[ Latin American Studies ]


The Women's Movement, 1986-2003

By Susan A. Berger

The first history of the Guatemalan women's movement and how it has responded to the forces of democratization and globalization.



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6 x 9 | 169 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-71253-9

After thirty years of military rule and state-sponsored violence, Guatemala reinstated civilian control and began rebuilding democratic institutions in 1986. Responding to these changes, Guatemalan women began organizing to gain an active role in the national body politic and restructure traditional relations of power and gender. This pioneering study examines the formation and evolution of the Guatemalan women's movement and assesses how it has been affected by, and has in turn affected, the forces of democratization and globalization that have transformed much of the developing world.

Susan Berger pursues three hypotheses in her study of the women's movement. She argues that neoliberal democratization has led to the institutionalization of the women's movement and has encouraged it to turn from protest politics to policy work and to helping the state impose its neoliberal agenda. She also asserts that, while the influences of dominant global discourses are apparent, local definitions of femininity, sexuality, and gender equity and rights have been critical to shaping the form, content, and objectives of the women's movement in Guatemala. And she identifies a counter-discourse to globalization that is slowly emerging within the movement. Berger's findings vigorously reveal the manifold complexities that have attended the development of the Guatemalan women's movement.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Face-off: Gender, Democratization, and Globalization
  • Chapter 2. Inside (and) Out: Home, Work, and Organizing
  • Chapter 3. La goma elástica: Codifying and Institutionalizing Women in Postwar Guatemala
  • Chapter 4. T Is for Tortillera? Sexual Minorities and Identity Politics
  • Chapter 5. The "Swallow Industries": Flight, Consumption, and Indigestion
  • Chapter 6. Countering Discourse: Toward Resistance
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Además de cuestionar a las instituciones sociales, las diferentes corrientes feministas están confrontando los espacios globales y locales en los cuales nos desenvolvemos.

—Irmalicia Velásquez Nimatuj, Guatemalteca, K'iche', anthropologist

After more than thirty years of military rule, civilians returned to power in Guatemala in 1986. A neoliberal globalization project has accompanied the democratization process, and both have led Guatemalan women, collectively and individually, to renegotiate their positions and relations within their private and public spheres. While democratization has universally opened political space to more diverse discourses, it has particularly animated the women's movement to initiate and conduct debates over their political representation, citizenship, and engagement with the state, and the definition and priority of women's interests. Consequently, while globalization—based on the liberal ethos—is restructuring the economic participation, needs, and goals of Guatemaltecas, it is also helping to reshape the way the women's movement does politics. Shifting from protest politics to women helping women, the movement has progressively NGOized, professionalized, and self-authorized with legal breakthroughs.

Democratization and global restructuring have influenced the character, structure, and strategic formations of the women's movement, but the movement itself has, in turn, affected political and economic restructuring in Guatemala. Through multiple and hybrid spaces, women have pressured for the insertion of gender sensitivity into the national consciousness. They have fought for institutional reforms, employment options and conditions, social conditions, and property rights based on gender equity. In renegotiating gender positions, Guatemaltecas—though not always achieving their multiple, diverse, and, at times, contradictory ends—have highlighted issues of gender within the nationalist discourse and its policymaking apparatus.

This study undertakes an examination of the formation and practice of the Guatemalan women's movement since 1986, the manner in which it has negotiated and continues to negotiate global restructurings, and how it inserts itself institutionally and discursively into the national body politic. It explores the changing relations of power and gender and the manner in which domination has [re]configured them, and looks at how the interactive nature of politics blends with the discursive [re]imaginings of gender under global restructuring. Three hypotheses are explored in this study. First, neoliberal democratization has led to the institutionalization and NGOization of the women's movement and encouraged it to turn from protest politics to policy work and to become the helpmate of the state in imposing its neoliberal agenda. Second, while the influences of dominant global discourses are quite apparent, local definitions of femininity, sexuality, and gender equity and rights have been critical to shaping the form, content, and objectives of the women's movement in Guatemala. Third, a counterdiscourse to globalization is slowly emerging from within the women's movement that incorporates a rejection of separating production from social reproduction, while calling for the formation of strategic unity based on diverse conceptions of gender.

The study thus addresses manifold complexities informing the development of the women's movement in postwar Guatemala. In doing so, it attempts to explore and challenge the viability of using primarily northern social movement, feminist, and globalization discourses to study southern countries like Guatemala. Does globalization really create favorable conditions for the growth of civil society and the weakening of authoritarian control? Does social movement development necessarily strengthen civil society and build democracy? Do autonomously organized women's groups better address the interests of women than mixed-gender organizations? Are women's strategic and practical interests truly separate and distinct? Is neoliberal restructuring presenting the conditions by which women can liberate themselves from patriarchal restrictions, or is it helping to reconfigure and ultimately strengthen the patriarchy?

Social Movements, Democratization, and Globalization

Much that has been written about "new" social movements in Latin America during the last fifteen years is pertinent to this study of the Guatemalan women's movement. When social movements were first spotted on the Latin American landscape, the responses of pro-democratic activists and academics alike were almost unanimously positive. It was argued that the new movements would reinvigorate civil society and advance the conception of democracy by decentering politics and political power. By demanding recognition of the rights of the previously marginalized, movements would ultimately change how politics was done.

The social movements' paradigm that emerged contended that the "new" social movements were a radically different form of collective action, since they focused on issues of social norms, collective identity, and expanding the space for social expression, not on taking state control. Collective struggles thus became critical "wars of interpretation," clashes over the imposition of the state's postindustrial cultural model at the expense of other "local" models. It was argued that social movements had "a level of self-reflection" that changed the "loci and stakes of struggles that correspond to the emergence of a new societal type." Consequently, politics was deemed relative, and social action could no longer "be seen as the result of some metasocial principle—god, tradition, the state—but society is the result of a set of systems of action involving actors who may have conflictual interests but who share certain cultural orientations." These actors were perceived to be authentic representatives of interests and peoples previously marginalized by less-than-democratic states. In these analytical constructs, the women's movement was uncritically praised for building a collective consciousness, breaking down the public-private divide, and restructuring a social norm of gender equity.

These early analyses often tended to idealize the actuality of social movements while minimizing the prowess of the state, so anxious were the observers to find an alternative to the exclusionary authoritarian regimes in power throughout Latin America. As David Slater contends, "not infrequently civil society has been essentialized in a positive frame, as the terrain of the good and the enlightened." In reality, however, as the Guatemalan case will show, civil society is much more complex, fragmented hierarchically by race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Neither individuals nor collectives enter the playing field on equal footing. Sonia Alvarez, Evelina Dagnino, and Arturo Escobar concur: "Civil society is a terrain mined by unequal relations of power wherein some actors gain greater access to power, as well as differential access to material, cultural and political resources, than others." These power inequities fragment civil society, making it difficult for social movements to construct and sustain collective political identities. Divisive struggles occur over questions such as Who has the right to define or speak for a community? Who will set community goals? and Who will organize community activist strategies? Consequently, studies need to—and this one on Guatemala does—examine the dual nature of social movements: their embeddedness in and reconfiguration of local, national, and international power constructions.

Since the 1980s, the expansion and contradictions of globalization have also prompted a critical review of earlier idealizations of social movements. On the one hand, globalization appears to be opening up new possibilities for social activism. It facilitates the exchange of information, promotes global networks, and can initiate new forms of progressive coalitional struggles. On the other hand, globalization necessitates political reforms that can weaken and displace social movements. As we will see in later chapters, both of these trends—political opening for social activism and movement weakening—have been apparent in the Guatemalan case.

Next, broadly speaking, neoliberalism seeks to redefine the state and citizenship to better suit global free trade. Ironically, feminists note that neoliberal discourse feminizes the state, which is "represented as a drag on the global economy that must be subordinated and minimized." In fact, neoliberalism reconfigures the state as the helpmate of global capital, that is, as a technical manager to ensure "the free movement of capital and goods, unrestricted labor markets, responsible banking systems, stable monetary policies, limited fiscal policies, attractive investment opportunities, and political stability." In rejecting the Keynesian state model, neoliberal discourse returns to a portrayal of the state as a disinterested administrator; it is "an arena where interests are actively constructed rather than given and where power is relational."

The neoliberal model thus calls for a reconceptualization of citizenship. Unlike the "passive" citizen associated with the post-World War II period globally, neoliberal citizens—or, to coin a term, neocitizens—are defined in the context of "market rationality, individual choice, personal responsibility, control over one's own fate and self-development." Neocitizens, the argument goes, must become individualistic, self-sufficient, and self-motivated, and thus no longer in need of the state's safety net. They should be participatory, in a procedural way, and the model encourages citizens to work with and within the state toward nation—and institution—building. However, as we will see with the Guatemalan experience, and as Veronica Schild puts it, a necessary caution needs to be issued, because "neoliberal modernizations, as hegemonic projects, ensnare social subjects, make them act as agents and hence implicate them in their own unfolding (new) subjectivities." This is not to disavow political agency but to recognize the critical connection between the rise of political identities and the state "in contexts shaped by conflict and unequal power relations." These relationships become clear when we discuss the NGOization, legalization, and professionalization of the women's movement in Guatemala that coincided with the political and economic reforms implemented after the war.

Studying women in Guatemala also allows for a productive interrogation of gender and globalization. Gender's role as a "boundary ma[r]ker and identity producer," in fact, makes it critical to the globalizing goal of reconfiguring citizenship. If women and men are to enter the economy in nontraditional ways—as global restructuring requires—then "restructuring entails reworkings on the boundaries between and meanings of femininity and masculinity, which are intimately related to the shifting boundaries and meanings of private and public, domestic and international, and local and global." Globalization thus opens up discursive and institutional spaces on multiple fronts to groups struggling for gender regime reconfiguration. Women in Guatemala and elsewhere have fought within these spaces to insert gender into legislative and policy debates. At the same time, powerful globalizing forces—including local, national, and international private and public sectors—have found women, positioned as they are within the patriarchy, to be convenient envoys of restructuring in their roles as mothers, health care providers, teachers, social workers, and heads of households. "Today, women as agents are at the heart of the efforts to transform those who are 'excluded' from the benefits of an empowered life in the market into active, responsible citizens." Yet case studies have detailed the many devastating impacts—impoverishment, deteriorating health, a rise in domestic violence, decreasing educational opportunities—globalization has had on Latin American women. This has led some researchers to contend that women may inadvertently be helping globalization reproduce and intensify gendered relations of domination. Although some studies are less pessimistic, most, including this one, agree with Jane H. Bayes, Mary E. Hawkesworth, and Rita Mae Kelly that "the impact of globalization on women throughout the world has been as negative and undemocratic as it has been positive and liberating."

In critical ways, then, we can see that the discourses of neoliberalism and social movements have come together around citizenship, identity, and participation, creating odd bedfellows. As Veronica Schild notes, there is a

convergence in form and context of different practices: legacy of the practices of social movements which highlighted identity and argued that citizenship should matter; civil governments legitimizing their public and social politics in terms of a discourse of modernity pivoting on the key issues of autonomy, accountability and responsibility; growing trend in international aid to bolster democratic politics in the region by emphasizing decentralization and active (economic) citizenship.

Some would argue, as I do in the Guatemalan case, that neoliberalism has discursively pilfered the concerns of social movements as a means of maintaining stability and state control over civil society. A democratic façade not only provides the state with international legitimacy, but it encourages—at least for a while—social movement activists to work with and within the state to achieve so-called common goals while simultaneously allowing the state to withdraw from servicing society. Civil society, thus, in the words of George Yúdice, "has a double origin: in neoliberalism's need for stability and political legitimation and in grassroots organization for the state of survival in the face of structural adjustment."

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play an increasingly important intermediary role between the state and civil society in global restructuring. As we will see in Guatemala, the withdrawal of the neoliberal state from servicing civil society has led NGOs to step in to attend to previously accepted public-sector tasks. They have helped to provide social services to the poor; manage environmentally protected areas; run homeless and domestic violence shelters; provide educational and health services; and build, expand, and improve basic infrastructure. In addition, NGOs have become important sources of employment for local professionals while also providing discursive and ideological orientations under the guise of individual rights to populations destabilized by restructuring.

The growing importance of NGOs has not been without its problems and critics. Many argue that within the conditions of global restructuring, social movements have NGOized in order to obtain international funding. While allowing groups to upscale, the funding has left them vulnerable to donor discipline and political strategies and has pushed groups to formalize structures, decision-making channels, communications, and relations with the state. Sonia Alvarez and others have concluded that these changes are reshaping Latin American women's activist groups, and this study concurs. Alvarez writes:

The NGO boom of the 1990s is marked by a region-wide shift away from feminist activities centered on popular education, mobilization, and poor and working-class women's empowerment and a move toward policy-focused activities, issue-specialization, and resource concentration among the more technically adept, transnationalized and professionalized NGOs within the feminist field.

The political implications of these developments are far-reaching. According to the social movement literature, the organization of civil society will force state accountability. However, the NGOization of social movements may unintentionally shelter the state from public discontent by "helping to buttress a public sector evacuated by the state and at the same time making it possible for the state to steer clear of what was once seen as its responsibility." The state may become more distant and protected from civil society as local populations expect less from the state and more from nongovernmental sectors. If the state is sheltered from public discontent, it stands to reason that state institutions and policymakers will feel less responsible to civil society. This may lead to less rather than more democracy as the state focuses on managing, rather than providing for, civil society while keeping governability foremost in consideration. Other studies will be needed before making pronouncements one way or the other, but this study starts the process of closely examining whether or not NGOs of Guatemaltecas aid in the building and strengthening of local civil societies and what political consequences have occurred from NGOs acting as intermediaries between the state and civil society.

A related concern of NGOization is the internationalizing of local movements, which refers both to the ability of local movements to use the global communications network to exchange information and build cross-border networks, and to the influence of international funding and cultures on local movements. Although most academics and activists argue that the building of international social movement networks can be crucial in pressuring oppressive local governments for change, they are also wary of the undue effect the international can have on the construction of local interests and organizations. We must thus ask questions such as How does the goal of international dissemination affect the types and goals of information communicated? What effect does the possible "imbrication of the transnational and the grassroots (most evident in the action of NGOs)" have on local cultural reproduction? and How do international donors help to (re)shape local interests, the expression of demands, political strategies, and structures?

At the same time, while it is clear that globalization is forcing changes on women and women's organizing in Guatemala and Latin America, some feminists contend that it may also ultimately present the basis for building feminist solidarity across borders. For some, this solidarity is more or less essentialized from shared oppressions ("all women suffer under globalization and thus must unite"), but for Chandra Talpade Mohanty the anti-globalization movement becomes a much broader, more militant feminist cause of solidarity founded upon difference. This requires making strategic and tactical alliances with and between groups involved in local place-based civic activism and connecting them with the larger anti-globalization struggles while simultaneously rethinking "patriarchies and hegemonic masculinities in relation to present day globalization and nationalisms." Charlotte Hooper also moves in this direction by showing the discursive links between feminism, women of the South, and globalization in her analysis of globalization narratives as "rape scripts." She cites, among others, a 1994 article in The Economist on Myanmar entitled "Ripe for Rape":

Asia's businessmen have had their eyes on Myanmar's rich resources for a while. Unlike most of its neighbors, it still has teak forests to be felled and its gem deposits are barely exploited. Its natural beauties and its astonishing Buddhist architecture make it potentially irresistible to tourists . . . Businessmen are beginning to take the first steps towards exploiting this undeveloped land.

As Hooper observes, "The reader is metaphorically invited to identify with the foreign (Western) businessmen hoping to rape this pubescent girl with her unexploited gems and irresistible natural beauties. This imagery draws directly on racist and sexist colonial discourse about White male exploration of and adventure in 'virgin territories.'" Through the rape script analogy, Hooper makes just the kind of linkage between North/South and gender/globalization that Mohanty is asking feminists to make in critiquing globalization and building North/South feminist solidarity within the anti-globalization struggles. She, like Mohanty, links the building of feminist solidarity to knowledge and critical awareness of difference, rather than to essentialist identity. The goal thus becomes to build a counterdiscourse to globalization, a move that some Guatemalan women activists are also beginning to undertake.

Issues of identity are also keenly embedded in any reading of the Guatemalan women's movement. Many activists and scholars alike contend that identity construction is one of the most contested concepts of social movement formation. Studies of social movements tend to split between those that explain collective "action in terms of structural opportunities, leadership, and ideological and organizational networks" and those interested in the "construction, contestation, and negotiation of collective identities in the process of political activity." While some identity theorists lean toward essentialist interpretations, most view identity as "constructed in action"; collective identity is "built through interactions, negotiation, and relationships with the environment." This identity is in constant flux as it responds to the needs, demands, and interests of participants who are themselves responding within local, national, and international contexts. Thus, as Lynn Stephen notes, "the very nature of the phenomena we study, the collective identity of social movements is a 'moving target,' with different definitions predominating at different points in a movement career."

The formation, mobilization, and maintenance of collective identity have become concerns of feminist activists and will be explored here in the Guatemalan case. Why do women organize? What binds them together collectively in political action? How does identity affect mobilization, organization, strategies, and tactics? In the mid-1980s, Maxine Molyneux, writing about Nicaragua and critiquing calls for biologically founded universal sisterhood, argued that women's interests are "historically and culturally constituted" and loosely divided between practical and strategic interests. Practical interests refer to women's immediate needs and demands for better housing, work conditions, social services, and the like. Strategic interests refer to gender equity demands. According to Molyneux, "In the formulation of practical interests there is the assumption that there is compliance with the existing gender order, while in the case of strategic interests there is an explicit questioning of that order and of the compliance of some women with it." Molyneux's analysis opened the floodgate to the interest paradigm debate. Some worried that her analysis set up a hierarchy of interests, privileging strategic feminist interests over women's practical needs-based interests. Others noted that the practical-strategic distinction, as outlined, erroneously creates a rigid binary—an either-or—situation. Still others concluded that the analysis disregards agency and obscures difference, relegating women's collective interests to structural determinism and at times to essentialism.

While Molyneux has argued that some of the criticisms are inappropriately based on misunderstanding and oversimplification of her original comments made specifically on the Nicaraguan case, the debate—misunderstandings and all—has sharpened our critical "interest" eye. Lynn Stephen, for example, has noted that "women's participation in alternative political organizations operating in public spaces can be seen as part of a larger social search for identity and the appropriation of a cultural field with the objective of obtaining the right to be different." On the other hand, Anna Jonasdottir has suggested that we distinguish between needs and interests. "Needs are assumed to exist, while interests have to be articulated and are therefore willed." As Shirin Rai notes, however, both needs and interests are location situated: "[I]ssues of class, religion, and ethnicity all impinge upon and disturb this category." Meanwhile, Gayatri Spivak has suggested that we think in terms of strategic interest formulations, emphasizing individual and collective agencies. In thinking about the Guatemalan women's movement, categories like the strategic and the practical, as well as needs and interests, do help analysts to more fully consider the diversity of women's lives, interests, and actions. Still, as we observe in the next chapter, the division between strategic and practical interests is rather opaque, and the defining of needs and interests is often a complex process heavily influenced by external factors.

Embedded in the interest debate, but not necessarily always articulated by it, is the concept of empowerment. Widely used by activists, World Bank policymakers, and state agencies alike, empowerment has become an embattled and clichéd concept. Feminists of the South first started using the word in the 1970s and 1980s primarily to tackle gender differences in resource management and distribution. While power relations were inherent in these analyses—asking who controls and decides who gets what resources—in practice, empowerment strategies often stressed the systemic inclusion of women rather than questioning patriarchal power structures. In the 1990s, the notion of empowerment was expanded to emphasize and work toward the dismantling of power inequities. Symptomatic of this new usage is Srilatha Batliwala's definition:

Empowerment is manifested as a redistribution of power, whether between nations, classes, castes, races, genders, or individuals. The goals of women's empowerment are to challenge patriarchal ideology (male domination and women's subordination); to transform the structures and institutions that reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and social inequality (the family, caste, class, religion, educational processes, and institutions, the media, health practices and systems, laws and civil codes, political processes, development models, and government institutions); and to enable poor women to gain access to, and control of, both material and informational resources."

Some have argued that the concept continues to be culturally bound within Western individualism. Still, many feminists of the South—including Guatemala—and the North agree on the desired multiple ends of empowerment while disagreeing on the means to those ends. Will organizational, structural, or policy changes actually empower or disempower women? What kinds of organizations better empower women? Do institutional reforms empower some women and disempower others? How do race, ethnicity, and class impact empowering processes and outcomes? Do legislative reforms alter or cloak power inequities? Supporters of an empowerment political strategy note that though empowerment is gradual, nonlineal, and multidimensional, there also is no "straightforward cause and effect relationship between process and outcomes." If this is the case, does the empowerment paradigm lose its purpose on a feminist agenda? If activists cannot reasonably determine the outcome of strategies designed to empower, do they sometimes unwittingly contribute to the disempowerment of women? Or, conversely, does the recognition of the complexity of the relationship between empowerment processes and objectives lead activists to become more sensitive to social variants?

Empowerment advocates within and outside Guatemala often cite organizational structure as key to the empowering process. They argue that women's interests will best be served by autonomous, nonhierarchical organizations in which women organize themselves, set organizational goals, and determine struggles and strategies. Autonomous organizing frees women from subordination to political parties, unions, movements, and agencies while providing them with the structural facility within which to construct, articulate, and struggle for gendered identities and interests. Additionally, it is argued, organizing in a nonhierarchical manner encourages the building of a participatory democratic political culture and the capacitation of all participants.

The Guatemalan case, however, concurs with other studies that have shown that organizational structure does not necessarily enhance the feminist cause. Molyneux notes,

[E]ven when women do organize autonomously, they do not always act collectively in pursuit of their gender interests. Women's interests cannot "be read off" from the organizational form in which they are expressed; the mere fact of an organization's autonomy or internal organizational structure does not indicate that it is a privileged vehicle for the expression of women's interests or, indeed, that it is entirely free from authority, either internally with respect to the organization concerned or with regard to external influence.

A so-called autonomous organization does not exist within an isolation tank, cut off from power incongruities within. Molyneux continues, "Thus while not recognizing a 'higher authority' it might recognize an authority in the form of a privileged interpretation of reality." Clearly the complex intersections of class, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and geography cannot be ignored when delving into institution/organization studies, and Guatemala is no exception.

Many feminists of the South have long insisted that class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and geography separate women organizationally, both in their definitions of themselves and in the construction of their interests. They question whether gender can be a sufficient basis for politics and if gender really has an "imperial grasp on the psyche." Many maintain that "women's emancipation is bound up with the fate of the larger community" and thus have encouraged women's movements to join with a larger struggle for social justice and human rights. Practically, this has meant that women have joined collective actions—those whose goals and strategies are "manned" from the outside—and made associational linkages, in which women's organizations decide to link up with other political organizations. Women have expressed dissatisfaction with the results of both strategies, however, and thus continue to think through the relationships between identity, organizational formats, and political strategies. Like women throughout the South, Guatemalan women are also grappling with these issues: Is it possible for indigenous and mestiza women to join forces and work within the state for gender-specific reforms? Can activist women simultaneously wear two hats, one feminist and the other bureaucratic? How can professional urban women represent poor rural women in organizing and reform-making endeavors? What kind of feminist unity can be built from within a nation that is grossly polarized along ethnic and class lines?

The Guatemalan Women's Movement

In the following chapters, I offer a case study of the Guatemalan women's movement in an effort to better understand it, as well as the construction, objectives, and operations of social movements within a globalizing context. Although the Guatemalan women's movement has its roots in violence, it nevertheless developed within the political and economic global restructuring that took place in Guatemala after 1985. Between 1978 and 1985 the military state destroyed approximately 626 villages and disappeared or killed some 200,000 Guatemalans; the violence displaced more than 1.5 million and drove more than 150,000 into refugee camps in Mexico. Approximately 83 percent of the victims were Maya and 17 percent were mestizo. Responding to state violence and to the economic crisis that accompanied it, Guatemalan women—indigenous and mestiza, poor and rich, rural and urban—joined mixed-gendered social justice organizations to defend their so-called practical rights "to the resources and services necessary for their traditional gender roles in production and reproduction." Consequently, they demanded to know the whereabouts of disappeared husbands, fathers, and children; decried forced military recruitment; called for land for the dispossessed; organized cooperatives to better feed their families; and joined armed revolutionary groups. Most of the women and the organizations they joined did not actively question the patriarchal order or pursue gender equality. Their focus on social justice and human rights, however, did ultimately help to destabilize public and private gender regimes.

In 1986, the military—pressured by a sagging economy, the failure of its modernization development policies, growing popular discontent, and the international community—returned power to civilian rule. A new constitution promised the democratization of the state and civil society. In 1996, the government signed peace accords with the leftist guerrillas, the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union, URNG), officially ending the civil war that had scorched Guatemala for over thirty years. The state appeared to commit itself to finding new ways, other than violence, by which to define its relationship with civil society. These political reforms were essential to and inseparable from the government's larger global restructuring project that includes the liberalization of trade, the privatization of state industries, the "rationalization" of economic production, and the implementation of the Puebla-Panama Plan and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

The rising influence of international feminism on development and regional discourses within this atmosphere of global restructuring encouraged some Guatemalan women to demand inclusion in the democratization and economic restructuring processes. They insisted on their participation in the peace accords, called for legislative and educational reforms to enhance gender equality, held forums on domestic violence and the rights of women workers, fought for the engendering of state policymaking, and lobbied for the establishment of women's studies programs in the universities. To achieve these goals, women formed autonomous organizations often supported by international nongovernmental organizations and funds, entered into strategic alliances with other political groups, and worked within and in cooperation with state agencies. Many women continued to work in mixed-gender-directed collectives, but established women's committees within the organizations to better respond to the needs and demands of female members.

By the late 1990s, it appeared as if women and women's organizations in Guatemala had succeeded in creating a "movement." In addition, Guatemalteca activists looked as if they were moving from being women involved in organizations fighting for social justice to women organizing women to fight for social justice and gender equality. The reality of the Guatemalan women's movement is not quite so linear, however. A closer analysis reveals the contradictory nature of women's collective action under global restructuring. Factionalism, clientelism, NGOization, and institutionalization all plague the movement, making common interest formation, goal setting, and united action arduous. Global restructuring has encouraged both the movement and the state to reimagine the Other (and themselves in relation to the Other). This has led to the construction of new institutional arrangements, political identities, and discourses, some of which have undoubtedly empowered women and others that have grossly or subtly disempowered them. During these processes, Guatemaltecas, at times, have challenged "domination as a particular 'congealed' structure of power relations and oppressive exclusionary identities," but, at other times, they have participated in "the emergence and development of new forms of domination."

Organization of This Study

The remainder of the book is divided into five chapters based on research trips of varying lengths to Guatemala between 1996 and 2002. On these trips I interviewed women activists, government officials, academics, and journalists; researched materials produced by various organizations; kept up with mainstream publications as they related to women and gender issues; and used the small but rich resources of the documentation center of the feminist nongovernmental organization Agrupación de Mujeres Tierra Viva.

A cautionary note should be made about the study at this point. While ethnicity, class, and geographical location remain crucial to understanding Guatemalan politics and society today, most of the primary research of the study was conducted with women living at the time of the interviews in Guatemala City. To counter this urban bias, I did several things. First, in arranging the interviews, I tried to be as inclusive of difference as possible. Thus, those interviewed in Guatemala City were both of rural and urban origin; temporary and long-term residents of the city; rich, middle class, and poor; indigenous and mestiza. Second, I rely on the rich testimonial and ethnographic literature of rural Guatemala to flush out some urban/rural differences.

Still, my decision to concentrate on interviewing women activists primarily in the capital city was movement driven. The Guatemalan women's movement is not by any means solely an urban movement, but much of its administration is urban centered, and ties to the rural sector are tenuous at times. The reasons for this are complicated and will be discussed in the next chapter but clearly relate to issues of the NGOization, institutionalization, and professionalization of women's organizations that have been prompted by neoliberalism.

Guatemaltecas have long been pushed to the background, not only in domestic Guatemalan politics but also in academic analyses of all kinds. A basic objective of this study is to begin the process of moving women and considerations of gender to the forefront by engendering political analysis of Guatemala. Chapters 2 through 5 explore the ways in which the theoretical topics introduced in this first chapter—the institutionalization of social movements, the essentialization and strategic construction of identity to achieve political objectives, debates between international and local discourses of gender, and the means to empowerment—have resonated within the Guatemalan women's movement. Chapter 2 centers our attention on Guatemaltecas as political actors. In tracing the evolution of the women's movement in Guatemala, the chapter exposes the interlocked relationship between material needs and strategic interests. It also explores the associations between local and global variables in shaping the trajectory of the women's movement in Guatemala and examines the ways in which women have inserted themselves into the ongoing processes of democratization and globalization. Their participation has by no means been linear, nor has it been unproblematic, and the case shows similarities with those of other regional social movements in recent years.

Chapter 3 illustrates the elasticity of patriarchal norms, despite the growth of the organizational and institutional participation of women. The law has become a site of contestation between the state and women in attempts by each to redefine citizenship and gender. Although legislative reforms enacted since 1986 have diminished the legal bases for gender discrimination, they have not necessarily weakened patriarchal institutions and practices. A close reading of the laws and the debates surrounding them points to some of the concrete ways patriarchy has continued to perpetuate itself even in the midst of institutional reforms. This discussion of the relationship between reform and continuity leads to an examination of the debate over organizational autonomy and institutionalization and analyzes the benefits Guatemalan women do and do not obtain from institutional participation.

Chapter 4 discusses the ways in which identity can be constructed and utilized for political purposes. In particular, the chapter focuses on the construction of a lesbian political identity in Guatemala and reveals some of the ways in which identity construction is complicated by competing local and global discourses, traditions, and constraints built around sexuality. In addition, the chapter explores how power differentials between movement activists representing a variety of identity questions and definitions have played a part in focusing, refocusing, and checking movement energy and direction. The chapter clearly points to potential problems of basing political action on a shared identity; most notably it demonstrates a tendency to marginalize the alternative experiences and histories of sexual minorities in Guatemala. Still, identity politics as employed by Guatemalteca lesbians has helped to introduce sexual politics into the political agenda in Guatemala and has opened a needed debate and discussion of sexuality.

Chapter 5 examines the ways in which globalization both encourages the rethinking of gender regimes and simultaneously depends on traditional patriarchal structures. As women have entered the formal economy, mainly as machinists in apparel and textile maquilas, they have been both welcomed and disapproved of by their families, fellow male workers and unionists, and employers. Practically, families recognize their need for the salaries of women, union leaders understand the benefits of organizing female workers, and employers know that their profit margins depend on the cheap labor of their female employees. At the same time, families, male-dominated unions, and employers all want and need to keep ideal gender norms in place that subordinate women to male privilege. The chapter discusses the inherent instability of the system and examines the varied ways in which Guatemaltecas have responded to and reshaped structures and discourses in attempts to ensure that their diverse needs as women and workers are met within the globalizing economy.

Chapter 6 returns to some of the key topics of concern introduced in the study: gendered collective identity formation, interest articulation, and empowerment at the intersection of the local and the global. What spaces is the neoliberal/democratic order opening to women in Guatemala? What spaces are being closed? Are global identities replacing or eroding local ones, or are local sexual identities molding global discourses for local consumption? Is NGOization and institutionalization providing critical structural support for the women's movement, or is it threatening its very existence? How are Guatemaltecas using counterdiscourses to empower themselves collectively and individually?

This study does not pretend to answer any of these questions in either a definitive or comprehensive manner, but it does hope to establish a foundation on which future research and discussion of gender politics in Guatemala can proceed. In doing so, I hope that the study will encourage others to do further research to engender the study of Guatemalan politics and make more visible the diversity of Guatemalteca political participation.

Susan A. Berger is Associate Professor of Political Science and Codirector of Women's Studies at Fordham University in New York City.

"This book will, in time, become one of the core classics in the literature on women's movements in Latin America. . . . The scholarship is first rate."

—Norma Stoltz Chinchilla, Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies, California State University, Long Beach