Friday, May 7, 2010

Aída Quilcué, Orsinia Polanco, Clemencia Herrera, speak out on Indigenous Rights and Women's Political Representation in Colombia

[photograph of Orsinia Polanco is from here]


[photograph of Aída Quilcué is from here]

Below is an article on Indigenous women's struggle for leadership and representation in the country of Colombia. It touches on the efforts of three women, two pictured above, and one pictured at the end of this post.

This is my challenge: to centralise in my profeminist concerns and analysis and vision the concerns, analysis, and visions of these three women. There is a complex clustering of issues which face these woman, which motivate them to move into various forms of political leadership.

Aída Quilcué, Orsinia Polanco, Clemencia Herrera, and I all live in places where the following systems of oppression are operative and controling: sexism and misogyny; ethnic bigotry and racism; white and Western Capitalist Empire--what the Wealthy White Man has selfishly made for himself at the expense of All Other Life. Less threatening to my family are the following: environmental poisoning, land theft, national possession of land, and the hoarding of natural resources; access to clean water and health care, language barriers, regional, geographic, and class differences contributing to a lack of dominant cultural education--needed if one is to engage with the master oppressors and mobilise people across cultures; access to remote rural locations and urban centers.

All these issues and more coalesce and make "single issue" Western profeminism an additional form of gross disregard of most women's lives. My poor rural family remains isolated in a relatively small world, fearful and too ashamed to engage with much of the larger, "more educated" society. But they have access to it and do, in many ways, engage with it. They can do so to the degree they wish to do so. And yet, because of their privileges, of race, of region in the world, and by being English speakers from early childhood, they are also manipulated by mass media to think they the enemy is not capitalism, white supremacy, or male supremacy. The enemy, for them, in their view, is not globalisation and the pillaging of the planet and systemic assault against Indigenous societies that is central to it. Globalisation benefits them in a way it does not benefit Aída Quilcué, Orsinia Polanco, or Clemencia Herrera.

In these women I see struggles and actions I'm not sure my family members would make, in part because some basic needs of survival are met for my family, and no one is trying to take the land out from under their feet, as well as its "natural resources". No one is organising to take away their water, for example. My family's plumbing, electricity, food, and social services are provided by the State. They don't experience urgency to make things be different for themselves and their people. Poverty among whites in the West is and is not comparable to the poverty of non-industrialised and Indigenous rural people. Obstacles stack up when you add racist-misogyny, ethnic isolation, governmental neglect and abuse, and the blunt force of unmitigated corporate greed that takes far more from non-white countries than from white ones. Survival is less assured the more of these obstacles one faces.

No one in my family is likely to be killed because of their race or ethnicity. No one in my family will starve from lack of food, even if they occasionally go hungry. Some are functionally illiterate, have never set foot in a university, and have been largely educated by mass media. Organised rebellion against the State is unlikely as they have been told the oppressed are to blame for their woes. They are also being told that Mexicans living in Arizona is a larger problem than Monsanto patenting foods. Corporate welfare disgusts them, but they feel utterly powerless to do anything about it, and if Pres. Obama does try and regulate Wall Street, they will be told he's gone too far and may agree. Their television sets won't ever offer them a clear critique of racist patriarchal capitalism, but they have already absorbed an abstract fear of "communism", a wariness of identifying with feminism, and an unsettling sense that some people of color--not the individuals who are also part of our extended family, of course--are more dangerous to them than the group which retains the right to only be seen and treated as lucky individuals: rich white men. (Even their corporations retain this right.) Never mind that the only way the poorer members of my family has survived is by living in community, with women in the family possessing way more survival skills than the men.

This is an excerpt of the article following it.
Quilcué is a strong rights defender, particularly against the stigma against indigenous communities in the armed conflict, who many times are portrayed as guerilla. For her, it´s a personal matter. Quilcué´s husband Edwin Legarda was killed by the army in December 2008. There are only scant details of the incident, which is still under investigation, while her 12-year-old daughter was attacked but survived in May 2009.

A natural leader, Quilcué was first elected in 2007 as councilor, one of the most important positions in the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council, the first time in the organization´s 37-year history that a woman was elected to the post. She was also a high-ranking member on the Pickwe Tha Fiw Reservation in Itaibe and president of the Huila Regional Indigenous Council.

Quilcué has set a powerful example. In the communities´ annual assemblies, women members understand that leadership is one of the foremost goals, along with supporting fellow women.
This is a cross post from *here* @ Eurasia Review.


Role Of Indigenous Women In Colombia Still Limited

Sunday, May 02, 2010
By Jenny Manrique

(Latinamerica Press) -- Colombia´s indigenous women are increasingly becoming visible in local and national politics, but their role remains very limited.

Aída Quilcué Vivas, of the indigenous Nasa people from the southwestern Cauca department, received 66,800 signatures for her Social and Indigenous Movement party to run in the March 14 presidential elections, for which she was vying for one of three seats – two in the Senate and one in the Representative Chamber – allotted for indigenous candidates.

“I decided to participate in the elections because the common people support us, because they see that we take on a great responsibility for what we promise, even though we work with many difficulties and obstacles. We are the ones who became widows and childless in this war, so we have to strengthen our voices,” said Quilcué Vivas, referring to the more than 40-year armed conflict between leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and the military. Indigenous communities have been particularly harmed by the fighting, often caught in the crossfire.

As of April 27, voting officials still do not know which candidate will hold the indigenous member´s seat in the Representatives´ Chamber, as blank votes, at 94 percent of all votes counted, were greater than votes for specific candidates, and there have been multiple allegations of fraud, opening up the possibility of a new election with new candidates. Marco Aníbal Avirama of the Indigenous Social Alliance and Germán Bernardo Carlosama of the Indigenous Authorities of Colombia Movement were elected to the Senate.

Quilcué says Congress is not the place to resolve the issues of indigenous communities´ – 84 peoples who speak 75 languages – because they still have scant representation. Some 3.5 percent of Colombia´s 40 million people are indigenous.

Of the 102 seats in the Senate and 166 in the Representatives´ Chamber, “we only have three, and it´s likely that hundreds of legislators are against our projects,” she said. The main issues include an end to the armed conflict, legalization of indigenous lands, environmental protection, an end to women´s discrimination and family planning for the communities.

Quilcué, a short, copper-skinned woman with long dark hair, wearing colorful clothes and cloth slippers, led the 2008 Indigenous and Popular Resistance Minga, a 60-day rights march for Colombia´s native peoples. More than 25,000 indigenous Colombians marched 500 kilometers from Santander de Quilichao in Cauca, to Bogota´s Bolívar Plaza, where they reached the presidential palace to demand security and land, and respect for their human and communal rights.

Quilcué is a strong rights defender, particularly against the stigma against indigenous communities in the armed conflict, who many times are portrayed as guerilla. For her, it´s a personal matter. Quilcué´s husband Edwin Legarda was killed by the army in December 2008. There are only scant details of the incident, which is still under investigation, while her 12-year-old daughter was attacked but survived in May 2009.

A natural leader, Quilcué was first elected in 2007 as councilor, one of the most important positions in the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council, the first time in the organization´s 37-year history that a woman was elected to the post. She was also a high-ranking member on the Pickwe Tha Fiw Reservation in Itaibe and president of the Huila Regional Indigenous Council.

Quilcué has set a powerful example. In the communities´ annual assemblies, women members understand that leadership is one of the foremost goals, along with supporting fellow women.

“Inside the ethnic groups are growing processes of different political participation that seek to end machismo itself even from inside the indigenous hierarchy,” she said proudly.

Landmark victories

Indigenous lawmaker Orsinia Polanco, of the northern Guajira department, is the leader of her Wayuu communities, a group of 23 clans on eight indigenous reserves. She says where she´s from machismo is very strong, even from the women´s side, who continue to dedicate their lives to domestic work, so it was unthinkable for her to achieve her seat in Congress.

But Wayuu men often accept women to represent them politically, socially and economically in specific roles.

“In times of war, it was the woman who went out to defend everything,” Polanco said. “It´s very different in other cultures that are more closed.”

Polanco was elected to Congress in 2006, and had the highest number of votes in the March 14 election, but the count has not been finalized by the National Electoral Council, and it is still unclear whether she will continue for another four-year term on July 20.

The woman has never forgotten her roots and continues to speak her native tongue, Wayuunaiki, in the capital.

“We have a double disadvantage compared with Western women. In addition to being women, we´re indigenous and we have a lot of illiteracy and ignorance in our communities,” she said. “We are isolated from education because we live in a rural area and we are aware that we´re living in a globalized world. We don´t reach the intellectual level of other women and that´s why our political participation is very poor.”

Polanco, who is a professor in the National University and holds a master of linguistics, has a platform that is not limited to Colombia´s indigenous population, but for those displaced by the armed conflict, and the most marginalized populations of the country, which does include native groups, many of whom she argues are on the path to “extinction” because of the threats they face from all sides.

She does, however, hope that the number of indigenous senators and representatives increases.

“On such an important stage for political control and debate, it´s not much what one person can do,” she said.

Local governance

Polanco was elected under the opposition Alternative Democratic Pole. The party has also supported another indigenous elected official, Ati Seygundiba Quinua, who since 2003 has served on the Bogota Municipal Council, where she was elected at 23 years of age five years ago, and was reelected in the 2007 local elections.

Even though Colombian law establishes an age minimum of 25 for this position, the Constitutional Court sided, in this case, with her Arhuaco community that a woman is of age after her first menstruation.

“This ruling defended the cultural values of the indigenous,” said the councilwoman, who authored a project for Bogota that monitors the implementation of an information system on gender economic and labor equality.

“The first debate [on the project] has been positive,” said Seygundiba Quinua, who studied political science.

All indigenous women interviewed recognize that while they aspire to holding positions in national politics, it´s at the local level where they can really see changes.

In the Amazonas department, which borders Brazil and Peru, home to 16 indigenous reservations of 35 ethnicities, a department-wide office allows for greater participation of native peoples in policy-making. Now, indigenous authorities can talk with the local rulers, such as governor, mayor, local representatives or town councilpeople, on their communities´ issues and potential solutions.

According to Juan Carlos Preciado, a lawyer and spokesman for the Gaia Amazonas Foundation, a local organization that seeks education programs that respect local culture, the indigenous peoples “have more interest in indigenous territorial governance than in national issues of the political parties.”

Amazonas has become an important constituency for candidates, and even though many community leaders decide to whom to give their vote, “the hopefuls today see the indigenous with more respect because ... the [indigenous] run [their] communities ... and are looking for interlocutors for their proposals.”

Clemencia Herrera, the third indigenous woman candidate in the Representatives´ Chamber, who ran under the Social Indigenous Alliance, is originally from a Huitoto community in Amazonas. She is working on a training plan for women, particularly young women, to learn about governance and land issues “so they participate in decision-making spheres.”

“In the indigenous world one grows up with this mentality that we women cannot assume responsibilities ... but this is the moment for us to start training ourselves to forge credibility,” said Herrera.

[the political poster below of Clemencia Herrera is from here]

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