Elevate Difference

Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America

The feminist experience of women in Latin America is not one that is often written about or discussed. Many discussions about politics in Latin America leave feminism out, as discussions of feminism in general are often limited to the U.S. and Europe. Perhaps it is for this reason that I immediately warmed to Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America, but it was the content and style that kept me reading.

This book is meant to analyze and compare the structure of feminist movements in Latin American countries that have become democratic in recent history. The book is broken down into three sections: Feminism and the State, Legal Strategies and Democratic Institutions, and International and Cross-Border Activism. In these sections, each chapter is written by women with firsthand experience and/or academic expertise in the feminist or women’s movement in a particular country or region. The book begins and ends with a chapter by the book’s editor, Jane Jaquette, who pulls the pieces together to give a sense of the bigger picture.

What I liked most about Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America, particularly when compared to others I’ve read about the topic, is that it’s easy for the reader to tell that the women who wrote each chapter are experts in what they’re writing about. Some of them even slip in firsthand reactions to the events they mention, which gives the reader reassurance that this isn’t just the usual “outside looking in” account of history. For example, when Gioconda Espina discusses the possibility of creating new alliances in Venezuela with other organizations, she is giving a glimpse into her actual experience working with these other groups, which provides a greater level of authenticity.

It was also great to see the focus on what the future might bring. The fact is that this is a very recent history; indeed, a lot of the countries highlighted in this book were in the middle of major changes when the chapters were written, leaving the picture still incomplete. Because of that, it was good to have the writers try to piece the puzzle together.

The book is not perfect, however. I found that the focus on countries with more recent shifts to democracy such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela made for a narrow view of Latin America. With the vast number of countries, it’s disappointing to only see the book focus on a handful. Brazil and Argentina, for instance, had a chapter dedicated to each country and then another comparing the two, meaning that three out of ten chapters focused only on two countries. It would be interesting to examine the feminist movements in other Latin American countries, particularly those in the Caribbean and Central America.

I can see Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America being used as a text in college courses about global feminism, Latin America, or emerging democracies around the world. It is an academic text at its core and not meant for light beach reading unless you have a particular interest in this subject matter, as I admittedly do. That said, the book was surprisingly easy to read and digest, and not at all the boring academic text I expected.

I would be happy to check out another attempt by Jaquette, perhaps providing a follow-up to the countries she has already covered and expanding to other Latin American countries in flux. I am confident she would provide a volume of work as captivating as this, if not more so.

Written by: frau sally benz, December 19th 2009