María del Carmen Sarthes – Argentina

Linked with Catholics for the Right to Decide.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “In order to be able to help raped and maltreated women, they first have to recognize themselves as victims of violence”.

She tells: “The priest said: be patient, your husband may have had a bad day. Wait on him with joy and make him some good food. That was in opposition to what the Gospel states which is that violence is violence and that it cannot be justified”.

She maintains: “It was verified the fact that women have to bear the responsibility over sexuality”.

María del Carmen Sarthes - Argentina rogné redim 90p.jpg

María del Carmen Sarthes – Argentina

She works for the Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir / Catholics for the Right to Decide.

She has been weaving for 23 years. Her name is María del Carmen Sarthes. She comes from Argentina. With this traditionally female activity, she weaves hope, fighting for the rights of women, children and adolescents. She supports raped and maltreated women, gives workshops and seminars about sexual and reproductive health and against violence. She marches, teaches, accompanies and continues weaving. She has a husband, four sons and female companions.

She teaches them how to weave and how to value and love themselves. “I am going to teach to them to weave but I also want them to learn about women’s rights,” thought Maria del Carmen Sarthes in 2004. She had been invited by a nun to give weaving classes in a center for displaced people located in the province of Buenos Aires.

The Argentinean woman had experience of this sort and therefore accepted. She put hanks of wool into her handbag along with all her experience. She prepared herself to emancipate her students through a feminine task.

She had already done this in 1982 when she began to work with a group of women in a Catholic Church in Virrey del Pino, also in the province of Buenos Aires, where she was born. There she taught weaving and gave catechism classes. But one day she discovered that women who came to the Church claiming that they had been victims of violence were urged to resign themselves to the situation and to be patient. “The priest said to them, “ Be patient, your husband may have had a bad day. Wait on him with joy and make him some good food. That was in opposition to what the Gospel states which is that violence is violence and that it cannot be justified “.

Within the church she found even more exclusion: ” They do not give you respect, or credit or opportunities as a woman. The most you can do is to be teach catechism or read the gospel, and if not, you can be there to sweep the church or to starch the table cloth”. So she decided that path was not for her.

She felt herself guided by the historical idea of Jesus and by the denunciation preached by the Theology of Liberation of oppression. The path was full of thorns but she decided to take it. She decided to fight against violence towards women. Along with five fellow church workers, she formed the group “Awakening”, but the thorns were everywhere. Life was very difficult for her and her female companions.

Violence surrounded them. It went outside the limits of the church and into their own homes It was expressed in daily manifestations such as not being able to decide over their own reproductive life, having no access to sexual health, having to take care of their homes alone, raising the children by themselves, not having any time left for themselves, to love themselves.

And there were more thorns. In the first workshop she gave in 1996, 15 women participated. They came to learn and to be able to help in the education of their friends and neighbours. But they discovered that they themselves were victims of violence in their own homes. Later on, in a workshop on sexual education, Maria del Carmen discovered another thorn when the boys left the workshop while the girls remained to learn and to listen: “It was verified the fact that women have to bear the responsibility over sexuality”, she maintains.

Accepting the consequences of that, she continued the fight, participating in marches to commemorate important dates for women and distributing informative leaflets: ” We used also to give flowers to our companions. They were astonished and exclaimed, “Someone remembers me today “. Self-esteem was important in order to stop being passive victims of the violence both outside and inside the home. Then they began to practice several relaxation therapies:

she learned tai chi, yoga, breathing and relaxation: “We women are stressed and distressed, and a little hand on our backs does not feel bad”.

When she began with the weaving classes again she noticed that her students “wove very tightly because they were stressed “. Then she used relaxation techniques, and the weavers were enchanted. Now they come to the classes to relax and to weave: “They have found a space that they can dedicate to themselves”.

Has Maria del Carmen any time left for herself? Yes, It is necessary. She has the support of her husband and their four children. Her five men have accepted her work and they do not put barriers in her way when they see her leaving with her handbag full of wool and needles. But besides moral support, economic support is also necessary:

“We need money to be able to arrange more workshops”, she says.

During her 23 years as a weaver of female liberation she has given 30 workshops and seminars. At 55 years old, she wants to continue the fight, although she has found another thorn, and this one is her own: “I studied until secondary school, and I do not know yet why I do not dare to advance in an intellectual subject”.

She has always worked for the support of the community. From 1969 to 1974 she worked in a factory. Once her boss said to her: “If you put all your energies into yourself instead of into your companions you could reach much higher heights.” But she could not. “My character, my way, my personality is not like that”. For that reason when, in 1998, she left the group ” Awakening”, she moved to the House of the Woman “Luisa Gutiérrez”, also in the province of Buenos Aires, the place where her educational work is centred.

She now works with the group “Catholics for the Right to Decide”, for which she continues organizing seminars and workshops. She accompanies women that have suffered from physical, psychological or sexual violence when they make accusations against the men they are victims of. It helps them to overcome their fear. “We have achieved much, such as the free distribution of contraceptives in hospitals and the law that permits the violent man, the rapist, to be excluded from the home, the law that forces him to move away from his victim.

The women who she teaches have learned to love themselves, to lose the fear they felt for their husbands, to have willpower, to be able to recognize violence and denounce it, to take care of themselves and yes, of course, they have learnt how to weave!

In her sphere of work, 80% of the population are middle-class or lower class and 76% of the women undergo violence.

There are few opportunities to better themselves: the economic crisis that has dragged Argentina down for years has also dragged families into a knot of violence: “The people are workers and poor. They do not manage to have the minimum they need even if they are earning a salary. They may have enough to eat, to wear and to educate the children, but not enough for health, and even less for recreation “.

The future needs the green, the light blue, the red, the violet and the pink colours of Maria del Carmen’s wools.

For that reason, when she returned to teaching weaving, the nun said to her, “Maria del Carmen, the most interesting for me is not that they should learn to weave, but that they should know that there are also other things to learn”, and Maria del Carmen understood it perfectly. She had no doubts and returned to the fight. Her method has helped many women to recognize and defend their rights. But in order to keep the skein of wool untangled and unbroken, in order to help women, “ we need them to accept the fact that they are victims of violence”. The aim is to untie the knot of fear and to begin to weave anew! (Read all on 1000peacewomen 2005).

Sorry, I can not get other information in english or spanish about María del Carmen Sarthes – Argentina.

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