Washington, D.C., March 8, 2021.- On this year’s International Women’s Day, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) makes a special recognition to all the women who were firm in their commitment for equality over the past year, particularly in light of the increase in violation of their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, we align with the United Nations’ theme for commemorating March 8: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.”
Race and Equality held talks with seven women from different parts of Latin America and the Caribbean who participated in advocacy spaces to promote the defense of their rights. We asked them to share their message to the nation’s leaders as well as a message of hope and resistance to all the women in the region.
United and Secure
From Colombia, Alicia Quiñonez of the National Conference of Afro-Colombian Organizations (CNOA, in Spanish) asks the Colombian authorities to place their focus on the ethnic Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero territories; to protect life and to guarantee women the right to a decent life, free to pursue social, political and entrepreneurial work within their territories.
In her message to women, Alicia states: “I invite you all to imagine and to work towards more social, political and economic spaces that will allow us to remain united, lifting our voices each day for organizational processes that allow ethnic territories to demand their rights and to live in peace – because together, we can achieve much more.”
Jessenia Casani, director of DEMUS of Peru, stated that authorities must focus their efforts on promoting and achieving gender equality. “We must confront the pandemic with a gender approach in mind. For example, we need to implement preventative strategies to counter sexist violence and, in this context, be able to guarantee sexual and reproductive rights by providing comprehensive sexual education, including access to emergency contraceptives, access to legal and safe abortion services, maternal health, and other services without discrimination and violence.”
Rosa Castro, from the Women’s Association of the Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico stressed the importance that women continue denouncing all forms of violence they experience, as well as demand for spaces of power. “Let us exercise our political rights and continue to organize, empower ourselves and consolidate our political participation in all decision- making spaces, women must have a place at the governance table and be represented in the discussions.”
Resilience in the Midst of Crisis
Juanita Jiménez, Director of the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM) in Nicaragua, explained that in the midst of a socio-political crisis and human rights crisis that the country has endured since April 2018 combined with the pandemic, women face an ever-increasing risk of violence and femicide. She assured that “the fight for equality continues on, for historical and present-day discrimination continue and even modernize.”
She emphasized, “We continue to fight for the return of democracy and for the return of all rights, we want to live in a democracy so that our human condition is recognized, so that our bodies are not punished for daring to decide, to think differently, nor be criticized or inspected by authorities; the fight for equality continues so that girls can grow up safe, be valued from birth, have access to technology, science, education, and integral development, and most importantly, that they can live free from violence.”
Lisandra Orraca, a Cuban citizen and member of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR), made a special call to the authorities so that in Cuba any crimes of femicide be classified and punished as such. She expressed, “I would like to tell the women of my country to stay united in the fight for equality and for the respect of our rights, this is the only way we can achieve a better future, free from abuse and discrimination, together we can achieve it, we can never give up, together we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to.”
From the organization TRANSSA in the Dominican Republic, Agatha Brooks articulated the importance of authorities responding adequately and efficiently to the violence faced by trans women. In the midst of the pandemic, violence is exacerbated by the lack of gender identity legislation and access to health services, not to mention a drastic decrease in financial stability. Brooks remarks, “To women, both cis and trans, I tell them not to stop fighting, that our fight is constant and that, if women in the past had stopped fighting, we would not be where we are today. Although it is believed that there has not been progress, much progress has been made and we still have a long way to go, so we need courage, strength, we can move forward.”
Women in Pandemic: Resistance and Community
The health emergency generated by Covid-19 not only exceeded the capacities of most health systems around the world, but also exposed pre-existing inequalities, violence, and poverty in our societies. Thus, historically marginalized groups like the Afro-descendant populations, LGBTI peoples, and women suffered from the impacts of this pandemic in an extreme and differentiated way. The lack of access to health services, the exclusion of health measures, the exacerbation of gender violence and the increase in the burden of care assumed by women in the home are some only a few of the many emerged situations.
And yet, along with all this suffering, we saw how women who fight for the recognition and guarantee of their rights remained firm, including women in public positions, health personnel, and those who head the household. For these reasons and many more, from Race and Equality we hope that on this International Women’s Day, women can re-double their strength and determination to organize, advocate, and take action for their rights. Women’s contribution is essential to have a more just and equitable society.
Throughout this week, we will be sharing videos with the messages of these women on our social networks, under the slogan “Women in Pandemic: Resistance and Collective Action.” We invite you to join this campaign so that your voice can reach more spaces for reflection and advocacy.