Colombian Women – Today is March 8 and it is International Women’s Day.
Here in Colombia Women’s Day is celebrated much more than in the United States. As a matter of fact, I do not remember ever celebrating Women’s Day in the States.
What ceases to amaze me is how many people (I say people because this date is observed in various countries around the world including the United States) do not know what it is all about.
What is Woman’s Day?
International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day can be traced back to Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland, 1911.
In my research, I found that women’s struggle for equality not only in the workplace but also in society as a whole has been a long battle, which continues to be fought. You can read more about International Women’s Day history on Wikipedia or on the International Women’s Day website.
In 1977 the United Nations declared March 8th to be the International Women’s Rights Day.
Every year the United Nations has a theme for International Women’s Day. A memorable year for me was 2010 because that’s when the UN decided that the theme would be displaced women.
Displacement of people hits home. Colombia is one of the leaders in displaced people due to armed conflict.
According to the latest data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Colombia has had more than 6.5 million people displaced (as of Dec. 2017) due to internal armed conflict since the start of recording official cumulative registration figures.
2016 & 2017 International Women’s Day
In 2016 the United Nations declared their theme to be “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” Meaning that the goal is to have complete gender equality by 2030.
In 2017, the UN’s Women’s International Day theme was “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. Stating that:
The world of work is changing, and with significant implications for women. On one hand, we have globalization, technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring, and on the other hand, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.
Our president in 2017, Juan Manuel Santos, in an address to the public read a beautifully written open letter to our Colombian women (I don’t know if he wrote it or not, whoever wrote it did an amazing job).
It’s much too long for me to translate here, therefore, I’ll summarize…fuck it, this is one of the most eloquent things Santos has ever read, so I must translate the whole thing:
“Querida compatriota: (Dear compatriot,)
Hoy, 8 de marzo, Dia Internacional de la Mujer, he querido escribirle especialmente a usted: a la mujer colombiana que ha sufrido los efectos dramáticos y dolorosos de la guerra; que ha sido desplazada de su tierra; que ha perdido seres queridos; que ha sentido en carne propia la atrocidad de los delitos sexuales; que ha llorado con indignación y tristeza por causa de este enfrentamiento absurdo.
(Today, March 8, International Woman’s Day, I wanted to write you: the Colombian woman that has suffered the dramatic and painful effects of the war: who has been displaced from her home: who has lost loved ones: who has felt, in her own flesh, the atrocities of sexual crimes: who has been made cry with indignation and sadness by this outrageous plight.)
Más de la mitad de las siete millones de víctimas que ha dejado el conflicto armado interno son mujeres. Campesinas que trabajan de sol a sol para que no falte comida en el hogar; profesionales que en el estudio encuentran su vocación; abuelas que, generación tras generación, sostienen los pilares de una familia; adolescentes que se ilusionan al imaginar un futuro de esperanza.
(More than half of the 7 million victims that the armed conflict has displaces have been women. Farmers who work from sun up to sun down to provide for their families: professionals who in their studies find escape: grandmothers who, generation after generation, are the pillars that hold up the family: adolescents who dream of a future full of hope.)
A todas quiero expresarles mi admiración por la valentia que demuestran a diario. Ustedes representan la fuerza de un país que lucha por dejar atrás los estigmas de la violencia, cuando salen a trabajar, cuando cuidan a sus hijos y a sus ancianos, cuando se asocian para consolar a la que sufrió males parecidos, cuando se unen para defender un trato igualitario. Aun siendo muy diversas, encuentro en ustedes una grandeza común.
(To all of you I want to express my admiration for the courage you demonstrate daily. You represent the strength of a country that fights to leave the stigma of violence behind by going out to work, taking care of your children and elders, consoling the other who has suffered like you and uniting to fight for equality. Although all being different, I find in you all a common strength.)
Durante los momentos más duros del conflicto, la mujer colombiana fue, en muchas ocasiones, el principal apoyo de las comunidades, pues defendió con honestidad a sus seres queridos, dio refugio al desamparado y resistió hechos terribles que no sospechábamos. Por eso, hoy les quiero dar las gracias por enseñarnos que es posible seguír adelante a pesar de las dificultades.
During the toughest times of the armed conflict, the Colombian woman was, in many cases, the front line support in the community, defending with honesty her loved ones, she gave refuge to those in need and endured terrible acts that no one could have imagined. That’s why, today I want to say thank you for teaching us that it is possible to keep moving forward despite setbacks.
Como Presidente de Colombia, les reafirmo el compromiso de mi gobierno con los derechos a la verdad, la justicia y la reparación de las víctimas. Corno ustedes nos han exigido en múltiples ocasiones, no descansaremos hasta lograr que cese la guerra, que no haya más madres sin sus hijos, ni más hogares rotos por el conflicto armado. Por eso, trabajamos sin cesar en este proceso de paz que esperamos culmine pronto.
As the president of Colombia, I reaffirm my parties commitment to victim rights, justice and reparations. In response to your demands we will rest until the war is over, that there be no more mothers without their children, nor more broken homes due to this armed conflict. That’s why we will work without ceasing in this process of peace which we expect to culminate soon.
Gracias, muchas gracias por su generosidad al reclamar que en nuestro suelo no haya una víctima más, que nadie más sufra lo que ustedes sufrieron. Gracias por el amor inmenso que demuestran a su familia y a Colombia.
Thank you, thank you so much for your selflessness when declaring for there to be no more victims, that no one suffer what you have suffered. Thank you for the immense love that you’ve shown your families and to Colombia.
Con el ejemplo de mujeres como ustedes, nos acercamos a la construcción de un nuevo país: ese país de paz, de convivencia y de progreso que todos añoramos. Un saludo afectuoso”.
With women like you as the example we come closer to building a new nation: a nation of peace, of acceptance and progress that we all long for. I solute you.
Whew, that was tough…I know the translation is a bit rough, but you get the gist.
2019 International Women’s Day
In 2019, the UN’s Women’s International Day theme is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”.
The theme will focus on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.
Though many men come to Colombia looking to find a girlfriend and/or to get “lucky” I think it’s very important to understand that this country is undergoing a huge process.
That although we hold fast to our traditions, like beauty pageants, holidays, and soap-operas we still yearn for freedom.
And like President Santos, I too, want to thank all you Colombian women for being important pillars in this new country we are constructing.
Beautiful Colombian Women
Colombian women are known throughout the world as some of the most, if not the most, beautiful women on the planet.
In 2016 the gorgeous Jealisse Andrea Tovar Velásquez (from Quibdo, Colombia) was the second runner up in the Miss Universe contest.
In 2015 poor Ariadna María Gutiérrez Arévalo (from Barranquilla, Colombia) was the first runner-up in the Miss Universe contest (remember the whole Steve Harvey mishap?).
The beautiful Paulina Vega won the 2014 Miss Universe pageant. She’s from Barranquilla, Colombia.
Of course, the 2014 Miss Universe, Paulina Vega, lived up to what all beauty pageant winners are expected to do: appearances and photoshoots, nothing more. It’s kind of sad, but that’s what society wants.
I really hope, now that her reign has come to an end that she fulfills her dreams of continuing to study business administration and starting a company focusing on Colombian-made products. In my opinion, this would warrant more respect than any beauty pageant crown, magazine cover, or guest appearance.
Miss Colombia 2019 Gabriela Tafur
In 2018, Gabriela Tafur, from Cali, won the Miss Colombia crown. She graduated Cum Laude at Universidad de los Andes in law, worked for Microsoft Colombia as a lawyer, oh, and she plays the violin.
Everyday Women in Colombia
Every day of my life here in Medellin I am reminded that I am definitely in a different place. For some reason, women here are just…beautiful.
Although I really appreciate the fact that Colombian women hold themselves to a high standard of external beauty, in this post I want to focus on more than just what we see on the outside.
Not just hot girls
From the Greek mathematician Hypothia (350 AD) to modern-day mogul Oprah Winfrey there have been many women who revolutionized the female role in society.
In this post, I am going to write about my top 7 favorite, famous Colombian women who have changed women’s roles in society.
1. Policarpa Salavarrieta (c. 1795 – 14 November 1817)
Policarpa, also known as “La Pola” is a Colombian revolutionary war heroine. La Pola moved to Bogota in 1817 with the plan of spying for Colombian patriots and helping the revolutionary cause.
She was able to get information from Spanish royalty by fronting as a seamstress for Spanish Royal families in Bogota: overhearing conversations, taking maps, texts, and other intelligence, and handing it over to Colombian Revolution leaders.
Together with her brother she secretly recruited young soldiers for the revolutionary cause. This boosted the troops in Cundinamarca.
La Pola was finally captured, tried, and convicted of high treason by the Spanish. She was sentenced to death by firing squad on November 14, 1817.
The night before her death she cursed the Spanish all night. At one moment she got tired and thirsty, a Spanish guard offered her a glass of wine, she smacked it out of his hands and yelled, “I would not accept even a glass of water from my enemies!”
On the morning of the 17th, with her hands bound and two priests at her side, she marched to hear death. Instead of repeating the prayers that the priests were reciting she relentlessly cursed the Spaniards and predicted their downfall in the upcoming revolt.
The way they executed back in that time was by having the person kneel with his back to the firing squad. La Pola refused to kneel before the firing squad. Standing she yelled, “I have more than enough courage to suffer this death and a thousand more. Do not forget my example.” As the firing squad started shooting she turned around to face her executioners in a final act of resistance. Pretty bad-ass right?
Today you can go to her home town of Guaduas and visit her house. Policarpa’s story is inspirational. It is one of courage and the pursuit of freedom. Long live La Pola!
2. Sofía Margarita Vergara Vergara – Actress, comedienne, producer, television host, model, and businesswoman.
Born in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1972, she started her professional modeling and acting career at the age of 17 with Pepsi.
According to Forbes business magazine, she is the highest-paid actress on television raking in 325,000 dollars per episode of “Modern Family.”
She has endorsement contracts with Diet Pepsi, CoverGirl, Head & Shoulders, and AT&T, among others. She also has a 12-year contract with K-Mart and a new fragrance.
Also, the talent management and entertainment-marketing firm she co-founded, Latin World Entertainment, is launching a Spanish-language tech news site. Her total earnings in 2014 were 37 million dollars. (Source: Forbes – Sofia Vergara)
Sofia Vergara has changed the role of Latinas on television. Despite being a bombshell, she is also a great actress and has diversified that role with her comedy.
This goes to show that in Hollywood a beautiful woman with talent and business savvy can make it without having to sleep her way to the top. I think that she is a positive role model for women today.
3. María de los Ángeles Cano Márquez (Medellin, Colombia, August 12, 1887 – April 26, 1967)
Maria Cano became the first female political leader in Colombia. She led the fight for fundamental civil rights and for workers’ rights. She led worker strikes, diffused socialist ideas, and participated in founding the Socialist Revolutionary Party in Colombia, el “Partido”.
She became famous throughout Colombian in the 1920s. In 1925 she started her tour around the country as a public speaker.
Cano spoke about topics that, in that day, only pertained to men, worker’s rights, equality, labor unions, etc. When she spoke the masses would adhere and the elite would resent her.
Here is an excerpt from one of her famous speeches:
…Workmates stand up. Get ready to defend ourselves. Let’s be one heart, a single arm. Let’s form lines and proceed, for one moment of hesitation, of indifference, will give way to more oppression, to more chains that bind. Courageous social revolution soldiers, march! Listen to my voice, it calls for strike! (La Humanidad, Cali, 22-12-25).
Maria Cano is an iconic woman in Colombia. Even though Colombia is a democratic country, it needed a bit of a socialist push in regard to civil and worker rights. Thanks to Maria Cano change came about.
In 1945 the women’s suffrage movement in Medellin paid homage to Ms. Cano. The Nazis having just been defeated, in her final public address Cano stated:
A new world dawns today with liberty’s epic feat which was fed with blood, tears and torture. It is a responsibility to respond to history’s beckoning. Colombia must respond. Each day the horizon of justice, peace and freedom widens. Today, like yesterday, I am a soldier of the world.
4. Adriana Ocampo
Like Sofia Vergara, Adriana Ocampo was born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She was raised in Argentina, ultimately, her family immigrated to the United States when she was a teenager.
Adriana is a planetary geologist and the Science Program Manager at NASA Headquarters. Her research led to the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater. She has led six research expeditions to the Chicxulub impact site. Ocampo and her colleagues also discovered the Aorounga Crater Chain in Chad in 1996.
She has worked on a number of NASA planetary science projects, including the Juno mission to Jupiter, the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and the OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sample return mission. She is also the lead scientist responsible for NASA’s collaboration with the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Venus Climate Orbiter mission.
In 2010, she wrote the Spanish-language educational publication “El Mundo de Copocuqu: La Reina Gravedad y El Rey Masa”
Ocampo received the Woman of the Year Award in Science from the Comisión Femenil in Los Angeles in 1992. She also received the Advisory Council for Women Award at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1996 and the Science and Technology Award from the Chicano Federation in 1997.
In 2002, Ocampo was named one of the 50 Most Important Women in Science by Discover Magazine.
In an interview by NASA Adriana was asked: Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
“When I was a little girl I would go on the roof of my house and look at the stars and wonder how far they were away from me. I would also make “spacecraft” with the pots and pans from my mother’s kitchen. I would dress my doll up as an astronaut, and my dog Taurus was my co-pilot.”
She was then asked what she thought was her most important achievement in her career. To which she replied:
A favorite moment would have to be my research that led to the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater. The impact that formed this crater caused the extinction of more than 50% of the Earth’s species, including the dinosaurs. I wrote my master’s and Ph.D. theses on this crater and I have led six research expeditions to study this amazing event that changed the evolution of life on our planet.
When asked what her advice would be to anyone pursuing a career in science Adriana said,
“Dream and never give up.” When thinking about the great adventure that you have ahead, dream and never give up, be persistent and always be true to your heart. Live life with gusto. I would like to share my mnemonic (STARS) with you from the Girl Scouts book “Recipes for Success:”
Smile: Life is a great adventure
Transcend to triumph over the negative
Aspire to be the best
Resolve to be true to your heart
Success comes to those who never give up on their dreams
5. Caterine Ibargüen
Caterine is a Paisa, from a place called Uraba, in Antioquia, Colombia. She’s an elite athlete and has won MANY metals throughout her career.
Most notably, in the 2012 London Olympic summer games, she won a silver medal in the long jump, and in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic summer games, she won gold.
If you’ve been in Colombia for an extended period you already know that she’s a powerhouse. Now the world knows it too. She was named Female Athlete of Year in 2018 at the IAAF Athletics Awards 2018.
Something very interesting about Catherine is that she comes from a broken home. Her home was broken by Colombia’s internal conflict, forcing her father out of the country and her mother to move to Turbo, Colombia. She was then raised by her grandmother in Uraba until her coach convinced her to move to Medellin to train at a higher level.
Caterine’s Keys to Success
- Discipline – Caterine herself admitted that she didn’t make the 2008 Pekin Olympics because she didn’t train enough. She felt so bad that she was about to quit. Thankfully, she picked herself up and became laser-focused. She has no off-season. She’s in the gym at 6 am and stops training at 7 pm.
- Taking Risks – After failing to make the 2008 Olympics (back then her main event was the high jump) her trainer asked her to switch over to the triple jump. Caterine obliged, and the rest is history.
- Being Positive – Despite the challenges in her life, she never mentions negativity in her interviews. On the contrary, at times the media has portrayed her as a little poor girl that has overcome all obstacles, to which she balks. She doesn’t like to talk about displacement, politics, or violence.“Me gusta que la gente vea todo el trabajo que he hecho, me emociona que me vitoreen, porque es un compromiso para ser mejor”
- Grateful – Any time she gets a chance to talk about her grandmother she takes it. She always thanks her family and her trainer, which she has said to be “like a father to her.”
- Perseverance – Caterine has no quit. She won the silver medal in the 2012 Olympics while hurt. Later, in 2013, at the Moscow World Championship, she fainted from stomach sickness. She went on to finish 1st in the triple jump.
Caterine says that she always plays this song before a competition.
As an athlete myself, and an entrepreneur, I admire Caterine and am very proud to be Colombian.
6. Virginia Gutiérrez de Pineda
Virginia Gutiérrez de Pineda was born in the town of El Socorro, in the state of Santander (the same state where my mom was born) on November 4, 1921. Dr. Gutierrez was an acclaimed anthropologist and educator. Her pioneering research reshaped traditional family structures and folk culture in Colombia.
In 1944 she went to the National Pedagogy Institute, the Escuela Normal Superior of Colombia, and the National Technology Institute, where she obtained her degree in Anthropology.
In 1953-1954 she got a Masters Degree in Social and Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley and, in 1962, she received her Ph.D. in Social Sciences and Economics at the National University of Pedagogy.
Making the most of her educational opportunities, Gutiérrez went on to author a dozen book-length studies that laid out a fundamental understanding of the lives of Colombia’s people, including women and children of lower social and economic status. Her study of the street children of Medellín led to an interest in solving social problems by focusing on the family unit.
In books like La Familia en Colombia, Gutiérrez explored different cultural nuances within the various communities of the Andean, Santandereano, Antioqueño, and coastal-mining regions. She also undertook academic surveys of popular medicine in Colombia and traditional remedies known as curanderismo.
Other than studying families, Gutiérrez also raised a family of her own after marrying fellow anthropologist Roberto Pineda Giraldo, whom she met at university. For her invaluable contributions to Colombian society, Gutiérrez was awarded Colombia’s Woman of the Year award in 1967, as well as the 1983 Gold Medal for Scientific Merit from the Inter-American Family Congress.
Recently she replaced La Pola, #1 on this list, on the $10,000 peso bill.
7. Diana Trujillo
Diana Trujillo is an aerospace engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She currently leads the engineering team at JPL responsible for the robotic arm of the Perseverance rover. She hosted the first-ever NASA planetary landing transmission in Spanish on February 18th, 2021.
Trujillo was born in Cali, Colombia. She attended “Colegio Internacional Cañaverales”, a bilingual school accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO). At a young age, she showed interest in science and questioned the traditional female roles in society
When she was 17 she moved to the U.S. with only $300.00 in search of the American dream. Although she spoke English, she was determined to improve, so she took in English classes at Miami Dade College.
Later, inspired by a magazine article about women working on aerospace missions, she enrolled at the University of Florida to study Aerospace Engineering. She paid her way through university by cleaning houses.
While studying at the university, she decided to apply for the NASA Academy, being the first Hispanic immigrant woman admitted to the program. During her work at the Academy, she met NASA robots expert Brian Roberts. He convinced her to move to Maryland with the aim of increasing her chances in the Aerospace industry. Trujillo attended the University of Maryland where she was part of Professor Roberts’ research team. In 2007, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland. Her story was turned into a children’s science book titled “Mars Science Lab – Engineer” by Kari Cornell and Fatima Khan.
What to do on Dia De La Mujer in Colombia?
This is a day to coddle women. Buy them flowers, chocolates, candy, take them out for a drink or dinner. Any gesture of appreciation is great, even if it’s a simple “feliz dia.”
Whether it’s a co-worker, a domestic employee, or your favorite bank teller, today is the day to give them something to show your appreciation. Flowers may be a bit too overboard for an acquaintance or co-worker, so candy will do.
The current Colombian female stereotype is one of beauty. It’s not a bad stereotype to have, and most Colombian women live up to it, but if we dissect history books and look at what women have done for the advancement of the country, and their gender, their beauty is not key.
In spite of the obvious male chauvinism in Colombia, women’s roles are evolving. No longer do women stay home and tend to the home. They study, work, and are becoming more independent.
Colombia as a whole is changing socially, and I think that even if Colombian women become as independent as North American women, they will still keep their femininity, sensuality, and allure.
About the writer – Andrew Macia
Hello, my name is Andrew Macia and the Medellin Buzz is my blog. I moved to Medellin in 2010 and fell in love with the city. I taught advanced level English for four years and then started a digital marketing company.
I love Colombia, and Medellin is my home. I like to write and I want to give back to the community. This is the best way I know how. I hope you enjoy my blog!
About the Medellin Buzz
I started the Medellin Buzz as a resource for my English as a foreign language students. A site where they could read about their city in English, that wasn’t boring. It slowly turned into a personal blog and hub for information for people discovering Medellin. I check comments frequently, so feel free to leave your comment and/or questions below.