The morning sun beats down on Medellín, and a group of women banging on drums and chanting with joy whilst making their way up one of the city’s main streets, Paseo de la Playa, drowns out the noise of the rush hour. They were coming from the Civil Registry office where they had just successfully registered their list of candidates for the local council elections that will take place on the 27th of October across the country, so they had every reason to celebrate.
Their name is ‘Estamos Listas’ (we’re ready), and they are about to make history in Colombia as the first ever women’s political movement created with the intention of launching female candidates for elections and tackling the issue of gender disparity in the political sphere. The 41,948 signatures presented to the Civil Registry were the fruits of the voluntary work of more than 1000 women and allies of the movement who took to the streets of one of the most conservative cities of Colombia to express the need for an inclusive political agenda over the past months.
Based on the principles of female solidarity, collective action and the defence of women’s rights, Estamos Listas is a movement of women that come from every corner of Medellín, and that prides itself on inclusiveness regardless of whether a woman defines herself as feminist or not.
This strategy has allowed them to overcome some of the barriers encountered in a society where the concept of feminism continues to be stigmatized and often seen as a distant, stigmatised ideology to many. Their focus on inclusion has also opened up the movement to male allies, who in their shared beliefs of gender equality and women’s rights, have supported their mothers, sisters, friends and partners in trying to make Medellín a more equitable place.
As the city that became infamous for voting no to the peace agreements in the 2016 nationwide referendum with 62.97% voting against the accords and only 37.02% in favour, Medellín has struggled to shed its reputation as the conservative capital of Colombia.
However, where injustice exists, so does the bravery of those willing to fight against it, and these women from ‘Estamos Listas’ are prepared to do what it takes for women’s issues to finally take centre stage in the local political agenda.
Lina Mondragon Perez, activist and group coordinator
"In Medellín, the politicians that have historically been in power have failed to address the most pressing issues facing women here, such as the unequal distribution of caregiving within households, the issue of violence against women and children, and gender parity within politics.
We’re a group of extremely diverse women; some of us have been involved with political organisations prior to joining ‘Estamos Listas’ while others haven’t ever voted or had any previous interest in electoral politics but have felt a personal connection with the project which is really special. Many women in the movement like myself identify as feminists but of course we are open to others who don’t share the same relationship with the word but who wish to fight for women’s rights as a collective.
The most important thing is to agree with the key points of our manifesto which are respect for human life, sustainability for Medellín, creating an education system focused on gender equality, reducing violence against women and children, and tackling the unequal distribution of caregiving between women and men. We included men on our list for the up and coming local elections because we have to comply with gender quotas, but it’s been amazing to see how many men who really support us have shown up to defend our values and who wish to help us achieve our vision for a better Medellín."
Ismaria Zapata Hoyos, leader and local elections candidate
"We began politically organising ourselves around the time of the referendum for the peace accords in Colombia, when we noticed that in Medellín there was a huge conservative presence against the agreement so we as social organisations felt the need take to the streets and make our voices heard to defend peace.
During these mobilisations, a group of us came together and started talking about creating a women’s political movement which then became ‘Estamos Listas’, so in a sense this is a movement that has developed as a product of the peace process, that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. In Medellín, women don’t feel safe walking around the streets and the high femicide rates here particularly affect disadvantaged working women who have to leave their house at for example 5am when it’s still dark and walk through the streets to get to work.
We live in a city where many areas are still controlled by armed groups, and in some cases these groups in particular target LGBT+ women, who are often threatened with corrective rapes, or social cleansing. But we’re starting to speak up and we’re not going to continue accepting these injustices, that’s a lot of what ‘Estamos Listas’ is about."
Monica Lopera, group coordinator
"My daughters are my main motivation, but so are my circle of female friends, and this idea of solidarity that helps us to challenge this sexist idea that women should compete against each other rather than help each other. Like almost every woman here I got involved with ‘Estamos Listas’ because a friend recommended I come along to a meeting with her, which was one of the first ever meetings between those of us who would eventually form the political movement.
We were each told after the meeting to bring along 5 friends, and those friends were told the same, until we became a large group of women and allies united in our solidarity. We lost in the peace referendum in Medellín to the conservative, patriarchal forces that control the city, and so a large part of our challenge was to find a way for female and diverse voices to come together and find a way to include the issues that affect us in a political agenda that makes Medellín a better place for everyone.
The far-right have determined many elections here in Antioquia, and this has created a climate of machismo that we want to combat with both the women and the men representing our movement for the local elections."
Milena Trujillo, candidate for the local elections
"When I stumbled upon ‘Estamos Listas’, I had already been working with several social organisations around the city but I was feeling demotivated because of the lack of focus on women’s issues that I’d encountered in these circles. So, when I saw pictures of the beginnings of the movement on social media, I immediately thought ‘how incredible, I need to get involved somehow!’, and the rest was history.
Now I’m one of the youngest members of the movement and the youngest candidate out of 12 of us who are representing ‘Estamos Listas’ in the local elections. I feel a certain responsibility to pay particular attention to the problems young women are facing here in Medellín, and there are many challenges which I’ve seen throughout my work in youth organisations throughout my life. Many young people have difficulties accessing education, cultural spaces and political spheres in the city and as a result, young girls fall into the world of sex work and organised crime because there are few other options available to them.
The most important piece of advice I would give to other young women and girls out there who wish to fight for their rights, is to join together because the only way to truly challenge the social structures that place women in an inferior position is through solidarity and collective action."
This article has been written by Beverly Goldberg for Open Democracy and republished under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. Credit header image: Beverly Goldberg