Dame Margaret Anstee Collection: a Newnham alumna in South America

A profile picture of Margaret Anstee wearing a blue UN cap and light blue shirt. She is looking towards the left down and smiling to someone outside of the frame.

Dame Margaret Joan Anstee (image from Wikimedia Commons).

Dame Margaret Joan Anstee (1926-2016) was a remarkable Newnham College graduate who had special ties with Bolivia and who in 1987 was the first ever woman to become Undersecretary-General of the United Nations, the third most senior position at that institution. During her life as a UN official (which we can read about in Never learn to type: a woman at the United Nations), she spent several years working in different parts of the world, including many countries in South America and also Angola (see Orphan of the Cold War: the inside story of the collapse of the Angolan peace process, 1992-93).

It was Bolivia though, where she was the UN representative from 1960 to 1965, that would become a prime focus in her life. In her 1970 work Gate of the sun: a prospect of Bolivia, she recounts her first experiences in a “country to which one cannot remain indifferent”. She not only became special adviser to its government after leaving the UN in 1993 but also chose it as the place to spend part of her retirement (read The house on the sacred lake: and other Bolivian dreams – and nightmares).

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Francia Márquez, the first Afro-Colombian vice-president

On 19th June 2022, after a second round of voting, the Colombian people elected their first ever left-wing government, led by Gustavo Petro, with Francia Márquez as vice-president, the first ever Afro-Colombian and only the second woman to hold the position. In this post, we will focus on this trailblazing woman, who studied Law specifically to be prepared to defend the rights of her people, and on the context that led her and her country to this new chapter in their history.

Francia Elena Márquez Mina was born in 1981 in Yolombó, in the Cauca Department on the West coast of Colombia, one of the areas of the country where enslaved populations from Africa have lived since the 17th century. Traditionally in this region, Black slaves were forced to work in gold mining, sugarcane plantations and cattle ranches. To this day, the impact of exploitatative and extractivist practices on peoples, territories and resources in the region are still painfully relevant and have been part of Francia Márquez’s life experience since her earliest formative years, which would lead her to become a committed activist from the age of 17 years old. This life experience remains the basis of her politics, as she makes the move from activism to mainstream politics. Continue reading