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"The idea of seeing a woman carrying out acts of citizenship has always been the most resistance that confronts those who reject the rights of women"
PARAGUAY, 1883 ? 1957

A lawyer and a feminist, she was the first woman to occupy a place in the Supreme Court Justice in her country. She participated in the first International Feminist Congress, and founded the Feminist Movement for Assumption and Paraguayan Feminist Center, as well as the Feminine Union of Paraguay and the Paraguayan League for the Rights of Women. Her goal was to create recognition for a woman’s right to vote. She was never able to vote in an election, as she died four years before Paraguay recognized suffrage for women.

Today Sarafina Dávalos has a street named in her honor in the administrative center of Coronel Oviedo, the city in which she was born. It is a lively and prosperous place in the south-east of Paraguay, about 132 kilometers from the capital, Asuncion. In the times of Spanish Colonization, it was a tobacco-producing zone, so it is peculiar to think that now, with its 100,000 habitants, it is home to eight universities, four museums, seven libraries, and various schools of music, dance and art.

Surely, few people who live there or who daily walk down the street that wears her name know of this woman who was “ornery” with a “negative character,” according to the newspapers of her time. Despite these insults, her work was later recognized when the General Post Office of Paraguay issued stamps that read “The First Female Lawyer and Feminist of Paraguay (1883-1957).” It was the first time that a Paraguayan woman had appeared on the postal stamps of Paraguay. And later, 41 years after her death, it has come to represent a milestone in the history of Paraguay.

Serafina belonged to a group of women who went against all of the determined “rules” about the treatment, role and fate of women, and that opened the path for many other women to follow. How can we even begin to imagine what it meant to be a feminist in the early days of the twentieth century? Today we would qualify these early feminists as pioneers, transgressors, brave, wise and visionary women. But in their days, they were seen as heretics. They cried out and fought with unbreakable conviction for a society where women would be recognized as equals. Some of these women, such as the case of Serafina Dávalos, died forgotten amidst the most profound destitution, beneath the stigma of having given up her “Christian grave.” Today, there are still many aspects of her life that have not been brought to the public light and that remain unknown because history is told by the recounts of men of the actions of other men. Maybe for this reason there is so little documentation of an extraordinary initiative taken during Serafina’s life: in 1904, Serafina, along with twenty other women, created the Committee of Women for Peace as an intent to avoid an eminent civil war in her country. They were not successful in “stopping the war,” so to say, but they were the protagonists of one of the first antecedents of political action of women in Paraguay.

Serafina Dávalos was not only a scholar and a lawyer in her country, but in 1907 she graduated with a thesis titled, “Humanism and Feminism.” Her work caused great controversy and division within the intellectual class of these times because it questioned the submission of women in a patriarchal society and it considered legal equality as the determinant of the change in the social situation of women. “The idea of seeing women carrying out acts of citizenship has always been the most resistance that confronts those who reject the rights of women. To vote for a woman for any position of congress, for example, is really the limit, and it appears as if it is a position so superior and mysterious that only the soul of a man could take it on,” reads a quote from Serafina. What she did not live to see was that Paraguay would be the last Latin American country to grant suffrage to women in 1961. It came too late for Serafina, who died in 1957.

Her list of merits is long: she promoted, with help from a group of her fellow femal workers, the Normal School of Female Teachers, where she continued her studies and obtained her teaching diploma in 1898. She was a professor at the National College of the Capital starting in 1904, and she founded the Mercantile School for Girls in 1905. She graduated as a lawyer in 1907, and obtained the title of “Doctor.” She was an integral part of the Supreme Court Justice of the Republic between the years of 1908 and 1909. After her, no woman came to serve in the judiciary for seven decades, until the year 1980.

She participated as the Offical Delegate of Paraguay in what was the first International Feminist Congress, celebrated in Argentina in 1910. In 1919, together with Virginia Corvalán and other women, she promoted the creation of Feminist Movement for Assumption, coinciding with the presentation to the parliament of a law regarding the civil and political rights of women in their country. A year later, in 1920, she collaborated in the foundation of the Feminist Center of Paraguay, the CFP, to help promote the feminist suffrage cause. She participated in its creation and was the Consul to the Paraguay Feminine Union (UFP) in 1936, and as a feminist and pacifist, she united herself with other women of similar views. In 1952, she went on to participate in the Paraguayan League for the Rights of Women, and was the head of the fight for equality.

But Serafina was not alone. At the beginning of the 1900’s there joined the scene a group of women that were accused of “interfering with the matters of men,” because they questioned of began initiatives in favor of women’s rights and social and political democracy. These were women such as Ramona Ferreira, who in 1902 directed “the Voice of the Century,” the first magazine of “free thought” in Paraguay, and Virginia Corvalan, who in 1925 released her thesis “Feminism: The Cause of the Woman in Paraguay.” Along with them many anonymous women from groups such as the Cartoneras y Perfumistas Unidas (United Paper-Makers and Perfumists), the Cigarreras Unidas (United Cigar Vendors,) and the Costureras Unidas (United Seamstresses), they put into action in 1913 the first organizations of women workers. They worked alongside the Vendedores del Mercado Central (Vendors of the Central Market) , who in 1918 organized the first strike carried out by women in the country.

All of these women had to wait until 1954 for the approval of the law of “The Civil Rights of Women,” and it wasn’t until 1961 that the law of “The Political Rights of Women” was passed that finally recognized their right to vote.