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Professor Jenny Pearce gives keynote address in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Published: Fri 18 Jul 2014
Professor Jenny Pearce gives keynote address in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Professor Jenny Pearce gave a keynote address in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on 9 June at a Public Event organised by Oxfam Honduras, to mark the end of a pilot phase of applying participatory methodologies in contexts of chronic violence and insecurity. These methodologies were initially developed by Professor Pearce in collaboration with Alexandra Abello (Bradford Phd Candidate), and known as 'Security from Below'. The event was attended by community researchers and residents from some of Tegucigalpa's most troubled neighbourhoods, as well as by public officials, police, city politicians and congressmen, human rights activists, international organisations and the media. The community researchers themselves presented the findings from their research.

Tegucigalpa The methodology was originally applied in the context of Medellin, where the Canadian research and development body, the IDRC, funded a four year programme with the Observatory of Human Security. Professor Pearce and Alexandra Abello were academic advisors to the project. The Observatory developed and refined the methodology and Lina Maria Zuluaga and Durfay Quintero (Durfay is a community researcher in Medellin) trained community researchers in the implementation of the methodology in Tegucigalpa.

Professor Pearce has worked with a number of organisations in Medellin since the 1980s around agendas for change in a city which in the 1990s had the highest levels of homicides in the world.  In fact, it is doubtful whether any city has reached the 392 homicides per 100,000 that Medellin reached in the early 1990s, at the height of the battles between Pablo Escobar and the city’s police, with many young men from the poorest neighbourhoods in the city acting as assassins on behalf of Escobar. Today, San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the most violent city in the world with a homicide rate of 169.3 per 100,000 in 2012 according to a Mexican thinktank , the Citizen Council on Public Safety. Tegucigalpa had an incredibly hight rate of 102.2 murders per 100,000 in 2011, and the city is enveloped in fear. Honduras is today the most violent country in the world outside of war, according to the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs.Tegucigalpa3

Jenny Pearce’s research has focussed on two fields: participation and violence. But the two fields gradually converged and over a decade ago, she began to explore what kind of participation emerges in contexts of chronic violence and insecurity and how it might reduce violence and enhance spaces for participation. For five years (2005-2010) she convened the Violence, Participation and Citizenship group of the Institute of Development Studies Development Research Centre. She also began working with the Observatory of Human Security in Medellin, bringing participatory methodologies developed in other contexts to the security issue. She also built on the findings from a British Council funded exchange between the Bradford and the Medellin police. Together with Alexandra Abello she published an article on ‘Security from Below, Humanizing Security in Contexts of Chronic Violence in the IDS bulletin 2009 on Transforming Security and Development.

Tegucigalpa4 The idea of ‘security from below’ is that security remains a public good, but that community researchers working with academics and NGOs develop a capacity to articulate the differential security needs of their communities which are often otherwise unheard and invisible due to the difficulties of conducting research in areas of chronic violence. More than this, community researchers can develop with other residents, new approaches to security which challenge the stigma attached to everyone living in violent areas and which categorises everyone as part of the problem. Most are in fact desperate to live in a situation of safety but also to have their basic rights to housing, jobs and food security met.

In Medellin, the Observatory is now a reference point for the local municipality, public bodies and residents, in that it shines a light on what is really happening in the city. At the same time, community researchers have gained a huge amount of voice and confidence. The way violence impacts on women, gays, lesbians and transsexuals, displaced people, children and youth differentially is highlighted.The methodology nurtures horizontal relationships between academics, community researchers and NGOs, and enables shared agendas to be built.

In Tegucigalpa where the work was with women living in the midst of all forms of everyday violence and extortion and in a country where a woman is murdered every 14 hours, the community researchers were able to articulate these experiences with all the force that comes from living the reality on the ground. A number of womens’ organisations have worked in these neighbourhoods for years, and the groundwork of social organisation had been laid. This was now turned to the area of violence and security, and in a way which gave the women researchers protagonism in articulating the problem and seeking a form of security which does not reproduce violence. Despite being very nervous, the women were able to speak from the heart but also from the evidence they had gathered in listening to the experiences of their neighbours, impacting greatly on the audience, including a new anti corruption party, one of whose leaders came to speak to Professor Pearce and the community researchers after the event.

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