Latinas in the U.S. come from a long line of influential, barrier-breaking, rebel Latin American women. Through Remezcla’s Herstory series, we introduce readers to the women warriors and pioneers whose legacies we carry on.
History is typically told through the male perspective – in other words, it’s literally his story – and women haven’t always found themselves accurately represented. “It’s the inconvenient truth that women have always been 50 percent of the population, but only occupy around 0.5 percent of recorded history,” said British historian and author Bettany Hughes. “Physically the stories of women have been written out of history, rather than written in.”
The same can be said about women in Latin America. Specifically, in Paraguay, women only won the right to vote in 1961. However, nearly a century earlier, they were at the forefront, rebuilding the country after the Guerra de la Triple Alianza. Today Paraguayan women continue to make strides, even outside of their native country.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here are seven Paraguayan women you should know:
María Felicidad González
Orphaned at a young age, María Felicidad González lived a life of struggles. But ABC Color said María Felicidad always overcame whatever came her way. By 1905, she graduated from a teachers college, but she returned to school in Paraná to further her education and become a professor.
She started her career at the Escuela Normal de Paraguay, but eventually she went beyond the classroom. Realizing women needed more representation at the national level, she founded the Consejo de Mujeres. She and Ruby Gutierrez became the first Paraguayan women to represent their country at an international conference. In 1922, they attended the Pan-American Conference of Women.
In 1932, she left teaching behind to join the Consejo Nacional de Educación. And during la Guerra del Chaco, she worked with the Red Cross.
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February 24 is known as el Día de la Mujer Paraguaya because of Las Residentas. In 1974, historian Idalia Flores de Zarza proposed commemorating the women who helped rebuild the country after the Guerra de la Triple Alianza (1864-1870).
The women started by donating their jewelry and other items to help finance the war. By the end of the war, because there were a lot of casualties, the women stepped up and helped Paraguay recover.
Carmen Casco de Lara Castro
Carmen Casco de Lara Castro, aka Doña Coca, started helping political prisoners – sometimes getting arrested in the process – at the end of the Paraguayan civil war in 1947. Ultima Hora reports that she tirelessly fought for these prisoners, and put pressure on the government.
Doña Coca – who founded the Casa de Amparo de la Mujer – played a big role in getting February 24 recognized as Día de la Mujer Paraguaya. She also founded the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Paraguay – one of the first independent human rights organizations in Latin America.
She served as a senator from 1989 until her death in 1993.
Margarita Mbywangi, an Aché tribal chief, became the first indigenous person to hold the position of minister for indigenous affairs, according to the BBC. Former president Fernando Lugo appointed Mbywangi – who was kidnapped and sold several times into forced labor as a child.
“When I was young, at about age 4, some white [people] kidnapped me in the jungle and I was sold several times to families who owned haciendas,” she said, La Nación reports. “When I was growing up, my loved ones told me I was indigenous. I didn’t know what that word meant, but I continued to read and read on the subject and then I found out I was the daughter of the earth, daughter of the jungle, a daughter of my country’s history.”
Serafina Dávalos made history as Paraguay’s first female lawyer, and according to Portal Guaraní, she’s also considered the country’s first feminist.
In 1907, her doctoral thesis, titled “Humanismo,” talked about gender equality. “If we want to build a country that is truly democratic, where liberty, justice, and equality are beautiful realities, we need to start by restructuring the home with the intent of achieving perfect equality.”
Silvia Díaz is an afro-Paraguayan of the Kamba Kua community, who now lives in the United States. This February, the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs recognized the lawyer for her work with immigrants. She earned her legal degree from the Universidad Técnica de Comercialización y Desarrollo and worked for the Attorney General’s Office of Paraguay.
Even in the U.S., she is focused on the Afro-Paraguayan community. She is the international representative for a non-profit organization that “aims to advance the human, educational, legal and property rights” for Afro-Paraguayans, according to her LinkedIn page.
In 2015, she received the 2015 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner Fellowship.
Adela and Celsa Speratti
Born three years apart, sisters Celsa and Adela Speratti made history together. The two dedicated their lives to education, and they made it possible for countless lower-income children to attend school. Battling illiteracy became one of their focal points.