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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Women and Politics in Latin America
Nikki Craske

Oxford: Polity Press, 1999
224pp. Index. Biblio. Pb.: 14.99; ISBN 0-7456-1547-3



There are many books which try to serve two audiences - the undergraduate and the academic - but few do so with such coherence, engagement, clarity and enthusiasm for the subject as Nikki Craske's book. I used this text on a module last semester and all those who used it found it to be clear, comprehensive and fascinating, as did I.

This extremely useful book examines women's political participation in Latin America during the twentieth century, focusing in particular on the last thirty years. Craske's key theme in the book is the tension between two potent symbolic devices: motherhood and citizenship. Both are employed by political actors of all hues and have immense social and political resonance, precisely because they are founding blocks in the creation of women's (and society's) political identity. This becomes evident in the subsequent chapters which examine the formal political arena, the economic sphere, social movements, revolutions and feminist activity. Common to each is an approach which asks how and why women participate and whether they benefit from such participation, through the satisfaction of needs ('practical gender interests'), or through the promotion of substantive improvements ('strategic gender interests') via empowerment, mobilization and legal or cultural change. Craske has a generally positive interpretation of women's impact on the political, economic and social world. She argues that there has been a real improvement in women's legal status as citizens, a valorization of women's domestic roles and enhanced access for women to new political and economic opportunities. However, Craske also points to the tendency of formal political agencies to promote 'harmless' change in order to maintain gender relationships through cosmetic alteration, and to the resilience of skewed patterns of power in gender relationships.

This book has a lot to say, then, to scholars of Latin American politics, to those interested in 'progressive' political change and to those who study gender. What makes it a good read in particular is its firm foundation in fieldwork research which lends the book a sense of engagement and intimacy with the protagonist(a)s as well as analytical authority. As such it is also a thought-provoking read for both students and their lecturers; put it on the reading list, and save a copy for yourself.


Lucy Taylor
Department of International Politics




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