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‘For this new generation of women, the public body is political,’ says founder of Chilean feminist political party

Feminists protesting in December 2019. Photo credit: PatricioHurtado under Pixabay license.

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of how women fight gender violence in Latin America.

With the creation of the Feminist Alternative Party on February 14, 2020, Chile has a new avenue for influencing public policies. One of the founders of the party is Pía Barros, a writer, workshop facilitator, editor, and feminist since the beginning of the Pinochet dictatorship 40 years ago.

Today, through literary initiatives and political activism, Barros calls for the establishment of a fair and egalitarian society that would eradicate a patriarchal system that generates gender and domestic violence.

Her voice has become a reference point of view to understanding the state of women's rights in Latin America and the diversity of feminist movements.

I have talked with Barros in Chile, and the interview has been edited for brevity.

Gabriela Mesones (GM): Since the 1970s, feminist movements have been fundamental in the political sphere of Chile. How have these movements been organized?

Pía Barros (PB): Fuimos nosotras las primeras que nos organizamos a través de marchas multitudinarias durante los 17 años de dictadura de Pinochet. También hubo mucho colectivo, acciones y mucho trabajo en los sectores populares hecho por mujeres. También fue el voto femenino el que derrocó a Pinochet y fueron ellas quienes rompieron con la campaña del terror durante el plebiscito de 1988.

Pía Barros (PB): We were the first to organize through mass marches during the 17 years of Pinochet dictatorship. There were also many collective actions and a lot of work in the civic sectors done by women. It was also the female vote that overthrew Pinochet and it was the women's movements that broke with the terror campaign during the 1988 referendum.

GM: Currently, how do the different feminist movements coexist in Chile?

PB: Durante los últimos años ha habido distintas formas de feminismo. La cuarta ola feminista plantea al cuerpo en la calle, y por ende el cuerpo como ente político. Es un cuerpo que incide, no como una pancarta en la calle, sino en sus múltiples formas y múltiples ángulos. Cada tendencia es una dimensión de las múltiples formas del feminismo. El año pasado, hubo un efecto político importante con Un violador en tu camino de Lastesis. Esta performance ha tenido un impacto global y ha logrado que se imponga como primera demanda la desinstalación de un estado patriarcal.  

PB: During the last years there have been different forms of feminism. The fourth feminist wave places the body on the street, and therefore the body becomes a political entity. It is a body that has an impact, not as a banner in the street, but in its multiple forms and perspectives. Each trend is a dimension of the multiple forms of feminism. Last year, the feminist flashmob “A rapist in your path” (“Un violador en tu camino”) by the feminist collective Las Tesis had a significant political effect. This performance has had a global impact and has managed to demand first of all the dismantling of the patriarchal state.

Pía Barros in 2015. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, under CC license.

GM: How can all the current voices of feminism be united? Is there even an interest in unifying them?

PB: Podemos aspirar a la premisa inicial del feminismo: un universo no sexista donde todas las personas somos imprescindibles. No aspirar a una sola forma de gobierno u organización, sino más bien algo que nos convoca a todas y que no nos pide que seamos de otra manera. Las sexualidades son múltiples y cambiantes, y devienen en demandas que son legítimas desde donde vengan. ¿Es necesario pensar en homogeneizar algo? ¿O es más necesario cambiar el paradigma para entender que la diversidad tiene múltiples focos y formas en que manifestarse? Hemos trabajado el eje político como un gran frente para obtener una victoria, pero este es un pensamiento en términos de guerra.  

PB: We can aspire to the initial premise of feminism: a non-sexist universe where all people are indispensable. We should not aspire to a single form of government or organization, but rather to something that brings us all together and does not ask us to be otherwise. Sexualities are multiple and changing, and they represent legitimate demands no matter where they come from. Is it necessary to think about homogenization? Or is it more necessary to change the paradigm in order to understand that diversity has multiple focuses and ways to manifest? We worked the political angle so it becomes a great front to win a victory, but this line of thought is more war-like.

GM: What are the difficulties in the current society when it comes to understanding the gender issue?

PB: Lo patriarcal que somos. El patriarcado no está fuera de nosotros: lo parimos, lo educamos, le permitimos que crezca. Esa deconstrucción tiene que empezar desde cero: en la casa, en el barrio, en nuestra forma de conectar. Por eso es importante celebrar la diversidad.

La construcción de las mujeres siempre ha sido en torno a la comunidad, y el efecto comunitario significa que hay veces que no nos gustan personas de nuestra comunidad. Al loco del pueblo se le protege igual, porque pertenece. Por mucho tiempo se nos ha dicho que las mujeres no pertenecemos, y la búsqueda empieza allí.

PB: How patriarchal we are. Patriarchy is not outside of us: we create it, we nurture it, we allow it to grow. Its deconstruction has to start from the ground up: in our homes, in our neighborhood, in the way we connect. That is why it is important to celebrate diversity.

Women's identity has always been built within a community, and this means that there are times when we don't like people from our community. The “fool” of the neighborhood is protected because they belong. But for a long time, we have been told that women do not belong, and the search begins there.

GM: What is the role of women and the different feminist movements in the framework of the Chilean “social outbreak” of October 18?

PB: No creo que el estallido hubiera sido posible sin los dos 8M anteriores. Pero también creo que por algo se llama estallido, algo que dejó de estar contenido y se rompió. El estallido tiene que ver con los quiebres. En este caso, no sé cuál ha sido el rol de la mujer que no haya sido su rol de siempre: estar vigilantes, exigir y plantear otros modos de intentar las cosas. Como dice Rosario Castellanos: “Debe haber otro modo de ser humano y libre, otro modo de ser”. Ese otro modo de ser es que el estamos intentando en este momento. 

PB: I don't think the outbreak would have been possible without the previous two 8M (International Women's Days). But I also think that we call it an “outbreak” for a reason: it is something that stopped being contained and broke out. An outbreak has to do with breakdowns. In this case, I don't know what the role of women has been except its usual role: to be vigilant, demand and propose other ways of trying things. As Rosario Castellanos says: “There must be another way of being human and free, another way of being.” That other way of being is what we are trying right now.

GM: You mentioned the global impact of Las Tesis. With campaigns such as #MeToo, social media has helped make visible the precarious situation of the women's rights and the daily abuse they are subjected to. Could you elaborate on this?

PB: Las redes sociales han cumplido una función informativa que la prensa ha dejado de lado. En dictadura, por ejemplo, había unas cuantas revistas vigiladas, pero la información realmente fluía a través de papelitos compartidos de mano a mano. Creo que lo mismo ocurre ahora, con nuevas tecnologías. Una de las propuestas de mi generación era que lo privado es público, bajo el slogan de “Democracia en la calle y en la casa” y para esta nueva generación el cuerpo público es político. Al denunciar somos más poderosos que el denunciado y por lo tanto terminamos teniendo un punto a favor. Al denunciar creamos comunidad de apoyo, algo que no solamente tiene valor emocional: cuando hay dos o más personas, la acción pasa a ser política, por lo que se piensa en conjunto para incidir y presionar al estado para generar leyes, construir y reparar un tejido social que está enfermo.

PB: Social networks have fulfilled an informative function that the press had ignored. During the dictatorship, for example, there were a few publications that were monitored, but the information was actually distributed through little papers that passed from hand to hand. I think the same is happening now, with new technologies. One of the proposals of my generation was that the private is public, under the slogan “democracy in the street and in the house,” and for this new generation, the public body is political. When we denounce, we are more powerful than the accused, and therefore, we end up having an advantage. When we denounce, we create a supportive community, something that not only has an emotional value: when there are two or more people, the action becomes political, so we think together to influence and pressure the state to make laws and build and repair a damaged social fabric.

GM: As a writer, editor and workshop facilitator, you have combined the political struggle with cultural movements. This became ¡Basta! (“Enough!”), a series of books against gender violence that has been published in 10 countries. Could you talk about them?

PB: Hemos generado proyectos editorial de ¡Basta! En Chile, Perú, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Panamá, Estados Unidos, México, Bolivia. Nace como un proyecto del equipo Asterión, y su objetivo es denunciar la violencia de género para que podamos entender que la base del dolor y el daño en término de relaciones parten de la violencia de género. Cuando un niño se expone a la violencia psicológica, este niño va a entender que el modo de relación y de construcción de familia — y por lo tanto de sociedad — es a través de la agresión y de descalificación. 

PB: We created editorial projects of ¡Basta! (“Enough!’) in Chile, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, United States, Mexico, Bolivia. It started as a project of the Asterión team, and its objective is to denounce gender violence so that we can understand that the cause of pain and damage in relationships is gender violence. When a child is exposed to psychological violence, this child will understand that relationship and family building — and therefore society building — is through aggression and smears.

GM: What are the political goals of the Feminist Alternative Party?

PB: Las Tesis hicieron una performance frente al Estadio Nacional y partir de ese encuentro varias mujeres decidimos registrar un partido que sea instrumental para incidir en una nueva constitución nacida en democracia. Consideramos necesario poder participar y proponer desde el mundo feminista cuales son las demandas específicas con los intereses del colectivo. 

PB: Las Tesis performed in front of the National Stadium and it was there where several women decided to register a party that could be instrumental in influencing a new constitution based on democracy. We think it's necessary to be able to participate and propose specific demands from the feminist perspective while taking into account collective interests.

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