Gabriela Schvartzman and Ana Galeano wrote this story about Venancia Cáceres and the Yvopey Renda women’s group, in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Later, Fábrica Memética worked with Venancia and the Fondo de Mujeres del Sur team to do a graphic adaptation of the story. We shared the story on Human Rights Day because we believe Indigenous territorial feminism can strengthen and guarantee these rights, building inclusive democracies free from violence.
The group of Indigenous women leaders and a steering committee took shape between 1983 and 1985 after a community assembly in the Filadelfia district. The women had the support of the Council of the Elders and the community leader. Venancia, the current woman community leader, notes that the struggle is about more than just finding a way to work with the male community leader: it is also within the household. In her case, her family has supported her from the start.
The organization of Indigenous women in the community led to the first trade union of Indigenous domestic workers. Trade union members hail from six Indigenous groups in Chaco and the trade union is affiliated with the United Workers Union (CUT-A).
Another opportunity for autonomous participation is the Red de Mujeres Guaraní. In this network, women share the concerns of their people and their desire to continue supporting one another through work with other women, reaching out to others who have not yet gotten organized and even some who are undocumented. The network is currently comprised of organizations from three Guaraní communities (Kuña Guarani Katupyry from Santa Teresita, the Guaraní Women’s Organization of Macharety and the Yvopey Renda women’s group). Visits and meetings with other communities have been postponed; the distance between settlements in the Chaco region is an issue and the pandemic has limited both travel and gatherings.
RADIO, A TOOL THAT ALLOWS WOMEN’S VOICES TO BE HEARD
Through the radio program and social media outreach for online listening (allowing listeners abroad to access the program), the broadcasting has continued over time. Programming has focused on the additional burden women have faced as a result of the pandemic, especially with regard to caretaking in home. The radio has also kept the women in touch with the communities.
The support provided by Fondo de Mujeres del Sur has been essential to maintaining regular virtual meetings and improving communication tools. The training focus has been on the importance of being organized, different types of organization among Indigenous women, their rights, and outreach work on new technologies to strengthen and sustain their organization.
In the Chaco region, radio is about more than just sharing experiences: it also serves as a channel for making decisions and planning activities, given the critical importance of the spoken word for their people. For most people, having the airtime balance required to make a cell phone call is rarely an issue. For Indigenous women, this remains a challenge, either because they are unable to pay their bill or lack the tech savvy required to find an internet workaround. For this reason, this learning experience had allowed these women to feel engaged in the movement and in its organizational dynamics.
For Venancia, the expanded focus on radio communications was a pivotal moment because it made the men realize the importance of the women’s activism. The men’s support proves essential to the collective struggle, community work and the participation of children and youth in the communities.
When the state provides almost no assistance, experiences like this one help develop management tools and other community projects from and for Indigenous women.
THE CHALLENGE OF REACHING MORE DISTANT COMMUNITIES
Venancia and her fellow activists say that their priority is to share the experiences of those women who are regularly in touch with one another and working together with more distant communities. This will foster autonomous organization among the women in these land-territories.
The network’s biggest challenge is to magnify the voices and work with other Indigenous women to build awareness of rights as part of collaborative efforts that rely on the traditional decision-making structures of Indigenous peoples.