Tag Archives: Panama

You Don’t Hit Girls! by Robby Ally

First of all I would like to thank my teachers for cultivating a person that somebody as active in the equality movement as Feminist Activist would consider a feminist. Even when I write the word now, feminist, in relation to myself, I laugh out loud. Thank you for the opportunity to have so much fun wading through my dream of memories and try and add a bit of value to your meaningful work. Before it’s too late I would like to dedicate this to all the men out there who cannot express themselves and to all the women who are confused by their own physiology.

 

“YOU DON’T HIT GIRLS!!!”

That was what the girl next door’s father yelled at me as his carpenter’s hands wrathfully shook me by the shoulders with my feet dangling in the air. Before the shaking stopped, although I am not sure it has ever stopped, I suddenly thought to myself, “Why don’t you hit girls?” They are bigger, stronger, and certainly smarter than me. See, I had the grace to be the last one born to nice parents who already had two daughters. So in my little boy brain, girls were indeed bigger, stronger, and smarter than me.

Ok, so as not to bring the water to a boil as I dive into the deep end here, please allow me to state my intention on this piece. What I would like to share is that my intuition tells me latent violence on the intrapersonal level affects everyone on the interpersonal level in the form of overt violence. Through my experience this latent violence which crosses gender and cultural understanding seems to be realized by few and talked about by fewer though I suspect if affects just about all of us. I would like to draw off an example with a type of violence I can empathize for males revolving around an understanding of machismo. I would also like to bring up a type of a violence I cannot fully empathize with having to do with the whatnots of the female brain.

I remember a moonless night walking home from a wake when I was a fresh community organizer maybe a month into my job in rural Panama. The road was hard packed dirt slimed with mud and I was walking in the dark because the only person who had a flashlight was proving to me and his two sons that a man doesn’t need a light to make his way home…no matter how drunk he may be. That is why I thought to ask my dear friend, who is an even five feet tall with a body chiseled out of hard wood from throwing machete his whole life, what does machismo mean? He replied with one word as some roosters release a single crow during a cockfight, “Pride.”

A teacher of mine says that when the mind becomes full of pride, there will arise thoughts of competition and humiliation. As this pride becomes stronger and stronger, one will experience the suffering of quarrels and abuse. On the other hand, to my friend, pride was the highest expression a man could take. Machismo meant walking tall and being strong for the family at all costs. I can only speculate, but it may have been the internal struggle between competition and humiliation that this man’s pride cost him the companionship of his wife. My friend didn’t learn at the same age I did, you don’t hit girls.

To put my friend’s life into perspective, when he is at home, he is the “man of the house.” His dominance gets him the biggest portion of dinner and the only finger he lifts is to his mouth. But, when my friend is sweating for six dollars a day, he is humiliated by the man who owns the land. The landowner can do whatever he wants because he knows my friend has a crop of children back home with all their necessities and ambitions. It is a reality that my friend is not treated like a king when he is outside the home. When he returns home, his competitive attitude returns and to consider himself a man, he physically exerts his dominance over the humiliation that his six dollars a day isn’t enough to buy the opportunities for his children to break the cycle.

Furthermore, the violence doesn’t stop with the man. There are some instances that the latent violence extends from the women to the children. And from the children to the domesticated animals. To point out a sensitive subject, the children who are abusing animals may be abused in some form or another from the top down.

Without the slightest inclination to justify overt violence, I am inclined to understand my friend’s latent violence. A framework I can empathize with would be to imagine as vividly as possible what I would be going through if I were suffering the same affliction of pride given his conditions. As a man, I can ask myself how I would feel and how I would want my family to treat me. I can understand what a wounded man wants most. Sometimes, that is just a little bit of sympathy in the form of understanding that life is hard.

In an attempted to cross back over the picketed gender fence and provide an answer to the question, I aspire not to hit girls not just because I love them and want them to be happy; it is also because I simply do not understand them. My oversimplified understanding of women tells me that the female brain is flooded on a monthly basis with chemicals from birth until death. The precarious position I have found myself in over and over in this life suggests that some women do not understand their own physiological cycle. And for the sake of being polemical, I think that is a form of intrapersonal violence which can be seen in the form of interpersonal violence… having two brilliantly strong older sisters I can attest to that 🙂

So using the little empathy framework, my testosterone controlled brain’s solution is to be a provider. My goal is to provide space for women to grow into their inner beauty… usually by muting my words with a smile. And when I have the chance my satisfaction is to provide women with the opportunity to sleep for eight hours a day, eat three times a day, and stretch out in some fresh air. The only way to make this more complicated is to be in charge of providing ladies with their chemical fix by making strong coffee and finding delicious sugary treats. And people, I ain’t even getting into the utopian pleasure of random acts of kindness here!

That is all I got. It’s that simple. If I am a feminist, I am left wondering why on this tiny little planet it is all so complicated… oh I almost forgot my own pride.

Peace and love to all. May they find happiness and the causes of happiness and be free from the sorrow of suffering.

 

Currently Robby Alley can be found in the highlands of western Panama. He is working on an initiative to create legal and economic instruments to promote the sustainable use of biodiversity around a national park. Part of his passion is found while informally promoting the participation of rural community members in projects that create sustainable livelihoods through protecting nature. It’s been a struggle, but Robby has found happiness loving women and laughing with men.


Day 12- Women’s Activism in Central America and the Caribbean

Central America and the island nations adjacent to it in the Caribbean Sea are often an unknown or forgotten part of the world. The biodiversity and fragile, supple ecosystems of these countries are under attack but so too are the people of this region. The high rates of violence in Central America and the damaging effects of climate change in the Caribbean mean that everyone here is on high alert. Two organizations that operate around the world to help women, but are particularly active in Central America are Vital Voices, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and MADRE. Though I will attempt to find as much as possible in English, a number of the links today may be in Spanish, if they are, it will be clear.

Guatemala: The murder rate in Guatemala is 49 of every 100,000 people. Frighteningly, it is not the highest in the region. But the rate of violence against women in this Central American country was enough to prompt a United States federal court to rule that immigration officials should reconsider the asylum request of a woman because she would suffer violence and possibly death if she returned to Guatemala. But some Guatemalan women are using activism within the US to demand a review of America’s policies. Norma Cruz, founder of Fundacion Sobrevivientes, “staged a hunger strike in front of the US Supreme Court to protest the illegal adoption of stolen children from Guatemala….”

Belize: A relatively new country, Belize’s social stratification is a complex web of ethnicity and race. Gender based violence is also problem in Belize, one of the many countries last year to participate in the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. The other major problem for Belize is destruction of its ecosystem: Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world but the delicacy of this ecosystem means that any changes in the global temperature or sea levels can be disastrous.

El Salvador: In a country plagued by civil war, internal terrorism and political violence, it may be hard to imagine that life for women is more dangerous after the peace accords were signed, but it’s true for El Salvador- the country with the highest murder rate in the world in 2009. In a country where women’s average salary is 28% lower than men’s, rates of murder and rape of women rose after the war. Salvadoreños also deal with US intervention, especially when it comes to mining, on a regular basis. Go here to send support to activists from Cispes El Salvador who have received death threats because of their vocal objections to US intervention there. Unsurprisingly, LGBTQAI rights in El Salvador are also under attack, but Entre Amigos (in English) is not afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Honduras: Lower than El Salvador but higher than Guatemala, Honduras’s murder rate is 67/100,000 inhabitants. The 2009 coup that expelled the former-President has left women in political limbo, but they are still in the streets demanding their human rights. Activists in El Frente are frequently targeted for their participation in anti-Lobo (the new President) demonstrations. If you are interesting in participating in a training session for the health and safety of activists fighting for the rights of sweatshop workers in Honduras, go here.

Nicaragua: The feminist movement in Nicaragua has the same generational aches and growing pains as the women’s movement in the US but some young Nica women are actively working to make the label “feminist” a positive one. Women’s rights activists in Nicaragua have been persecuted by the Catholic Church but support letters from Amnesty International followers gave them the strength to continue their fight. This page concisely explains women’s grim reality in Nicaragua. This blog highlights the work of one of my colleagues who is volunteering his time to help the street children of Nicaragua.

Costa Rica: Many unique international organizations working for women’s rights operate out of Costa Rica, including the Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE), and the UN-mandated University for Peace which offers a MA in Gender & Peacebuilding. Also in CR the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres and the Centro de Investigacion en Estudios de la Mujer Universidad de Costa Rica are working academically to shape and improve women’s realities.

Panama: Panama’s first lady, on International Women’s Day, called for a nonviolent revolution to bring about gender equality in the country. Gender based violence and poverty are two major concerns for Panamanian women, in addition to “unequal access to education, and lack of political activism.” But many women in Panama do take to the streets in a different form of activism.

The Bahamas: Spousal rape and the ability to transfer citizenship to their children are two of the most contentious issues Bahamian women are fighting against and for, respectively. Part of the frustration of feminists in the Bahamas comes from women simply following men’s lead in politics. Rest assured though that if and when Bahamian women stand up for their rights, they will not be denied.

Cuba: The Revista Mujeres highlights the work and inequalities women face in Cuba today. One of the most vocal groups in Cuba Las Damas de Blanco visibly protest the government’s detention of their sons and husbands for their own political protests.

Jamaica: Homophobia is Jamaica has garnered the ire of LGBTQAI activists in the US but activists in Jamaica have their own hands full battling “corrective rape” of lesbians and violence against women in general. Racism is also still prevalent in Jamaica, but activists are speaking out against that too.

Haiti: Poor Haiti. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, diseases, and violence have marked Haiti’s recent history, with women suffering the most for it. Haiti lost three of its most influential women’s rights activists to the 2010 earthquake. The women who made rape a crime in Haiti, only in 2005, would have been heartbroken to hear the tragic tales of sexual violence in the makeshift camps that were constructed after the earthquake. Those women left behind continue to fight against violence, and rape (including testifying at the UN Court of Human Rights) and to have their voices heard. This year’s V-Day campaign also alerts the world to the plight of women in Haiti.

Puerto Rico: Although this island is not an independent nation, and is in fact, under the authority of the US, Puerto Rican women face unique challenges. This Master’s thesis by Matthew Perez of Ohio University explores the intersectionality of oppression that Puerto Ricans face. Activists in Puerto Rico two years ago seized the capital in a peaceful protest to decry the laws there that they say promote female submission to men and violence against women.

St. Lucia: The St. Lucia Crisis Center has participated for years in activities to bring about an end to violence against women, including AIDS awareness workshops. One of St. Lucia’s most vocal women’s rights activists, Flavia Cherry, spoke out about discrimination she has faced from the Minister of Gender Relations because of her political association.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: As in the US, many, if not most rapes in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a tiny island nation in the Caribbean Sea, are not reported. But when a female police officer accuses the Prime Minister of rape and the charges are dropped without investigation, it is too disheartening. This article is a good recent historical summary of the obstacles women face in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Trinidad and Tobago: The environment is one area that has been difficult for female activists in Trinidad and Tobago to break into, but Yvonne Ashby has managed to make her voice heard. Gender and feminism in the black power movement are explored in this essay, and at least one activist in this country has been harassed by the police for her vocal objections to the treatment of children and women. Trinidad and Tobago’s female Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has promised that this year the country will establish a national Commission on the Status of Women, hopefully this will help address the concerns of the women and activists of Trinidad and Tobago.


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