Irene Coello Collada
Programmes Manager and Human Rights Adviser, FCO - British Embassy Caracas
Years in Public Service: 8
My grandmother was a…woman ahead of her time. Born in 1920, she always had an interest for getting out of her hometown, oil-rich Maracaibo in western Venezuela, and get to know the world. That is why she had an early interest in learning English, for which she moved to Trinidad and Tobago. Years after, when visiting friends in New York City, she met my grandfather, a Cuban-American soldier whom at the time, was coming back from combat in WWII. A year after, they got married and settled in Queens, NY, where they had two girls. After a decade, the family moved to Cuba, where my grandfather passed away. In the 70s, they moved back to Venezuela.
Despite not having university studies, my yaya always worked, as she is of the view that a woman should be economically independent and have the chance to make decisions on her own. She managed well the work-life balance and both former colleagues and her family are very fond of her.
We are very lucky to have her still amongst us. At 97 yrs.-old, she is still an active and influential member of the family, who keeps teaching us the value self-respect and empowerment, the importance of keep nurturing our minds in spite of age and how love is the best cement.
Me in a paragraph
I am a young Venezuelan woman who has just very recently started to see the world through the ‘purple lenses’ or the eyes of equality. I studied international relations and specialised in human rights and democracy, and more recently in gender equality. Married, and mother to Miranda, a 5 yrs.-old who keeps reminding me of the importance of working hard, in every arena, so that she has the chance to grow and live in a more just world.
At the British Embassy in Caracas, I lead on projects, human rights and now humanitarian affairs. I LOVE my job! I never stop learning. I have grown so much into the role and I’m doing stuff which I’m passionate about! The best part of it, is that as I work in the interest of the UK promoting British values, at the same time, I work for the benefit of my own country and people. I work supporting human rights and democracy, promoting sustainable development and helping alleviate the humanitarian crisis, while liaising with wonderful people from civil society and other sectors in Venezuelan society.
If I had a magic wand, what I would do to accelerate gender equality?
I’d change our machista mindset! Note I said, machista… not macchiato. And as you may know, this is not just a latino thing…You may be picturing in your minds the big man, big belly, with dark moustache and tall hat. But the fact is that we all grew in a patriarchal society and have encrypted in our DNA information about gender roles and stereotypes. “How a lady should behave?” … “What’s the role of men in society?”… and all of that.
So, if I had a magic wand, I would tele-transport myself around the globe, Star Trek-like and I would:
- tell all men: “hey, is ok to cry and show that sometimes you can be weak, and that you don’t have to have all the answers”;
- tell all girls and women: “you need to speak out your minds and reach out for what you dream of, just like Malala did, in spite of the risks and barriers”;
- I’d make sure school teachers teach more about equality and not just literature, math or science; and
- I’d go back in time and give a huge Venezuelan-style hug to the suffragettes and I’d say: “I come from the future. Thanks for leading the way!”
Anything else you’d like to say
Loved the opportunity to contribute to the blog. Writing has become one of my favourite new things, and I’ll definitely take the chance to do so at any time!