Feminism in Democracies: Can the rules of the game be changed?


San José, 10 October 2005. Feminist International Radio Endeavour,
FIRE/RIF (Maria Suárez Toro)

Can the rules of the game of democracy be changed with its own rules of the game? That was the underlying question addressed at the opening session of the 10th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encounter, which started today in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

More than 1,250 feminists from 26 countries of the region, along with activists from the USA and Europe, congregated to rethink feminism and its challenges. This focus is one of the objectives put forward by the Encounter Organizing Committee, which is comprised of Brazilian activists from diverse movements including those of black women, lesbians, young women, health, sexual and reproductive rights, as well as the popular education movement and the human rights movement, among others.

In their call, the organizers note that although “feminist political practices have advanced, critical analysis in current debates and deliberations among feminists of the region have not reflected the challenges posed by these political practices. Greater effort is needed to revise feminist thought.”

This central theme was the focus of presentations by the first three women in the first panel, all of whom are afro descendant feminists of the Latin American & Caribbean region.

Epsy Campbell, Costa Rican legislator, talking as president of a political party in her country, said that the rules of the game can be used to change the game itself, and called on the audience to “create new politics.” She acknowledged, however, that “poverty in many social sectors affects their participation” in these efforts. “We as women, through equal participation (with quotas), with collective leadership and from an ethic of respect and solidarity, are the ones who can best accomplish these changes.” She noted that achieving higher office in politics cannot be the objective,
but these positions do provide a tool for redistribution to favor all.
For this legislator, being accountable and practicing solidarity is part of the ethics which should be characteristic of the political practices of all women.

Ochi Curiel, an activist from the Dominican Republic, and a militant from lesbian and afro descendant social movements, maintained that “democracy is a form of social organization which needs to be questioned, abolished and changed to other forms of participation, because democracy is not the only form of politics, and it also strengthens and is rooted in patriarchal logic.”

She affirmed that feminist logic should be integrated with daily life, with the struggle to construct a free world that is different from that of today.

Ochi advocates building this new world collectively based on autonomy, and as long as the transnationals keep gaining strength and poverty continues growing, feminists and other social and political movements need to keep defending their automous spaces. “The category of ‘woman” is political…the crumbling of the world today requires a personal and collective revolution. It is urgent, we needed to take back a feminist ethic. We must subvert, disobey and reinvent ourselves and feminism, because there is no other existing model.”

Maria Betania Ávila, Brazilian activist, started her presentation by noting that her participation in political struggle has been marked by tension between joy, oppression and rebellion. She said that the feminism should be reconceptualized, it “has to be reinvented,” meaning that State power cannot be confronted without a strong organized effort. The radicalization of feminism requires that women position themselves as subjects in accessing the different political spaces. Historically, State power in Latin America has been defined and controlled by white, heterosexual men linked to the global powers, great capitals, and subordinated to the interests of the North. The democratization of social life is our task, along with our radicalization related to patriarchy, capitalism and racism.”

According to Betania, “If feminism does not grow, expand, become popular and radicalize social life, it will not be able to do so in the public politics. As long as feminism does not confront poverty, it will not radicalize; as long as it does not address issues of land distribution, it will not radicalize; as long as it does not revindicate the control of women over their own bodies, it cannot radicalize.”

“The hegemonic vision that liberal democracy and democracy are the same thing is false, declared Betania. She noted that an important challenge is to clarify: “How can we best address the question of power and powers? How can women’s struggles in their daily lives, add up and be configured in the women’s movement? How can we best combat authoritarian ways of doing politics? Betania identified as challenges the development of a “radical democracy”: which includes the capacity to organize, along with solidarity, generosity and critical capacity.”

After the panel, participants in the audience discussed and debated the different perspectives offered by the panelists.

In addition to this panel, the Encounter features about 100 workshops on a variety of topics, as well as other panels focusing on: racism and ethnocentrism; also on sexualities, lesbianism and young identities, along with the theme of the final panel on October 11th entitled: Feminism:present and future?.

Each of the 10 Latin American & Caribbean Feminist Encounters, which have been held for the past 24 years, involve feminists of the region meeting in a specific location in the region to appraise current issues and trends in the region and world and their implications and impact on the lives of women. Participants at these events also celebrate their achievements and address current challenges in their struggles to transform their societies from a perspective designed to disrupt the patriarchal and neoliberal dynamics that maintain oppression, discrimination, and subordination of women, fueled by growing exclusion, marginalization and poverty.

The First Latin American & Caribbean Feminist Encounter was held in 1981 in Colombia, and since then, women of the region have met in Peru, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, El Salvador, and Argentina. Agendas of the events have reflected a mixture of what Avila called the tension between “joy, oppression and rebellion” that shape discussion of the current political context and practices, their meaning and recreation of their meaning from diverse perspectives, designed to promote the transformation of the oppressive continuum which has characterized the historical formation of society and which today are shaped by the
neoliberal model and patriarchal fundamentalisms.

You may use this Press Release, citing the source: Feminist International
Radio Endeavour FIRE/RIF. For more information go to: www.radiofeminista.net or write to: oficina@radiofeminista.net. For further information on the 10th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encounter visit: www.10feminista.org.br .

This article was written in Costa Rica, based on the live internet transmission from Brazil this morning by FIRE/RIF. You may write your own reports anywhere in the
world by listeninging to our live broadcast at www.radiofeminista.net at the time
indicated on that website.

Translated from Spanish by FIRE/RIF