On Monday night, UW Oshkosh geography professor Erin DeMuynck spoke in Sage Hall, presenting the work she did in Peru with Mujeres Emprendedoras, which translates to women entrepreneurs.
DeMuynck did the first stage of her research in Huaycán, a growing urban community on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. Huaycán has exploded in population since 1984 when several hundred families began to develop the area, and now has a population estimated to be over 150,000.
The program DeMuynck worked with had two main programs: an online store that sells good made by the women at fair prices, and Mujeres Emprendedoras, a program that teaches the women how to start a business, get a bank account and marketing strategies.
Using language that accurately represents the women she was working with is important to DeMuynck because she doesn’t want her research to reinforce the very stereotypes she works to dispel. That’s why when DeMuynck presented her work she titled it “Research with Mujeres Emprendedoras in Peru: Reflections on Women’s Empowerment.” She deliberately chose the word “with” for her research as opposed to the standard “on” used in a great deal of academic research.
“I chose that word intentionally, and it’s a little different than how I usually talk about my work because I usually say ‘research on midwestern cities,’ or I’d do ‘research on urban redevelopment,’ but ‘on’ wasn’t working for me for this project,” DeMuynck said. “I really wanted to be intentional about doing work with mujeres emprendedoras.”
DeMuynck said she wants to be very intentional with her research and the language she uses to report it as marginalized groups are heavily researched, but that research often doesn’t improve their lives or well-being in any way.
“A lot of times researchers from universities in the global north will sort of swoop in and take people’s time, information and then go back and type up the results and publish it in some obscure academic journal, and then nothing happens for the research participants,” DeMuynck said. “That seems a little exploitative to me, and I want to make sure that we’re at least making an effort to not do that.”
According to DeMuynck, among some researchers there is a myth that the global south is a place knowledge travels to, not from. This view not only ignores the fact that there are many researchers in the global south doing work, but also that not all knowledge comes from institutions of higher education.
“The women I’m working with, most of them don’t really have a formal education, but they have knowledge as well, so I’m incorporating that knowledge into this project and recognizing it as knowledge,” Demuynck said.
DeMuynck hopes to return to Huaycán this coming summer to do follow up research and see how the program has influenced the lives of the women who participated in it.