Asambleas Ciudadanos


the Citizens' Assembly in the Southern Cone



Women from Dark America : the challenge to organize

Translations : English . Español . français

“Speaking from the woman”, this phrase which at the same time entails a denunciation and summarizes a whole manifesto, acquired its full meaning dimension in the voice of hundreds of women from all around the country, who got together on November 12 and 13 during the First National Meeting of the Women from Dark America network: On the road towards the 2010 Citizens’ Assembly of the Southern Cone, carried out at the School of Philosophy and Humanities of the University of Chile. A group of conclusions to be published soon are the result of this enlightening dialog between workers, artists, art and culture producers, professionals, teachers, inhabitants, social leaders, students, unionists, immigrants. This is a multi-sector initiative based on respect towards diversity, social inclusion and truly democratic values. Women talked about themselves passionately and with fortitude, directly and simply, about their unique life situation and about the vision of what the relationship amongst themselves and with men should be like, about the violence against Latin American women and the still persistent male chauvinism, about intimate topics such as sexuality and couples’ cohabitation, about the social achievements of public policies for women, and about artistic expression and a wide variety of topics which have crossed the frontier of the 20th Century to our times.

Globalization, history and its challenges

Thirty-two year old Lorena Sanhueza traveled over a thousand kilometers from the city of Ovalle to Santiago with four partners, who made up the table which discussed gender issues. As a mother and provider at home, she found it hard to make the decision to cancel her activities for two whole days. Nonetheless, her assessment has been quite positive: “I am honored to have been invited. This is a very nice experience, new to me. I had never shared with so many women. I am the leader of a street vendors union from Ovalle. I enjoyed the experience; you learn from it. We arranged that they will keep inviting me.” With these simple words, Lorena synthesizes what the Workshops meant to her, what she learned and what she found innovative. For instance, that in Chile the dominating sectors have tried to impose a standard family without taking into account that the proletariat depend on various factors to develop their family proposal. The collective analysis at the gender table showed that the changes brought about by the globalization in the economic, political and social areas have altered reality; that the models by which women identify themselves hide a subtle sort of control as they reinforce gender traditional roles. Those issues that are rarely touched upon or usually silenced in everyday conversations on the street, at work or in the neighborhood, here, within this fraternal dialog and its trust, arose naturally; issues such as women’s standing in the indigenous societies upon which current society is rooted. They talked about the lacerating reality of the temporalization with women’s displacement at work and the cost that the proletariat family has to face; the abandonment and ill-treatment of the proletariat families by man’s work mobility, the repression exercised by the State and by businessmen at female workers’ requests, female leaders’ need for learning and training, the change of expressions and language as a gender issue. These concerns were common to all discussion tables, yet with very different personal conscience developments on the individual level. Their treatment did not just remain as a mere complaint or relief, as indicated by Silvia Marín, theater artist: “Interacting with women, with young people; fostering discussions, debates, conversations beyond the topic of gender, allows to meet your identity, which is the most important thing when you are conscious of who you are, of your contribution as a woman within that society. We are even doing an analysis, within that dialog table, of how to de-mystify some words. For instance, in this culture we have always been taught that when your menstrual period arrives, “you are unwell”. So, if we take a look at the roof of the word, we find that it means to be ill, just as when they tell you – after you have given birth – that you have got better. There is lot that we would like to remove from these words.

Women of Fire

Kutrel ke domo in Mapuche’s vernacular language means Women of Fire. Thus was the art and culture network which sprung up from the meeting baptized by those who made the discussion lively, that is, by women who perform in theater, in design and cultural management, pop art and teaching. This table was made up by various nationalities, as well: Clemencia Palacio from Colombia and Juana Arellano Huaman from Peru, among others.

“The name for our table comes from the vital, deep force of the fire sacrifice, which purifies it all, creates bonds and conciliate. As women, we have the same qualities, from the turmoil of ideas, from the trip, the poetry, from the various worlds that we accommodate in our souls, from the seas of our conscience and from the warmth of our wombs”, points out Olga Herrera, from the Socarte Cultural Center in Isla de Maipo.

The mission that the network set itself is to form a force that can create dynamics which may enable the channeling of women’s emotions to express them through various artistic expressions, as is pointed out in the conclusions from the discussions.

According to Paola González, designer, professor at Arcis University and workshop coordinator, the dialog was profound and integrating as it identifies women’s immense creative capacity and their ability to try, through artistic and cultural manifestations, to “socially re-structure the euphemisms that disable us as thinking and creative free beings.” Many ideas to give continuity and validity to the network came up, among which were the idea to rescue popular art movements that have been fading away through spoken collective memory and turn the net into a enhancement instrument through traveling art projects.

Great objectives cheer Women of Fire: to put forward actions that enable the sense of right to creativity, the use and enjoyment of the art, with a multi-ethical and multicultural sense, with a special accent on proletariat children so that they can develop new capabilities, and plant the seed for a future more wholly and integral human being. And, since for women the verbs “to do” and “to propose” go together, the next meeting of this new kutrel ke domo (Women of Fire) art and cultural network of the Women from Dark America Network, has a date: January 16, 2010. On that day, women will arrive in the city of Isla de Maipo, a peripheral agricultural and rural area, singing and flying a red neckerchief as “the color that represents us is gradated red, symbol of freedom, fire, and the blood that we spill as life bearers.”

Memory, human rights and mapuche worldview

Many women of our America, who knew the pressures of the military regimes of the Seventies, among which is Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, silently carry a painful history on their backs. These regimes have been burned in their memories and in many of the bodies of those who have suffered the hardships of the cells and tortures in clandestine detention centers such as Villa Grimaldi. Rescuing these women’s stories and their legacy has been a difficult, healing and highly significant process, according to Lelia Pérez Valdés, one of the coordinators of the cultural activities and visits carried out in Villa Grimaldi, now turned into a place for reflection and memory, a museum that vindicates the ideals of those missing and killed in this place. For twenty-seven year old Ximena González from Concepción, a city in the south of Chile, student of History teaching, daughter of a former prisoner in the political prisoners’ camp at Isla Dawson and whose family had to go into exile, her participation in this table was a novel experience as, from the very beginning, the Women from Dark America Network is a Latin American coordination not exclusively Chilean: “Now, as a researcher, I am working on something connected with memory. The topic of women is one that involves us as young people, to know the historical context of the facts, both national and international. I have found this to be quite interesting. Apart from talking about memory and human rights we have talked about the Mapuche worldview, the political problems of these people with the State, and now we are talking about the memory of the missing prisoners, the political problems that led to 1973, a general vision. What has been put forward is quite good. It was class, experience, knowledge and memory.” The general reflection from the discussion table concluded that the historical memory has supported resistance actions and its organizers; that the authoritarian, discrimination and violent forces give continuity to our political, economic, social and cultural history, and today are “expressions of that very serious continuity from the repression to the Mapuche Nation and femicide.” The women at this table also put forward concrete actions. One of them is to coordinate an action in the Mapuche territory in conflict in the south of Chile, which vindicates the right to recreation of the children affected by police repression and the permanent state of tension, by bringing to them theater plays, films and games. Solidarity will also be shown through the donation of clothes, first aid kits and supplies collected by the network.

Upon request from the organizers of this table, Juan Carlos Chávez Pilquil, lawyer, professor of Mapuche worldview, gave the participants a general summary of the key elements in his people’s set of beliefs, which is passed down mainly through the spoken word. “The passing on of knowledge in the Mapuche tradition is done within the bosom of the family. Here, in the city, that learning is impaired and there is a generation cut. My ñuque (mom) doesn’t speak mapudungun. I began learning with my grandparents and had a Mapuche girlfriend from whom I learned a lot. And then it was just my own motivation. This isn’t something that you can get from books but rather that is taught and learned by talking, it happens in conversation. I am speaking in very basic terms here because the worldview is something quite complex. We never give all our knowledge, certain topics are sacred and kept within the community. As a people, we need others to learn about our struggle, but we see that there are many theorists and thinkers who talk about building a civilization or a new society from the socialisms invented in Europe, or from the 21st Century, or even the destructive ideologies of Neo-liberalism, Imperialism. We believe that our wisdom can be a contribution to a new society that goes beyond our worldview and is repeated in many cultures native to the Americas. Deep down, this is the worldview that many peopleshad before wealth accumulation or capitalism settled in Europe. Celtic and Mapuche worldviews are very much alike. They repeat the circle of the four energies which are key in human beings and in nature, for instance. This is repeated in ancestral cultures, it transcends our culture. Conversely, within our worldview there is the belief that each person lives their own development and personal evolution process. There are times when our spirit is prepared to receive certain knowledge and some other times it isn’t. This has nothing to do with intellect. It’s rather to do with your spirit being prepared for it, more than for our people to have things hidden.”

Man and woman sexuality

In the two subsequent days, the participants in this table found the determinant that influences how sexuality is exercised and practiced in Chile, that is, they found the hierarchical model of society and the strong influence of the Catholic Church on state policies which, according to the participants in this table, “has stopped sex education and the chance that sexual and reproductive rights be fulfilled”. Another constraint is income distribution inequality, a very relevant factor in how sexuality is lived in Chile, as it establishes a different reality on those impoverished sectors of the population whose intimate spaces for sexual activities are quite restricted.

What is more, there is a pretty biased way of culturally approaching the topic. In this respect, the reflection group concluded that “it is key to consider sexuality in all its aspects and not center it only around intercourse, HIV prevention, other STDs and unwanted pregnancy. It is important to take into account various aspects: cultural, social, economic, political, human rights, healthy bonds creation and respect toward sexual diversity.” An integral education including sexual and reproductive rights, the right to pleasure, is as important as a social treatment of the topic that includes the participation of both men and women.

“We believe that sex education should not only come from state institutions, but it should also involve social organizations’ participation. These sex education actions should favor autonomy in decision-making together with respect and valuing sexual diversity”, pointed out the participants in this workshop.


The first meeting of the Dark America network fulfilled the purpose to join the reflections towards a common view of the complex scenario in which women handle themselves every day upon the demands imposed on them by a multiplicity of roles, a social image of duty separated from the actual needs of the gender and the strong pressure from male chauvinism and an economic system that greatly limits human beings’ personal and social development chances in general.

The satisfaction remains that a network has been formally set in motion and that there is the drive to widen it even further through ambitious aims and project planning, as pointed out by Ulricke Meissner, meeting coordinator. “We must remain close and work towards the improvement of million of women’s situation. Some might only want to change little details, but others may want a whole life change.” 

One participant, thirty-eight year old Nancy Contulliano, construction sector leader, expresses her opinion about what this meeting meant to most of the participants: “As women, we all encounter many problems in our environment. This meeting teaches us that men and women are equal, that one is not better or worse than the other, and if we fail to change this, as women, what do we expect for the future? I don’t blame myself, but we sometimes incite men to be chauvinistic within an environment and a country ruled by male chauvinists. So we have to prove that we not better or worse than they are, that we are equal, so that they learn to respect us and vice versa, mutually.”







the Southern Cone Assembly ont the web

Visit the webpage of the Assembly : and the different blogs linked to its initiatives : the General Blog of the Argentinan team in Córdoba, the Blog of the revue Pensamiento Propio, the blog de la Regional Integration Chair.

Pictures of the 2009 women's meetings

Have a look at the pictures of the women’s meetings held in September and November 2009


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