Activo Inmaterial: Women in Colombia’s Labor History

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By Leah Hutton Blumenfeld


Writing a historiography of labor in Colombia is not a simple task. The variety of topics and time periods that have been covered in the literature reveal that it is underdeveloped, since there are not a significant number on any one era or area in particular. Generally speaking, as one searches for sources on Colombia, one finds hundreds of articles and books on drugs and violence. This may be part of the explanation for the unevenness of sources on labor, and can be considered a reason to explore other aspects of Colombian history so as not to pigeonhole it any more than it already has been. A reorientation in the approach to Colombian history may, in fact, help illuminate the proclivity towards drugs and violence in Colombian history in a different and possibly clearer fashion.      

For purely normative reasons, I wanted to look at child labor in particular for this essay, but it soon became clear that the number of sources was abysmally small. Even by focusing on women instead, I have had to be creative in my approach. While there are some good historical studies on the subject, this work is supplemented by texts from anthropology and sociology. I have also included some texts for their absence of women.

“Latin America has one of the lowest formally recognized employment rates for women in the world,” due in part to the “invisible” work of home-based labor.¹ Alma T. Junsay and Tim B. Heaton note worldwide increases in the number of women working since the 1950s, yet the division of labor is still based on traditional sex roles.² This phenomenon, as well as discrepancies in pay rates for men and women, has been well-documented in developed societies. The same pattern exists in the developing world though it is less well-researched.  

As Charles Bergquist pointed out in 1993,³ gender has emerged as a tool for understanding history from a multiplicity of perspectives and that the inclusion of women resurrects a multitude of subjects previously ignored. Eugene Sofer has said that working class history is more inclusive than a traditional labor history, one known for its preoccupation with unions, and that working class history incorporates the concept that “working people should be viewed as conscious historical actors.”⁴ If we are studying all working people, then where are the women in Colombia’s history?

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This International Women’s Day, Let’s Celebrate Our She-roes, Past and Present


By Laura Schroeder

This International Women’s Day, as we applaud the political, economic, cultural, and social advancements of half the population, there is much to celebrate in the Americas.

In the past decade, there has been a striking increase in political and economic participation of women. Promisingly, government and NGO agendas alike are increasingly prioritizing gender equity as a cross-cutting, pressing issue, and slowly, collaboration is leading to progress. In Bolivia, approximately half of the legislative body is female. Paraguay recently passed Act 5777, providing protection against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), outlawing femicide, and providing services to survivors of sexual violence. Originating in Argentina, the #NiUnaMenos movement against sexual harassment and assault has made great headway across several countries, and has been followed by the US-rooted #MeToo movement.

This is not to say that women do not struggle every day to feel safe, be heard, be recognized for their contributions, and be valued in government and society. Indeed, experts maintain that the global gender gap will close in 79 years for Latin America and the Caribbean and 168 in North America.

Despite this, change makers are pushing forward, inspiring us to join them in their pursuits or to honor their legacies. Without further ado, here are some of the many she-roes that have confronted challenges to advance the status of women in the Western hemisphere.

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