by Sonam Rikha
Camila de Mendoza, born in Bogota where she currently lives, 28 years old
So tell me about your childhood:
My childhood was very peaceful. I lived with my mom, dad, and sister. My sister is my half-sister. She and I have a different dad, but we lived with my dad and my mom. In Colombia, it's very traditional to hang out with your extended family: uncles, cousins, grandparents. So a lot of my childhood was spent with my family. An important figure to me during my childhood is my grandpa [who] read a lot of stories to me.
What was it like growing up as a woman in Colombia?
I think that my childhood was a little bit different because I was privileged. It’s a machismo society. Now that I look back –– I see the difference between girls and boys growing up. For example, my relatives always gave me dolls as a present. Little [toy] kitchens. Brooms. And I don’t like dolls. I don’t like to cook. I think while growing up –– it was okay for me. I didn’t feel the differences, but now I can see it when I compare myself with my male friends. When I was a kid –– I would love these cars that you would drive around your neighbourhood. I was never able to use that or video games. I loved video games, but they chose not to let me [play with them].
Can you think of a time you felt particularly aware of your gender and how it led you to be treated?
Yeah, I think there were a lot of moments in my life where I was aware of my gender. I studied sociology at university. While I was studying sociology, I read a lot of gender theories and that’s when it hit me like, 'Woah'. I studied violence against women in Bogota. It’s interesting to see that a lot of things that your family taught you are like the causes or the roots of discrimination and also violence -– emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
What would you say you are most passionate about/are interested in/enjoy doing?
Well, I think that working in the Youth Ambassadors program is the thing that I enjoy the most. I can know people from different backgrounds and give them another point of view. It’s really exciting for me to give them empowerment or make them believe that they can reach great things. With the U.S. Youth Ambassadors, I think that it’s different because you all are more empowered –– but also I can give [them] a different point of view being Colombian.
Are there not a lot of programs in Colombia that empower youth?
There are [programs], but we [still] have a lot of issues in Colombia. Youth is something that we need to reach. They have a lot of issues going on with drugs, violence, unemployment, but we’re doing an effort.
Tell me about a time you empowered yourself.
Thinking about gender as a woman –– I think that every time you have a break up with a partner or with your boyfriend –– you just are enlightened. It’s a great experience for you to grow. For example, I don’t have much experience, but my two most serious relationships taught me a lot about myself and about being a woman in a Colombian context. I think that was the most empowering thing for me to realize that I need to change. The thing with machismo culture is that you have it in you. You also reproduce these attitudes and actions all day without even knowing.
What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time when you were dealing with that struggle?
I think that I would tell myself that [growing] it’s the right path.
Was it hard to grow when you were first experiencing that?
It was hard but, also it is better to have these moments than to not have them.
Do you have any advice for girls who are also trying to empower themselves about how should they practice that in their daily life?
I think that that is an interesting question because you always want to try to let them know that we are equal. It’s an aspect of your life. In Latin America, it is normal that girls are the ones that help in the house. It’s everyone's business. We all have to do the work. Also, I think that you have to encourage them to make choices that make them afraid. If you want to play football or study engineering, [then] you can do it.
Who taught you the importance of empowerment?
I think that my mom [taught me the importance of empowerment]. My mom has been through a lot. She divorced twice and [struggled]. We need[ed] to pay [living expenses] and all the things. My grandma was a single mom in the 50s in a conservative culture. She didn’t have the right to go out [of the house] with another man or alone. There would be rumors [about her character if she did].
Why do you think empowerment is significant for you as an individual?
As individuals –– women and men –– we all have these problems. I think we’re all insecure about our abilities and our capacities. For example, men are sometimes insecure about their feelings and showing their emotions, while women are afraid to be successful in a big company. I think that empowerment gives you confidence.
Do you think being a woman has shaped your experience or shown you a different perspective?
I think that it does. I think when you suffer some kind of violence in your environment or society –– you make yourself aware of it. It gives you empathy.
How can the international community help you and your community in a legitimate way? Is there anything you would like for us to know so that we can share it with our Global Girlhood community?
So I think that it can help if the global community can show individual success stories of girls and create a way where like if she can do it, [then] I can do it