Home Institution

Scripps College

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Program Name

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development


This paper investigates the work of a small collective of women—Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir—and the practice of their activism in Valparaíso, Chile. I focus on the ways in which these women are strategically mobilizing as an organization to fight for justice for women in Chile—more specifically, for gender equality, access to reproductive rights, and the legalization of abortion in all cases. I examine the history of the organization, its form and structure, the projects and campaigns they are currently working on, the individual experiences of the women working within the organization, their perspectives on their work, how they conceptualize their identities, and the challenges they face as agents of social change.

At the core of their ideology is the acknowledgement that unintended pregnancy occurs in situations that are always challenging for the woman. They believe that every woman should be free to make decisions about her own body, without fear of being stigmatized by her community or incarcerated by her government. According to Católicas, this is a basic human right. In this way, Católicas supports abortion in all cases because they respect each woman’s right to choose for her body, regardless of the reason for an abortion. But the hegemonic social, political, cultural, economic, and historical context in which Católicas has been operating is one that is fundamentally machista, and is largely unreceptive to hearing or responding to these perspectives and demands. In spite of this, recently Católicas has made significant strides in terms of putting this issue—one that is systematically silenced and shamed in Chile—into the public consciousness.

My findings illuminate that, although these women are met with constant resistance in a variety of forms, they continue in the fight: utilizing an assortment of strategies, including maintaining awareness, creativity, passion and patience. I have found that the equality-based, horizontal structure of the organization—and the environment of empowerment and support that it represents for the women, ultimately serves to counteract the struggles they face on a daily basis as a radical feminist organization in Chile. Additonally, as an organization of women simultaneously identifying as Feminists and Catholics, they personify the ways in which identity can be a complex, diverse, beautiful mix of seemingly conflicting ideologies. They challenge our conceptions of what it means to subscribe to a group or to the philosophy of that group. They prove that identity is constructed and reconstructed by choice.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Inequality and Stratification | Maternal and Child Health | Public Health Education and Promotion | Women's Studies


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