What Does Sisterhood Mean Today?

Paula Escobar Chavarría is co-founder and executive director of Women and Media UDP and also a member of the board of ComunidadMujer, the most influential NGO for women’s rights in Chile. She shares wise words on how significant this moment is for women worldwide.

It may seem strange or outdated to speak or write about sisterhood nowadays, when women have experienced enormous progress in their civil rights, access to power, freedom and empowerment. In my country – as in many others – women have been Presidents of the Republic and so on and so forth. The founder of this movement, my dear friend Roz Savage, has proved that there are no boundaries to what a woman can achieve, being the first – and only – female to row solo across three oceans. So many people wonder, after seeing the achievements of such amazing women, what the point is of keeping alive the concept that gender inequalities persist. Surely it’s only a matter of time before they are resolved.

But the problem – as a great campaign launched by ComunidadMujer in Chile recently proves – is that the glass is at the same time both half full and half empty. Yes, it’s true that if we compare our lives with those of our grandmothers, it’s like we are on another planet. My beloved grandma was born without the right to vote (my mother also), to have a personal account at the bank, without the right to divorce, to have birth control, to decide and pursue her own dreams. The glass is partially full now because we can certainly do all these things. And even more important things have been achieved and progressed thanks to the sacrifice, hard work, passion and commitment of feminists of all colours, nationalities, and race.

But the glass is also half empty if we compare our reality to the one we dream of for our daughters and granddaughters. The glass ceiling, the gender pay gap, endless hours spent on domestic and family duties, symbolic violence, gender stereotypes on media, and femicidios (sexual abuse and misconduct against women) are also part of a much less positive picture.

This is when sisterhood is essential to find a way to accelerate the path of social change. We can’t wait for 80 years or more to succeed in filling the half empty glass; we don’t have another life! The time is now and the way to succeed is by stopping competitiveness between us. That’s the oldest trick of machismo, and one of its more effective ones – to make us fight over the one and only small piece of the pie that is available to us. For a long time, women have fallen for this and instead of being sisters, have played along and have become, in some cases, the worst judges and enemies of other women, especially when they are accomplished. Instead of feeling the collective joy and pride that one of us has succeeded, and how inspiring this is to all of us, they can become critical, mean, and cause great pain.

It’s time for this to stop – it’s the era of sisterhood. The power of collaboration, generosity, admiration, and support between women is infinite. Let’s find it and expand it. Because every woman’s experiences, especially those that are unfair and sad, are not individual experiences, but collective. More than ever, personal issues are political ones when we think about gender challenges. A spirit of sisterhood will lead us to succeed and more important than that, to experience shared and collective success.

Paula Escobar Chavarría is a Chilean journalist and has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature. Former Director of Caras Magazine and previously Managing Editor of Televisa Chile, she was a board member of the National Association of the Press and President of its Committee on Magazines. Since 2001, she has been the Magazines Editor of El Mercurio, and oversees its six weekly magazines. Here, her impact was felt in a number of radical and positive changes, such as insisting that models be at least 18, that a doctor verified that they were of a healthy weight, and that they were not photoshopped. She is the author of five books, most recently Yo, Presidente/a, in which she interviewed the last five Chilean Presidents. Among other international awards, she was honoured by Yale University as a Yale World Fellow in 2012. The World Economic Forum also elected her as a Young Global Leader in 2006 and the BBC chose her as one of their 100 inspiring women of the year in 2015.

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