SOCIALIST FEMINISM IN LATIN AMERICA
Cornelia Butler Flora
Department of Sociology, Anthropology
and Social Work
Kansas State University
Working Paper #14
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
SOCIALIST FEMINISM IN LATIN AMERICA
Cornelia Butler Flora
Department of Sociology, Anthropology
and Social Work
Kansas State University
Working Paper #14
Abstract: The women's movement around the world takes many stances,
including women's rights, feminism, women's research, women's auxiliaries
of political and religious organizations, and socialist feminism. Because
of its unique political and economic history, socialist feminism is the
dominant emergent stance of the women's movement in Latin America. The
movements in Brazil, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Chile are examined,
and socialist feminism related to both the international women's movement
and to the political trends and constraints of the current political
situation within each country. Women's movements in other Latin American
countries are also briefly discussed.
About the Author: Cornelia Butler Flora is Professor of Sociology at
Kansas State University. She has served as a consultant on national and
international development projects and published numerous articles in
scholarly journals on women's issues, socioeconomic development, and
pentecostalism. Her current research focuses on the structure of agri-
culture, particularly as it relates to U.S.-Third World linkages and the
role of women.
Copyright 1982, MSU Board of Trustees
SOCIALIST FEMINISM IN LATIN AMERICA
The Latin American women's movement is as varied and complex as its
Nortn American or European counterparts. As in Europe and North America,
it is both a product of women's situation within the containing societies
and of the political and intellectual movements specific to the area.
While women's movements are widely varied among Latin American nations,
all of them share the common context of dependent development,1 and
most are located in relatively repressive political settings. The
resulting differences in perceptions have led to clashes with First World
feminists in public international convocations.
This article attempts to describe one of the leading forces of the
Latin American women's movement--socialist feminism. To do so, it is
necessary to differentiate existing stances vis-a-vis women's problems.
These stances can lead to action at either the individual or collective
level. For example, a women's rights group may organize in Peru to
reform the family code. In Venezuela, individual women may pressure to
rewrite the family code but do so as employees of a bureaucracy or as
friends of politicians. Thus, the stances presented involve definition
of women's problems, self-identification as a result of the analysis, and
action engaged in to solve them.
By the early 1980s, different stances toward women's problems in
Latin America have evolved. While not necessarily different from stances
that exist in North America and Europe, they have different implications
in the Latin American settings. These stances are: (1) women's rights,
(2) feminism, (3) women's research, (4) women's auxiliaries of political
and religious organizations, and (5) socialist feminism. In North
America and Europe, there is a strong radical feminist/lesbian separatist
stance as well. Except for a few small groups in Brazil and Mexico,
however, that stance does not play a part in women's politics in most of
Latin America. These stances do not form an ideal typology, because they
are not mutually exclusive. Decribing and relating them, however, is
heuristically valuable in understanding the process currently underway.
Drawing on the Brazilian case, Hahner has developed a good way of
differentiating feminism from women's rights. "Feminism embraces all
aspects of the emancipation of women and includes any struggle designed
to elevate their status socially, politically, or economically; it
concerns women's self-concepts as well as their position in society. In
contrast, women's rights tend to define, more narrowly, the emanci-
pation of women as the winning of legal rights."2 Women's rights
involves including women in existing structures. Feminism includes the
reorganization of personal life, dealing not only with questions of the
economy and the polity, but of sexuality and the family. Identification
as a feminist means confronting men. Feminism deals directly and per-
sonally with the problem of patriarchy--machismo in the Latin American
setting. Those with a women's rights stance see the problem as unequal
access to resources. Men are not an enemy or even a competitor for
resources, out potential allies to be won over.
Feminism and women's rights are also distinct from women's research
as a stance for approaching women's roles and status in society. Women's
research studies women--what they do and how they do it. Women's prob-
lems tend to be seen as based in social and political processes. While
women's research can be feminist, this is often not tne case in Latin
America.3 Those with a women's research stance identify as intel-
lectuals. Their action involves increasing the available knowledge about
women to further illuminate historical processes.
Political parties and churches are both very active in organizing
women in Latin America. These organizations see women's groups as the
best way to mobilize women for the ends of the larger corporate body.
Women's problems, for those with this stance, stem either from social
class oppression (for progressive groups) or from inadequate performance
of women's traditional roles (for less progressive groups). Those
adopting this stance identify first--or solely--with party or church.
Socialist feminism is concerned with many of the same sources of
oppression as leftist groups and the progressive church in Latin America.
It has developed relatively recently compared to the other stances toward
women. Socialist feminism, in contrast to feminism, tries to unite the
problems of gender oppression with those of class oppression. Latin
American socialism feminists, like North American Marxist feminists,
attempt to synthesize the contradictions between class and sex, between
production and reproduction, and between the public and private
realms.4 Socialist feminists identify both as leftists and as femi-
nists. Action involves relating to working class women's groups as well
as confronting cross-class sexism.
These stances can be only individual or can be at a group level as
well. In many countries there are individuals who share an analysis that
fits one stance (since each stance implies some action), out who do not
join with others in the hard and often acrimonious work of building an
organization and participating in the day-to-day struggles organization
entails. While this paper will mention the origins of individuals within
socialist feminism, the stress will be on the newly organized groups and
the countries in wnich the organizations seem to be growing most rapidly.
Because of the newness of the movement, its rapid emergence, and its
existence in a turbulent environment, no description of socialist feminism
can be current. Hopefully, this description will provide a base from
which more detailed analyses can be drawn.
This study is based on three and one-half years' work between
September 1978 and February 1982 with women's groups in Colombia, Ecuador,
Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua,
where, as a member of the Ford Foundation staff based in Bogota and later
as a consultant from the United States, I was charged with helping develop
Foundation women's programs. Shorter visits were made to Cuba, Brazil,
Venezuela and Mexico to determine the situation in these countries.
Information on these countries, as well as others not visited, is based
on individual and group conversations, analysis of published documents,
and historical readings. Earlier versions of this paper were critiqued
by feminists in a number of Latin American countries.
Socialist feminism seems to be strongest where there has been a
tradition of multiple and politically effective leftist parties: Peru,
Chile, and the Dominican Republic. The fruits of such organizing are
clearly felt by socialist feminists despite recent repressive regimes in
Peru and the Dominican Republic and a current strongly repressive military
dictatorship in Chile. Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil have
smaller socialist feminist movements. Puerto Rico, along with Bolivia,
Cuba, Nicaragua, and Brazil, are characterized by women's groups that are
organized sub-units of political parties, although in Nicaragua the
largest and most important group, Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of
Nicaraguan Women (AMNLAE), named after a martyr in the struggle against
Somoza, has begun to take a feminist socialist approach internally.5
The Faribundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) in El Salvador
has a strong plank on women's equality in its revolutionary platform.6
(See page 31 for a glossary of organizations discussed.)
Countries also differ by the degree of cooperation among feminist
groups. Mexico has a large number of feminist groups and a coordinating
committee uniting many of the groups. A socialist feminist coordinating
committee exists in Peru. There are women's movement coordinating groups
in several major Brazilian cities and a similar series of coordinating
groups in Colombian cities.
A feminist movement exists in Argentina, separate from women intel-
lectuals looking at the issue of class oppression. In Argentina and
Uruguay, collective research on women exists, particularly in the private
research organizations that have sprung up in response to the closing off
of intellectual inquiry within the universities through the firing--and
sometimes execution--of professors. These centers struggle along through
funding from North American and European foundations combined with the
personal sacrifice of the scholars within them. These groups, however,
are generally without feminist orientation, although one or two members
of the research team may identify as feminists, as in the case of the
Research Group for the Study of the Conditions of Uruguayan Women (GRECMU)
in Uruguay or the Center for the Study of State and Society (CEDES) in
Argentina. In Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay extremely repressive military
dictatorships make overtly socialist orientations dangerous to express.
In Venezuela, women's issues have been integrated into the government
structure through the efforts of individuals interested in women's rights.
A few feminists, often with European training, can be found in the capital
city, Caracas, and small feminist groups come together from time to time.
There are groups in Tachira, Maracaibo, and Merida as well, generally with
intellectual and cultural orientations coupled with feminist analysis.
In Paraguay, where all political activity is repressed, several isolated
scholars have a passing interest in women in the labor force. In Costa
Rica, there are a few feminists and some women's research at the univer-
sity. Honduras and Guatemala have little women's activity, although in
Guatemala, prior to the current wave of right-wing violence, political
activists were working with peasant women. In Honduras, some church
groups are working with women's groups as part of community development
efforts. In Panama, a women's committee has organized in solidarity with
Chile, in response to the repression and force exile of Chileans under
the military dictatorship of Pinochet.
Strong waves of political repression in Latin America have driven men
and women who have been politically active away from their countries.
These exiles, primarily from the Southern Cone countries of Argentina,
Uruguay, and Chile in the 1970s and 1980s, and from Brazil and the
Dominican Republic in the 1960s and early 1970s, returned to their coun-
tries with an awareness of feminism from their experience abroad. Women
returning to Brazil and Chile in particular served as an important source
of feminists organizing.
The women's movement historically in Latin America has been ambivalent
about international linkages, especially with the women's movement in the
United States. While early U. S. feminists made tours of Latin America
and met with women's groups in a number of countries,7 including Peru
and Brazil, these visits are not chronicled by the Latin American sources.
More recently, strongly nationalist and anti-imperialist frames of refer-
ence have led to rejection of "matriarchal" ideological influences from
the North, although local groups read and translated some of the key
feminist literature from North America and Europe. Socialist feminists,
inspired by the linkages made at international fora such as those in
Mexico and particularly Copenhagen, have been seeking out intercontinental
linkages to other socialist feminist groups. The success of this activity
has been the meeting in Bogota, Colombia, in June 1981, which is well-
described by Silverstein8 and Navarro.9
The continuing search for both affirmation and tactics from similar
groups in similar circumstances--which entails an analysis of both the
problems of dependency and the problems of patriarchy--leads to a growing
Latin American feminist solidarity that is infusing other stances as well.
The UNESCO-sponsored women's studies meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,
in November 1981, for example, led to the formation of a Latin American
women's studies association, when a similar effort failed at a 1978
meeting on research on women in the labor force in Rio and a 1977 meeting
on women's studies in Mexico City. Important in both the Bogota and Rio
meetings was the Latin American origin of the organization and, in the
case of Bogota, most of the funding. The formal linkages being estab-
lished are based on the past initiatives and perceptions of current needs.
Origins of Socialist Feminism
Many of the women now identified as socialist feminists began as
activists militantse) within left-wing political parties, often at the
side of a male partner. They became frustrated by their continuing
peripheral role in the parties--and the parties' consistent sacrifice of
women's issues for other matters deemed more salient to transforming
In Peru and the Dominican Republic, as well as other countries, women
disillusioned with party activism as a solution to women's oppression
came together for their own emancipation (revindicacion), much as anti-
war and civil rights female activists in the United States formed the
basis for the second wave of U. S. feminism,10 and women active in the
anti-slavery movement became feminists during the first wave.11 The
groups that formed began serious dialogue with each other, often con-
fronting hostility and ridicule from highly respected male activists
because of their "separatist" activities. They debated the relations
between class and gender domination in order to develop a coherent theory
to guide action. Because of their class analysis of society, coupled with
the understanding of the problems of living in a dependent capitalist
country, they divided their efforts between internal examination of their
own situation as middle class women (something they were a bit hesitant
to address as somehow antithetical to the class struggle) and external
linkages with groups of working class women.
The dialectic between class-specific issues and gender-encompassing
issues informs both the theory and practice of Latin American socialist
feminists. Initial attempts to deal with the class issue tried to build
on existing working class and peasant women's organizations to form
alliances that met the mutual needs of each group.
Some political parties and church groups have seen the need in Latin
America to bring women together as willing hands for their work. Parts
of the Catholic church, in the search for social justice initiated by the
Conference of Latin American Catholic bishops in Medellin, Colombia, in
1968, found women did not integrate easily into community-based organiza-
tions. While not recognizing women's problems as in any way separate
from the problems of poverty and underdevelopment, the utility of separate
women's groups was realized. Political parties increasingly not only
recognized the traditional role of women's committee, but found that
sometimes, especially with the "cover" of International Women's Year
(IWY), creating working class women's organizations was their only safe
way of organizing.
Women's groups formed by liberal clergy and nuns, as well as by
political parties, based their organization on a Paulo Freire type of
consciousness raising.12 That methodology led to an awareness of eco-
nomic exploitation based on class and international economic dependency.
Both the political parties and the Church, however, viewed women's role
in traditional gender-specific terms. Even the most progressive church
groups seem hesitant to discuss issues relating to women's problems with
tneir husbands that might lead to a break in a mythical working class
solidarity that such groups were organized to reinforce.
Indeed, in Bogota, Colombia, and in Piura, Peru, working class
oriented Jesuit organizations began separate organizations for poor women
because of the irritation on the part of male community organizers that
the women were ruining everything by their lack of understanding of the
class situation. The women did not participate in demonstrations and
strikes and tried to prevent their husbands and children from partici-
pating. According to the organizers, the women tended to think first in
terms of immediate income and safety concerns, without appreciation of
the long-term gains to be made in supporting the principles around which
the actions were oriented. It has been difficult for feminists to work
with these women's auxiliary groups. The male organizers often view the
feminists, even socialist feminists, as puppets of imperialism, deflecting
These differences in analysis, altnougn coupled with strongly shared
values confronting domination originating from social class and the
international economic order, have led most social feminist groups to
seek autonomous organizations that could then form linkages with other
movements, but not be controlled by them. Capitalism is defined as a
major part of the problem, along with patriarchy. Thus, neither feminism
alone nor party affiliation are sufficient.
Origins and Identity
Until recently, leftist women, both those forced into exile and
political activists in their own countries, avoided the label "feminist"
and vocally denied any links to First World women's movements, particu-
larly those based in the United States. One reason for this was the
usurpation in Latin America of the feminist label by groups of middle
class women dedicated to supporting the status quo. The second was a
strong awareness of U. S. imperialism. Women activists responded against
U. S. control of culture and the economy, as well as attempts to control
the polity in many Latin American countries. They have had personal
experience with the U. S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965,
with tne C. I. A.-backed destabilization campaigns against Allende in the
early 1970s, and with the efforts of the Reagan administration to bring
down the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. These are military aspects
of imperialism tnat have resulted in the death and exile of the women or
their family members. A third reason for dissociation from U. S. feminism
was the perceived limits to the theoretical analysis they offered.
Feminists in the United States are accused in Latin America of focusing
on individual problems and ignoring the differential impact of social
class and the political economic system on women.
Identity and International Presentation of Self
The lines between Third World socialist feminists and First world
radical feminists were clearly drawn in Mexico City in the 1975 Interna-
tional Women's Year meeting. Latin American women in attendance at
Mexico City tended to be either feminists of a bourgeois type concerned
with government or with political party, or socialists of either intel-
lectual or--in the exceptional case of Domitila Chungara de Barriosl3--
of worker origins, concerned with their leftist party or union. The
Latin American leftist women in Mexico in 1975 focused on the appropria-
tion of women's labor by the class system. They were unwilling to see
tne appropriation of women's sexuality as an issue, thereby allowing both
bourgeois and socialist women to avoid having to confront problems of
male domination. Both groups of Latin American women in attendance,
despite strong ideological differences, agreed on the basic irrelevance
of the North American feminist model for Latin American women's problems.
By the 1980 mid-decade meeting in Copenhagen, a socialist feminist
movement with links to working class women's organizations had emerged in
Chile, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. A few of the
women who formed both the theoretical and activist core of these groups
went to Copenhagen. Although they still insisted on the differences
between their movements for women and social change and those in other
parts of the world, there was a feeling, at least on the part of some,
that experiences could be fruitfully interchanged with feminists organ-
izing grass roots groups throughout the world. (A Peruvian participant
in a workshop on grass-roots organizing, however, pointed out to a North
American farm wife, enthusiastically promoting similarities, that organ-
izing the women on U. S. farms was far different from organizing Peruvian
peasant women because of the international economic structures that con-
demned one group of women to a level of living unheard of by the other.)
Unlike tne 1975 Mexico meetings, the socialist feminists arrived at
the Copenhagen workshops with some solid experience in organizing and
relating that practice to their theories of underdevelopment and women's
oppression. Tne models of society underlying their activities had grown
more complex with practice. They were particularly disturbed by some
Nortn American and European women who tended to generalize about a "homo-
geneous" Third World. Such First world women, who expected the Third
World women to speak with one voice, were perceived as maternalistic,
condescending, and in search of "causes." This was in contrast to other
First World women wno demonstrated some awareness of the complexity of
Latin America--and a willingness to learn. Latin American feminists
began to differentiate between those First World women who were ready to
be educated about Third World problems and those who wanted to solve them
for Third World women.14
Many of the North Americans in attendance tended to separate them-
selves from what they defined as political themes. This served as another
source of separation from the Latin American socialist feminists, whose
personal history as activists in struggles for national liberation made
such a separation of women's issues seem reactionary.15 Despite the
clear realization of different modes of analysis, there was a sense of
female solidarity that the participants had not felt at the 1975 meetings.
This solidarity with non-Third World feminists was symbolized by the
march, led by the Bolivian Domitila Chungara (a self-proclaimed non-
feminist who is a mine workers' union organizer) to protest a bloody
military coup in Bolivia.
Many socialist feminists in countries not having experienced recent
revolutions, or in countries where bloody counter-revolutions had wiped
out the attempts at social equity previously undertaken, were dismayed at
the anti-feminism expressed by the official delegations from socialist
countries and newly liberated non-socialist countries such as Nicaragua.
Tne accusations of representatives from both Cuba and Iran that feminism
was a negative current and an imperialistic mechanism for division was a
depressing point of theoretical and practical differences for many Latin
American socialist feminists.16 As Maruja Barrig from Peru pointed
out, there were not only problems of a theoretical nature with North
American feminists, but with the revolutionaries from Cuba, Nicaragua,
Iran, and Palestine as well, even though all the Peruvian groups there
called themselves feminists and socialists:
Personally, the ideological terrorism that came in many moments
seemed lamentable to me. Because when Domitila Chungara, the
undisputed Bolivian union leader, said in an interview that the
feminists were "degenerates who only wanted to get drunk like
men," her political combativeness seemed to confer a papal
infallibility on her. An even graver case was that of the
Nicaraguan women who attended the Latin American women's
seminar. With the authority of having conquered the Somoza
dictatorship and built a revolution, they declared that there
should not exist a "struggle for the woman" but a "struggle for
liberation" as occurred in their country. The recipe for a
given political moment cannot be translated mechanically to the
other countries of Latin America which are living distinct
stages of the class struggle and where, without doubt, in a
situation (conyuntura) of armed struggle the women with socialist
conviction would not question which struggle had priority.17
Barrig goes on to say that not only proletarian women have problems
in Peru, but that some of the problems of university students converge
with those of women workers. Thus, feminism is a legitimate area of
analysis in the Peruvian situation. Her article on the Copenhagen meeting
calls for a Peruvian feminist socialist movement to construct a theory
and a practice of feminism that is not copied from other settings and
which is appropriate to the Peruvian reality.
Latin American feminists were profoundly stimulated by the experience
in Copennagen, less by the meeting of the official delegations than by
the Forum for Non-Governmental Organizations. The contacts they formed
or renewed with each other, including those with the large Latin American
feminist exile community in Europe, seemed catalytic. There was clearly
a need to articulate a Latin American feminist theory that stemmed from
the Latin American political context.
A small but visionary group of Venezuelan women, "La Conjura," agreed,
in a rump caucus of women from Latin America and the Caribbean in
Copenhagen, to organize a meeting for the region in late 1981. The move-
ment in Venezuela, however, was too small and disparate, and their
resources too small for the high costs of a Caracas meeting, for them to
go farther than asking Colombian feminists to take the lead. The
Colombians, equally divided but much stronger numerically and
organizationally, took on the task. The process of putting the meeting
together, from deciding who should participate to what the themes should
be, generated much hard work and emotion throughout the Colombian women's
Finally, through a series of struggles, the socialist feminist stance
became the dominant one in the organization and running of the conference.
Although postponed once again because of the difficulties of organization
and internal agreement, the meeting was at last held in Bogota in June
1982. Tne interchange of experiences and the open discussions relating
theory and practice were a milestone for the feminist movement as a
regional phenomenon.19 As an immediate followup, November 25, 1982,
was designated as the day to protest violence against women. The day was
picked in honor of three sisters in the Dominican Republic who had organ-
ized against the Trujillo dictatorship, resisting both his sexual advances
and his political oppression. On November 25 all three were brutally
molested and murdered, mobilizing the Dominican population against the
corruption and oppression wnich controlled their country in the person of
Trujillo. The event was carried out particularly effectively in the
Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Peru, where there was a wide poster and
media campaign, as well as marches protesting violence against women.
In general, socialist feminism has built on an exile community with a
feminist analysis and political activists disillusioned with political
parties' treatment of women and women's issues. The development, however,
differed among the diverse countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Four short country case studies follow that attempt to contrast develop-
mental paths of Latin American socialist feminism.
Brazil had a history of movements for feminism, as well as women's
rights. Thus, the right of suffrage for women was achieved through pres-
sure rather than governmental largess.20 How does the current women's
movement in Brazil relate to past feminism and current political struc-
tures? Marianne Schmink21 has done an excellent job of presenting the
current state of the women's movement in Brazil in the context of the
"aPertura" (opening) politics. She traces the complexity of the contem-
porary women's movements' struggles of theory and praxis in a country
emerging from a military dictatorship imposed in 1964.
Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, distinct in language
and culture from its neighbors. The country was the first of the "new"
military dictatorships, from which other oppressive regimes took lessons.
The C. I. A. and U. S. military were active in both the overthrow of the
elected government in 1964 and the repression that followed.22 Dis-
trust of North Americans--of either sex--thus had logical roots.
Brazil has a large and dynamic economy compared with most of Latin
America. The Brazilian "economic miracle" was much touted in the early
1970s, although it is now a much tarnished sort of miracle: not only did
the poor get poorer despite a rapid growth in Gross National Product, but
currently that growth has almost halted.23 Tne military is gradually
allowing an increase in popular participation through elections at the
same time that an astoundingly high foreign debt and a highly militant
labor force put contradictory pressures on economic policy. The Catholic
Church in Brazil has come out as a strong supporter of the oppressed
masses, and although the Brazilian Church contains some of the most pro-
gressive and most conservative clergy in Latin America, it is an important
mobilizer of poor people, as are unions and neighborhood associations.
The recent mobilization of women in Brazil is non-feminist in
origin.24 Working class women, particularly in Sao Paulo, began organ-
izing after the Second World War, more or less parallel with urban labor
unions. Their demands related to the immediate hardships tney felt as
housewives and coincided with similar neighborhood organizations of middle
class women. The cost of living was their primary concern.25
According to Leni Silverstein,26 the current Brazilian women's
movement emerged in 1975 under the protection of the Brazililan Women's
Center (CMB). Political repression was still severe in Brazil at that
time, out U. N. sponsorship of the International Women's Year allowed for
tne organization of women's groups when other political activity was
discouraged. Another strong current at that time was the amnesty move-
ment. The women in the Brazilian Committee for Amnesty tried to pressure
the government to declare amnesty for those Brazilians forced into exile
for their alleged subversive, anti-government activities. Because of the
cover provided by IWY, Church and leftist political groups appropriated
many women's organizations, making it difficult for them to approach
issues of personal politics: sexuality, violence against women, or birth
The year 1978 marked the beginning of a political opening in Brazil
that allowed underground and latent political groups to surface. It also
marked the initiation of amnesty for most of the political exiles, who
began returning from Europe in early 1979. New neighborhood associations
again were formed with the "abertura" in 1978, but this time in the
satellite industrial cities of the major manufacturing centers. Some of
the organizations emerged spontaneously. Others had church or party-
sponsorship. The women in these organizations, although using many of
the same issues and tactics of the earlier associations, were definitely
working class. Their demands stemmed from the immediate needs of repro-
duction of the labor force--their day-to-day needs as housewives and
mothers--and early organization focused first on day care. These experi-
ences helped the women gain both organizing experience and tactical
expertise that later made them more political. A twin strategy of demands
for services for their neighborhoods and political education emerged.
Political education included support for unions when strike activities
began in 1978.27
It was through education that the cross-class links with the socialist
women's organizations were made. These groups provided expertise and
techniques, allowing the neighborhood groups to deal both with general
concerns and with women's concerns. But there was also a hesitance of
becoming too militantly feminist. Even though oppression due to gender
was very blatant in these neighborhoods, open recognition of this gender
oppression was threatening to the women activists. The groups, therefore,
focused on communication with their husbands, in order that their husbands
might better value what the women did and so that there could be agreement
on social issues. These working class organizations resisted the feminist
label, as did many of the intermediary middle class intellectual groups
working with them.
The women's groups seeking out linkages with Church and union groups
focused on women's issues (as distinct from feminist issues). These
included sucn things as maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, and
day care. These issues, however, do not form a central core of either
Church or union goals and thus linkages attempted were weak.
The returning exiles had a much more feminist stance, stemming from
their European experiences and reflections. Often they found themselves
doubly disadvantaged in Europe as foreigners and as women. They felt
tnat the CMB in various parts of the country had compromised women's
issues for political alliances. Silverstein reports one instance that
led to a split in the women's movement.
A proposal to debate the complexities of abortion and family
planning issues in Brazil was defeated by the CMB as contrary to
their political objectives, which conceived of Catholic Church
alliances as more fundamental than the raising of sex-related
issues. The outrage provoked by this denial to deal with such
an obviously crucial women's problem led to the first of many
internal divisions within the women's movement; in this case, it
led to the creation of an explicitly feminist group called the
Coletivo de Mulheres do Rio de Janeiro (Women's Collective of
Rio de Janeiro), a group of women who angrily separated from the
The feminist response was to deal with feminist issues in cross-class
efforts dominated by middle class and intellectual women. Attempts to
create "woman space" were made in the form of casa da mulher (women's
houses) and SOS Mulher groups that help battered and raped women. (SOS--
Save Our Ship--is the international call for help used by the organizer
to indicate the urgency of the needs to which the organization is respond-
ing.) These responses to violence against women seem to have met a real
need among all Brazilian women and are growing rapidly in number and
Women's studies is also strong in Brazil, centered in Fundacao Carlos
Chagas. This research has a feminist stance as well. Marxist intellec-
tuals such as Heleieth I. B. Saffioti29 are also seriously addressing
In Brazil, there are attempts to coordinate the various women's move-
ments both by area and by class. There is frustration in such linkages,
but Schmink is hopeful about the continuing potential for the Coordination
(Coordinating Committee) of Sao Paulo women's groups. The tactic for
grass roots organization involves residential propinquity and common
problems stemming from women's reproductive roles within the family unit.
Women as workers are not a focus of the organization, nor are they well-
represented in union structures. While the middle class women who form
coalitions with the working class groups among themselves seriously
question the male appropriation of both female labor and, to a growing
degree, female sexuality, the short term goals of the working class women
are to simply become better able to carry out their traditional roles in
a more responsive state and a more equitable economic system.
Silverstein, an active participant in the Rio feminist movement, is
not sanguine about the movement's future. She sees a series of contra-
dictory forces, including anti-feminism in the Catholic Church and anti-
intellectualism among activists coupled with complex familial and politi-
cal alliances making the development of coherent feminist theory on which
to base action very difficult. Perhaps linkages with more developed
socialist feminist movements in other parts of Latin America may provide
a solution to some of the dilemmas present.
Peru, like Brazil, has recently emerged from a period of military
dictatorship. Like Brazil, women began organizing in 1975 under the
umbrella of IWY. Unlike Brazil, however, the neighborhood movements had
a mixed female and male leadership. Further, in contrast to the separa-
tion from the state in Brazil, the Peruvian neighborhood organizations
were institutionally linked with the Velasco government between 1968 and
1975. The early Velasco period also encouraged the mobilization of
idealistic and radicalized middle class young women to work within
revolutionary state entities to bring about radical changes in social
structure, economic relationships, and political groupings. And, unlike
Brazil, there has never been an organized feminist movement in Peru,
although Peru can claim several noteworthy feminists as native daughters,
and leading leftist politicians, such as Jose Carlos Mariategui, came out
for women's rights in the 1930s.30 As Chaney points out, "Without any
notable agitation for suffrage on their part, Peruvian women were handed
tne vote (in 1955) in the hope that they would help elect a conservative
successor to General Manuel Odria."31
In Peru, the initial new feminist movement, begun in 1971, has grown
and developed like a Hydra. The first was a group of intellectuals named
Flora Tristan after a French socialist feminist of Peruvian parentage and
organized by a Scandinavian woman married to a Peruvian. They published
articles in a newly expropriated newspaper, Expreso. Action for the
Liberation of Peruvian Women (ALIMUPER) was organized in 1973 and became
public with a feminist demonstration against the Miss Peru Contest at the
Sheraton Hotel. As time progressed, the first Flora Tristan folded and,
split by the controversy of gender versus class, ALIMUPER divided into
Inspired by IWY, an official organization for women,.the National
Commission for Peruvian Women (CONAMUP), was formed by the Velasco
government to unite neighborhood, professional, and union women's organi-
zation. While subordinate to government policy, that policy included at
least verbal recognition of the need to integrate women into productive
labor, the educational system, and health services. Although the pro-
gressive stance toward women on the part of government was sharply cut
back after the fall of Velasco in 1975, IWY continued to legitimize women
organizing for women.
The feminist movement began making public waves soon after 1975 on
the issue of abortion, which it demanded be free on demand. This was a
rather remarkable issue in a country where birth control was not available
to poor women, but it served as an initial first step to unify women to
take to the streets. Nevertheless, while abortion quickly united the
early feminist groups toward mass action, it also divided them again.
The less radical feminist groups saw abortion as an inappropriate tactic,
given the other necessities facing women, especially poor women. For
moderates, birth control, in combination with other women-related health
and legal services, became the tactical demand and the organizing focus.
A number of confessional Catholic feminist groups were in disagreement
with either abortion or birth control as a strategy of the women's move-
ment, and tnis view was shared by most women in the neighborhood associa-
tions. The groups were divided on questions of tactics as well as
The economic crisis of 1977-1979, coupled with the prospect of the
first presidential election in seventeen years, stimulated the growth of
political parties and women's organizations. Many were auxiliaries of
political parties, but others took on an independent feminist line.
Further, a series of strikes in professions dominated by women, public
school teachers, and government employees, caused a shift from the view
of women as passive to active participants in societal change.
In 1979, two books by feminists were published, To Be A Woman in
Peru 3 and Chastity Belt,34 tnat were immediate best sellers. They
focused primarily, although not entirely, on the lives of middle class
women in the sexist structure of Peruvian society. Their high sales
indicated the growth of the feminist movement, based, as were the lives
of the authors of the two books, on the frustrations of political parti-
cipation. The Peruvian economy was in desperate shape, including large
social welfare cutbacks imposed by the International Monetary Fund as a
condition of loans. The jobs that were cut back were mostly those of
women, and the services cut back were those aimed toward women.
Groups of leftist women began to get together, often as a result of
tneir previous unsatisfactory experiences as women in leftist parties.
Some, such as the Movement Manuela Ramos looked at their own experience
in light of feminist theory and Marxist Leninism and tried to unite their
new understanding with effective feminist action with the poor women of
Lima. Otners, such as the Flora Tristan Center (a new group formed in
1979 honoring the same early socialist feminist who linked the oppression
of women and the oppression of the working class), were more scholarly in
nature. They began by taking a serious look at the small amount of
research related to women in Peru to see what links should be made with
poor women. This scholarship was almost entirely outside the University
structure. A third line, exemplified by Peru/Woman, less socialist in
analysis and denying a feminist label, although certainly sharing the
precepts of the other groups regarding class exploitation and imperialist
dominance, sought outside funding both to carry out research on women's
needs and to go to the pueblos jovenes (new towns) or squatter settlements
surrounding Lima to teach the women there to defend women's rights.
All of the groups described above, and other more militant ones,
sought links to working class groups. ALIMUPER organized marches in favor
of abortion, against the mystification and commercialization of Mother's
Day, and in favor of the hunger strike by women workers of the teachers'
union, SUTEP. Feminist Militancy (MIFE) attempted to nave a rewritten
family code included in the new Peruvian constitution that was written by
a Constituent Assembly between July 1978 and July 1979 (an attempt that
met with quite limited success). The Socialist Front of Women (FSM)
stressed tne importance of the Peruvian socioeconomic setting on the
position of women. They attempted to set up Control Committees in working
class barrios both to control the price of food in the face of speculators
and to teach, through apprenticeship, practical politics in relation to
public authorities. They also participated in the Mother's Day march of
1980, focusing their protests against the high prices of food and the low
salaries of their husbands.
The groups at first were intent on bringing to poor women the fruits
of their feminist socialist consciousness gradually. As they began
entering the pueblos jovenes, however, they began to realize the contra-
dictions in their goals. Peru is a country where social class and ethni-
city/race are closely intertwined (a phenomenon also found in Brazil,
where it has been difficult to form alliances between the white middle
class feminist and the black working class women in the Rio slums or
favelas). As in Brazil, domestic servants are the most repressed. These
women are (1) racially distinct (Indian in Peru, Black in Brazil) with
class and race in close conformity, and (2) provide the household labor
that lets middle class women have free time to organize. The women in
Peru's pueblos jovenes had long experience with politicians and mission-
aries coming in with programs and campaigns to "save" the women. Thus,
they were hesitant to participate with a new group, particularly one not
offering free food or clothing. Further, although the women were badly
treated by their men, survival meant maintaining at least a veneer of
The socialist feminist groups are loosely coordinated through an
organized council called the Feminine Organizations Coordinating Com-
mittee, formed in June 1979. It includes Manuela Ramos, ALIMUPER, Flora
Tristan, Women in Struggle, and the Women's Socialist Front. The motiva-
tion to come together was an internationalist one unrelated to women's
issues; they sought to focus public support on tne Nicaraguan revolution
wnich triumphed on July 19, 1979. At first separately, and then together,
the groups reformulated their strategy from one of attempting to "give"
poor women what the feminists thought they needed to one of trying to
respond to the expressed needs of the poor women themselves, who at times
were even in conflict with the ideals of the feminist group.
The Movement Manuela Ramos, for example, got a small grant from a
European foundation to teach women's groups non-traditional occupational
skills, such as plumbing. The women in the pueblo jovenes expressed
absolutely no interest, despite the better pay and security such jobs
afforded. Instead, they wanted to reaffirm their femininity through
sewing classes that allowed them to work for multinational corporations
at home on a putting-out basis, but with none of the social security
benefits accorded workers in the formal sector. The Movement Manuela
Ramos decided to combine these skills with a bit of machine repair
(necessary to keep the sewing going), some health information, and a
strong emphasis on sexuality. Sexuality has been extremely popular among
working class women, as norms of female modesty enforced by male sexual
dominance left them in almost total ignorance of the functioning of their
Peru/Woman found that women were active in the daily activities of
the neighborhood associations but were not in leadership positions. They
organized a series of workshops where women with leadership potential
were trained on how to work with their organization, as well as how to
deal with problems in their homes and in their neighborhoods. The
response was outstanding.
The Flora Tristan Center, joining forces with ALIMUPER and Creativity
and Change (an organization which publishes women's inexpensive literature
in a popular format), opened a women's center in the heart of Lima. They
also developed courses of study and action aimed mostly at women who will
work with grass roots women's groups in order to help them analyze their
problems as well as offer something practical to the women in the pueblos
The Peruvian groups have had a difficult economic situation with which
to contend. The greatest danger they face may be spreading themselves
too thin and not evaluating the action they undertake in terms of their
socialist feminist goals. Nevertheless, bridging of the large gap of
social class has begun among women, and coordination of the efforts to do
so is underway. By maintaining autonomous organizations, they have
influenced the thinking of a number of political parties that are now
willing to state that women are oppressed because of their gender and to
propose policies to respond to that oppression.
A women's studies class--Sociology of Women--was introduced at the
Catholic University in Lima and, in June 1982, Peru/Woman co-sponsored a
women's studies conference with that prestigious university. (The uni-
versity officials, according to Jeannine Anderson de Velasco, were dis-
turbed to see the program was all women, so some men were added to the
The women's movement in Peru currently includes advocates of women's
rights, feminism, and women's auxiliary groups of leftist parties and the
progressive church. However, the growth of socialist feminism as a legi-
timate mode of political analysis as well as a method of mobilizing women
in their own self interest is increasing. Virginia Vargas, in a visit to
U. S. campuses in February 1982, explained how abortion recently again
became a feminist issue, but one linked with class oppression. A 16-year
old peasant girl was jailed because of her participation in a rural land
invasion. In jail, she was gang raped by six policemen and left pregnant.
Demonstrating in favor of abortion in the case of rape allowed mobiliza-
tion for a women's cause that crossed class lines. This approach to
feminism--some issues class specific, others crossing class lines--will
be stressed in the 1983 meeting of feminists in Lima.
In the Dominican Republic, there was no feminist organization before
the mid-1970s. Women were more likely to be organized by the right wing.
The country is small and relatively poor in terms of GNP and national
control of natural resources. A history of internal political repression
was reinforced by a U. S. military invasion in 1965. Women were active
in leftist parties in opposition to right-wing rule. Both the Church and
political parties have organized grassroots women's groups. Thus, in
many ways, the Dominican Republic parallels Peru in pre-conditions for a
class-oriented feminist movement, although the U. S. military invasions
made imperialism ever more of an issue.
A bourgeois feminine movement has existed in the Dominican Republic
since the 1930s. Established by the dictator Rafael Leonides Trujillo
Molina, a mulatto of middle class origin, Dominican Feminist Action (AFD)
was established to lend feminine support to the tyranny, through an
ideological superstructure that glorified women's place and the status
quo. The movement had family and moral concerns at its center, equating
equilibrium of the home to equilibrium of the nation.35 The activities
of AFD included works of charity, schools of "domestic education," a
prize for women who had the most children, and a campaign to get the vote
for women. The AFD was made up of society ladies, intellectuals, public
employees, as well as the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of
government officials, primarily those in the military.36 -As a reward
for their loyal support of the dictatorship, Trujillo awarded women the
right to vote in 1942. They returned the favor in the 1942 election,
confirming his tenure in office.
One of Trujillo's chief lieutenants was Joaquin Balaguer, who was
duly installed in 1961 as a replacement for Trujillo after Trujillo's
assassination. In the first presidential vote after his installation in
December 1961, Juan Bosch of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) was
elected President. He undertook a number of economic and political
reforms and was overthrown by the mlitary, supported by the Pentagon,
the C. I. A., and sugar interests. In April 1965, an invasion force
of 42,000 U. S. Marines put down a popular uprising attempting to
reinstate the democratically elected government of Juan Bosch.38
Balaguer was then elected president, supported by right-wing elements of
the military. Like Trujillo, Balaguer saw the utility of organizing
women.39 The first years of the Balaguer government were very repres-
sive and, to balance this, personalistic welfare services and major
public works were initiated. Women played a key role in this operation.
In February 1972, the Crusade of Love was officially founded to work for
educational and legal reform within the existing system. While the AFD
performed primarily individual acts of charity and educated women for
their domestic roles, the Crusade began collective programs for poor
women in Mothers' Centers, Women's Training Programs, and certain health
services and made donations of food and clothing. The Crusade, led
primarily by elite and middle class women, served to legitimize the
dominant ideology by providing a public sphere for women performing their
"private" role of mother. The final acts of the Crusade were to mobilize
large groups of women to march to re-elect Balaguer in 1978. (He lost
the election and the Crusade disbanded.)
The feminine movement in the Dominican Republic, more than in either
Brazil or Peru, was closely linked to maintaining the government in power,
while seeking isolated acts of reform to better the situation of bourgeois
women within the existing political and economic dynamic. Linkages were
made with newly formed grassroots women's groups to mobilize them for the
current strong man in power. As in other countries in Latin America,
representatives of these traditional and elitist groups are integrated
into the Interamerican Commission of Women (CIM).
While the parties in power mobilized the bourgeois and some working
class and peasant women in support of the status quo by emphasizing their
traditional roles, Dominican leftist women fought the government side by
side with their male leftist comrades. Concerned with political change
and social justice for the poor, these women suffered the same type of
imprisonment that the men did.
The repression began to ease after 1976, and political parties on the
left were officially allowed to form. Women activists sought an equal
role in these organizations. To their surprise, they found themselves at
the margins of these movements for which they had fought so hard. The
men in charge systematically told them that their increasing-concern for
the problems of women was divisive to the class struggle. Groups of
radical women began getting together, some as early as 1976, to try to
work out theoretically the links between the current political struggle
for economic justice and the demands of women as part of the oppressed
group. At the same time, non-feminist women of more moderate stripe were
working with church groups of peasant and worker women, attempting to
help them to meet their self-defined needs.
These progressive Church groups initiated a number of programs aimed
at poor women, undertaking Paulo Freire-type educational programs on
topics such as nutrition. (In contrast to the traditional extension
approach that blames the victim for not eating correctly, the women
examined the social and economic causes of the women's children's deplor-
able nutritional status.) Such consciousness raising ultimately led the
poor women themselves to begin to reflect on their status not only as
poor people, but also as women.
A number of intermediary groups, engaged in traditional programs with
grassroots women's groups, began to question their work as a result of
these mutual reflections. Groups of intellectual women, spearheaded by
the University Committee of Women (CUM) in Santo Domingo and formed during
International Women's Year in 1975, began to feel the need to reach out
beyond their theoretical considerations to put their ideas into practice.
Two of the most outstanding groups that attempted to combine theory with
practice were the Center of Research for Feminist Action (CIPAF) and the
Feminist Action (AF). They grew out of the tradition of popular education
and aim to raise the twin questions of oppression of gender and class
within the current Dominican situation. In 1974 it was stated in a pub-
lication of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA):
The lack of a genuine theory of feminine oppression, a coherent
body of ideas to link to the specific oppression of women as a
sex to the aspirations of exploited classes in general, has
frustrated the task of politically conscious women of the Left.
Radical feminism has been submerged in the activities of the
Dominican Left, where male chauvinism still has a hold.40
While by 1982 the description of the Dominican Left as chauvinistic was
still accurate to a large degree, the lack of theory on gender-class
oppression had been corrected.
The new socialist feminist groups sought to train concerned inter-
mediary groups to deal with the organizing and conscienticising questions
that arose in their work. They undertook a series of workshops to do so,
collaborating with the newly formed Women's Section of the Dominican
Center for Educational Studies (CEDEE). They worked with intermediate
groups that sought to mobilize poor women to act to benefit themselves on
a political level. They can be contrasted to the majority of groups
working with poor women in the Dominican Republic (and there are many)
that seek either (1) the twin purposes of individual mobility/better
employees for multinational corporations in the zonas francas (free trade
zones) or for domestic service or (2) to use groups of women to better
spread knowledge about how to improve the performance of women's tradi-
tional roles within the home.
Grassroots groups that have worked for several years to raise
consciousness about economic and political exploitation have come to
define the liberation41 they desire as including the liberation of
women. They see this not so much in militantly confronting men (some
still hesitate to confront problems of the appropriation of women's
sexuality), but in educating men as to the worth of the labor women
actually do, so as to give women more value within their community. That
consciousness raising has interacted with the development of theory of
the feminist socialist groups, who are now seeking to recapture the
strengths of women's culture within the Dominican Republic.
Income generation in a time of high inflation is an area that both
brings women together at a grassroots level and separates them from a
program of broader political action. Thus, AF determined that it will do
its neighborhood organizing only with women who are already employed--who
have to a degree solved the problem of income generation--so that they
can focus on their problems as women and as workers without having to deal
witn the ever-looming problem of providing sustenance for their families.
The Dominican Republic is impressive both for the development of
socialist feminism and the large number of projects undertaken by grass-
roots women's groups. No other country in Latin America has such a high
degree of organization and social class diversity in its women's movement.
Perhaps because the Dominican Republic, like Brazil and Peru, is under-
going a period of critical alignment at this historical moment, the
women's question is being added in a decisive fashion to the problematic
While the three countries described above are emerging from periods
of political repression, Chile still suffers strong political repression
ten years after a military coup deposed democratically elected Salvador
Allende and his socialist Popular Unity government in September 1973.
Although Chile has had a history of a feminist movement,42 it was
practically dissolved when women got the right to vote. During the
Popular Unity government, 1970-1973, many women were mobilized by right
wing forces in a destabilization plan to bring down the government.43
During the years of the major social reforms, from 1964 to 1973, both
under the Christian Democrats and later Popular Unity, activist women in
favor of social change joined forces with leftist political parties to
structure a new society. They did so as leftists, not feminists, and
thus women's issues were left out of the strategy of building a new, more
The post-1973 repression forced many women activists into exile. The
comparative advantage-free enterprise economic model imposed by the
Pinochet regime sharply increased unemployment. Women were especially
hard hit, and feminism again began to surface in the Chilean setting,
albeit in different forms.
In Brazil and the Dominican Republic, the Church fed women indirectly
into tne socialist feminist movement through its long-time work with
grassroots groups in general consciousness-raising. In Peru, the Church,
to a degree, opposed the feminist movement because of disagreement over
abortion and birtn control. In Chile the Church became the umbrella under
which both the intellectual and the working class socialist feminist could
come together and through which union women and neighborhood organizations
could meet to discuss issues of common concern.
Further, the long-time democratic tradition in Chile meant that there
were more genuine links between the new socialist feminists, who grew out
of a militant party background, and the Chilean feminist movement of the
early 20th century, which arose in response to both the internal changes
of the industrializing Chilean economy and tne influence of the interna-
tional wo men's movement surrounding the fight for suffrage in Europe and
America. Although the early movement focused on obtaining the right
to vote at the national level in 1949,45 it made more inroads into the
popular classes than did early feminism in the other countries under dis-
cussion and was more open to confronting male-female problems as well as
problems of inequalities in the legal code and in educational opportun-
ities. Leftist women were early involved in such organizations as the
Movement in Favor of the Emancipation of Women (MEMCH), organized in 1935.
Despite the strong and multi-class history of feminism in Chile, the
feminist movement began to decline after 1949 as women moved from female
organizations into political parties.46 With a growing liberal tide in
the country, the leftist and Christian Democratic parties themselves con-
vinced the women who joined them that women's issues should wait until
the real social, political and economic problems were solved. Only when
it was clear that there was no chance for general social, political, or
economic betterment under the repressive and elitist-oriented government
of Pinochet would women again focus on the women's concerns as matters of
Despite tne Chilean government's distrust of the 1975 International
Women's Year, tnat international focus on women gave rise to concern for
Chilean women by both exiles and women at home. That many influential
Chilean exiles were in feminist circles in Europe helped begin a return
to feminist socialist consciousness in Chile itself. As early as 1976,
small groups of intellectual women began meeting to deal with both their
personal problems as women in a deteriorating economic and political
situation and with the theoretical underpinnings of economic, class, and
gender oppression. By May 1979, one group was ready to go public, and
the first meeting of the unofficial Circle for the Study of the Condition
of Women (?) was held in Santiago. An enthusiastic crowd of over 200
people attended as the theoretical positions formulated and the links
with union women and tne previous feminist movement were celebrated. The
major document of that meeting ended with a call to "comply with our
obligations to take consciousness, to study, to participate and to snow
solidarity. We believe that is our, and only our, responsibility to
demand that women receive their rights. If we do not fight for ourselves,
no one will fight for us."47
The Circle was eventually recognized as an official study group under
the Academy for Christian Humanism. Six workshops were formed of from
twenty to fifty women each to deal with (1) women and work, (2) ideology
and mass communications, (3) the legal condition of women, (4) women and
health, (5) cultural and artistic diffusion, and (6) politics and
history--that is, the formation of a feminist consciousness. Unlike the
research on women in Latin America discussed by Navarro,48 this work is
definitely feminist as well as concerned about the issue of class exploi-
tation and economic dependency.
The Circle also cooperated with working class women's groups in
organizing mass meetings of women to discuss their rights and possibil-
ities under tne current regime. Most recently, they have become involved
in the problems and organization of domestic workers, dealing with the
contradictions of being both employers and organizers.
The Circle defined itself primarily as academic. Yet, as in other
Latin American countries, learning about the situation of poor women
almost requires one to try to act in some way to better their condition.
Here again, the links with the Church are crucial.
A large number of emergency measures were instituted after the 1973
coup as the right-wing radical economic "solution" for Chile closed
factories and shut off public welfare programs. The Church stepped into
tne ever-widening gap of human services, always seeing this participation
as short term until the situation somehow regained its former equilibrium.
That equilibrium, after nearly ten years, appears to mean a steadily
deteriorating condition for the poor. Thus, the Church and other private
social welfare programs, that primarily involve women, are beginning to
realize that they must rethink their strategies and replan their tactics.
Women from the Circle, who initially wanted to enter the urban slums and
peasant organizations to make the participants feminists, are now entering
the slums and working with peasants and workers to meet their self-defined
needs, that may include, but are not limited to, raising feminist issues
and understanding. Sexuality, as in the other countries, nas proved a
meaningful topic for education and cross-class communication. The Circle
is working with several of the action groups in the Vicariate of Soli-
darity to help them use participant research techniques to evaluate their
methods of working with poor women in the present situation of severe
political repression. Right-wing anti-feminist groups, however, also
maintain their links to working class workers, particularly through such
organizations as mothers' clubs.
In a number of Latin American countries women have responded to
economic dependency and political repression and their aftermath by
organizing to (1) analyze the implications of oppression by class and by
gender where dependent capitalism is the dominant economic force, and
(2) guided by that analysis, organize autonomous socialist feminist
groups that can work with grassroots, non-feminist women's groups in
order to help them meet their immediate daily needs and arrive at a
of their situation as women and as members of an exploited class. The
four cases discussed attempt to show how socialist feminism emerged to
varying degrees in a variety of settings in Latin America and the
The countries of Latin America all differ in terms of their economic,
political, and social histories. While there is the impetus of a world-
wide focus on women, stimulated by the International Women's Year, and
later the International Women's Decade, the forms that feminism took in
Latin America vary according to country setting. As demonstrated by the
1981 meeting of feminists in Bogota, however, women in Latin America and
the Caribbean have a great deal in common. Feminism seems to blossom and
seek working class ties in situations where there has been organized class
struggle. Experience in political parties, coupled with the international
input of political exiles, helps build a socialist feminist base. But,
until there is some opening in repressive political structures, even as
small as the cover provided by the Church in Chile, an activist feminist
movement cannot emerge. Thus, for example, in Argentina there are several
feminist (but not socialist) organizations of middle class intellectual
women--which are carefully avoided by most of the best-known scholars in
that country who are undertaking important studies of women that focus on
class as the major issue. One feminist Argentine group organized a
regional encounter of feminists in October 1980, which was summarily shut
down by the Argentine military police.
In Colombia and Mexico, small socialist feminist groups exist which
are seeking ties with working class groups, primarily through offering
services and workshops. There is a beginning of such a movement in
Ecuador. In Bolivia, strong working class and peasant women's organiza-
tions exist which focus on class issues and which have no feminine middle
class link (due in part to the systematic decimation of the left by the
various right-wing military dictatorships). In Cuba, through the Federa-
tion of Cuban women, and in Nicaragua through AMNLAE, women are organized.
But, despite working quietly behind the scenes to better the situation of
women within the new revolutionary situations, such groups eschew a
feminist label as divisive when national survival is at stake.
The movements described, as well as the emergent feminist socialist
movements in Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador have a number of things in
common. Organizing for women as a specific category within other
oppressed groups was stimulated by the 1975 International Women's Year
conference in Mexico City and further mobilized by the mid-decade meeting
in Copenhagen. The publicity surrounding the Mexico meeting, since it
was held in Latin America, focused the attention of governments and
citizens on the position of women within each country. Similarly, in all
the countries in which socialist feminism is emerging, much effort and
study is going into establishing cross-class organizational ties. And in
all the countries, such ties are both initially aided and ultimately
hindered by early grassroots organization and conscientization by the
Catholic Church. Nuns in particular managed to bring women together to
talk of their problems and the causes and potential solutions to them.
In all the countries where feminist socialist movements are springing up,
consciousness raising meant first dealing with underdevelopment--a struc-
tural condition caused both by class relationships, but primarily by neo-
colonial economic relationships with the center countries of the world
system--extreme and visible poverty, constant struggles for democracy
against strong forms of political oppression, and a state focusing first
on national security and second on development, generally ignoring women's
The movements differ greatly as to context. The degree of political
repression varies from relatively mild in the Mexican state, where a mode
of cooptation within the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI) means
repression is much more selective, to Argentina where harsh semi-official
repression, represented by a large and growing number of "disappeared
persons," creates a psychology of fear making cross-class alliances
particularly risky. Currently in Peru, the Dominican Republic, and
Colombia, there are elections and relative openness, but the potential
for jail and worse is recognized by all involved in critical politics.
In Brazil, the political opening, while much greater than in the past, is
still fragile, with a potential for increased political repression always
present, particularly related to the growing labor activisim for economic
justice. In Chile, repression is strong, and even the small opening
provided by the Church for social welfare measures is constantly vulner-
able to being shut, making large-scale organizing, particularly under a
socialist label, an impossibility.
The economic situation of world-wide inflation and economic stagnation
is forcing women in Latin America to become more aware of the structures
that influence their families' well-being, as well as to seek alternative
forms of income. Yet the focus of this activity related to working class
women organizing depends to a great degree on the economic base existent
in each country. In Brazil, where industrialization is more wide-spread
than in other Latin American countries, support for union activity is a
key agenda item for socialist feminist groups. While the groups in other
countries support strike activity when the opportunity exists, the lower
level of industrialization and the more precarious economic situations,
particularly in Peru, means a focus on the informal sector and income
generation as part of the organizational mix. For all the groups, it has
become clear that they must deal with working class women's immediate
needs as well as build organization and levels of consciousness. Further,
it is clear that consciousness as well as immediate needs are closely
linked to social class position. The common theme of recognition and
understanding women's sexuality, however, has proved a powerful vehicle
for organization and education in all of the countries discussed.
Latin American countries suffer from underdevelopment and are disad-
vantaged in the world system. Class problems are still serious in almost
all as well. Ethnic and racial barriers confound the class lines in many
situations. Male dominance limits women in all situations and in all
social classes, despite enormous variation among different groups of
women. Despite the differences, there is a strong sense of internation-
alism among the socialist feminists in Latin America. They seek to learn
from each other's practical experiences and share their theoretical
developments as they build autonomous organizations. And they are
developing innovative patterns of networking to carry out these goals.
International Women's Decade has proved a catalyst in this process.
Carroll, among others, has faulted socialist feminists for the lack
of "a true analytical synthesis."49 Perhaps that synthesis is more
likely to come through the praxis of Latin American social feminists
groups than from the theoretical analysis of women's studies centers.
This article has not dealt specifically with the specific theoretical
content of the socialist feminist groups described. Rather, the very
nature of these groups requires a dialectical methodology and a theoret-
ical fluidity that should provide new insights for North American scholars
1. The classic statement on dependency was finished in 1967, written by
an exiled Brazilian and a Chilean. See Fernando Henrique Cardoso and
Enzo Faletto, Dependency and Development in Latin America (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1979).
2. Hahner, June E. "Feminism, Women's Rights, and the Suffrage Movement
in Brazil, 1850-1932." Latin American Research Review XV, No. 1
3. Navarro, Marysa. "Research on Latin American Women." Signs: Journal
of Women in Culture and Society. V, No. 1, No. 3 (Autumn 1979):111-
4. Carroll, Berniece A. Signs: V, No. 3 (Spring 1980):455.
5. Baricada (Managua, Nicaragua) July 27, 1981:4.
6. Montgomery, Tommie Sue. "From Christ to Marx: The Ideology of the
Salvadorean Revolution," paper presented at the Latin American Studies
Association meeting, Washington, D.C. March 1982:11-14.
7. Chaney, Elsa. Supermadre: Women in Politics in Latin America.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979:72.
8. Silverstein, Leni. "First Feminist Conference in Latin America."
International Supplement to the Women's Studies Quarterly I (January
9. Navarro, Marysa. "The First Meeting of Latin American Feminists,"
paper presented at the Latin American Studies Association meeting,
Washington, D.C. March 1982.
10. Mitchell, Juliet. Women's Estate. New York: Vintage Books, 1971:
11. Altbach, Edith Hosheno. Women in America. Lexington, Mass.: D.C.
Heath & Co., 1974:86-89.
12. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and
13. Barrios de Chungara, Domitila, with Moema Viezzer. Let Me Speak!
Testimony of Domitila, a Woman of the Bolivian Mines. New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1978.
14. Hola, M.A. Busto E. "Contacto en Copenhague." Boletin No. 3, Circulo
do Estudios de la Mujer, Academia de Humanismo Cristiano (Sept-Oct.
15. Safa, Helen I. "Comments on Tinker's 'A Feminist View of Copenhagen'."
Signs VI No. 4 (Summer 1980):778-780.
16. Barrig, Maruja. "Balance de Cinco Anos de Frustraciones." La Revista
(Lima) 3 (Nov. 1980):7-10.
18. Coordinadora Premier Encuentro Feminista Latino Americana. Mimeo on
Organization, Bogota, Colombia, October 1980.
19. "ler Encuentro Feminista Latino americano y del Caribe, Bogota,
Colombia," ISIS, Boletin Internacional de las Mujeres 9 (March 1982):
20. Hahner, op. cit.:lO1.
21. Schmink, Marianne. "Women in Brazilian (Abertura) Politics." Signs
VII No. 1 (Fall 1981):115-134.
22. Page, Joseph A. The Revolution That Never Was: Northeast Brazil,
1955-1964. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1972.
23. Evans, Peter. Dependent Development: The Alliance of Multinational,
State and Local Capital in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University
Press. More recently, the rate of GNP growth has declined from nearly
14% in 1973 to 1% in 1981--well below the rate of population growth.
Industrial product actually declined--8% in 1981. (La American
Regional Reports, Brazil RB-82-01, January 1982).
24. Silverstein, Leni. Personal communication, 1982.
25. Schmin, op. cit.:123.
26. Silverstein, Leni. "Comments on Feminism and Political Structures in
Latin America," unpublished paper, 1982:2.
27. Schmin, op. cit.:123.
28. Silverstein, "Comments," 1982:2.
29. Saffiotti, Heleieth I.B. Women in Class Society. New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1978.
30. Vargas, Virginia. Feminist Movement in Peru. Paper presented at the
Latin American Studies Association meeting, Washington, D.C., March
31. Chaney, Elsa M. "Women in Latin American Politics: The Case of Peru
and Chile." In Female and Male in Latin America: Essays, edited by
Ann Pescatello. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973:110.
32. Barrig, Maruja. Personal communication.
33. Andradi, Esther, and Ana Maria Portugal. Ser Mujer en el Peru. Lima:
Tokapu Editores, s.a., 1979.
34. Barrig, Maruja. Cinturon de Castidad: La Mujer de Clase Media en el
Peru. Lima: Mosca Azul, 199.
35. Mota, Vivian M. "Politics and Feminism in the Dominican Republic:
1931-45 and 1966-74." In Sex and Class in Latin America, edited by
June Nash and Helen Icken Safa. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976:
36. Viezzer, Moema. "Una Metodologia de Investigacion-Educacion para
Organizaciones Femininas." Documento do Trabajo UNICEF/TARO/PM/80/7,
37. Gutierrez, Carlos Maria. The Dominican Republic: Rebellion and
Repression. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972:149.
38. Draper, Theodore. "The Dominican Crisis: A Case Study in American
Policy." Commentary 40, No. 6 (December 1965):33-68.
39. Mota, op. cit.:274.
40. North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). "Feminismo
Balaguerista: A Strategy of the Right." Latin America and Empire
Report VIII, No. 4 (April 1974):28.
41. For an understanding of the meaning of liberation in the Latin
American context, see Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation,
Maryknolls, New York: Orbis Books, 1973:36-37.
42. Covarrubias, Paz. "El Movimiento Feminista Chileno." In Chile:
Mujer y Sociedad, edited by Paz Covarrubias and Rolando Franco.
Santiago: UNICEF, 1978:615-656.
43. Mattelart, Michele. "Chile: The Feminine Version of the Coup
d'Etat." In Nash and Safa, op. cit.:279-301.
44. Chaney, Elsa M. "The Mobilization of Women in Allende's Chile." In
Women in Politics, edited by Jane S. Jaquette. New York: Wiley
45. Covarrubias, op. cit.:620.
47. Adrisola, Claudia, Maria Eugenia Aguirre, Maria Isabel Cruzat, Maria
Soledad Lago, and Elena Serrano. "Algunos Ideas Respecto a la Condi-
cion de la Mujer." Academia de Humanismo Cristiano (mimeo), May 1979.
48. Navarro, 1979, op. cit.
49. Carroll, op. cit.:456.
GLOSSARY OF LATIN AMERICAN WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS
pp. 18, 19
pp. 16, 17
pp. 13, 14,
pp. 3, 22
Feminist Action--Accion Feminina
15 ALIMUPER Action for the Liberation of Peruvian Women--
Accion para la Liberacion de la Mujer Peruana
AMNLAE Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan
Women--Asociacion de Mujeres Nicaraguenses Luisa
Feminine Organizations Coordinating Committee--
Comite Coordinator de Organizaciones Femininas.
Within CCOF are: pp. 14, 15--Manuela Ramos (also
Movement Manuela Ramos)--Movemiento Manuela Ramos;
pp. 13, 14, 15--ALIMUPER; p. 13, 15--Flora Tristan;
p. 15--Women in Struggle--Mujeres en Lucha; and
pp. 14, 15--FSM
Dominican Center for Educational Studies--Centro
Dominicana de Estudio Educacionales
Center for the Study of State and Society--Centro
de Estudios de Estado y Sociedad
Interamerican Commission of Women--Comision Inter-
americana de la Mujer
Center of Research for Feminist Action--Centro de
Investigation y Accion Feminista
Women's Center--Centro da
CONAMUP National Commission for Peruvian Women--Comision
Nacional de Mujeres Peruanas
Creativity and Change--Creatividad y Cambio
CUM University Committee of Women--Comite de Mujeres
p. 10, 11
pp. 14, 15
Faribundo Marti Front for National Liberation--
Frente Faribundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional
Socialist Front of Women--Frente Socialista de
GRECMU Research Group for the Study of the Conditions
of Uruguayan Women--Grupo de Estudios sobre las
Condiciones de la Mujer Uruguaya
pp. 5, 7, 10,
12, 13, 18, 20,
pp. 18, 27
p. 14, 15, 16
International Women's Year
Movement in Favour of the Emancipation of
Women--Movimiento por Emancipacion de la Mujer
Feminist Militancy--Militancia Feminista
North American Congress on Latin America
Dominican Revolutionary Party--Partido Revolu-
Institutionalized Revolutionary Party--Partido
SOS Mulher groups--SOS Woman
Legitimate Union of Workers in Peruvian Educa-
tion--Sindicate Unico de Trabajadores de la
Educacion del Peru
UNESCO United Nations Economic and Social Council
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