To speak of feminism in the 21st century is to speak of different types of feminisms, with different approaches, which, on some occasions, even disagree with each other. And it is that feminism, like any social and political movement, has evolved and has incorporated different positions that depend on specific situations or geographical locations. The master class on “Popular feminism, politics and democracy” by Elizabeth Alcorta, current Minister of Women and Diversity of Argentina, allows us to analyze the concept of popular feminism as a response to a neoliberal system that promotes capitalist societies. These societies promote individualism, materialism and the well-being of the few at the cost of many others’ development. In Latin America, we know this system closely as it is one of the world’s most unequal regions.
Thus, popular feminism, pointed out by Alcorta, allows us to situate ourselves in our Latin American history and with our nuances. As poetic as it may sound, we must have a feminism that will enable us to think about and rethink our struggles, challenges, and resistances. Popular feminism is an emancipatory movement because it is based on the premise that not all women are equal; not all gender oppressions are the same or at the same levels.
With an inclusive language throughout the class, Alcorta presents popular feminism as a movement that, on the one hand, denounces and evidences the structural inequalities of our societies (product of a political and economic system based on oppression). On the other, it presents it as an emancipatory movement that provides political autonomy.
And it is that exercising popular feminism leads to a strong political questioning, but above all, structural. It challenges us to walk on the inequalities we live in a patriarchal, capitalist and colonial system. Perhaps the most controversial thing is to realize that the system can only change – and improve – with a social, political and economic restructuring that involves the most vulnerable populations’ needs and interests.
Popular feminism is the current of feminism that tries to make systemic oppressions visible, more than any other feminism. It makes vulnerable and at-risk populations visible. It questions those of us who consider ourselves feminists about our privileges. It focuses on the injustices and the different gaps concerning gender that other feminisms often minimize or worse, flatly deny. Alcorta specifically presented three dimensions of oppression: the distribution of wealth, time, and desire.
When we talk about inequality in wealth concerning gender, it is easier to land it with figures, many of which we know: The wage gap represents 24% worldwide and it would take us around 170 years to eliminate it. In Latin America 54.3% of women work in sectors that present several precariousness, whether in salary, informality, access to social protection, among others
Regarding the unfair distribution of time, Alcorta emphasizes how popular feminism proposes a fairer organization and distribution of care tasks. Tasks that are culturally associated with being the responsibility of women. The International Labor Organization highlights the contrast between 4.4 hours dedicated to caring duties than 1.4 hours for men. We mentioned in a GPIA class on feminist economics how these unpaid care tasks have a public impact. The hours dedicated to unpaid work is money that women stop receiving, we lose the opportunity for wealth. What I am trying to say is that poverty often has a face in Latin America.
What is the public impact on all this? This situation responds to the precarious and informal characteristics of female work. We are hired for fewer hours, that we quit our job due to our care responsibilities, or accept worse wages in search of flexible times.
The injustice in the distribution of time also has a political impact. Indeed, we are less represented in the public sphere. All these efforts require time and resources that are often scarce for women. However, it is necessary to emphasize that we are now witnessing changes in the region with the most significant female political representation, but of course, it is not enough. As the new president of the Council of Ministers of Peru, Violeta Bermúdez said: “The day it is not news that a woman occupies a position, we will have achieved equality.”
Next, Alcorta presents our relationship with desire how our bodies have been associated with their reproductive function, objectifying them and subjecting them to the patriarchy’s interests. It is perhaps one of the most normalized dimensions of our oppression and at the same time, very painful.
It is worth noting that what has been shared so far speaks very little about other dimensions of diversity but tries to emphasize and summarize – as far as possible – what popular feminism is and what the collective struggles of this movement support.
As the last point, Eli Alcorta reflects on the impacts these speeches have on democracy in Latin America? She maintains that one aspect that impacts the fragility of Latin American democracy, without a doubt, is the absence of women’s participation in public spaces. It is the under-representation of our interests, needs and the respective consequences, accentuating inequalities and conflicts in our region.
In response, in Latin America of the 21st century, we are enjoying an awakening of popular feminist movements focused, above all, on the right to an education with a gender perspective and access to safe and free abortion. As Alcorta points out, with almost the same intensity, ultra-conservative movements reappear that under the supposed “protection” of the family (which in reality is only one type of family), they unleash speeches sometimes disguised as being politically docile and other times, extraordinarily frontal and violent.
We should note that any emancipatory movement needs States present and ready to make decisions for their citizens’ welfare. The force of the movement is necessary, and at the same time and in equal intensity, the political decision for normative and transcendent change. This becomes crucial considering the situation in recent weeks in Latin America beyond the COVID-19 pandemic: fires in Argentina, floods in Mexico and Nicaragua, protests in Chile, Peru and Guatemala against governments that they abuse their powers. Or struggles that have been going on for years, like the dictatorship in Venezuela or Cuba. It is no coincidence that we find ourselves facing a crisis of femicides in several countries of the region such as Peru and Ecuador within an intense social and political struggle.
Eli Alcorta enthuses us to show that social movements such as popular feminism take advantage of crises as spaces of opportunity. This is how this movement’s relevance was born, for providing creative, collective and articulating solutions to respond to the capitalist system in which we live today. As mentioned in class, it’s about changing minds, hearts, and laws. The question is, which of these three is “easier” to change in Latin America?
By Ximena González.
GPIA MSc International Affairs Candidate.