A determined student's victory for freedom of hair in conservative Colombia.
BUCARAMANGA — It may not be remembered alongside same-sex marriage or racial justice, but count it as another small (and shiny) victory in the battle for civil rights: an 18-year-old Colombian student whose hair is dyed a neon shade of blue has secured the right to participate in her high school graduation, despite the school's attempt to ban her from the ceremony because of the color of her hair.
Leidy Cacua, an aspiring model in the northeastern town of Bucaramanga, launched a public battle for her right to graduate with her classmates after the school said her hair violated its social and communal norms, the Bogota-based daily El Espectador reported.
Cacua took the matter to social media last week, as well as filing complaints with the ombudsman's office and regional Education Ministry. The school, she wrote online, had initially given her the choice: graduate in absentia, or "paint my hair or put on a wig."
Learning about the law
In her legal complaint, Cacua argued that the school was violating her constitutional right to freedom of expression and was blocking the development of her own personality. In the face of both the legal and media pressure, she said the school's headmaster called to tell her — in an angry tone — that she could indeed graduate with her fellow students.
Speaking last week with Colombian broadcaster Blu Radio, Cacua said this wasn't the first time the school targeted her hair: "Two years ago, they made me cut my hair. I had it with Californian wicks, in a chocolate tone, nothing weird." She says if she hadn't cut it, the school was threatening her with expulsion.
The 18-year-old said her battle was not an act of rebellion, but simply a desire to defend her rights. Cacua says she hopes other young people will follow suit. "Two years ago I knew nothing about laws," she said. "I didn't know I had rights."
Rigid school norms
Cacua told another Colombian daily El Tiempo "Hair color doesn't represent an institution. I feel (they) are violating my right to freedom of personality. I fulfill all the requirements to graduate."
As the case went viral on social media, others noted that Colombia stands out for having rigid school norms in which students aren't allowed to polish their nails, use accessories or defy gendered uniforms that force girls to use skirts and boys trousers.
Even though the school gave in after the Education Ministry intervened, Cacua says she is continuing a legal action against it to force a change in its norms manual.
Known in fashion as Etérea, the teenager did actually wind up changing her hair color in time for graduation — adding a patch of green in the front to go with the blue.
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