Bolivia: Feminism v faith

From The Economist:

Bolivian women
Feminism v faith
María Galindo, a fiery feminist, takes on Christianity


SUMMONED to the prosecutor’s office on December 17th for questioning in an investigation of “damaging public property”, María Galindo was unapologetic. She turned up wearing headgear that mashed up Lady Liberty’s crown with traditional indigenous dress that was itself scrawled with the graffiti that landed her in trouble: “fiscalia rima con porqueria”, or roughly “prosecutor rhymes with crap”. The insult was provoked by prosecutors’ inept handling of investigations into the murders last year of several women in La Paz. Now the prosecutors are going after Ms Galindo and her fellow protesters.
With her partly shaved pate and theatrical eye shadow, Bolivia’s most prominent feminist stands out in a crowd. Mujeres Creando (Women Creating), the group she founded in 1992, has been daubing walls with graffiti, staging performances and engaging in acts of civil disobedience ever since to protest homophobia and maltreatment of women. Tradition-minded Bolivians call her an anarchist and revile her lesbianism. She describes herself as a rebel.

Her rebelliousness has not lessened even though Bolivia for the past decade has been governed by leftists who see themselves as champions of the oppressed. Evo Morales is the first Bolivian president to hail from the country’s indigenous majority. A new constitution, enacted in 2009, repeatedly affirms the principle of equality of the sexes.
To little purpose, argues Ms Galindo, who is polite and soft-spoken despite the fierceness of her views. “The government’s position is utterly incoherent,” she contends. Mr Morales’s party, the Movement To Socialism (MAS), is an “agglutination of caudillos’ interests and does not represent progressive ideas at all”. The underlying problem, she thinks, is Christianity, especially the evangelical sort that has taken root in indigenous communities. No doubt there is some truth in this claim. It also allows activists such as Ms Galindo to blame bigotry and violence on European influences rather than native ones. “Homophobia is not an indigenous idea,” she asserts. “It was introduced by the church.”
The influence of Catholicism has ebbed but that of newer churches, such as Pentecostalism and Mormonism, has risen (see article). In a survey conducted in 2013 17% of Bolivians described themselves as evangelicals. The MAS has increasingly aligned itself with these churches, says Pedro Portugal, a writer on indigenous affairs. Early results from a survey of attitudes toward homosexuals among lawmakers in parliament show that many are influenced by fundamentalist Christianity.
Bolivia’s constitution allows indigenous groups to manage their affairs in such matters as justice and land use in accordance with their “customs and practices”. The norms are Christian, not traditional, feminists charge. “Allowing indigenous groups to decide how and whether they apply the law is simply an abdication of the state’s responsibilities,” says Sonia Montaño, a former head of gender affairs at the Economic Comission for Latin America and the Caribbean. She wants ordinary civil and criminal law to apply.
Activists say Bolivia’s president is part of the problem. Mr Morales calls himself a “feminist who makes macho jokes.” But few activists were amused by his recent response to rumours about the health minister’s sexual orientation: “I don’t want to think that you are a lesbian.”
Such attitudes make it hard to fight discrimination against homosexuals and abuse of women. Bolivia’s levels of domestic violence are the worst in South America, according to a study in 2013 by the Pan American Health Organisation. More than half of women who have been in a relationship say they have been physically or sexually abused by their partners.
In politics, there is progress. Under the constitution parties must field as many female candidates as male ones in elections. Half of government ministers must be women. In district elections held in March 2015, the number of women elected surpassed that of men for the first time. Ms Galindo is unimpressed. “Many of them are simply ornaments,” she says.
Her crusade against churches will continue. Last July, women from Mujeres Creando prepared for the visit of Pope Francis by gathering at the cathedral in La Paz dressed as pregnant nuns. “Every day your church crucifies women,” read a placard denouncing its opposition to abortion. Riot police hauled the demonstrators away. Ms Galindo calls the influence of the church “colonialism’s open wound.” Perhaps, but some of the attitudes she is fighting may also be home-grown.

From time to time she writes very well in her Pagina Siete column, however most of the time her hatred over most issues makes her lose credibility. Even the members of her organization have questioned her vertical authority.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s