December 22, 2017

Colectiva Polimorfas: making spaces for all kinds of bodies

“Why can’t we paint our lips, and dress in an attractive way?” This is what Natalia and her friends asked themselves - for these are the prejudices that they, as women with functional diversity, face: “They see our situation as something pitiful. But we are not asexual or hypersexual, as they want to see us. We just have sexual desire like anyone.” 

A space for empowerment

Natalia decided to create a space for dialogue with other women with ‘functional diversity’ in Colombia. They choose this term because they believe that the word ‘disability’ is stigmatizing and suggests a lack of capacity. In this collective they discuss and analyse their experiences of prejudices around bodies not considered ‘normal.’

“We shared the experience of being verbally abused in multiple situations. Why do we have to endure such violence? Why do we have to accept such comments and act as if nothing has happened? No, we simply don’t feel like it. Thanks to Polimorfas, we started to feel empowered to open a new discourse in our society.”

In Colombia, women with functional diversity tend to live in isolation from one another, and so have too long endured the passive role society has imposed on them. They don’t have spaces where they can reflect on these situations, neither inside the disability rights movement, nor inside the feminist movement.

“The disability movement is too macho and sexist. They would only let you speak in their workshops if you are the girlfriend of one of the speakers. If you start to talk about issues of gender, they feel uncomfortable. Of course, I don’t just keep my mouth shut. But the problem is that inside the feminist movement, the don’t see us as women, but as people with disabilities. They don’t feel any proximity to us, nor understanding neither empathy.”

Coerced sterilization

Fortunately, since Colectiva Polimorfas started receiving support from Mama Cash, Natalia and her peers have been able to start organising themselves to resist the violence they experience. They have created a space that recognises their needs, desires and abilities, specifically when it comes to their sexual and reproductive rights. Now they meet frequently and conduct workshops with other feminist groups, with whom they are already making alliances.

“They are in a space of privilege; their body is a space of privilege. When they start listening to us and understanding our discourse, they say: ‘yes, you are right. We’re ready to step up.”

 

According to Natalia, the support of other women is now more necessary than ever, so that women with functional diversity can make their voices heard instead of being ignored or spoken for. No one has taken the effort to research the marginalization of women with functional diversity – so it is a little known fact that today, in the 21st century, Colombia is still sterilizing women with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.

“Many families defend sterilization, saying that they want to protect these women from abuse. But, it does not stop the abuse from happening in the first place! That is not protection. That is one of the changes we are fighting for in Polimorfas in terms of gender and disability”.

Why a butterfly?

Colectiva Polimorfas brings together women with all kinds of functional diversity – not just physical, but also intellectual and psychosocial. “We are all diverse as our name suggests. Polimorfas comes from ancient Greek and means diverse. We also wanted a logo that would reflect that diversity; so we chose a butterfly, filled with circles of different sizes and colours”.

“We may be fragile, like butterflies, but we also know we can fly very high and make a very impactful change. That is our dream: reach many more women with functional diversity who are living now in isolation in Colombia and show them there are also other discourses, empower them. And of course, generate stronger alliances with other women’s movements – because the fight against patriarchy is one we must fight together.

Will you support groups like Polimorfas to fly higher?

Yes, I'd like to

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