March 19: A few days ago, the streets of Bogota, the capital of South American country Colombia, wore a very unusual look at night. Not one man was visible outside.
Bogota’s eccentric mayor, Antanas Mockus, had declared March 9, 2001, as the Night of the Women. All the city’s men were ordered to stay indoors and leave the city free for women that night, says a Guardian News Service report in The Hindustan Times.
So, did the women have a good time? It was rollicking fun, from all accounts. They went to women-only concerts, poetry readings and cycle rides, while 1,500 policewomen patrolled the streets. The men were told to stay at home and watch the children.
A carnival atmosphere all the way! But it took a lot of planning on the part of the city authorities for the night to unfold in that particular manner.
While the idea may seem quirky to many, in a city like Bogota it has great significance. For, the incidence of violence is very high in the Colombian capital.
This violence is not limited to the armed fighting that goes on between the government forces, the drug mafia and many other rebel groups. It has a lot to do with the attitudes that men have toward women in that society.
Being masculine is interpreted as being physically strong, dominating women and showing a readiness to solve problems in an aggressive manner. In a recent poll taken in Bogota, at least 40 per cent of the men interviewed said that they will not let their wives go out alone.
Part of the reluctance also stems from the fact that the city has a very high street crime rate.
And that is the reason why the Night Out for Women became such an important occasion for the women of Bogota. The curfew brought about a role reversal for men and women. While men stayed at home and looked after the children, their wives stayed out late and enjoyed themselves to the hilt.
And the results? “It’s marvellous. I’ve never been out in the night before. Normally it’s too dangerous…But tonight I feel free to walk, free from oppression,” gushed Ana Lucia Preciado who spent a night in town with some women friends.
Other women agreed. Crowds of them spilled on to the road, drinking, singing and dancing to salsa bands. Salsa is a popular form of Latin American dance music, characterised by vigorous rhythms, dance melodies, and elements of jazz and rock.
Of course there were some men who tried to break the curfew. But the women would have none of it. They enthusiastically pelted the men with flour and water and shouted, “Go home, there’s housework to be done.”
The mayor said that the curfew was an attempt to make the people of Bogota confront the trends of high street crime, domestic violence and absentee fathers in the city. “We want to let women take over the city’s public space and increase men’s participation in the domestic space,” he added.
But despite the best intentions, there were many men who were left completely untouched by the mayor’s efforts. They claimed they owned the street and that they resented the attempts to keep them out of it.
It’s clear that it would certainly take more than one Night of the Women for Bogota’s residents to change their attitudes and their mindsets.