One Wednesday, March 8th I woke up and began getting ready to go work at the daycare like I do every Wednesday. I was aware that there was a march planned in Barranquilla that afternoon, but, living in such a small town as Pital, I assumed that it would be business as usual. But as I was about to leave my host mom informed me that today was the paro (stop) and the women from Bienestar Familiar, including the one who runs the daycare where I volunteer, had already left for Barranquilla to participate in the march. So after a few phone calls to various friends in Barranquilla I was on my way to the city to join the women of the Presbyterian Church and other women’s organizations in protest of gender inequality and violence against women.
Several hundred women gathered and marched to the Plaza de Paz (Plaza of Peace), where a cultural demonstration took place that included indigenous and Afro-Colombian women. Along the way three things in particular stood out to me.
- Police presence: From the beginning of the march we were accompanied by police. Having marched with Black Lives Matter in Louisville this wasn’t a surprise to me, but what was a surprise was how the police interacted with the protestors. While during BLM marches the police tend to be a fairly threatening presence, here the police acted more in the role of protectors, blocking off streets as we went so we wouldn’t have to worry about traffic.
- Focus: While the general public impression seems to be that the Day Without Women was about protesting the wage gap, we focused largely on protesting violence against women, a rampant problem not only in Colombia and the US, but around the world. One chant we repeated often, which used the tune and first line of a Colombian children’s song, went like this
No más feminicidios en esta ciudad (No more feminicides in this city)
Quien la mató, quien la violó (He who killed her, he who raped her)
Son crímenes de estado que nadie vio (Are crimes of the state that no one saw)
3. Men’s reactions: As we marched, people on the sidewalks stopped to watch. Most women just stared, but many men, especially those standing in groups of only men, laughed. Needless to say, there was something very disturbing about seeing men laugh at women protesting violence against women. Moreover, at one point a large man pushed his way through the crowd, and demanded that Pastor Adelaida, who was walking next to me, explain what our signs meant. After she responded in a few brief words (they weren’t exactly ambiguous signs), he proceeded to tell her what they meant and what she was protesting (apparently man-splaining is a worldwide phenomenon).
But at the end of the day it was clear we weren’t just protesting. We were showing solidarity. We marched in solidarity for the Colombian women who have suffered disproportionately during the conflict because sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. We marched in solidarity for the women who can’t feed their children because women don’t have the same opportunities for employment and land ownership as men in this country. We marched in solidarity for the women around the world who experience discrimination and violence simply because they are women.
And that was what disturbed me the most about those, particularly women, who said they didn’t need the women’s march because they haven’t seen or experienced discrimination or violence. Because just because it hasn’t happened to you, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Just because you haven’t experienced it personally, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care. Even if you haven’t been a victim of gender discrimination or violence, there are millions of women suffering every day, and many don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves.
And so to close I would like to tell those who think they don’t need feminism, why we do. We need feminism because any one of us could be the next victim. We need feminism because men laugh when we protest violence against women. But most importantly, we need feminism because women are suffering. Period.