Advancing Policy & Research in Latin American Gender Studies
Conceived of as a forum for policymakers and civil society to converse directly with scholars affiliated with the Latin American Interdisciplinary Gender Network (LAIGN), the forum first held six sessions between January and May 2022 with a new edition launched this Fall Semester. Over the first few months, nearly 900 people watched the sessions which featured conversations among nearly three dozen policymakers and researchers from across the Americas.
“Gender studies has always had an ethical impulse and an indissoluble association with political events and daily life. We analyze reality, we name it, and we try to explain it with the immodest goal of altering it,” said Amneris Chaparro, Academic Director of the Center for Gender Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, to open the first session of the Gender Policy Forum in 2022.
Each forum was structured as a conversation between research presentations and comments from policymakers followed by a dynamic discussion with an online audience. Policymakers came from national governments where a gender-based perspective in policy has been particularly strong, including Marta Clara Ferreyra Beltrán, Directora General de la Política Nacional de Igualdad y Derechos de las Mujeres for the Mexican government. Other sessions featured policymakers from the United Nations and not-for-profit organizations based in Latin America.
Wage inequality between men and women has long been an object of gender-based policy work, and the first session of the forum featured a discussion on “time banks” as a way to mitigate inequality of time between men and women.
Yazmín Pérez Haro, a feminist activist, researcher, and consultant, presented on time banks with Luz Galindo, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Time banks are non-monetary, co-operatively organized exchanges of time. Women working outside the home often face a “double shift” of responsibilities: their regular workday plus the care responsibilities they were responsible after work. Time banks can provide a way for members of community with extra time to exchange it with those who need it by helping with household tasks such as taking care of children, cooking, or cleaning.
First proposed in the 1970s in Spain and Italy, time banks were one of the first ways in which feminist analyses permeated into actual policy proposals.
In Latin America, policies for time banks are still in the early phase, but they have the potential of fitting into the region’s diverse policy orientations. The idea of “buen vivir,” which has its origins in certain indigenous philosophies in the region and promotes harmony and well-being with the environment, could also accommodate time banks as a non-monetary exchange of value that enhances general well-being.
Both Galindo and Pérez urged renewed attention to time within labor policies and advocated for considering time as a feminist issue. The eight-hour workday was a major win for the labor movement, but its implications for women have been less spectacular. Work time alone does not count the full burden of the workday for most women.
The policymakers at this session were intrigued by the time bank idea. Ultimately, though, the participants agreed that even while time banks may help generate wellbeing under “buen vivir,” they still do not resolve structural inequalities which cause inequalities of time between men and women.
“Feminism is one of the largest collective actors across and within the region of Latin America.”
Given the strength of feminist organizing in the region, how have feminist acivists been impacted by and sought to impact governments’ COVID-19 response around the region? Elisabeth Jay Friedman, professor at the University of San Francisco, and Constanza Tabbush, a researcher at United Nations Women, presented on this timely issue in the Gender Policy Forum’s second session.
While the last few years prior to COVID have seen media coverage, massive mobilization, and some impressive victories for Latin American feminists, Friedman’s historical overview show how they built on sturdy foundations of generations of feminist organizing. “Not even a global pandemic could stop them.”
Tabbush complemented the conceptual and historical overview provided by Friendman with a deep dive into data on COVID-19 responses. One of the key insights from the data was that women’s protests actually increased the year of the pandemic over the previous year.
Friedman put it succinctly. “These numbers attest to a truth about this sector. It is crisis honed.”
Tabbush’s insights drew from the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. A live platform maintained by the United Nations, this database gives researchers and policymakers a tool to evaluate how COVID-19 is impacting women across the globe. Drawing on data from 219 countries, the database gives insight into how policies rank for their gender sensitivity by measuring the extent to which they 1) address violence against women and girls, 2) strengthen women’s economic security, and 3) support unpaid care.
As Tabbush presented data ranking the gender-sensitive responses by region, Latin America along with Europe was shown to be a world leader in policies aimed at ending violence and, with sub-Saharan Africa, also leader in sensitivity on strengthening economic security. The region’s lowest ranking was in initiatives to support unpaid care.
Tabbush’s presentation highlighted how strong democratic institutions were correlated with a higher level of gender sensitivity in governments’ COVID-19 responses. There was also a significant association between the presence of strong autonomous feminist movements and a strong response to gender-based violence during the pandemic. Strong feminist movements were even more effective when they found an echo in state structures which prioritized a gender-based approach to policymaking.
Despite these positive signals, certain measures which were taken by governments appeared less progressive when subject to qualitative examination. For example, Tabbush found that cash transfers were still shaped by gendered policy legacies, given that three-quarters of these transfer programs targeted women in their role as mothers or primary caregivers.
According to, Maria Susana Rosales Pérez, a postdoctoral fellow at El Colegio Mexico, policymakers need to address forced migration among women and girls as distinct from economic immigration. Speaking in the Forum’s fourth session about women and migration, Rosales outlined how forced migration is an imperative – it is a way to save one’s life. It is forced because it is based on the violation of or inability to secure basic rights. This violation reflects an intention or incapacity of one’s own national state in the face of ecological crisis, natural disasters, armed conflict, and other forces. Given the ongoing challenges of forging a unified response to climate change, the coming years will witness a need for greater policy focus on how these crises demand a gender-based approach to migration policies.
Alicia Girón, economist and researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, drew a larger political economy portrait of the issue of migration and gender in Latin America. “All of these public policies are the result of the relations a nation has with the entire world. Given this, the macroeconomy will directly influence the microeconomy. If there is a war, it will directly influence families even if this event isn’t in our country.”
In her comments, Lorena Aguilar, former vice-minister of foreign affairs of Costa Rica, provided real world experience that confirmed the importance of thinking about migration through a gendered lens that also takes the environment into account. “One of the greatest challenges we will face in relation to migration is climate change.”
In the face of fundamentally transnational challenges, a gender-based analysis should not be afraid of recommending nations and policymakers to act globally. Policymaker Teresa Incháustegui echoed the rest of the forum’s members on this point, making a specific reference to how the United States’ own policies impact the gendered migration patterns laid out by Pérez.
“The US needs to recognize its reliance on migrant labor and that the problem of the unsafety also has to do with the weapons selling that the US is heavily involved in. The destabilization of Latin American governments by the US is also largely responsible for the reasons many people migrate in the region.”
Both policymakers and researchers stressed how efforts to address migration with a gender-based perspective must pay attention to the Caribbean, an area that is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Through fostering critical conversations between experienced activists and foreign affairs officials as well as gender studies scholars, the forum is seeking to make gender part of the response to climate change in the region.
Advancing Scholarship and Policy
In a conversation with the Gender Policy Forum organizers, Alicia Girón said that the time for discussion after presentations was the “richest moment” of the forum. The Latin Interdisciplinary Gender Network has often wrestled with how to foment multidisciplinary conversations. For Alicia Girón, the multidisciplinary nature of the research presented, combined with the need to make the research recognizable in the terms of policy, allowed both researchers and policy makers to see old problems in new ways.
This idea was echoed by Guadalupe Yapud, an Ecuador-based academic affiliated with the University of Ottawa. She participated in the forum’s final session on breaking the glass ceiling in STEM and beyond. In a conversation after the event, she shared that the forum not only allowed for exchanging ideas but also for putting research to a real-world test.
“The forum created a space where we could test our knowledge as academics.”
Rita Astrid Muciño Corro, who participated in the session on law and equality, also noted that the forum’s multi-sectoral angle offered a new way to look at the law as scholarship. Instead of seeing the law exclusively through its normative or positive aspects, the forum compelled her to “examine the law through how people make use of it.”
Unlike spaces composed exclusively of other academics where “the conversation can start focusing narrowly on specific institutions, in the forum there was a diversity of people and backgrounds.” Muciño, a doctoral student in the law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico with a background in policy work, particularly benefitted from the ability to interact with judges and politicians about her research. The two policymakers in her session were Maria Claudia Bucchianeri Pinheiro, chief judge of Brazil’s highest court, and Carlo Carrizo, a member of Congress in Argentina.
For Muciño, this dynamic allowed her to make comparisons between Mexico and Argentina and Brazil. In addition to levelling barriers between policymakers and academics, the forum also levelled them between status and stage of career. “There are few spaces to enter into horizontal dialogue with people who are just starting as researchers and those who are already deities, but this forum gave that opportunity,” Muciño said in a subsequent conversation.
María Noel Vaeza, Regional Director of Latin America for UN Women, called the close links between policymakers and younger researchers a “win-win situation.” “Academia has much to offer practitioners. And we need access to advanced academic studies.”
The Gender Policy Forum is continuing through the end of this academic year (2022-2023). There are four sessions for this year that is in partnership with many institutions, including FGV-Rio, UN Women, Vital Voices, and Yale Women’s Faculty Forum: Women’s Role in the Care System, Women’s Leadership and Political Participation, Sustainable Development, and Ending Violence Against Women.
This year, policymakers from these policy areas worked alongside the coordinator of the Gender Policy Forum to select academic presenters. By integrating policymakers into the formation of the forum’s program, the forum organizers hope to achieve greater congruence between research and policy themes, leading to more practical translation of academic insights into policy solutions.
This change reflects a desire among both academics and policymakers from the first sessions to see tangible shifts in policy across Latin America resulting from the forum’s conversations. For policymakers, the benefits of this are obvious, but for the academics, there is also clear value in the experience.
As Guadalupe Yapud put it, “The forum experience allows you to realize what is useful, whether these conceptual theories have practical value, and that there a possibility of social transformation so that knowledge doesn’t just stay in libraries.”
This year’s sessions included a hybrid Gender and Policy panel as part of the third annual Latin American Interdisciplinary Gender Network (LAIGN) conference at UNAM in Mexico City (which was also livestreamed at Yale University and available for attendees to listen in via Zoom) on Friday, December 2. To learn more and to register for upcoming sessions, visit here. To receive updates about the upcoming sessions, be sure to follow the CLAIS Twitter accounts with additional updates forthcoming from the LAIGN social media accounts. To view recordings of the first sessions of the Gender Policy Forum and the most recent in-person conference in Mexico City, check out CLAIS’s YouTube channel.
Written by Joshua Mentanko ’21 GRD with research assistance provided by Joaquín Fernandez-Duque ’25 BA and Agustina Ordoñez, 20-21 Fox Fellow and Working Group Coordinator, Gender and Policy Forum