14 Aug, 2012 | Eleanor Warnick
Maria Galindo is instantly recognizable. With her long, black, lank hair, shaved on one side, and her piercing, kohllined eyes, she’s an icon of Bolivian feminism. She even dresses in the colours of her organisation, Mujeres Creando – red, white and black.
Her actions are equally striking. Once, Galindo stood in the street, dressed in a pollera and remera made of newspaper cuttings, to show how the media should be democratic, representative of everyone, not just a select few. On another occasion, she shared a bed with her female partner in the middle of the Prado to confront the stigma against homosexuality.
I arrive fi ve minutes early to my scheduled interview with Galindo. Soon enough, she strolls in and loudly greets her coterie. She compliments her fellow lindas feminists and orders a cafecito. Sadly, she has less time for me. After being reminded of our interview, she announces that she is too busy today, cannot reschedule, and hands me over to her colleague.
Thankfully, feminist No. 2, Helen Alvarez Virriera, has time to talk about Mujeres Creando, Bolivia’s anarcho- feminist organization. Thanks to Galindo’s high-profile media presence, Mujeres Creando is very well known. One of the group’s most controversial productions is its weekly ‘shame list’, on Radio Deseo, the organization’s radio station, which outs men, sometimes with insufficient evidence, who spend their money on booze rather than their families. Alvarez claims that the ‘shame list’ helps women by providing them with ammunition to bully their husbands into being more responsible.
Other radio programmes on Radio Deseo are somewhat less radical. The majority of airtime goes to human rights groups or workers’ unions. Currently, the TIPNIS debate is a hot topic, and the indigenous women who are involved in the protest gain a voice over the airwaves that they cannot fi nd elsewhere due to racism and machismo.
The feminists in Mujeres Creando have no such fear: they work to empower women and provide a sanctuary for them. They have a crèche for working mothers and run a cheap hostel for women seeking refuge from domestic violence. The organization also has a popular café, the proceeds of which go exclusively to feminist campaigns.
Additionally, Mujeres Creando runs weekly radio workshops to help minorities fi nd their voices. Alvarez estimates that nearly 300 people have attended the workshop over its fouryear history. Its most successful story is the ¡Soy Marica y Que! programme, which is dedicated to gay men and women. Although the word ‘marica’ is traditionally pejorative, the show reappropriates it and rebrands it in a positive way. In this way, language empowers. As Galindo says, ‘There is no fi ght without proper words.’ Mujeres Creando was hence created as space where people can express themselves, externalize feelings of grief and anger and connect with other women, regardless of their backgrounds.
For Alvarez, feminism is contradictory in its political stance. It is political in the sense that it raises awareness about women’s rights and promotes social change. But by using anarchy to challenge political norms, it is simultaneously apolitical. Anarchofeminism is sceptical of traditional power structures and has no qualms about breaking the law or contradicting the government. For example, Galindo and her group parodied President Morales’s coplas de carnaval, which contained some sexist lyrics. She was also arrested when she protested against an indigenous wedding (because marriage is ‘institutional’ and ‘patriarchal’, and thereby degrading). Galindo’s also served time for scrawling militant feminist graffi ti that can be found all over La Paz, including a poster for her anti–Miss Universe campaign that features an image of a model saying, ’I am not a person, just a body.’ Two leering men – one with President Morales’s face – lie beneath her, masturbating.
Although there are plenty of women politicians in Bolivian, Alvarez dismisses them as puppets of a patriarchal government. Mujeres Creando regards all rules as repressive. Even laws that seem to support women, such as the child benefits policy, are seen as demeaning. According to Mujeres Creando, financial remuneration is no compensation for paternal negligence.
Through its protests, literature, radio programmes, images, graffiti and even poetry, Mujeres Creando encourages women to express themselves and stand up against machismo and homophobia. Galindo says that the capacity to create language and direct communication is the key to a social movement, and the overwhelming media attention she receives is a testament to her charisma and determination. Her bold behaviour can come across as petulant, or even rude. Nevertheless, shock and offence draw attention to her cause. Behind her garish façade is a proactive role model who will sacrifice anything, including her freedom, in the name of feminism.
Mujeres Creando is located on Avenida 20 de Octubre. Tune into Radio Deseo online at www.radiodeseo.com or at 103.3FM.