First Ladies: An Untapped Potential In Latin America

After more than five decades in which the power had hair on its chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, a woman accompanies the president on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 27 November 2018 — In times when there is so much talk of women’s demands, of campaigns with #MeToo-style labels, and of questioning the treatment of women in the media, it is worth reflecting on the figure of the First Lady in so many governments in Latin America.

In contrast to some European nations, and of specific moments in the administrations in the United States, in this part of the world that ranges from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, the person accompanying the president has barely used her influence and media exposure to bring messages of renewal to a female audience. She has been, rather, a “beautiful adornment” that follows the president to his public speeches, to the signing of agreements or on international tours, but she has been far from carrying herself as someone with a voice of her own who addresses the nation.

What if she used her position to influence something beyond clothes or hairstyles? The Latin American first ladies should break the mold of a beautiful face that assents to everything her husband does and throw themselves into promoting new roles, demanding spaces and launching those life stories that help the women of this region shake off disrespect and violence.

There are very gray cases, such as that of the recently premiered first lady of Cuban Lis Cuesta, the first female name that is officially linked to a president in more than half a century. After more than five decades in which power had hair on his chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, we see a woman who takes the president’s hand and accompanies him on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything, but we do not know if it is because of her own desire for “invisibility” or because she is prevented from doing so.

It matters little whether she shares spaces with the highest Chinese authorities or walks through the streets of London, the big problem is that we Cubans do not know the tone of her voice or what she thinks about the most critical issues of the nation.

In other Latin American countries the problem would be one of media over-exposure or the banal use of the figure of the first lady by the gossip media or fashion press to discuss the inches of her hemline or the quality of her makeup. However, in countries like this island where I live, the voice of the ruler’s wife seems to be suppressed as her very existence is shown as a “weak” diversion of the ideology in power, a “mannered” gesture of authority.

It is already time for this person who accompanies the highest office in the country to stop being pure decoration. She should not be presented like a flowery curtain that does not speak, like a beautiful vase and – much less – like an artificial flower that should always look fresh and perfumed, even in the worst moments.

A first lady must be the mirror for many Latin American women to see their potential reflected, a powerful call to realize projects and a reflection of what will come in the future. Will the ladies of the Palace be willing to subvert their wardrobes for real influence, to exchange heels for social endeavors? We all hope so.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.