At the heart of Pesas y Poder lies an ‘intersectional’ feminist ethics and analysis. Intersectional feminism seeks to address overlapping identity-related oppressions of gender, class, race, nationality, disability, age and sexuality to empower program participants. The concept of ‘intersectionality’ emphasizes how the experience of gender differs for each individual, as a result of their unique position at the intersections of these identity categories; it implores feminists to embed their activism and research in an awareness of the many structures that shape our lives and to avoid assuming only one feminist perspective or path forward. The ‘intersectional’ approach to feminism therefore requires a wholistic understanding of multiple, interrelated oppressions of men, women, and nonbinary identifying people.
As a result of our embrace of this approach, Pesas y Poder links public health and healing from trauma with gender empowerment. We also adopt a body positive commitment for all, regardless of their gender or sexual identity, to promote wellness for individuals and communities. Finally, we promote inclusive decision-making and programming in collaboration with local communities.
Our focus on the interwoven nature of multiple identity-related injustices brings our attention to the integral role that body shaming plays in racism, sexism, classism, ableism and homophobia. For this reason, our approach underscores the need for a body-positive commitment. The program welcomes all ability levels and celebrates all body-types.
With this guiding vision, the gym becomes a space to be reminded of your own intrinsic value, rather than a space to simply improve fitness outcomes or shape your body into a new form. Rather than encouraging people to change who they are, Pesas y Poder provides opportunity for people to demonstrate to themselves that they already are who they want to be.
Gender Empowerment, not just Women’s Empowerment
Pesas y Poder recognizes the need to empower men, women and non-binary identifying individuals together. For this reason, Pesas y Poder is not only engaged in women’s empowerment, but instead seeks gender empowerment more broadly. By challenging patriarchy, we hope to destabilize gender norms. We hope to subvert deeply entrenched notions of masculinity and femininity, recognizing that these notions ultimately harm all people regardless of their gender.
Indeed, the community we serve expressly requested that the programming address the plight of men, as well as women. With our focus on gender empowerment, we also self-consciously create a space for LGBTQI+ people. Thus, Pesas y Poder serves people of all gender and sexual orientations.
Public Health as Empowerment
We focus on the connections between public health and human agency. Our approach draws attention to the politics of everyday life; larger power structures shape individual and community opportunity, but people desire to choose their own destinies. Therefore, personal struggles, including those with fitness, are political struggles, embedded in and reinforcing the many injustices we experience each day.
For this reason, Pesas y Poder focuses on empowerment to challenge the larger structural and symbolic injustices that shape our mental and physical health. Pesas y Poder rethinks categories of trauma, obesity and gender; and it creates spaces where physical practice can reinforce resilience, provide body image affirmation, and supply nutritional information to reduce the harm of mainstream fitness pressures. The program celebrates a multiplicity of bodies, gender roles and fitness goals. In so doing, Pesas y Poder redefines ‘health’ as the potential to survive daily confrontations with suffering and injustice that pervade life on the margins of the global political economy: health as justice.
Commitment to Inclusivity
Pesas y Poder thoughtfully engages a diverse, transnational cultural setting to achieve the overarching goal of gender empowerment and community resilience from trauma. For all of us on the Pesas y Poder team, such engagement will require continued learning from and listening to the Salvadoran people that we serve with this project.
This inclusivity involves sharing of decision-making power with the most vulnerable and otherwise marginalized participants. Our Board of Directors reserves leadership positions for representation of ethnic, class and gender diversity, and continuing research through a ‘participatory action framework’ shapes program direction with community input.