Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mobilizing Women in Colombia


This reflection from Sarah McDonald raises interesting questions for anyone who wonders why their peace groups, religious communities, community organizations "aren't more diverse." 

What does it look like for you to "go to Choco and Putumayo"?

Yours for creative initiative,

Matt Guynn
On Earth Peace

CPTnet ~
9 January 2007
COLOMBIA JOURNAL: Mobilizing women
by Sarah MacDonald

November 22, evening:
Standing in the Plaza de Nariño in Pasto, I listen to speakers from the Binational Women's Mobilization organized by the OFP (Popular Women's Organization) and the Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres (Women's Path of Peace).  Every year or two, the Ruta Pacifica sponsors such a mobilization, inviting women from throughout Colombia to a march in a province where the conflict is fierce, thus protesting how militarism violates women's lives and bodies. 

This year the focus is on Nariño, to highlight how violence in this region forces many women and their families to flee across the border into Ecuador.  Tonight there's a rally in Pasto--at least, there will be when the caravan of thirty-three buses finally arrives--then tomorrow we'll drive south to the city of Ipiales, to form a huge parade and march to the border.

The rally has not begun in earnest yet, but two women on the stage up front describe the mobilization's intended message and enumerate the women participating: laborers, professionals, mestizas, campesinas, Afro-Colombians, indigenous women.  Such diversity is for real and not just rhetoric.  Little visible diversity appeared at the press conference we attended earlier, held at a classy hotel.  Now I'm feeling suspicious--maybe because I'm from the North, where feminist actions are too often a "middle-class, white women's thing." Will this mobilization be similar?

November 23, morning:
My suspicions are proving wrong.  When the caravan finally arrived last night, the plaza filled with a rainbow of women, varied in age, dress and ethnicity.  Now in the daylight, as we form our parade in geographical clusters, I admire even more the beautiful diversity of this gathering.

Leading the procession are indigenous women from Nariño, carrying their ceremonial staffs of authority.  Behind them march groups from nearly every place I've been to in Colombia--Barrancabermeja, Tiquisio, Medellin, Bogota--as well as several provinces I so far only know by name--Choco, Cauca, Putumayo.  Shouting anti-violence slogans, the women carry signs, banners, quilts, long ribbons strung from group to group.

I walk with a graduate student I met last night, whose research focuses on the Ruta Pacifica.  As we pass a group of Afro-Colombian women from Choco province, my new friend gestures toward them.  "So many women have come from Choco and Putumayo [provinces that are predominately Afro-Colombian and indigenous]" she says.  "In previous years the Ruta Pacifica went to those provinces to be in solidarity with the women there.  And now see how many of these women have shown up this year, to support the protest here."

This comment stays with me the rest of the day: a brief moment of analysis illustrating a crucial step in the formation of diverse coalitions.  Genuine solidarity, I am reminded, begins not with an invitation to come join "our thing," but rather with a willingness to go to where our sisters and brothers are, to stand--or march--with them.


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