Kimberly Bautista: on Redeeming Humanity

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women and men from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real-life insights on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential paradigm shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "What we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence, why Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.

I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day, we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

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Kimberly Bautista - filmmaker of Justice for My Sister

How did you get started in film?
I was very interested in social justice movements. I had watched a film when I was in college about women who disappeared and were murdered in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. That film resonated with me, because I had never watched a documentary that made me want to take action, in a way where there could be real, tangible shifts. After seeing how that documentary awakened my consciousness, I was inspired to create more. Often times, we might not have the necessary information and, as a result, don't take action. We don't understand the implications of our own habits and what ramifications they have in another individual's life. When we can identify with that person, we feel a calling to take action. I was intimidated at first to committing myself to film. I experienced an unfamiliarity with the whole community as well as certain expectations, especially coming from a very middle class background--my father is Colombian, my mother Irish American. But my parents have always been supportive and I have also had mentors who pushed me to pursue filmmaking. Justice for My Sister was my first professional product.

What made you decide to document femicide in particular? And in Central America?
Being of Colombian heritage, as well as a transnational activist, I found it necessary to examine the US foreign policy, beyond Mexico, beyond North America. In the film we make reference to the genocide that happened and the internal conflict that was, in great measure, sparked or upheld by US foreign policy. These wars affirmed the belief that if women were subject to violence they must have done something to provoke it. Over half the cases of femicide in Guatemala are of intimate partner abuse, which is why in my film I chose to focus on one. Abusers know they can get away with it because of impunity, witnesses who are afraid to testify, and the corrupt victim blaming notion that runs these cases.

Is war in Guatemala the only reason? In Justice for My Sister Ricardo says about Adela that he doesn't know "what she did to make someone hurt her." What do you think contributes to this perception that women are at fault for being attacked?
Even in my case, I can't tell you how many people upon hearing my story of survival asked, "Why wouldn't you think that might happen while documenting this story?" I kept asking myself: "Why didn't I listen to my intuition and stay at the other house? Why didn't we lock the door? Why didn't we have a guard outside?" But regardless, even if we had taken all the precautions it still might have happened. By blaming ourselves we're removing the responsibility from the people harmed us. The justice system in Guatemala is not centered from the victim's point of view, even in the US that remains true. When I was trying to obtain mental help from the US, my psychologist asked me, "Why are you attracted to violent people in violent places?" We're careful in our workshops to limit the notion that it's a cultural issue because it's not a cultural issue. It's a social issue, one we contend with all the time in the US. Thankfully, in the US there is a certain level of legal access that is becoming closer to the victim's perspective. That is the result of the feminist movement here. In Central America, many policy changes have been pushed forward by the women's movement, but implementing policy on the ground is a hurdle.

What is the result of the feminist movement in Guatemala? Are you seeing progress?
In Guatemala the feminist movement is extremely strong. With Rebeca, she demonstrated so much resilience through her struggle. There's an amplified sense of victim blaming in Guatemala that is really unchecked. However, there are now more mechanisms in place to quell victim-blaming, by way of coalitions led by women's organizations and many agendas that women have fought for. There are increased gender-sensitivity trainings throughout Central America for judges, lawyers, and reporters, funded by different European Embassies, and administered by national women's agencies and regional foundations. This initiative is called the BA1, it's a campaign to end gender based violence against women. I've collaborated with some of those agencies, as well as U.S. and Canadian Embassies to train police. The interactions with them are always interesting. For example, in Costa Rica, an officer straight out disregarded the training, and told me that they're so far removed from the issue of femicide. But then one of his peers stood up and reminded him of a former policeman who was suspended for domestic abuse. He pointed out that if they have gender based domestic violence in their ranks, these issues truly are relevant in the country. That's why it's important for me to sustain leadership development and gender equality programs with the Justice for My Sister Collective.

Since the release of the film, do you see a change/do you think it's affecting men?
It's pushed men to think about their daily privileges. One of the nephews of our advocates accompanied us to a screenings. Afterwards he turned to me and said, "This really made me think about the ways I've treated women I've dated in the past." For that to happen where an audience member, who just happened to be there, is moved to take inventory on their behavior is incredibly powerful. This realization helps to shift a culture of victim blaming, of objectification of women. Men aren't the only ones who need to take inventory on their behavior. Women often blame themselves for their partner's violence, when the partner is the responsible party. Our trainings aim to teach men and women that the person responsible for the violence is the aggressor.

Breakdown to breakthrough?
With being subject to violence in Guatemala, I can't say there was one breakthrough moment because it's not a linear healing process. You go through cycles of reconciling with what happened. I would say shortly after that horrible experience I was very bent on not being silent. In telling Rebeca, my main character, about my case she said, "This is something that is going to propel you to continue fighting." And I knew that. Even in interfacing with my rapist, I recognized that these young men are attempting to prove themselves to the ringleader. I turned to one of them and said, "Don't you have a sister?" He ignored me, but later that night he basically saved me. We were outside and the ringleader said "you can go inside" and I was so thankful it was over. Then someone else was trying to rape me and that person who I had questioned about his sister defended me saying, "No, the boss said that she can go back inside." When people are hurting you there are still opportunities to see their humanity. This campaign is for women but also to redeem the humanity of men.

Legacy?
In this world, women's voices are so questioned and dismissed and I want to contribute to changing that.

Kimberly's interview shook my core. Her ability to search for the humanity in the people who've wronged and scarred her amazed me. She's an incredible, smart, and compassionate human being who will go on to do amazing things.