The Latin American Women’s Protests Show Activism Can Also Be Action
I wanted to take a moment to remember these protests from November 2019 (watch here).
These protests expressed women’s rights and empowerment in a way which seemed healing in itself. Rather than an ineffective action, they offered change by taking part.
So what was so special about them?
Here are 5 aspects of these gatherings which I think show them as activism and action.
1. The protesters occupied public space
Studies show that women occupy public space differently from men. This differs from country to country, but overall global trends show that women tend to occupy public spaces less than men. There is also the evidence that public space is less safe for women. And that public spaces are not designed for women.
The group of women standing in a city centre, like these protesters did, challenges that reality. It says we can take up space and we can take up this central city space. We have a right to be here.
Gold star number one for how an act of protest can itself be an act in reshaping social norms.
2. The protesters use movement as part of their protest
Studies show that during an assault, rape or abuse, many people disconnect from their bodies as a survival strategy . This often means that trauma becomes stored in the body and in the in the long run, this stored trauma can keep survivors trapped or reliving the traumatic event.
Connection to body through movement (and other techniques) is a way to reclaim your own body. If you are a survivor, this can also be a healing strategy, most particularly in our highly-intellectualised mind-focused world.
Rythmic movement has in particular be shown to help survivors reconnect to their bodies.
As post-traumatic impacts can have an influence on survivors claiming their full potential in work and private life, this protest offers a symbolic route into healing.
Gold star number two by using an act of protest as itself a method of healing. Dancing to reclaim your body as your own.
3. The protests said clearly what was wrong
They did not mince their words.
La culpa no era mia, ni donde estaba, ni como vestia. El violador eres tú. (The fault was not mine. Nor where I was nor what I was wearing. You are the rapist/violator.)
The text goes on to name specific actors.
Son los pacos, Los jueces, El estado, El presidente. (They are the police, the judges, the state, the President).
There is no ambiguity and no complexity. A protest cry that encapsulates all that is wrong with social attitudes about violence against women and systemic gender inequality. The words also name specific institutions/people as part of the problem.
Clarity is healing. To heal from abuse and assault (and particularly from verbal and emotional abuse) it is important for victims to understand that physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically what happened was wrong and to know that they hold no responsibility or blame for the events. It is essential to see clearly the dynamic that creates these violations, without gas-lighting or blaming of the victim (which unfortunately can happen even during the prosecution or reporting of these crimes).
As the protesters point out, many social institutions are still occupying that grey area.
See recent discussions on rough sex defence. See the Stanford rape trials. See everyone who told you not to ruin his life by saying he raped or assaulted you or abused you. See everyone who said it was just a joke. See the old classic, the skinny jean case. See every police officer or person in authoritarian position who has ever said oh you were silly you shouldn’t have…
The women protesters did not allow room for ambiguity or victim blaming. They were clear.
This happens to us but it is not our fault.
Gold star number three in reshaping gender norms — developing a mantra which supports victims to reframe their experience.
4. They created a collective
The protesters gathered in large groups, to say the same words, to do the same actions, all across the Spanish speaking world.
Group therapy is a well-established healing process. Women’s circles and other practices, are also traditionally a form of social support which allow women to support each other, through listening, speaking and developing common stratgies. In this instance, joining as a group also acts as mobilisation of strength and solidarity to counter a patriarchal status quo.
Gold star number four for building solidarity and strength through action.
5. The protests were art
The protests were captivating to watch. Hundreds of women saying the same words to the same movements. It was as appealing as a pop music video (and there have even been remixes made of the videos). As emotive as a poem. These protests went viral because they captivated. I felt empowered from just watching them.
It was not anger but confidence which exuded from the protesters. They stated I am in control if my body, my decisions and can set boundaries. That is empowerment which inspires. Gold star five.
My take away?
The world needs more activism which generates change by its own existence. And gender projects need more strategies which consider integrating healing strategies to release trauma and support women to stand in embodied confidence.