered by several ex-colleagues sharing with me their unease and violence experienced – using this term – “congratulating me” for the courage and subscribing my words. As I have expressed to them, I put into words what happens, I don’t think of myself as a heroine, I just try to act accordingly with my convictions.
The perversity of this is that instead self-criticism and acknowledging their mistakes and practices, they redirect responsibility and the problem to whoever questions, reclaims, rebels or tries to denounce, and do not look from the side of those who hold power- that is, themselves. The story is constructed in a way that “the guilt will be, and always is yours – the workers’.”
In this construction of imaginaries, SURT is a feminist entity. False. That their workers are feminists does not make it the feminist entity, that it has a feminist discourse does not make it feminist, that it occupies spaces of representation and their voices are audible does not make them feminists. It is perverse that an entity with its discourse to work for women, directed by women and a staff composed mostly by women, in the end, acts as any capitalist, productivist and racist enterprise.
And this what I share is not a problem exclusively of this entity and its workers, unfortunately it is a reality that is pervasive. And yes, it happens everywhere and in all kinds of companies, but we are talking about a sector that works with people. I do not know to what extent the different administrations can be accomplices of this, turning a blind eye, giving benefits to entities like SURT in which often what counts is the economic part – the bottom line of course – like a fish that bites its tail to reify its workers.
It would be good, in addition to so much gender perspective demanded in the projects, to reclaim and value good internal practices, especially by those entities – companies that call themselves FEMINISTS, who believe that feminism or “empowerment” should be implemented, imported as a program of “evangelization” or “salvation” of women.
And even if it happens in this area and in others, and all this is the reflection of our times, why not begin transforming ourselves, individually and collectively starting with the closest? The revolution is not only on the streets; the revolution is created from local spaces; and for this we must dismantle fear, leaving it where it belongs, aside.
Úrsula Santa Cruz Castillo
Barcelona, 17th of January, 2017
NOTICE BY THE TRANSFEMINIST ANTIRACIST ACTIVIST GROUP OF BARCELONA
To those who subscribe: we, a transfeminist antiracist activist group based in Barcelona, express our support to the colleague Úrsula Santa Cruz. The SURT Foundation, like many other institutions in the Kingdom of Spain, benefits from the gender, race and class violence suffered by migrant women, using us as an object of study, commodity and exchange to carry out its white Eurocentric feminist practices. We know about these facts through several colleagues who have worked and/or work in this space and tell us about the vertical practices that are lived there day by day.
We are thankful to Úrsula for voicing this unease and making it public.
IF THEY TOUCH ONE, THEY TOUCH US ALL!
NO TO INSTITUTIONAL RACIST LABOR VIOLENCE!
María Teresa Cocciarini
Beatriz Cantero Riveros
Paola Contreras Hernández
Florencia Brizuela González
Ainhoa Nadia Douhaibi
Karla Pinto Lopes
Ma. Alejandra Ferradas
Nomadas Insumisas de las excolonias
Casa Iberoamericana de la Mujer
Asociación Qàtary Perú
As Candongas do Quirombo
Rebeldes sin Sombra
Associació per la igualtat i la Recerca
Espacio del Inmigrante
Associació d’amics de RTV Clot i Camp de l’Arpa
Centro Peruano de Barcelona
Lurdes Gurria Santiago
Florencia Acebal Alarcón
Dora Arana Jaimes
Ma. Virginia González
Sirin Adbli Sibai
Joana Termes Madrenas
Marina Sánchez Cid
Raquel Rei Branco
Isaura Barciela Varela
Fernanda González Briones
Nerea Vázquez Lameiro
Maria Perez Millan
María Rosendo Priego
Rosa Santorum Paz
Carlos López Tapia
Raquel Fernández Souto
Marta Castro Zaera
Ángela Fraga María
Alexandra Vásques Rei
Enrique Góngora Padilla
David Mateo Casado