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They want our work, but not our power: popular women, unpaid labor, and the making of the Bolivarian revolution

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela is part of broader Latin American institutional restructuring that aims to expand social, political and economic inclusion through increasing popular participation. This dissertation elucidates the gendered implications of attempts to construct post-neoliberal state-society relations and corresponding practices of popular power. It analyzes the dialectical relations between popular sector women and the Bolivarian state by focusing on the role of women’s unpaid labor in the revolution during Hugo Chávez’s presidency. This study examines for whom and for what ends popular women’s labor was deployed and discursively invoked. It also assesses the consequences of state-society relations for popular women, their power, and the gendered division of labor in Venezuela. This dissertation is based on an extended case study developed from interviews and participant observation with popular women; feminist analysts and organizations; and state women’s leaders and institutions. In reshaping state-society relations from the standpoint of the subaltern, the Bolivarian regime incorporated popular women as central participants in the revolution. This gendered political opening generated new opportunities for women’s rights, organizing, and articulations with the state. In 1999, Venezuela recognized the socio-economic value of housework and entitled homemakers to social security in Article 88 of its new constitution. The state instituted several programs that recognized some women’s unpaid reproductive labor and lightened and/or socialized their reproductive burdens. Yet this recognition rendered popular women’s unpaid labor and organizing vulnerable to state appropriation because of popular women’s positioning in the gendered division of labor. The state incorporated them through its practices and institutions by reconfiguring the extant hegemonic gender role of women as mothers in service of the revolution. It expected them to be both mobilized and contained for what it saw as the revolution’s broader interests. Popular women performed much of the unpaid social and political labor necessary to build and sustain the revolution. This utilization of their unpaid labor did not necessarily transform gender power relations. Initiatives to legislate Article 88 were forestalled, social security was not universally accessible, reproductive labor persisted as predominantly popular women’s responsibility, and many popular women remained socially, economically, and politically vulnerable.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Wittman, Hannah
Thesis advisor: Pulkingham, Jane
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