Faced with the deepening of social vulnerabilities during the pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the lack of responses with a gender focus, women have stood out for the social role they took to alleviate the crisis.
“Women are solving the crisis beyond public policy,” says a representative of an international organization based in Chile. According to her, in different cities, poor women organized themselves and managed to get food to cook and, in the absence of available resources, provide food for other poor women.
The case is not unique and it is not limited to food. Without state help, Latin American women had to take steps to help themselves and their communities with issues such as gender violence, basic income and even assistance in using essential technological tools.
This is the conclusion of research carried out in conjunction with Dr. Javier Stanziola for the International Center for Political and Social Studies (Cieps). The aim was to find out whether governments in the region responded to women’s needs through gender-sensitive public policies and the institutional factors (or rules of the game) that affected changes in the policy-making process.
Among the study’s final reflections is that the pandemic, far from becoming an opportunity for innovation and change, demonstrated a high level of institutional rigidity in most of the countries studied.
SOCIAL ACTION AGAINST RIGIDITY
In Colombia, an interviewee from a trade union organization reported efforts to ask the government for a basic income equivalent to the legal minimum wage for seven million poor families. And in Peru, women from a social organization gathered to ask the government to train them on the increase in gender-based violence during quarantine, with the aim of bringing lessons back to the community. However, there was no response.
The training of these women for the purpose of empowerment was a common factor among the interviewees. One example is that of a social movement in rural Ecuador, where they themselves run training schools.
“We started in a province, then the training expanded to the country (…) [e] it also opened up to Latin America”, says one of the interviewees. There were “about 200 women, which is a seed, human, political and social capital in each of the provinces…(and) they don’t keep [o] knowledge, but they replicate it in their organizations, communities and also in their families”.
On the other hand, there were organizations that assisted in the use of technological tools that governments used to finance the purchase of food or social assistance. However, certain groups of women lacked digital skills, nor did they have bank accounts, as stated by an interviewee from a sex worker organization in Argentina.
FOOD AND ECONOMIC SELF-MANAGEMENT
In addition to the stories presented here, there were common reports of efforts to meet the food needs of families, especially among women from vulnerable sectors. A woman from a social movement in El Salvador said 200 food baskets were delivered to rural women.
In the same vein, an academic expert from Argentina acknowledged that “during the pandemic, those who are in neighborhood clubs, in organizations, producing food for everyone, gathering food rations are women, sometimes more visible, sometimes less visible.. .”.
It is worth highlighting the actions of agricultural producers, who used barter to satisfy the food needs of regions with different geographic and productive characteristics, thus complementing the products needed for their food through self-management.
An example is the case of peasant communities in Ecuador, which organized themselves and exchanged food. One of the interviewees from a social movement said that the exchange “was made, but not through the national government, it was absolutely self-managed by the peasant sector here in Ecuador, and with social organizations, the strengthening that took place was tenacious”. (…) About 716 organizations came together during this pandemic.”
The above reports constitute one of the two stages of qualitative research. The first stage consisted of a review of the measures announced by the central governments of 21 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean at the beginning of the pandemic. The second was based on 27 interviews with key informants in 13 countries between September 2020 and April 2021.
The political efforts seen in the most active countries are due to the existing platforms that responded to the specific needs of women. This allowed key actors to announce measures without being clear about their effectiveness. Although an institutional discourse on gender mainstreaming has been positioned in countries, it has been mostly performative. There is a lack of an effective sense of the differentiated needs of women and an incipient transversality of these actions in the public sector.
The role of social organizations, especially feminists, in the face of institutional rigidity during the pandemic, emerged in the research. Although not the subject of the study, we highlight how these organizations have faced rigidities through advocacy efforts to place the women’s agenda among the concerns of central governments.
Despite this, these efforts have had little success, in part due to the weakness of pre-existing participation mechanisms before the pandemic and their limited links to the institutional sphere.
In short, the work, commitment and experience of women’s social organizations, in the face of institutional rigidity, is of great value and can be useful to central actors to improve their understanding of the different realities faced by women, leading to the formulation of public policies with greater consensus.
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