A Colombian army commander, Martha Chaverra, has made history by becoming the first black policewoman to wear her hair straight while on duty, a symbolic advance in the country’s fight against discrimination.
Colombian security forces rules have prevented black women from wearing their curly hair in a natural style.
But Chaverra, an aide to the country’s first black vice president, Francia Marquez, stunned onlookers when she appeared at a promotion ceremony in thick curls.
“We are proud. (Black hair) is a matter of birth and having to change it marks a lack of recognition of ethnic diversity and our health,” Chaverra said Wednesday in an interview with Blu Radio.
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It was the Ministry of Defense itself that released an image of Chaverra receiving the rank of major, with his curls in the air and without the kepis, the traditional flat circular military cap that forms the uniform of the Colombian army.
The hat is not designed “aesthetically or structurally” to be worn by Afro-Colombian women, Marquez’s office explained in a statement. Blacks make up about 10% of Colombia’s population of 50 million.
Chaverra confessed that he had previously used creams with “obviously harmful chemicals” to straighten his hair in order to “comply with regulations”.
For six years, she and other officers requested that the official uniform be modified, an offer that was recently granted by Colombia’s first black vice president.
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Marquez, part of the first left-wing government in Colombia’s history, was “surprised” by the regulation and pleaded with the Defense Ministry to relax the requirement, Chaverra said.
“Our institution is in a process of transformation”, he added, saying that it is taking the necessary steps to welcome “a multi-ethnic country”.