Barbara (Bita) Aranda is a Consultant at Egate, a US-based international accelerator with operations in Mexico that helps businesses run by Latin American men and women thrive in North America. A champion for women’s rights, Bita was a Global Young Leader in the Johnson & Johnson Summit and Global Citizen Festival, a reporter for Girl Up Campaign at the UN Social Good Summit, as well as a former Counselor for the UN’s Girl Up Campaign, where she was able to work on initiatives that empowered girls in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics fields. Moreover, Bita is passionate about developing solutions to mental health issues, and previously worked on a research initiative with US Congressman Tim Ryan to improve social/emotional learning for public schools in the US.
What is your background?
Bita Aranda: I am a graduate from Universidad de las Américas Puebla in México. I studied International Relations and it has become my absolute passion. I love understanding how the world works through economic, historic, geographic and political contexts, although I rarely agree on how our society has managed everything so far. When I was in college I wasn’t very involved in the students’ union or activities for students, and I guess I regret that, but I was very much into studying and acquiring knowledge. I am about to get a degree on Human Rights, Justice and Gender, from IBERO Puebla, and I work in an international accelerator that helps Latina-owned businesses thrive in North America.
You were a Global Young Leader for Johnson & Johnson at the Johnson & Johnson Summit. What inspired you to get involved with Johnson & Johnson and can you tell us about your experience?
Bita Aranda: I was actually invited; I barely knew about what J&J was doing – for me it was a big corporation and that was all. So I was very happy to get the invitation, and get to know more about how they contribute to the world. It was an amazing week; I met wonderful Young Leaders around the globe who I know are making this world a better place, and I found out what J&J is doing to provide health worldwide. I was amazed to know the UN actually surpassed their Millennial Goals, so I am absolutely sure that they will be able to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals.
You also served as a Counselor for the United Nations’ Girl Up Campaign. Can you tell us about some of the projects you worked on with Girl Up, and some key takeaways from your experience?
Bita Aranda: I was one of the ten Counselors during WiSciCamp 2016, which was held in Peru. I feel very humbled to have been able to be part of this experience. This camp was aimed to inspire girls to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. I was able to coach ten girls from the United States, Peru, Mexico and Chile while they were learning coding, microbiology, developing apps, etc. As counselors, we gave workshops on public speaking, self-esteem, leadership, story-telling, women who inspire, etc. and I was able to teach my girls about the importance of self-value and emotion “control” or understanding.
Also, you previously worked on a research initiative to improve social/emotional learning for public schools in the US. Can you tell us more about this project and some of the valuable lessons you learned from it?
Bita Aranda: One of my professors knew I had a passion for mental health. So he approached to me with an initiative proposed by Congressman Tim Ryan, from the 13th District of Ohio, and his quest to provide Social Emotional Learning in three levels: health, education and veterans. For schools, I was able to understand how projects like The Hawn Foundation have allowed kids to get in touch with their emotions and thoughts and understand them better not only to improve in school, but in their human relationships as well. What I liked the most about this, is how kids improved their relationships with themselves. I am a big fan of this initiative; I hope one day it gets passed. Unfortunately right now only 14 other congressman and women support Tim Ryan on this issue. And I learned that there is a similar initiative going on in México, it is called Construye T.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Bita Aranda: For me it’s all about equal opportunities. We should not favor someone over the rest, and right now the disadvantaged (among many) are women, and we hold the answer to a lot of things. We know what taking for granted means, we know what being underestimated means, we know what it is to fight harder for the same things as others, so we don’t want that for ourselves, or anyone else. Women, given their experience, and given how incredibly smart they are, could change the world.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Bita Aranda: I know it might sound clichéd, but definitely my mom. She was raised in a very conservative environment, not with explicit violence, but where women where valued by their capacity to reproduce, how they cooked, and how they raised their kids. My mom was very closed minded, and I have seen her blossom. Maybe she’s not very open yet, but she questions everything now – she weighs what was taught to her and what she actually wants to believe in. She has gone through a lot, and she has been the backbone of all of us, but most importantly, of herself.
In your opinion, what are little known facts about mental health issues that disproportionately affect women?
Bita Aranda: It never occurred to me how deeply PTSD might affect women. I recently met someone who had two miscarriages and people brushed off her feelings, thoughts and emotions as “normal” and “as soon as she gets pregnant again it will all be over,” but in reality she needed help. She sought help herself, despite all her fears regarding psychologists and psychiatrists, and she is under treatment now and is lot happier, because she understands that it was a chemical process that can be solved, that she wasn’t “crazy”, and she was relieved to know that.
What, to you, are the biggest challenges to women’s empowerment in Mexico?
Bita Aranda: Right now, the Mexicans. We cannot begin to pressure our government when most of the population does not believe there is a gender problem. It is systematically and culturally intrinsic to who we are, and that is a shame. Domestic violence is something that is very common, and it is not believed to be an issue – it is normalized. The big decisions are still being made by men; very few women hold leadership roles, either in politics, or in the private sector, and because of this, public policy is ridiculous. On sexual harassment and abuse, a governor actually gave women whistles as prevention measures. Feminism is “trendy” for them, since Obama and Trudeau declared themselves feminists, they now call themselves like that, but in reality they don’t do anything to protect women.
What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources related to women’s empowerment and social impact?