INTRODUCTION (sinje): I am currently reading the book FRAUSEIN by Mely Kiyak, she was born in Germany and grew up in a Kurdish-Turkish family. Today, she lives in Berlin as an author, writes columns for the Maxim Gorki Theater, and publishes books, essays and plays.
"I am a woman. I like to be one. There is no quarrel. No regret. No shortage but no excess either. I would like to tell you about that.
I'll start at a random point with this. Because there are no beginnings. There is only a look back."
Page 9, Mely Kiyak, Frauein, Hanser Verlag 2020
Mely Kiyak impresses one with her view of the world and womanhood, as a child of the first generation of guest workers in Germany who “... never rebelled. Never made oneself politically noticeable, never made claims. The rise of her daughters made up for everything. ” P. 32
In the second part of the blog about women's rights, I talk with four women who all have a so-called migration background and live here in Switzerland. All four are involved with ExpoTranskultur and talk about their womanhood:
Questions to Cecilia (Peru)
"I am a woman. I like to be one. There is no quarrel. No regret. No shortage. But no excess either.” This is how Mely Kiyak describes herself, how would you describe yourself?
I am sensitive, righteous and a warrior, as my name (Guerrero) suggests. I was born with a female body and I became a woman during the way of life. Today I feel happy with my gender, I am a woman.
Where does your story begin with a look back?
My story begins in Lima-Peru, 52 years ago. I am the second of five siblings. My sister was born before me and my three brothers after me. I grew up in a lower-class family. My father had socialist ideas, very hardworking, responsible for his family and work, but also with loved sports. My mother was very combative and had a vision for business. She was a mother who never made a distinction between her daughters and sons, and who raised her five children according to the same rules. Without any privilege to be a woman or a man, she earned the nickname "La Generala". Certainly, in the first years of our life, it was not respect but fear that we felt towards her, but this fear turned into respect, and at the same time into a total understanding of all her children, her and our father. Each and every one of them had a backpack full of stories that in some way influenced the education we were given. In short, with its ups and downs and often more of the latter. Today I've been here in Zurich, to be precise for 26 years, and I live with the feeling that I have one foot here and another in Lima. My father and older sister died four years ago, two of my brothers emigrated like me, one to NY and the other one inland to Cuzco. Only one person still lives in the same town as my mother. My mother lives with her caretakers. I am privileged, I communicate with my siblings on a regular basis, and not only about taking care of our mother. We can discuss everything, sometimes we agree, sometimes not. The respect is mutual and has grown over time and persists, despite the distance.
I googled: In Peru, women were eligible to vote in 1955 at the behest of General Manuel Apolinario Odría Amoretti, who had been dictator since 1948. He and his wife Maria Delgado de Odría wanted to replicate the success of the Peróns, and women's suffrage was part of their strategy. Thus, women's suffrage was introduced on September 7, 1955. However, women who could not read or write, most of them were Indians, were excluded from the right to vote until the 1980s. Because of this, the turnout of women in the 1956 elections was significantly lower than that of men, and the general's plan ended in electoral defeat.
How did you grow up?
I was born and raised between two dictatorships: in October 1968 General Velasco Alvarado launched a coup against a democratic government that was about to end its term of office. He remained in power until August 1975. My father was very taken with him, because he arranged for the expropriation of mines and companies that were in the hands of foreign investors and also implemented the agricultural revolution in favor of the peasantry. It was about reducing the influence of the United States in our country. Unfortunately President Velasco fell ill. I remember he had diabetes and even had one of his legs amputated. His government was weakened and there was another coup, this time brought on by one of his generals, Mr. Morales Bermudez. There were innumerable persecutions, the discontent of the people grew, the trade unionists took to the streets to demonstrate for better wages and jobs. Curfews were imposed and everyone had to be in their homes by 11 p.m. The pressure was very great and a new constituent assembly was called and a new constitution was created in 1979. In 1980 general elections were called, my parents could exercise their right to vote for the first time in their life. I was 11 years old.
Did you take part in elections?
In my country, I was able to vote for the first time in 1987, when I was 18 years old. It was the election of the mayor of my city, Lima. After that I was able to vote two more times in Peru. Since 1995 I have only been able to vote for the executive and legislative branches from here in Zurich. Here I take part in all city, canton and federal elections. In 2019 I was a member of the Corporate Responsibility Initiative Support Committee, which was an incredible experience. Mainly because the initiative brought many people and institutions together. It was a shame that all events that had already been planned had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. But we still managed to move on and although the initiative was not accepted, the issue is present and we will continue to talk about the issue because it is more topical than ever.
Spain and Portugal, the former colonial rulers, were not pioneers of women's suffrage in Europe. It is hard to imagine South America without the triumvirate of the Catholic Church, the clergy. The dominance of men has given rise to the concept of machismo.
Is that a cliché? Did you have to assert yourself against machos? In Peru, in Switzerland?
It's not a cliché, it's real. It exists in many parts of the world and in different areas. In Peru I had the opportunity to do an internship in a very large company. I was only 17 years old and experienced sexual and psychological harassment, often very veiled, but in the end that is what it was: harassment. I remember going to work once with a very loose blouse. I was called to the office of my boss, the son of the company owner, with whom I had a good working and friendly relationship. But to my disappointment, he asked me if I was pregnant and if that was the reason why I wear this wide blouse!
In my last job in Peru the owner was Swiss - a jovial and open-minded guy. But he too disappointed me when he found out about my short relationship with a compatriot, and called me into his office to ask me when I was going to quit. He assumed that I was already thinking of emigrating soon to marry his compatriot.
I have met some Swiss who think that binational families, including Swiss and Latinas or Asians, exist because we are submissive.
I always react with indignation in such situations.
At the same time there is the prejudice of the divas, who are also overrepresented in South America. Are you a diva?
I was called a diva when I was 17 years old, I didn't understand the concept of Diva, and I'm almost certain that whoever called me that didn't understand either. We often use words that we have heard without knowing what they mean. I remember being told this for the first time at an event. I was very tired. I had spent an evening dancing with work and study colleagues. Because I refused to dance with one of these men and I told him very politely that I had to go and we could dance another time. He threw it at me:  “You are a diva!”. And then he went on to say that I was an arrogant person. Someone who doesn't look at others and gives everyone a cold shoulder.
Family members and acquaintances of both sexes hinted at it later here in Switzerland too.
I always dress in a way that makes me happy and makes me feel good, without following any pattern or fashion. I don't stay quiet, I am supportive and combative, I am agnostic and free-thinking. If all of this makes me a diva, then so be it.
When I am abroad, I am repeatedly asked about the Appenzell women, who have had to wait a particularly long time for their voting rights. Do you have favorite stories / anecdotes / jokes about gender issues in Peru? Best of, worst of?
Well, yes, there are some and they are not very different from what is said here as well.
To prevent women from voting in Peru, it had been said:
- Women are easy to influence, for this reason only men can lead the family and the church with their voice.
- If a woman gets involved in politics, it will tarnish her purity, which leads to divorce and neglect of children.
- A woman is biologically made to be a mother, she is more sentimental and emotional than a man, and, therefore, she should be at home and not go into politics.
It was really very difficult for women in my country to get the right to vote. There were comments such as women should earn this right, as had happened in Germany, the USA or England. They had to get economic rights first and then think about political rights. For example, the right to vote was granted only to educated women who worked. Only paid work was counted as work done outside the home. Childcare and housework were not considered work because they were not paid. Saying that this was work, was pure demagoguery. It opened a gap between different women.
What are the best tips & tricks to assert yourself as a woman in Switzerland? In Peru?
Whether in Peru or Switzerland or anywhere else, my first piece of advice would be: first and foremost, learn the language, read a lot and find out a lot about what is going on in the host country. This leads to better and greater participation in everyday life. It is good to know what the quirks, what the customs and the culture are.
Is it better to be born a man or a woman? Are there any differences between Switzerland or Peru?
It is a very difficult question when you consider that many boys are kidnapped, recruited for the guerrillas or have to do military service in many countries or have to go through certain initiation rituals, all for cultural and religious reasons. Well, I don't know which is better. And the girls feel the same way. They are not allowed to go to school or, in some countries, are even killed for it. They are being kidnapped by extremist militias. It is difficult, but it is certainly worse.
Whether it's better in Peru or Switzerland, or whether there are differences, I don't necessarily think so. For example, there is a right to maternity leave in my country and in some Latin American countries thanks to the signing of an agreement by the International Labor Organization in 1978. At that time, women working in large private or public institutions had the advantage of being entitled to maternity leave. The vacation was 45 days before and 45 days after the birth, and was paid for, with the possibility of an extension, if a woman used her 30 vacation days. It was not until 1996 that this decree was enshrined in our constitution for all working women, without exception. I know that there have been revisions in recent years to provide more benefits and protection for mothers, as well as a paternity leave of four days for fathers.
When I came to Switzerland, I found it incredible that three times, in 1984, 1987 and 1999, the initiative on maternity leave was rejected by people. While there was a law in the constitution, not all women benefited from it. It was not until 2005, when the initiative was relaunched, that a maternity law finally passed and included all Swiss women. I remember that I was very sad at the time because of the lack of solidarity - some women were against the initiative. At that time, I was already a Swiss citizen and I was happy to vote and encourage other women to vote.
Favorite women: who is that for you and why?
There are my two grandmothers, Michel Obama, Carla del Ponte, Micheline Calmy-Rey, Ruth Dreifuss. These women inspire me with their strength and perseverance.
Also, Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala, January 9, 1959-), winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize. The Guatemalan activist is already an international icon in the fight for the human rights of the indigenous population. Menchu is currently in exile after receiving death threats in Guatemala. It must be very difficult to be in exile and keep fighting. This woman is admirable.
- Toni Morrison (United States, February 18, 1931 -), winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. I love her very real story.
- Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban regime when she was only 12 years old by telling what life is like for girls in the Swat Valley, Pakistan on a BBC blog. She survived an attack in October 2012 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Malala inspires me with courage and strength.
- Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna. Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020. According to the Swedish Academy, the technology developed by the two "has a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, contributes to new therapies for cancer and could make the dream of curing hereditary diseases a reality". They inspire me with their hope, intelligence and perseverance.
- Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gamarra was an Afro-Peruvian choreographer, composer, and activist. She was later called "the mother of Afro-Peruvian dance and theater". She inspires me with her strength and perseverance. To be a black, intelligent, and successful woman in Peru and beyond, in the 1960s until her death in 2014, must have been a challenge.
- María Isabel Granda y Larco, known worldwide as Chabuca Granda, was one of the most avant-garde and influential composers in Latin America. Chabuca was ahead of her time, she was a tireless artist who housed poets, blacks and intellectuals in her home, a cult and a defender of Afro-Peruvian music. She divorced in 1942 - which sparked a major scandal in Lima - but she also let her creative streak get going after that event. Her greatest works were "La flor de la canela". Chabuca was a synonym for revolution, she showed herself from her most transgressive side, especially for the conservative and shy Lima of those years when she shone with her voice, from this time pieces like "Cardo o ceniza", "Paso de vencedores" , "El fusil de un poeta es una rosa",
Three wishes for all women in the world:
1) To be a woman and to believe in yourself.
2) Belonging. Equal opportunities and showing solidarity with everything and everyone.
3) Enjoy being a woman in all exceptions.