The first thing that strikes you about Yunuen Rodriguez is her intensity. She is a crusader—someone who cares deeply about bringing equality to a diverse multicultural society, and about ending abuse by challenging negative stereotypes of women. And she feels called to speak out and act on her beliefs.
Rodriguez joined Females United for Action (FUFA)—an initiative of the Women & Girls Collective Action Network (a Ms. Foundation grantee) in Chicago—just after it was founded in 2005, her first year of college. The following year, she joined the Women & Girls CAN board. In January 2007, at the age of nineteen, she became its first youth Co-president.
As a young Latina from a low-income background, Rodriguez feels that, “women like me have historically been silenced because we don’t conform to the dominant ‘patriarchal-American’ culture. At FUFA, the members, including our adult allies, listen to me. Through their support I feel that I can do anything I want to do. I feel like my ideas are completely heard, that it’s okay to be my whole self.”
FUFA is a coalition of young women dedicated to targeting the root causes of gender-based violence by “galvanizing outrage” against a culture that objectifies women and girls. In particular, FUFA challenges the media to take responsibility for its role in promulgating negative, sexually exploitive images of women and girls—and to do something about it.
In late 2005, when one Chicago radio station, La Ley 107.9, ran an ad all over the city on billboards, trains, buses, and in Spanish-language newspapers with a row of Latinas in short shorts photographed from behind with “25 pegaditas” (slang for hits or slaps) written across them, FUFA came out like warriors. They let loose with a barrage of press releases, emails and petitions and presented testimony at a heavily attended public meeting. Rodriguez spoke with the press and developed strategy at every stage of the campaign. And when the general manager of La Ley and a representative from its owner, the Miami-based Spanish Broadcasting System, finally came to the bargaining table, she led two of the negotiations. Six months after FUFA’s campaign began, La Ley agreed to pull the ads and to take the issues FUFA raised into account in all future advertising. They also agreed to give FUFA airtime to discuss their efforts to combat violence against women.
After this critical success, FUFA began working to counter negative media images by offering alternative visions. In 2006, Rodriguez and another young woman coordinated a traveling exhibit of photographs that focused on positive images of women and men. They handed out cameras to a group of young people, and the resulting show was seen by hundreds of youth in Chicago.
Rodriguez also runs workshops for Chicago youth on media justice and speaks at events for adults and teens to present a young woman’s perspective on media justice and violence against women. And she’s testified before the Federal Communications Commission on how women of color are portrayed in the media. But she’s not just there for the “up front” work, at which she excels. She’s always encouraging younger women to take part and speak out.
As a talk show host on Chicago’s Radio Arte, Rodriguez takes a lead role in bridging cultural gaps between people to open their minds and hearts and encourage them to learn from one another. “I’ve always had the drive and motivation to fight for the poor, the disadvantaged and abused families, and children,” Rodriguez wrote when she joined the Women & Girls CAN board. “I believe that by working with other young women and men who share my ideals, I can help to open doors that will give us all a better understanding and respect for one another.”
“The Ms. Foundation’s support has enabled us to tap into a larger national movement to rethink the way anti-violence work is done … to get at the root causes and prevent violence from happening,” says Melissa Spatz, Executive Director of Women & Girls CAN. Rodriguez exemplifies how integral young women are to this movement. Melissa agrees: “Yunuen is a passionate leader … passionate about ending violence and passionate about helping young women become leaders in their own right.”
Yunuen Rodriguez Co-President of the Board, Women & Girls CAN; Member, Females United for Action