Stories of Girls’ Resistance
Emma, Costa Rica


“…I think one can also resist by saying I cannot do it anymore; I need to stop. My life as a person, beyond let’s say, the political and professional issues; I have set it aside. I think that also to resist means that I can say that, well, to recognize that I am tired because I can make mistakes in the political issue because it is also part of this and to say that there is a part of me that I can also resume and that the system can also be fucked up, and that is me, who I am, me as a person, beyond that, me as a political militant, right?…”

Emma’s Story

To Emma, resisting means not giving up, continuing to fight. But at the same time, she has learned that to resist could also be to recognise her exhaustion and need to rest. Emma puts the dot on the I; self-care is also a form to resist. In a world where women have been taught to become the caretakers of men and women, especially men, we need to think about our self-care. Hear our voices, and prioritise ourselves as a way to dismantle patriarchal capitalism.

Emma is 52 years old and has been resisting for 42 years. She fights the patriarchal system in many ways, like her rupture with heteronormativity. She affirms her resistance as a woman, feminist, and lesbian. We transform our relationships by understanding that our lives are not dependent on men. There are men in our lives because we have dads, uncles, cousins, and nephews, but our lives depend on women. We transform sexuality. In a phallocentric system, the first question to arise is: What are two women doing? They wonder, if there’s no penis, what do they do?  We resist because our sexuality doesn’t depend on a penis. In terms of maternity, let’s say that there is a little bit of free election. Although some women exercise motherhood, it is due to their heterosexuality historical backgrounds, or the ones who decide to do it consciously as a  couple. There is a less imposed maternity exercise towards lesbians.  In her own words, she has a history of activism, and political militancy set to equality,  social justice, inclusion, and no discrimination.

In order to tell Emma’s story, we need to know a little about her origin. Emma’s grandparents were persecuted and imprisoned in 1948 for being communists during the civil war in Costa Rica. Her grandparents’ home was the first one to be attacked in Pérez Zeledón. Her grandmothers were strong and brave women who had to flee from their houses with their respective kids. On the other hand, her mother and father met and fell in love during social fights because they were involved with youth communist groups.  And if that was not enough, something else marked little Emma’s life about her world perspective and transformation. A strong bond with her grandparents from her father’s side, with whom she spent lots of time when her parents worked, one as a nurse and the other as a communist official.

She remembers her grandfather outlook on life, social justice, and fighting. He always thought and pushed people to discuss and negotiate. He always told people to prioritise avoiding fighting or creating enemies. Instead, he recommended, people should discuss and listen to each other. With love, she remembers her grandfather and her grandmother and how they were the kind of people with huge hearts. The kind that would say: “where one person  can eat, many others also can.” This was why their house was always full of employees from the shoe store they owned, plus aunts, uncles, and many different people.

Under that context, it is no surprise that Emma joined and went to the activities from Pioneros, the children’s organisation from the communist party. They used to have entertainment activities to read stories and tales from the Soviet Revolution about international solidarity. At the age of 12, she got involved with the student government by becoming the general secretary of that organisation. A little bit later, she joined the Communist Youth.

Those were the last years of the eighties, and the fight for peace in Central America was in its peak. In Costa Rica, social movements were no exception. During those years, Emma remembers that when she arrived at a regional assembly there were only men sitting at the head table and according to her logic there was supposed to be an equal division. So, she didn’t hesitate and asked: Why are there only men sitting at the table if we are a political party promoting social justice and equality? Why are there no women on the directive board? They answered affirmatively to the existence of women participating in that space and argued that they were making coffee.

For a teenager such as Emma, who has heard and talked about equality and social justice her whole life, that specific answer was unacceptable. Of course, she didn’t hesitate to point out that the right thing to do would be that at the head table,  half of the people needed to be women, and men should also be preparing coffee. She remembers how this event left a strong mark while she was serving at the Communist  Youth. It is straightforward to understand it because it wasn’t comfortable that a 13-year-old “little devil” questioned something of that level to people that are 18 to 20  years old. That was the start of her fight for equality between men and women.

As a young woman, being in that political space made her face obstacles and left her without the leadership recognition that she deserved. It also made her rethink if she would be able to belong in such a space as a lesbian. Her answer was no, which would be why she made her leave in search of other areas such as the university student movement.

At the end of the eighties, she knew that in her blood was the passion for social justice. She managed to link up with the feminist lesbian group “las entendidas,” the country’s first lesbian organisation. Later on, they would form a group called  “colectiva humanas.” She supported a few feminist organisations, one of the most important ones: “25 de  noviembre, por una vida libre de violencia.” She also participated locally and nationally in the process that led to Beijing.

In 1998, Women National Institute was established. The Institute would have a space for Civil Society to connect through the  “Autonomous Woman Forum” organisation. Later on, Emma led and coordinate this space.  Currently, Emma is a public official, and is retaking her master’s degrees on Human  rights from a gender perspective. She is a human rights activist, specifically on women’s human rights and particularly lesbian rights. She is a founding member and coordinator of the feminist lesbian collective “irreversibles.” Since 2011, the year that  Emma and others established the collective, they have dedicated an essential amount of time to recovering the historical memory of the lesbians’ struggle. They also work in political advocacy.

In regards to how her resistance has influenced other people’s lives, Emma considers that one of the main things that her labor has contributed to is to make visible the existence of the lesbian community. And, she has supported other people to create a political party  and run for elections. She recognises how she and other women have pushed an agenda taken by some political parties and governments, including areas such as housing for same-sex couples, poverty alleviation, and healthcare which includes guidelines for dignified treatment for lesbians.

Nevertheless, she considers that achieving all those things has had a high cost due to the exhaustion from her labor. She bravely decided to rest and take care of herself by working less on her political militancy and dedicating more time to her personal life. Reaching Emma’s understanding of self-care is not easy.  Considering that we live in a context where we are demanded high performance in our labors, and with double or triple imposed work journeys. However, her history and thoughts are of wisdom worth treasuring to revendicate how our feminist fight can be passionate and full of compromise while caring for our well-being.  Emma’s story, a woman who has spent her whole life immersed in politics and social movements, allows us to rethink the importance of balancing our lives. Which makes me think about this quote: “we need to  defend our joy as if it was a trench.” And, recover our stories. Just like Emma shared: “We need to talk about feminism.” Talk about our history, about women, and not only those successful women that the official narrative tells us about, but acknowledge the diversity of all women and their achievements. It is essential to talk about the women we work shoulder-to-shoulder. They are a part of the social movements and work every day from their spaces to achieve a decent life for all of us. We need to talk about the women who, such as Emma, teach us how to question privilege. We also need to build spaces where we can support the different struggles and demonstrate that our strength is visible through our collective actions. And understand the importance of our self-care. Just like Rosario Castellanos would say, “we need to laugh. Because laughter, we know, is the first evidence of freedom.”