The idea of having an organization like MUJER resulted from two events called Encuentros organized by LACEV (Latin American Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Children). In 1995, the first Encuentro of Latin American and Caribbean women took place and then, De Mujeres, a post-Encuentro, in January of 1996. Both events brought together approximately 650 women and 150 children from across Ontario, to participate in a wide array of workshops, forums, group discussions, panels, artistic exhibitions, cultural presentations and press conferences.
Along with the strong enthusiasm and wealth of information and experiences exchanged by many women and their children, Encuentros left behind a report that outlines several solid recommendations to further advance the status of Latin American and Caribbean women in our community.
LACEV’s members were challenged to fulfill these recommendations and in June of 1997, a steering committee was established in consultation with LACEV’s members, women activists from the community and organizations at the local, provincial and international levels. Several consultations were held in small and large groups of women and service providers in the community and such consultations enabled us to assess the feasibility of implementing one of the most important recommendations of the Encuentros: an organization that includes, widely represents, supports and advances Latin American and Caribbean women in Ontario.
In November of 2001, the Committee held a large consultation with women in the community to establish certain priorities around services, programs and activities for the organization. Its mandate was to initiate the development of the framework, mission and philosophy for our “ dream organization”. The need for an organization to take the lead in promoting the integral development of Latin American women in Ontario was strongly evident and MUJER was officially established on January 15, 2002. It was incorporated as a non-profit organization in February, 2003.
The Coalition’s membership includes women from 22 Central, South American and Caribbean Spanish-speaking countries and is comprised of survivors of violence, professionals working in the field, advocates and activists. There are approximately 45 member agencies represented.
Over the past 13 years (as of 2005), LACEV has collaborated on numerous initiatives with organizations such as: Education Wife Assault, METRAC, Working Women Community Centre, the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples, Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, Women Abuse Council, National Action Committee on the Status of Women (Ontario), Catholic Children’s Aid Society, Ontario Women’s Directorate, Metro Men Against Abuse and the White Ribbon Campaign, Canadian Council for Refugees, OCASI, Ontario Immigrant and Visible Minority Women’s Organization and the Multicultural Coalition on Violence against women, among others.
Lilian was the driving force, the wind in the sails of MUJER. Her passion, commitment, her unwavering belief in the collective capacity of women continues to be ever present in the organization. Sometimes, it has not been an easy ride; there have been some cloudy days, a few hurricanes and perhaps even a tsunami. But there is also a legacy. That, what we have today, it’s the result of the staunch stubbornness of the women who came before us and demanded justice and equality for all of us. Mujeres imprescindibles (irreplaceable women) are women like Lilian who have struggled all their lives for a better world for all of us and for the generations to come.
Lilian is a feminist, political activist and an advocate for the elimination of all forms of oppression and discrimination against women. She has experience working with and for women and children in different settings in both Chile and Canada. She has founded and co-founded many organizations including: Immigrant and Visible Minority Women Network (1983), Multicultural Assistance Services of Peel (1982), Latin American Coalition Against Violence on Women and Children (1991), Canada Network on Violence Against Immigrant Women in Canada (2002) and MUJER (2001). Lilian also has extensive knowledge and experience addressing issues of integration and violence.
Lilian came to Toronto as a refugee from Chile. She came with her four children and brought with her a wealth of experience in community organizing and a strong political acumen. When Lilian first came to Canada, she faced many barriers. She was a refugee and woman of colour who initially could not speak English. But, she continued her work with the community and with women. Her work with women began really early in her life. Chile is a deeply class-based and sexist society, and Lilian had to confront discrimination from a really early age. Nonetheless, at the age of 16 she organized the first Union of Women Garment Workers in Chile. She continued to participate in community development by initializing programs such as co-op housing, adult education, daycare and health centres for marginalized women. The ultimate goal of these projects was to empower women so they could control their own lives. She already understood that when women are given tools and the necessary information, they can join together and collectively become a powerful force.
Some highlights of her work include:
1974 – She developed a support group for Chilean and Latin American newcomer families to facilitate their settlement.
1977 – She founded the Hispano-American Cultural Centre. This centre developed cultural programs for Latin American families with a focus on children and youth to maintain their cultural heritage.
1978 – Organized a working group in support of Nicaragua. With this organization she developed a 4-year relief project for Nicaragua, in cooperation with the YMCA, CIDA and some religious institutions.
1982 – Organized a support program at St. Peter Community Centre for Salvadorian families escaping the civil war.
1983 –Organized the first Latin-American women’s group in Mississauga, Peel, named Nueva Esperanza, which later became the Multicultural Assistance Services of Peel (MASP). She worked there for 10 years.
She was part of the founding members of the Ontario Immigrant and Visible minority Women’s Organization (OIVMWO). She was the Toronto representative in the Board of Directors for five years.
1984 – She was the president of the Board of Directors of the Latin American Community Centre.
1987 – She was a Board member of the Parkdale Intercultural Council.
1988 – She was part of the executive committee of the Hispanic Council of Metropolitan Toronto. She was also a member of the advisory committee that organized a conference on Family Violence in the Spanish Speaking Community. She was also a member of the Peel advisory Council on Child Abuse (PIACA).
1992 -1996 – She worked at Nellie’s Housing Project.
1991 – She was a founding member of LACEV (Latin American Coalition Against Violence on Women and Children) which is the precursor of MUJER. This organization was comprised of 55 member agencies, grassroots groups and individuals who began to work on issues of violence in the Latin American community.
The Coalition spearheaded a number of really important projects such as a series of 4 full-day training workshops and a manual for front-line workers called Myths and Realities of Violence against Women and Children.
She participated as a delegate to the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna where she represented the perspective of Latin American women living in Canada. LACEV in conjunction with community partners produced a video, a pregnancy and abuse project, and HIV project, a research on Latin American women who came as exotic dancers, an advocacy video and manual to train volunteers to escort women survivors of violence through the courts and a number of other key projects.
Later on Lilian would go on to become LACEV’s coordinator.
1995 LACEV organized the First Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Encuentro. A 3-day province wide gathering that brought together: 550 women, 150 children and more than a 100 volunteers many of them men. A year after, there was a post-Encuentro that brought together 100 women.
2001-2003 MUJER was officially established as a result of Encuentro. Women had expressed the necessity to expand the objectives of LACEV to include a more encompassing view on women’s issues, a more integral development of women.
So many years later, we can attest to the fact that if women are given the tools and the necessary information to join together collectively they can become a political force.