Colombian March Criticized for Exclusion

April 15, 2013

by Annika Dalén

In Colombia, the country’s second edition of the “Slutwalk”—known in Spanish as “La Marcha de las Putas”—took place recently in several cities around the country. The Slutwalk originated in Toronto  in 2011 to protest rape and sexual violence after a Canadian police officer suggested that women should avoid “dressing like sluts” to stay safe. The Slutwalks are public demonstrations where some participants dress provocatively to raise consciousness about sexual violence and respect for women’s right to dress and act as they choose.

The protest in Canada quickly spread around the world and Colombia held its first Marcha de las Putas last year. This year, however, the march stirred controversy from within Colombia’s feminist movement, leading many prominent feminists to refuse to participate.

The dispute started when the leader and spokesperson of Colombia’s Marcha de las Putas, Mar Candela, decided to register the name “Marcha de las Putas” as a nonprofit corporation dedicated to fighting violence against women. The corporation changed the word “putas” (Spanish for “whores”) to an acronym that stands for “for an authentic social transformation” (“por una transformación auténtica y social”—P.U.T.A.S.)

Some feminists have been critical of Candela’s decision, claiming that her action has privatized and monopolized decades of feminist efforts. They are concerned that the new nonprofit has appropriated the social movement that inspired it, turning a political struggle into a registered brand. Furthermore, they contend that Candela’s decision to change the word “putas” to “P.U.T.A.S.” strips the name of its controversial potential, replacing it with an acronym that says absolutely nothing.

Other critics argue that the emergence of the nonprofit actually distances the Marcha de las Putas from women who actually make their living as prostitutes. According to feminist writer Nancy Prada, “The strength of the idea behind the march comes precisely from putting ourselves in the shoes of the ‘putas’—becoming them, not marking a distance.’” Meanwhile, the prostitutes themselves have never been invited to participate in the march.

However, Candela defends her decision, and argues that she, like any other citizen, has the right to register a nonprofit corporation if she wishes to do so. She also says that everybody is welcome to participate in the march. This was evident last year, when many churches participated in the Marcha de las Putas.

According to the march’s organizers, it’s time to put differences aside and join together in a common cause. But many believe that these differences are too wide to overlook: when it comes to women’s rights, the churches and the feminist movement are often diametrically opposed. Although the march’s organizers argue that this is all done in the name of greater inclusion, to many, it seems more like a form of exclusion.

Instead of making the most out of the Slutwalk’s radical potential, the formal incorporation of Colombia’s Marcha de las Putas as a nonprofit threatens to minimize and soften its political content. In an effort to appeal to the masses and the political elite, the Marcha de las Putas has alienated the very “base” of the feminist movement which brought these kinds of struggles forward for decades.

Tags: Colombia, Women's rights

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