What it Means to Be a Woman in Latin America: How Society Has Been Constructed Around Gender

Hear how we’re taking time for women and their allies to share their past experiences and learn from them to positively influence our future.

Simone Jesus
by Your Edge Blog Team
April 14, 2021

Over the past year, lockdowns have been enacted around the world to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. But they gave rise to what many are calling a second pandemic, the upsurge of gender-based violence and domestic abuse in Latin America that has proven equally threatening.

This issue, while statistically more prevalent in some parts of the world than others, is not geographically isolated. It signals an immediate need for change, and that’s what our Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN) has set out to do – to connect, develop and advocate for women by focusing on a culture of inclusion, diversity, innovation and leadership.

On International Women’s Day in March, we launched a miniseries called “Around the World with WIN” to learn more about the injustices women still face every day across EMEA, APAC and the Americas–Latin America. The goal is to have open, honest dialogues with change agents such as Simone Jesus, who is currently the co-chair of WIN in Latin America, to better understand the reality of life for women today and how we can all be better allies for women at work, at home, and in our communities.

Read on to learn more about the work being done in Latin America…

Your Edge Blog Team: Can you tell us a little bit more about the current climate for women in Latin America?

Simone: It might help to provide a little background. For more than three centuries after Europeans arrived in Brazil and colonized the country, Africans and other indigenous peoples were enslaved. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to legislate the abolishment of slavery in 1888 – just 133 years ago. And in regard to women’s rights, Latin America currently has the world’s highest rates of femicide, which is the gender-related killing of women. We’ve come a long way but have much further to go.

Your Edge Blog Team: Is that why you stepped up to serve as co-leader for WIN in Latin America?

Simone: I’ve been always passionate about inclusion and diversity, especially advocating for gender equality and fighting against racism. I think a lot of this stems from my upbringing. I was born in Brazil, and while the country is composed of amazing, happy people, I recognize the ample opportunity to learn about and address forms of discrimination like sexism and racism that are rooted in our country’s history.

So, when I heard Zebra was forming the Women’s Inclusion Network in 2018, I immediately raised my hand to participate. I wanted to share my knowledge and experiences as a Brazilian woman and also from my previous employers where I was an active member of employee resource groups. Additionally, I knew it was a way for me to learn from others, both my peers and professionals, who study these topics.

Your Edge Blog Team: WIN Latin America recently hosted an event with Gabriela Guevara, a guest speaker from Universidad Iberoamericana. What did you learn from the dialogue that occurred during this event?

Simone: In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Gabriela was invited to explain how aspects of society have been constructed around gender. She spoke about “micromachismo,” a term that loosely translates to the everyday instance of male chauvinism (the belief that men are superior to all genders). Examples of these subtle acts or microaggressions include expectations that women are to be domestic caretakers and respect the men in a household on the basis of their gender alone. There’s also a tendency among men to spread their legs and take up more space while sitting in public spaces. Gabriela explained that these notions are taught starting in childhood – boys don’t cry, boys are strong. Boys wear blue, girls wear pink. As we move into adulthood and then parenthood, our surroundings only further enforce these ideas. For example, it is far more common to find a diaper changing station in a women’s public restroom. Further, these gendered acts are built into personal finances in this region. At a restaurant, it’s more likely for the server to present the bill to a man at the table. Men generally make more money than women for the same work, and some men believe women should depend on them financially. This last expectation alone strips women of their independence. This makes it more difficult for women to leave if they become victims of domestic abuse.

Your Edge Blog Team: What can we do as individuals to help dismantle these gendered aspects of society?

Simone: There are various ways we can construct a more egalitarian society depending on the role we play ourselves. A few examples:

  • Parents can support a range of activities for their children, not just ballet for their daughters or sports for their sons.
  • Managers can speak up and provide time for women to speak on their teams.
  • Employers can advocate for and implement equal pay models.

If we don’t change the mindset, we’ll never change the reality. If we notice discrepancies based on what we hear, read and see, we should do what’s in our power to address them.

Your Edge Blog Team: It’s great to hear that we’re having these conversations, even though they may be difficult. Can you tell us a little about how you are working with other WIN members as well as Zebra leaders to create an environment where everyone feels seen, heard, valued and respected at work?

Simone: With nearly 150 attendees from Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile attending the virtual session, it was important for us to set the stage of the conversation by making it clear this would be a safe environment. We made it clear that we would hear and learn from a well-known and respected specialist. This dialogue, like many others we host, wasn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with what Gabriela and others were saying. The goal was simply to be open minded and inquisitive. My colleague Alejandra Suarez who organized the event began the presentation by helping attendees understand that we’re all coming from different “starting points” – some have personal experiences that have shaped their understanding of gender inequality and violence issues, while others may have never heard of these topics and need to learn more. We’re proud to report that everyone was engaged and respectful with their contributions. We had so many questions that we had to ask attendees to wait until the end – a hallmark of a great discussion!

Your Edge Blog Team: What best practices might you share with others who are working to become better advocates for women in the workplace?

Simone: My biggest piece of advice would be to keep an open mind and always remember that others may not have had the same access or exposure to information as you. In Latin America, we must be mindful and respectful of each person’s culture, lifestyle and story. We have different languages, religions, histories and beliefs. The objective is never to identify who is right or wrong. We must simply aim to learn from each other and identify our unconscious biases. When we are aware they exist, we can work to be more neutral in our comments and decisions and be a positive influence for others.

Your Edge Blog Team: Speaking of different languages, we understand you spent seven months in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the University of Toronto in Canada. Can you tell us about this experience, namely what you enjoyed and what you learned?

Simone: This was one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had, learning how life is lived around the world. As a Brazilian girl from a modest family, having the opportunity to study abroad was something I always dreamt about. I worked for several years since becoming a teenager to save enough money to be able to afford this program. Finally, when I was 22, I was able to participate. It was an opportunity to develop my English skills while also learning about cultures and lifestyles I hadn’t been exposed to previously. I lived and learned with colleagues of all different nationalities – my peers were from Japan, China, Montenegro (previously part of Serbia), Spain, Germany, Italy and of course Canada. I learned a lot about different cultural aspects of each country from their histories, to their folklore and their food. One of our student seminars actually involved cooking a traditional food from our respective countries! We also had the chance to travel around Canada together on tours organized by the university. To this day, I am thankful for this experience. I still have a friend from the program who lives in Japan, and it’s a great way for me to keep up with what’s going on around the world. It was truly unforgettable, and I’d recommend it to anyone. For those who speak English already, maybe consider going to Asia or Europe to learn Mandarin, Spanish or French. Maybe even come to Brazil and learn Portuguese! I’d be happy to serve as a host family.

Your Edge Blog Team: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your work with WIN to help pave the way for a better life for women in Latin America. We look forward to hearing more about how these initiatives and learning opportunities are helping Zebra become an even better place to work for women and for all.

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Your Edge Blog Team
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