The relevance of the feminist encuentro for Latin American feminist movements

The relevance of the feminist encuentro for Latin American feminist movements

In the build up to the 2011 12th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Gathering (EFLAC or Encuentro), AWID’s Friday File interviewed Virgina Vargas about the history of the Encuentros and the importance of reaching beyond a regional focus. The interviews covers a number of themes: the historical relevance of the gathering and its significance for the international feminist movement; Vargas’s personal thoughts on the key achievements of the regions feminist movements (including discussion on the election of a number of female presidents); questions regarding the issue of autonomy versus institutionalisation, and the resulting conflicts that have arisen; the intensification of discussion regarding inclusion and diversity; and finally how Vargas sees the future of the Encuentros.

Vargas believes that Latin American feminisms have been built through the Encuentros, providing a perspective that transcends the national and stimulating the growth of several networks. They have also established key mobilisation dates, such as the November 25th International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women, and September 28th, the Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. In other ways, the gatherings have contributed radically to the broadening of democracy, with many having been born themselves under dictatorships. All LAC countries now have equality laws, as well as the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women.

The learning process regarding the complexity and diversity of the movement was a painful process. Vargas believes that the debate regarding whether the institutionalisation of feminisms necessitated a loss of autonomy has been largely diluted, with a more recent focus on other forms of inclusion and intersections with race, class, sexualities, etc. It had previously been a hot button issue however, beginning in the run up to towards the Beijing conference in 1995, and reaching a peak in the Chile Encuentro of 1996. Disagreement over participation in Beijing, despite real achievements while there including the replacement of a Catholic representative for the region with Vargas herself, led to a polarisation of views in a complex process that many learned from. Issues of intersectionality came to the fore in Brazil in 1985, when trans-feminists wanted to come to the gathering. With no agreement, a vote was held, and they were allowed to attend. Race has also been criticised for its disproportionate absence, with some voicing concern over feminisms that felt too ‘white’.

Vargas voices concern for the mounting difficulties faced by the Encuentros, including increasing costs and complications of travel. One suggestion is for the creation of country-specific and sub-regional Encuentros, creating a dynamic of diverse interactions that could allow for more time between each EFLAC.

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