When the 23-year-old Chilean activist Karin Watson was deciding what to study at university, she felt torn between her work on human rights and her love for design. Eventually, she settled on the latter. "I realized any organization needs designers," she says, "for social media or posters or protests."
Currently in Barcelona pursuing her master’s in design, Watson nevertheless continues to serve as the co-founder of the Re-Earth Initiative, an environmental justice organization, and a member of both Latinas for Climate and the gender equity group Women Deliver. Before the pandemic, she was also part of Amnesty International's Global Youth Collective for nearly two years. "I grew up learning and hearing about social movements, about how the health, education, pension systems weren't working," she says of her path to activism. "For me, the most important was education, because education is insanely expensive."
As the daughter of a teacher, the value of education has never been lost on Watson. She learned that information itself can be a powerful tool as well. In 2018, as a design student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, she started Que Se Sepa ("Let It Be Known"), a zine and Instagram account where women could visibly but safely share their experiences with abortion. Until just the year before, the procedure had been completely illegal in heavily Roman Catholic Chile. Since then, it has been decriminalized, but only in three specific circumstances. Watson hopes things will improve soon, especially since neighboring Argentina legalized abortion at the end of last year.
Along with reproductive rights, Watson is also intensely focused on environmental justice and the ways in which both issues intersect in Latin America, a region where women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. For Watson, the two are deeply intertwined—as a recent post on Latinas for Climate's Instagram page points out, eighty percent of climate refugees are women. Her efforts have also focused on promoting the Escazú Agreement, which recognizes the right to "information, public participation, and justice on environmental matters" in a region where defending the environment often comes with a very real risk of death. After two years of little action from countries to ratify it, the agreement finally came into effect on Earth Day, April 22, earlier this spring.
The past year has also convinced Watson of the need to focus on mental health, particularly for activists. As someone who struggles with anxiety, she felt inspired to collaborate with the team at Amnesty International on a workbook, Staying Resilient While Trying to Save the World, which focuses on the importance of safeguarding one's own mental and emotional state even while fighting for a larger cause. "I love what I do, and I want to do everything!" she says—but she wants more activists to consider their own well-being too: "We’ve got a super huge fight and we need people to do the work, but you're just a human and you need to eat. You have to take care of yourself."
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