Pamela Saavedra Castro
Last May, young Chilean women proclaimed, “Enough is enough” and started to tell their stories of harassment at universities, including how authorities failed to act to prevent their mistreatment. Organized by Confech (the Confederation of Students of Chile), they started by demanding better conditions and protocols to ensure access to justice, and ended up questioning the entire educational system that maintains and reproduces patriarchal logic and structures. For about two months, young feminists took over more than 30 educational spaces. They marched for women’s rights; they demanded a nonsexist education; they called out not only the authorities but also their professors and classmates. And they created spaces to talk about consent, sexual health, sexual education, biases in the curriculum and inside the classroom, among other issues.
Their actions illustrated what powerful feminist mobilization looks like, as it continues to emerge in diverse contexts around the world. Chile’s huge feminist movement against sexist education and sexual harassment is changing the public narrative and challenging the establishment—not only in universities—but throughout all of Chilean society. For those working to engage men and boys in these struggles, it is crucial to take the time to listen to and learn from the young women standing up for their rights in Chile and elsewhere around the world.
For any organization working to engage men and boys in gender justice and women’s rights, it is imperative to listen to young people and learn from their experiences, including their ability to create new debate spaces outside the classroom or the conference room. One way to accomplish that aim is to invite youth activists to take part in and speak at events and discussions.
I witnessed young people speaking out late last summer when the global MenEngage Alliance was meeting in Santiago, Chile. (I serve on their board of directors.) We invited representatives of diverse youth organizations to share their experiences with the youth-led women’s movement in Chile. María Fernanda Viveros and Francisca Lagos, from the Gender Council of the Social Sciences Faculty of the University of Chile, Seba Bravo from Asamblea Antipatriarcal de Varones Santiago (the Assembly of Antipatriarchal Men/Santiago), and María José Guerrero from the Observatorio Contra el Acoso Callejero (the Observatory Against Street Harassment) shared their stories. These activists are bringing knowledge to the street through performances and other artistic expressions that raise awareness of women’s experiences dealing with bias and inequality in education.
Observatory Against Street Harassment started as a group of feminists working to highlight the importance of speaking out against harassment. They went on to help submit a bill to the Chilean Congress that defines street harassment and gives it a legal classification as a criminal offense.
At the same time, young activists are using art and online platforms to raise awareness and create dialogue around gender issues and masculinities. The Assembly of Antipatriarchal Men publishes poems, think pieces and short stories in their fanzine to bring the perspective of young men to the conversation. Young feminist activists say that demonstrations work to bring awareness and point to one that took place last May in Santiago. Thousands of young women marched with banners and used body art to call for an end to gender violence and to condemn sexist education.
Feminist activists say it is important to invite young men into the conversation, motivate them to listen to women’s stories, and work with young feminists not just as allies but as partners. To accomplish this will mean not patronizing young women but giving them the space they have earned. It also means assisting young men to understand how being conscious of their privilege can spark a transformation of all their relationships, beginning with themselves.
It is imperative to involve young people in the movement for gender equality. Younger activists are the ones taking the lead, questioning both the personal and the political; they’re the ones demanding change. A next step in this work is for all gender equality organizations—including the global MenEngage Alliance—to strengthen their connections with young people, not only by “inviting” them to participate, but by working alongside them in their own spaces, on their own terms. To that end, advancing a global Youth Reference Group—giving space to youth leaders from all regions of the MenEngage Alliance—is an initiative the organization has begun this year.
Many organizations and campaigns rely on “adultcentered logic” where those who have a certain kind of knowledge choose when and how to share it with the rest. Young people are inviting older people to cocreate knowledge outside of traditional spaces and with nontraditional tools such as performances, flash mobs, social media, and a revival of consciousness-raising groups, among other initiatives.
Personally, I have constantly had to adapt my thoughts to adult spaces, and to adult and academic language that did not fit because I was trying to convey the message: this is what it is like to be a young woman working with young men. I have had to adapt all my experience to a language that was foreign to me and that did not represent me. I think it is time to leave behind “old” logic and dare to listen to young people in their own environments with their own language and “new” logic.
Young people have a lot to say and it’s time for them to become the protagonists of their own story and to make their own history. Doing so will be not so much about building a better future as it is about facing a present that is exploding and calling for action—now!