Afro-descendant Women’s Organising in Latin America
FRIDAY FILE – In January this year the United Nations declared 2015-2024 The International Decade for People of African Descent. AWID spoke to Vicenta Camusso Pintos, coordinator of the South Cone Region for the Red de Mujeres Afrolatinoamericanas, Afrocaribeñas y la Diáspora, to learn more about Afro-descendant women’s organizing in Latin America over the past two decades.
By Gabby De Cicco
AWID: What needs did Afro-descendant women have twenty years ago the drove the creation of the Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women's Network?
Vicenta Camusso Pintos (VCP): The Network has been travelling along its path, with difficulties and achievements, for 22 years already. To think of the specific needs of Afro-descendant women in the region is to think of a rich history whose starting point we can place in the 3rd Continental Women's Gathering that took place in Cuba in 1988. There we saw the need for coordinating a movement that would advocate for a regional anti-racist and anti-sexist policy. Those of us who were involved in the feminist and women's movements began to talk to each other and had the opportunity to learn about the realities in the countries where others were living. We realized that regardless of the specificities of each country, black women were facing inequality, lack of access to basic services, little or no education, extreme poverty and the scourge of racism in our lives and communities.
Back then, the political reality in Latin America and the Caribbean was one of weak democracies and hard dictatorships. Black women were also activists, developing political thinking and action around rights, democracy, equality and freedom. In the 80s, while many spaces for debate and political analysis were open where different voices from the Latin American civil society were heard, racism was still not an issue that organizations were addressing. We knew we had a strong challenge ahead and in the 90s, during a Feminist Encuentro (Gathering) there was a turning point.
During the 5th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encuentro that took place in San Bernardo, Argentina, different black women from across the region who were already active in the movement and did not know each other met for the first time and the idea of a network began to take shape. An organizing committee bringing together women from Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Uruguay - some organized and some independent - was created. After three days of intense discussion, we issued a statement showing the reality of black women's lives, the need for own spaces and our own voices; and announcing that we would organize the 1st Latin American and Caribbean Black Women's Encuentro in 1992. This date had a political meaning, as it marked the 500th anniversary of the conquest of America that led to the largest trafficking of persons to slavery in human history.
For the first time in our history, 200 Black women from across the continent met in Santo Domingo (July 19-25, 1992) to listen, get to know and recognize each other, and to act jointly. We decided to work together to improve the life conditions for black women, to fight against negative ideas (biases and stereotypes) and expose the different kinds of discrimination against black women; and to promote our political participation in different political and decision-making spaces.
We also agreed to support the Haitian women's struggle for better social conditions and for a solution to their country’s political crisis, and the struggle of Dominican women of Haitian descent for better social and economic conditions. As you can see, these issues are as pressing today as they were 22 years ago.
AWID: What type of work does the Network do in the region and how is it organised?
VCP: The Network does political advocacy at the national, regional and international levels, particularly around key agendas like Cairo+20, Beijing+20 and Durban +15. We also provide political training and strengthening to the groups that are part of the Network.
For the 2014-2017 period, our priority strategies are around advocating for public policies – such as monitoring existing laws for equal rights and opportunities and preventing ethnic and racial discrimination in the different countries and demanding that the needs of women in general and Afro-descendant women in particular - including elders and those living with disabilities - are reflected in public policies. Other issues we are addressing include urban security and violence against women; health, sexual rights and reproductive rights; social and economic rights; the right to education; the need for statistical data with an ethnic-racial and a gender perspective; and, the hard work of changing sexist and racist depictions.
The Network's structure is defined by statutes and general and regional coordination, with the general coordination from Nicaragua and regional coordinators - Central America, the Caribbean, Andes, South Cone and the Diaspora - working together through the Internet and meeting in-person at least once a year.
AWID: What is the current situation for Afro-descendent women in the region? What are some of the key achievements and challenges in the last 25 years?
VCP: Afro-descendant women in the South Cone face different realities according to where they live, and some progress has been made in the last ten years. One achievement is having statistical data that reflect the realities that Afro-descendant women experience - significant progress in this regard has been made in Argentina and Uruguay. Chile and Paraguay have data but the variable (ethnicity-race) has not been included in the national census. Uruguay stands out in the region because of their women's rights law and a recent affirmative action law. The challenges that remain have to do with implementing this law, particularly at the political and social level.
But there is no doubt about the shared concerns across the region that require further work and advocacy on our part - structural racism permeating the entire region, high social and economic vulnerability, poverty, lack of access to education and quality health services, an early entrance in the labor market, low-income and low-qualification jobs, subjective and objective racial violence, early motherhood, and, nowadays, also the high migration rate for Afro women.
The International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) is about to begin and in the next ten years we expect to see work towards eliminating racism and ensuring the full exercise of their human rights, for all Afro-descendants - women and men - paying special attention to those countries where we are at least 10% of the population. In order to do this, we need a commitment to move forward with statistical analysis reflecting the situation of Afro women and develop clear strategies to address the concerns mentioned.