This week is Thanksgiving in the US. As a person who has lived in six countries on 3 continents and moved house about 30 times, I’m deeply grateful to the countries and “locals” that have welcomed me through the years.
Of course, not all my experiences as an immigrant have been uplifting. I’ve had my share of frustrations and disappointments. And also, some laughs.
I went on holiday in August with the very clear objective of spending time with my brother — who lives in Spain — and my parents — who live in Venezuela.
From that point of view, I’m happy to report that it was mission accomplished.
I also wanted to rest. So I thought I’d put my women’s rights activism aside during the vacation and have a lighthearted summer break.
That was a total failure.
I had little rest and it couldn’t park my activism. However, I learned a lot about myself, what’s important to me, and how central is my advocacy for women to the way I perceive the world and the legacy I want to leave behind. The fact that these events happened during my holiday allowed me to slow down enough to recognise why they triggered such intense emotions in me and give me time to process them.
Here is the first installment of three articles capturing three intense experiencesrelated to women during my vacation. The first one is about the absence of real women from those symbols of power, remembrance, and cultural identity that we call monuments.
The holiday started when I met with my mother, brother, and sister-in-law in Malta to spend a week on the island.
Of course, that was until my family thought it was a good place for the holidays and, rather than pushing back, I decided to “park” my activism for a week.
But I couldn’t.
Very quickly, walking through the capital, Valetta, and visiting multiple towns in the islands of Malta and Gozo, I realised what to expect
Nice streets and houses in yellowish bricks.
Statues of men, especially politicians.
A monument is a type of structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or event, or which has become relevant to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, due to its artistic, historical, political, technical or architectural importance.
Examples of monuments include statues, (war) memorials, historical buildings, archaeological sites, and cultural assets.
The word “monument” comes the Latin “monumentum“, derived from the word moneo, monere (comparable to the Greek mnemosynon) which means ‘to remind’, ‘to advise’ or ‘to warn’.
Of course, with two notable — and expected — exceptions
Religion — Statues of the Virgin Mary, female saints and mystics…
Embodiment of an idea — e.g. Statues of women personifying independence.
It hit me especially hard when I saw the monument to Daphne Caruana Galizia in Silema, journalist and anti-corruption activist, assassinated by a car bomb. It’s a bay laurel tree to “remind us of her wisdom, victory and triumph over darkness” (see image illustrating this article).
Again, women as the embodiment of ideas. I wanted so hard to see a statue of her.
Unfortunately, the lack of statues of real women is not only a problem in Malta
Only around 10% of streets and public spaces worldwide are named after women. The project only 8% brings awareness to the fact that in Barcelona (Spain) women-named streets only account for 8% of all public spaces, with most located outside the city center. On their interactive website, they also highlight that streets named after women are typically about 62 meters shorter than streets named after men.
As all the information was sinking in my head, I remembered watching a film as a child about the neutron bomb. Its premise was that those bombs could “kill people and spare buildings”. I can still see the black and white scenes portraying perfectly clean streets and buildings — no life at all.
I thought, if life was erased and only “infrastructure” remained and some aliens visited the planet Earth, what would they make out of our statues, streets, buildings, history books, museums, and banknotes?
Monuments also play an important role in shaping our collective memory. They serve as tangible reminders of historical events and figures, helping to preserve our cultural heritage for future generations.
Here comes my guess: Those aliens would conclude that female human beings never existed. That we were merely an imaginary artifact for men to get inspired, illustrate concepts, and express their ideas about beauty.
The remedy? To strive for being too much – we have so many centuries to catch up on! When in doubt, let’s remember bell hook’s words of wisdom and apply them to all domains
No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough.
CALL TO ACTION:Let’s inundate the world with our ideas and our work. Because even if they are
Unfinished – we can decide that they’re finished for today.
Unpopular – what’s criticised one day can be a success the next.
Ignored – if we hide them, we’ll never know.
Let’s ensure we leave proof that we existed.
This is the first time I’m delivering an article in three installments. It was not planned but today feels like the right thing to do. Thank you for your kindness, patience, and support as I make this experiment. The next one is on harassment.
I’m a sought-after international keynote speaker on the topics of empowering women and underrepresented groups in tech, artificial intelligence sustainability and bias, inclusive workplaces and products, and future thinking.