Women Crushing in Colombia!

Written By: Amy Richards

Camila Santamaria. La Mojarra, Columbia

Camila Santamaria. La Mojarra, Colombia

Climbing has been empowering from the moment I sent a V1, but it was so to a different beat when I moved to Colombia. As it is in much of Latin America (as well as other corners of the world) women’s bodies are subject to constant catcalls, critique, abuse and violence there.

Despite and perhaps due to their environment, the Colombian women I know inspire with their strength, resilience and love. The women climbers I met while living in Bogotá are mothers, community workers, dancers, environmentalists, artists, physical therapists and teachers, who travel up to 2 1/2 hours to get to the local hideout bouldering gym, Zona de Bloque.

Camila Santamaria. La Mojarra, Columbia

Camila Santamaria. La Mojarra, Colombia

Zona was a safe space, perhaps the only space where men I had never met, actually made eye contact with me, recognized my strength, and treated me like a peer. While I felt more respect from the men at Zona than on the street, it’s clear that gender dynamics are still largely at play in this climbing community as it is in the climbing community back home. Camila Santamaria and Vanessa Ospina, two strong, talented female climbers I met during my time in Bogotá shared their experiences around this issue with me:

Camila informed me that while “the number of women climbers in Colombia is growing, although it’s still far fewer than the number of men. Colombia is a “machista” society where gender stereotypes are real.”

Vanessa Ospina. Columbia

Vanessa Ospina. Colombia

One day, Vanessa and I began discussing how climbing can be both a personal and public challenge “especially when society views you as the weaker sex. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate whether I’m trying to prove to others that I’m not weak, that I can do the same that they can. Guys will set a route for you and are implicitly saying, ‘I’ve set this route for you because it’s easier’.”

Camila seconded, “When you climb with a man, usually he’s the one who wants to set the routes, hang the first quick draw and put up the top rope. There’s an unconscious tendency to protect the woman, although she has the physical and mental capacity to do the same as him.”

Camila Santamaria. Columbia

Camila Santamaria. Colombia

“This is exacerbated when it comes to climbing couples: the man feels the need to protect the woman. Ultimately, there are times you decide sure, this route is too difficult, better I don’t try it, or at least he can lead it. You let those stereotypes take hold, creating a kind of mental block that keeps you from progressing.”

“The periods in which I’ve noted improvement are when I climb exclusively with women: no one tells me that it’s too hard, or that they’ll lead because you might hurt yourself if you’re not on top rope.”

Vanessa Ospina. Guatape, Columbia.

Vanessa Ospina. Guatape, Colombia.

In a sport that can be terrifying, to participate in or even just observe, Camila adds “it’s typical to hear men pressure each other by saying ‘don’t be a little girl’ or ‘don’t be gay, try the move’. We’re talking about profoundly discriminatory language, as much against women, as people with diverse sexual orientations. Sex doesn’t define someone’s mental or physical capacity to climb.”

And while there is progress to be made, Vanessa reminds me, “When I started to climb, it was a marginalized, isolated sport because it was considered dangerous. So in particular, women shouldn’t be doing it. But climbing has become a sport that’s broken the paradigm.”

Suesca, Columbia

Suesca, Colombia

1529815_10152209201903203_955040383_oAmy Richards has been back and forth to South America since 2006, where she met her first climbing partner. Here in NY, she’s an organizer with the Latino community. She spent 2013-2014 in Colombia, where she mostly collected rock and dirt in her mouth in awe of the amazing climbers she was belaying. Her helmet’s name is Páramo.

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