Girls’ Globe Book Tour – Next Stop: Latin America

Join Girls’ Globe on a global book tour of female authors. We’ve visited Sweden already, and we’re ready for our next stop!

Latin America has a rich literary history. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Roberto Bolaño, Julio Cortazar. However,apart from a few notable exceptions, Latin America’s women authors have gone comparatively without recognition. Those who can quote Neruda’s Veinte Poemas may not have even heard of Ocampo’s Los Nombres.

Yet Latin America is full of decorated women writers who capture the culture of their countries, and the nuances of the human condition, as well as any of the male writers in the Latin American canon. A few (available in English) to start:

Laura Esquivel

“La mera verdad es que la verdad no existe, todo depende del punto de vista.”
“The truth is that the truth doesn’t exist, it’s all a matter of perspective.”

Laura Esquivel is from Mexico City and spent eight years as a teacher. Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate captured imaginations for its mix of magical realism and genre cross-over and became a bestseller in the United States and Mexico.

Known for: Como Agua Para Chocolate [Like Water for Chocolate] (1990), Malinche (2006)

Julia Alvarez

“It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in.”

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, but her parents, Dominicans, returned to the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo’s notorious dictatorship. They fled again in the 1960s.

Alvarez began writing in the early seventies, a time with Latino literature was far from mainstream. She made a living teaching high school while writing, and at 41 years old, after twenty odd years of writing behind her, she published her first novel. She lives now in the United States.

Known for: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994).

Gabriela Mistral

“Instrúyase a la mujer; que no hay nada en ella que le haga ser colocada en un lugar más bajo que el del hombre…Que algo más que la virtud le haga acreedora al respeto, a la admiración, al amor. Tendréis en el bello sexo instruido, menos miserables, menos fanáticas y menos mujeres nulas… Que pueda llegar a valerse por sí sola y deje de ser aquella criatura que agoniza y miseria si el padre, el esposo o el hijo no la amparan.”
“Instruct women: there’s nothing in them that relegates them a lower place than men…That something more than virtue makes her worthy of respect, of admiration, of love. Instilling this in the fairer sex will leave them less miserable, less hysterical and less empty…it will let her come to value herself for herself alone, and cease to be that creature which agonizes and suffers should her father, her husband or her son not protect her.”

Mistral, whose real name was Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, was a Chilean poet. Her career is said to have started when she was a teacher in a village after a relationship which ended when he, a railway worker, took his own life.

Her writing took her from teaching to the Chilean consulate, and actively involved in culture and education in the region. The Universities of Florence and Guatemala awarded her honorary degrees, and taught at the United States at Columbia University, Middlebury College, Vassar College, and at the University of Puerto Rico. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945.

Famous for: Sonetos de la muerte [Sonnets of Death] (1914), Desolación [Despair] (1922), Ternura [Tenderness] (1924).

Look out for the next stop on the Girls’ Globe Book Tour…coming soon! 

Cover photo credit: Brigitte Tohm 

Linking with Those at Standing Rock

I stand in solidarity with the water protectors.

Native Americans from nearly 300 tribes united to protect the water by protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. This pipeline would transport 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day across sacred burial grounds and Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for Standing Rock.

According to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Standing Rock Reservation is a sovereign native nation, meaning that Energy Transfer Partners has no right to construct this pipeline on their land without their permission. The US Government, per their own treaty, has no right to let them.

I stand with the water protectors because I oppose a $3.7 billion project that supports a corporation at the expense of human beings. I stand with them as a white American who is interwoven in a system that exploits Natives for my gain – and I want that exploitation to stop. I stand with them because I am crying out for my government to honor the treaties and begin to right its wrongs for our collective dignity.

I stand in solidarity with the water protectors as a woman.

I don’t know most of the women water protectors. They are just images on Facebook, people I’ll never meet. Yet my Native friend and water protector, Sara, claims I know them all indirectly. “We’re all linked,” she assured me, “through the tragedy and triumph of womanhood.”

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Yes, and I still have white privilege. No fortune 500 company is putting a pipeline through my water source and I have clean water while the predominantly African-American community of Flint, Michigan does not. That tragedy and triumph of womanhood also impacts us differently. Domestic violence makes home the most dangerous place for Native, African-American, Latina and white women, but Native women are more likely to be hospitalized for that violence. On some reservations, women are killed by intimate partners 10 times the national average. One in three Native women are raped.

It struck me that 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Native (read: white) men. As non-natives, these men cannot be prosecuted by tribal courts. Rape of white women does go to trial, though as we learned through Brock Turner the courts tend to favor the white male perpetrators.

Our link as women may be contentious, cumbersome and imperfect, but Sara is right: we are linked.

I look up to the women at Standing Rock. One woman, Zintkala Mahpiya Wi Blackowl, gave birth at one of the water protector camps. She gave birth alone, delivering her baby by herself, as an act of resistance to the patriarchy and the pipeline. “I’ll birth where I choose,” she said. “It’s not for any man to tell me where I can have my baby.”  She named her baby Mni Wiconi, which means water is life.
Her decision to give birth without assistance near a battleground made the hair stand up on my arms. Native Women have a history of forced sterilization. They have lost their children to boarding schools and non-Native foster families. Like all women, they have had their bodies assaulted and exploited, their rights denied and their humanity questioned.

joe-brusky-1aZintkala Mahpiya Wi Blackowl took back her story, her voice, her body. This is the reclamation of power. This is resistance. This is leadership. This is turning tragedy into triumph.

I stand with the courageous, beautifully defiant and strong women of Standing Rock. I also stand united with the men. Our connection to each other as human beings is imperfect and wrought with relative power and privilege, but it endures. We will regain our collective humanity when we recognize, as Gloria Steinem says, that we are linked and not ranked.

Let us link with those at Standing Rock.

For more information on supporting the water protectors, see Romper’s list here.  

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky (CC). 

Why Do Afghan Women and Girls Write Despite Threats?

Written By: Noorjahan Akbar

Three years ago a close friend and I decided to publish a book of women’s writings in Kabul, Afghanistan. The book, which included more than thirty poems, narratives and essays in Persian was a hit, but we never imagined it would grow to become a living platform for Afghan girls and women who are students, writers, aspiring journalists and poets.

Today, our book, Daughters of Rabia, has grown into a social media blog with more than 50 thousand readers every week and an English website, Free Women Writers, where we translate and share our stories with the world. Our book has gone to six provinces in Afghanistan and more than 125 women and a few men have written for us about issues that impact women’s lives.

This year, we were finally able to launch a scholarship program to support one Afghan woman’s higher education and offer professional guidance to women in Kabul and around the country using the internet. We also began working with a local radio station and two local newspapers to reach people who don’t have internet access.

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While writing as a form of protest has existed in Afghanistan and other parts of the world for centuries, more than once contributors to Free Women Writers have used pen names or have asked me to remove a story they wrote for security reasons. On one occasion, a writer who had written about the atrocities of Taliban against women was threatened with death. In another, the relatives of one of the contributors launched character-assassination attacks against her on social media because she had dared to write about gender-based violence in her family. On numerous occasions our blog and social media outlets have been hacked, we’ve been threatened, sent demeaning pornographic images, as many have tried to discourage us from writing.

From their homes to the streets to social media, Afghan women and girls are threatened for simply raising their voices and telling their stories because it is assumed that by discussing the issues they face, they bring shame and dishonor to their communities and to Afghanistan as a whole.

What is still incredible to me is that nearly all our contributors have written for us more than once. Even the women who write with pen names or have been threatened return and write more when they feel ready. They write about the obstacles they face in going to school, about early marriage, about street harassment and sexual violence, and many other forms of discrimination that continue to impact our lives as women and girls. This is a small testimony to the tremendous resilience of women and girls in Afghanistan and around the world.

When we write, we say loud and clear that we won’t be silenced or shunned. In a world where femininity and being female is seen as inferior and shameful and in communities where the most natural parts of our bodies are treated as taboo and a woman’s voice is considered sinful, it is an act of conscious protest when we decide to tell our stories.

Our stories are also a tool for speaking with one another. Patriarchy sustains itself by isolating women and teaching them that the struggles they face are either their own fault or isolated incidents- not a result of existing sexism and patriarchy. When we write our stories, whether they are about violence or any other topic that has shaped us, we build bridges with other women. Together we slowly deconstruct the walls of isolation, competition, and rivalries built to divide us as women.

Afghan women, and women around the world, have realized the power that our stories and our voices have in changing the world. We have decided that the days of silence in the face of injustice and violence are over.

Written by Noorjahan Akbar of Free Women Writers, a Girls’ Globe featured organization.

Featured Image: Asian Development Bank / Flickr Creative Commons
Embedded Image: Noorjahan Akbar / Free Women Writers

Gender Parity in Lesotho: 10 Years Later

Post Written By Stephanie Vizi

In 2006, married women in the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, gained equal legal standing to men under the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act.

Now, any woman can legally own land, receive inheritance, and make her own decisions. Prior to 2006, women in Lesotho were considered legal minors.

In 2003, the Sexual Offences Act was enacted to combat sexual violence. The Act officially defined all forms of unwanted sexual penetration as rape, not just vaginal penetration as it was prior to this Act. This act also gives legal rights and validity to men who have been raped. In addition, it states that marriage or any other relationship is not a legitimate defence to sexual violence.

10 Years Later

It’s been over 10 years since these laws were put into place to protect women from gender inequality and abuse. However, implementation has been slow, especially in rural, mountainous villages, which accounts for the majority of the Basotho population. According to Thato Letsela, Help Lesotho’s Officer for Leadership Centres,In general in town things are changing, but in rural areas there are still problems.”

Even though the principal land legislation in Lesotho (first in the Land Act of 1979, then repealed by the Land Act of 2010) is gender neutral, customary practices provide that land is allocated primarily to men through inheritance, requiring women to access land through their husbands. The Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, aimed to eliminate such discrimination. However, a study conducted by Yvonne A. Braun in 2010 revealed that policies designed to compensate women and men who lost their land for the construction of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), reinforced the existing gender inequalities. Compensations were paid solely to men, while woman who lost their lands were disqualified.

Shasha Makhauta, Help Lesotho Youth and Gender Programs Coordinator, contributes Lesotho’s patriarchal environment to a lack of education and sharing information, “I think since 2006, women can now access loans like their husbands, the number of women in parliament and community councils had increased, thus they contribute a lot in the formulation of laws and developments in Lesotho. However, this only applies to educated women – women at the village level are not aware of their rights. They still regard their partners as the head of the families, which means husbands hold the power over decision-making for their families.”

For example, while working with women in a rural community, called Thaba Tseka, Makhauta realized most of women were beaten by their husbands. The women did not report the abuse because they said they felt it is the husband’s right to discipline his wife and did not consider it abuse.

Steps to Gender Parity

DSC_0145[1]Girls and women are the most vulnerable population demographic in Lesotho. They are most likely to be suffering different types of abuse and are unable to access the support and resources they need. The information and strategies implored in girls and women through Help Lesotho programs is more likely to improve the lives of entire families, peer groups, and communities. On an annual basis, 75% of Help Lesotho’s beneficiaries are girls and women.

Establishing gender equity is essential to creating sustainable social change. Despite significant legislative changes promoting gender equity and the rights of women, cultural barriers and limited enforcement, continue to limit the implementation of these changes at the family, peer and community levels. Gender inequity severely impacts the opportunities of girls and women to make decisions for themselves. Abuse, sexual violence and HIV transmission are common issues that stem from power imbalances between men and women.

By empowering girls and educating boys, Help Lesotho is working to build a critical mass of people who are committed to gender equity. Help Lesotho programs support girls and women to heal from their trauma, while boys and men are intentionally included in the struggle for gender equity given their essential role in fostering sustainable behavioural change to achieve social justice.

DSC_0959[1]Help Lesotho’s gender equity education and training is offered to young men as well as women because both genders require the knowledge and confidence to achieve gender equity, reduce gender-based violence and foster human rights. These programs address these challenges by fostering doubt about unhealthy myths and beliefs, enhancing the cognitive skills required for analysis and healthy decision making, examining the components of self-esteem and self-protective behaviours, and practicing simple strategies for self-protection.

Patriarchal values and norms create power imbalances and limit women’s rights, but with continued focus and awareness on achieving gender equity in Lesotho, hopefully in another decade, women will be living free of patriarchy and fulfilling their potential.

Cover Photo Credit: Dave Miller, Flickr Creative Commons