Movements, states and empowerment
Women's mobilization in Chile and Turkey
Marella Bodur and Susan Franceschet
The emergence and growth of women's movements is one of the primary means for achieving women's empowerment. By organizing and/or joining women's groups, women can become aware of their oppression and seek structural changes in power relations between men and women. The strategies through which women's movements seek empowerment, however, vary from one context to another, since women's agency is shaped by different political, historical and cultural contexts. Thus, certain theoretical insights can be gained from comparing the emergence and evolution of different women's movements. A comparison permits us to ask questions about the conditions that inspire struggles for empowerment, the strategies employed, the meaning and content of 'empowerment', and whether empowerment always implies a 'bottom-up' process, or can states also promote women's empowerment? And, perhaps most importantly, does the discourse of 'women's empowerment' include all women, regardless of class, ethnic and religious distinctions?
We advance two theoretical propositions. First, explaining the emergence of movements that promote women's empowerment requires an understanding of particular patriarchal contexts, including ways women often (creatively) draw on existing gender ideologies to expose certain contradictions and mobilize support for their demands. Attention to historical context sheds light on the construction of the term 'empowerment' by movement actors. Second, understanding the outcomes of movements requires more attention to the type of state confronting women. There are two compelling reasons for this concern. First, many states in the South are currently engaged in processes of neo-liberal adjustment, including greater integration into global economic processes. This affects their strategies and responses to the demands of women's groups. Second, empowerment is not always a 'bottom-up' process. States have sometimes taken a leading role in the promotion of (a particular version of) women's empowerment. In such cases, women's movements have had to struggle to construct their own meaning of empowerment, along with the strategies to achieve it. State–society relations also tell us much about the debates and divisions about empowerment within movements because they play a key role in the construction and maintenance of social, ethnic and religious cleavages that cross any society.