Artist and activist Bree Newsome became an internet sensation, this weekend, after she briefly took down the Confederate flag that stands on the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol. Many viewed her act as an important statement about racial equality in the United States. But it was also a reminder of how Afro-descendant women are taking the lead advancing civil rights in the Americas as a whole.
Indeed, at the same time Newsome was scaling a flagpole in Columbia, Afro-descendant women from throughout the region were meeting in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, to discuss their own plans for advancing social justice at the First Summit Meeting of Female Leaders of African Descent of the Americas (Primera Cumbre de Lideresas Afrodescendientes de las Américas).
The summit, held June 26-28, brought together 250 women from 22 countries to develop strategies for combatting racial exclusion and ensure the enforcement of treaties, laws and international conventions pertaining to Afro-descendant women’s rights. The result was the Political Declaration of Managua, a list comprising 17 demands related to reducing racial and gender-based discrimination in the Americas. The list covers issues from violence and anti-poverty programs to visibility in national statistics and reproductive rights.
According to Dorotea Wilson, General Coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), the declaration “is not an expression of good intentions; it is an official document demanding the implementation of public policies in all countries of the Americas…to start once and for all to recognize and give their rightful place to black populations on the continent.”
The coalition will present their demands to the Organization of American States, as well as in participants’ home countries. Their aim is to see their objectives fulfilled before the end of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, which began in January of this year. The UN considers the 200 million self-identified African-descendants in the Americas as among the region’s most vulnerable, particularly to acts of violence. Changing that was a priority for the Afro-descendant leaders campaigners at the summit.
“Hate crimes in the United States make the international headlines,” says Wilson, “but because the population of African descent is invisible in Latin America, racially-motivated killings in the region do not come to public attention.”