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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Gender and Urban Social Movements: Women's Community Responses to Restructuring and Urban Poverty



This paper addresses the gender dimensions of women’s community action in the context of economic restructuring and urban poverty. It begins with the assumption that gender, like other constructs such as race, class, sexuality, religion and nationality, fundamentally shapes the social order in which people live, and therefore deserves attention as a category of analysis. This has implications for state development processes and the policy frameworks they rely upon, as well as for the types of women’s community action that arise in these processes.

The similarities and differences in local movements within a global context depend upon a number of related factors that reflect locations of both the organizations and the participants within community and urban structures; their institutional networks; and their roles in the household and family, and, by extension, in their communities — roles which are often unacknowledged because they are not accounted for in the market and have been undervalued culturally. Whether it be through participating in one of the more than 2,000 communal kitchens in Lima, in neighborhood women’s organizations in Quito, in mothers’ anti-violence movements, or in homeless and housing movements in United States cities, women’s organizations have played key roles in generating women’s involvement in community decision-making and addressing the daily impacts of economic restructuring. In this sense both their community involvement and the implications of their action for policy frameworks merit further attention, if we are to promote more equitable national and urban policies. This paper is the result of a collaborative effort of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV), United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), and the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) to better understand women’s volunteer action in large cities.

The paper is divided into three sections. The first section addresses some important conceptual issues related to gender and community action and serves to contextualize the case studies presented in later sections. We discuss different types of women’s organizations and movements, and the specific ways in which gender motivates, shapes and constrains women’s local participation. This is analysed within the context of neoliberal reform, when various sectors of poor women have been forced — or have felt compelled — to create their own, relatively autonomous, strategies for survival and social change.

The second section analyses three examples of women’s community action (neighborhood, anti-violence and housing) and their gender implications for state policy. It discusses the diverse ways in which organizations have confronted structural economic inequalities and more pervasive forms of gender, ethnic and racial discrimination in these countries. The third, concluding, section addresses the strategic and conceptual implications of these forms of women’s community action for community development and for broader policy processes, focusing on issues of sustainability, institution-building and the gender effects of decentralization measures on community action.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 May 1996
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD