By Mia MacDonald
Monday, 11 May 2009
It can be almost easy, here in Antigua, surrounded by extraordinary women—activists, elected officials, academics, journalists, and laureates—to conclude that not only can the world change in the direction we want it to, toward justice, peace and equality, but it will. Not without struggles, setbacks, losses (some sure to be highly personal and painful), but inevitably. Two sobering experiences: the first, an afternoon panel on the situation for women here in Guatemala. “Social cleansing” goes on, one of the speakers said. Women human rights defenders are routinely harassed and assaulted, despite providing the “ethical capital” to confront the state when it doesn’t protect human rights or embody democracy. Another speaker asked: “How can the global women’s movement support these national and even more local struggles?”
Later, after a heavy rain shower, I left my email to purchase some artisan weaving from an indigenous mother and daughter who’d set up a market of sorts on the hotel grounds, change purses, table cloths, dolls and blouses arrayed across stone walls. They worked, they said, with a local cooperative of women. I bargained for what I chose, although a bit half-heartedly (some of my African colleagues, buying more, were more spirited negotiators). The young girl, in a mix of English and Spanish, said she was 14. “You must be in school, then, right?” “No,” she replied. I expressed my dismay. You need to get an education, I said, to have options and choices in your life. She nodded and then explained. The monthly school fees, about U.S. $15, were out of her family’s reach. “But,” she said, “school is beautiful.” Will she get back to it? I have my purchases, but no answer to that.