Casa Comunidad, a feminist and grassroot strategy for a more liveable world

by | Oct 6, 2020 | destacado-ingles, Economic Justice, Eradication of Violences and Discriminations, Let's get it, sister, Networks and Alliances

“For us, the popular[1] is just as important as the feminist”. The phrase summarises in a few words several hours of conversation with four women who are part of Casa Comunidad [2] (CC). We invite you to read about this powerful feminist organisation which set foot in their territories. It challenges the geographical limits of the city of Córdoba, Argentina, and it is committed to the construction of communities without violence from a comprehensive perspective.

By Natalia Ferreyra

The call for Ni Una Menos (Not One Women Less), which shook Argentina in June 2015, affected multiple areas. In Córdoba, Argentina, organised women, especially at the Encuentro de Organizaciones (a wide network of social organisations), better known as the EO, have been warning about the need to address and prevent gender-based violence for years.

The emergency that took the streets at that time enabled many women to wonder what to do in their neighbourhoods with the violence that women and LGBTIQ+ people were experiencing. “An issue that did not seem that important or it was only taken care by some organisations was highlighted”, recalls Anabella, a member of CC.

“At the EO, feminism was an especially important participation tool for us. We attended the National Women Meeting, we promoted room for debate, and we had feminist organisations; but the interest was uneven, it did not affect us all in the same way”, she says.

The power of women from different organisations was consolidated in a concrete proposal at the end-of-year plenary in 2015. “Our partners from the southern area, from the Costa Cañada, La Lonja and Suárez neighbourhoods had a great concern: how to act in cases of gender-based violence. At that time, there were no protocols and the governments did not provide specific tools so we built our own protocol with feminist activists. That was the Casa Comunidad kick-off”, Anabella recalls.

This proposal was followed by the cornerstone of the project: setting a line of work for gender-based violence prevention, approach and accompaniment with a community perspective. Casa Comunidad became a strategic tool for the EO, until it became what it is today: an autonomous organisation, with its own group dynamics and processes of collective construction.

Community support is the answer

Since 2016, “the house”, as our feminist partners call it, has become a home for many women who, with their children, needed to get out of violence situations that imply being in a house with access to their aggressor. The support that this shelter offers goes beyond only housing. It provides psychological assistance and legal advice. Furthermore, it promotes articulations among women in the development of production workshops, which in turn become a feminist economic initiative, according to the needs and interests of each woman that arrives.

“We are convinced that there is the way out is not individual. To get out of violence environments, women networks and their communities are key”, Anabella emphasises. From this point of view, the CC distinctive seal emerged: the formation and construction of what today is called Self-Defense Community Forces located in their own territories.

Feminist networks

Rocío remembers the beginnings of this organisation. She emphasises that the women networks arose in a very natural way and collaborated to consolidate the project. “We met Fondo de Mujeres del Sur (FMS) through a group of women from Maldonado neighbourhood. When we started to put together the house, they invited us to present ourselves to call for proposal for REDAL – Networks and Alliances free from violences programme”, she says. REDAL is the oldest programme of the FMS. It supports women defenders on the front lines and women organisations that face multiple oppressions. “Since then, they have accompanied us in many ways”, Rocío sums up.

The FMS contribution is not measured only in financial terms. Rocío highlights the importance of being part of REDAL: “We started weaving networks with other organisations, which are also partners of the FMS. We meet in training sessions, we help each other to spread what we do, we pass on information about calls or we assist each other in fundraising activities. Also, to be part of the FMS puts us in contact with other women who collaborate with us, such as the girls from the publisher Inguz, who donate a percentage of their sales to the house”.

These relations are pivotal to consolidate projects and ways of working. They happen with one purpose, but they trigger and enhance learning processes that are difficult to measure for the members of the CC. “They make us feel that what we do is valued by other colleagues and that we have significant support. Sorority itself”, Rocío claims.

Casa Comunidad is sustained mainly by self-management and voluntary work. They receive donations through fundraising campaigns  , and the EO helps to support the rental of the house. They also receive contributions from various organisations, which finance specific projects.

The FMS has been accompanying the evolution of the house since 2018 and it has been backing the women’s work dynamics, on the basis of constant and active listening to the community members so as to always be opened to find new ways to fight against gender-based violence .

In 2018, through the REDAL programme, the FMS financed the project of Local Promoters against Gender Violence; in 2019, the Training School for Local Non-Violence Companions, and, in 2020, it accompanied Casa Comunidad in the project to create Community Self-Defense Forces in the neighbourhoods.

Casa Comunidad promotes the decentralisation of the tools that they are designing to cope with violence. An accompaniment process in the neighbourhoods so that the neighbours give real continuity to the prevention and eradication of gender violence with the aim of transforming it into a daily community activity.

“These projects allowed us to let other communities know Casa Comunidad tools. Each promoter drew up a work proposal for their specific areas and to set the gender issue on the neighbourhood agenda. This year, we aim to set up accompaniment teams and community self-defense groups by areas and in connection with the work spaces of the neighborhood organisations”, Rocío says.

Anabella is convinced that, faced with a violence situation, there has to be an individual and a collective shift. “It is essential that in every area, communities collectively take over on defending women, because no one will do it if we as women do not do it, and we have to do it all together. We need to generate tools to take care of us”, she summarises.


Self-management and feminist economics

Norma is 40 years old. Everyone names her as a bastion when it comes to production projects. “After spending time at ‘the house’, I wanted to share what I knew: how to make homemade tinned food. With other colleagues, we began to produce and created what is now known as the Homemade Tinned Food Workshop ”, she says. This workshop was followed by two more workshops –one on textile production and another one on cooking with food service. Each one was proposed by the women who came to the house. They were aware of their economic situation so they came up with self-management projects to earn money.

Casa Comunidad took the concern and unveiled a new line of work to deal with structural violence of a patriarchal society: economic violence.

“Economic autonomy is a central axis to face and get out of violence. Many people remain with their aggressor because they are economically dependent. In the case of dissident identities, they are not formally employed. This situation leads to violence such as social exclusion”, Rocío explains.

Let’s Get It, Sister! is a complementary initiative from the FMS that fosters feminist philanthropy, aiming to strengthen the sustainability of women’s organisations over time. Since 2020, this campaign has supported the Casa Comunidad project.

“The FMS colleagues helped us to acquire equipment to consolidate production workshops and think about a Feminist Crafts and Services Training Centre. This assistance boosts the productive dimension and generates incomes for the sisters who have gone through or are going through specific situations of economic violence”, says Rocío.

 Norma and Andrea are convinced that production workshops address cross cutting concerns. They felt it in their bodies. They know the transformation they felt and many of their colleagues experienced when inhabiting “the house”. The period of unrest, which is born first as an economic need, ends up modifying daily aspects as women: self-esteem, gender self-perception, the construction of confidence and the possibility of drawing a horizon with greater freedom and autonomy.

“The house has been transforming over time. While we were canning homemade food, other issues that concerned us arose, and we tried to find solutions together. During the workshop, for example, we acknowledged the need to have a line of work aimed at gender dissents. Today we have an alliance with the Trans Men House, which is a great support for us and for educating our daughters and sons with greater freedom” says Norma.

Empathy, the possibility of naming what is loaded in the memory and the body, the continuous learning so as not to judge, the movement and the openness to dismantle the daily violence of which one is part; the need to listen to the younger generations, to colleagues, as peers; the possibility to dream a future with more freedom, kindness and justice. It would be impossible to name the amount of learning and experiences that women associate with the house. Sometimes, as Anabella says, or as Norma or Andrea refer, these are invisible movements that, from one day to the next, are enhanced in practice. And when that happens, dreaming of a better world ceases to be a utopia and becomes a possible desire.

The FMS supports CasaComunidad through the complementary initiative: Let´s Get It, Sister! and the program Networks and Alliances Free of Violence – REDAL

* Natalia Ferreyra | Feminist mother. Journalist, writer and filmmaker.

[1] “Popular” understood as common, standard and accessible for all.

[2] Community House.