- Women on the VergeThe fight against silence
How do we women in Puerto Rico acquit ourselves in the panorama opening before us in the third millennium? What are our strongest and weakest points today? Puerto Rican women have made impressive inroads in their professional careers, but not everything is as encouraging as it seems. In fact, our feminist movement appears to be in danger, and only our constant awareness and dedication will ensure continued progress.
During the last seven years women on the island have made gains in government. Because the public sector offers positions that require great dedication, at relatively low salaries, women consistently take them on. Puerto Rican men prefer private-sector positions of leadership, which pay better and do not require the sacrifices typical of public service. A notable example of those gains is Sila María Calderón, secretary of state under our previous governor and now mayor of San Juan, who will be the Popular Party’s candidate for governor in 2001. Although women have occupied positions of influence in government for almost a decade, very few have occupied positions of power, as Calderón has done. The political structure of both majority parties, the Popular Party and the New Progressive Party, is dominated by males and pervaded by machista stances that are impossible to deny. If Calderón wins the next election, she will break down more barriers and set new goals for women in Puerto Rico.
But there are other women in key government positions: Norma Burgos, our former secretary of state and president of our Junta de Planificación; Carmen Feliciano de Melecio, secretary of health; Ana Carmen Alemañay, secretary of the Department of Housing; Xenia Vélez, secretary of the Departmento de Hacienda (our local Internal Revenue Service); Sandra Espada Santos, secretary of the Council of Higher Education; Nydia E. Rodríguez Martínez, president of the Commission for Public Service; Zoe Laboy, secretary of our penal institutions; and Lourdes Rovira, president of the Government Development Bank, among others.
Many women pursue careers in journalism, public relations, law, political counseling, advertising, and education. The president of the Chamber of Commerce today is, interestingly, a woman: Carmen Ana Culpepper. Medicine, architecture, and engineering are popular courses of study among women in college, although careers in those fields are difficult for them to follow afterward. [End Page 176]
In particular, journalism as a career has gradually been taken over by women, most of them under thirty years of age. It is fiercely competitive, and people burn out very quickly. In the last few years an increasing number of reporters have been women; and at the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) School of Journalism 65 percent of new enrollees in 2000 were women. Engineering is another career in which women are gaining ground, albeit slowly. In our traditional society, women engineers have a hard time getting jobs, yet they flock to engineering schools in growing numbers. At the world-renowned School of Engineering in Mayagüez, for example, the majority of the class of 2000 was women.
At the administrative level, education has begun to attract intelligent, highly motivated women. Five of the eleven deans of UPR’s regional colleges are women. Zulma R. Toro, dean of the Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez—UPR campus—is the first woman elected to this post; her eight predecessors were all men. With sixty-nine thousand students, UPR is our most important educational institution; more than two-thirds of those students are women, and 78 percent of them have at least a 3.0 average.
Even so, women with bachelor’s degrees encounter more obstacles in finding jobs than men, especially in such fields as medicine and industrial management. Women are still paid 25 percent less than men for the same work, and their unemployment ratio is much higher. These statistics suggest that, even though Puerto Rican women are striving to make their way and have met with surprising success, discriminatory practices are still prevalent on the island. In the professions discrimination is often craftily disguised, as when a female secretary does the same work as a male administrative assistant but...