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Volume 38

Number 1

Autumn 2012

Comparative Perspectives Symposium
Romani Feminisms
Edited by Ethel C. Brooks
Ethel C. Brooks

The Possibilities ofRomani Feminism

Alexandra Oprea

Romani Feminism in Reactionary Times


Petra Gelbart

Either Sing or Go Get the Beer: Contradictions of

(Romani) Female Power in Central Europe


Carol Silverman

Education, Agency, and Power among Macedonian

Muslim Romani Women in NewYork City


Debra L. Schultz

Translating Intersectionality Theory into Practice: A Tale

of Romani- Gadze Feminist Alliance


Nicoleta Bitu and

Eniko Vincze

Personal Encounters and Parallel Paths toward

Romani Feminism


Brooke Meredith

Sex, Work, and the Feminist Erasure of Class


Rebecca L. Clark Mane

Transmuting Grammars ofWhiteness in Third-Wave

Feminism: Interrogating Postrace Histories,
Postmodem Abstraction, and the Proliferation of
Difference in Third-Wave Texts


Sally L. Kitch and Mary

Analyzing Women's Studies Dissertations: Methodologics, Episremologies, and Field Formation



Margaret Fono-w

Erica E. Townsend-Bell

Writing the Way to Feminism


ngela Ixkic Bastian


From the Margins ofLatin American Feminism:

Indigenous and Lesbian Feminisms


Mik:aela LuttrellRowland

Ambivalence, Conflation, and Invisibility: A Feminist

Analysis of State Enactment of Children's Rights in


Kimberly Kelly

In the N ame of the Mother: Renegotiating Conservative Women's Authority in the Crisis Pregnancy
Center Movement


Stephanie Ciare

When Did Indians Become Straight? Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and N ative Sovereignty
by Mark Rifkin
Spaces between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization by Scott Lauria Morgensen
Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in
Theory, Politics, and Litera tu re edited by Qwo-Li
Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, and Scott
Lauria Morgensen


Margo Hobbs

Adrian Piper: Race, Gender, and Embodiment by John

Enacting Others: Politicsof Identity in Eleanor Antin,
Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere
Smith by Cherise Smith


Julietta Hua

Spectacular Rhetorics: Human Rights Visions, Recognitions, Feminisms by Wendy S. Hesford

Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights edited by
Dorothy L. Hodgson


Book Reviews

About the Contributors


Thanks to Reviewers


Guidelines for Contributors






From the Margins of Latin American Feminism:

lndigenous and Lesbian Feminisms

an important role in the political transformation of

Latn American countries since the l970s. Feminists have actively participated in the search for democracy and have questioned gender inequalities in contexts where to do so would have previously seemed impossible. The feminist movement in the region emerged from a clase dialogue
with Anglo feminism and is dominated by liberal feminists. The movement
has focuseq on demands such as political and legal equality for women, the
right to work and economic independence, and control over one's body,
inc:luding sexual choice and reproductive rights. Within the hegemonic
feminist sector, however, there is resistan ce to incorporatng difference,
particularly in terms of race, sexuality, and class. 1 There is also a resistance
to analyzing power relations within the feminist movement itself. Although
the feminist movement in Latn America has become more diverse over the
past forty years, feminist discourse has been monopolized by a white and
mestiza urban middle-class elite and has displayed a decidedly heterosexist
In this article I seek to reconstruct the politi cal genealogies of two
feminisms in Latn America-indigenous and lesbian feminism-in the
context of their dialogue and alliances with liberal feminism. M y principal
objective is to analyze how indigenous and lesbian feminists have emerged
in dialogue with dominant feminism and how they have appropriated and
resignified sorne of the conceptual tools of hegemonic liberal feminism in
arder to apply them within their specific contexts. I also seek to understand
the contributions that these feminisms from the margins have made to the
construction of a wider and more complex feminism, and to explore the
theoretical and political cbntradictions that such an endeavor has involved.
Historically, ' liberal feminism has placed gender relations and gender
inequality at the center of its analysis, paying less attention to issues of
racism and heterosexual dominance or heteronormativity. Indigenous feminists and lesbians have posed important challenges to the liberal feminist
paradigm. Indigenous feminists have questioned the centrality of the indieminism has played

Liberal feminism is not hegemonic in wider poltica! arenas in Latn America, but it is
hegemonic in relation to the wider women's movement.


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vidual within liberal perspectives on both human rights and gender relations
and have argued for the mportance of defending indigenous women's
rights as part of collectives, be they composed of peoples or organizations.
Lesbians, in turn, have pointed to the heterosexualization of society as a
fundamental mechanism for the control of women, while at the same time
challenging the lesbophobia that is hidden but deeply rooted in the polit. ical practices of liberal feminists.
Drawing on the critiques of universalist liberal feminism proposed by
anticapitalist feminists such as M. Jacqui Alexander (Alexander and Mohanty
2004), Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2002, 2008), and Rosalva Ada Hernndez Castillo (2008); postcolonial feminists such as Lata Mani (1999);
Mrican Americans such as bell hooks ( 1984) and Bevedy Guy-Sheftall
(2003); and Chicanas such as Gloria Anzalda (Moraga and Anzalda
1984), I argue for the need to create Latin American feminisms that
acknowledge the importance of di:fference( s) while at the same time seeking
common spaces between di:fferent subjectivities to enable.communication.
Since the 1980s, feminists in the United States such as hooks (1984),
Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, and Patricia Hill Collins (1989) have denounced the racism of white feminism and the lack of attention it pays to
issues of class and race. The postcolonial feminist writer Mohanty (2008)
questions the colonialist discourses of white feminism toward women of
the so-called third world through their victimizing representations. In the
case ofLatin America, although there are many texts that analyze the organizational processes of indigenous women, pathbreaking works on emerging indigenous feminisms are few and relatively recent. 2 Much has also
been written on lesbian feminism in the region. However, there are virtually no texts that analyze the ways in which both these movements have
enriched Latn American femiillsm as a theoretical and political project and
have rendered it more complex. This essay is a small step in that direction.
I begin by acknowledging that social actors are not merely the protagonists of the transformation but also participate actively in creating the analytical tools to understand their reality. This theoretical reflection occurs
within intellectual debates and beyond them as well: in the everyday life of
organizations and in dialogues among groups and individuals, such as at
assemblies, meetings, and workshops. In this article, women's testimonies
are conceived not merely as examples of certain practices or experiences
but rather as voices that transform feminism and as strands that thread
together di:fferent genealogies ofstruggle . .

See Chirix Garca (2000, 2003), Hernndez Castillo (2001), lvarez Medrana (2006),
and Espinosa (2006).

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In keeping with the feminist critique of the concept of objectivity, and

in particular with the proposal of creating localized knowledge (Haraway
1991) that makes explicit the researcher's place of enunciation and position
in the power relations that surround intellectual and political inquiry, I
would like to briefly share my own trajectory and the genesis of this article.
I have worked closely with organizations of indigenous women for years,
in both Guatemala and Mexico, sometimes in academic projects, sornetimes accompanying indigenous women's political processes, and other
times seeking toestablish a link between the two.
I have also participated in spaces oflesbian activism such as the organization of the VI Encuentro Lsbico Feminista Latinoamericano y del Caribe (Sixth Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian Feminist Gathering;
ELFLC) that took place in Mexico in 2004. Prior to the event, I coordinated workshops so that the participants could discuss issues such as racism, di:fferent feminisms, and identities. My proximity to organized indigenous and lesbian women has allowed me to see the importance feminism
has had in the construction of both political identities, and at the same .
time it has led me to reflect on the tensions between these elements or .
Given the complexity ofLatin America as a region, it is impossible todo
justice to the diversity of Latn American feminisms in a single article.
Although I allude here to the region in its entirety, I will make specific
reference to Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. The
information comes not only from my participation in the aforementioned
academic and political spaces but also through interviews with activists
from each of these countries, many of them affiliated with ELFLC. It is
also taken from my analysis of sorne key regional initiatives such as the
2003 Summit of Indigenous Women of the Americas and nacional events
like the Second Nacional Gathering ofindigenous Women in Oaxaca.

Liberal feminism in Latin Amrica

Feminism in Latin America began in the 1970s as a movement marked by

the context of military dictatorships. It questioned the close link between
militarism and masculine domination. In the face of state repression,
women formed . groups in resistance, often in alliance with progressive
wings of the Catholic Church as well as with broader left and nacional
liberation movements. In response to the violent silencing of trade unions,
opposition parties, and other traditional political subjects, the voices of
women emerged to denounce torture, "disappearances," and other human
rights violations. Women used the cultural respect for women's tradicional


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gender roles, and the image of mothers and grandmothers, to carve spaces
for political agency. Although these were not linked to feminism, they
represented important watersheds for the creation of a regional feminism
during this period.
In countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Chile, feminists, generally linked to revolutionary organizations, were forced to work clandestinely.
In Mexico and Argentina, feminism also drew initially from the struggles
against authoritarianism, but in contrast to subsequent developments in
other Latn American countries, it took root mainly among the middle
classes, inuniversities and progressive circles (Sternbach et al. 1992; Espinosa 2006). In spite of their lefi:ist leanings and the personal and politi cal
ties of many feminist pioneers, these feminists remained, as Gisela Espinosa
(2006) explains, distant from grassroots movements, and their work was
characterized by struggles waged against repression and dirty war. In gen. eral terms, this feminism was unable to breach the social and political
distance that separated it from grassroots women's groups.
The relationship of feminists with the Left-in sorne cases closer than
others-was not without tension. In the same lefi:ist organizations that
questioned totalitarianism, authoritarianism and sexism pushed many
women who had previously focused on class struggle toward feninism
(see Falquet 1997; Rayas V elasco 2009). The personal lives of individual
feminists became the site for experimentation and reflection about resistance to female stereotypes, their rights over their bodies, and the rights to
pleasure and a freer sexuality, to voluntary maternity, and to an equitable
distribution of domestic work and child rearing.
A central contribution that the feminism of the 1970s made to Latin
American political culture was its critique of the symbolic power of the
Catholic Church. In a predominantly Catholic region such as Latin America, ecclesiastical hierarchies have historically leaned to the political Right.
Feminist critiques pointed to the links between the state and the church
and unveiled the ways in which the religious hierarchy contributed tb the
reproduction of feminine subordination by perpetuating and reinforcing
the role of women as self-sacrificing, passive, and submissive. Feminism, in
both its secular and Catholic versions, has contributed to demystifYing
taboos and denaturalizing gender inequalities (se e Meja Pieros 1997).
During the 1980s, the distinction between feminists and the wider constellation of women's organizations grew. There was a proliferation of
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at this stage of transition to neoliberal democracy, marking the era of institutionalized feminism. Social
organizations tended to become NGOs, and gender was claimed by the
state both discursively and through new governmental structures such as

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ministries and institutes for women (Sternbach et al. 1992; Schild 2001).
In the mid-1980s, feminist professionals were already prioritizing changes
in public policy and law over and above grassroots work. This marked the
beginning of a process that Sonia Alvarez (in Sternbach et al. 1992) has
described as individuation, the growth of individualleaderships, distanced
from the grass roots, that aimed to provide popular organizations with
"experts" and _"counsellors" who emphasized empowerment from a gender perspective. These figures frequently sought an active role in formal
politics and advocated gender quotas and gendered changes to laws.
In the preparations foi- the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women
in Beijing, tensions mounted around the institutionalization and depoliticization of Latn American feminism. At one extreme were those who
sought to create a feminist technical team to influence public policy (an institutionalist and pragmatic postute ); at the other were those who insisted
on the purity and radicalism of the feminist movement.
The complex, uneven, and at times turbulent progress toward the institutionalization of feminist demands allowed NGOs to offer specialized
services for women. New governmental programs and official guidelines
also helped to generate greater social awareness and to promote a gender
discourse more widely. However, this process also resulted in depoliticization and in a clear loss of radicalism within these increasingly hegemonic
feminist circles. The new NGOs were forced to standardize theirlanguage
criteria ofthe United Nations and to
-in accordance with the universalizirig
follow the agendas set by donors, which are not always mindful of the
priorities oflocal organizations.
Thus, a substancial sector of the feminist movement in Latn America
entered the 1990s without a critique of economic adjustment policies and
neoliberalism. Institutionalized feminists established pacts and alliances
with governments, and the multilateral agencies prioritized change in puble policy nd failed to question economic and political neoliberalism ( Garca Castro 2001). The platforms approved by the United Nations were
regarded as important advances, and the fact that these documents do not
mention the reasons for -inequality was hardly ever pointed out. This contributed to hindering an objective assessment of the effects Qf neoliberalism
on women across the region. Meanwhile, the rollback of the state placed
even more responsibilities on already impoverished families, particularly on
thc shouldcrs ofwomen.
As a reaction to feminism's adoption of a "moderate" liberal human
rights perspective and in dialogue with academic and political debates on
the importance. of difference, during the late 1980s and l990s, demands
increased for the diversity within the feminist movement to be acknowl.


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edged. Among the tendencies that confronted the moderate postures, the
best .known is probably that of the autonomous feminists, who criticized
the more institutionalist approach and the abstract construction ofwomen's
citizenship that failed to account for the inequalities among women. Their
contributions are widely ac.knowledged. 3 However, autonomous feminists
have be en criticized for their political intolerance ( Garca Castro 2001)
and their inability to forge alliances, particularly with other parts of the
Socialist feminists have also pointed out the incongruities ofliberal feminism. While exercising relatively minar influence within Latin American
feminist networks, they have plared an important role in political parties,
unions, and peasant orgahizations-and in creating a new Left-and have
consistentiy insisted on the importance of interna! democratic participation. 4 Likewise, urban workers, peasants, and indigenous women from
grassroots organizations have denounced the impact of macroeconomic
policies and global politics on the lives of women from the perspective of
feminist economics (Faria 2007). 5 Together with other social movements,
these sectors have participated in the creation of new strategies and spaces
within antiglobalization struggles (Len 2003).
In short, liberal feminism has been a historical reference point in Latin
America since the 1970s and has played an important role in the struggle for
democracy and in the transformation of the Left. It has been a key player in
. the region's cultural transformation, challenging gender inequalities in contexts where they were previously accepted without question. However,
within liberal feminism there is still a strong resistance to the demands of
those who are different from the sectors that make up the majority of this
hegemonic feminism, be it in terms of race, sexual preference, class status, or
cultural identity.
Latn American feminism has diversified, and rural, popular, trade
union, and lesbian feminisms have gained ground. Yet those who work in
favor of abortion laws, sexual and reproductive rights, and .equal access of

See Rojas (1996), Curiel (2003), Cardoza (2004), Pisano (2004), and Bedregal (2005).
For more on this topic, see Mary Garca Castro (2001 ), who analyzes the role of socialist
feminists in Brazil, and Norma Stoltz Chinchilla (1991), who writes about Marxism and .
feminism in Latin America.

These organizations includc the World March ofWomcn, thc World Social Forum, rhe

Network ofWomen Transforming the Economy, the women of the Latin American Coordination ofRural Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones Campesinas)/Va Campesina, the South/South Dialogue, and lesbian gay, bisexual, transsexual, and
women's areas of the Latin American Information Agency (Agencia Latinoamericana de

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women to formal politics continue to control the most important spaces

within the movement in terms of influence and access to resources. It is
not an exaggeration to say that there is a clear monopolization of feminist
discourse by a white, urban, middle-class elite with a heterosexist discourse. This feminism is more present in the media, has won greaterpublic
space, and enjoys better access to economic resources.
Well-known Latin American feminists from this elite either have failed
to include the claiins of emerging groups of women (see Hernndez Castillo 2001, 2008) or have "consented" to include the particular demands
of lesbians in their feminist agenda as long as the lesbians themselves
remain on the margins of the political scenario and do not seek to place
themselves in positions of power that could "stain" the public image of
feminism by strengthening the stereotype that all feminists are lesbians.
However, across Latin America, women of diverse identities are questioning hegemonic feminisms. A:fro-descendant women, indigenous women,
transgender activists, sex workers, domestic workers, lesbians, and young
women from different organizations are enriching Latn American feminism, making it more theoretically and politically complex. They are questioning the limits ofan agenda based on the liberal perspective of equality
and a universalizing view of rights, one that insists in speaking for
"others." The next secton of this article seeks to reconstruct thepolitical
genealogies of two emergent feminisms in Latin America-indigenous and
lesbian feminism-through their dialogues, disagreements, and alliances
with liberal feminism.

lndigenous feminism

Within the revitalization of the indigenous movement in Latn America

during the 1990s, indigenous women emerged as independent political
subjects. Organized 'indigenous women have shared the strugglefor autonomy and cultural recogniton with their peoples and organizatons, simultaneously posing specific gender-based demands. 6 Their claims have shaped
a new epistemological approach, linking the collective demands of indigenous peoples with specific gender- based claims and . questioning certain
naturalized elements of the region's social imaginary. Within these contexts, they have forged new ways of working individually and collectively.
Throughout the region, the indigenous women's movem.e nt is a heterodox

These women come from different ethnic groups and various political trajectories. To
homogenize them and their process is not my intention, but it is impossible to mention all the


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movement built on relationships with a range of clifferent social actors,

particularly peasant and incligenous organizations, churches, the wider feminist movement, civil organizations, and even internacional agencies and
the state. The participation of incligenous women in specific poltica! processes such as nationalliberation armed movements has also contributed to
this culturally clistinct gender agenda.
Throughout the region, incligenous movements have questioned the
very nature of the state. In Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico, and Guatemala, they
have played a key role in transforming national politics, for example,
through the 1990 mobilizations in Ecuador and the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Mexico. Incligenous women in Ecuador participated on a massive
scale in the uprisings led by the Confederation ofindigenous Nationalities
in pursuit of territorial autonomy and the recognition of the pluricultural
nature of the state. In the 1990s, indigenous women's organizations
emerged at a nationallevel, culminating in the establishment of the Coordination ofincligenous Women from Ecuador (Arrobo Rodas 2005).
In Bolivia the 2006 presidencial victory of Aymara activist Evo Morales,
leader of the political movement MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo, or
Movement for Socialism), was an indication of the strength of the indigenous movement in that country. With MAS's arrival to power, a significant
number of incligenous women and nonindigenous working-class women
assumed a place within the Bolivian parliament and constituent assembly,
a level of participation that was unprecedented (Monasterios 2007).
In Mexico and Guatemala, Mayan women are struggling for a distinct
poltica! identity within a context of intensified migration and the monetization of indigenous rural economies, both of which have led to transformations in domestic economies and local power systems. Most Mayan
organizations in Guatemala today do not privilege class politics but tend
to concentrare on antiracist politics and issues of cultural discrimination
and political exclusion. In both mixed organizations and women's organizations, questions of Mayan spirituality have assumed an important role
in identity pofitics, and incligenoU:s cosmovision has become a locus of
political reflection (Macleod 2008). Associations of professional indigenous women seek to strengthen women's formal political participation;
perhaps the best known are Kaqla and the Political Association of Mayan
Women (Asociacin Poltica de Mujeres Mayas, or Kinojib'al Mayib'
In Nicaragua, although the indigenous movement is not as strong as in
Guatemala, Bolivia, or Ecuador, the Mayagna, Ulua, and Rama peoples,
together with Mro-descendant Creoles and Garifunas on the Atlantic
coast, have long struggled for the recognitio!J of their cultural specificities.

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A 1987 autonomy law recognized special rights for indigenous peoples and
ethnic communities on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. Howev~r, it has been
far from easy to maintain and exercise this autonomy, which has been repeatedly threatened by successive national governments. Although women
have participated actively in the struggle to defend autonomy, indigenous
and Afro-descendant women have a limited role in decision-making spaces
(Antonio 2007).
Indigenous feminists have questioned liberal feminism, stating that it
responds to the needs ofwhite or mestiza, urban upper- and middle-class
women, and not to the realities of indigenous women, who have become a
political force in the course of their struggles as a people. Their relationship
with these feminist elites has been marked by the imposition of concepts
and methodologies that are far removed froin the reality of indigenous
Literature about indigenous women in Ecuador (Arrobo Rodas 2005;
Lorente 2005), Bolivia (Monasterios 2007), Mexico, and Guatemala ineludes accounts of the possibilities and limitations of engagement with the
state. Indigenous women have questioned the gender policies arising from
programs of equality, arguing that the liberal feminist concept of equality
is not relevant to their cultural contexts (Lorente 2005) and that they
instead seek complementarity and reciprocity. Liberal feminists, meanwhile, have accused organized indigenous women of representing indigenous cultures as harmonious and homogeneous, and while recognizing the
importance of cultural diversity, as well as the specific needs of indigenous
women, they do not endorse the collective rights of indigenous peoples.
To bring about change, these mainstream nonindigenous feminists promote individual rights without questioning conceptions of the nation as a
monoculture. Through this dynamic, indigenous women's demands run
the risk of being reduced to questions of poverty and development, avoiding the issues of interna! colonialism and feminist racism.
In terms of gender demands, there are two currents within indigenous
women's movements: The first comprises women who, beginning from
their own history of colonization, appropriate sorne aspects of feminism
and weave them into their struggles and view of culture. The second is
rnade up of indigenous wornen who are less in dialogue with ferninist ideas
and debates and who privilege the study of indigenous cosrnovisions as a
way of approaching gender inequities betWeen rnen and women.
The position of the first group is explained by Margarita Antonio, a
Miskita from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua: "Feminisrn has given us a
sense of having rights . . . , and a way of overcorning our subordinated
condition of being dorninated as women. But we don't have to do this in


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the ways marked out by feminism" (in Duarte Bastian 2007, 61)_7 Antonio
recognizes that feminism has provided indigenous women with tools to
question unequal relations but at the same time suggests that these tools
need to be adapted to specific contexts.
In the same vein, Alma Lpez, a Maya K'iche' from Guatemala, argues,
"The feminist movement that comes from academia, is scarcely related
to us. Why learn something that is unrelated to your reality or your culture? ... We need to rebuild the feminism ofindigenous women ... without distancing ourselves from the historical and theoretical arguments,
recovering from my culture the equality, the complementarities between
men and women, between women and women, between men and men"
(in Duarte Bastian 2002, 178). Lpez is much more specific in indicating
that academic feminism is far removed from. the reality of most indigenous
women and refers to aspects of Mayan culture that she regards as important in creating a more complex feminism.
Another sector within the indigenous women's movement, more distant from feminism, has decided to favor the study of their cosmovision as
a vehicle to change gender relations. In Guatemala they argue that if Mayan philosophical principies are brought into daily life, more equitable, fair,
and harmonious relationships can be constructed not just between men
and women but also between all animate and inanimate beings.
In Juana Lpez Batzin's words, "Diversity is a natural part of existence,
each element that shapes nature and the universe has in itself its own being
andits own reason of being; nobody is inferi<?r or superior, everything has
its z)aqat-complement-everything is indispensable and complementary.
Along with this conception of the world Mayan men and women are equal
according to their origin as living creatures and humans; they are diverse
and complementary because of th~ energy of their gender and their social
functions" (Lp~z Batzin 2003, 26 ).
However, the concept of complementarities, a social construct that lies
at the center of Mesoamerican and Andean indigenous world visions, has
been utilized not just to advance the organizational processes of women
but also to obstruct them. Within indigenous movements, people who
interpret the questionings of organized women as a threat use such worldviews to justify the importance of adhering to tradicional gender roles, for
example, asserting that the questioning of cosmovision leads to family
conflict, separation, and divorce.
In response, indigenous feminists have proposed "complementarities"
as a concept that sheds light on their own political practices while at the

All translations, unless otherwise specified, are my own.

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same time widening their possibilities. Again, to quote Alma Lpez, "Currently, these famous complementarities of the Mayan culture do not exist
and to state the opposite would be an aggression. It was left behind in
history, what has today become full inequality, but complementarities and
equity can be built" (in Duarte Bastian 2002, 178). Within this discourse,
"complementarities" does not deny power relations. Quite the opposite: it
represents the possibility and potential of change. Lpez points to the
dynamic, complex, and contradictory character both of culture and of the
realities facing Mayan women. She stresses the need for indigenous women
to be critica! in the face oftheir own culture(s) because it is possible to construci: truly equitable and complementary relationships based only on the
acknowledgment of contradictions.
As I have pointed out, indigenous women often maintain that feminists
are unabl~ to separate the patriarchal features of indigenous cultures from
the culture as a whole. In fact, an important line of feminist theory ( Okin
1996, 1999) considers the fact that the antipatriarchal struggle cannot
find common ground with the defense of cultural differences because this
would ultimately lead to the cultural control of women~ Yet indigenous
feminism balances the political value of ethnic belonging with critiques of
the sexism present in sorne customs and traditions. In this way, the gender statements of indigenous women are an invitation for feminisms to
revise and rethink their own conceptions of culture.
The individual and the collective

The emphasis on the individual rights of women is an important point of

tension between indigenous women and liberal feminists. Liberal feminJ.sts _
have focused on sexual and reproductive rights, as well as the human rights
of women. Although these tapies represent important issues in the daily
lives of women, they do not represent the core of indigenous women's
The following testimony by Blanca Chancoso, a historie Ecuadorian
leader, speaks to the importance of participation in the wider struggle:
"We talk about land, although our women companions do not need to
talk about land. But we [indigenous women] do, because land is not only
the farm where we work, it is also the Pachamama, our territory. . ..
. Violence doesn't come only from the husband or the father, it is also
gcncratcd by those who have taken over the land,, (in Rivera 1999, 19).
Antonio, too, states how in a meeting with indigenous women from her
region, members of the Miskito, Mayagna, Rama, and Ulua peoples, together with members of the Afro-descendant Creole and Garifuna peoples,
signaled the risks ofworking only at the individual leve!: "We see an open


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door for women, we can go through, but at the other side there is emptiness, there is nothing" (in Duarte Bastian 2007, 41). This testimony is a
criticism of the liberal conception of human rights, and women's rights in
particular. It speaks to the fact that although the opportunities for participation and education for women have increased in sorne areas, especially in
urban zones; this does not imply a substantial change in social relations
as a whole. If transformation does not occur within the context of the
collective struggle of the peoples, any changes can be rendered unsubstantial.
In an effort to con tribute to the empowerment of women, during recent years well-known feminist organizations in Latin America have generated numerous activities directed at women "from the margins," including
indigenous women. They have worked mainly in the areas of female leadership, by means of training on concrete issues or supporting projects in
different regions. It is important to recognize that these initiatives represent an effort from the feminist elite to establish relations with other organized women's groups. Nevertheless, these spaces are again marked by a
strong ethnocentrism.
Ana Mara Rodrguez, a Guatemalan Mam woman, notes, "There are
no leaders on their own. The community builds up their guides, their 'road
openers,' their j'akolbe, as we say in Mam ..... When we build the road all
together there is leadership, understood as looking for the roads from the
collective. It is very different to construe a leader as someone who is in
command" (in Duarte Bastian 2007, 65 ).
Rodrguez recognizes the importance of working at the individual
level, but she questions the individualism contained in the me.t hodology
used by mainstream feminists. Marta Snchez, an Amuzga activist from
Mexico, explains this clearly: "It is not about choosing between collective or individual rights, both are necessary, but . individuality will .not
lead us to equality. Collectivity is a way of preserving ... our cultural systems in the face of the neoliberal system ... with all its i:g1plications: territory, community, natural resources ... . Feminism has focused on individual rights ... and collectivity is our home. We have to go beyond individual
change; we have to aspire for collective changes. " 8
Acknowledging the political limitations of the Western notion of the
individual does not imply representing the community as an idyllic space
dc:void of conflict or power inequalities. Neither does recognizing the
potentially ema:ncipatory content in indigenous world visions imply idealInterview between Marta Snchez and the author of this article, Mexico City, April
2007. Translated by Belinda Cornejo.

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izing those cultures. The meaning of equality and justice that indigenous
.women claim builds on the specificity of their political trajectory. The
weight that the concept of community has in their genealogy has driven
them to search for better ways to reconcile the collective demands of their
people with their needs as women. Likewise, it has led them to question
the methodology and statements of hegemonic feminism without setting
aside its importance as a fundamental interlocutor in the construction of
the political subjectivity ofindigenous women today.

Lesbian feminism

Similar to the indigenous women's movement, the lesbian movement is

rooted in mixed-gender homosexual organizations and in an intense dialogue with the feminist movement. In the late l970s, within a social and
cultural tontext marked by the naturalization of discrimination and lesbian
invisibility, lesbians began to organize themselves in the main urban centers of Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. This marked the beginning
of a transforination in the imagination of societies where previously only
psychiatry, the sensationalist press, and police reports had spoken about
homosexuality (Hinojosa 2001 ).
In Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, lesbians began to organize themselves during the l990s. Although there were no demonstrations
on the scale of those that occurred, for example, in Mexico or Brazil, there
is a sustained presence of lesbian organizations. These tend to be smaller
than in Mexico or Brazil and have fewer economic resources, but they are
integrated within the wider women's movement, as well as feminist and
human rights organizations. In all of these countries; lesbians have made
fundamental contributions to feminism and the women's movement. Nevertheless, the relationship with indigenous, peasant, and union organizations has been more difficult.
Central America is one of the most impoverished and violent areas
in the region. Since the European conquest it has suffered from war and
imperialist penetration. These factors are strong limitations for lesbian
organizing, and they constrain the possibilities for lesbians to go public.
With the exception of Lesbiradas in Guatemala and the Cattrachas group
iri Honduras, there are no lesbian organizations in this area, although
there are mixed organizations campaigning for homosexual rights. 9

This information is taken from "Balance del movimiento lsbico en Amrica Latina"
[Evaluating the lesbian movement in Latin America ], which was posted online by COVIELFLC
in 2004 but has.since been removed.


Bastian Duarte

By contrast, Mexico has a complex and long-standing lesbian movement. It is one of the countries in the region where there have been a
significant number oflesbians in leadership roles in sexual diversity organizacions, and it was the first to organize a lesbian march, which took place
in 2003. As in Brazil, in Mexico lesbians have made incursions into electoral policics with a discourse that refers explicitly to sexual diversity and,
on rare occasions, they have even been elected. In previous years, lesbian
groups counted on the support of sorne state agencies, but with the Mexican government's rightward shift and the open support for Catholicism
since Vicente Fox's presidency, that possibility has become reduced almost
to the point of disappearing.
The relacionship between liberal feminism and lesbian feminism has been
more tense in Mexico than in the South American countries, and for large
sectors of the feminist movement, it is still difficult to incorporate a lesbian
presence and lesbian issues. 10 The same can be said of trade union movements. The dialogue has been more open with indigenous and youth movements, however, as well as with the various anciglobalizacion movements.
Initially the efforts of the lesbian movement were focused on dismantling the idea of homosexuality as a.perversion ora crime. The discourse
focused on the need to eradicate sexual exploitacion and misery, and the
right to a free sexual opcion for all women was vindicated. It was not until
the late 1980s, with the reappropriacion of the language of civil rights, that
they began to speak in terms of idencity. It was also during this decade that
lesbians began to link up with other social movements such as unions,
leftist policical parcies, and the movements of relatives of people disappeared for policical reasons.
During the 1990s, lesbian accivism, already consolidated in countries
such as Mexico ahd Brazil, remained close to NGO and UN circles.n
These spaces precipitated the establishment of internacional alliances but
were dominated by inscitucionalized groups inclined to withdraw lesbian
issues from the discussion in order to promote an agenda negociable with
governments and the United Nacions. Demonstracing the consequences
and implicacions of erasing lesbians from the feminist agenda in the name
of "greater feminist victories" remains one of the fundamental challenges
for the Lacin American lesbian movement.
lO This point is taken from "Balance preliminar de la situacin de las lesbianas en Amrica
Latina" [Preliminary evaluation ofthe position oflesbians in Latin America], an unpublished
manuscript by Alejandra Sard.
These include the World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna 1993; the International
Conference on Population and Development, Cairo 1994; the World Conference on Women,
Beijing 1995; and the quinquennial assessments ofthe Cairo and Beijing agreements.

S 1 G N S

Autumn 2012


The great diversity of lesbian feminism in Latin America is evident in

the debate between those who support the existence of the lesbian m ove- .
ment and those who question it. There are diverging opinions between
organized lesbian groups on issues such as the importance of legislative
struggles, as well as on alliances with mixed-gender LGBT groups, the
feminist movement, and other social movements. There are different positions on the meaning of feminism and the poli tical implications of calling
neself a lesbian. There are those who suggest that calling yourself a feminist is nota prerequisite for seeking gender equity. There are also different
viewpoints about what position should be adopted in the face of globalization or around issues such as citizenship, human rights, or democracy.
Organizational processes are marked by the conditions in each country,
by different levels of poverty, and by the way social inequalities beco me
manifest. In sorne countries, such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica,
and Mexico, feminist lesbians are visible not only within the feminist and
women's movements but also, with greater or lesser strength, in human
and sexual rights advocacy, trade unions, political parties, peasant and indigenous movements, the black women's movement, and various religious
movements. Although many of the alliances established by Latin American
lesbians tend to easily unravel, there is an interest in actively participating .
in the transformation of the different countries, as well as in the struggle
against all forms of discrimination. Even though the importance of feminism in the lesbian struggle is acknowledged, there is a clear demand for
the unmasking of ferninist lesbophobia.
Lesbian feminism in the context of dominant feminism

From the start, the lesbian movement has been closely linked to the feminist movement. It drew on the critique of sexual oppression and the arbitrariness of sexual roles; it radicalized the debates on women's right to
their own bodies, on the separation between sexuality and reproduction;
and on the heterosexualization of society as a fundamental mech~mism to
.exercise control over women.
However, the relationship between the two movements has never been
free from conflict and. tension. During the 1970s and 1980s and even in
the mid-1990s, we co~ld talk about sexual preference being set aside within the liberal feminist agenda. Although lesbian issues are currently a central part of that agenda, in the face of a hlstoric dynamic that tends to
eliminate lesbians from the wider feminist agenda, it is essential, as Claudia
Hinojosa (2001) states, to stress the links between the institutionalization
of compulsory heterosexuality and the gender system that acts to the detriment of all women.


Bastian Duarte

Currently the critique of hegemonic feminism is fundamentally around

political issues. This critique refrs to forms of action that may seem subtle
but exemplify the political priorities of dominant femicism: testimonials
speak of attempts to make lesbians invisible in formal politics and in governmental and multinational institutions, to speak on their behalf while not
allowing them to speak for themselves; about how sorne feminists from this
elite hide their own lesbianism or bisexuality while brandishing political
arguments; and about how important heterofeminist leaders promote and
reproduce prejudice against lesbians:
Eno Uranga, who served as an independent congresswomen for the
Mexico City Legislative Assembly from 2000 to 2003, speaks about this:
"In my experience as a legislator there was something uncomfortable
about me being the lesbian pushing ahead the women's agenda. The
posture is more or less like this: 'We heterosexual, middle-class, or highclass feminists take up your demands and support you andyour cause, just
as .we are on the same side as indigenous and handicapped women, all of
you who are in sorne way "deficient. '' And it is okay that we support you,
but to have you, a lesbian, heading a wide ideological agenda, talking
about reproductive rights, about abortion, about domesticviolence, disadvantages us.' " 12
Organized lesbians, like indigenous feminists, are clear about the importance of speaking for themselves because they perceive identity not merely
as a personal or group description but rather as an epistemological posture
before society. Providing everyday life with a politi cal meaning, they call
for a foundational principie of feminism and for the politicization of personal issues so as to unmask the ethnocentrism and heterocentrism of
liberal feminism.
Strategies of lesbian feminism

The debate on the false dichotomy of autonomy versus institutionalization

has torn lesbian feminism apart for more than two decades, limiting reflection on fundamental issues such as the effects of globalization or the creation ofnew political strategies. 13 Much more than in the case ofheterosexual feminism, within lesbian feminism the border between autonomy and
institutionalism is unclear. The debate concerns the relationship with institutions and governments, with funding, and with different forms of mili-,
Interview between Eno Uranga and the author ofthis article, Mexico City, July 2004.
Translated by Belinda Cornejo.
13 The dichotomy between autonomy and institutionalization is not particular to lesbian
feminism. It also prevails throughout the feminist movement in the region.

S 1 G N S



,' .

Autumn 2012


tancyand participation. 14 On the one hand, there are those who call themselves institucional because they believe in the party system, yet they do not
receive financing from the government or the parties. On the other hand,
there are those who call themselves autonomous because they have an
antiestablshment poltica! stance, but they depend on financing that comes
from the North. Frequently the cause of this division is found in each
group's strategy for poltica! impact rather than in ideological positions.
There are many interna! differences among lesbian feminists, and the
approach to these differences has not alwaysbeen productive. However, it
is important to point out that. there is still a common denominator: the
need to transform imaginations, discourses, and practices related to heterosexuality, heterocentrism, lesbianism, and gender relations.
We might say that there are three schools of thought within this feminism: one that accepts the rules of the system of democracy under the
current terms; another that, from the left, proposes to build a wholly different culture outside patriarchy, capitalism, and globalzation; and a third
group, also on the left, that works in all possible spaces, including with the
state. None of the groups is internally homogeneous: all of them have interna! contradictions, and sometimes they.overlap.
The first group consists of activists who belong to local, nacional, regional, or internacional organizations that strive for neutrality, limiting
their work to the subject of sexual diversity in the most apoltica! sense of
the term. The second group includes those lesbians who are struggling to
build a wholly new culture that sets aside any element stemming from
patriarchy ..For this group, incorporation in the state or any institution that
is financed by patriarchal institutions-a term that is in itself a cause for
debate-erases any chance for poltica! congruency. They maintain that all
efforts to engage the system sooner or later end up functioning in favor of
the system. In the words of Andrea Franulic, "Claims are no good. Socialisrn and ferninisrn have long sin ce be en taken over" (in COVIELFLC
2006, 16). The alternative they propose is, in Franulic's words, to "conceive a new Civilizing world, a new culture outside of rnasculine-oriented
logic ... to tlnk what is unthought-of and apply it to everyday lfe" (16).
Mernbers of this group beleve that feminism has beco me depolticized
and has grown less radical in the past few years because feminists have been
co-opted by governments and multinacional agencies. Likewise, they argue
that lesbians have become less visible since they joined the LGBT rnovement. For them, it is necessary to fight for the radical transformation of

Most lesbian groups in the region, autonomous or not, do not receive any funding.


Bastian Duarte

patriarchy. 15 In the words ofYuderkys Espinosa from the Dominican Republic, "From questioning compulsory heterosexuality we went on to defend sexual and reproductive rights, sexual diversity and tolerance; all this,
interwoven with the politics of acknowledgement, impelled by the interna~
tional gay agenda" (in COVIELFLC 2006, 21).
A central point of disagreement between the second and third groups
concerns democracy as a feasible project and a poltica!' field. For the second group the achievements of democracy were built within a patriarchal
logic, and thus they are patriarchal achievements that claim to build equality but actually strengthen the logic of inequality that has oppressed and
continues to oppress different social groups, particularly women. As Ximena
Bedregal explains, the aim is not to transform this masculine-oriented and
compulsively heterosexual democracy (Bedregal 2005; COVIELFLC
2006). It is not enough to widen the spaces for the participation of women
in institutions, government, and power spaces. It is not enough because it
does not transform patriarchal dynamics; rather, it strengthens them.
For the third group, however, the construciion of democracy and the
struggle for sexual rights as citizen rights are central. They speak about the
renewal and expansion of the mainstream notions of human rights and
sexuality because, as Hinojosa argues, "there are theoretical and poltica!
vacuums to be overcome if we .wish to fully incorporate the concept of
sexual rights into the human rights universe" (in COVIELFLC 2006, 24).
This group intends to build "an ethical framework that does not make reference to lesbians as a minority group of people who cannot help being the
way they are and in the best of cases require the protection of a naturally
homophobic society" (24). They consider that, in the fa ce of intensified
institutional and far-right lesbophobia, it is essential that lesbians exercise
their full citizenship.
This third group includes activists and academics who may_ or may not
be part of the structures of the state but who do not perceive a political
contradiction in working from institutional spaces. From these positions
they promote legislative changes related to lesbian life in Latin America.
They consider patriarchy and globalization as mutually engaging in the
construction of complex networks of oppression. They maintain that the
commercialization of the human body and sexuality is part of economic
globalization and thus that lesbian resistance is fundamental in the struggle
against neoliberalism. However, their aim is not to create marginal power

Concretely, this group of lesbian feminists criticizes the way the United Nations and
government agendas have co-opted demands for antidiscrimination laws on maternity and
paternity, legal acknowledgment of same-sex couples, and support in the struggle against

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spaces, and they believe that all of their efforts must depart from a complex
understanding of the systems of oppression. As Irene Len explains, "if we
think about patriarchy, compulsory heterosexuality, and capital as absolute
categories, then they stifle us and there is no space left for resistance and,
transformation" (in COVIELFLC 2006, 18).
For the members of the second group, this proposal represents a loss of
radicalism in lesbian feminism. In the face of this accusation, the third
group defends its radicalism. In the words of Tatiana Cordero, an Ecuadonan activist and poet, "Radicalism is, and continues to be, a fundamental feminist aim, that which transforms, breaks up, interrogares, that which
installs itself in practices and is perceived in their effects. But this radicalism
does not result just from enunciating it .... This strength is not purist
strength supposedly untouched by hegemonies, or that believes it takes no
part in them. It is strength that, aware of its permanent existence, is capable of sustaining a character that transforms people and society" (Cordero
2004, 6).
Although the groups within lesbian feminism agree on the importance
of establishing strategic alliances with other struggles, there are no agreements about whom to make them with. For soine, a fundamental part of
their activism means preserving tight links with the antiglobalization movement, while others find this a contradiction because this tends to be maledominated space. For sorne, working with the LGBT movement means
diluting and weakening the struggle of lesbians, while for others, it is more
productive than working with representatives of mainstream feminism.

lntersections and conclusions

The aim of this text has been to reflect on feminist indigenous and lesbian
genealogies in relation to liberal feminism, notas trajectories that are frozen in the past or locked within themselves but as experiences that are
localized in terms of identity, producing specific concepts of justice, democracy, and feminism. I liave attempted to point out how these specific
forms of struggle construct practices and theorizations that are transforming Latin American feminism.
We must understand indigenous and lesbian feminism within the political context of the region and within the different struggles that are being
waged for the redefinition of nations and the concept of citizenship. Feminist indigenous women do not regard their feminism as a separation from
the indigenous movement but rather as an enrichment of it by making
visible the specific demands of women. On the other hand, lesbians are
integrated into different movements, and they are waging a struggle for


Bastian Duarte

the respect of sexual diversity not as a luxury or an issue of consumer

choice but rather as a central part of one's identity.
Although indigenous women have always participated in the struggles
of their peoples, their feminism is new in the Latin American context. They
have not developed a consolidated agenda but, rather, a series of reflections that are shaking the foundations of ancient social prejudices and
offering feminism in general new epistemological proposals that are rooted
in their cultural specificity-an acknowledgment of the ways in which our
social struggles are inserted in global processes of capitalist domination.
On the other hand, lesbian feminism has a longer history and has built
more structured spaces within the region. Yet it has maintained a critica!
posture in the face of hegemonic feminism, making contributions mainly
in terms of political practices.
Strategies have changed in recent decades, and metanarratives of social
transformation-and the hegemonic organizations that advanced these
narratives-have declined. Today organizations tend to be smaller and
more specific, and the emphasis is on establishing strategic alliances betweenthem.
In recent years we have seen efforts to establish dialogue between different movements in Latin America so asto build longer-lasting links. These
efforts, which are politically and methodologically diverse, range from
meetings and seminars, such as those organized by Amnesty Internacional
to bring together human rights groups and women's organizations, to longterm political strategies such as La Otra Campaa (the Other Campaign)
promoted by the Zapatista Army ofNational Liberation to strengthen joint
actions between different social organizations in Mexico. 16
In this context, feminist organizations promote the rapprochement of
women with different histories of social activism-environmentalists, human
rights advocates, lesbians, and indigenous women, among others--through
workshops or training exercises as well as through support for individual
projects, usually in the areas of sexual and reproductive rights or human
rights from the UN perspective. This dialogue tends to take place within
the context of liberal feminism, following liberal feminist methodologies
and frames of reference.
It is essential to strengthen the channels of communication between
the different trends of feminism so as to dismantle the liberal foundations
of hegemonic feminism and thus build a more complex movement that


Amnesty International's meetings took place in Mexico in 2006 and in Colombia in

S 1G N S

Autumn 2012


tak:es account of diversity and incorporares critiques of the heterosexism

and racism ofLatin American societies. However, this process must not begin with the imposition of terms and concepts but, rather, with the acknowledgment of the power relations between those involved.
The indigenous and lesbian movements are not exempt from these
types of contradictions. Despite the fact that the Zapatista movement has
included sexual diversity in its agenda, the indigenous movement suffers
from acute homophobia. And, although there are severallesbians committed to the indigenous struggle, the lesbian movement has been partly racist
or has rendered indigenous issues invisible. An example ofthis is the Indigenous Defense Office's communiqu, "Regarding the Gay Issue in Guatemala" (Defensora Indgena Wajxaqib' No'j 2005 ).
The Indigenous Defense Office, a well-known indigenous NGO, cleirly
did not want to be related with homosexual people or groups. In the
words of its communiqu, "it is not to be wondered that the most militarily, politically, and economically powerful countries in the planet are
also the places where more homosexual people are. They export their
dirtiness to us; they are polluting our people" (2005, 1).
In the face of such a declaration, the Guatemalan lesbian organization
Lesbiradas responded by pointing out the importance of strengthening the
solidarity links between social movements and remembering the joint efforts oflesbian and Mayan women: "You are amongst us. We are amongst
you" (Lesbiradas 2005, l ). On the other hand, indigenous feminist activists such as Snchez and Lpez have pointed out how, thanks to changing
attitudes among indigenous groups, on several occasions they have received requests for support from homosexual indigenous people interested
in becoming organized, who see in their leadership a possibility for support
and growth.
In the face of this web of discrimination, it is important to mentan that
although one sector of the indigenous feminist movement does not consistently defend sexual diversity, others are open to questioning homophobia
within their organizations and to establishing dialogues with lesbians. Likewise, there is a large group of feminist lesbians who defend the importance
of working jointly with indigenous women in the construction of a more
complex feminism.
However, to date there has not been a deep dialogue between organized lesbians and indigenous women, only a few preliminary exchanges
that in the best of cases can strengthen individual ties and that may translate into political actions in the future. Despite the small number of initiatives toward creating political alliances thus far, lesbian and indigenom


Bastian Duarte

Jeminisms converge in indicating that feminism needs to be vigilant in patrolling its own power relations.
Understanding the importance of differences as well as commonalities
must be a starting point when approaching processes of domination and
subordination, as well as when establishing a dialogue between feminisms
that does not exhaust itself in the differences and that does not organize
them into hierarchies. Instead of victimizing and colonizing "others" in
terms of race and sexual preference, this understanding should depart
from a policy of localization in terms of identities and move toward a
policy that is capable of analyzing the complexity of the relations ofdominance within the context of a global capitalism that is heteropatriarchal
and racist.
As Cordero puts it, "We can only think and see ourselves right now, in
this century, ifwe ackn:owledge 'that we are many and we are different; and
if we assign a positive value to these differences. Only in this accepted
multiplicity can we start identif:Ying what we have in common, or around
what we can constitute ourselves as political collectivities. What content do
we want these politics to have? From which spaces? Through which forms,
symbols, and languages?" (Cordero 2004, 8).

Graduate Program in Social Sciences

Universidad Autnoma del Estado de Morelos
(Autonomus University ofthe State of Morelos), Campus Oriente


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