When Ines Santizo was a young girl her mother woke her up on the middle of the night and told her to get out of the house: Her stepfather was coming home in a drunk and violent state. Before Ines could escape, her stepfather kicked her in the face and broke her nose. “My mother thought I was going to die, there was so much blood,” Ines said. “I swore right then that I would never allow a man to treat me like that again.”
Ines was married at 15 to a good man who loves her and treats her well. She is now middle aged and works at the municipal office for women in Acetenango, a couple of hours by car through windy, mountainous roads west of Guatemala City, where she coordinates training to prevent violence against women and girls. Her work is part of a program Oxfam is supporting in Guatemala that is helping an alliance of nine civil society organizations and six municipal women’s offices to counter the violent, male-dominated society that creates a breeding ground for discrimination and violence against females. I visited Acetenango to learn about the alliance, and how it is helping women in the area.
Ines told me that one of the most insidious aspects of la cultura machista is that it makes women lose sight of their own value; they typically lack self-esteem and self-confidence. Ines says that survivors of domestic violence especially need to learn three essential things: “Who I am, what I am worth, and what I am capable of.”
As we were leaving Ines’ office, she gave us a copy of a fascinating story she shares with women in the area, a sort of creation myth titled “A defect in women.” To me, it reads like an homage to women, but it also acknowledges that God did not achieve perfection in their creation, and at the end it seems to put the responsibility on women themselves to remember the three essential things about their identity, value, and capacities. Since I first read it I have learned that this piece has been circulating amongst women’s rights activists for some time.
As I have written in the past, I am not e religious person (nor is Oxfam a religious organization) but I respect the strength people facing poverty and injustice draw from their faith. I am curious what others think of this piece, what does it say to you? Does it reinforce stereotypes or is it a message of empowerment? And does anyone know who wrote it?
A defect in women
While God was making women, he was working overtime for more than six days when an angel appeared and asked, “Why are you spending so much time on this one?”
The Lord replied: “Have you seen the specifications sheet on her? She must be completely washable, have 200 moving parts, and she must be able to function on a diet of any old thing and leftovers. She has to have a lap that can accommodate four children at the same time, have a kiss that can cure everything from a scraped knee to a broken heart, and do it all with just two hands.”
The angel marveled at the requirements. “Only two hands? Impossible! It’s too much work for one day… wait and finish her tomorrow.”
“I will not” protested the Lord. “I am nearly finished with this creation, it’s my favorite one.”
God started listing the qualities of women: “She makes herself better when she is sick and she can work 18-hour days.”
“She is soft,” said God, “but I have also made her strong. You have no idea how much she can stand and how much she can do.”
“Can she think?” asked the angel.
“Not only can she think,” God responded, “she can reason and negotiate.”
The angel then noticed something and reached out his hand to touch the woman’s cheek. “Lord, it looks like this model has a leak…”
“That’s no leak, it’s a tear.”
“Why the tear?” asked the angel.
“Tears are her way of expressing her pain, her intelligence, her love, her solitude, her suffering, and her pride.”
This impressed the angel very much. “You are a genius, Lord. You thought of everything. The woman is truly marvelous!”
“She is! A woman has strength at which men marvel. She withstands difficulties, carries great burdens, but she also has happiness, love, and pride… Women fight for what they believe in. They stand up to injustice. They don’t take NO for an answer when they believe there is a better solution. They go without so that there is more for their family.
“They love unconditionally. They cry when their children succeed and are joyous when their friends are recognized. They are happy when they hear of a birth or a wedding. Their hearts break when a friend dies.
“They suffer the loss of a loved one, but they are strong even when it seems there is no strength left. They know that a kiss and a hug can help to cure a broken heart.”
Nonetheless, women have a defect: They forget how much they are worth, how much they are capable of, and how great they are in God’s eyes.