International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 12: Gender and democratization
Women were active and visible participants in opposition movements against authoritarian regimes during the “third wave” of democratization in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This chapter looks at the forms that activism took and the strategies women used to bring their issues onto the agendas of the newly formed or restored democratic governments. It argues that women’s participation in the “third wave” was shaped by an unusual confluence of three global forces, which shaped women’s political strategies and agendas. The first global force was the “third wave” itself, which began in Portugal in 1974 and extended through the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa to the Indonesian transition of 1998. During this period, over 30 countries adopted democratic governance. The second was the exponential increase in women’s activism worldwide that began with the UN International Women’s Year conference in Mexico City in 1975 and continued through the Women’s Decade (1975–85) and Beijing conference in 1995. Participation in democratization movements made women “political actors.” In many cases women were able to use their newfound leverage to promote gender equity. The third factor was the implementation of a set of economic policies widely termed the “Washington Consensus,” which required cutbacks in government spending. The reforms succeeded in controlling inflation and establishing the foundations for economic growth, but they had a disproportionately negative immediate impact on women and children, and many women’s groups remain staunchly opposed to them and to the “neoliberal” rationale behind them.
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