by Laura Carlsen ess than a week before International Women’s Day a year ago, Honduran military men trained by the Pentagon burst into her home and assassinated Berta Caceres. Feminist, environmentalist, and anti-imperialist, a charismatic organizer and a staunch opponent of the megaprojects that stole the land and poisoned the earth of indigenous peoples, Berta was the epitome of everything the henchmen of capitalism loathed and feared. Berta Caceres pioneered a new generation of women leaders in Latin America. These new leaders live the “intersectionality” between class, race and gender not as lines that crisscross, but in each breath they take. Berta’s leadership was recognized worldwide for how she emphasized uniting struggles. She passed on to her children and members of her organization COPINH the Lenca indigenous worldview and conviction that Mother Earth must be protected, an anti-capitalist and antiimperialist analysis that provides a framework to understand the attacks on her land and people by linking them to the national and global context, and a firm belief in the power of international solidarity to confront an international system. She insisted that environmental activism means standing up to patriarchal forces that destroy the planet, and that defense of territory is defense of women’s rights because
patriarchy claims woman’s bodies as its territory. This way of viewing feminism as an integral part of the battle for survival— as a people, as a species, as women— has given new life to feminism at a time when the second wave of mostly white, middle to upper-class feminists seems to have crashed on the shoals of neoliberalism. These women-led battles, not just in Latin America but throughout the Global South, provide the vitality and diversity and relevance that feminism needs to take a permanent and prominent place in every freedom movement on earth. Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic, a Maya K’iche’ leader in Guatemala, refers to “the other feminisms that are arising among the women of indigenous peoples”. “We talk about the autonomy of our peoples,” she says, “and also the need for autonomy within autonomy. Because in my community there is a patriarchy, and sometimes it’s worse than other barriers because it’s so intimate.” Being on the front line in anticapitalist battles to defend land and rights catapults women across the region into leadership and forges new definitions. This transformation in the women themselves and in the role and practice of feminism is key to the future, and purpposely overlooked by liberal feminism. There’s no single way to characterize
new feminisms in Latin America, but most begin with two basic elements: victims who refuse to be victims and upholding the value of life. That sounds basic, but it’s the most fundamental and radical challenge to the system today, and a dangerous one that has led to assassinations and constant attacks on women leaders. Indigenous women are at the heart of this challenge because they suffer the triple discrimination of being poor, indigenous and women, but also because deep indigenous values of connection confront the individualism and consumer culture that time after time have absorbed U.S. and European feminism. Those connections fuel Mayan women’s organizing. “We get strength from many principles, among them reciprocity—you are me and I am you. That strengthens us as women and the connection with life and the network we’re all part of,” Lolita stated in an interview with Just Associates. “As part of that web, we have to have territories free of corporations and free of violence against women, to empower us to move toward the full significance of life.” Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda notes that the emphasis on community means no aspect can be temporarily shelved or ignored. “All organized movements—peasants, workers, indigenous peoples, LGTB—have to incorporate reclaiming community, communality. Especially the anti-patriarchal struggle, but also anti-racist organizing, because it’s useless to fight for an antipatriarchal system if we still have racist and discriminatory acts against people who are not like us.” As a Black indigenous feminist, she and her organization on the Atlantic coast of Honduras collectively take on all at once, every single day. Simply defending life in a system that kills has generated new womenled movements never envisioned just a decade ago. In Mexico, thousands of women have organized to search for children and other loved ones
Published on Mar 21, 2017
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