Sofia recalls how she first experienced discrimination when she was stigmatized at school for her outfit, her ideas or for simply being born a woman. From Santiago, Chile, she explains why this motivated her to advocate for sexual and reproductive rights and to empower other young people to make informed decisions about their bodies and sexuality.
I live in Santiago de Chile, a pretty stable country in the eyes of the world, though it is difficult to live here and be heard, above all if you are young, a woman and a human rights activist.
In our family, my mum was the bread-winner. When I was young, she decided to invest a significant share of her salary on my education as good education is not free in Chile. For nine years, I went to a religious school and even though I learned languages and science, school and gender-based violence were part of my everyday life.
I remember that we could not practice some activities that were considered masculine, such as playing football or wearing trousers, no matter how cold it was. The length of our skirts and our personal hygiene were constantly measured. My male schoolmates suffered too, their creative ability was invariably limited and they were relegated to maths and brute force.
It is essential for young people to empower and educate themselves. We need to share our knowledge with our peers through different means. This is the most effective way to show other young people what we are capable of, and to make our voice truly heard.Sofia, 16 year old from Chile
I gathered all my courage and decided to change environment, so I moved from one catholic school to another. The latter was located closer to the city centre but the reality was not very different. Gender-based discrimination was not so obvious but something worse was taking place: they attempted to divide us based on our “political” ideologies. Since I first started, the teachers considered me a communist because I believed in equality and justice. They started to threaten my classmates and younger students: “Do not hang out with her, she is a bad influence…. If you are good students, you will listen to me”.
From that moment on, an exhausting segregation started. I was excluded from the school election process to prevent me from “starting a revolution” because I was –and still am – an activist with Amnesty International. This was perceived as dangerous in an institution where nothing else but competence is taught to students.
The harassment was so hard that I decided to be home-schooled. I could not bear this treatment any longer, I did not want to study nor go to school, the teachers made me cry and my schoolmates were afraid to hang out with me. I was stigmatized.
I later discover Amnesty’s programme It’s My Body! which empowers young activists to advocate for sexual and reproductive rights through human rights education in Argentina, Chile and Peru. I could not help but be motivated to take part in it. It is difficult for young people to open their eyes and realize how many changes are achievable if we decide to do so, especially when we have support.
It was exciting to access a reality where our voices are finally as valid and heard as the ones of adults, to know that my actions can have an impact, and that I finally have the space to make decisions on my own.
I did not have any doubt regarding my participation. In the end, if I do not take responsibility, nobody will do it for me. It is not the same to speak from an adult’s perspective as it is for a young person or a child, and many organizations have not understood this until today. I believe it is important to give young people a real prominence in this programme, from the foundations to its ideological creation. It is essential for young people to empower and educate themselves. We need to share our knowledge with our peers through different means. This is the most effective way to show other young people what we are capable of, and to make our voice truly heard.
Now, we are getting together with young people from South America to take action for human rights as we are trying to break down the absurd historical and cultural barriers that have been imposed on us. We recognize our common goals and we understand that we have similar needs. We all want a change; we all want to live in a country, in a world that is fair to us and to everyone else. If we keep that in mind, borders will not represent an obstacle. We do not care where we come from but where we are heading to.
It was exciting to access a reality where our voices are finally as valid and heard as the ones of adults, to know that my actions can have an impact, and that I finally have the space to make decisions on my own.Sofia, 16 year old from Chile
We love our countries and we want to turn them into a better place so that we can live and develop. It is difficult for me to understand how a child or a young person can aim to fully develop in a system that does not protect them. This acts like a chain and explains the social issues that we have nowadays.
I’m also a bit concerned that, even though sexual and reproductive rights are violated every day, we suffer many other violations that prevent us from developing fully. How can we expect a young person to fight for their rights if they do not have access to education? How can we expect to empower young people on sexual and reproductive rights if they spend their time working to support their households?
In my country and in others, situations like this, and some even harsher, are taking place. This is precisely where our biggest challenge lies. Our fight focuses precisely here.
The 5-year programme It’s my Body!, funded by Operation’s Day Work with money collected by Norvegian young people, takes place across Argentina, Chile and Peru and aims to promote sexual and reproductive rights for young activists between the age of 13 and 19 through human rights education, campaigning and advocacy.