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International Women's Day: Meet A Coletiva

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They’re one of the organizing groups of the feminist strike and are part of Rede 8 de março (March 8th network). In the scope of today being International Women’s Day, we spoke with A Coletiva (The Collective), a force for the cause of gender equality in Porto.

It’s a recent group and still small, but already with impact within the feminist circles in Portugal. They’re a part of Rede 8 de março, a platform that unites groups that defend various social causes and organizes the protests on International Women’s Day scattered around Portugal. Their name is A Coletiva and they defend a type of intersectional and anticapitalist feminism. Their base is in Porto, but they also have connections in Coimbra, Braga, Vila Real and Lisbon.

Patrícia Martins, from A Coletiva, reveals that “between the end of 2015 and May 1st 2017” some women “were a part of Contrabando, an associative place where different groups and associations met, not only for meetings, but also for debates and parties”. Patrícia describes o Contrabando as a “space of counterculture in Porto” made up of a diversified “network of activists”, given that “it wasn’t limited to feminist topics, but also climate change, homeless people or anti racism”. The space ended up closing after the landlord didn’t want to renovate the contract. “Given the obstacles that the housing problem in Porto created for us, we weren’t able to rent another space, but we kept invigorating our initiatives”, she explains.

“Enough sexist violence” [Photo by: Adriana Peixoto]
In the end of 2016, there was an international call for the organization of the Women’s March, an idea born in the United States and that took place after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. “Since we already had a group of activists in Porto connected to feminism, we decided to create open meetings to organize a protest”, Patrícia reveals. “We created the platform Parar o Machismo, Construir a Igualdade (Stop Machismo, Build Equality), that served to organize specific mobilizations around women’s rights. We thought the name was too long and didn’t suit our purposes, so we changed it to A Coletiva“.

The activism

They prefer the term “activism” over “volunteering”. “Activism implies a more empowered action about what we defend. Even if it (activism) isn’t partisan, it doesn’t stop being a political cause”, Patrícia says. “People connected to A Coletiva help in a volunteering regime in the sense of not being paid, but since this is a colective and not an association, the work is informal”. The managing is organic and there’s no leaders or funding. “What we do is many times a response to the social and mediatic agendas”, she adds.

The inefficiency of the prevention of violence, the controversies around judge Neto de Moura (that cited the Bible to justify a domestic violence sentence in 2017), the trials conducted by Porto’s court regarding domestic violence and rape and the recent law to fight the pay gap are some of the most talked about topics regarding gender equality in Portugal right now. For Patrícia Martins, one of the priorities should be “the topic of domestic violence” because it’s “structural”. “We also have to look at the topic of work, because while women are the people that have lower wages and lower access to social benefits” there are will be obstacles to “the autonomy needed for women to leave abusive relationships or to even have time to stop and seek help”.

“Sue me, Neto de Moura”, in reference to the threat of lawsuits against people that criticized the judge’s decisions [Photo by: Adriana Peixoto]
Regarding strategies to spread feminist ideals, she considers that “they’re all important” but that “each group chooses different things”. “For example, A Coletiva isn’t an association that goes to schools to talk about gender equality because we believe that it’s the job of the State to create public policies in the educational system for that education. Using those associations for that ends up being a way of exploitation”, she adds. The method used more often by the group is prostests, that Patrícia Santos describes as “very important” because “they’re an occupation of the public space and a way of giving visibility to things that seem very private but in reality are incredibly collective and political”. “We use more that type of action because it’s the one we relate to more”.

Members of A Coletiva preparing the protest [Photo by: Adriana Peixoto]
About yesterday being the day of national mourning for the victims of domestic violence (12 women have already died this year), Patrícia is direct: “The responsible for doing that social reaction isn’t the government, but all of society. Right now, the government should be uniting all the ministries to figure out how to act fast in regards to domestic violence, not setting symbolic dates, because the symbolic date is today. And symbolic is what associations and collectives do”.

The connected fights

The intersectionality of the feminist cause with other social justice fights is also a fundamental part of A Coletiva‘s philosophy. “It’s also inevitable the question of anti racism”, Patrícia starts. “It’s not possible to talk about about a revolution of the social conscience of what women represent in Portugal without a change in structural racism and, especially, an affirmation of the feminist collectives for black women that exist and are, very often, ignored compared to other groups, like, for example, ours. Every member of A Coletiva in Porto is a white woman and that gives them “a privilege that not every feminist group has”.

The opposition to capitalism is another of the group’s pillars. “In the topic of the wage gap, we can’t just look at the top, we have to look for all social layers”, highlights Patrícia Martins. Inequality “has a lot to do with the economic system that is underlying the way we live and how we learn to live, which is very unfair” and “perpetuates contemporary slavery”.

“Feminism isn’t privilege, it’s equality” [Photo by: Adriana Peixoto]

“Whomever tries to change the system will be seen as a radical for escaping the norm”

The explosion in popularity of feminism in the last few years led to the growth of an opposition that frequently labels the cause as unnecessary, authoritarian or too radical. “Firstly, within feminism there are many brands and radical feminism is a 70s current that was about the need for women’s political participation. That radical feminism evolved and we don’t identify with it as much as we do with anti capitalist feminism”, Patrícia clarifies. Beyond this, “being radical means going to the root of the problem and not just sticking to the tip of the iceberg”.

“When feminism is just a word on a shirt by H&M or a quote on Instagram, it bothers very little and capitalism itself appropriates the fight to include it in fashion and make it trendy”, Patrícia continues. When a system creates “a percentage of people that have a lot of power over others” and that system is challenged, “the reaction of whomever benefits from it is to distort the message that the opposition presents”. “There is a manipulation of the feminist message and of the women that put it in an agenda. Whomever tries to change the system will be seen as “radical” for escaping the norm”, she defends.

The truth is that not just men declare themselves to be anti feminists. Recently, an opinion piece in the newspaper Observador by the doctor and CDS affiliate Joana Bento Rodrigues sparked controversy by saying that “in general, (women) don’t mind earning less than their husbands, even on the contrary”, among other statements. When asked about women that don’t relate to the feminist cause, Patrícia Martins responds: “First, the text is vile. The idea is not to captivate specific people to the cause, because even though we are talking about a woman (Joana Bento Rodrigues), she’s a woman that benefits from a series of privileges that other don’t have: she’s a doctor, she comes from a socially favorable background and she’s politically active. We need to have a social majority about the topics that matter to us so that the people that don’t agree with us, regardless of whether they’re men or women, have to give in to the our project of a more fair society. It’s not about picking a specific person and saying “we need to get her on our side”; we need to bring a lot of people to our side. By creating public pressure for change, those people have to give in”.

“I don’t need to kiss a frog to be a woman” [Photo by: Adriana Peixoto]
“There are also sexist women. Women and men are raised in the same system, it’s not just because we’re women that we will have access to feminist teachings that men don’t. So, it’s natural that women also express sexist attitudes and ideas because that’s how the system is”, she finishes.

The future

After the strike, what’s being planned? “We’re still in the beggining, but we’re planning a project for the Summer inspired by the feminist caravan of the Women’s March. We want to take debates related to feminism to the interior and more rural side of the country and take advantage of the contacts we have with associations there to bring topics of women’s rights to small villages”.

To finish, according to many members of A Coletiva, International Women’s Day is “a day to celebrate the rights acquired and to claim all the other ones still missing”.

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