Volando Libres, young people fight against gender-based violence from childhood

Photo story

The project seeks to raise awareness among minors in a country where 10 women are murdered every day.

Portrait Gladys Pinto

Text and photos: Abraham Bote Tun

Gladys Pinto is a young teacher at Leandro Valle Martínez High School in Kanasín, Yucatán, Mexico. She is the mentor of several girls who are fighting gender violence, harassment, bullying and "authoritarian" adultcentrism.  

The normalista leads the project Volando Libres #SinViolencia, founded by a group of girls from the community, which seeks to raise awareness among school students and their environment about the aggression they experience on a daily basis, as well as how to identify and combat these problems. 

This problem takes on special relevance, as femicides and disappearances are par for the course in Mexico. Official figures count 10 murders of women daily.

Volando Libres seeks to reinforce the culture of peace among students and local residents. “The teacher stresses that the students of the school and the community should recognize the violence they experience. 

The initiative has four stages:: The first two are devoted to the team leaders expressing what they feel about the violence they experience, that they are not safe in the streets, and the family violence they suffer in their own homes.

“They feel and imagine what they want to do and how they want to change this situation, and they look for solutions," she says. 

Personally, as a child student, Gladys did not suffer any type of violence, but she was a participant when her classmates were violent.

“I was the typical kid who laughed and did not realize how bad my classmates had it. I have met them later in life and these are moments that stay with them. No adults or teachers ever made us aware of what we were doing, but it would have been useful to learn those lessons", acknowledges the teacher.

During her university life, she devised a program dedicated to awareness-raising, and years later she was able to put it into practice during her work as a teacher.

It was against this background that she decided to create this project, which began as a school project as part of a contest held by a national association called Somos el Cambio, in October 2019.

“The main objective of the project is to prevent violence in different contexts, whether at home, at school or in the community, since the students participating in the project live in one of the most violent areas of Yucatan (Kanasin); The idea is to disseminate information so that adolescents can recognise the different types of violence they experience and perpetrate, in order to change this through small actions and activities that gradually involve the whole community", he says.

She is trained as a teacher, and considers that there is quite a difference to studying in a conventional university; mainly, she explains, because they receive humanistic training; “In my life as a teacher, we were always trained to educate young people with a social conscience and not to focus only on academic grades; for that, I am grateful for the lessons taught by my teachers," she emphasizes.

Although she admits that normal life did not provide her with all the tools to know how to implement projects with a social impact, because in that area they had to dedicate themselves more to pedagogy to learn how to teach, she does, however, say, "I think I was able to take the good and the necessary to implement not only this project but I also learned the way I like to teach from a humanistic and conscious perspective”.  

The teacher explains that in the various activities and workshops they have carried out, they have found that types of violence, aggression and harassment were normalized among the students - actions such as being hit by a classmate or having a girl's skirt lifted for "fun”, for example.   

However, thanks to Volando Libres, they now recognize this as violence and can report it. “They already call it for what it is, they make it visible, they are aware that when something happens to them in the classroom or outside, they have to report it," she says. 

Gladys believes that it is through this project that they are fighting a type of authoritarianism, adult centrism: “One of our aims is for children and adolescents to have their voices heard in the first person and not only to go along with what adults think they need; We always try to make them the protagonists in all the activities and to encourage their peers to join in the social work, both at the individual level and at the collective level," she said.

One of the satisfactions of being in charge of Volando Libres is to be able to encourage her students to be aware of the reality in which they live and that they can do their part to change what they do not like. "Often, they do not know that what they are experiencing is violence until we investigate and carry out activities to make them realize that it is not normal and should not be accepted”.

The greatest satisfaction is to see the personal growth of each student involved, a change in all senses, in a positive way, she adds.  

At the same time, she points out that it is important to promote this type of initiative because students, especially at the basic level, require comprehensive education, and this can only be provided when they participate in certain projects since teachers are used to only offering theoretical perspectives and what "is really needed is for them to experience from an early age what it means to be a citizen who takes care of the environments in which they live in order to have a dignified life, without violence and where respect is key”.

This photo story was produced with the support of the Global Support for Democracy Unit of the  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union. They are part of the dossier "Youth & democracy in Latin America. Young voices on the rise".