Unravelling, Exposing and Renewing : Thirty years of Latin American feminism
AWID spoke to Ana Cristina Gonzalez, member of the Strategic Steering Commission, about the objectives and expectations for the upcoming “12th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Gathering” (EFLAC or Encuentro), taking place in Bogota, Colombia, November 23-26, 2011. This gathering marks a historical moment, as the 30th anniversary of the first Encuentro that also took place in Colombia.
By Gabriela De Cicco
AWID: Could you tell us what the Steering Commission is proposing for this EFLAC?
Ana Cristina Gonzalez (ACG): We have been working as a group for two years, and for us, this Encuentro has two very important meanings. On the one hand, it will be an assessment 30 years after the first EFLAC - taking stock of the spaces, of the voices that have multiplied themselves in the spaces provided by the EFLAC, of the differences that many think have deepened, of the identity that is increasingly becoming a clear mark of our feminist movement. We would like to consider what strategies have helped us progress and allowed us to move forward. We want to look ahead, allowing us to re-evaluate, re-focus and reboot.
On the other hand, this Encuentro is a celebration. To be able to say that we have been meeting each other for 30 years is itself a reason to celebrate. And in this sense, we want the Encuentro to also be a party space, for people to feel they are commemorating (I can’t tell you much about this, to avoid ruining the surprise) but the feeling of celebration is very much on our minds, as is the balancing, and one more organizing pivot is memory. During its three days, the Encuentro will encourage discussion and debate around key questions and triggers.
AWID: What has changed in the organization and the structure of the Encuentro?
ACG: We worked in commissions, responsible for different topics, from methodology to funding. The latter has had an important task, ensuring that 85% of the total expenses for the Encuentro are covered.
I feel planning is one of the biggest growth areas, because the feminist movement is complex and interwoven by many intersections. In this sense, we want the participation of young women, indigenous women and sexually diverse women, so all issues can be covered.
We need to speak about autonomy, sexual rights, ecofeminism, habitat and human rights – these issues make up the “agenda”. There are many activists on these issues that tend to make the movement more structured, and then there are the more “anarchist” sectors of the movement, that have almost no structure. We will try to articulate all these aspects. While there was a lot of spontaneity in the first Encuentro, the ones that followed were much more structured around a particular agenda, and I think our proposal is somehow a mix of both.
AWID: Could you tell us how attendees to the EFLAC will participate at the meeting?
ACG: As usual, many things will be happening at the same time in this Encuentro. We will have two main discussion spaces in which you can participate, and some other on-going activities or spaces, including self-care, memory station and artistic and cultural activities.
In terms of discussions: the “provocations”, are group discussions around key feminist issues, where our intention is to “unravel, expose, renew”. We want to encourage greater dialogue around issues like autonomy, sexuality and sexual rights, secular state, human rights, post-feminism and trans-feminism, habitat, political bodies and sexual division of labour, amongst others. There are 10 to 15 tracks, and the idea is that women will register and work during the Encuentro on the topics, using the methodology we are proposing. Will this resonate? Will we be able to create these spaces for dialogue that we have been imagining for so long? We will have several hours to discuss the same topic and for me that is a very important internal challenge.
A second space is the “Encuentros within the Encuentro”. These are smaller spaces where people will do their own specific activities, for example a workshop, a book launch or, a video screening. And we have the big events: the opening, the closure and November 25 (N25), where we hope to take over the streets.
So we want to invite people to read the “provocations” before coming to the Encuentro and to think about which of them they would like to participate in. But, you know that feminists are stubborn by definition, so I am sure they will arrive and create three more “provocations” that were not planned. Or maybe some will say, “Oh, this topic is so boring, nothing is going on here” and then a “provocation” will work for the first day and then be dissolved. All those things can happen in a space like ours.
AWID: Inclusion and autonomy have been complex issues for the EFLAC. How did you deal with this in the present organizing?
ACG: We decided to include autonomy as an issue with a clear political intention because we think this has been a knot since the tension between the Autonomous and the Institutionalized feminists began. We have not managed to have a conversation about it and I don’t know if we will manage now. The purpose of the “provocations” is for interested people to talk about this topic. I don’t know what the Autonomous will think of this space. We are not closed and will not reject any space.
We will also extend a broad invitation both at the opening and at the closure inviting other Colombian women who, even if they are not attending the Encuentro, will be able to participate in some of its spaces.
For November 25 we have a huge political gamble: to have a 25N that reflects what we have achieved over the last 30 years and that violence against women is an issue that concerns everybody. It no longer concerns only feminists but also the UN, local governments, national governments, more transgressive movements; it is a topic that we placed on the public agenda.
We are trying as far as possible to ensure diversity among participants, including afro-descendent women, indigenous women, LGBTI networks and young women. And we are following up with the networks to ensure that they have all the information to register and to let us know us if they are having difficulties.
We think that transgender people and those representing sexual diversity will also participate. In the registration form there is an optional field to declare your sexual orientation. It is not compulsory, but we just wanted to have an idea. We had a dialogue with the Foreign Office and we specifically discussed the issue of transgender people, we told them we need immigration officers to be sensitized so transgender people are not harassed when arriving in the country.
AWID: What challenges have you faced in the organizing process and how do those challenges reflect the broader ones faced by the feminist and women’s movements in the region?
ACG: We have the historical tensions from other Encuentros. The most obvious is the tension between the autonomous and institutionalized feminists. There are other tensions as well, as is the case of the Lesbian Encuentros where there has been fragmentation. There will be a Feminist Practices and Actions Encuentro prior to the Feminist Encuentro convened by women who do not identify as autonomous feminists and believe that the way Feminist Encuentros are organized does not correspond with their understanding of feminism. So they want to create a more ecological, more alternative space, with a different logic. They say they are not doing it against us, but in a way define themselves as something different from this space.
I believe that right now the agenda is complex enough, it is an agenda that covers almost the entire social, cultural and economic agenda. We need a social approach to achieve all kinds of changes. We need to think of new approaches and strategies for issues like abortion, which is in our agenda and will continue to be there for as long as we live in a patriarchal society. Because we have countries under extreme patriarchy where the prohibition is absolute and there are others where the situation is lighter but in practice there are still obstacles that do not allow women to make decisions about their bodies.
To me, 30 years sounds like a cycle and we should think together – a cycle of what? And what is next?
 In this response like in others, the interviewee plays around with the name of the 12th EFLAC that is “30 years of Latin American and Caribbean Feminism: Unravelling, Exposing and Renewing”.