By Silvia Regina de Lima Silva in collaboration with Cecilia Castillo and Etel Cáceres.
A 16-year-old girl was raped two months ago in Brazil. Even though her testimony was disputed, she stated that “it was a group of 30 men”.
A couple of years ago, I listened to the story of María Dolores, a Salvadorian woman who was also a victim of rape. She was walking through the streets of her town with her daughter when a group of men approached them. She confronted the rapists and by doing so, helped her daughter to escape. One of many consequences of the rape was an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy, the consequences of which she accepted because of her Christian faith and fear of God. This is how she shared the strategy she had to adopt to carry on living: “I imagined that I wasn’t there at that moment, that it wasn’t me, I felt like I was dead… Even today, I can’t remember the details of how all that happened.”
Both women stated: “They destroyed my soul.”
“How do you feel?” a tactless journalist asked the 16-year-old girl. “I feel like trash… I am trash, everything that comes from me is trash.”
Let us now move on to Juárez City in Mexico, a place known for its high femicide rate. Latin America is the continent with the world’s highest female murder rates. Some people view this problem as a pandemic.
Moreover, one of the many consequences of sexual violence, especially in South America, is the high rate of teenage pregnancies. We also know that danger may even lurk at home. Most rapists are acquaintances or relatives of the victims.
And there is always a sense of shame: even when it is we who suffer violence, we feel guilty or are held responsible. We have nevertheless come a long way, because we now have laws to protect us − although they are not widely applied and are sometimes inadequate.
Bodies, places, time
The present and the past are in my body − in our bodies. We are part of a story of abuse and violence. Within invaded and occupied territories where the female role was defined from the standpoint of the “others”, the “colonizers”, the “aggressors”, we − the indigenous and Afro-descendant women – number among the most excluded people of all. We are women without rights, but now we are breaking down prejudices and customs, demanding our right to exist.
Violence that hurts and breaks the body can destroy the soul, wipe out our memories, make our minds go blank and turn our dreams into nightmares. Violence appears in different forms: one of these is symbolic violence, supported by religious fundamentalism. The god that is proclaimed from the pulpits, lauded on the squares of our towns or invoked in senates, parliaments and legislative assemblies is a violent god who has the strength of a man – a god that was created in the image and likeness of the patriarchal system. Such a god justifies violence against women, threatens our rights and is appeased by our daily personal sacrifices; this is what we were created for. This god of patriarchy feeds every day on the blood that pours out of our bodies.
Religious fundamentalism is growing in Latin American countries. This is a religious and political fundamentalism whose negotiating tools and bargaining chips include women’s rights: the right to decide, the right to have rights, the right to the pursuit of happiness, joy and pleasure, and the right to live in dignity. “If you give me your vote, I promise you will obtain the chairmanship of the human rights commission.” This has actually happened in Brazil and Costa Rica. And then, in the end, comes the phrase: “God revealed it to me this way.” Which god are they talking about?
But that god is not the only god. In Latin America as well as Africa, Asia and within prophetic groups of the northern hemisphere, a different god has been proclaimed, a god of the poor and excluded … we say that god is the God of Jesus. But where are those who proclaim him? I cannot hear them, because when it comes to women’s rights, their voices become almost imperceptible and inaudible. Faced with the question of women’s rights, they fall completely silent … and we go back to the original fear, the fear of defining ourselves as free women and men.
Yet amid the suppressed prophecies and silent screams, a few of us are able to make our voices heard. We listen to one another − and perhaps there are so few of us because there are also women who keep silent so as not to lose the privileges they have gained in the patriarchal system.
However, synergies are emerging from different countries, like burning flames rekindled from the embers we thought extinguished. They are carried by women who have come through great tribulations − some clothed in white, but others dressed in a multitude of different colours: their strength lies in the diversity of their robes, the different colours of their hair and skin, and the diversity of their cultures and memories. They have transformed their faith into a cornerstone of resistance, creating a space where they can demand their rights and recover their dignity as daughters of God.
They are coming. They have taken full ownership of their bodies and their memories; they have liberated their minds. They are able to think of different contexts and paradigms. They revive their feelings by healing each other’s wounds and scars. They bring a refreshing breeze as well as a strong wind of change; they are daughters of the earth, of the freshwater rivers, of the sea and the thunder. They are daughters, sisters and citizens. They are building alliances and forging a new social network. They defend their personal space and their bodies as if they were national territories. They are empowered women, who have discovered their ability to engage in political and social advocacy through joint action, underpinned by a liberating faith.
Yes, they are coming: they are gathering experiences from the past and tackling today’s challenges without fear; with their own hands, they are opening up new paths towards a different present and a different future. They are coming, dressed in all colours … Yes! We are those women.