“We Are More Alive Than Ever:” Coral Herrera and the Struggle for Gender Equality

Portada del libro "Bodas diversas y amores Queer" de Coral Herrera

Coral Herrera's “Diverse Weddings and Queer Love” book cover

This post is part of our series on gender and sexuality in Latin America and the Caribbean, in collaboration with NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America). This is the continuation of a conversation with Coral Herrera Gómez, published in two parts, the first of which can be read here.

In the first part of our dialog about the work of artist, blogger, and scholar Coral Herrera, we discussed the opportunities presented by new technology for gender equality and the social struggle for the rights of women and LGBT persons. This time we will enter into a discussion about the struggle for gender equality in Latin America.

We asked Coral to give us her impressions of the evolution of these struggles, both online and off, and we also talked about the road we have traveled and the one that remains before us.

Global Voices: What have you discovered about the pro-gender equality movements thanks to new media?

Coral Herrera: I am amazed by social networks because they have opened doors and windows for me to the entire world, they have broaden my horizons on all levels of my life: at the intellectual, personal, and professional levels. Before connecting to the world, I felt very alone with my books and my research, but now I sense that there are a lot of people who are also writing and sharing, with whom I can debate, build up, and deconstruct collectively.

When I got connected to these networks, I entered into contact with a diverse group of women who fascinated me because they allowed me to meet other realities beyond what I had known in Spain. I'm amazed at the struggle of peasant women, Afro-descendant woman, indigenous women, migrant women, victims of trafficking, factory workers, domestic workers, disabled women, and being able to come into contact with them has allowed me to grow beyond the Euro-centric feminism in which I was living.

Besides meeting with activists, it was fascinating to connect with feminist writers who were not only still living, but were also very active on social networks. Being able to follow them on a daily basis and to get to know them so “up close” allowed me to connect with feminist organizations and online publications from all over Latin America, and that was how I began to expand my networks and make contact with the groups of egalitarian men and LGBT activists, and with the queer groups that are slowly emerging.

GV: What are the most pressing conversations that you're finding in the area of gender in Latin America?

CH: Above all, I think it's necessary to continue to highlight the struggles of women for access to land and water, and the work being carried out in fighting against genetically modified crops and for obtaining food sovereignty.

We also have to open up the debate within the feminisms in order to engage in self-criticism; it worries me that young people aren't identifying with feminist values and that our struggles are stereotyped in such a negative way.

I believe it's a problem in communication: we feminists are the object of ridicule, jokes, insults, and pejorative comments; we are called ugly, witches, man-haters, sexually frustrated, etc. This is what's going on in Europe; in other parts of the world you can be murdered for being a feminist, as has happened in Mexico with human rights activists, for example.

Within the feminisms, I think we have to create networks that are more horizontal and more inclusive. As in all social and political movements, within the feminisms there are still hierarchies, relationships of power, patriarchal power structures that we have to eliminate in order to be able to transform the world we live in. It's necessary to expand our sisterhood not only to those who are our equals, but also to humanity as a whole. […] Diversity is an asset we have to take advantage of in order for, say, post-modern women to identify with the struggles of indigenous women, cissexual women with the demands of transexual women, women entrepreneurs with working-class women, Catholic women who struggle to depatriarchalize their religion with Islamic feminist women, etc.

GV: What subjects related to gender equality in Latin America still need to be discussed? In what areas are we stagnating?

CH: I don't feel as though we're stagnating; I believe we're more alive then ever.

But from what I see on the Internet, as the number of collaborating organizations and collectives increases, so the feminist networks become more extensive, they're multiplying every day. I believe we're capitalizing on the potential these networks offer for sharing information and for creating solidarity teams and mutual support.

I think that within the feminisms we cannot fight only for equality between men and women, but we must also open up to the struggles of our trans and lesbian sisters, of our environmentalist or Islamic sisters, of our egalitarian partners, or to the struggles of pacifist groups, social movements, etc. We must embrace diversity to incorporate our struggle against any hierarchy or label that oppresses us, because in partial struggles we are minorities.

It's true that we have many ideological differences, but without a doubt we all want a world that is more balanced, more just, more equitable and peaceful. I believe that without solidarity, improving our reality will be slow and difficult; that's why I liked the “Somos el 99%” [“We are the 99%“] campaign so much, because it created a sense of unity against the privileged castes of the world, which represent only a very small group of people.

GV: What successes can we celebrate?

CH: This year we can celebrate, for example, the approval of marriage equality in several countries, but without losing sight of what is happening in Russia. We can celebrate the decriminalization of abortion in Uruguay and the zero death rate of women due to abortion in that country, but without forgetting that in countries like Spain, a woman's right to decide has been done away with in the face of the power of the most ultraconservative sectors of the Catholic church. We can celebrate the growth of male feminist groups who are working to eliminate the trafficking of sex slaves and femicide, and we can celebrate the existence of female leaders governing countries in Latin America, but without ceasing to object to the way in which they exercise power or whether their governance is truly contributing to the improvement of living conditions for women.

GV: And what victories remain for us to win?

CH: The main challenges we have before us continue to be the same: eliminating networks of sexual slavery, eliminating femicide and gender violence, promoting equality in the workplace for female wage-earners, supporting the fight of women to own the land they work on, and the fight all women share for the right to make decisions about our own bodies and our own lives, and to report and put and end to the homophobic and transphobic killings that are taking place on a daily basis across the continent….

To continue the dialog on these topics, we recommend Coral's conferences on the Sociocultural Construct of Desire and Eroticism [es] and her participation in the 5th Annual Feminist Meeting in Paraguay [es]. Correa will also teach an online workshop called ‘Women who stop suffering for love’ [es], which starts on January 15, 2014.

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