Elevate Difference

Women’s Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean: Engendering Social Justice, Democratizing Citizenship

One of the aims of the groundbreaking work Women’s Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean is the diffusion of the ideas of these mostly Latin-American scholars to a larger audience, thus the original 2006 Spanish-language volume’s translation and subsequent adaptation and expansion into English.

However, it seems contradictory to the spirit of the project to start reviewing it without mentioning the authors here. Besides excellent introductory essays by the editors listed above, this tome includes articles by the following Latin American and Caribbean academics who, for the most part, have been conscientiously translated from the original language: Myriam Merlet, Graciela di Marco, Norma Mogrovejo, Montserrat Sagot, María Luisa Tarrés, and Morena Herrera. The volume also includes interviews done by Graciela di Marco, and articles by scholars such as Karen Kampwirth, Ana Lorena Carrillo, Norma Stoltz Chinchilla, Kia Lily Caldwell, Mercedes Prieto, Andrea Pequeño, Clorinda Cominao, Alejandra Flores, Gina Maldonado, Cathy A. Rakowski, Gioconda Espina, Fiona MacAulay, Marysa Navarro, María Consuelo Mejía, Virginia Vargas, Marta Núñez Sarmiento, Helen Safa, Alice Colón, and Sara Poggio.

The foreword by Sonia E. Alvarez sums up succinctly why this book is so important to those of us studying questions of gender and activism in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to her reading, it is “brimming with compelling conceptual innovations, fresh empirical insights, and provocative political analysis, setting new parameters for future studies of feminist and other social movements in politics” in the region. There is no denying her expert judgment. However, the fact that this study provides a voice for the women listed above is what brings the innovative aspect, since many of these women have now been working in their respective countries for years in their own languages. Instead of all the “old regulars” working in the field in what the editors refer to as the Global North, this volume allows for an “inside look” into some (an infinite part, unfortunately) of the research that is ongoing in this region, at the same time as it allows for contrasting and/or other voices to come fill its pages. This achievement must be celebrated. Thus, for example, Graciela di Marco provides a voice for founding members of the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Nora Cortiñas and Estela Carlotto, more than thirty years into their continued battle.

Although some countries’ movements are still not included in this type of volume (Bolivia, Panama, and Honduras come to mind), the attempt made to be as inclusive as possible is one which is on the right track with making visible research on gender-based issues, especially with regard to race, religion, sexual preferences and social classes. However, there is no way to ignore the magnitude of providing a space to the women’s indigenous groups from Ecuador (for example), given that they have only had the right to vote in their own countries for less than forty years. And, significantly, this is what this volume is about- taking a larger look at women’s activism in the region and appreciating the scope of what has advanced in the past years for the very diverse women’s movement, given the ebb and flow of the political, social and economic circumstances in the world.

Regrettably, the situation has actually gone backwards in some countries such as Nicaragua where the women’s movement has suffered significant losses in the past years, as Kampwirth argues in her chapter, especially with the still controversial therapeutic abortion debate which has been ongoing in the country. While some countries have moved from what were seemingly viable feminist movements towards what Kampwirth deems as “antifeminism” or backlash movements, some are only experiencing nascent incursions into this activist domain (what Lebon fittingly calls “activism with unexpected actors”) and still reject the “feminist” label.

Among the twenty excellent chapters, of particular note in the volume, given last January’s earthquake and more recent cholera outbreak in Haiti, is Myriam Merlet’s article on women’s citizenship in that country. It provides a remarkable glimpse into the leaps and bounds that were being made by women leading up to this disaster and, perhaps, provides some inherent insight into how some of the country’s problems could eventually be resolved from within.

Written by: Sophie M. Lavoie, January 11th 2011

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