Culture interacts with development in multiple ways. However the importance of culture within development should not be seen as translating to crystallising and solidifying its meaning or providing definitive ideas of what works. In this paper, I look at the relevance of culture to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, and examine how some women’s movements in Latin America have negotiated and contested meanings around culture and as a result have re-signified gender values, attitudes and behaviours.
The example of Las madres de la Plaza de Mayo questions the cultural construct of motherhood and the traditional role of the mother caring for the family within the home, and the women’s neighbourhood action based in Bahia, Brazil which I look at contests and extends the notion of that domestic space. The importance of deconstructing and fighting against stereotypical images and patriarchal views of women in order to uphold gender rights is clear from the examples I look at on domestic violence, sex worker violence and the Black Women’s Movement’s struggle against sexist and racist images.
In conclusion I argue that in employing ‘transformatory thinking’ the women’s groups that I look at in this paper have worked together as women to contest and confront accepted cultural meanings and by doing so have begun to re-structure the gender order and promote gender equality.