13 de Marzo: Ni flores, ni gases en nuestro día

As many of you know, last Monday, March 8, was International Women’s Day (IWD), and while I shared some images on the blog from a La Paz-based IWD march, I have not yet had a chance to comment here on some of the events that took place.  IWD was a busy day in La Paz and I doubtless missed some of the activities that occurred, so the reflections that appear below are partial, at best, and represent my own experiences during the holiday.

The day began with a televised speech by Bolivian President Evo Morales that was even more disappointing than many local feminists expected.  (I have not yet been able to find a transcript of this speech; if I do, I will post it to the site.  This article, however, includes some brief quotes from the speech.)  Regular readers of the blog will remember that Morales recently instituted a policy of gender parity in his government cabinet which has gained international attention, despite the lack of political experience of some of these women.  Although Evo’s famous gender parity measure was instituted through a law, Morales’ speech insisted that women do not need government regulations, norms, or laws to achieve equality with men.  Instead, Evo argued that Bolivian women are often their own worst enemies, and that envy and in-fighting prevent them from achieving their full potential.  In other words, until all women can get on the same page, they have no business asserting themselves on the political scene.  (As if all men are on the same page, politically or socially, and refrain from political in-fighting.)

“The machismo of MAS [Movimiento al Socialismo, Evo Morales’ political affiliation] suffocates me more every day.”

Bolivian feminists had little time to react to Morales’ speech, since they were planning a morning march on the Ministry of Justice, a dilapidated yellow building on La Paz’s Prado street.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, feminist marchers hoped to call attention to the problems of violence against women and feminicide by insisting that women want justice for victims, not flowers and accolades, on IWD.  (Men typically give flowers to women for IWD in Bolivia.)  In the most recent issue of their bulletin La Escoba, La Paz-based feminist organization CIDEM estimates that 98 feminicides took place in Bolivia in 2009, 28 of which occurred in La Paz and El Alto.  (A PDF of this bulletin is available here for readers of Spanish: Boletina la escoba 8.  Regular readers may notice that a Spanish-language version of Eugenia’s January post on unsafe abortion appears in the magazine.)

Five groups of family members of recent victims of feminicide attended Monday’s march, most waving red signs bearing pictures of their deceased loved ones.  The woman pictured below is demanding justice for her daughter, who was four months pregnant when she was discovered late last year hanging by a rope in her living room–the main suspect to the crime is her own husband.

The marchers–who, in addition to the family members of victims of feminicide, included activists from local organizations CIDEM, CEPROSI, Gregoria Apaza, and Coordinadora de la Mujer, among others–blocked the street in front of the Ministry of Justice for nearly an hour, calling for the Minister to come out and address the issue of feminicide.  As I have mentioned before, feminist activists in Bolivia are pressing lawmakers to incorporate feminicide into local penal codes, so that perpetrators will be subject to prison sentences of at least 30 years and will be unable to escape on “crime of passion” defenses.

Eventually, it became clear that the Minister–a woman, as many in the crowd were eager to point out–was not going to emerge from the building.  Slowly, the crowd began to disperse, passing around water and candies to the tired marchers.  And then this happened. At the tail end of the march, when only perhaps 30 people remained, most standing on the curb holding a black banner denouncing feminicide, the group of motorcycle cops pictured below rode by and sprayed the line of women in the face with tear gas. The mayhem was immediate–women scattered, some collapsing to the ground, struggling against both gas and altitude to breathe.

Once the women recovered, some joked that the cops had sprayed us with tear gas to wish us a happy International Women’s Day.  “Men give us flowers,” one said, “but if we don’t want their flowers–if we want justice, instead–the cops gas us.”

Eventually, a small commission of women was received by the Minister to talk about the issue of feminicide.  Some say that Minister Torrico is sympathetic to the idea of incorporating the crime of feminicide into legal codes, as other Latin American countries have recently done.  However, it will most likely take a lot more than one supportive minister to change this law.  And unfortunately, we know how President Morales feels about laws protecting women.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

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