The political movement Estamos listas* (We Are Ready) is looking to make history during the next elections.
This February 21st, registration will close for the women in the movement who wish to run for office. Next, there will be the choice of those who will be on the list. Photo: Yojan Valencia
One day, a master’s student at Medellín’s Eafit University went to an informational meeting about the women’s political movement Estamos listas. The next morning, she began talking to her housekeeper about the movement, who responded, “Yes, I’m ready, too.” She was already part of it.
This anecdote is told by Jenny Giraldo, one of the 2,039 women who are already registered as Estamos listas activists and who say they are ready to participate in the decision-making process of Antioquia’s capital city.
These women – who identify with a kerchief scarf on which a multi-colored owl appears flying over Medellín with a vigilant attitude – hope to mark a milestone in Colombian politics during the local and regional elections on the 27th of October.
This initiative, which began taking shape in 2017, is entirely made up of women. They will collect signatures in the coming months to present a list to the Council of Medellín as an important social movement.
EL TIEMPO talked with three of its members – who maintain that their voices represent the collective – to find out who they are, what they seek, and how they are doing it. They are Marta Restrepo López, a Black woman, feminist, and social worker; Piedad Toro Duarte, a graduate in social sciences, director of the NGO Primavera that works with women engaged in prostitution, and former member of the ASI party where she worked as an assistant and undersecretary to the Council; and Jenny Giraldo García, a member of the NGO Región, specialist in communications, and journalist who holds a master’s degree in humanities.
Piedad Toro, Marta Restrepo, and Jenny García, Estamos listas members. Photos @piedadtd / Juan David Duque / Yojan Valencia
What are you ready for?
Piedad Toro: We are ready to enter the Council of Medellín, to practice political scrutiny, to govern this city from within the Council.
It is a way of responding to ourselves and to others who’ve said that women lack experience. It is to assert and name our purpose: that we’re not only ready based on our personal capacities, but [also] to undertake a collective wielding. We’re ready to do this together because our whole lives we’ve tried from within the [other] parties and we were unprepared. Or rather, we were prepared, but not the parties.
Do you want simply to enter the municipal council, or are you also aiming for Medellín’s city hall?
Piedad Toro: In principle, our candidature is centered on the Council. We didn’t want to become scattered with options because we wanted to do it step by step. We’ve concentrated on the Council of Medellín with our own candidates in mind.
It is more or less clear that, for the other bodies, we will not have our own candidates, although we would be thrilled to have candidates for the positions of mayor, governor, and in the Assembly. We’re currently discussing internally how and who to back and if we’ll do it. For the moment, our priority is the Council.
Is Estamos listas a feminist movement or a women’s movement?
Jenny Giraldo: It is above all a women’s movement, but we undoubtedly owe it to feminism that women can vote and are citizens. It is therefore undeniable that Estamos listas has a base that feminism has allowed for us, not only recently, but also for centuries.
But it’s not just a feminist movement for feminists; it’s a women’s movement. Feminism is the background for many of us and, of course, we uphold equity, equal rights, and the particular demands of women. But what’s at stake is a democratic, just, and plural city. We are in one of the most unequal cities in Latin America and the disparities don’t only affect women. We seek an egalitarian city where boys, girls, youth, men and women, all of us can have access to what this city can provide.
Currently, of twenty-one seats, there are five female municipal councilors, yet beyond the numerical data is what these women represent: which councilors have a gender-specific perspective of the issues being debated? We want a bench of women seated in the Council of Medellín with a gender-specific perspective.
What is the ideological and programmatic platform of Estamos listas?
Marta Restrepo: We have seven fundamental points. They range from the need to incorporate ethics that refuse to defend, justify, or normalize murder, like the death penalty, which has been established in the city as a form of social control; to the consideration of social, cultural and environmental problems, of durability, and of proposals in the education sphere, such as non-sexist education that allows schools to promote healthier relationships between boys, girls, and other young people; to a platform that allows the Council to place at the center of public debate the reproduction and care work primarily carried out by women – they contribute to the wealth and economy of the city, and yet it is the female heads of household who continue to be among the poorest of the city, with less education, less access to property; to the issues of security and coexistence in general that involve humanist solutions and not weapons.
Today, we are 2,039 women and our agenda must be as wide-ranging as we are and the democracy we aspire to represent. We cannot let go of our experience as women. We’re looking to enter the Council to act as a unit. We will not speak for ourselves but for this platform. We will not detach ourselves from the fact that we are women and that the city’s problems affect us in a specific way. It’s a problem that presents itself in terms of equality and democracy, which must be resolved as a society.
You recently celebrated the fact that you are already 2,039. What does that mean?
Jenny Giraldo: It’s inspired a lot of emotion and it means that the strategy we’ve come up with is working wonderfully, since the goal was to get to 1,860 before February fifth. Signing up with the movement means having certain obligations: to register on a form and to pay a one-time membership fee of $20,000 pesos [=$6.17USD] for logistical purposes, such as the delivery of membership cards. Members must also commit to collecting signatures and managing the votes.
The call has been spread by word of mouth, through conversation. There wasn’t a huge call to the public, so the memberships were very conscious. It wasn’t massive: we didn’t give away t-shirts or scarves because what we’re really aiming to do is transform the city’s politics.
Why did you calculate 1,860 women?
Jenny Giraldo: Because of the electoral calculations that were made when we started Estamos listas. The gamble is to get a significant number of councilors. We’re 2,039 right now, but in April we’ll re-open registration. We think of everything in a super collective way; we don’t sit around outside and ask just anyone to sign. Each member must collect between twenty and thirty signatures within her immediate environment. That is what the collective serves.
‘Soy feminista y defiendo a las que usan tacones’: Chimamanda Ngozi
¿Por qué nos quedamos con quienes nos violentan?
¿Se les cumple a las mujeres en el posconflicto? / Degeneradas
¿Qué tan problemático es hablar de temas de mujeres?
“I Am a Feminist and I Defend Those Who Wear Heals”: Chimamanda Ngozi
Why Do We Stay With Those Who Abuse Us?
Are Women Taken Into Account in Periods of Post-conflict? / Degenerates
How Problematic Is It to Talk About Women’s Issues?
How did Estamos listas come about?
Piedad Toro: Two friends, Marta and Gloria, proposed thinking up a list of women for the Council. I told them I thought that was a great idea but that we had to find others – so I suggested two friends. We told them about it and they were apprehensive.
We held several meetings and began making a list of about forty interested women, and then we invited them to a first [general] meeting. Almost all attended, we talked about it, and from what we called the first circle – which some have since left and others have joined – what followed was a big success. As for me, this has exceeded my expectations. Whatever happens on the 27th of October, we will have won. It’s been very pleasant for me to see the difference between the political parties’ traditional methods and our way of doing it.
This proposal didn’t come from the five of us. What we did was shape a desire that for many years was developing within women’s social movements. For twenty years, I had heard that we should make a women’s party, yet there was a lot of fear. During the Council elections four years ago, we met with some women and did it all in reverse, thinking about which of them we were going to support. The difference is that they were already candidates from a party that presented itself with or without us. Those women were there from the first moments, before the other forty.
It is inevitable to relate the kerchief scarf with which you identify yourselves to the green kerchiefs of the women who are seeking to legalize abortion in Argentina. Is there such a relationship?
Marta Restrepo: The kerchief emerged as a collective symbol. It has an owl that represents the appropriation of qualities that are generally attributed to men, like wisdom and vigilance. The owl flies over the city and perches on a guaiacum tree. These natural, living elements are fundamental to us because we have very large environmental problems and humans need nature to survive. We are aiming for an urban relationship that is sustainable and fair, a balance between all living things. We think of the city as a human construction threatened by an absence of policies that strike a balance between nature and those who live here. Solving inequality is a vital question for cities and for democracy.
Moreover, we chose the kerchief because it’s wearable and a symbol of femininity. It’s impossible for there not to be associations with the green scarves of Argentina, but there were many before that: the white scarves of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, who are looking for their missing children and grandchildren; those of washerwomen, of our grandmothers; those of female coffee farmers who use it to protect themselves from the sun and to dry their sweat; and in more modern terms, they are a fashion accessory. The kerchief scarf has to do with the lives, the bodies, and the work of women.
What difficulties have you encountered moving from social to political activism?
Marta Restrepo: This is not just an issue for the women who are active in organizations but for all Social Leaders in general. Politics has been taken away from us and made to look like something dirty that betrays social ideals, preventing us from seeing the profound relationship between political power and social transformation.
Ever since private interests and the elite overtook the country’s politics, we have avoided becoming politically active. The social majority, the citizens, has been left behind. It is therefore a question of giving political power back to the people; civilians are being called upon to rescue [politics] from the routine, to extoll them, to move away from the fear of power and winning. We’ve always been told that it isn’t possible to enter into politics or to win elections, and even less so if we’re independent and without economic means. This is why we say Estamos listas (We Are Ready).
There’s a lot of solitude surrounding those who decide to take the plunge into electoral politics because their political comrades feel they are being betrayed, but fortunately for us, there’s a new generation of young women who see things differently, who believe that they must occupy all spaces where transformation can be made. This politicization and less hostile interaction with power are what give life to Estamos listas.
Today we have the opportunity of becoming a political milestone, a political reality without precedent in the country’s history. We say we’re expressing ourselves like the suffragettes of the 21st century, united, democratic, transparent, independent, and creating headway. We’re not homogeneous; we’re very different, and this process of sticking together and negotiating differences has been a success. We are one collective voice expressed by many voices.
What do you think of the law that establishes quotas of men and women to be on the electoral lists for these political bodies?
Piedad Toro: The quotas were actually a demand of the women’s social movement and we’ve defended it for many years, as it was the best tool for allowing us to enter into these spaces. Nevertheless, we believe that it has been misinterpreted and therefore insufficient. We seem to be fixated on the creation of these lists, but the parties don’t comply. And in reality it goes beyond that.
They say that the lists must contain 30% women, but the law isn’t talking about women; it’s talking about one of the two genders. It also says that participation in the governing bodies of the parties should be encouraged. It’s not. It says that resources must be allocated to promote the participation of women. They’re not. Yet when we complain, the argument is that there aren’t enough women. And studies show that this 30% quota is composed of “filler” women. The ideal would be political parity and alternation, which we believe to be the right thing.
In your case, how will you draw up a list in terms of gender?
Piedad Toro: We plan to include seven men. We’re discussing the profiles of these men because this project is entirely feminine and aims to reinforce the participation of women.
We are considering who these men could be – comrades, allies – who’ve expressed their interest in supporting this proposal while simultaneously understanding that the priority is women. In other words, the men who are chosen will be at the bottom of the list. They are therefore men who’ll lend a hand and support us in this initiative, all while renouncing the privilege they enjoy as men so that we women can have access to the Council.
Will these candidates be chosen with the same method as the women?
Piedad Toro: No, they will be chosen collectively, but this decision will be made within the first circle while asking for recommendations and suggestions from the other circles. We don’t want to give the men the lead nor put them in the same position as the women.
Would their role therefore be to allow you to comply with the requirements of the law?
Piedad Toro: And to support us. We don’t want it to be a “filler” list. We want it to be men who are truly aware and who agree with us on the fact that we haven’t had this space and that it’s important for us to enter into it. They’re teammates who are ready to support this proposal with a secondary role and not with the one they’ve always had as protagonists.
Are you working within a network? What would you call the system “each one mobilizes five women”?
Jenny Giraldo: I’m going to tell you how I experienced it because, for me, it seemed super impossible, but I saw that it was doable after they explained it to me. What’s the idea? There’s a first circle that galvanizes the other circles. On this basis, there are sixty women. Consequently, if each one of these sixty women invited five other women who were so passionate about this idea that each one of them engaged five others, we would be 1,860.
Each circle is composed of thirty-one people: the first invites five plus the five that each of the others invites. I arrived as one of these thirty people in Martha’s circle. I then began participating in the communications commission and it was when I became more involved that I decided to create my own circle, and that was when I entered into the first circle.
The first circle suggested that each of the others carry the name of an important woman as a reference as well as to depersonalize the movement. We chose names like Débora Arango, María Cano, Las Polas, Haydee Eastman, Beatriz Restrepo…. The names are chosen by consensus or by vote.
Is the first circle a sort of board of directors?
Jenny Giraldo: I don’t know if it really corresponds to a board of directors, but it does vitalize the other circles. In addition, there are seven committees: financial, legal, public relations, systematization, public affairs, international, and methodological. Those who are in the first circle are required to participate in one of these committees, but the others can join in, too, if they wish.
Have you been told that this model is similar to a multilevel or a pyramid?
Jenny Giraldo: Yes, we’re developing as a multilevel, although there is no hierarchy; that is, some of us have leadership roles, but there are no hierarchal relationships. Nobody’s told me how to do things or restricted me from doing them.
When they tell us it’s like a multilevel model, we recognize that, for many women, it has been the only opportunity for economic autonomy, yet we know it’s a perverse model of job insecurity. Our strategy is that of circular, horizontal growth, like ripples in water.
We call them circles of trust because we’re sure that all the women who join have references and that they agree with our basic principles as a movement, which are in our manifesto. But this has also prompted many of them to talk about politics every day with their mothers. We talk about them, too, with our friends – and we’ve made new friends.
Ultimately, we’re not giving them anything: We’re not offering transport or snacks. We’re not asking them for money that will later be refunded with our monetary gains – like the pyramid models – but with the awareness that they will gain something else.
Have you been criticized for wanting to be fundamentally a women’s movement? What role do the men play?
Piedad Toro: Yes, we have received criticism, but not from women who sympathize with us and find this proposal interesting. While this is about getting women on the list, we hope that both men and women will vote for them. The beauty is that, beyond our political strength, this is a social issue. People are realizing that there are almost no women in politics.
We have received criticism from other parties. They think we’re taking risks, that it will be very difficult to get votes. We’ve received invitations to participate in the other parties and to become a political trend, which would allow us to save time, money, and to collect signatures. Even some women from the other parties are saying they think this is half crazy, that we should be fighting from within the parties.
We’re not looking do away with the parties and we think there are very brave women who are leading the way within them. We’re managing to open up these spaces, but it’s a difficult and draining exercise because it’s up to us – the women and not the men – to demonstrate that we’re good enough and that we have the capacities. And when we get involved, the re-assessment of our management is much stronger. Why do they ask us these questions when, with men, it’s taken for granted that they manage things well? If what they’re asking us were asked of men, there’d be no politicians. We believe, therefore, that women must open up spaces where we legitimize and recognize each other.
Are all women welcome or are you looking for particular profiles?
Jenny Giraldo: In the first circle we are very diverse, so let’s say there is no strategy that aims to standardize us. Quite evidently, in order to grow as a political movement, we need women to be political beings. Why women have become a political issue is a simple question of why certain things happen to us as women. It also invokes asking ourselves questions about the city, like the causes of what happens here, the causes of these homicide rates, the inequality.
With this movement, seemingly depoliticized women who had once said, “I’m not interested,” have come to think of the necessity of transforming politics. Of the women among us, 69% are between eighteen and thirty-nine years old. It is they who were searching, who’d been disillusioned by alternative politics, or who’d never found anything to associate with. There are a good number of professional women, but we’ve never had the intention of addressing them specifically. There are also women in their twilight years, African-Colombian women, trans women, sex workers, domestic workers…. We’re diverse!
What does it mean today in Colombia to “feminize politics”?
Marta Restrepo: That’s a matter of two things. First, politics having been masculinized, there are certain forms that prevail over others, such as debates in which ideas aren’t expressed, but rather prejudices and denunciations. This is not the framework of a sincere exchange as it’s closed off from the start, making ideas and reason disappear. There are very few spaces where one can deliberate and converse without losing the need to express opposition. Culturally speaking, women are the transmitters of speech and language, so to feminize politics, women’s ideas, deliberation, and organization must be placed at the center of political practice.
Of course, politics is a game of interests and we have ours, but we favor democracy as well as the understanding that we’re in a democratic state. That’s how conflicts must be resolved.
What’s more, it means that we women, with our life experience, are occupying public space, not to make our home or kitchen out of it, but to put forward ethics that oppose destruction and death and to introduce alternative ways of understanding problems and human needs. It’s a way of radicalizing democracy, not to continue concentrating the power, but to redistribute it for the common good.
What do you hope to gain during the elections on the 27th of October?
Piedad Toro: Our highest expectation is to get six women into the Council. The strategy is as follows: if each of the 1,860 women were to get 100 votes, that would make 186,000 votes, and according to our calculations, that will get us more or less six seats.
That is the maximum we’ve dreamed about with this method, relying on those who are here with us and on other supporters, the men and women who agree with this proposal. But I would be really happy if even one woman was elected because I know that it’s a very difficult process, that getting votes is complex. On the other hand, I, who have campaign experience, think there’s a great novel force here. It seems to me that there are so few novelties in politics; everything appears to be run-of-the-mill, yet in reality we have a lot of hope. Apart from that, we laugh along with those who want to be candidates because they’ll have the microphone but will only do what the movement decides. We’re doing this to demonstrate that it is possible to practice political democracy. It’s not only about being present. There’s a movement to support and it’s important discuss how our counselors should vote and what they should say.
Is this a more direct form of democracy?
Piedad Toro: Yes, more direct, where the candidates are only voices. But hey, as complex as this exercise is, we can only win. And what if we don’t make it? No matter. The fact that we are 2,000 women and capable of multiplying our votes is, for me, an enormous gain. We’ve only benefited since starting this project.
* Estamos listas is an untranslatable wordplay in Spanish: listas signifies “lists” as well as “ready.”[Translator's Note]