Women's Activism and Conservative Backlash in the Southern Cone

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: School of Modern Languages


This project focuses on the 'gender backlash' in the Southern Cone which is experiencing a new wave of feminist activity. It identifies the causes of this backlash and explores how feminist activists mobilise against it.
Recent literature has identified a global culture war with gender at its heart. Gender backlash is identified as the "preservation" of traditional and family values leading to "setbacks in individual rights, censorship and violence against minorities" (Biroli, 2020, p. 25).
While this is occurring globally, it is a particularly pressing issue in the Southern Cone which is experiencing new waves of feminist activity. Increased visibility of women in politics; such as the role of grassroots activism in the progress of abortion laws in Argentina (Poblete Ibanez, 2020); the rhetoric of Bolsonaro and legacy of Marielle Franco in Brazil (Agencia Camara de Noticias, 2020); the historic constitutional change occurring in Chile, with more focus on gender-sensitive policy (Montes, 2020); and the worryingly high levels of gender-based violence in what is otherwise the region's safest state, Uruguay have all contributed to heightened awareness of a new kind of gendered political upheaval.
But despite the clear political tension and anecdotal evidence of a culture war between conservatives and progressives, there is not yet a significant body of literature focusing specifically on gender backlash in the Southern Cone. I propose that the backlash experienced here stems from the region's unique legacy of socially conservative military dictatorships and strong ties between state and church, contrasting with pioneering gender policies introduced during the democratic transition periods, presenting a particularly interesting perspective on a wider global trend. I therefore plan to investigate the renewed focus on feminist activism and the relationship between activists and the political climate of the area by asking: what causes widespread gender backlash and how do feminist activists in the Southern Cone mobilise against it?
I build on Biroli's (2020, p. 22) observation that gender backlash in the Southern Cone originated in the democratic transition periods of the 1980s and 90s when women gained new rights including reforms to divorce laws and gender quotas ensuring more women reached elected office. Indeed, at that time, Safa (1990, p. 367) argued that when "women attempt to gain leverage in men's power structures", they pose a clear threat to the status quo, provoking backlash.
The project will also investigate Vaggione's (2017) claim that the new civil liberties presented by democracy facilitated conservative activists in politicizing reproduction and sexuality encouraging their followers to protest against new laws on sex education, discussions of gender equality, sexual diversity in schools as well as same-sex marriage and adoption.
I expect this research to produce an original contribution to knowledge about the impact of feminist activism at a societal level and the work done to document the role of grassroots movements in shaping South American gender policy. This project also has the potential to facilitate solidarity and the sharing of experiences and expertise between activists from a range of movements across Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2593126 Studentship ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2025 Katherine Pickering