Sunday, July 31, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: Girls: PDAs and Promises


School kids in uniforms abound in Antigua. White blouses and plaid pleated skirts for girls. White shirts and dark trousers for boys.

In the mornings on the way to school, on the way home during the lunch hour, or in the afternoon after school had let out, a common scene on the sidewalk: An adolescent boy and an adolescent girl together, up close. Sometimes kisses exchanged. Sometimes just long, meaningful looks. Sometimes caresses. Quite a lot of PDA, in fact.

I could just imagine what the boys were whispering into the girls' ears - the same thing boys have whispered into their desired targets for millennia, right?  Promises of love eternal, assurances of beauty, and all that.

All this PDA on the Antiguan streets surprised me because of two assumptions I held:
  • Guatemala's social culture is very traditional; i.e. very conservative in regards to dating between boys and girls, especially the public comportment of girls and women; and
  • Antigua is a small town, so observations-judgment-gossip spreads quickly. 

I asked both my Spanish teacher and my airbnb hostess about the prevalence of these public mating rituals.

In a nutshell, said both women, it's the same old story that spans current and past cultural mores. It's the boys' job to hunt and conquest. It's the girls' job to keep their legs closed. If a girl succumbs to a boy's advances, all judgment falls on her. After all, the boy was just doing what a boy is supposed to do.

Well, I asked, are condoms at least readily available?

Sure, but again, same old story. Boys don't want to wear them. Boys won't go to the pharmacy to buy them. Girls won't either because ... what "good girl" would buy condoms?

Although the adolescent romantic theater playing on Antigua's charming cobblestone streets might appear sweet - ahhh, young love! - it is a fanciful mist that masks the reality of disturbing cultural realities in Guatemala:

The dysfunctions are tied to these and other variables: 
  • Machismo culture that discounts girls and women, and where violence against girls and women is acceptable
  • Egregious gender inequality, where girls don't have the access boys do to education, health care, reproductive rights, or self-determination
  • Decades-long civil war that employed rape and other violence as a method of control 
  • Corrupt or ineffective government systems that ignore or don't have the capacity to effect positive changes or protect girls and women
  • Faith leaders who are complicit in maintaining the status quo for girls and women in Guatemala by failing to stand up for the physical and emotional safety and health of girls and women

Here are a couple of stories from two Peace Corps volunteers in Guatemala, and their experiences with sexual harassment in-country:

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