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LATIN AMERICA
Women’s struggle for their bodies and territories
Rocío Alorda*
11/26/2014
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The challenges that the women’s rights and feminist movements in Latin America face are diverse, despite the fact that the region now has three female presidents and a series of public policies that focus on gender. The inequalities that plague the continent and the lack of recognition of women’s rights in regards to economic issues, violence, health and reproductive rights, and discrimination have forced feminist movements and groups to gain momentum. In recent years, these movements have rearticulated in order to fight for historical and situational demands.

These movements have made visible the mechanisms of a dual strategy that the capitalism and patriarchy use to control women’s bodies for commodities production. However, in the current civilizational crisis, feminism in Latin American has renewed its commitment to combating the multiple systems of domination.

As indicated in the political manifesto of the 13th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Meeting, held from Nov. 22 to 25, 2014 in Peru, “more than the capacity to mobilize the masses, the power of the feminist movement lies in the ability to challenge and to create changes within the democratic imaginary and the transformational forefront,” which have allowed the political discussion to expand with the addition of new political actors, such as rural women, indigenous women, lesbians, trans, etc. 1

“Feminism in its various trends raise a profound critique of this system: its values that exacerbate violence against territories and bodies, its extractivist development model, predator of life and nature; its logic of accumulation that commodifies all ways of life, [and] the way it subordinates and exploits the labor of people, particularly care work and reproduction, mainly done by women,” says the manifesto.

In that sense, the Latin American democracies have failed to make significant progress towards the realization of economic, social, cultural and sexual rights of women because of the internal tension with conservative and religious groups in these countries. Democratizing public and private spaces as well as resisting the privatization of common goods, are part of the central struggles that now drive women’s rights and feminist movements in the region.
 
The freedom to decide: body and autonomy
Bodily autonomy and the struggle for sexual and reproductive rights have been part of the historical demands of women’s rights and feminist movements, who have made some progress over the decades.

The women’s rights movement in Uruguay has achieved a major victory with the passage of Law No. 18.987 regarding Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy, which permits abortion in three cases: at the choice of a woman older than 18 in the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy; within 14 weeks of presenting an official rape report, regardless of gestational age; when a doctor certifies that continuation of the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the woman and at any gestational age when the fetus suffers from serious, unviable malformations and is certified by the Ministry of Public Health Advisory Commission.2

On the other hand, in Chile the struggle has focused on the decriminalization of abortion and the recognition of abortion as a public health problem. One of the last “tie-up” laws of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet was the repeal in 1989 of Article 119 of the Health Code, which had authorized therapeutic abortions. The repeal of Article 119 resulted in the banning of abortion and its punishment in all circumstances. This year, President Michelle Bachelet announced the introduction of a bill to decriminalize abortion in three cases: when the woman’s life is at risk, in the case of a nonviable fetus and in the case of rape.3

However, this proposal has received strong reactions. “For the Feminists in Struggle Coordinator, a major issue to address is the abortion. Not just its decriminalization but moving forward on this topic as a public health issue. For us it is essential to address abortion from the standpoint of freedom to choose, to remove the moral stigma and work to make abortion free and open through public policy, for we know that the abortions that take place today are illegal and many women are imprisoned for this, especially poor women, who are the most affected. Additionally, it is important to address women’s issues not only from a gender perspective, but to discuss issues from a feminist perspective. This would be a great step in forwarding the gender agenda,” says Angie Mendoza, the spokeswoman for the Feminists in Struggle Coordinator (CFL), which brings together a number of feminist organizations in Chile.

Is it possible to move towards gender equality in a country like Chile which has high rates of inequality? The CFL spokeswoman says that “it is possible as long as the feminist organizations are included in the discussions on public policies for women and men, especially on issues related to sexual and reproductive rights, and resume the discussion on bodily autonomy, a central issue for making progress in regards to inequality of women, especially poor women, since sex education is mainly based on biological factors.”

The situation for women living in Paraguay is similar. The 1997 amendments to the Penal Code resulted in the criminalization of abortion, including the punishment of women who instigate the act and those who performed it.

Lesbian organizations have also been key contributors to the perception of bodily autonomy. In regards to this issue, the recent 10th Abya Yala Lesbian Feminist Meeting, held from Oct. 9 to 14, 2014 in Colombia, addressed the effects on the region of neoliberal and neocolonial policies, which installed a heterosexual regime that manages people’s lives. However, this heterosexual norm, along with racism, naturalizes the oppression through violent practices which have consequences that are felt most by lesbians.4
 
Rural women: for territories and common goods
There are about 58 million women in Latin America who live in rural areas. Many of them are key actors in food production and the fight against hunger. Because of the importance of this issue, 2014 was chosen as the International Year of Family Farming, highlighting the role of rural women. Eve Crowley, FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, stated that “rural women play an important role in food production and the preservation of biodiversity.”
5

However, beyond the international efforts to highlight the role of rural women and the contribution that they make in the defense of land, territory and common goods, the fact is that their efforts translate to the mobilization and resistance against the onslaught of transnational corporations. Through the Union of Rural Women, the Latin American Coordinator of Rural Organizations, CLOC-Via Campesina, has presented clear policy proposals to restore and protect nature, including “food sovereignty,” in which women play a fundamental role. “We, rural women from 19 countries, raise our voices in unison in defense of Mother Earth as a whole and for an integral agrarian reform that guarantees women’s access to land.  We raise our voices in defense of food sovereignty, of production and distribution based on solidarity and community economies, not on the unfair and predatory capitalist framework,” states the Declaration of Quito of the 4th Joint Meeting of Rural Women, CLOC-Via Campesina, held in October 2010.6

Understanding the reality of rural women, the Via Campesina launched in 2008 the campaign “Stop violence against women” to denounce physical, ethical, psychological, political and economic violence generated by capitalism and the patriarchy. Through the campaign’s manifesto, the CLOC reaffirms the struggles for a society based on justice and equality, where women have the right to a dignified life with access to land and food sovereignty, for although they produce 80 percent of food, women are owners of just 2 percent of the land.7 “As Via Campesina, we believe that to end this structural violence it is essential to end the capitalist system that is based on class and gender exploitation and on the exclusion of mainly women farmers,” says the campaign manifesto.

Likewise, women continue to vocalize and band together to create resistance in their territories. At the 7th Congress of the National Coordinating Body of Organizations of Indigenous and Rural Women Workers of Paraguay (CONAMURI), held from Oct.18 to 20, 2014 in Asuncion, the movement denounced the criminalization of social protest, the dispossession of indigenous lands that are given to foreign capital and the adoption of laws that allow the cultivation of transgenic seeds. CONAMURI reported how women of popular sectors have been the most harmed by the capitalist and patriarchal system through the theft of seeds, of territories and violence towards women’s bodies, reafirming peasant and popular feminism as the frontline of the struggle.8

In the same way, the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile (ANAMURI), is preparing its Second National Congress to be held from Nov. 25 to 28 with the theme “Fighting against capitalism, the patriarchy and for our rights: we have the word.” At this meeting, they expect to foster unity of efforts to create proposals and actions to address the capitalist rampage from the starting point of a debate “that takes into account the current situation of women and the impact of the capitalist and patriarchal model on the land, on women’s bodies, their families, lives and communities, and at the same time building an agenda of political, cultural and resistance actions.”9
 
* Chilean journalist, MA in Political Communication and Professor of Communications. Latinamerica Press correspondent since 2008, Feminist activist of the World March of Women movement and member of the Information Collective of Social Movements.

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1 Political Manifesto of the 13th EFLAC www.13eflac.org
2 Women and Health in Uruguay
www.mysu.org.uy
3 Gender and Equality Observatory
http://www.observatoriogeneroyequidad.cl/
4 Discussion papers, 10th Abya Yala Lesbian Feminist Meeting
http://elflac.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/DOCUMENTOS-DEBATE.pdf
5 ECLAC
http://www.cepal.org/12conferenciamujer/noticias/paginas/7/49917/Informe_Chile_-_XII_CRM.pdf
6 Latin American Coordinator of Rural Organizations, CLOC-Via Campesina.
http://cloc-viacampesina.net/congresos/v-congreso/noticias/389-iv-asamblea-de-la-articulacion-de-mujeres-del-campo-cloc-via-campesina-declaracion-de-quito
7 Campaign “Stop Violence Against Women,” Latin American Coordinator of Rural Organizations, CLOC-Via Campesina
http://cloc-viacampesina.net/es/campanas/campana-basta-de-violencia-contra-las-mujeres
8 7th Congress CONAMURI Policy Statement.
http://viacampesina.org/es/index.php/noticias-de-las-regiones-mainmenu-29/2271-paraguay-declaracion-politica-del-7-congreso-nacional-de-conamuri
9 “A look inward for outward action.”ANAMURI
http://www.anamuri.cl/


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Feminist movement in Chile mobilizes in favor of abortion rights. / World March of Women-Chile Archive.
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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