Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

The "Unknown" Feminism of the Amazon

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

The "Unknown" Feminism of the Amazon

Article excerpt

Uchunya Women as a New Conscience for Latin America

The Uchunyas are an indigenous community belonging to the Shipibo tribe in Ucayali, Peru. Like any Latin American society, they face diverse problems, including the threat of neoliberal economic development, as they confront a palm oil company that operates in their ancestral lands, However, as they recounted to the world on the German television station Deutsche Welle (DW) in 2019, the Uchunya recognized their native culture; they did not look down on the gender role was linked to that culture and the concept of gender, distinct from the Marxist feminism that refers to mutual aid and egalitarian cooperation.

"(...) every evening, when I finish my work, we organize games with the neighbors, the women play volleyball, although some men also join them and the women can play together with the men."

The Uchunya women have a different concept of equality which, although it can be understood (or we can understand) is from the vantage of roles and distribution of responsibility, does not denounce the suppression of women in social and productive processes because they say, "It has been this way for centuries" and for now at least, do not insist on structural change: "They believe they are, and indeed they are, equal to the men."

"(...) A Uchunya woman can do what she wants, there are several who do other things," (Judit Zangaño, a community elder)

In spite of many transformations since 1970 that recognized women's equality as a principle, women continue to be humiliated, raped, murdered, rendered invisible and erased from historical memory throughout much of Latin America.

An ambiguity remains: "equality in the eyes of the law," the gains of "liberal feminism" and the supreme value of liberalism, "autonomy" do not reflect women's daily reality. This context spurred feminist struggles against regimes and movements that, grounding themselves in the "equality" of women were equally repressive. An example is the "FARC-ЕР" (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), that defended social equality from a Bolivarian Marxist-Leninst perspective, but controlled the sexuality of the women who fought along with the men.

Unintentional Absence

Although the women's struggle in Latin America of the 1970s was directly influenced by liberal feminism, it was not a strict imitation of the U.S. and European experience.

In Latin America, two special contexts prevailed, the identification of an ideological type of "modern woman" and the integration of two types of "modem woman," that is intellectual and middle-class women who were totally visible through political movilization. The union of these women, who were for the most part socialists and radicals, with activists against repression from the peoples' movements, gave birth to popular Latin American feminism, understanding "popular" in the Latin American sense of mass movements.

Thousands of leftist youth and intellectuals militating for equality in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico and Chile became the fervent feminists of the 1970s, often adopting a double militancy. They were active in party politics, as well as in women's groups, as happened in Colombia with the leaders María Cano and Betasabé Espinosa. Their struggle was an important one, but the existence of other women was often forgotten, for example, the indigenous woman. At the time, the indigenous was not identified with the idea of the modern, athough the indigenous woman was a collective although hidden presence in the Amazon.

With this observation, we are not denying the narratives that explain that even before 1970, indigenous women were activists as part of the feminist struggle. The "organizing processes of the Ecuadoran Amazon," was led by indigenous women between I960 and 1970, for instance. But to affirm that the influence of indigenous women was as present and visible as the suffragist movement in New York, for instance, or as popular feminism is to ignore the great context of the Latin American indigenous woman. …

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