This afternoon, at 11am, a group of about 20 women and men gathered in Parque Calderón. A few held signs, small pieces of paper with “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” or “We’re Still Here” written or typed in bold letters. Pink paper. Pink hats. Pink shirts. I had nothing with me, even though I’ve seen pictures of Women’s March signs across all social media venues this week: “Girls just want to have FUNdamental rights” was my favorite. However, as I walked from the taxi and was embraced by friends, I realized that it was enough just being there. It was enough just showing up.
The official website of the Women’s March proclaims the following mission: “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children in protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families- recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.” The Women’s March on Washington D.C., which is still taking place right now, has brought women from all over the world and from all nooks of the country. Most recent estimates say more than 500,000 participants are in the streets of Washington D.C. right now. 500,000. That’s almost double the population of Cuenca, the city I have called home for the past year. Imagining that many people, that much collective, forceful, nonviolent, loving energy in one place, makes my soul hum. Perhaps they can feel the vibrations we are sending from here in Cuenca. This march unifies all of us who are drawn to the cause.
And what is the cause, exactly? And why this march? As I was walking with women and men from the march today, from Parque Calderón to San Sebastián Plaza, one of the women told me that this particular march was reminiscent of the protests in the 60s and 70s. Collaborative. Unified. Vast. Marches are ways for like-minded individual do more than just talk about the problems; we can show up somewhere, share our stories, and create plans of action.
The Unity Principles of the Women’s March website clearly state what women, children and allies are marching for: LQBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights and environmental justice. Within all of these arenas, there are oppressive political, economic, and social systems in place. These systems, legacies passed down through generations of unfair legislation, biased methodologies of thought and practice, and engrained rhetorics of unequal human value, are still in place. Differences in salaries. Difficulties in being a mother and working full-time. Fear. Highly-sexualized language in all mass media that degrades women. Control over our reproductive rights. Elimination of Planned Parenthood clinics. Advertisements that objectify women. Rape culture on college campuses and in the world. Harassment in the work place. The notion that things just are the way they are.
Women, we know this. Minorities know this. Many white men know this as well. But realization is not change and knowledge is not power.
So we march today, all over the world, because there are many ways to stand up to someone, something, you disagree with; gathering in communities of solidarity is one of the strongest ways to show unity, purpose, passion, and an intent to change those things in the world that hurt others.
The Cuenca Women’s March- Testimonies
At San Sebastián plaza, a group of 50-60 gathered on the steps by the old church door. A majority of the crowd were white, older expats. However, a younger Ecuadorian teacher seemed to have brought her students to listen, and these adolescents each carried a small sign of solidarity. Four teenage girls held their own sign as well, written in Spanish. Many members of the crowd wore home-made pink hats on their heads. Some younger men and women were woven within the fabric as well. We were listening.
A megaphone was held by one woman at the top of the stairs, a woman who was sharing her story. The rest of us gathered in front of her, around a table filled with pink flyers stating: Women’s Rights=Human’s Rights- Los derechos de las mujeres son los derechos humanos. Around the crowd, notebooks and pens were passed, each notebook with a different prompt. ‘What would your mother say to you right now?’ ‘What advice do you have for young women?’ One after the next, women and men and teenage girls took the megaphone and talked.
Here are pieces of their stories.
“I decided I wanted to be a pilot, and so I trained. I was one of 2 women in a training class of 300 men. The other woman dropped out after awhile; I stuck with it. When I was finally going to receive my pilot license, a government employee told me the cockpit was no place for women. He put me through my paces during the flight test. At the end, he told me that he just couldn’t find a reason why not to give me my license, even though he had looked for any tiny detail. Now, think of how many women are pilots. I had to put up with those difficulties when I was first learning to fly, and yet, things are improving.”
“I was an accident. My mom had had her own dreams before she had me- more education, law school. My birth left her depressed, it seemed, for pretty much the rest of her life. But I was there. I had two abortions in my life, one when I was 16 and one when I was 18. I was a victim of rape in both instances. When I was 33 years old, I was ready to be a mother, and I had my daughter. She is so strong.”
“For those of you who were active in the 60’s and 70’s, thank you for helping open my eyes.”
A teenager bravely spoke to us. She talked about when she was in the 3rd and 4th grade, the boys told her that girls couldn’t do what boys could do; she couldn’t play football with them. That’s when she first started to say that girls can do what guys can do and guys can do what girls can do.
“This is not just Women’s Lives Matter. This is All Lives Matter. And if Trump wants to change that…he can’t.”
“We have all come here for different reasons, whether we’re expats or visitors. We all want to be present here, but the most important thing is that we continue this work: write letters to Congressmen and women, vote, write letters to the editor.”
The four young women with the Spanish sign walked up the steps. The first woman spoke, in Spanish, without a waver in her voice and without fear in her words. “The problems with gender equality are universal. These social movements are all around the world. And while I am not from the United States, I am here to represent women in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to give support.” She talked about a women’s movement that started a few months ago in Argentina and has spread throughout Latin America: #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess).
This fight is universal.
Another young woman from this group spoke honestly about how it felt being here, in Ecuador, when there was a part of her that felt as though she should be in the States doing something. “This isn’t an anti-Trump march, but during the election, I felt disconnected. I wasn’t sure how to support from Ecuador.” She said that at times, it can seem like Ecuadoreans glorify the United States, but ever since the election, she’s found herself being asked, “Are you racist?” “Are you sexist?” “Why Trump?” She went to a parade where a man was dressed up like Donald Trump. The impersonator saw her in the crowd. “You’re American, right?” He beckoned her forward into his circle where he was holding court and entertaining the viewers. Jokingly, he said he was Mexican, and he asked her if she hated him, if she was scared of him…”I’ve never felt so embarrassed of my country.”
A man in a pink hat climbed the steps. “I’m in a relationship with a strong woman,” was how he started. He received loud applause. He went on to explain that he had had the privilege of being an elementary school teacher for most of his life; he asked how many educators were in the crowd. Educators, he clarified, are mothers, are sisters, as well as teachers. A majority of us raised our hands. “My life makes sense, has meaning, because of you- you gave us so much, in the spirit of the divine feminine, in love, and connection. Forces of the divine conquer and we can resist all that comes against us. All we have to do is tell the truth in each moment.”
This line resonated with me. If we are honest about what we feel in each moment, we can dismantle so many engrained, habitual discriminations in daily life. If someone says something racist or sexist or homophobic, in jest or without thinking, we have a responsibility to be honest in that moment and tell the truth of how that language resonate. Language is important; this speaker went on to explain more about the power of a particular word. Pussy.
He told us that his hat was called a “pussyhat.” I learned that tens of thousands of people are wearing them in Washington D.C. right now. One way of reclaiming power is reclaiming language. We take a word that many have used in a derogative way, including our President, and we hold that word close to us. We take it back. It is not something crude, or hateful, or wrong. It is ours. The pussyhat reminds me of one of the monologues from “The Vagina Monologues,” compiled by Eve Ensler, entitled “Cunt.” If you are curious, enjoy the video.
The sharing continued…
One woman told how on the morning of the New Year, thousands of people around the world participate in a shared, guided meditation- the World Healing Meditation. There is one line she returns to, again and again, for guidance: “The negativity is coming to the surface for our purification.”
As the event drew to a close, Laurel and Sally, the two organizers, handed out safety pins. The safety pin represents that you are a safe place. You are there for women who feel threatened. This movement, similar to the pussyhats, is spreading around the nation, creating a Safety Pin Nation. Stories of safe places and protection are being reported. Let’s introduce the concept to Cuenca.
For myself, the 27-year-old American writing this article, this march was a time to stand in solidarity with other people who believe things aren’t right the way they are. And yet, what is the point, doing this in Ecuador? In the past few months, really the past year of the election cycle, I’ve found myself feeling torn: What can I do from here? How can I show solidarity and disappointment and anger and frustration when I’m in Latin America? I felt removed. I felt like I had escaped and yet, I do love so many aspects of my country. I’ve sometimes found myself wondering, should I just move back to the States? Teach again? Teach what…love? Acceptance? The power of speaking up? Though I’m committed to being here, now, and I do not know where my future will lead, I felt like something was made more clear to me today.
I can fight from afar. To stand together with others fighting for the betterment of women around the world is something that can be done anywhere, at anytime. Sending out that collective energy, sharing stories from here with people in other countries, continuing to write to legislators and editors, these things can be done here in Ecuador and it doesn’t make them any less purposeful or strong. I haven’t abandoned my country by moving down here, but I have been blessed with hearing a particular perspective from many Latinos who have asked “Why?” and “How? and “What will happen?”
These questions just reinforce how connected our world is today. Immigration rights. Disaster relief and aid. Globalized markets. Environmental disaster. Diplomatic decisions. War. Refugee crises. Poverty. What happens in America affects other countries. What happens in Ecuador affects what happens in America. When a woman from Bosnia-Herzegovina speaks to Ecuadoreans and Americans about women’s movements in Argentina, we bear witness to how connected we all are. These fights are universal. The more people who speak up, in whatever language they best know, the more we voice our concerns, our anger, and our hope: we must fight for women’s rights. We must fight for equality. We must fight for unity. We must always strive to empathize with the lives of one another. We’re all connected.