Feminist protest in Brasil 2019. Photo: Mídia NINJA

Feminist protest in Brasil 2019. Photo: Mídia NINJA

Commentaries Review of a turbulent 2019

Latin America experienced the intensification of a dual political process in 2019. On the one hand, we saw the growth and advance of anti-gender politics supported by religious fundamentalism and police brutality; on the other, the growing prominence of women’s and feminist movements in the insurrectional struggles of our sub-continent.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2020:1 pp 58-59
Published on balticworlds.com on May 25, 2020

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A year ago in Stockholm, colleagues from the Baltic Countries and Latin America met to study and compare the contexts where anti-gender politics and democratic resistance from women’s and feminist movements were taking place across continents and countries.

Latin America experienced the intensification of a dual political process in 2019. On the one hand, we saw the growth and advance of anti-gender politics supported by religious fundamentalism and police brutality; on the other, the growing prominence of women’s and feminist movements in the insurrectional struggles of our sub-continent. A green wave of disobedience and defiance has swept through Central America, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina.

15 years of neoliberal policies

Note that Latin America is the most unequal region in the world and has the most violent cities on the planet. All governments, both popular and center-left as well as neo-liberal and conservative, base their economic power on commodity extraction. This is true from the deposed Evo Morales (Bolivia) to the former beloved son of the market, Mauricio Macri (Argentina), and includes Piñeira (Chile), Duque (Colombia) and Maduro (Venezuela). Extractive industries are accompanied by private armies that contribute to violence against native populations, as well as gender violence and femicide. In addition to the massive militarization of some countries such as Colombia, Peru, Chile and Bolivia, borders and maquila zones [manufacturing plant that imports and assembles duty-free components for export] are other factors that contribute to gender violence. Moreover, over the past decade and a half, neoliberal governments have cut spending on health, education, and pensions. Spending on vaccines, medicines and comprehensive health and education programs has also been slashed. As a result, child pregnancy and school dropouts are increasing, while the consequences of unemployment proliferate.

After fifteen years of neoliberal economic policies, women and girls have been doubly affected by the current situation of widespread poverty and violence. This is the face of poverty in Latin America: female, indigenous, a minor, who lives in a rural area.

Resistance and responses

In this context, the organizations of indigenous and urban women, of young millennial artists, journalists in social networks, workers, trade unionists and student organizations, has not stopped growing, strengthening and developing new ways of doing politics, while at the same time resisting state violence.

From October 2019, citizens of Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia have come out to protest for weeks at a time, in a popular uprising across countries simultaneously that took us all by surprise.

Their governments have responded by placing cities and municipalities under  curfew, declaring states of emergency, militarizing daily life, ordering the repression of the population by police and military, with the result of underreported victims of hundreds of gunshot wounds and detainees, including children and teenagers, reports of missing persons and widespread sexual abuse from the police and pacos [cops].

The peoples of Ecuador, Chile and Colombia have been on the streets, squares and assemblies to demand an end to the neoliberal economy and “the right to live in peace with dignity.” This scenario is populated by a new urban generation of feminists, as well as by the “ancestral” organizations of the original feminists.

The evangelic ideology and the Catholic Church

The situation in Bolivia is different. The government led by Evo Morales was deposed by a coup d’etat and a hunt has been unleashed against officials of the Mas (Movement Towards Socialism, Morales’ mass party), the unions, indigenous people and all the institutions and symbols of the “Plurinational state of Bolivia”. It is a racist anti-indigenous coup, which relies on the bible and on discourses emanating from the evangelical Pentecostal churches.

The coup d’etat in Bolivia was formalized with the lady president of the Senate swearing by a huge bible (with no opposition present), while police forces burned wiphalas, [the alternative Bolivian flag]. The mayor of the municipality of Vinto, Patricia Arce, was tortured and humiliated, her hair was cut, and red paint was thrown at her. Shaving “cholas” [persons of mixed indigenous/European ancestry] has become another form of torture, as has causing blindness by hurting the eyes in Chile (800 cases reported so far to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights).

The Santa Cruz business leader “Macho Camacho” represents a fundamentalist Pentecostal evangelical sector. “We are going to get Pachamama out of public places and we are going to impose the bible,” Camacho has promised.

As the decolonial philosopher and theologian Enrique Dussel explains, evangelist ideology is the spearhead of US politics. In the 1970s, the Catholic religion was used as the dominant ideology and the left was seen as the enemy, but now evangelical groups are used as a starting point and indigenous cultures as enemies.

In Brazil, the Brasil Libre movement, which emerged in the context of Dilma Roussef’s impeachment, and the “Schools without Party” movement, articulated with sectors of the Catholic Church, evangelicals and the Jewish right, actively participated in the election of Jair Bolsonaro. In November 2017, Judith Butler was attacked by groups of the extreme religious right, who carried bibles and crucifixes and burned photos of the philosopher where she was portrayed as a devil and as a witch.

Nationalism and anti-genderism

In Colombia, the revision of the school coexistence manuals ordered by the Constitution (2015) and the peace agreement between the FARC-EP guerrillas and the government, which coincided in time, strengthened the extreme political and religious right of Colombia and caused the peace agreement (2016) to fail. A moral panic against “gender ideology” was created by the conservative and religious right, with the purpose of defeating this democratic process. Anti-gender politics has built a sense of collective identity around family values, “our imagined nation”, “don’t mess with my children”, anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQI+ rights, but above all, fighting to impose an Orwellian meaning on peace and democracy, in a country harassed by so many forms of violence.

Feminist women’s movements are leading the struggles for survival and emancipation in their respective public spheres. In Chile, despite fierce repression, women’s organizations lead the fight for a new constitution, that, it is hoped, will express a new social pact and also a new sexual pact for living together.

In Bolivia, despite murderous persecution, women carry out “The Women’s Parliament”, using networks, permanent public assembly and community dialogue. In Argentina, the fight for the right to legal, safe and free abortion continues and the new president Alberto Fernandez has committed himself to the legalization of abortion on demand.

In my view, we can suggest that against a revitalized discourse of the anti-gender right that actively collaborates with the neoliberal political economy, the “feminist people” is the protagonist in all its multiplicity in the defense and (re)construction of democracy throughout Latin America.


  1. Economic Commission for Latin
    America (ECLA),”ECLAC: High Levels of Inequality in Latin America Constitute an Obstacle to Sustainable Development”. Available May 30, 2017: https://www.cepal.org/en/pressreleases/eclac-high-levels-inequality-latin-america-constitute-obstacle-sustainable-development.
  2. Latin American Post, “Latin America: These are the unemployment figures so far”. Available September 27, 2018:  https://latinamericanpost.com/23549-latin-america-these-are-the-unemployment-figures-so-far.
  3. Expansion Politica, “El rostro de la pobreza: mujer, indígena, menor y habitante de una zona rural” (The face of poverty: woman, indigenous, minor and inhabitant of a rural area) Available August 6, 2019: https://politica.expansion.mx/mexico/2019/08/06/el-rostro-de-la-pobreza-mujer-indigena-menor-y-habitante-de-una-zona-rural.
  4. El País, “Violaciones y desapariciones, la represión oculta en Chile” (Violations and disappearances, the hidden repression in Chile). Available October 24, 2019: https://www.pagina12.com.ar/226928-violaciones-y-desapariciones-la-represion-oculta-en-chile.
  5. Aristequi, “Expone Dussel trasfondo de la ideología evangelista para justificar golpes de Estado” (Dussel exposes the background of the evangelist ideology to justify coups). Available November 14, 2019: https://aristeguinoticias.com/1411/mexico/expone-dussel-trasfondo-de-la-ideologia-evangelista-para-justificar-golpes-de-estado-video/.
  6. Inside, “Judith Butler on Being Attacked in Brazil.” Available November 13, 2017: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/11/13/judith-butler-discusses-being-burned-effigy-and-protested-brazil.
  • by Ana Fiol

    PhD in Social Sciences. Currently a lecturer at Facultad Lationoamericana de Ciencias Sociales. Journalist and a feminist activist.

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