By Alejandro Prieto
Montevideo, Feb 23 (EFE).- Disillusionment, sadness, rage, exposing a longstanding wound, but more open than ever: All this was brought about in 2020 by the “Varones Carnaval,” a basket of virtual complaints that pushed a MeToo-like campaign into the heart of the popular Uruguayan Carnival festival, which, two years later, is now being rethought.
At the time, the appearance of an Instagram account with anonymous posting ability made it possible, one after another, for hundreds of women to join together to make public their experiences of harassment and abuse – unwanted kissing, touching and even rape – suffered at the hands of male members of the different groups that rivet the nation’s attention every February with their singing and dancing.
Street bands, comedians, variety shows, parodists and dance groups all participate in the world’s longest Carnival celebration and most of them include only men. But the repercussions of the case was such that, for this year’s semi-post-pandemic festival there will be some significant changes.
The initial response to the complaints was quick and decisive, the head of the gender committee of the Uruguayan Carnival Workers Union (SUCAU), Maria Jose Hernandez, told EFE, noting that a working meeting to discuss the matter was held immediately.
Although she said that the issue meant launching a “very complicated” process because inequality is “structural,” she added that the Carnival workers and participants, as well as local government officials in Montevideo, which sponsors the Carnival celebrations, proposed a key measure.
“Knowing the situation that had occurred in Spain where there were geolocation reference points at the cultural events in case incidents of gender-based violence occurred, ‘purple points’ were created” for the Uruguayan event, she said.
However, the locations, made operational this year for the first time due to the suspension of Carnival in 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, are only one part of the changes.
SUCAU has also organized workshops to involve men from the area, taking advantage of the long pandemic lockdown to run these workshops, a move that actress Emilia Diaz said was a two-edged sword.
“To some extent, it was time … to let things percolate, to think a bit. I take it like that, but others will take it as a good time to sweep everything under the rug and make 2022 as if (the situation) had never happened,” the member of the Doña Bastarda street band said.
Despite experiencing the wave of complaints from the outside, since she hasn’t been associated with Carnival for years, Diaz said that they made her feel empathy for the victims and “rage mixed with compassion” toward some of the men who were involved and for whom she felt sympathy and professional admiration.
Another member of Doña Bastarda, Camila Sosa, said that it made her feel “the pain of many people,” both “the men and the women” as well as the whole families that have been affected.
“I experienced dismissals that hit close to home. Some were rather fair and others cost a lot, and it also costs a lot to say that you’re not in agreement with this kind of exclusions,” she said about the men who were informally “dismissed” from participating in Carnival activities amid the controversy.
On the other hand, while many of the complaints were formalized, they have not prospered in court, but Diaz said something more is needed.
“It seems to me that society is still not prepared to provide reparations to the victims. There are no spaces for lawsuits, justice is immature and blind to these deeds,” she said, agreeing with Hernandez.
“The complaints in other categories, like parody or humor, are rather complicated and serious things. So, there’s also a challenge for us to approach that world,” she said about the various groups that have a “very masculine” tradition.
Only recently having become a member of Doña Bastarda, in which – except for her and Sosa – all the other members are men, Diaz said about the “Varones Carnaval” in 2022 that “There are a lot of complaints, a lot of sadness and a broken festival. But at the same time feeling that we women have the right to a different party,” Diaz said.