Agostina Biritos – Argentina
Addressing diverse problems, turning vision into reality
Mendoza, Argentina, an expansive urban area at the eastern base of the Andean cordillera (foothills), attracts visitors from all over the world. Skiers, mountain climbers, rafters, and adventurers access the mountains, especially the famous peak, Aconcagua. Enotourists enjoy visiting hundreds of regional wineries and urban bodegas to sample the acclaimed Malbec wines. Locals and travelers alike linger in wide plazas between modern buildings where street performers may dance a tango.
Despite the many attractions of her home city, Agostina Biritos and her family prefer simple family gatherings that include soccer, card games, and big Sunday dinners. While attending the National Universidad de Cuyo, Agostina majored in law. She says, “I pictured my life inside a court room: litigating, cross-examining witnesses, addressing the judge, and working on my client’s behalf. I couldn’t think past this scenario.” She served an internship with a Law Firm and learned “how to ‘lead’ a work force.” She witnessed injustices that tourists enjoying Mendoza’s graciousness probably never encountered, however. While tutoring in English, teaching children from impoverished areas, and volunteering to help raise funds for education and hygiene supplies, Agostina saw firsthand that education was the answer to many problems, yet her greatest aspiration still involved defending human rights and fighting for justice. She saw so many problems that needed solving, but with her experience, energy, and optimism, she could envision solutions.
Even in gracious Mendoza, “many cruel and ruthless femicides” had recently occurred around the time of her graduation. News outlets across Argentina reported women killed or beaten by their spouses almost daily. One afternoon, as Agostina was walking home from school, a man said something lewd to her, and she ignored him. He retaliated by attacking her, injuring her arm. “Every single one of my friends has a story of abusive relationships or gender-based street harassment by strangers,” Agostina says.
She blames “the patriarchal culture that plagues all of the countries in the world, to a greater or lesser extent,” adding that education and awareness campaigns are proving effective. “Being scared for our lives is simply unacceptable,” she says, but she’s optimistic even though much work still needs to be done. “This issue is what I feel to be most personal. This fight is mine. I don’t want to lock myself away in comfort and remain apathetic.”
Agostina has the unique ability to address diverse problems with straightforward solutions. She identifies as a cisgender heterosexual woman, but in her desire to help end gender discrimination, she has examined many problem areas, including the struggles of individuals with gender identity issues. Agostina believes that “we all deserve to feel comfortable and happy in our own skin,” and is working to develop an NGO that sells personal gender-neutral garments made by victims of sexual and gender violence who are living in shelters, thereby enabling them to achieve sustainable independence. Additional profits will help fund programs that teach contraception and provide access to psychiatrists, doctors, social workers, and lawyers so that victims can escape abusive relationships. She has taken a first step by offering a limited product line on Instagram. “It may be controversial at the beginning, but I think society is ready for a change,” says Agostina.
She continues to volunteer for human rights organizations and develop “projects with the capacity to impact positively on the world.” She is currently working on a paper about the Istanbul Protocol, investigating torture and sharing her research with law colleagues at Xumek, an HR NGO. The protocol provides a legal, medical, and psychiatric guideline on how to tell if a person has been a victim of torture or not. “This protocol is actually very useful in Argentina because of the rampant police brutality that exists between the four walls of prisons,” she says.
When it came time for Agostina to look for a job, the lawyerly life seemed inadequate. “I wasn’t content with the idea of being limited to my city.” She is currently studying for the entrance exam that will allow her to become a member of the Argentine Foreign Service.
“Working as a diplomat is all about connecting with people from different cultures and countries, developing projects together, and being a positive influence in the world.” She feels that as a diplomat, she can draw attention to “the awful situation for women in Argentina” and try to find effective solutions based on other countries’ experiences as well as sharing with the international community any progress made in her country. “No problem is just one country’s problem. We all live in this world together, so we all need to help each other.”
Agostina speaks Portuguese, English, German, and Italian to better prepare for this career, and it was in a German class debating a controversial issue that she learned a valuable lesson in leadership. People kept turning to her, asking for her input. Why? Because she was the only one who had listened. Others were so intent on expressing their views, they tuned out other debaters. “After hearing their reasons and giving my opinion as well, I tried to find some common ground, to help them acknowledge opposing arguments, and observe a more flexible attitude in finding the solution. I was unanimously appointed to express the conclusion of the debate.”
To Agostina, leadership means “having the ability to influence others, motivate, and inspire the people around you. It means turning your vision into reality. Believing in yourself but also believing in others and make them believe in themselves.” She adds, “Standing alone you cannot achieve anything.”