When I was in high school, I learned about Magali García Ramis’s “Solo para hombres en la semana de la mujer” (or, “Only for Men on Women’s Week”). It’s an essay the Puerto Rican writer penned to observe the concept of manhood, one that has been historically intertwined with a morbid obsession of war, pain, and humiliation.
“We [women] didn’t have to prove with forced and external pain that we are strong,” García Ramis writes. “We proved it by birthing you and feeding you while you could fend for yourself.”
In 2021, the concept of masculinidad hasn’t changed much, and while women continue to be killed, harassed, and oppressed in all sectors of Latinx communities, feminism is still seen as a dirty practice. Yet, feminism continues to spread like wildfire, mainly because women are seeing for themselves that the fight to be seen, heard, and treated with respect is not a trendy hashtag. It’s a fight for our lives.
More than 3,000 women were victims of femicide in 2018 through 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, while abortion is still penalized or inaccessible in most of Latin America. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these circumstances with lack of access to care, medicine, and a rampant joblessness that forces many women into violent relationships and households.
Yet, change is still happening. Argentina decriminalized abortion and Puerto Rico established a state of emergency amid its femicide crisis. Both were the results of years of work by feminist collectives. From Brazil to Chile and the Caribbean, individuals and collectives have taken matters into their own hands, urging and forcing governments to recognize the terrifying numbers of femicides and the undisputable right to choose whether to be a mom or not.
These are some of the individuals and collectives that have defended our right to exist as women, from the 20th century to today.
- Dolores Cacuango
Born in the 19th century, Dolores Cacuango was an Indigenous rights leader in Ecuador, who fought for workers’ rights and education, and protection of Indigenous lands. Her advocacy was sparked as a 15-year-old girl, working in servitude for an hacienda owner. While Cacuango was unable to access proper education, she spent 18 years leading one of the only Indigenous schools in Ecuador, which taught in both Quechua and Spanish before it was closed in 1963 by the military junta.
- Rigoberta Menchú
Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú is a K’iche’ activist and Indigenous rights advocate. Born in Guatemala, Menchú’s life was dramatically impacted by human rights violations during the country’s civil war, when she lost her father, mother, and two brothers, along with 1,700 other Ixil Mayans. At 23, she published her own memoir I, Rigoberta Menchú, and has since become a prominent voice for Indigenous rights. Since 2007, she’s unsuccessfully run twice for president of Guatemala.
- Aurora Levins Morales
Levins Morales is a Puerto Rican Jewish feminist, who has been demonstrating for the rights of women of color since the 1970s. Born in Maricao, Puerto Rico, Levins Morales became a member of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union as a teenager, participating in sit-ins against the Vietnam War and advocating for equal pay. Today, her work focuses on environmental justice and people with disabilities.
- Marielle Franco
Marielle Franco was a Brazilian politician and feminist activist, killed in 2018. Franco began her political work in 2007, and worked with organizations like Brazil Foundation and the Maré Center for Solidarity Studies and Action. As a single mother born in the favelas, Franco positioned herself as an advocate for the poor and Black communities in Brazil. In 2018, after she tweeted against police brutality in Rio de Janeiro, she was shot driving her car. Her killing was credited to two former members of military police, who had received honors from President Jair Bolsonaro in the early 2000s.
- La Comandanta Ramona
Comandanta Ramona was one of seven leaders of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, which was made up of one-third of women. Ramona was born in Chiapas, México,
where she led the fight for the protection of Indigenous lands and rights. In 1994, she led a Zapatista uprising that took over San Cristobal de las Casas. In 1996, she helped found the National Indigenous Congress in Mexico City. Around that time, she also helped the Ejército fight against policies implemented by NAFTA, which took over Indigenous lands.
- Las Tesis
Las Tesis is a Chilean feminist collective, most known for their 2019 anthem “Un violador en tu camino.” The song, which called out the evils of patriarchy in everyday life, was translated and recreated 367 times in 52 countries. Las Tesis first performed their song in November 2019 outside Chile’s Supreme Court in Santiago to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
- Colectiva Feminista en Construcción
La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción is a feminist organization in Puerto Rico, known for their relentless fight to establish a state of emergency on the island due to its femicide crisis. La Colectiva says they are a “political project, fighting against the heteropatriarchy, anti-Black violence, and capitalism.” Their 2018 sit-in in front of the governor’s mansion demanding a state of emergency to be declared made national news, but was ignored by then Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his successor Governor Wanda Vázquez. In 2021, Governor Pedro Pierluisi declared the state of emergency, a win for la Colectiva.