When Professor Valeria Fabj received the Kathleen Cheek-Miley Endowed Faculty Fellowship, it was truly the beginning of an international journey into women’s rights and social justice.
One of the program’s most recent recipients, Fabj traveled to Peru to chronicle a sterilization epidemic that began in the late-1990s. Twenty years after the initial procedures began, she would witness first-hand the devastation felt across the community in addition to the continued battle for reparations.
“I had heard about these women marching in Peru, primarily in [the capital city] Lima, calling for justice for women who had been forcibly sterilized against their will throughout the country,” said Fabj. “More than 300,000 women were sterilized, many of them against their will. Nobody did anything for these women until these feminist groups came together to petition the government.”
After spending countless years studying women’s movements and serving as the editor for a top journal in the field, Fabj was particularly intrigued by the nature of the South American nation. Following much of her prior studies, she had assumed the fellowship would mostly entail historic research. She would soon stumble upon a far more contemporary angle within Peru.
“I wanted to see what the current movement was doing because you cannot undo the surgeries,” said Fabj. “They are now asking for some sort of reparation. They’re not exactly looking for money, rather help with job placement, healthcare and psychological help.”
While in Peru, Fabj recognized a widespread knowledge of the procedures and widened her research accordingly. She would find herself meeting countless women throughout the country that were either touched directly by the sterilization crisis or knew of those who had been impacted.
“It’s important to raise awareness, to see what’s happening and the fact that sterilizations are not unique to Peru,” said Fabj. “While they became prominent [in Peru] twenty years ago, these procedures started in the U.S. in the early 1900s.”
Now back at Lynn, Fabj has taken to educating the world about her experiences abroad. Via presentations on Lynn’s campus and the pursuit of a journal article, the professor has made a point to inform her colleagues across the globe of the atrocities that occurred in South America.
“It’s very helpful to have faculty be able to bring something back and to get energized,” said Fabj. “When you teach all the time, it is important to stay current with what is happening. Some of that you can do by reading other research, but it truly re-energizes [us] when we are a part of doing the research ourselves.”
Fabj is currently putting together a documentary of her additional research in Italy, the second half of her Cheek-Miley Fellowship journey. An extension of her studies into women’s movements, the program will highlight the post-World War II feminist movement throughout the country.
As she moves forward, Fabj is eager to continue her studies into similar social movements, all while contributing to the world’s understanding of such cultural atmospheres. While she may have discovered more than she planned in Peru, the first-hand experiences will stick with her forever.