Lessons from Latin America

Why I Love Being A Woman in Latin America

Here we are. One week after Women’s Day. March 14: the anniversary of the death of Marielle Franco, influential and powerful Afro-Brazilian feminist and activist who fought for the rights of women and girls, Afro-Brazilians, and favela communities.

This is a little late. I know that Women’s Day was an entire week ago.

But when the most important woman in your life, namely your own mother, finally got a passport just to come see you for a week in Colombia, you make time.

I wanted to make this article as a source of positivity and empowerment for International Women’s Day as I share with the world why I love to be a woman, particularly in Latin America.

I’d like to focus on the reality of women’s realities here in Colombia. Extreme feminists might describe it as a hurricane of harassment, and I certainly feel that way sometimes. I mean how ironic that on the way to the café where I wrote this article I passed by a 70-some year old man who, point blank, refused to back down his stares up and down my body as I strolled on by fearlessly staring right back.

I won’t lie. If there is one thing I detest about living in Colombia and Latin America it’s the fact that I am subject to living in a society that devalues women.

It is a constant and daily battle every day here in Colombia, a country that still has a long way to go with regards to gender equality. Every day I get catcalled. Every day I get unwelcome and sick stares from men of all ages. Stares that I don’t have to see, but nonetheless, I feel. Every. Damn. Day.

It’s an unfortunate reality some say, and yes, it absolutely is!

And maybe if I was a man, the article would end there, as if calling out the issue is good enough. But I am a woman, so I am going to talk about it.

Being from the United States, I consider myself lucky enough to have come from a country that is more advanced with regards to women’s rights. The society is more sensitive and outspoken on the abuse of women in all its forms. Although there is still progress to be made with closing the gender pay gap for example, the statistics of violence toward women are indisputable in comparison to Latin American countries.

This is a product of the devaluation of women and the normalization of machista behaviors whether on a conscious or subconscious level.

In saying this, I mean to point out that I have a unique perspective on this topic as an American woman living in Medellin, Colombia. While there are days, no joke, I come home and have at it at my pillows, I consider this opportunity of living in Colombia a huge learning experience.

Never in my life have I felt so subjected to inequality, but at the same time, never in my life have I felt so strong and empowered in all of my femininity.

I love being a woman. I love being able to say, yes, I am WOMAN!

You know why?

Because unless you have some sort of opposing force or resistance, there is no reason to RISE! In our patriarchal world that profits from our self-doubt, loving yourself as a woman is a rebellious act. And I love being the little rebel.

I’ve realized that the machismo that exists in Latin America serves a purpose for women who know how to take advantage of it. Although it revels in seeing me shrink in shame, it has the opposite effect. It serves to push me to love myself deeper than I thought I ever could. It forces me to come in touch with the power of my femininity and to embrace and HONOR that more than ever before. Living in a world where I am subjected to more harassment and disrespect, I can either give in to the force or rise up against it.

A quote by Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We have this ‘comfort’ and ‘convenience’ a little more in the United States. However, it is places like Latin America, where we women face the ‘challenge’ and ‘controversy’ much more, where the real work goes on.

In honor of Women’s Day we applaud all women who have fought for our equality all around the world. But I more especially commend the women of developing regions like Latin America, regions with more potent and outward sexism, for the advancements they’ve made to attaining women’s rights.

Some of these women (Latina women) I have posted on my Instagram page as a tribute to their inspiring efforts that affect even me, an American woman. I am also announcing my continuation of my #LatinaLoveLunes feature where I will post in my IG Story every Monday the life and work of one badass Latina (famous or not) as inspiration for the week ahead. J

The world benefits from the female presence and here in Latin America that presence does not go unnoticed – in large part because of the work of phenomenal woman leaders who have paved the way for us. I love being a woman in Latin America because in the face of a greater resistance I am able to grow stronger and more beautiful through the respect I cultivate for myself. And this comes as a daily reminder.

To be woman is an honor, not a shame.

To be woman is respectable, not unworthy.

To be woman is your greatest strength, not your weakness.

For now, I take each day as it comes, some days with more peace and confidence than others. But on the days where I don’t have the energy or patience to say anything back to the drive-by whistles or those under-the-breath comments, I just walk away and in my head know that those cowardly men, unable to grasp what it really means to be a man, must really wish that they had the dignity and pride that comes only with being a woman.

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