On International Women's Day...

By: Ashley Rerrie, Country Director

March 8th was International Women's Day. As a woman and a proud feminist, the day was important to me. Nevertheless, I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to say about it. Lately I've been feeling angry and helpless about the state of the world, particularly being bombarded by negative news from the US and the attacks on women’s rights happening worldwide. However, I also think it’s important to say something, as a black woman in a leadership position of a solidarity organization here in Nicaragua.

I didn’t strike on Wednesday, although I support and send solidarity/love to all the women who did. Instead, I travelled to a community called Los Norteños to sign their project agreement for the 2017 year. Casa – Pueblito is working with UCA Tierra y Agua to help Los Norteños build an artisanal well and a pipe system to bring water to all of the houses in the community. Los Norteños has existed as a community for 27 years and has never had access to potable water; the Casa – Pueblito project is their opportunity to finally have water in their homes.

Woman in Jiñocuao, showing me her first pineapple plant

Woman in Jiñocuao, showing me her first pineapple plant

I didn’t strike because I had the chance to help support other women in the communities I serve; lack of potable water is a feminist issue. In rural communities, it's often women who are in charge of domestic labour in the household, which involves water. On top of water for cleaning, water for cooking, drinking, and bathing is needed, often falling to women to collect it. Women travel to find clean water, to carry it to their homes, or have to bring loads of clothing to a closest water source to do laundry. This takes time out of a woman's day and is an added pressure when women are already looking after their homes and children. The lack of clean water in Los Norteños also makes community members more vulnerable to illness. Water is a human right and lack of access to water disproportionately affects women. On March 8th, I got to play a small part in a community's fight for access to water. 

On this International Women's Day, I was reminded of the issues that women face globally. Femicide and sexual violence, environmental destruction, lack of access to reproductive rights, unequal pay, misogyny and machismo, unpaid emotional labour... although they may appear differently in distinct global contexts, the structural oppressions and barriers that women face are global phenomena. As much as these problems exist in Nicaragua, they also exist in Canada. (See: Halifax cabbie verdict [cn: sexual assault]; missing and murdered indigenous women; gendered pay gap; high rates of sexual assault on university campuses; street harassment; lower rates of women in STEM fields; lack of affordable childcare, etc.).

I'm angry that we're still fighting the same fight for women's rights in 2017. I'm angry that mainstream feminism has become whitewashed and individualized, and that women of colour are largely underrepresented in the movement. I'm angry that trans women and non-binary women are excluded, experience violence, and are denied their rights. The ways that immigrant women, disabled women, poor women, and otherwise marginalized women are erased, ignored, and harmed. I'm angry at the number of women I know who have been sexually assaulted. I'm angry about the ways, big and small, that women are snubbed and insulted in day-to-day life. 

I'm consistently grateful for the women, trans women, and non-binary folx in my life who support me and remind me it's okay to be fierce/angry/tender at any given time. On the days when I'm feeling the most hopeless, it's taking a look at my friends and the incredible people they are and the work they're doing that reminds me that in the end, we'll overcome. How can we not, with so many brilliant, ethical, honest, and compassionate people on our side? I'm grateful that my work is solidarity work, work that helps empower women and their communities by providing financial resources. I'm grateful for the many women that I've met that have shown me what it means to really fight for equality and power. I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to be part of the fiercely feminist and all-female Casa – Pueblito team and to have María as a boss, mentor, and friend.

Maria, Christelle, Ashley (on laptop), Emieke and Denisse [left to right]

Maria, Christelle, Ashley (on laptop), Emieke and Denisse [left to right]

Doña Lola in Santa Julia, El Crucero

Doña Lola in Santa Julia, El Crucero

For me, International Women’s Day is dedicated to women like Lola and Eloisa in Santa Julia, who are the heads of the Gloria Quintanilla Women's Cooperative and have been fighting for years to provide food security, education, and employment for their community. Who have worked tirelessly against sexism, prejudice, and gendered violence in their community. Who have literally brought down the rates of domestic violence in their community and helped other women secure their property rights. Today is dedicated to all of the host mothers that work with Casa - Pueblito and make our global education programming possible. 

IWD is dedicated to my first host mom in Nicaragua, Adriana. Her care and love over the past five years have made the possibility & the reality of living in Nicaragua so much better for me, because I know I have her support. Her tireless work and organization of women in her community constantly inspires me and reminds me that strength does not always roar. 

IWD is also dedicated to my mom, Michelle, who has led by example when it comes to being a leader in a male-dominated profession. She has taught me that it is okay to be opinionated, to have standards for myself, and the importance of setting boundaries and standing up for myself. She is constantly and unconditionally supportive, and I don't think women can ask for much more than that from one another. 

Now more than ever, we need to support one another. We need to make space to be angry, vulnerable, honest, and open with one another. Support the women in your life. Ask them what they need and how you can stand beside them. Support women financially by donating to organizations like Casa – Pueblito that help women in marginalized communities.

“Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving, keep fighting.” – Ariel Gore

In rage and solidarity,