Five women, five countries, four world regions, one topic: How does it feel to be a woman? Women from Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Ethiopia and Bolivia, all of whom work for Helvetas, discuss how women are shaped by society — and shape it.
What would you like to do that you are not allowed to do as a woman in your country?
I would like to have time for myself. I wish I could go on vacation by myself one day, but it used to be forbidden to do that because it is considered unsafe. Now, with a family of my own, there are only family vacations where I am in charge of everything. Just like in everyday life — despite having a full-time job. I wish I could just discover and enjoy new things carefree.
I would like to feel safe and carefree in my city. I would like to be able to go out at night, explore all parts of the city, wear something shorter sometimes. But I can't even go to the supermarket without being hit on or insulted by men, which makes me feel scared, unsafe, and watched over.
I would also like to go out at night and feel safe. But the risk of violence against me is too high. Every three days a woman is killed in Bolivia just because she is a woman.
There are many things that restrict women here. It is not the laws, but unwritten rules, traditions and habits. I would like to demonstrate for women's rights. But it can be dangerous because we can't trust the police.
I would like to enjoy the sunset on a lonely beach, but the danger of sexual harassment is too great. Therefore I go to a crowded beach. According to the law, there are no restrictions for women here either, but in everyday life it looks different because of our culture.
In our country, the laws are outdated. Once, the government wanted to give women the same rights as men when it comes to inheritance. But the social, religious and cultural ideas are so strong that the law was never made.
Is there a special kind of solidarity between women in your country?
During the pandemic I have observed a lot of solidarity, young women supporting the elderly, the homeless and refugees from Venezuela. But I have also witnessed selfish women — especially from the urban middle class.
In our country, solidarity is part of the rural culture in the Andes. Even in the cities, where many people from the countryside are looking for a better future, people support each other in caring for children, in health issues and in money problems. Young women join forces to fight violence.
Ethiopian women have very different concerns, which makes it difficult to find common ground. Economic independence, liberation from patriarchal mindsets, an end to gender-based violence, and equal opportunities are on everyone's agenda, to be sure. But the priorities are not the same for everyone. This is not unique to Ethiopia. It is a question facing all feminist movements worldwide: How can we find common ground without treating women as a homogeneous group?
Solidarity is shown here in the common struggle against violence. The cause of violence is the economic dependence of women; they are married off early and thus have no chance for higher education. In the background, the old women preserve the patriarchy. They discourage daughters-in-law from becoming independent, force them to do household chores and be obedient. Without their own income, young women have nowhere to go.
How do women shape development in your country?
Half of Ethiopia's ministries are headed by women — a step in the right direction. But that's not enough if we don't ask how this representation affects all women. At the grassroots level, women's organizations are working tirelessly to strengthen women's security and potential.
When I go to villages to talk about gender roles, I am labeled an "agent of the West." I support women who want to run for the local council. It's a real struggle. These women have to break stereotypes that a woman's place is in the kitchen or that women don't belong in politics. Men do everything they can to prevent them from becoming politically active. Unfortunately, there are few young women who have the courage to stand up to them.
Women have always made an important contribution to Peru's development — often in a violent environment. But their contribution is rarely recognized. In our country, there are two truths: one dictated by law and the other dictated by culture. And that one is hard to crack. But I have high hopes for the younger generations.