21
Mar 19

Mujeres Creando: The writing on the wall

by Vesna Vukoja

Neither the earth nor the women are territory of conquest. Photo by David Ozkoidi

Mujeres Creando is a Bolivian anarcho-feminist group movement focused on deconstructing “machismo”, anti-gay prejudice and neoliberalism

Grafitty says: “The femicide it’s a patriarchal state crime”. They don’t consider themselves artists but rather street activists as they explain that creativity belongs to human, women and men, and art can’t be dispossessed by turning it into something that elite can enjoy only.

They don’t consider themselves artists but rather street activists as they explain that creativity belongs to human, women and men, and art can’t be dispossessed by turning it into something that elite can enjoy only.

Mujeres Creando (Women Creating) started with three friends – Maria Galindo, Julieta Paredes and Monica Mendoza back in 1992 at that time when openly being lesbian activist was not easy at all. In Bolivia, at the time, there was very little talk on feminism, especially radical feminism of the streets where Mujeres Creando started.

 Taking art back to the streets

What made Mujeres Creando known in public is their communicative form. They started with reaching people on the street and communicating their messages through street art by painting graffiti called las pintadas. Graffiti – Las pintadas – from the beginning of their collective action was a tool that irritated those on power and provoked their reactions. Painting murals in the streets started as their response to Left and Right parties’ posters often flyposted on the street walls during campaign and elections. Their graffiti messages were written on the same street walls but criticizing both Left and Right, reaching people through poetry and creativity and targeting all kinds of oppression forms. They represent the other missing half in Bolivia, emerging opinions on racism, gender, xenophobia and human rights in general.

According to Mujeres Creando, in a conservative and machist society like Bolivian, art should be feminist. Streets need to interact with people so they use what street offers, empty walls to paint graffiti, to provoke emotions, whether it is laugher, anger or annoyance. For them street is an empty canvas where everything can be said and everyone’s opinion counts, including of those indigenous feminists.

From racism and dictatorship, Vatican and Catholic Church, abortion and birth control, reproductive rights and motherhood, Mujeres Creando, as part of Bolivian society, are provoking both men and women. Since its beginnings, the group has been part of international gatherings, dialoguing with different feminist tendencies and thus being able to build its ideological identity within the autonomous feminism in connection with global struggles. In this sense, Mujeres Creando do not only fight for women’s rights, but against other problems that affect Bolivian and global society.

In Global North everything is controlled and more or less everyone knows, whether or not you can protest, march or even sell things on the street. The only free of control space left is the one on the Internet and most of today’s social movements emerge online. In Bolivia, global South, streets still belong to people and they show it by participating in all the demonstrations, both small and large, local or national. Where they are often seen together with unions, social and cultural groups demonstrating to change their country, protect human rights and nature and demonstrate that despite cultural conservatism, in Bolivia there is another reality that desires and deserves to be respected. Although Mujeres Creando are mostly communicating their messages on the streets – where they origin stays, with new media and online activism they started to be aware of the Internet potential and they don’t miss a chance to spread their word.

Mujeres Creando Blog

In addition to their graffiti and public performances, Mujeres Creando dedicates itself to social justice in many forms. Mujeres Creando publishes its own magazine Mujer Pública (Public Woman), produces a weekly radio show, and like The Emerging Half, uses their blog to express their ideas and reach their public. Their blog is at the same time their official website where they document all their actions and creative street art. Their street graffiti are getting online attention via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and Mujeres Creando are becoming part of a broader global movement, travelling to many parts of the world to exchange ideas about non-institutionally sponsored feminism.

Mujeres Creando continues their fight against patriarchal system, colonialism and neoliberalism and apart of expressing through graffiti, creativity and ongoing public debates, they fight for a voice and participation on online and offline public sphere so the women in Bolivia and around the world can continue creating new world.


18
Mar 19

#SaveRahaf: Twitter changed everything

by Vesna Vukoja 

Hero for some and target for others; while she received a massive online support from people all around the world, back home she is considered unwelcome and is threatened to be killed

On 5th of January, unknown Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun became global news as she on her newly created Twitter account pleaded for help.

While trying to reach Australia via Thailand she was held at Bangkok airport and was meant to be out on a flight to go back to her family. Rahaf, who fled her family alleging abuse got stranded at Bangkok’s main airport and from airport hotel room started unravel her situation. Her passport was confiscated by Saudi diplomat, which prevented her from continuing her trip to Australia, where her plan was to claim asylum. She barricaded herself in her airport hotel room and started publishing series of tweets, attracting international attention and asking for humanitarian protection from UNHCR. She said she had renounced Islam, punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, and that she will be killed if returned to her family. In one day her Twitter followers grew to 45 thousands and with #SaveRahaf hashtag gathered strength by each hour. As Rahaf was posting live updates on her situation, thousands were sharing her story with hopes of making a difference. Soon UNHCR declared her a refugee status and within 72 hours she left Thailand for Canada, which has granted her asylum.

Young and social-savvy, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was able to take things into her own hands by successfully mobilising a solid online campaign to protect herself. In a series of tweets she posted online, al-Qunun said she decided to share her story on social media because she no longer had anything to lose. She has come out of this agony with 126 thousands followers on Twitter in only five days her account has been active.

Although there is considerable sympathy for the plight of Saudi women, critics point out that the refugees fleeing horrible persecution worldwide are left behind. Asylum seekers spend months, and often years, stuck in detention centres while their cases are considered. During this long and painful decision period asylum seekers cannot work and very often their paperwork gets lost which creates delays in asylum decision-making.

In recent history we witnessed how smartphones and social media have helped tens of thousands of refugees reach the safety of Europe during the Syrian war. It offers a relatively cheap and easily accessible means of communication but their use is not without challenges for asylum seekers as some EU governments are starting to extract data from asylum seekers’ phones and use it against them.

This is one example of powerful use of social media by one savvy Saudi teenage girl but is this going to change peoples attitude towards asylum seekers feeling abusive families or regimes is hard to tell. While Rahaf was successful in getting asylum and with her social media campaign saved her life, many asylum seekers might feel angry and frustrated at the back of the long asylum queue.

Will social media become future passports and one of the tools to claim asylum or will it change the terrain of access to it?


14
Mar 19

Women´s Strike

By Vesna Vukoja

Wales Women´s strike day poster 2019

International Women’s Day this year has been linked with the Global Women’s Strike, a global movement coordinated across over 50 countries calling for solidarity between women of different race, religion and cultural backgrounds.

On 8th of March women and men in Cardiff, joined worldwide demonstrations, engaging in strike and demonstration, and other collective actions to draw attention to women’s labor— both in the workplace and in the home.

The manifesto was read in front of the Cardiff Central Library.

If striking is the weapon of those who work, then the Global Women’s Strike is a weapon to challenge to the belief that women’s labour should be underpaid or performed for free and with a smile.

As part of its International Women’s Day celebration, Cardiff hosted the Women`s Strike at Trinity Centre. The event presented a varied programme of music, banner making, women’s art and self-care workshops as well as food and opportunities for debate. Self-care refers to the idea that caring for yourself is not luxury, but a necessity to keep going and looking after anyone else. For women, who often are in the position of nurturers and carers, practicing self-care is essential.

The rain didn’t stop all age people to attend the demonstration.

Women´s Strike day, led by women but open to all individuals and community groups, provided Cardiff’s women’s movement and activist scene with a temporary home and the opportunities to make connections, build relationships and take action on the many issues affecting women in Wales and worldwide. The response of both women and men running workshops, offering to exhibit their work and as well as those attending was a true reflection of Cardiff’s diversity and hugely positive.

Recent online #MeToo movement showed epidemic proportion of sexual harassment and abuse against women. But there is still need for offline need for physical spaces that empower, protect and connect human beings in community. This is particularly true for women, who are not only disproportionately affected by austerity as well as sexual and gender-based violence, but who are also socialised into and take on much of the caring for others. Wales continues to have need for more vibrant community-led spaces to educate, celebrate and empower people to make real connections. Women´s Strike day was an attempt to make activism accessible to a variety of groups including parents, refugees, carers and other groups underrepresented in the women’s and activist movements through creating affordable and inclusive and family friendly events. The success of the Women´s Strike day and the overwhelming positive response from those who participated and attended made a powerful case for long-term, accessible and affordable community spaces.

The Global Women’s Strike is only the beginning of a fight for sustainable community development and empowerment of Welsh women and communities worldwide to make real and lasting change. Despite the immense opportunities of social media to educate and raise awareness and connect people across the world, the #MeToo movement being one example, online activism requires real-life action to have a lasting impact.

Universal Credit requires couples to nominate a single bank account and there is a concern that Universal’s Credit single payment has implications for women and for survivors of domestic abuse. The single payment could result in less equal couple relationships, and risks further financial abuse. The reduction of women’s financial autonomy could result in main carers (usually in practice mothers) losing clearly-labeled child payments, which sometimes provide a lifeline to survivors of domestic abuse.

 

 


07
Mar 19

#todossomosyalitza

By Vesna Vukoja

PHOTO: NETFLIX – COVER FROM “ROMA” MOVIE

Yalitza Aparicio, first indigenous woman nominated for an Oscar for the Best Actress.

Alfonso Cuarón’s film “Roma” (2018) recently won three Oscars at 91st Academy Awards, for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film. “Roma” was also nominated for seven other awards, including for Yalitza Aparicio as Best Actress. Nonetheless, Yalitza was first indigenous woman nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, and though she didn’t win, she’s still a winner in the eyes of her fans and she continues breaking barriers.

Yalitza Aparicio, starred as Cloe, a domestic housekeeper for a Mexico City middle-class family living in a neighborhood where director Alfonso Cuarón was raised. Aparicio speaks in the Mixtec language[1] and in Spanish, and navigates through different worlds for her own survival. In other worlds, Aparicio is playing different roles; she is an indigenous housekeeper in a rich white middle class family, migrant worker, and single pregnant female looking for better future.

After Oscar nominations were announced, Sergio Goyri, a Mexican telenovela[2] actor, criticized Aparicio’s Oscar nomination. While having a private chat with his friends, Goyri appears calling Aparicio “pinche india” [3] in a live Instagram video, who, in his opinion, throughout the whole movie keeps saying, ‘Yes, ma’am, no, ma’am’.

This caused social media reaction, where Mexican-American Aparicio’s fans started sharing #todossomosyalitza[4] tweets and Instagram posts, accusing Goyri for being racist and commenting online their excitement about Aparicio’s Oscar nomination.

 

This careless social media stream against Aparicio’s Oscar nomination coming from a non-indigenous man does not only represent Mexico’s long history of discrimination against the indigenous population, but reveals something deeper: the reality behind closed doors in America.

However, it is interesting to note that Aparicio, among Mexican-American women is receiving strong support while in Mexico she’s being backlashed because of her indigenous roots.

While in theory of film industry there is demand for better representation of marginalized “other”, in praxis reality looks completely different. Although, Aparicio does not represent all indigenous individuals, in white world she will get these responsibilities as it happens to many non-white people in similar situations. Hence, her role is very significant as she is challenging and breaking the borders of discrimination, both in Mexico and globally.

Mexico has a long history of discrimination against the indigenous population. Its route can be traced back in the period of Spanish colonization where white was defined as beautiful, and dark skin relegated to invisible. Today, Mexican media follows similar patern, having primary focus on white/lighter-skinned Mexican TV presenters, actors and actresses, while marginalizing indigenous people and focusing on promoting outdated stereotypes. Aparicio’s Oscar nomination can be seen as signal of shift in Oscar’s nomination, especially after #oscarssowhite tweets in recent years, but sadly Aparicio in “Roma” plays indigenous housekeeper of the rich white family just as it is very often seen in Mexican telenovelas.

PHOTO: VOGUE MEXICO

There is a gradual increase in representation of indigenous people in Mexico´s media. Aparicios efforts to represent those who look like her is visible on the cover of the Vogue Mexico, where she received positive response from her fans but also some negative just as she received from her colleague Goyri. Just as there is positive example, another negative comes: one of the Mexico´s most popular fashion magazine Hola! decided to light-up Aparicio´s skin tone on the main photo cover.

Although Aparicio didn´t win the Oscar she is a symbol of hope for indigenous people, what indigenous representation could potentially be. The fight for equal representation of marginalized communities will continue and Aparicio is one among many forces for indigenous Mexican rights.

[1] Mixtec is an ancient Indigenous language composed of a variety of dialects that are spoken in villages in an area known as “La Mixteca” in southern Mexico.

[2] Soap opera

[3] Damn indigenous

[4] We are all Yalitza