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Gustavo Petro's problematic relationship with feminism

Gustavo Petro and Ángela María Robledo during a campaign rally in Bogotá, Colombia, in June 2018 .JOHN VIZCAINO (AFP)

The mobilization of women, especially the youngest, was key to the resounding victory of Gabriel Boric, in Chile; the feminist movement was also so that the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, arrived at the Casa Rosada; or the Mexican so that Andrés Manuel López Obrador – who later betrayed that women's bet – became president. All with a common factor: they are leftist politicians or self-proclaimed progressives.

In Colombia, where the leftist candidate Gustavo Petro leads in the polls for the presidency, feminism emerges as a determining issue. However, so far several resignations of important women from the leftist coalition (the Historic Pact) and the candidate's positions on issues such as abortion show a problematic flank in the coming months.

The flame of controversy was lit precisely in an interview with this newspaper. “Feminism has stayed with the old traditional left in the intellectual sphere of the big city, without links with the population,” Petro said in September and caused a controversy that was already coming in crescendo since January 2021, when Angela María Robledo resigned from her party, which was her ticket to the vice presidency in the 2018 elections.

Ángela María Robledo in Bogotá, Colombia, in August 2018 Santiago Serna (Getty Images)

According to Petro, the need to hand over fertile land to women in an unequal country like Colombia is something that “feminism has not raised” (although this is an issue that has historically been addressed by the feminist struggle in Latin America) and that there is a “popular feminism that does approach the concrete possibility that women have power within this society” to the detriment of one that comes from the cities and in clear reference to the urban feminists who have criticized it.

Robledo, who left when the Colombia Humana party chose Hollman Morris as their candidate for mayor of Bogotá, a journalist and politician denounced by mistreatment and domestic violence, rejected those words at the time. “When Gustavo Petro invited me to accompany him as his vice-presidential formula, he knew of my commitment to women from the popular sector in the cities and the countryside. Now it turns out that we live in an outdated feminism and in the meantime it makes alliances with anti-rights groups. Incoherent,” he said in response to Petro's Newsfresh interview.

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Have not been the only one. The Afro social leader Francia Márquez, whom many pointed to as his possible presidential candidate, raised her voice when Petro betrayed the agreement to include Afro leaders in the Senate lists. In addition to ethnic exclusion, she has also spoken out about the idea that the only valid feminism is the popular one. “Petro has to learn more about feminism,” he told the columnist for this newspaper, María Jimena Duzán. For Márquez, a feminist agenda is needed in all parties.

This Friday, 434 women from various regions and professions joined in a letter addressed to the Historical Pact in which they reject the actions of the leftist coalition, led by Petro, against the presidential candidacy of Francia Márquez. The attacks against Afro politics and their movement, the signatories of the statement point out, have also been directed at feminists. “These do not come exclusively from the “extreme right”, as has been said on social networks, this is the same as believing that there is no misogynistic, LGBTIphobic or racist violence in the Historical Pact. In addition, we have seen how, over the last few years, from accounts close to Human Colombia, smear campaigns have been promoted against feminist women, which has caused the departure of many of them”, they point out.

Petro's position on the decriminalization of abortion being discussed in Colombia has also caused resentment. The candidate stated that he was not “pro-abortion” and that his proposal is to reach “zero abortion.” During a debate of candidates for the coalition, Márquez crossed Petro. “This is not a decision of men. I ask Petro how many women have to die until zero abortion arrives, the reality is that women are dying and criminalized”, he said.

From other shores they have also criticized the adherence of Christian parties to the Historical Pact, which includes one of its leaders, Alfredo Saade, who has been questioned for his sexist and exclusionary positions. Petro has responded that “putting red lines only leads to sectarianism”.

But, more recently, the resignation of Sara Tufano and Juana Afanador to her candidacy for the House of Representatives for the Democratic Pole, one of the parties that make up the alliance, once again put on the table the problematic relationship of feminism in the leftist coalition. The first had supported Petro in 2018, but left the party, among other reasons because of the entry of Christian and traditional politicians into the coalition. Tufano, sociologist and columnist for the newspaper El Tiempo, said in her resignation entitled Not everything goes that another of the alarms was the words of the candidate in Newsfresh in which he suggested that he “had created popular feminism ”. Afanador, also a sociologist, had demanded a feminist agenda and renounced her aspiration to the Chamber for Bogotá due to lack of guarantees.

Women participate in a protest in Bogotá , Colombia, in November 2021. Chepa Beltran (Getty Images)

All of them have had a common complaint: they are attacked and disqualified by supporters of Petrismo and they find it impossible to question the candidate without being seen as enemies. Robledo has said that the departure of the two feminists confirmed the call they made to Petro: “Change is with women or it will not be.”

“In addition to the history of violence that is going through us, I am increasingly convinced that the left in Colombia has not come to power because it is not very democratic, it is sexist, racist and it is incapable of articulating itself with the movements social”, wrote Tufano recently.

The gaps in feminist politics in the electoral campaign are not exclusive to the Historical Pact . After his resignation from Colombia Humana, Robledo had a short stint in the Center Coalition of Hope. “I came out after a fairly patriarchal practice in which the others, all men, got together to make the decision to temporarily withdraw from the Green Party and only informed me a few hours before announcing it to the public,” he wrote in his recent book Feminize politics.

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