Feminism in Latin America

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Feminism in Latin America

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.[3]

Feminist movements started in the West in the late 12th century and its development has three ways of evolution. First-wave feminism was about the status of white women of middle and upper-classes, suffrage and their political equality. Second-wave feminism went further in dealing with inequalities in social and economic spheres. Third-wave feminism deals with financial, social and cultural inequalities and women’s rights in politics and media. Feminism may be found almost in each country around the world. This article will focus on the case of Latin America and peculiarities of feminism there.

However, there is an opinion that the classical division of the periods taken from the example of the USA does not fit to some extent feminism evolution in Latin America, namely the time of second and third waves in Americas are different.[4] On the one hand, there is an opinion shared by many people that feminism in Latin America was a western product. On the other hand, some studies, for example, Francesca Miller’s Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice,[5] prove that it has been rather an ideology that appeared in the region over the last century.

Causes of the emergence of feminism in Latin America

There is a fairly solid consensus among academics and activists that women’s participation in leftist movements has been one of the central reasons for the development of Latin American feminism.[6] Julie Shayne argues that there are 5 factors, which contributed to the emergence of revolutionary feminism: 1) experience in revolutionary movements showed challenge to status-quo perception of gender behaviour; 2) logistical trainings; 3) a political opening; 4) unmet basic needs by revolutionary movements; 5) a collective feminist consciousness.

Evolution of feminism in Latin America

In the late half of the 19th century there were three main areas of feminists' discussions: suffrage, protective labour laws, and access to education. 1910, Argentina — the first meeting of the organization of International Feminist Congresses (topic of equality). The second meeting was in 1916 in Mexico.


At the end of 1960s generations of young women gave birth to the feminist movement in the large cities of the United States and Europe.[7] Influenced by this experience and literature from the core countries, many Latin American females started forming groups of reflection and activism for defending women’s rights. Initially those women were from the middle class; a significant part came from the various left groups.

Such female groups arose amid the sharp radicalization of class struggle in the continent, which resulted in labor and mass rising whose most evident manifestations were the Chilean industrial belts Cordón Industrial,[8] the Cordobazo in Argentina (was a civil uprising in the city of Córdoba, Argentina, in the end of May 1969), student mobilizations in Mexico etc. These facts could be regarded as the sharpest experience and numerous movements of urban and rural guerrilla came to the scene.

There appeared first feminist meetings (initially, every two years; later — every three years). They discussed recent accomplishments, strategies, possible future conflicts, ways to enhance their strategies and how to establish through such ways varied, rich and immense coordination between the national and transnational levels.

However, the mid-70s saw the decline of such movements due to the policy of neoliberalism in the region. Then came dictatorial regimes that settled over the majority of the continent and prevented the development of feminist movements, not only due to the establishment of a reactionary ideology based on the defense of tradition and family, but also due to the political persecution and state terrorism with its consequences such as torture, forced exile, imprisonment, disappearances and murders of political, social and trade union activists. While the right wing of politicians considered feminists to be subversive and rebellious, the left, by contrast, named them as «small bourgeois».


The feminist movement returned to be an important protagonist in the early 1980s after the fall of dictatorships and the establishment of the new democratic regimes throughout the region, with the dictatorship managing to interrupt the continuity with the previous stage. Feminists of 1980s, e.g. Nancy Fraser, referring to violence against women, questioned the established limits of discussion and politicized problems which before had not ever been politicized, expanded their audiences, created new spaces and institutions in which the opposing interpretations could be developed and from where they could reach wider audiences.[9]

During the repressive period and particularly during the early years of democracy, human rights groups played a major role in the continent. These movements organized to denounce the torture, disappearances, and crimes of the dictatorship, were headed mainly by women (mothers, grandmothers and widowed). In order to understand the change in the language of feminist movements, it is necessary to bear in mind two things: the first is that it was women that headed revelations and subsequent struggle for the punishment of those who were responsible for the state terrorism, and the second is the policy-especially of the United States- to prioritize human rights in the international agenda.[10]

Feminists were able to achieve goals because of political parties, international organizations and local labour groups. Latin American feminist movements had two forms: as centers of feminist work, and as part of broad, informal, mobilized, volunteer, street feminist movement. At the IV meeting in Mexico in 1987 [11] there was signed a document on the myths of the feminist movement impeding its development. This document has a great impact; it states that feminism has a long way to go because, it is a radical transformation of society, politics and culture. The myths that were listed are: • Feminists are not interested in power • Feminists do politics in a different way • All feminists are the same • There is a natural unity for the mere fact of being women • Feminism exists only as a policy of women towards women • The movement is a small group • The women’s spaces ensure for themselves a positive space • Personal is automatically political • The consensus is democracy


The neoliberal policies that began in the late 1980s and reached their peak in the continent during the decade of the 1990s, made the feminist movement fragmented and privatized. Many women began to work in multilateral organizations, finance agencies etc. and became bridges between financing bodies and female movements.


The emergence of economic neoliberal models at the beginning of the 21st century led to a revival of the movement in the world, which was accompanied by an attempt of feminist dialogue with other social movements. A new feature is the feminist participation in global mobilization at different governments meetings and in multinational organizations where there is a discussion of the humanity’s future .

Revolutionary/Feminist mobilization

Some experts, for example Julie Shayne, believe that in Latin America the phenomenon of female, feminism movements should be called «revolutionary feminism». Julie Shayne argues that a revolutionary feminism is one born of revolutionary mobilization.[12]

Issues on agenda

Post-suffrage feminism in Latin America covers mainly three big streams: the feminist stream, the stream in political parties and the stream of women from political parties.[13] Issues of great concern are: voluntary maternity/responsible paternity, divorce law reform, equal pay, personal autonomy, and challenging the consistently negative and sexist portrayal of women in the media; access to formal political representation, whereas women of the popular classes tend to focus their agendas on issues of economic survival and racial and ethnic justice.

See Also

Feminism in South America


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  10. "Movimiento feminista en América latina".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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