giovedì , 25 Aprile 2019
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The struggle of indigenous women in Bolivia: the eternal return of patriarchy and transnational feminism

by CAMILLA DE AMBROGGI

Italian, Spanish

On March 8, 2019, for the third consecutive year, we had the opportunity to see the global power of the feminist transnational movement. This transfeminism has been able to reinvent and readapt the practice of the strike to the new political challenges that global capital poses, going beyond the lines of division that capitalism uses for its reproduction. The real power of the current feminist movement lies, in fact, in its capacity to establish transnational connections and to place the material and ideological differences that these connections presuppose at the centre of its struggle; in so doing, transfeminism is able to create and recreate a composite unity capable of criticizing and subverting the global society of capital. Leveraging these differences, the feminist movement has shown that it is not possible to dismantle the patriarchal system starting exclusively from geographically limited contexts or from local experiences; on the contrary, it is indispensable to rethink patriarchy within the contemporary capitalist system which, for its global development, exploits different oppressive systems existing before it, operating on the basis of sex, race and class, with specific declinations in each local context. Only by starting from this oppressive global structure is it possible, therefore, to reveal, and consequently to fight, the connections between capitalism, patriarchy and racism which act in defined spaces and times.

For its global vocation, the feminist struggle must be able to include – and is amply demonstrating that it is capable of it – variegated experiences of resistance to patriarchal oppression. One example is that of the women belonging to indigenous South American communities, where the “modern” patriarchal apparatus, introduced by European colonialism, has welded together and mixed with a pre-existing system of oppression, which relegated women to certain roles in pre-colonial society. From this point of view, the so-called Latin American feminismo popular, the strong movement that in recent years has contributed to the mass mobilization against male violence and to the feminist global strike, has managed to bring feminism outside the academic world and to establish political connections between subjects too often isolated and weakened by neoliberal policies, such as indigenous women: in doing so, it has had the immense merit of transforming the marginal position of invisibility of women into a privileged centre, able to undertake an overall criticism of global society. However, this rapid expansion of the feminismo popular may run the risk of becoming mainstream and falling into trivialization and simplification of reality. In fact, an idea of feminismo comunitario or feminismo plurinacional, whose guidelines were widely discussed and outlined during the 33rd Encuentro de Mujeres held in Trelew (Argentina) in October 2018, is gaining ground in Latin America. The feminismo plurinacional valorises the indigenous community as a communitarian system capable of producing social relations and subjectivities alternative to those produced by the logic of capital. In this context, indigenous women would play a fundamental role because, given the position they occupy and the reproductive work they carry out within the community, they would be the ones most affected by the contemporary dynamics of global capitalism, such as the privatization of communitarian lands and the proliferation of extractive industries in indigenous territories. However, from the perspective of the feminismo comunitario, this position would also confer to women a strong oppositional and transformative social power, not thanks to an alleged “female identity” built from the naturalisation of reproductive functions, but rather thanks to the control they have over the means of reproduction, whose “communing” – as already stated by S. Federici in El feminismo y las politicas de lo común en una era de acumulación primitiva (2010) – would allow the creation of forms of solidarity and communitarian organization, and the formation of a political economy alternative to the individualistic and patriarchal one of capitalist society.

This feminismo comunitario is expanding with great force on the Latin American continent, reaching even the most isolated indigenous communities and producing interesting developments and connections with the territorial movements that fight against the expropriation and privatization of indigenous territories in favour of the neoliberal restructuring of the Latin American economy. However, in this type of conceptualization, the transformative role given to women is totally subsumed into a communitarian logic, which inevitably connects the “political meaning” of women to the position they occupy within capitalist and patriarchal relations of production and reproduction, imprisoning their space of action within the domestic reproductive sphere. The historical background of women as reproducers of life is so elevated as to counteract the violent transnational dynamics of contemporary capitalism, which affects both women and territories. This insistent valorisation and idealization of the indigenous community denies and hides the patriarchal dynamics present within the community, which can neither be demolished nor undermined if they are analysed solely and exclusively as a consequence of the imposition of the capitalist mode of production in these societies. In fact, the contemporary patriarchal structure of many indigenous communities derives from the incorporation of “modern” patriarchy, imposed through colonialism, into pre-colonial systems of oppression, such as the Inca ones, which excluded women from the political space, confining them to exclusively reproductive roles within the community.

A clear example of how contemporary neoliberal policies in Latin America feed on the expropriation of land and natural resources of indigenous territories, evolving also by exploiting the “modern” and “pre-modern” patriarchal dynamics present within indigenous communities – meaning by these terms, respectively, the dynamics introduced by the colonial system and those prior to its establishment – it is given by the indigenous Guaraní Bolivian territory in the southeast of the country. Bolivia has been governed for almost 15 years by the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), the movement led by Evo Morales, who in the early 2000s was able to skilfully catalyse various social issues and indigenous claims to propose a participatory and plural refoundation of democracy. This country currently defines itself as a “Plurinational State”, recognizing the different indigenous groups present in the territory as collective political actors able to actively participate in the governance process of the country. Over the years, however, the socialist, decolonial and indigenous rhetoric employed by the MAS has not been able – and did not want – to lay the material foundations for an effective revolutionary change of the country in favour of the subaltern classes. Currently, in fact, the government of the MAS is promoting neoliberal policies that point towards a re-prioritization of the Bolivian economy in favour of the international market, passing them off as necessary for the development and the economic progress of the most remote areas of the country, such as the indigenous communities: in this way the MAS has succeeded in the impossible and paradoxical task of promoting capitalism as the first necessary step to emancipate indigenous peoples and promote the decolonization of the nation, freeing the Bolivian state from its colonial remains. Through this rhetoric of  the “capitalismo andino“, the MAS has masterfully co-opted and corrupted the country’s major indigenous leaders, such as those of the Asamblea del Pueblo Guarani (APG), the most important Guaraní Bolivian organization. While in the past these leaders have often had a great force of political opposition, now they are in favour of the neoliberal policies of the MAS and of the consequent entry of industries and infrastructures into their territories. In this broad context of exploitation and systemic oppression, the women within indigenous communities often find themselves in a more subordinate position because, in addition to being expropriated from their territories and homes, they are silenced by their husbands or by their indigenous leaders and their collective political initiative is strongly opposed on several fronts. In September 2018, for example, the Organización de Mujeres Indígenas Guaraní de Bolivia (OMIGB) was established, and the Guaraní activist Lourdes Miranda was elected as its president. The OMIGB was created with the intention of forming a feminist awareness, to begin to dismantle the patriarchal structures that within the indigenous community keep women in a position of subalternity. Moreover, given the distance of Guaraní leaders from the territorial and anti-capitalist claims of a part of the indigenous population, the OMIGB is also trying to criticize and tackle the neoliberal policies of the MAS, defending indigenous territories from the expropriation of resources; in this way the OMIGB is bringing to light the connections between patriarchy and neoliberalism that act in this context and it is forging national and international alliances with other communities and subjectivities in line with its struggle. However, the OMIGB has already had to face the opposition of the male leaders of the APG, who have tried in every way to demolish it and who have repeatedly publicly stated that there is no need for a women’s organisation and that this only creates divisions within the community. In addition, many Guaraní women with active roles within the APG, who at first seemed favourable to the growth of the OMIGB – such as Tania Rodríguez, vice president of gender policies of the APG – later turned their backs on Lourdes and the other women of the organization, even going so far as to boycott their events. Similarly, many Bolivian NGOs, which in the past have always funded, or at least supported, the creation of indigenous and feminist organizations, if not even designed courses or workshops for the “emancipation” of indigenous women, now refuse to support the OMIGB. This position also depends on the threats that many NGOs workers received last spring, when they were summoned by Guaraní leaders to the APG General Assembly, who warned them not to support organizations considered divisive for the indigenous community, such as women’s organizations, or they would be excluded and expelled from indigenous territories.

From these complex dynamics, it can be deduced that different power relationships and oppressive structures, which contribute to keeping women in a position of subalternity, are intertwined within the indigenous community: on the one hand, the exclusion of women from the political space operated by the indigenous leaders subjugated by the MAS’ idea of “capitalismo andino” becomes absolutely functional to the evolution of neoliberal policies in indigenous territories; on the other hand, the opposition that the OMIGB is having also from other indigenous women and NGOs shows that both the “commoning” of the female means of reproduction within the community, and the empowerment promoted by NGOs in favour of indigenous women, are not enough to create spaces of cooperation and subjectivities free from the weight of hierarchies. These practices, then, cannot dismantle the violent patriarchal dynamics that operate within the indigenous communities. Both the communitarian form of political life and its epistemological enhancement operated by the feminismo comunitario or feminismo plurinacional, in short, necessarily invisibilize some subjects and preclude them from acting, because they conceive the community as a unitary and homogeneous group in which all the interests and desires of the people who make it up are the same, thus hiding the unequal power relations and the dividing lines that operate within the community itself. Moreover, since it conceives patriarchy as completely absorbed by capitalism, the feminismo comunitario presupposes that a solidary economy created starting from the social reproductive power of women will simultaneously dismantle both patriarchal and exploitative power relationships; however, capitalism exploits the sexual hierarchies it encounters into the indigenous communities to further develop itself, and it is therefore necessary to analyse both the interweaving and the differences between these two forces. This is the task that the transnational feminist movement must take on, avoiding subsuming the voice of indigenous women into the undifferentiated one of the community, escaping from essentialist conceptualizations that evoke an ideal and imaginary past, and rather focusing on the structures that do not allow indigenous women to make their voices heard and dismantling them through transnational connections of struggle.

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