• The Star Staff

Women’s coalition to lead protest of government’s ‘negligent response’ during COVID emergency

Decries ‘threat to roll back acquired rights’ for women and LGBTQI+ community

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

As part of International Working Women’s Day activities, the Puerto Rico March 8 Coalition (C8M by its Spanish initials) on Tuesday called for a “gathering” titled “For Those Who Were Here, Those Who Are Here and Those Who Will Come: Not One Step Back!” at the island Capitol at 4 p.m. next Monday to demand a better response from the government during the coronavirus pandemic, social and economic justice and the separation of church and state.

While emphasizing the importance of safety measures established to prevent COVID-19 infections, C8M spokespersons urged citizens to come out to demonstrate against the state’s “negligent response” to the public health emergency that, they said, “has led to an increase in the domestic burdens imposed, mostly unpaid, on women as well as the escalation of gender-based violence they face in their homes.”

The coalition, which consists of local feminists, women’s LGBTQI+ organizations and political, labor union, essential service and human rights collectives, said it would also be protesting against “the threat to roll back rights acquired in the area of sexual and reproductive health for women, pregnant people and the LGBTQI+ community due to the advance of the religious fundamentalist right wing in the country.”

C8M spokesperson Edda López Serrano said that as the island faces a never-before-seen crisis, the coronavirus has made women more vulnerable.

“Housework, caregiving, education, and accompanying students when they take virtual classes, while we are required to return to our jobs without any support, has resulted in what we have called the pandemic within the pandemic,” López Serrano said.

She also pointed out that with the forthcoming school reopenings that “face enough disorganization,” this new phase would bring “an excessive workload” on women and people involved in caretaking. She said the COVID-19 crisis has brought “precariousness, violence, mistreatment and disproportionate burden.”

“It has been evident that there has not been an economic development initiative for either women or the general population, but more so on women, who have to assume vital roles [during the emergency],” López Serrano said. “I know that a gender-violence emergency decree is in effect, and I know that there are people within the [gender violence] committee who will represent us well, but this emergency has not been handled as a vital one, as one that needs to be addressed immediately.”

Another C8M spokesperson, Ruthie Arroyo, said the coalition will call for “a fair recovery that considers the ravages of governmental negligence, the abandonment of public infrastructure, while rejecting austerity policies [and] the elimination or reduction of services necessary to sustain collective life imposed by the Financial Oversight and Management Board.”

Arroyo called it “terribly coincidental” that the federal oversight board is expected to release the island’s fiscal plan on the same day as the protest. She said the coalition remains aware as “we have to face an adjustment plan that makes [the condition of] women even more precarious.”

“We are promoting a broad movement around the island,” she said. “We want every woman, from every corner, to participate, so we embrace a broad, inclusive day where we can all advance the demands we have.”

Meanwhile, spokesperson Marielle de León said women in Puerto Rico are not only facing negligence or austere policies from the state, but that the island has faced an increase in public discourse coming from fundamentalist and conservative sectors that harms sexual health and reproductive rights acquired by the feminist and queer movements.

When the STAR asked if the trans community would be represented at the March 8 event, de Léon replied that the event will be “calling for [relief from] the burdens that the pandemic has brought to the trans community, such as access to essential needs to survive and medical services, which are more special.”

She added that the event will also demand justice for the seven trans-homicides that have occurred since February 2020, access to housing and legal services, and church and state separation as she said Christian fundamentalist discourse has harmed LGBTQI+ people’s well being.

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