Translation of an article by Helen Álvarez Virreira about the Bolivian anarchist feminists, Mujeres Creando
To walk the streets of La Paz is also to walk through the story of Mujeres Creando (Women Creating) an anarchist and feminist movement which has used graffiti and creativity as its forms of struggle and has made the streets its canvas. “Women who get organised don’t have to iron shirts any more”, ”I don’t want to be the woman of your dreams, I want to be the woman of my dreams” and “Because Evo Morales doesn’t know how to be a father (he tried to disown his daughter), he doesn’t know what it means to be a mother” are among its graffiti.
They do not consider themselves artists but rather “agitators in the streets”. The group is a reference point for Bolivian society, a reference point of rebellion and challenging the patriarchal system and violence in all its forms for more than 15 years.
They denounce neoliberal governments, which have kept the population in poverty and unemployment and as a consequence have caused massive emigration to Argentina and Spain, especially by women. These are “neoliberalism’s refugees”, as one of the movement’s founders, María Galindo, puts it.
They have criticised and challenged those women who call themselves feminists but who have been absorbed into the state apparatus, converting them into technocratic functionaries or “NGOistas”, enriching themselves amid poverty and co-opting certain groups of women in order to patronise them as grateful beneficiaries. “Today neoliberalism dresses itself up with women hungry for power”, they thus write on the walls of the city.
Now they are questioning the government of Evo Morales, who they say is letting hopes for real social change in Bolivia fade away. The convening of a Constituent Assembly was an achievement of the October 2003 mass revolt, but the new State Political Constitution, dictated from the presidential palace, has frustrated hopes.
Patriarchy as represented by institutions like the Church and the Armed Forces, remains intact. Women do not have sovereignty over their own bodies nor have they reclaimed the notion of motherhood, two among Mujeres Creando’s many demands on the Constituent Assembly. Thus they write “We will not make Eve from Evo’s rib”.
“Indigenous women, whores, lesbians, together in sisterhood and revolt”
The political perspective of Mujeres Creando, proclaimed on the walls of the city, has transgressed all the expectations and conventions of the system: organisation is to be based on heterogeneity; autonomy with respect to all types of expression; integration of the personal with the public; and manual, creative and intellectual labour on a par with one another. All this is affirmed in the concrete struggles which day by day emerge from its self-managed headquarters, named “La Virgen de los Deseos” (The Virgin of Desires).
The movement is characterised by the unusual degree of relations between different people and knitting together solidarity across a wide range of identities and commitments. This in itself has questioned the typical forms of organisation. Its members are lesbian and heterosexual; married, divorced and single; students and workers; indigenous and mixed-race; young and old; women working in the home and women working in prostitution. Its objective is to create a feminist subjectivity challenging all authority which exists and emerges in any sphere.
The movement began in 1992 as Comunidad Creando (Community Creating) in a district on the edge of La Paz; that same year it became Mujeres Creando, with a politics of anti-racist feminism which challenged the elite of privileged women who separate the personal from their role in public life and who divide manual from intellectual labour. They also challenged the left – in which the first three members of the group were active – for seeing women as objects, and reclaimed the kind of anarchism practiced by Bolivian men and women in the early 20th century.
From the outset the group has participated in international feminist gatherings, discussing with different feminist tendencies and thus being able to build its ideological identity with others’ contributions.
“Rebellion, it’s your fault I’ll be happy”
The social impact of Mujeres Creando can be seen in three moments in its history. In 1997, a hunger strike by the feminist movement was decisive in the freeing of the Mexican Raquel Gutiérrez, jailed without sentence for five years for armed uprising. With this legal precedent, two weeks later all prisoners accused of subversion and suffering from delayed court hearings were freed, including current vice-president Álvaro García Linera.
In 2001 it co-ordinated a more than 100-day-long mobilisation of poor debtors, bringing together more than 15,000 people victim of bank usury and NGOs granting micro-credits (at interest rates of up to 70%) from donated money. The protests highlighted the abuse of people on low incomes, especially women.
In October 2003 the movement impulsed a hunger strike by 400 people demanding the resignation of the then-current president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, which was decisive in his fall, as part of the revolt led by the poorest sections of society.
“Whether in Arabic, Aymara or Spanish, women want to say, ‘dignity’”
In 2005 Mujeres Creando opened “La Virgen de los Deseos”, a self-managed building constituted as a centre for development of feminist thought, generation of economic struggles and construction of solidaristic relations between women and men.
“La Virgen” is a place of concrete struggle, day to day, in which a group of women engage in different activities which help sustain the centre, selling books and art, serving food and maintaining lodgings for foreign people who want to see the country or know more about Mujeres Creando themselves. This space is also a meeting place for social movements, for example that of women who work in prostitution, who have their national gatherings at the centre. It also provides accommodation for women who are victims of violence.
The house also offers free medical attention, a library of school books, a bookshop, Internet access, a video hall for the display of feminist films, meeting rooms for workshops and a large dining-hall where political and cultural events are held.
But “the home of Mujeres Creando” is much more. It is home to “Mujeres en Busca de Justicia” (Women Seeking Justice), a free and unbureaucratic legal service which supports women who try to escape the vicious circle of violence. In one year of functioning it has processed more than 800 cases.
There also can be found the “Mi Mamá Trabaja” (My Mother Works), a nursery and feminist pedagogical project discussing planning ahead for life, particularly for women who work in the home or who are prostitutes. This is the only space with three shifts, at morning, afternoon and night. Here boys and girls also receive school support.
The other major project being established in “La Virgen de los Deseos” is Radio Deseo, the first “social means of communication”, challenging the traditional radio establishment in Bolivia. This can be heard online, http://www.radiodeseo.com.