By Ana Paula Chain
Sao Paulo, Mar 7 (EFE).- Though largely ignored in the history books, deprived of their full identity and held back by stereotypes, Latin American women of African descent are unbowed by challenges rooted in times of slavery and gradually carving out more prominent roles for themselves in their respective countries.
That has been the story of Costa Rican Vice President Epsy Campbell Barr and Colombian human rights activist and presidential candidate Francia Elena Marquez, although despite their success and that of other female Afro-Latin Americans the work of societal transformation is far from complete.
“The fact I broke down a barrier doesn’t mean it’s a collective victory. I’m excited about my achievements and that of so many others, but we need to keep our focus on the system, seek out more public policy that can alter the landscape,” Luana Genot, the founder and executive director of the Sao Paulo-based Identities Institute of Brazil, a group that fights for racial equality in that country, said in an interview with Efe.
Raised by her mother and grandmother on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, that 32-year-old writer hopes to inspire other women of African descent and increasingly exert greater influence on public policy in the areas of race and gender in Brazil and elsewhere.
In that regard, Rosa Couto, a bilingual educator at the Museum Afro-Brazil, also located in the Americas’ largest city, told Efe that opportunities for female Afro-Latin Americans are harder to come by.
“A black woman … always has to work a little bit more, push herself a bit more, try to be much better, in order to achieve a much lesser degree of success than that of some whites,” she lamented.
The holder of a doctorate degree in history and social culture, Couto identifies as an “amefricana” – a portmanteau of the Spanish words for indigenous and black women that was coined by late Brazilian intellectual and anthropologist Lelia Gonzalez in the 1980s.
She also is an advocate for the recovery of the history of black Latin American women, a collective whose memories were buried due to Eurocentric ideologies inherited from the colonial period.
According to that expert, structural racism must be tackled through educational efforts aimed at raising women’s and girls’ self-esteem, expanding their horizons and combating the sense of inferiority and subordination often instilled during their youths.
“When we don’t know our history, where we come from, the relationships that make up who we are … we feel disconnected, as if we had no past. This is the case for the black population in Brazil and Latin America, especially in the countries that went through the same process of colonization and had slavery as an economic foundation,” Couto said.
She pointed to more debate centered around gender and race as one of the key accomplishments in recent years in Latin America and the Caribbean, saying that is an important step toward public policy formulation.
Couto also credits the work being done by groups in the region to advance the rights of women of African descent in Latin America and increase their visibility.
One milestone was the creation of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, which was founded during a gathering in 1992 in the Dominican Republic.
That network’s goal is to empower that sector of the population and strive to build democratic, equitable, just, multicultural societies that are free of racism, racial discrimination, sexism and exclusion.
In that regard, the interim representative for UN Women in Brazil, Ana Carolina Querino, told Efe that the importance of this trans-national union is its treatment of Afro-Latin American women’s concerns from a common, region-wide perspective, making it possible to share experiences and discuss problems that have specific nuances in each country.
“The activists can discuss what specific aspects (are present) in their countries. They can set agendas, coordinate ways of exerting influence in international forums (and) diversify the narratives,” she said. “So those are the main accomplishments.” EFE