With legislation such as the Cuban Family Code (1974), the participation of women in Nicaragua’s 29 year revolution and Bolivia’s Mujeres Creando; feminism in Latin America has made continual progress during the last fifty years. From Argentina’s Isabel Peron (1974-1976) to Brazil’s Dilma Roussef (2010 – present), the region has in fact witnessed the tenure of nine female leaders. Yet while this would be unprecedented within most European and Asian societies, the disconcerting prevalence of female inequality is still a cause for concern.
Cue the Bananeras, members of the Americas’ various female banana unions and fervent campaigners for gender equality within the work place. Their ardent belief in a unified feminist agenda has culminated in achievements ranging from paid sickness leave to universal healthcare for all women in their respective communities. Given the geographical distance and cultural diversity between all unions involved, such work is no less than astounding. In an industry still maligned by the prevalence of low wages and a lack of workers’ rights, the Bananeras are fighting back against a form of patriarchal capitalism which was originally challenged by proto-feminist movements such as the Matchgirls.
With very little opportunities for such women…
Yet the feminisation of agrarian unions is merely one success story juxtaposed to a myriad of societal flaws. Look no further than Mexico, for example – a nation on the brink of inaugurating Josefina Vazquez Mota, a serious contender to become the country’s first female President and, if successful, another bastion of female political empowerment within the region. This is the same country, however, which has witnessed the disappearance of over 1500 women since 2008.
The same country in which 67% of all women have experienced some form of domestic violence and the same country that is disquietingly incapable of tackling its high levels of female unemployment. According to recent statistics, it is expected that over 100,000 jobs will be axed in 2012, with the vast majority of those affected being females in the country’s ailing textile industry. With very little opportunities for such women, therefore, Latin America seems to be facing a crisis of epic proportion.
There is the ever-growing potential to politically and socially catalyse a generation…
In Guatemala alone, a country smaller than the US state of Tennessee, it is estimated that roughly half of all women have at one time been subject to domestic abuse. Such statistics pale in comparison, however, to the 1400 femicidal murders that were committed there during the last two years: a stark reminder of the country’s sanguinary history. Yet such high levels of unabashed violence have prompted a surge of pro-feminist marches, attended by men, women, children and the President himself. Earlier this month over 12,000 citizens scaled Volcan de Agua in a display of solidarity with their female compatriots, thus highlighting that there is a recognition of and a desire to change the current faults in Guatemalan society.
Whether such movements will have any impact remains to be seen, often overshadowed by the oppressive importance placed upon cultural machismo and the worrying normality of ultra violent behaviour. Yet the increasing prominence of women in power can only be deemed as a positive step forward. There is the ever-growing potential to politically and socially catalyse a generation of Latin American women, who may become easily disillusioned with their place in society. As groups such as the Bananeras expand, therefore, it is evident that only through a concerted effort to empower ordinary Latin American women, will the region’s love affair with patriarchal oppression be destroyed.