In bringing together diverse perspectives, we can begin to see the links in the systems of oppression that we confront, and in the common vision of change shared by diverse movements. Maria Dolores Marroquin has been working on ‘bringing feminism out of the closet’ in Guatemala for over 25 years. The title of the publication she co-founded, La Cuerda, is a double entendre, simultaneously meaning ‘the cord’ – something that binds things together, that makes links – and the feminine version of ‘cuerdo’ – a word describing someone who is astute, rational, wise.
Maria Dolores sat down with us while on a speaking tour in Europe with our member organisation Broederlijk Delen to discuss the relationships between the exploitation of nature and the exploitation of women, and her work trying to build a common cosmovision between feminists and the indigenous communities of Guatemala.
1. How do you believe that our current systemic crises and gender equality are connected?
This system, this economic model could not exist without gender inequality, nor without racism. The concentrated accumulation of wealth is sustained by the idea that some are inferior to others. This economic model has justified the mistreatment of certain groups by classifying them as ‘abnormal’. Women are ‘abnormal’ because we are not masculine and therefore we are not powerful. Anthropocentrism is also a part of this mentality, but also skin color which has been used to justify all of the processes of economic and ideological colonialism.
This absolutist, dichotomic, binary way of thinking enforces relationships of obedience or subordination. It is an extremely violent mentality of domination which is normalized.
This model imposes a series of criteria and disciplinary regimes on our behaviour, and this includes the roles assigned to men and women. This economic model creates gender inequality by assigning all the necessary care work to women. The family has become a space in which women have the sole responsible for the reproduction of the work force.
And in Guatemala and the Americas, the countries that have been colonized, that relationship still exists. The indigenous peoples there are no longer considered human. We don’t have the same citizenship status. Therefore we can be exploited, we can be paid lower salaries, and our territories are not considered ours, but territories that can be possessed by anyone with the economic capacity to obtain them and control them.
The current system is an economic model that is sustained by the privatization of life. This possibility of access is exactly what allows privilege. And this is one of the central elements that establishes this economic model which is sustained by racism and sexism and cannot function without them.
2. What are the overlaps between the exploitation of women and the exploitation of natural resources?
It’s important to note first that extractivism and this liberal economy are essentially patriarchal, because they are imposed and non-consensual. And it is imposed by those who have more resources, and more historically-constructed authority, those who have had the opportunity to possess the means of production and the capital to invest. These are generally men. And these also have tools available to them in the government to benefit their interests.
“So extractivism is patriarchal since it’s imposed, it devalues women. It forces many indigenous women into servitude, because they’re seen as people with less rights and less capacities to express themselves as citizens and to say no and for their no to be recognized in all these processes of resistance.”
3. And as for responding to all of these systemic injustices how does your organisation work to find a common vision of systemic change with other organisations?
At La Cuerda, we had achieved a philosophical framework to guide us, and we use the feminist current of thought and politics as our primary source of inspiration, but we understand that societal transformation should not only better the conditions for women. We need to build new political alliances with other values and perspectives.
We start by questioning the objective of society, and today the central objective of society is to ‘have’, to ‘possess’. And that possession is marked by money and it’s regulated by the market. All social institutions that exist are governed by that market and that market even dominates governments and imposes its public policy. In this form of social and political organization that we have today, governments respond to those interests and not to caring for life and still less to caring for the network that sustains life.
Instead, we’re trying to incorporate a different idea of being one element in this great network of life. This is another notion we share with indigenous organisations and peasants. We did an exercise reflecting with indigenous organisations and peasants to try to name the characteristics of the new conviviality we would like to promote. And to start this reflection from consultation processes and collective construction from the very launching of this. We now have many years of experience trying to find methodologies of dialogue and practical exercises.
So we are doing this kind of questioning. And this calls also for a questioning of our own practices, our own beliefs, and to have processes to construct the new. We need to find other ways of looking at reality and to construct new words and categories for new concepts and to be able to share with others our proposals.
In general, a systemic change for me would be for us to understand that what we do here impacts people on the other side of the planet, to have that consciousness. Our imaginary has established a classificatory system that puts us in boxes and in those boxes we construct identities that make it difficult for us to see the classificatory system in its entirety and to realise that we are part of the machinery of domination and that we are assigned a role in relation to others. It’s important also for deconstructing: to take off the duties that have been imposed on me and to decide for myself what kind of person I want to be and what kind of relationships I want to have.