Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 236 | Marzo 2001


Latin America

We Women Want Power

How can female leadership emerge and develop? What obstacles does it face and what characterizes it? And what can women’s different and more caring leadership contribute to democracy?

Marcela Lagarde

Up until the 21st century women participated in social processes as part of their groups, communities or towns. They had no specific participation that was separated from either their communities or men. Only in the 20th century has women’s leadership begun to emerge through social groups and movements with their own profile and roles. Today there are many female leaders throughout Latin America and it is possible to speak of an important tradition of women’s leadership.

Although female leadership and movements headed by women are having a profound impact on society, many people are still surprised that women participate in political processes. These people consider women alien to politics or mistakenly assess women’s presence in social and political movements, believing that mere presence means equality.

We must begin any reflection on the profile of female leaders by examining a contradiction: the continuing difficulty finding similarities among different women. Through culture, society reinforces the differences between women, using them as obstacles that stop women from identifying with each other. This contradiction marks all of our actions and participation. Each woman is what she should be, but that being is presented to her as an obstacle to examining others. To work on women’s leadership, we have to work intensely on each woman’s identity. Every woman who intends to lead a process needs to re-work her own subjective experience. The key feminist concept is: all of us, without exception and starting with ourselves, need to face who we are, what we want and where we are going, because no one can see others without having first looked into oneself. This is fundamental. Women who do not come from a feminist culture have learned the opposite: to try to examine others without examining themselves, but this does not work. We cannot speak of new and caring female leadership without first achieving self-awareness.

Linked by sex and gender

The fundamental likeness shared by all women in the world is our sex, on the basis of which culture and society have attributed to us a series of duties, responsibilities and prohibitions as if they emanated from it. This set of symbolic attributes assigned to sex is what is known as gender. In the theory and application of gender perspective we know that all those attributes are in fact social constructions, things we learned, things that have been socially and culturally formed and standardized. Therefore, we are linked not only by sex but also by gender, the political key for women all over the world.

Our political similarity comes from the history of our oppression as women, because we share a complex history in which we are subjected to forms of economic, social, cultural, legal, political and sexual oppression simply for being women. This links women throughout the world, even if we have all experienced it in different ways, with specific national, regional, local and group variations. We have all been considered inferior beings and allocated an inferior social as well as ideological status. It is not just an issue of beliefs or myths, but of inferior social, economic and political conditions.

We are also alike in that we suffer specific forms of discrimination. Discrimination means unequal treatment and implies having been maltreated because we are women, no matter how courteous and gallant that maltreatment may have been. After all, abuse is expressed in many different ways. And by mistreating us as inferior beings, they have excluded us from many arenas, particularly those that socially provide people with access to resources and even those in which decisions are made about our lives. One of the most important elements in our political gender similarity is gender poverty, an economic condition that affects women throughout the world, even those belonging to high social classes. When we analyze society without applying a gender perspective we only see class poverty; we equate economic poverty with social class but not with gender. We need to identify the economic features of this gender poverty that affects women from all social classes, because even rich women are poor in gender terms.

De jure equality; de facto inequality

There is another great contradiction. We are women of the 20th century and therefore exist within the culture of modernity, which bears the political assumption of equality. But this declared or regulated equality does not necessarily correspond to processes of social equality or personal processes. In modernity, society has steered a course between the norm of equality and legitimized inequality. In Latin America, gender inequality is part of the national identity of our political cultures. The contradiction that marks and defines the social and political participation of 20th-century women—and also those of the 19th century and the second half of the 18th century in the countries identified with modernity—is the one between supposed equality and actual inequality. There is no equality but we assume there is, as if it were a prevailing principle, even one even legally enshrined in certain countries’ Constitutions.

There is ongoing ideological confusion between inequality and difference. In the hegemonic visions prevailing in our societies, a sometimes-perverse cultural and ideological game is played aimed at convincing us that difference is a good thing in itself. They link this ideogram to the belief that inequality is associated with difference and conclude that removing inequalities would do away with most valuable differences. The assumption that difference and inequality are innate, articulated concepts that are essential to each other has been culturally established, and has marked women’s political participation in modernity.

Gender democracy: A feminist contribution

The concepts of democracy and development form part of modernity, but in most countries they have not been thought out or formulated to cover women as historical subjects, despite our social and political participation. Men have conceived the democracies, although we women have fought for them. And development has been a key for the future thought up by men for social categories that do not contemplate women. Democracy and development are considered relevant for categories such as people, social class, the nation, society and groups. It is only very recently that we women have appropriated both concepts and retooled them from a gender perspective, formulating proposals for gender democracy.

Gender democracy is a critical revision of the modern conceptions of democracy, based on the argument that modern democracy does not contemplate women’s inclusion as protagonists. It therefore proposes the construction of alternative kinds of democratic relations and another democratic model that not only includes women, but—and this is even more complex—modifies men’s positioning in order to establish democratic relations between genders.

From this paradigm, we can analyze women’s social and political participation. And in doing so, we can see that women have always participated from the democratic sidelines, the periphery of democracy; or, as anthropologist Mark Auge would put it, from no place. Women and all other excluded groups know what it means to be no place wanting to participate, what it means to participate as if we were on the inside when we are really on the outside. Gender democracy is a feminist contribution, a critique of patriarchal democracy and at the same time the construction of a paradigmatic alternative that links up with the modernist concept of development.

Creators of life and culture

The concept of development has been thought out with racist and exclusionary criteria as well as criteria that discriminate according to gender. From a feminist perspective, we women who are trying to change the world want to turn development into a set of mechanisms that include women in favorable living conditions, that do not commit outrages against people’s lives, the environment or cultural heritage. We want a kind of development unlike the current one that belligerently, radically and voraciously destroys people, nature and the cultural and historical heritage. We want a kind of development that includes a key point invisible to all of the patriarchal developmentalists: personal development of each woman and man as an immediate and practical priority, not as a far-off and utopian result.

Women throughout the world are increasingly accepting this vision. Never before in the history of humanity has there been such an important cultural convergence of outlooks by women from different cultures, who have a platform with a similar sense of the present and the future. Never before have so many African and Latin American, Nordic and Australian women coincided in their visions. For the first time, we are constructing intrageneric gender categories related to identity and connection. And as we are now internauts, the connection is even stronger. This coincidence is above all due to is a connection of paradigms, of sense, philosophy, proposals, living practices and concrete actions.

For the first time we women are constructing a similarity at will. We have the desire to connect with each other through our similar philosophical and political threads, which is quite amazing because it had been thought that our gender was specialized in and limited to the creation of human life. Now we are the creators of culture and not just reproducers of the patriarchal culture.

We coincide with paradigmatic men in the construction of democracy and sustainable human development. Although it is not easy to harmonize areas of agreement, men from different social categories and political movements have also thought up this paradigm. We are women and men who do not believe in the end of history with which the postmodern philosophers have threatened us. We did not and do not now believe that the option of social commitment in history has come to an end just because certain historical and social processes ended with the fall of the Berlin wall or the social and political regime change in countries of the socialist sphere. We do not believe that there is no alternative to neoliberalism, that capital’s predatory domination is an inexorable destiny, that inequality is part of human nature. Through our life experiences we have risen above crises, have seen some walls pulled down and other, perhaps worse ones go up and have maintained our critical vision of social commitment without dogmatism, attempting to build alternatives.

We don’t want to be the same as men

Today we know that more complex, more inclusive and more embracing democracies have to be built and we view development as an inclusive process with a human face. This key point brings us very close to the small minorities of women who fought for women’s equality in relation to men during the 18th century. The women who participated in the French Revolution fought for democracy and equality, but when the revolutionary men ended the process they also decided that the women should go home. It was then that Olimpia de Gouges, our marvelous predecessor, proposed one of the historical aspects of feminism: the rights of women and of female citizens. That key point from the 18th century is present today in the framework of women’s social and political participation, because it is related to the construction of women’s citizenship.

From our gender perspective, democracy consists of creating the conditions for women to be citizens, which we currently are not. There are still no full women citizens anywhere in the world. There is only a mutilated, incomplete, inadequate citizenship lacking equality. The difference is that now, in the 21st century, we do not think of women’s equality in relation to men as Olimpia de Gouges and her co-revolutionary women did. The equality of the 18th-century revolutions was androcentric, taking men as the reference point. Equality consisted of being equal to men. We 21st-century radicals are saying that equality between and within the genders is very complex and complicated. We no longer present the issue from an androcentric point of view; we want to eliminate the centralism.

In other words, we want to eliminate the political center as a privileged place of domination. We propose equality as a relation between rather than equalization with. We seek equality in relations between women and men and between men and women. At the same time, we are seeking equality among women and among men, and then among all of the social categories to which we belong.

Mutilated female citizens;
male citizens with too much power

Female citizenship is part of the greatest philosophical construction elaborated by women in the 20th century: women’s human rights. Although they are still not part of the social political culture and there is not enough collective consciousness to back them up, women’s human rights represent the real underpinning of female citizenship. And the creation of citizenship, as a way of being in democracy, is the construction of women’s humanity.

We are working on something extraordinary, a civilizing change: we are constructing women’s humanity. We had previously imagined this through many different ideologies—some of them ancient—and through myths, religious beliefs and philosophies. But after long centuries many women stopped believing that equality once existed and as unbelievers we came up with the innovation of viewing ourselves as the protagonists of women’s humanity and the authors of women’s human rights.

We are also involved in constructing another citizenship for men. This represents another of gender’s political keys, because if we are proposing to transform relations between women and men, we are also proposing the need to create other key points for male citizenship. The proposal implies a profound and convincing reform of the male condition. One fundamental aspect of constructing another key point of male citizenship is eliminating their self-reference, self-designation and self-representation of all human beings, because while the majority of us women have never even been citizens and some have at best been mutilated citizens, millions of men ever never been citizens either. But many have been, and with too much power. This surfeit of power is the power of patriarchal gender. Our proposal consists of eliminating men’s surfeit of patriarchal power, which is essential if we are to form a different concept of democracy and coexistence between women and men.

Without exception, the surfeit of patriarchal power is a political reference point for both men who are citizens and those who are not. In other words, while men have not needed citizenship to have power in gender terms, they have increased that power through the rights and powers acquired through citizenship. The most outcast, poorest men have patriarchal male powers and have not needed citizenship to take their place in the gender level that legitimizes them as patriarchs. Our proposal implies humanizing men from a feminist perspective. The feminist paradigm is an inclusive one, and that inclusion represents its ethical keystone. That is why we always repeat the same thing in our slogans: let’s open up spaces; let’s distribute the resources.

Protagonists in civil society

Citizenship is a symbolic arena in which we move and act to transform it and build the minimum basis of gender democracy. To be able to make the changes we want, we women act in various arenas, particularly the one represented by civil society, which is an important symbolic and political arena that is open to us, and while it is not natural, it is historical.

This arena has acquired enormous ideological importance in recent times, particularly in societies that had acquired an awareness of state, because part of contemporary democracy has consisted of the search for a different relationship between the state and civil society. Civil society and the state are two fundamental arenas of social and political participation in which we can think over and articulate women’s leadership. When we propose radical and profound changes, we are proposing the transformation of the state and civil society.

Women emerge as social and political protagonists in civil society, partly because of the things that happen to us: historical situations, climatic disasters, personal problems with a social dimension… Women’s participation in the arena represented by civil society is rich and diverse, almost unclassifiable. Certain of its characteristics correspond to the fragmentation of contemporary civil society, in which actors are articulating projects from their own initiative and all subjects, all social and political actors are articulating the world from their own dimension. Just as we women are emerging with a leading role in civil society, other subjects are doing the same, acquiring a profile and an identity expressed through the construction of specific institutions and organizations.

Civil society is still a great sea of particularities. It includes, for example, organizations or institutions that fight for, represent or coordinate not only people with disabilities, but also third-age people with disabilities or third-age illiterate people. Twenty years ago all people with "disabilities" were lumped together, but today we are defining particularities for each social subject. We have passed from enormous invisibility to a very specific visibility. In the case of women, we have passed from gender visibility, which covers us all, to an increasingly clear identification of the particularities involved.

Civil society also suffers from this thematic fragmentation. Among people working on health are those working on women’s health issues. Further down the line are those who work specifically on reproductive and not sexual rights. In addition, all those involved in civil society seek their own particular benefit and impressive political fights and tensions take place over self-definition. Affirmatively extending the collectivities that make up civil society generates tensions and sometimes there is no way to link up visions in which we might find common interests. This fragmentation process has gone on for some forty years. Thinking about women’s leadership means locating it in this sea of civil society from which we are emerging and trying to give ourselves a name, and in which we are also fragmented and particularized.

Feminist women in government

Another very important sphere for women’s leadership is the governmental one. There have always been women in Latin American governments, but they have not always had a specific gender identity profile. The interesting thing now is the emergence in government of women with gender identity and a gender perspective. This is a political innovation as far as governance is concerned. It means nothing less than the ability of governmental institutions to relate politically to the citizenry, to civil society institutions and to society as a whole.
The great leap forward occurred in the 20th century: from women’s total exclusion from government to inclusion by dribs and drabs in certain government levels. But coming in one by one, most of these women failed to vindicate their gender or to try to modify the power relations between women and men. They participated by assuming the traditional politics and making government policy in a way that largely mimicked the men.

However, as women began to fight from a gender perspective and identity in civil society, we managed to create the right conditions for more women—and later feminist women—to get into government. The changes we have created mean that in virtually all countries there are now women in the executive, legislative and judicial branches and in all government institutions, while we also have state institutions linked to gender. These institutions, which seek advances for women and modification of the power relations between genders, imply a radical political change.

Three prerequisites were necessary in order for women with a gender perspective to enter government: social and political women’s movements and civil organizations that promoted specific gender policies; modification of the rules of access to government; and specific government institutions dedicated to promoting gender policies.

Men vs. women; women vs. women

Because of the permanent rupture between government and society in Latin America, feminist processes have mainly been characterized as political opposition processes. For many years, this linked the identity of feminists with opposition positions, which did not always reflect what we women wanted. Thus, even when we have women governors promoting policies that favor women, there is still an estrangement between the women of civil society and those of political society. Sometimes this also happens because the women in government do not identify with the women of civil society and those of us in civil society do not identify with those in government.

This leads us to another key aspect of this century: the political struggle among women. As we emerge from the sidelines, we frequently find ourselves up against male opposition. But in addition, as we participate with approaches, visions of change and proposals that differ from the traditional ones, we also frequently find ourselves opposed by powerful women who are defending the established order. This generates a struggle between women, between emerging women vindicating our rights and those who no longer participate as shadows of their hardened males, but rather as active defenders of the patriarchal order.

This represents another kind of female leadership, one practiced by women who seek to defend the status quo rather than alternatives. Women with conservative and patriarchal leadership, defenders of the established order, participated in the Beijing Conference. Recognized anti-feminists with great political weight have existed in the United States and Europe for years now. We need to debate how to relate to such women, who occupy important spaces and fight for their rights, but with a different vision to that of the feminists.

Priorities: Poverty, violence and health

We have witnessed the gradual emergence of public policies with a gender perspective, and it seems contradictory that governments based on neoliberal strategies at the same time promote public policies with a gender perspective; that on the one hand they create exclusion and on the other apply palliative measures favoring women. But this has its logic: antagonistic alternatives have always coexisted in politics and the institutions of the state are also arenas of political struggle.

The confluence of various world factors has encouraged certain neoliberal governments to apply policies with a gender perspective, particularly in the areas of poverty, violence and health, which are the three governmental priorities when it comes to gender. Public resources are channeled into these three areas for programs that respond to world policies aimed at reducing poverty and exclusion. At the same time, we in the social movements are fighting alongside the least favored groups of women. This creates a confluence of international policies, governmental policies and the ideological orientations of women in civil society, all of which privilege poor women.

This triple confluence multiplies the efforts aimed at benefiting the least favored women, while leaving abandoned other women who are almost never contemplated in public policies and for whom nobody struggles to construct their citizenship.

Globalization has greatly favored us

Gender politics are advancing not only because of the real force of women; but also because of globalization. From one perspective, globalization is pernicious, but it has multiplied our political resources in gender terms. Inter-governmental and intra-governmental networks, international agencies and regional organizations are active political forces that are now part of women’s political geography. We can no longer consider ourselves isolated from and outside of international cooperation.

The gender policies of the international agencies are a reflection of what women in developed countries have achieved, which is now considered a parameter for all women. Women’s political agendas are no longer just cooked up at home. Today, any political agenda, research, declaration of problems or definition of alternatives is global, which is something we should take into account as part of our identity. We women often have very local identities and want to be rooted in our own backyard, but as contemporary women we should learn to have global roots.

Women’s global political agenda is based on recognition of our gender similarity. Before, women’s political agenda had been built on isolated processes, on the local, national and regional paths that women’s movements had been carving out for two centuries. But today, at the end of the 20th century, we women find ourselves in the age of globalization.

We already had the inputs for the global political agenda. One example is the Mexican women who struggled for educational equality between women and men over a century ago in the context of the Liberal Enlightenment. This is where I come from, but what has happened is that my local experience now joins with that of Australia, because other women fought for the same thing there during another era.

We women are currently finding that we coincide in political items that are similar despite their different historical traditions. The local has thus become global for us. Globalization has enormously favored women. In gender terms, it has put us in touch with each other, helped find one another and enabled us to develop shared languages that now form the political agendas of women with different life processes who have identified a common cause.

The dialectic between the local and the global is very complex, but it has enabled us to develop an important political key: tolerance among women. If we now share a possible paradigm, a project and a series of actions that are leading somewhere, it is in a sense because of the existence of globalization. And this success provides an alternative to neoliberal globalization, because it includes alternative political, ideological and structural positions.

Women leaders in all arenas

Whether we like it or not, we think in transnational parameters and now have beliefs, values and formulations elaborated by women in arenas that do not correspond to our own local ones. No generation of women had previously been able to create culture in this way, acculturated by a global gender culture. Culture—as an arena for reproducing the conception of the world and of life—has undergone golden changes for women in both educational spheres and in the mass media.

There are women leaders in all of the arenas we might care to mention: there are female academics, researchers, writers, painters, musicians, rock singers, nuns, theologians, Protestant ministers, radio broadcasters and newspaper and television journalists. Some years ago, there was very little such leadership and it was very fenced in, limited to very specific spaces. Today, female leaders with a vision of gender will emerge in any arena that opens up, because while gender perspective may be a minority view, it is now part of the universal culture.

The most difficult leadership of all

The other dimension of culture and the change of mentalities lie within all of us and in our daily lives. All of us are concrete women changing mentalities on the front line—at home, in the family. And as a body of relations and a social institution, this is the most difficult arena in the social order. At times, trying to do nothing more than change a family custom, or modify a minimal hierarchy between brothers and sisters, or struggling for changes in the distribution of the family’s concrete resources, or even establishing who washes the dishes can cost a woman her life. Or if she’s luckier, she could wind up filing a claim in a police station.

The toughest, most difficult leadership is the daily one each woman exercises in her personal surroundings: in the family, at home, as a partner and at work. It is in these arenas that each woman’s leadership capacity is most called into question. At home, the issue is whether we women can lead those closest to us, whether a woman can guide her partner toward gender changes. In that particular arena, each woman risks the leadership over her own life. That is precisely what the political sphere does not want to give up: leadership over life itself. They do not want to change who exercises leadership over women.

For that reason we are all on the front line, we are all seen as emblematic and are all in the symbolic position of being women who are changing. We are all viewed according to stereotypes, even if we do not want to be, even if we are among those who defend ourselves by saying, "I’m not one of those radicals." They lump us all together under the same symbolic category of feminist identity, and even if I do not consider myself a feminist, people pigeonhole me as one. Even the most peaceful and conservative woman is seen as the local feminist, as strange, if she attempts any kind of change, no matter how small it may be.

Charity, paternalistic aid
and the savior syndrome...

We women participate in many ways: directly and personally as leaders, as activists, as professionals, in processes related to the women’s cause and in processes that have no clear feminist political profile but rather a more complex and diverse one... At times we participate with gender awareness and at others in processes that are not socially linked to gender policy. The forms of participation, of awareness and of ways of calling ourselves run a very wide gamut.

Those of us participating in arenas where women’s issues are covered have many differences. Some women are involved because it was the only work they could get, or because somebody recommended them, or because there was no other job offer and it fell to them to work with women although they had little awareness of women’s problems. They feel uncomfortable and even have problems explaining what they do. Other women enter into these processes with a charitable attitude. Then there are the women who specialize in the women’s cause and have dedicated many years of their life to it. They didn’t just end up in that work; they chose it.

Our societies have an extended and deep-rooted tradition of women leading charitable processes promoted by religious institutions. There the emotion is compassion and the actions carried out are to help poor women improve their quality of life, pull themselves out of misery and face the natural disasters that frequently befall them. These projects tend to promote charitable attitudes without any real empathy. It is charity provided by people who feel separate from the situation, who do not feel involved. They may feel dismayed or moved, but this problem doesn’t affect them for one simple reason: they don’t identify with it.

Another very typical attitude is the "paternalism" offered by many women working in NGOs who interact with social groups that are not their own. Although this tendency could involve very interesting processes, the mentality of providing assistance prevents the development of citizenship. Neither charity nor "paternalistic aid" develops citizenship because people stop taking responsibility for themselves, becoming accustoming to requiring permanent guiding support in order to survive. This is particularly true when it is governmental. Government officials and institutions often feel removed from the situation faced by women. Their hierarchical status and the resources they handle—no matter how substantial or limited—make them doubly distant and uninvolved.

We must recognize that all women in all arenas experience a certain savior syndrome. Many women experience the quite varied participation processes in a very subjective way, in which they feel they are saving other women, the world, the cosmos… It is a mythical attitude that can be found in traditional culture, whether religious, lay or revolutionary. The gamut of leaderships is very broad and covers us all: from the charitable to those who have made a gender option for women.

From awareness of being
a woman to feminist consciousness

In any of these experiences, with any of these attitudes, we begin to become aware that things also happen to us. There are those who work with battered women, even crying with them, and do not discover until years later that they are also being battered, but just couldn’t see it. They didn’t call it that, because they felt that what was happening to them had another name and another explanation, while what was happening to the others was violence. Some women who experience very severe domination feel that only the others are being dominated. And there are women "saviors" who see marginalization only in others and not in themselves. All of this is what is known as gender blindness toward one’s own existence, or seen the other way around, magnification of the gender problem in others. We are half blind about what is happening to us or scale down our own problems. At university, many women studying with a gender perspective speak of the problem of Muslim women saying, "Poor women, we’re light years away from that." But a semester later, those light years have been considerably reduced...

Moving from awareness of being a woman to awareness that things happen to us because we are women and then developing a political consciousness based on that and then assuming as a cause of collectivity is a very complex and complicated process. And coming to view ourselves as feminists is an even more complicated process. Sometimes it takes us 20 years to realize that things happen to us because we are women, to understand that we need to intervene and decide to participate. Twenty years go by and then one day we suddenly say, slightly embarrassed, that we are feminists. This step forward may seem relatively unimportant, but it is a key one because it involves the construction of our identity.

The great restriction

Some of us have participated in the design of policies to incorporate women into certain technological areas or fields of knowledge. These policies seek to incorporate women and nothing more. They are not based on an articulated proposal designed to modify gender inequality. This is the great restriction of work with women. Although the actions are positive, they have no sense of transformation. It is even worse if the incorporation of women remains on paper only, as a fund-raising gambit. When incorporating women is not part of any citizenship strategies, of more complex actions, it is burdened with enormous disadvantages and only overloads women with new responsibilities and more work.

The same is true of incorporating women into political life. Latin America’s modern history contains some impressive cases of such involvement, and the political participation of millions of Latin American women in the political processes of recent decades has been notable. We participate, but the implicit and unspoken objective is "don’t change anything."
We can participate as long as everything stays the same. In other processes women are only included because it would look bad otherwise. In yet others we are included because if we were not there would be no funding from the international agencies that demand inclusion as one of their conditions. This is not accompanied by any deep conviction, heartfelt need or inner transformation. When women participate this way, they often disqualify gender as if it were just a fad. They don’t understand the political magnitude of integrating women’s needs into the mental universe. They themselves undermine the issue with remarks like, "It seems that gender has to be incorporated into everything now..." And they work and act with little or no conviction.

This kind of political participation leads to the belief that it is taking place in conditions of equality. And when we believe that our conditions are equal, our political participation tends to mimic and in fact become almost an imitation of male political participation.

Alienation comes from struggling not for equality, but for participating on whatever terms, even treating women’s needs as insignificant to feign equality. When women involved in politics act this way they have leadership among women but are only feigning that they have a lot of capacities and power. In fact, it is a simulation closely linked to mimicking men.

Awareness of our own history

Many other women participate with a gender commitment. They do so because they need to resolve their problems as women and because those very problems have enabled them to identify with other women. They have a double consciousness: they recognize themselves as women and at the same time identify with other women. It a case of two different subjective experiences that rather than leading to charity or paternalism, imply the collective construction of transformation processes. One can come to this conviction from many places: from "paternalistic assistance," savior-ism, charity or politics without a gender perspective.

All forms of participation and all leadership grow out of social action, the social arena and culture, as well as each woman’s individual experience. Each woman thus has her own particular way of exercising her leadership. Only when we women break the barriers of institutional, political and participatory formality and learn who we are, can we begin to construct positive gender identification; otherwise, we cannot. The first formative recourse for women leaders is thus to become conscious of their own history and of the fact that other women have histories, and to develop the conviction that all of those histories are different and all are valid.

We want empowerment
and we want powerfulness

So what is it that we are proposing as female leaders? Not just empowerment, which is a prevailing concept recognized and accepted by public policies and institutions. We also want power. We are not proposing female leadership to make ourselves feel good, but because it is an urgent need for us, because women throughout the world are in an emergency situation and we urgently need to construct women’s powerfulness individually and collectively. I prefer to use the concept of powerfulness because it is a way to differentiate from other kinds of power and explain what kind of power we do and do not want as women.

Women’s social and political movements have been working on a real alternative in the form of a kind of power that would eliminate the power of dominion in society, particularly gender dominion. The objective is to eliminate authoritarian power, power as abuse, power to hurt others, power to expropriate other people’s life possibilities. We women want forms of power that allow us to disassemble the alienating, destructive and oppressive powers that prevail in our societies.

This powerfulness is really a series of powers for personal and collective development based on cooperation among people, institutions, structures and organizations. It is the foundation of democracy and sustainable human development and its two pillars are eliminating oppression and constructing women’s citizenship.

When we say that we want power, many think that we want it along current lines, and that makes them afraid because they think we are out for revenge. There is a collective fear of women’s vengeance, fear that we are going to use power the way it is used against us; that we are going to assault, abuse, exclude, ill treat, take away. They imagine the same world, but in reverse. Therefore, one of the keys for feminine leadership is to transmit clearly and in detail what it is that we really do and do not want. To do this, and to ensure that women do not use power in the traditional way, we have to develop a different political consciousness among us.

Women’s vital powerfulness can only be developed together with democracy. Those societies where women have better living conditions, greater opportunities and more rights are the same ones that have developed more profound democratizing processes that include women. Democracy reached out to and included them, and by so doing, has itself been strengthened.

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