5 black Latin American women who made history

On this International Day of Latin American and Caribbean Black Women, discover what they did to combat discrimination and inequality

Do you know black Latin American women who have stood out, in history, in their activism against racism, machismo and social inequality? Some Brazilian women come to mind when we ask this question, like the quilombola leader Dandara dos Palmares or contemporary philosophers like Lélia Gonzalez, Sueli Carneiro It is Djamila Ribeiro.

But they are not alone: there are many other stories to be discovered among Latinas. From the time of Dandara to the present day, black women in Latin America and the Caribbean region have fought against discrimination and for racial and gender equity in various fields — including the battlefield. 

To give more visibility to this issue, 300 black women from 32 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region met in the Dominican Republic in 1992 and defined July 25th as the International Day of Latin American and Caribbean Black Women and the Diaspora, recognized by the UN (United Nations) in the same year.

The date was chosen in honor of the Brazilian Tereza de Benguela, leader of Quilombo de Quariterê, in the 18th century. Like Dandara, she is one of the black women who stood out for their fight against racism and machismo over the centuries. Discover a little about her story below and meet four other important Latin American activists.

Teresa of Benguela - Brazil

Tereza lived in the Guaporé Valley, which is on the border between Mato Grosso and Bolivia, in the 18th century. When her companion, José Piolho, was murdered by bandeirantes, she took over the leadership of Quilombo de Quariterê, where 100 people lived, and became the “Black Queen of the Pantanal”. 

According to historians, his political skill was essential for the quilombo to resist for 20 years, planting cotton, corn, beans, cassava and bananas and making decisions collectively, in a parliamentary system. The quilombo was destroyed in 1770 by the governor of the captaincy, and Tereza became a symbol of resistance in the black Brazilian community.

Maria Remedios del Valle - Argentina

She was one of the rare women who fought in Argentina's wars of independence from 1810 onwards. She remained on the front line, helping to feed and care for soldiers even after losing her husband and children in the battle of Huaqui. For her bravery and courage, she was named captain — and as such she was shot, captured by the enemy and almost shot to death, but she escaped from prison to help the fighters in her troop. 

Even with all this history, upon returning to Buenos Aires, the “mother of the Argentine homeland” had difficulty receiving her pay and maintaining her captain's rank. After Independence, she received no assistance from the government. His recognition only came after his death, which became Afro-Argentines Day (8/11).

Maria Elena Moyano - Peru

Known as “Mother Courage”, her career as an activist against poverty and for women's rights begins in 1983, when she founded a group of mothers to fight against social injustices. After that, she led the popular feminist women's movement of Villa El Salvador and was elected vice mayor of the district in 1989.

This movement, Fepomuves, trained women and created a program to give children in the region a glass of milk a day. When Shining Path guerrillas bombed a Fepomuves distribution center in 1991, María Elena intensified her criticism of the movement. From then on, she began to receive death threats, until she was murdered by Sendero Luminoso in 1992. More than 300,000 people attended her funeral, considered a milestone in the group's loss of popular support.

Sanité Bélair – Haiti

Born Suzanne Bélair, she is one of the heroines of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), in which black people who had been enslaved gained independence from France and ended the slavery regime. Sanité (nickname given by her friends) was a sergeant and lieutenant in the troops of Toussaint Louverture, one of the greatest leaders of that revolution. 

She and her husband, General Charles Bélair, led revolts among enslaved populations. In a surprise attack, Sanité was captured by French troops, and Charles surrendered so as not to be separated from her. She refused to be beheaded (the penalty for being a woman) and demanded to be shot like the others — both were killed in this way on October 5, 1802. Today, Sanité is the only woman illustrated on the Haitian currency notes in the commemorative series “ Haiti’s Bicentennial.”

Algeria Laya – Venezuela

Teacher, activist, guerrilla and politician, she is considered one of the most important feminists in the country's history. In the 1950s, as leader of the teachers' union, he fought for women's rights and against all forms of discrimination. At the age of 21, she became pregnant after being raped and was only able to continue working after writing a letter of protest to the minister of education (at the time, single mothers were not allowed to teach). 

After that, Argelia focused her activism on defending women's reproductive rights and became the first Venezuelan to speak on topics such as decriminalization of abortion and gender equality in schools, companies and politics. In 1971, she co-founded the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, for which she was elected parliamentarian and, two decades later, she became the first woman and first black woman to lead a major political party in Venezuela.

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