by Sujatha Fernandes, 2007
Since President Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela in 1998, ordinary women from the barrios, or shantytowns, of Caracas have become more engaged in grassroots politics; but most of the community leaders still are men. Chavez’s programs are controlled by male-dominated bureaucracies, and many women activists still look to the president himself as the main source of direction. Nevertheless, this article argues, women’s increasing local activism has created forms of popular participation that challenge gender roles, collectivize private tasks, and create alternatives to male-centric politics. Women’s experiences of shared struggle from previous decades, along with their use of democratic methods of popular control, help prevent the state from appropriating women’s labor. But these spaces coexist with more vertical, populist notions of politics characteristic of official sectors of Chavismo. Understanding such gendered dimensions of popular participation is crucial to analyzing urban social movements.
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