Women Leaders from Two Sister Cities Utilize their Friendship to Build Bridges of Greater Understanding
By Anette Soto, Fort Worth Sister Cities International. See the original blog post on Medium.
Women from Fort Worth, Texas and Toluca, Mexico came together to host “Women: Engine of Change”—a three-day conference that focused on topics that are important to women from both cities and all over the world. The conference took place April 11 – 13, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas, and was planned by three local organizations (The Women’s Policy Forum of Tarrant County, the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas Fort Worth Chapter, and Fort Worth Sister Cities International).
“Women in every culture need to be empowered and safe.” - Judy Harmon, Fort Worth delegation.
Fort Worth and Toluca became Sister Cities in 1998 and have since enjoyed an active partnership which has fostered opportunities for annual exchange programs and long-standing friendships to flourish. It was through these friendships that a desire was identified for in-depth and open conversations regarding challenges facing women in both countries. “Three strong organizations created a space where women from Fort Worth and from our Sister City Toluca, Mexico, could explore these issues -- where we could share and learn together” said Judy Harmon of the Fort Worth delegation. The issues explored at the conference centered around empowerment, violence against women, and immigration.
“Common needs and shared problems have been an eye-opener. It is after events like these that we seek to reach out and take action,” - Lucía Torres Moncayo, Toluca Delegation.
The conference kicked off with a dynamic message of empowerment by two-time Emmy award winner Gabriela Natale who discussed how she catapulted her career in TV journalism from a carpet warehouse to the red carpet. The day also featured Maria del Carmen Castrejon, an artist who has personally made it a mission to help women in Mexico who are suffering from a common threat to all women across the world – breast cancer. She uses her talent to create ornate female busts out of clay and donates proceeds of their sales to help breast cancer fighters with their medical bills. Her passion and proactive approach inspired many women to purchase a bust and brainstorm other ways to help.
“As women of the world, it is our duty to seek to repair the wrongs we suffer day to day. Together, we can heal so we can grow.” - Chary Lopez Ahumada, Toluca Delegation
The second day of the conference focused on the devastating topic of violence against women. Experts from Tlalnepantla, Mexico to Montreal, Canada focused on, not only the alarming statistics of violence, but the proactive efforts and solutions that are being utilized to advocate for public policy and urban planning concepts that help keep women safe. Judge Martha Camargo Sanchez discussed the concept of restorative justice for juvenile offenders, which would help lessen the probability of future aggressions and crime. Kathryn Travers, Director of Women in Cities International (Montreal, CA) stressed that everyone can make an impact by urging city and park planners to focus on incorporating certain safety aspects that will decrease safety risks: lighting, landscaping, visibility, motorized traffic, pedestrian traffic, urban furniture, potential hiding spots, signage, security personnel, proximity to other public spaces, proximity to emergency services, and access to public transportation.
Conference organizers chose not to shy away from a topic that has always been the most challenging for Mexico-United States relations. Instead, the last day of the conference was focused entirely on immigration. Two US legal experts on immigration law explained the current status and facts regarding immigration policies, and fielded questions of concern regarding the current political climate. Sensitivity and concern was demonstrated by delegations of women and overall, the room was united in their commitment to grow a stronger international citizen-to-citizen bond amongst themselves.
“In spite of the conflict that our world is going through right now, when we come together in friendship and love, we can truly see that women are an engine of change.” - Asuncion Sanchez, Toluca Delegation
These women are now committed to being engines of change and began to take action upon returning to their respective homes. After visiting Safe Haven, a Fort Worth domestic violence shelter, Delia Escamilla Ceballos returned to Toluca and within 4 days had already applied and been accepted as a volunteer for the Toluca City Council Institute Against Domestic Violence. Additional orders for Maria del Carmen’s charitable artwork have been placed, and an online avenue for the Fort Worth-Toluca group to keep in communication has already been established. This effort is an outstanding example of how two communities can learn from each other, support each other, and make a greater impact together.