Much of the literature on Latin American women's movements finds that movements have grown weaker since transitions to democracy in part because of the "institutionalization" of gender policy within states. This article advances an alternative argument drawing on evidence from the Chilean case. Using a historical institutionalist approach and the framework of state feminism, I outline the way Chile's Servicio Nacional de la Mujer (SERNAM) has altered the institutional context in which women's movements act. I show that SERNAM has affected both the shape of the movement (most notably the power relations among its various segments) and the strategies that different segments employ to pursue their interests. I argue that instead of weakening the women's movement, SERNAM actually provides the movement with important resources, most notably a discourse of women's equality and a set of objectives around which to mobilize. There is evidence that Chilean women's organizations are responding to this new institutional context by linking up previously dispersed groups, using SERNAM's own discourse to pressure the state to fulfill its commitments to women and, most importantly, to ensure that, in addition to gender, class and ethnicity are also addressed as sources of women's marginalization.


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pp. 9-40
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