By DEBRAH MISZAK
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Latina women across the globe face unique hardships, The Dia de la Mujer — Day of the Woman in English — conference this April at Michigan State University seeks to address many of them.
For 26 years, the MSU Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions and Culturas de las Razas Unidas (CRU), a student group dedicated to Latinx empowerment have hosted the conference.
This year’s theme is “She exists because she resists,” meaning “Ella existe porque se resiste.” The event will feature workshops and talks — some in English and some in Spanish, said
CRU President Tammi Cervantes, 20, a third-year political science/ pre-law major has a lead role in organizing the conference.
“We have bilingual workshops,” Cervantes said. “Some will be in English, some will be in both and some will be in Spanish. So we really try to make sure that it’s as inclusive as we could make it, and that many people feel like they can participate.”
Cervantes said the Dia de la Mujer conference is important because Latina women face a wide variety of issues and do not often have a dedicated space to address them.
“It’s important because oftentimes women are always a second thought,” Cervantes said. “You always think men and then you think women. But then, you always see white people before you see people of color. But then, you see men of color before you see women of color. So, women of color often aren’t allowed to be seen or get credit for their efforts and are the last group to be fought for.”
“The conference is meant to empower women — especially Latina women,” Cervantes said. “We have workshops that range from education to self-care to health to leadership.”
The conference will address issues that face Latin America both domestically and internationally, including how to enhance leadership qualities to fight problems like pay inequality, societal gender roles and more.
Heidi Quintero Trevino, 19, is a sophomore psychology major and the secretary of CRU. She is also the conference’s volunteer coordinator and had attended a previous conference as a student at Western International High School in Southwest Detroit.
“I was really involved in the community and I was really passionate about Latin culture and being Latina, so they thought it would be perfect to take me and other Latinas that were in high school to this conference,” Quintero Trevino said.
Once Quintero Trevino began attending MSU as a freshman, she became involved with CRU and was happy to work on an event that was important to her. She said it’s still important to her because of the issues she said are harmful to Latina women across their culture.
“Latina women never get recognized, but they are the ones who are working hard, and it’s really something that people don’t see,” she said.
Additionally, Quintero Trevino said, a culture of “machismo” or hyper-masculinity in Latino culture is detrimental to Latina women.
“There is a lot of machismo,” Quintero Trevino said. “That means — it’s hard to explain — but the men don’t really talk about the women because they are supposed to be doing other stuff like taking care of the kids, cleaning and cooking. So women don’t really get a lot of recognition. I like this conference because it talks about that.”
MSU Latino/Chicano studies Professor Sheila Contreras offered a different view on the concept of “machismo” and said she feels that the real problem is patriarchy, which she said can be found in every society.
“The way that words like ‘macho’ or ‘machismo’ have entered the English language — it’s just a substitute for sexism,” Contreras said. “Of course misogyny and sexism have an impact on any society. I want to resist stereotypes, and there is this stereotype out there about brown masculinity and Latino masculinity — similar to white masculinity — that it’s predatory.
According to the latest report by United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America in and the Caribbean, an average of 12 women per day die in Latin America as a result of femicide. Femicide is the act of a woman being murdered based on her sex — usually by a man.
The 2018 report shows that Brazil and Mexico led in the number of deaths. In Brazil in 2017, 1,133 women were killed as a result of femicide, and in Mexico the number was 760.
The region also has a high rate of intimate partner violence. According to another report from the commission, Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Peru had the highest number of women’s deaths at the hands of a former or present intimate partner.
It’s not just the UN commission that has highlighted this trend.
An Oxfam report, “Breaking the Mould: Changing Belief Systems and Gender Norms to Eliminate Violence against Women,” found a similar trend. Oxfam is an international organization of 20 non-governmental organizations that fight poverty.
The report found that six out of every 10 men aged 15-19 from eight Latin American and Caribbean nations believe that jealousy is an expression of love, and that seven out of 10 believe that a woman is complicit in her sexual assault if she’s wearing revealing clothes.
Damaris Ruiz, an Oxfam expert on women’s rights in Latin America, said in a press release that data in the report demonstrates that machismo is accepted and tolerated by many young people in the region.
“This, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean – where 14 of the 25 countries in the world with the highest number of feminicides are found – must sound the alarm for us to act immediately,” Ruiz said.
According to Contreras, poverty in indigenous and campesino (peasant) communities is one issue facing women in Latin America.
“Both are incredibly under-resourced,” Contreras said. “You know, a lot of poverty, and in indigenous communities where land is still a contentious issue, for women — in terms of women advocating for themselves — they’re advocating in a context in which their entire community is disenfranchised.”
Contreras said that while feminist movements are gaining traction in Latin America — especially in universities and the middle class — it’s difficult for women’s movements to thrive in impoverished communities where there are many survival-related issues to focus on.
The Dia de la Mujer conference will take place on April 6 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. For information, see http://ddlm.ocat.msu.edu/.