Being a Woman in the 21st Century
A brief essay about women in Mexico and the current situation in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, August 25th, five Afghan women, part of a well-known Afghan robotics team, arrived in Mexico as part of the first group of evacuees to land in my country. Here they will receive accommodations, food and basic services.
These women have been seen as symbols of a post-Taliban panorama, where there are opportunities for women and girls to pursue their dreams and higher education.
The news and images of Afghanistan in the last few weeks made me think hard about two things: my own privilege and what stills need to be done in terms of gender equality.
Mexico is making improvements in terms of gender equality and inclusion but still has quite a ‘machista’ culture.
Machismo refers to an:
“Exaggerated pride in masculinity, perceived as power, often coupled with a minimal sense of responsibility and disregard of consequences. In machismo there is supreme valuation of characteristics culturally associated with the masculine and a denigration of characteristics associated with the feminine.”¹
It is a way of thinking and acting that prevails in Latin American society, and it has real effects on women’s rights and equality.
For example, in Mexico, every day 11 women are murdered just because of their gender. In most cases, they were killed by current or former partners or men that saw the opportunity to abuse and murder a woman.
Furthermore, 66 out of 100 women over 15 years in Mexico have suffered at least one incident of violence in their life, whether that is emotional, financial, patrimonial and physical abuse.²
I have come to realise that I am privileged in many ways.
The worst that has happened to me is being catcalled or seen lasciviously by men. I have had friends who have been followed, touched inappropriately or been said suggestive things. And that is mild compared to what could actually happen to us just for being women.
Aside from being fortunate to escape the worst of violence against women, I never doubted whether I would be allowed an education and a future.
My parents have always encouraged my sister and me to go after what we wanted and fully supported our higher education endeavours. As a result, I am the first in my entire family to earn a Master’s degree. There was never a question of ‘if I was going to be allowed’; it was a matter of ‘when, where and how’.
I was also never forbidden to work and build a professional career. On the contrary, the question from my parents, friends and colleagues was: ‘What comes next?’. I will never worry about not being able to earn my own living, inheriting under my own name, or building a patrimony.
However, I am aware that millions of women aren’t this fortunate.
This brings me back to Afghanistan.
In 1998, the Taliban were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan. They introduced policies such as women wearing the burka, banning television, music and cinema, and most importantly, restricting girls over the age of 10 to going to school.
I want to make something clear. Wearing a burka or a hijab is not a restriction to women’s rights. The problem is limiting women’s choices to wear, say and do what they want.
As a reminder, the Taliban were removed from power after US-led forces invaded and took over Afghanistan in 2001. But, with the gradual removal of military forces in the country, they have regained territory and have once again seized control of the Afghan government.
That is why many Afghani, particularly women, are scared for their future.
If we go back to how they ruled Afghanistan 20 years ago, girls will be banned from attending school. So, that means the progress being done on women’s education and rights will be wiped out.
Education is fundamental for women’s empowerment and advancement. No girl should be denied the opportunity to dream and work on their future.
Not only that. The practice of forced marriages of Afghan young girls and women to Taliban fighters could return. In fact, there are already reports of this happening with the Taliban sweeping back to power.
The independence gained during the last decades could also go. When they were in power, the Taliban confined women to their homes unless escorted by a male family member. This translated to women being denied access to employment and freedom of movement.
That is why it is important to speak out and support. How can we help?
- Join the conversation on social media! It might feel like that is what everyone is talking about, but actually, not enough of us are talking about what is going on.
- Make donations to valid fundraisers and share those links on your social media.
- Follow and support the voices of the Afghan community.
But it is not only Afghan women that need our support and action.
Women’s Equality Day was August 26th, and it was an opportunity to see how far we’ve come. But also how much more needs to be done to truly achieve an equitable society, not only in the Middle East or Latin America. Even developed and advanced nations still have gaps in terms of gender equality.
Change can only come if we all do our part, as managers, colleagues, parents, family, friends, or partners. Cultural change is not easy, but it can be done. It starts with our own environment.
Ripples can create waves. That is why as women, and as allies of women, we need to take daily actions to raise our voice against inequalities and stereotypes.
What more needs to be done to ensure that the next generations of women have a better future?
- Political will and fundamental policy changes both in the public and private sectors.
- Education about toxic masculinity, at school and at home.
- Dismantle harmful prejudices and stereotypes of what being a woman or a man is.
This blog contribution was made by Alejandra (Alex) Chávez Menéndez.
Alex is a Communications and Public Affairs Consultant with seven years of experience. She is passionate about helping organisations tell their stories and engage with their stakeholders.
She has a master’s degree in Public Administration and Management from University College London (UCL).
Since March 2021, Alex is Press and Communications Lead for LMF Network (London).
How can you keep in touch?
What is LMF Network?
The LMF Network is a global social enterprise (not for profit) focused on empowering, enabling & educating women and marginalised groups into tech, entrepreneurship & digital. We specialise in designing and delivering accessible programmes and supporting a global community. We’ve gone from a brunch club to a social good brand based on what the community wanted. We are a real community run by real people.
¹Britannica (n.d) Machismo. Accessed August 27 from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/machismo
² Inegi. 2020. Estadísticas a propósito del Día Internacional de la Eliminación de la Violencia contra la Mujer. November 25. Accessed August 27 from: https://www.inegi.org.mx/contenidos/saladeprensa/aproposito/2020/Violencia2020_Nal.pdf
BBC. 2021. Who are the Taliban?. BBC.com. August 18th. Accessed August 27 from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718
Specia, M. 2021. Five women on a famed Afghan robotics team arrive in Mexico. The New York Times. August 25 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/25/world/asia/five-women-on-a-famed-afghan-robotics-team-arrive-in-mexico.html?