COVID-19: latest news and resources on child marriage and COVID-19

We are no longer alone: Girls, adolescents and young women speak out about injustices in Latin America and the Caribbean

Image: Jóvenas Latidas

I still remember when I was a girl – small, taciturn and shy – slipping unnoticed through the crowd. From that small child, I’ve grown into a woman who knows the strength of her own voice, and who speaks out against injustices.

Being around and learning from other women has been key to my personal development and liberation, helping me to feel I belong to a group and know that – even from a distance – my friends stand with me in the struggle.

Growing up and becoming more aware of my reality brought indignation and anger, but also a desire to take action. I was spurred by the cold facts and painful stories of the girls, adolescents, young women and women whose bodies have been cut through by the violence of a patriarchal and sexist system. And the racism and classism that are rooted in our justice systems and societies affect us Indigenous women more seriously.

Illustration of Ketzalí, with the speech: "It's important to weave a network that's based in our territories so we can work and support each other in the face of our own lived realities."

Image: Jóvenas Latidas

The COVID-19 pandemic is laying bare the precarious reality of Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s highlighting social and economic inequalities and shedding light on the marginalisation, repression and subjugation of women and Indigenous peoples.

Lockdowns affect us all differently. The number of girls, adolescents, young women and women being sexually assaulted has increased. Communities have been criminalised and supressed for defending their natural resources, as other forces seek to further their territorial control. Access to services such as water is still a privilege, and Indigenous women’s access to justice – through its bureaucratic and monolingual processes – is coloured by discrimination and racism. Our justice officials are co-opted and distanced from our communities, making it difficult to file complaints and access information.

On top of this, girls, adolescents, young women and women shoulder more household chores, including providing food and care. This discrimination – which is aggravated by lockdowns – is a significant driver of child, early and forced marriages and unions (CEFMU).

I am aware of the challenges, but also believe the pandemic could be a window of opportunity for analysing how we’ve been living and the nature of our justice and government systems – do they work or have they created impoverished societies and weak institutions?

I firmly believe we can make progress and positive changes in our territories. Knowing that we are no longer alone fuels my hope: even at a distance, we stand together as girls, adolescents, young women and women, and there are more of us every day.

As long as there are voices speaking out against injustice, there’s hope. Girls, adolescents, young women and women play a fundamental role in these processes. That’s why we need to help others recognise the strength of their voices, encourage them to get involved and create spaces for participation.

As a girl I was indifferent to the world of activism, but gaining access to information changed my life. Since then, I’ve worked on community and national advocacy, in processes that bring together stakeholders, educators, field experts and young women to raise awareness and take actions that favour girls and adolescents in Guatemala.

That’s why I think we need to strengthen a generation of empowered women who recognise themselves as political subjects and agents of change; who demand that their States take responsibility for guaranteeing better living conditions for the girls, adolescents, young women and women of Latin America and the Caribbean, legislating and investing in – rather than against – their interests.

Despite the murky outlook, I find a beacon of hope in those who denounce, rebel and speak out, resisting in different ways: in the streets; through journalism, research, art and youth collectives; as Indigenous, Garífuna and Xinca women; as feminists; in academia; on the radio and social media; and – for those who have been unjustly imprisoned for defending their territories – from jail.

As long as there are voices speaking out, there’s hope. It’s so important that we form networks and that there are more of us every day.