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A Reflection on International Women's Day

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Women of WR-AP

”I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty

before I’ve called them intelligent or brave

I’m sorry I made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is the most you have to be proud of when your

spirit has crushed mountains

from now on I will say things like

you are resilient or extraordinary

not because I don’t think you’re pretty

but because you are so much more than that”

I don't want to be congratulated for being a superwoman, I want to free myself from having to be. On days like today, social networks are filled with happy women's day messages, with balloons, hearts, and flowers. Thanks for the flowers and congratulations, but no, it's not a day to celebrate, not yet. Our predecessors fought hard and have made great advances to the cause, opening the way for those of us who still want a more just world.

On my birthday my grandmother used to ask me how old I was and always calculated how many children she already had at that age “-today is 20 grandma” “-at your age I already had 4 children”. My grandmother had 11 pregnancies (plus caring for the animals that my grandfather brought to their house including deer, anteaters, goats, dogs) plus the adopted children of life. My grandmother did what was expected of her, to be a mother, a housewife, a cook, a cleaner. But my grandmother wasn’t able to vote when she was an adult, and when my mother grew up, voting was a woman's right. So yes, there is an important advance, but we are still far away, the patriarchy is still there even though some of us live in privileged conditions (in some respects) compared to the vast majority of women in the world.

Fearne Cotton's 'Happy Place'

For me, today is a day to talk about inequality, discrimination, sexual harassment, and the normalization of violence against women. I was recently listening to Fearne Cotton's podcast “Happy place” where she interviewed Nadiya Hussain, a British television chef, who spoke about what it meant to have been raised under Bangladeshi traditions, how hard it was for her to be born a woman in such a sexist culture. Among her experiences was the comment that in Bangladesh there is no word for when a woman is pregnant, a kind of manual expression is used accompanied by an insinuation of illness, wanting to put the woman in a state of shame for having had intercourse that ended up leaving her pregnant. The woman cannot bear the husband's surname either because the man is a superior being in his culture. In other parts of the world, the woman has to bear the last name because she is seen as the property of the man. It is unusual that even in this century these things continue to happen, and the hardest thing is that they are the majority. Returning to the topic of the podcast, the chef comments on what it has meant for her to make her way in a kitchen, being a woman, the daughter of immigrants, Muslim, and British-Bangladeshi. She says that when she visits her parents, she asks her children to comment out loud in front of their grandfather that “so-and-so is pregnant” to break her parents balls a little but also in an attempt to normalize what should already be normal in itself, a pregnant woman or not, she is not sick, she is not alone, she is not bitter.

It's a reality that a woman is expected to be the one in charge of cooking at home (in addition to many other things) and she is expected to do it very well (and the one who doesn’t is criticized) but a woman who decides to be a chef has to fight twice as hard to be taken seriously. She’s not expected to be recognized and respected in a restaurant, in fact only 10% of Michelin star restaurants are run by women.

Some of London's top female chefs. Source, The Evening Standard

I think that a day like today should be the opportunity to talk about these issues even if they are uncomfortable, it is the only way to break paradigms. I think that individually everyone should consider and re-think their beliefs and patterns, see to what extent they are really yours, if they come from ignorance or if they were instilled, as we should do with racism and homophobia. It’s necessary to open the debate at every opportunity, even if it’s just over coffee with a friend because we have internalized these archetypes so much that until you bring them to the table you don’t realize that we ourselves often expect, say, or act from those patterns inculcated within us as with the many things that are expected of us, but others are prohibited.

I keep in mind that I speak from a privileged position in many ways, I had the opportunity to go to school and university. Having access to education, health, democracy, the right to vote gives me more opportunities than most women in the world. Even with everything and my privileges I have had to study and work harder and have still experienced discrimination, inequality, violence, and fear. Yes, the fear of walking down the street and being attacked is a reality that is accentuated depending on the part of the world in which you live. Still in this century there are women who are trafficked, sold, abused and that must stop.

In the vast majority of professions, women are expected to be excellent students during their studies, but not to stand out as professionals, and the same is true in architecture. There are very few women who manage to make a space for themselves in our profession, the criticism is harsh, sometimes relentless just for being a woman in a world of men. Perhaps that is why I have always admired the very famous Zaha Hadid who managed to make a name for herself by breaking sexist, racist, xenophobic, and religious paradigms.

Zaha Hadid. Source Alberto Heras

A colour: I chose the colour pink because there is a belief that feminists do not wear pink, which is another paradigm to break. We don’t have to dress like men to fight for equal rights, nor put aside our femininity, it’s also not a man's fight against women (lamenting the radicals) it’s a fight in which we need men. I also want to live in a world where the stereotype is broken that men cannot express their emotions, that they have to be strong, follow the herd, dress in one colour, belong to a standard of masculinity, swallow what they feel and that the socially accepted ways they have to drain is through violence, addiction, or disease. Without a doubt, there are many men who have opened their eyes and who accompany us along the way. Thank you VERY MUCH to them.

A hope: Living in cities where we can walk home alone and without fear, study the career that we want, dress as we feel like, earn the same salary as a man doing the same job, that no partner mistreats us, being able to go alone to a concert, a movie, a walk, a meal, should be the same for everyone in any part of the world.

A word: Sorority, is the solidarity between women in a context of gender discrimination and patriarchal violence.

A podcast: Happy place (in English) and In self-defence (in Spanish)

A book: all of Isabel Allende, a Chilean writer who made her way alone in a world of men (English and Spanish) and Mujeres bacanas (in Spanish)

Women I admire (to name a few): Jane Goodall, Isabel Allende, Zaha Hadid, Marina Abramovic, Frida Kahlo, Madonna, Simone Biles, Eva Peron, Agatha Christie, Merryll Streep, Ellen Degeneres, Sanna Marin. All of them had histories of fighting to find a place in their worlds.

This blog was been written by our project lead Leo de Val, a Venezuelan architect who's civil engineer and artist parents have influenced her innovative approach to architectural thinking.

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