A good friend of mine, writer Fanny Villegas, agreed to answering some follow up questions after her January article, A Reflection on Women’s Day. If you want to get inside the mind of a woman, figure out who these modern women of Ecuador are, read on to uncover the secrets of a beautifully complex mind.
What does being a woman in Ecuador look like nowadays?
This is a question with lots of levels of consciousness – it took me some time answer it. The question invites us to measure the degree of consciousness alongside the daily experiences of women.
For me, being a woman in Ecuador means to confront the harsh reality between professional, personal and spiritual development, or else I must continue to be subjected under the beliefs and customs of a society that barely understand our rights- this includes our understanding, as women, of ourselves.
In my personal experience, I can say that being a woman in Ecuador has led me to don value and courage to achieve what I’ve accomplished even against social and cultural prejudices.
One of the experiences that shaped my life was the decision not to pursue social careers — which are mostly aimed at the female sex. 18 years ago, I decided to study electronic engineering in the only University; at that time high schoolers were required to a 98% percentage to enter. This thought was formed when in the first years of school, I had the opportunity to have outstanding and intelligent women as teachers, women who knew how to encourage me to use my talents. For admission to a Technical University, I did not have 50% of the required expertise, because there was a significant difference between the all-female high school and the technical schools, which at this time were only attended by boys. Every holiday, I prepared for the entrance exam and was able to enter among the top 5%. During my career I was confronted with the sexist judgments of some teachers and peers. But despite everything, all the stress, I managed to get a partial scholarship which required me to maintain a high average in all my subjects. I got married when I was in my 3rd year of university and despite having my two children and a part-time job, I managed to meet the goal that I had held for myself since I was a teenager. To this day, my name and the bravery and courage I embodied are recognized and valued by many teachers, colleagues and friends who lived with me during my academic life at a Technical University. I was one of the few in a land of men.
Always have had this experience, hoping to encourage many women to have the courage to achieve their dreams despite what the family and society impose them. I firmly believe that the biggest obstacle to overcome is the fear to be ourselves.
“To be a woman in Ecuador is to be a woman in a country where we decide to resist; we make the difference”
What are some of the difficulties and successes that exist for women in Ecuadorian society?
Women in Ecuador, as in other countries of Latin America, have had open the pathway for themselves into the realm of men. Women have distinguished themselves by their courage and determination. Through multiple social movements, they have assumed important roles in regards to the rights of women. There are initiatives to eradicate violence, achieve economic empowerment and increase women’s political participation and leadership.
The social, economic and political history of the country has shown important moments of female participation, although they were certainly criticized. These small successes have amounted to momentous events throughout history. For example: Ecuador paved the way to political equality by establishing the right to vote in 1929, the first Latin American country to do so. The political visibility of Ecuadorian women is a fact, though their influence within the economy is not always very clear.
On the other hand, the enterprises in our country are mostly targeted women, women who are constantly looking for their economic independence, but thus far no agreements or clear policies have been created that benefit them.
At the professional level, the participation of women in management positions has had a most remarkable development but still less equitable wage level, as men despite exercising the same charges still perceive more revenue than their female peers.
In the social sphere of relationships, there is greater freedom to express our feelings and needs without being judged or tested, but the level of subjugation and violence of all kinds remains a devastating statistic. Ecuador, like so many countries in the rest of the world, seems to continue maintaining the same trends that have always existed.
“Yet still we must strive to find our way in a world of men; we have to look for spaces to be recognized and respected for our gender.”
What is the best part being a woman in your opinion?
In my opinion, it is not necessary to find una parte- one small thing-ˈ that make us better. There are differences among genders that define us by nature. You might say that one of the best parts of being a woman is being a mother, but this statement excludes thousands of women who have not had children and personally, I believe that in the future there will be many more women who make the decision to not be mothers. In fact, I have met many women without children who are incredibly sensitive and responsible; they share this love with all around them.
Something I consider to be important and worth mentioning is a woman’s ability to overcome; this strength characterizes us all. We are the result of multiple experiences: mothers, workers, entrepreneurs, professionals, counselors, friends, girlfriends, wives, revolutionaries and peacemakers. In these ways, we learn that “difficult” times are only opportunities for growth. I can say that the marked subjugation to which we have been exposed since the beginning of the centuries has generated – unconsciously – in women a truly admirable capacity to overcome and survive.
If we look around us, we can see examples of improvement reflected in our friends and family; we realize that women are a distinctive group in regards to our ability to overcome.
I’m sure that this ability of overcoming is not exclusive to women but to all human beings who have decided to enable their own ability to “move forward in spite of everything else.”
Who are some of the authors and writers you’re reading now?
One of the books that awakened my consciousness and helped me to be responsible for myself was Letting Go by David R. Hawkins, a doctor of medicine and philosophy. He is recognized as a research pioneer in the field of consciousness, as well as an author, lecturer, clinical psychiatrist and scientist. I’m reading this wonderful book for the second time to dive back into its wisdom. It describes mechanisms we can put into practice to recognize our emotional states and to easily, effectively access those levels of consciousness that are oriented toward personal responsibility and happiness.
Another author who constantly motivates me with his articles and conferences – although I have not yet read any of his books – is the Spanish author Borja Vilaseca. He is a journalist, writer, entrepreneur and creator of all pedagogical systems aimed at the transformation and the awakening of societal consciousness. I have learned a lot of valuable critiques and evaluations through his project “La Akademia” on the traditional educational system we have. His work on corporate culture, changing mentality and new leadership has been an important reference in my professional life.
Who are some of your female role models?
To talk about the women that inspire me, you would need an entire book. There have been many amazing muses who have surrounded me throughout my life. They don’t need to be famous or exist in a library; they are women with enviable courage, authenticity and maturity. Their names may not be recognized by the public, but in this space, I want to highlight the valuable teachings that some of them have given me.
Ximena Moreno- painter, writer and lover of erotic literature. Her imposing personality and freedom to talk about female pleasure broke paradigms and taboos that defined my entire youth. Passionate about art, she made the decision to leave the useless stability of job she didn’t love to devote herself to her true passion; she finished her professional career despite criticism from her family and society. Being in her presence is to break down your own opinions and discover a different path towards freedom. She is a woman that this society cannot comprehend.
Johana Aucapiña (Laa Joy)- She has a degree in English language and literature; she’s an activist, photographer, and my travel companion. She’s passionate about all of life. She is one of those people who, when she leaves her house and walks out into the world, has ‘YES’ pasted on her forehead. Despite the prejudiced society that surrounds her, she has traveled alone to many Latin American countries. Traveling is an experience that fills you with knowledge and maturity. Now, she plans to study and live for two years out of Ecuador with the aim of starting a community-driven business.
Diana Márquez- She is a creative, friendly organizational psychologist who is deeply in love with letters. Her personality is characterized by independence and authenticity. I had the opportunity to meet her when she was only 23 years old and despite her youth, her reasoning on life and her ideals changed my own biased views of maturity. She possesses great determination when it comes to identifying her priorities. She defends sexual freedom, gender choice, the value of solitude, and the right that women have to create their own autonomy.
Valentina Riofrio- My precious daughter, she loves life. She is a singer, animal lover, painter and social advocate. At her young age (12 years) she has already been an active member of the Student Council at her school as Vice President. She represents the Provincial Consultative Council which defends the rights of children and young Ecuadorians. Proudly, I have seen her stand in front of her peers and their parents to solicit support for social activities addressed at her school. She is perpetually sensitive to the injustices that surround her, and she has become a spokeswoman for the unheard voices of her peers. Through her eyes and the nobility of her heart, I learn to enjoy the beauty of life.
Fabiola Toledo- She holds a degree in English language and literature; she is a teacher and a lover of social and cultural life, but above all else, she is a wonderful friend. She has traveled and lived in several places in the world which has allowed her to maintain a
different perspective and a wider lens. She has an admirable ability to provide well-being and joy for those who have the privilege of knowing her. She is a woman who, through her example, has taught me that true freedom and autonomy primarily entails responsibility. Friends are the family that one chooses; these noble souls are the lights on our roads.
Sandra Materi- She is a humanist, writer, editor, translator, and a woman of admirable nobility. She has lived in Ecuador for 5 years and is an active, exemplary and much-loved member of the foreign community in Cuenca. She has worked quietly within social and cultural causes in the Cuencana community, a community she values as family. About a year ago I had the privilege of meeting her and her partner, Wayne, with whom she has had an exemplary, happy relationship for many years. She has an uncanny ability to pass her vast wisdom onto others, and her perspective has offered me valuable guidance at important moments in my life.
These and other extraordinary women have been the main source of my inspiration in all aspects of my life.
If we’re speaking of famous and recognized women, I could quote Maya Angelou, American poet, novelist and civil rights activist. Her life and legacy have been a constant inspiration to me as a writer. Milagros Palma, Nicaraguan anthropologist, writer and editor, is another such inspirational writer. One of her most important essays, in my opinion, is based on the symbolism of femininity in the indigenous communities of Latin America. It is called, “La Mujer es Puro Cuento” (The Woman is Pure Story). She is also a Publisher and has published many works of writers in the feminist genre. Malala Yousafzai, student and Pakistani blogger, activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, is another young woman whom I admire. She dared to raise her voice to defend a girls’ rights to the education. Madonna, American singer-songwriter, actress and businesswoman, is another inspirational force of being. Her life, passion and irreverence to a society riddled with prejudices and injustices, have made her a reference point to promote feminism and women’s empowerment. Mireia Darder, Spanish, Ph. d. in Gestalt clinical psychology, teacher, columnist, therapist, and author of the book Born for Pleasure which invites women to recognize their sexual needs and find their own true satisfaction.
Do you have advice to give young girls in Ecuador and other countries?
The reality that surrounds us reflects a deep unconsciousness, not just on behalf of men but also on behalf of us, women, as passive propagators. We should not wait to be part of the statistics of violence or abuse to take action.
Open your eyes to consciously examine social problems, and make the decision to promote a society that will improve the conditions of women’s lives, as well as the livelihood of the population in general. We don’t need to have a social or political position to be part of the change. We evaluate our interests and question them, to better understand whether these interests are directed toward the individual or collective benefit.
Disavow, at all times, the “truths and beliefs” that you have acquired since childhood. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Don’t allow anyone to discriminate against you for your academic, social or cultural level. Remember that “professionals” are not people who have a college degree; a professional is formed through experience and continuous learning. In this era, someone who does not study doesn’t have an excuse. This is the era where knowledge and information is within everyone’s reach.
Look for ‘training’ that allows you to be independent and happy. The traditional education system is still forming professionals to become employees; it still promotes careers that are gender specific. We must get that old paradigm out of our head, that monotonous voice that limits us and impoverishes the female gender.
Heal the heart of its grudges and resentments, especially against parents. They are present in our lives only to guide us. Young people live in constant conflicts with their parents, but should understand that their parents have done the best that they could have based on their training and experiences. If we, as women, want to be taken seriously, we must be serious and responsible with our lives. The main constraint is in our heads. We build the road. One of the best things we can do for young people and adults is to heal the relationship with our parents.
If you could talk to yourself when you were 18 years old, what would you say?
Read, read everything, but above all else read the types of books that are capable of changing the minds and hearts of people. Discover the essence of life through these words. Open your mind and your heart to constant relearning.
Write, write whatever you want, in the way as you want to do it. Just reflect your thoughts and way of looking at life through letters. You will notice that when you write, your reasoning about what you think or feel takes a form in this universe. Realize that the perception that you have of life is only yours; you can always change that perception to keep the universe in your favor.
Criticize, harshly criticize the system that surrounds you, but do not stay only on the path of the revolutionary without a cause. Become part of the change; otherwise you will only increase “noise” of society.
Travel, travel everywhere. You don’t need to ask permission. Look for ways to be autonomous in those new horizons that you’re going to cross. If you have the ability to take care of yourself, try to travel alone. There is a wonderful universe that awaits you.
And finally, become that person with whom you want to share your life. Pick up the largest pair of glasses you can find to look within yourself, and have the strength not to break or shame yourself when you discover your “dark side,” because through this you will be able to find the hidden way inside you that will bring you to that place of fullness, of contentment.
Wayne Dyer, Sandra’s partner, said that the only difference between a flower that is alive and one that is dead is that the living flower is growing.
Everything that does not grow, in one way or another, dies. For this reason, what teaches you to grow, teaches you to live.
*Translated by Kristen Sawyer