As part of the struggle over racism, injustice, inequality, and male chauvinist violence against black women, an initiative of black women’s groups established 25 July as the International Day of Afro-descendant Women in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1992 in the Dominican Republic. It is also known as Afro-Latin, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’s Day. Since 2014, in Brazil, they celebrated it as the National Tereza de Benguela and Black Women’s Day, in honour of an 18th century “quilombola” leader who fought alongside black and indigenous communities against slavery.
From the very beginning of the European invasion of the African continent, the black people have been fighting for freedom. From the 15th century onwards, anti-slavery uprisings took place, and rebellious communities of free black men and women emerged, called palenques, quilombos and others in the Americas and the Caribbean. In Dutch Guiana, the rebels defeated several military campaigns by the slaveholders, who had to sign treaties recognising the sovereignty and autonomy of the rebel communities in the 18th century. In Jamaica, the British slaveholders had to negotiate peace treaties with the rebels, as they could not crush them militarily. An international abolitionist movement emerged. However, European colonialists and capitalists, as well as the white Creole elite, including the pro-independence elite, refused to give in. Liberty, equality and fraternity slogans of the French revolution did not envisage the emancipation of enslaved people in the French colonies; the Haitian revolution achieved it. This revolution inspired new rebellions in the Caribbean and on the continent.
Independence under the leadership of the white Creole slaveholders meant the deferral of the freedom of slaves. Thus, for example, in Gran Colombia, which included the present-day states of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador, Article 2 of Law 1 of 21 July 1821 established that “the owners of slaves shall have the specific obligation to educate, clothe and feed their children, born from the day of the publication of the law; but they, in return, shall compensate the masters of their mothers for the expenses incurred in their upbringing through their works and services, which they shall render them until they reach the age of eighteen years of age”. For three more decades, slavery remained in force, and this patriarchal rule placed the actual burden of supporting their offspring on the mothers.
Imperialism continues to devastate the region
The slave trade, the mining and plantations where slaveholders exploited millions of slaves in the colonies were pillars for the development of capitalism in the world, as well as for the consolidation of European and US imperialism, leaving a legacy of genocide, plunder and poverty for the populations of the African and American continents. The continued plundering of natural wealth by imperialism, the extortion with which France recognised Haiti’s independence on payment of millions, the US invasions of these countries which still considers its “backyard”, the imperialist support for corrupt and murderous dictatorships, imposing free trade agreements that destroy local production, are all part of the history of the Caribbean that condemns its people to a semi-colonial status. The region still suffers from colonial oppression in Puerto Rico and the Antilles colonised by Holland, France and the UK, and Haiti endured foreign military occupation for most of the 20th century, following a US-backed coup. This occupation by the blue helmets, provided mostly by “progressive” South American governments, had a high social cost, including many allegations of sexual violence against Haitian women.
In this context, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino women are not only victims of institutional violence and repressive forces but also suffer all kinds of persecution and discrimination in everyday life, institutionally reinforced by capitalist regimes allied to the churches. Poverty, precarious jobs, racial and work discrimination, violence, sexism, exclusion, hyper sexualisation, racial profiling, oppression of migrants, assassination of community leaders, hate crimes, are part of the conditions in which black women live in Latin America, the Caribbean and the diaspora.
Because of this oppression and exploitation, every year thousands of people, especially young people and women, find themselves in the difficult situation of migrating to European countries and the United States through South and Central America. In this forced migration they are victims of violence, robbery, rape and trafficking.
Black women are present in the region’s struggles
Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and diaspora women workers suffer capitalist exploitation and racist and patriarchal oppression brutally. We are the most impoverished in the working class in our countries. Sometimes we are used as a scapegoat to cover up capitalist austerity policies, as when the Dominican government accuses Haitian women of hoarding hospitals creating a crisis in the health system when it is the government who is defunding the public health to subsidise private one and the privatised social security system. The governments of the region and the imperialist countries are complicit in the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. In the free trade zones and maquilas, we cannot join a union, and ours are barely breadline wages. We endure household work. We are denied the right to abortion and access to contraception.
Despite all the obstacles to our political involvement, we are an active and fundamental part of the struggle against capitalism, patriarchy and racism. An example of this is Marielle Franco, a distinguished Brazilian fighter, a black lesbian assassinated for opposing the police abuses suffered by the poor in the Brazilian favelas. Her crime remains unpunished to this day and directly implicates Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Black Brazilian women were at the forefront of the “Ele nao” campaign against Bolsonaro. It is black women who are leading the fight against the racist de-nationalisation of around 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Women of the Garifuna people are present in the struggle against Honduran dictator Juan Orlando Hernández. In the US, the Afro-Latino and Afro-Caribbean diaspora were present in last year’s rebellion against racist police brutality with the slogan “Black Lives Matter”. This movement emerged in many parts of the world, with the toppling of statues and denunciations of racism in each country. Colombia, especially Cali, the cradle of a vigorous Afro-descendant community, these women are part of the struggle against the Uribist assassin Iván Duque. In Cuba, they are part of the masses who took to the streets on 11 July against hunger and repression. And throughout the continent, Afro-descendant women are part of the feminist struggle and the struggles of the LGTBIQ+ community.
From the International Workers’ Unity – Fourth International (IWU-FI) as feminists and socialists we are part of the anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchal, anti-clerical and anti-capitalist struggle. We fight against all governments, which handle oppression, discrimination and exploitation. We fight for the rights of all women and especially we fight violence against black, indigenous and migrant women because we are part of the working class and the struggle against racism is part of the struggle for its unity.
24 July 2021