Indigenous Women in Movement
Gender and Politics in the Amazonian Context
In the middle of Rock in Rio, in September of this year, the American singer Alicia Keys at one point stopped singing a song that dealt with the devastation of the environment and began to talk about the importance of taking care of the planet. Accompanied by a samba, with the sound of a cuíca and cavaquinho, a great Brazilian leader came on the stage: the indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara, current executive coordinator of the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib).
Sônia spoke of the importance of guaranteeing the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and denounced mining projects in the Amazon supported by the Brazilian government: “There is a war against the Amazon! Indigenous peoples and the environment are being directly attacked”. Months later this great woman who used to discourse and act inside the corridors of the national congress and the UN assemblies was invited by a left-wing Brazilian party to be pre-candidate to president of the republic, following a path already opened by Marichuy, another indigenous woman, current candidate for the presidency of Mexico with broad support from the National Indigenous Congress.
At the same time, as Sônia becomes a reference of the indigenous struggle, another woman, Nara Baré, becomes the leader of the largest indigenous organization in the Brazilian Amazon, COIAB. They are examples of the maturity of the indigenous women’s organization in various fields, beginning in the village, together with the men, and consolidating in the creation of a vast network of women’s organizations, councils and commissions from north to south in the indigenous America. Their emergence comes in the form of rights recently claimed by women and the construction of self-sustaining economic projects. The first two Brazilian organizations of indigenous women emerged in the 1980s, being considered the pioneers, is the Association of Indigenous Women of the Upper Rio Negro (Amarn) and the Association of Indigenous Women of Taracuá, Uaupés and Tiquié rivers (Amitrut).
The participation of indigenous women and their organizations in the interethnic environments is not something new. Let us recall people such as Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a Guatemalan indigenous woman from the Quiché-Maia group who was awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign for human rights, especially in favor of indigenous peoples, as UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador. And Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, a Bolivian sociologist and activist of Aymara descent, linked to the Katarian indigenous movement and the coca growers’ movement. Together with other indigenous intellectuals, she founded the Andean Oral History Workshop, a self-managing group that works on issues relevant to the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
We anthropologists have learned from the indigenous peoples that leadership and political action is not a male prerogative. We perceive, guided by a feminine perspective that gender and its roles are not defined as static, but rather result from performative acts throughout life, at different stages of the production of people, from birth, child rearing, preparation of food, the connection between farm and forest in daily work, the relationship between the domestic and the public, the care taking of the house-kitchen and the preparation of parties and hunting rituals. That is, far from associating women with the interiority of care taking in the domestic sphere — the home — and men with the exteriority of politics — the world — women in their domains work together with men to produce the full person, their lives slide between the house, their gardens and yards, and the world of interethnic and intercultural relations.
Let’s see how the women themselves narrate this integration,
“To be a Ticuna woman in my generation is to be a warrior, a fighter, a woman who works continuously for the defense of her people, her community. To be an indigenous woman is to maintain, alongside indigenous men, the warrior spirit of our ancestors in the body, in the soul, in the spirit, without fearing anything. Today, we Ticuna women also seek gender equality in politics. The objective is to continue showing that women also know about politics, traditional knowledge, culture, education and health; it is time for the Ticuna women to be the protagonists. It is time for us to continue to build these ties of power among women, so that our knowledge does not end. (Josiane Tutchiauna)
“Indigenous women have always participated in these struggles along with their leaders, along with their caciques. They always have also been by their side. We are succeeding in making leaders see their wives not as objects, but as women warriors who fight with them for the strengthening and well-being of our villages and our communities, for the strengthening of our families (Leonice Tupari)
I suppose it is possible to affirm that the anthropology produced until the 1980s among the indigenous peoples of the so-called “lowlands of South America” was characterized by a look and a type of approach that was very determined by categories imported from other contexts, usually Western and Eurocentric.
In general, a universal equation was formulated: dominant men / subordinate women. Particularly within the framework of so-called gender anthropology, this tendency seems to have disregarded local perspectives as well as an approach focused on concrete relationships that regarded men and women as interdependent.
Diverse anthropologists have now reoriented the debate. Cecilia McCallum has shown in her ethnographies that for the Huni Kuin, established in Brazil (Acre), social organization depends on the gendering processes involved in the production, distribution and exchange (mainly food, affections and goods), that is, in the economic process. In this way only productive adults are fully gendered and only gendered adults are complete people. Vanessa Lea, in investigating the Mebengôkre (Kayapó), criticized the dualist philosophy then in force, which described women as enclosed in the domestic domain, and men in the public space, within a rigid opposition, incapable, therefore, of perceiving forms of relationship in which women extrapolate the domestic sphere. In disagreement with this duality the Mebengôkre establish that the most valuable goods for men and women, such as personal names and certain inheritable prerogatives, are the means, by which organisms are transformed into persons.
Besides the anthropological theories, the protagonism of people such as Sonia Guajajara and Nara Baré, among many other indigenous women, whether at home, caring of children and plants, or in their organizations and associations, caring of their village and its people, demonstrate that asymmetrical gender relations should not be automatically interpreted once positions alternate according to social circumstances.
By Thiago Cardoso
Originally published at deepforestfoundation.com.