Negotiating Culture in the Promotion of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Latin America

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It would perhaps go without saying that, given the culture of ‘machismo’, still strong throughout Latin America, feminist and women’s movements have been forced to negotiate culture on a number different of issues pertaining to gender justice. Making domestic violence against women visible and defining it as a serious social problem in need of society- wide solutions, have been major struggles in that direction. It took more than 30 years for In this paper I have argued that culture interacts with development, focusing, in particular, on how culture has been negotiated by women’s movements in Latin America in the promotion of gender justice and women’s empowerment. This argument has been based on a dynamic notion of culture that views it not as a crystallised entity, but rather as an ‘active process of meaning making and contestations over definitions’ Culture interacts with development in multiple ways. However the importance of culture within development should not be seen as translating to crystallising and solidifying its meaning or providing definitive ideas of what works. In this paper, I look at the relevance of culture to the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment, and examine how some women's movements in Latin America have negotiated and contested meanings around culture and as a result have resignified gender values, attitudes and behaviours.

The example of Las madres de la Plaza de Mayo questions the cultural construct of motherhood and the traditional role of the mother caring for the family within the home, and the women's neighbourhood action based in Bahia, Brazil which I look at contests and extends the notion of that domestic space. The importance of deconstructing and fighting against stereotypical images and patriarchal views of women in order to uphold gender rights is clear from the examples I look at on domestic violence, sex worker violence and the Black Women's Movement's struggle against sexist and racist images.feminists in Brazil to see the passage of the Maria da Penha Law, a comprehensive legislation package to criminalise and curtail domestic violence against women, and still much to come before they win over the patriarchal reluctance of judges – women and men alike – in applying the law comprehensively. 

In conclusion I argue that in employing 'transformatory thinking' the women's groups that I look at in this paper have worked together as women to contest and confront accepted cultural meanings and by doing so have begun to restructure the gender order and promote gender equality.

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ISBN: 978 1 78118 094 5
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