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by Amanda Diaz and Magali Krischke October 1978

Varna Bambirra is a Brazilian-born researcher. After the coup woman from a Marxist point of view, which were published
d'etat overthrowing the government of Joao Gulart in Brazil, in the magazine Punto Final.
Vania went to live in Chile, where she became involved in
interesting and important academic and political activities. TT: Do you think we can talk about the situation of women
She worked for several years at CESO (Centre for Social in Latin America in general, or should we focus on the prob-
Studies), affiliated with the University of Chile. In that in- lems of women in each country in particular?
stitution, she carried out important research, writing several
articles on women in the journal Punto Final. Other articles V.B.: I would tackle the problem from an entirely different
related to Latin America were written by Vania under the angle. One can't deal with women's issues in general. I always
pseudonym Clea Silva. Among her works, which form a strong try to specify class distinctions when I deal with the situation
contribution to the study of dependency in Latin America, of women. That is the crucial distinction. There are as many
the following books can be cited: La Revolucion Cubarza: categories of women as there are social classes; the situation
une reinterpretation; (Mexico); El Capitalism Dependiente of the bourgeois woman is different from that of the peasant
Latino American (Siglo XXI, Mexico: 1974); Teoria de la or working-class woman. "Women in general" do not exist.
Dcpendencia. Una anticritica (Ediciones Era, Mexico: 1978). It is easy to see that the working-class woman is subject to a
two-fold exploitation, as a worker and as a woman. She works
At present, Vania lives and works in Mexico (like many other two shifts; one at the factory and one at home.
researchers from Latin America, she has had to request political
asylum after the Chilean coup d'etat in 1973) at the Universidad TT: Maybe our point was not clearly made. When we asked
AutOnoma de Mexic6, Departamento de Economia. you if it was possible to talk about the situation of women
in Latin America, we were wondering if it would be better to
concentrate on the situation of women in a specific country,
Two Thirds: We would like to focus our conversation on or to make specific distinctions for each country within a
the situation of women over the last ten or fifteen years, but general framework, due to the different cultural variables
hefore that, Vania, we would like you to give us an idea of which exist in each place.
your own work and experience in the field of Latin American
Women's Studies. V.B.: I believe that the basic problems of the working class
woman are the same, whether in Argentina, Brazil or Mexico.
Vania Bambirra: I acquired my first experience in Belo This also applies to the petit bourgeois and bourgeois women.
lion te, Minas Gerais, in Brazil, while I was a student, with Perhaps one can say that the Chilean woman is more politic-
the "favelados" movement, which at that time had a tremen- ally conscious, has a greater militant tradition than the Brazil-
dous political importance. As you know, the "favelados" ian woman, and that this is due to a cultural difference. On
are shanty town inhabitants. I was working with both men the other hand, I think that the Chilean woman is not as ad-
and women, and the women showed a very great militant vanced as the Argentine woman; Chile has not reached the
attitude. My second experience was with women, in the or- degree of technological development of Argentina, and this
ganifation of the first Peasant League in Tres Marias, Minas reflects in some ways on women's attitudes. In spite of all
Ga.aiS. Wring my stay in Chile, had very few contacts this, I believe we should take Latin America as a unit; the
with poptilat sectors; I dealt mainly with University people. common problems are the most relevant, in spite of the dif-
I l ii-tite a eutiple of articles on the situation of the Chilean ferences which exist.
3T: What are the differences and sumuliniues in the situation actively prodtit:tsig anti Writing in the held or social sciences,
of women of the different social classes in Latin America'' for an instance.
V.B to the first place, a general similarity; the discrimin- TT: Ott what do you base this opinion?
ii against women as such. Women tend to he subordinat- V.B.: it has to do with women's general situation, with their
dependent, not only in economic aspects but also in subordinate position in society. It is very difficult for a wo-
notional and political ones. You can find this subordin- man to acquire her own identity, from a cultural, profession-
ation. this dependence, this discrimination not only in the al or any other point of view. It all has to do with the back-
working class woman, but also in the petit bourgeois and
ward "machista" tradition of our peoples. Woman have to
even in the bourgeois woman. It is a general attitude. Never-
make a double effort to overcome the discriminatory bar-
theless, this similarity is not important: I don't consider my-
riers which exist against her. All other things being equal, a
self a feminist. woman always loses out to a man, because competition tends
. to relegate her to second place.
IT: In spite of recognizing that women are discriminated
against, and subordinated, you say that you're not a femin-
TT: You said before that womenabove all working class
ist. What do you mean by that?
womenwere exploited and discriminated against. If we ac-
V.B.: What I mean is that the subordination, the discrimin- cept now that there is a double exploitation in a male dominat-
ation, cannot be overcome by a 'woman's only' struggle, ed society, how can we accept that men are going to give wo-
which in some cases becomes an anti-male movement, which men their liberation?
is absurd. Women should be struggling against the capitalist
V.B.: I think that women should he twice as revolutionary,
system which oppresses them, and that struggle should be
precisely because they are twice exploited. They have double
led by the vanguard of society, the working class. In this con- reasons to struggle against the system. It is not men who ex-
text, woman's liberation concerns both men and women, and
ploit women, it is the system of exploitation of the dominated
can only be achieved in a superior economic system, the classes by the dominant class which affects the oppressed wo-
first step of which is socialism. The situation of women in
men on a double count. That is why the working class and
Socialist countries is much more favourable, but full liber- peasant woman, and even large sectors of the petit bourgeoisie,
ation still has not been achieved. It is only in a Communist can have this revolutionary perspective which the bourgeois
society that this full liberation will take place, with the in- woman lacks. The bourgeois woman transfers the substance
dustrialization of domestic economy. This implies an enor- of her exploitation to other women, such as her servants. If
mous development of the productive forces, which demands she considers herself to be exploited by the system, it is only
an urban and architectural revolution to enable domestic in the sense of being discriminated against as a woman. She
work to be undertaken in large units. Without this it is im-
is not subjected to a double exploitation, and in this sense,
possible to imagine the total liberation of women.
the bourgeois woman and the working class woman are
enemies. This is why I said before that the whole question
IT: Do you consider the anti-male aspect of the feminist
should be stated in terms of class relations. The working class
movement to be a first approximation, a transitory stage in
woman cannot join forces with the bourgeois woman, but
the struggle?
she can join forces with her mate, with her fellow workers,
V.B.: 1 don't know if it is a transitory stage or notI have with the people of her class. This is the reason why 1 do not
my doubts. I think it depends can the sector of the move- consider myself a feminist, in the same way as Domitila
ment- there are sectors of the feminist movement with such Barrios Chungara, Secretary General of the Housewives'
great deformations that thy.may never advance towards Committee of the Siglo XX mine in Bolivia, doesn't consider
higher forms of organization. I must also stress that the herself a feminist, and her answer to the question is based on
bourgeoisie tries to use the movement towards its own ends. intuition. Moema Viezzer wrote a book about Domitila's
experiences, titled "If you let me speak" ("Si me permiten
Tr: What about sonic concrete situations faced by women. hablar", Ed. SigloXXI, Mexico.) Why does she say she is not
For instance, how can one make the man share domestic re- a feminist? Because she is a woman of the mines, struggling
sponsibilities and also be conscious of his own responsibility side by side with the miners, against dictatorship and oppres-
at home? sion in her country.
V.B.: I think that it is very important to make large popular
sectors conscious of the limitations of male chauvinism, of TT: The bourgeois and petit bourgeois women in Latin
-machismo", and its reactionary content. The political plat- America transfer exploitation to the domestic servant--some-
fotins of revolutionary parties, movements and organizations thing which the petit bourgeois woman in developed capital-
should include women's rights as part of their program of ist countries can no longer do in the same way. But there
the people's struggle in general, and they should actively in- are limits to this transfer, as these women still have to care
corporate women in their movements. for the children and supervise domestic work in general.

V.B.: The feminine sector of our society which is most over-


TT: Do you think there have been changes in the situation of
exploited, whose function is even pre-capitalist and servile in
different social classes in Latin America over these twine, is that of the domestic servant. I know that in the
but ten Veals?
developed capitalist countries this no longer happens, or at
V.B.: Yes, at least in some aspects, because Latin America has least, it does not happen with the same intensity, but in our
developed in the last ten years. Several countries have become society, bourgeois and petit bourgeois women exploit domestic
more industrialized. In spite of this progress, we have a critical service in the most heartless and savage manner. The domestic
situation. The development of the productive apparatus brought servants, daughters of peasants or workers, have no right to a
about a greater involvement of women in productive life. I'm private life. Those of peasant extraction have three options;
not 'so sure this happened to'working class women, but the per- becoming worker-peasants, prostitutes, or domestic servants.
Centage of petit bourgeois'Women in the Universities has in- Those who choose domestic service do not earn even half of
creased, and this is important. Nevertheless, although there is a minimum working wage. They usually work from 7 in the
a greater feminine presence in` several sectors, it is still an ex- morning to 10 at night, and have no opportunities of develop-
ception if one looks at Latin American politics in general. In ing a private life. They live in precarious conditions, in attic
some areas their participation is really limited; such is the case rooms, isolated; they are not allowed to have children, be-
of cultural activities in general. There are not many women cause if they do they lose their employment. .Abortions are
39

1.TOMEMIMITalk,
cokumon practice, with all the frustrations which this type V.B.: Of course,r,it is very important. One must he careful,
of life can bring. They arc treated as serfs, they exist only to though, because the bourgeoisie has also understood this and
...obey. The petit bourgeois woman in Latin America is the has tried to use it to its own advantage. The most important
most sinister exploiter that has ever existed. sectors of the feminist movement in the U.S. are dominated
by the bourgeoisie. This can be seen in the attempt to pit
TT: Isn't the man an accomplice to this woman's exploit- women against men, to restrict the character of the move-
ation of the domestic servant? He also takes advantage of the ment, and to present it as a broader, more political, more
servant's work. unitarian movement. Even the literature which has come out
V.B.: Yes, the man is an indirect accomplice of this exploit- of the leaders of the feminist movement in recent years is
ation. totally wrong. These leaders are bourgeois or petit bourgeois
women, who try to use the movement, disfiguring it, depriv-
TT: We don't consider this type of struggle as incompatible ing it of its revolutionary, socialist content. In general, I
with the struggle of the feminist movement. If women do must say that there are important things happening, but
not participate actively and organize themselves in society, one must learn to be selective in one's analysis.
they will be marginated and relegated.
TT: We would like to talk some more about the situation of
V.B.: I can agree with that. I believe that women should the working woman in Latin America, not only in her role
participate and organize themselves as such, but I make a as a worker's spouse, but as a worker herself. How does she
distinction between that and feminism. Let me explain visualize her work?
this further. I believe that it is important. Domitila organized
the miners' wives; they didn't work in the mines themselves, V.B.: Obviously, she works to supplement her husband's
but they organized themSelves to fight alongside the miners, salary, but this does not mean that she does not struggle for
participating in their strikes in defense of common interests. a general improvement in her working and living conditions.
They were organized as women, struggling side by side with There are many proofs of combative attitudes among work-
their men. They organized a housewives' committeebut it ing women in Latin America, which have become more pro-
was a political organization, which included their demands nounced in recent years. A new period of ascendent social
as women. This also is the way women are organized in struggles is being outlined today in Latin America, but those
Socialist countries. In Cuba, the Federation of Cuban Women struggles have been and still are suffocated by the presence
defends the specific interests of women, but the Federation of military dictatorships such as the one which has governed
is related to the Party and to the whole social and revolu- Brazil for the last 14 years. It is difficult for both women and
tionary process. It is not an isolated, particular struggle, be- men to express themselves under those circumstances. The
cause the main issue is the struggle for socialism and pro- repressive system in Latin America is very violent. In spite
letarian revolution. In this context I cannot imagine a wo- of this, Chilean women are struggling against the dictator-
men's movement which turns against men. I find that the ship, by means of hunger strikes and protests; they are out
enemies are of another kind, and I can't see any advantage in the streets again.
in mixing the demands of the working women with those of
the bourgeois women; they are qualitatively different. But TT: What we notice is that many of the women's protests
as long as this remains clear, I have nothing against women's are related to their traditional role, in the family, but not so
organizations. much to their own specific demands.
V.B.: I don't think that this is the case of the Chilean women;
TT: What changes have you noticed in the situation of they are not protesting for their loved ones alone; they
women in Latin America? understand the political content of their actions. Their de-
V.B.: It is difficult to generalize; one has to he more specific. mands have a much wider reach, especially in the Chilean
For instance, in Chile, during the Unidad Popular period, case, where three years of Unidad Popular government achiev-
the number of day care centres increased, and women's ed a massive politicization. Of course, women's rallies are
participation in all aspects of social and political life increas- often related to affective and emotional aspects; we cannot
ed also. In the past 15 years, there has been a much greater deny this fact, which has to do with the "feminine" function
incorporation of women to social struggle in Brazil, but it and has roots in that strong cultural tradition which relegates
still remains a diffuse participation. Women's journals begin the woman to a docile, passive, dependent role. This does
to appear as opposition journals to the dictatorship. Such not exclude the fact that many of these rallies show a much
is the case of "Nos Mulhers. ", which in my opinion is ex- deeper degree of conscience of women as part of popular
cellent. The Amnesty Movement is led by women. I don't sectors.
have much information about Argentina, but I understand
that there has been an increase in feminine presence in TT: When a woman goes out to work, she usually does be-
social struggles. cause of her family's needs, and not for her own self-
fulfillment. What do you think of that?
Ti': What elements have influenced these changes? V.B.: Yes, it is an important aspect, but you must also con-
V.B.: Firstly, the process of cultural, economic and indus- sider that when a young man goes to work in a factory, he
trial development; and secondly, the crisis of dependent does not do so because he chose the job. He goes to work in
capitalist systems, which has pushed women toward a more that factory because he has a very objective need for survival, ,
active participation. Domitila's case, for an instance, shows and has no opportunity to develop his potential, to study
that the struggle for survival pushed women to fight. In more, and to choose what he wants to be in life. The same
Brazil, the crisis has led women to organize themselves in happens to a child who begs in the street. Neither the worker,
practically all the states. Women are becoming more concern- nor the child, nor the woman are fulfilling their existence.
ed with issues such as democracy, the struggle for socialism, Society frustrates and castrates the majority of the people.
the exploitation of workers, etc. To sum it up, the greater The woman's problem might he a bit more dramatic, but it
cultural development and the profound crisis of dependent is shared by the oppressed sectors in general as the impos-
capitalism is leading sectors which did not participate very sibility to choose, to develop socially. As we said before, the
much to more intense forms of participation. working class woman is discriminated against not only be-
7 cause she is a woman, but because she belongs to the work-
TT: Do you consider the fact that this capitalist crisis allows ing class, and this is important. The petit bourgeois woman
for some participation of the feminist movement as a step does not need to work to supplement her husband's salary,
foi
40

'IrVinagliaM ak4
44,
sO"she has a wider margin of choice and can look for an happening there. But, even though we have the information,
alternative which provides personal fulfillment, that is to say, how could we put it into practice here? Cuba is Socialist,
an decide what to contribute - to.society, what profession
she can' here we have dependent capitalism, and this type of influence
to take up. The working class woman can't. I insist on this only can serve as an example for the future. Therein lies our
poillit; the problem is more one of class discrimination than responsibility as intellectuals to study this experience,
of discrimination against women in general. The situation in assimilate it arid spread it, as we can serve as a bridge toward
socialist countries is different; if we consider the statistics popular sectors.
on wonien professionals in the Soviet Union, they arc im-
pressive. If my memory serves me, more than 80% of the TT: Do you think that these changes may also have been
doctors in the USSR are women. It is a sy stem which has influenced by the feminist movement in North America?
developed in a much more egalitarian fashion, in spite of the V.B.: Certainly, both by the North American and European
fact that the problem is far from being solved, as it depends movements. They both had a very strong impact. Everything
on a greater general development. In any event, women that goes on in the advanced capitalist countries has an in-
there already have greater possibilities of social participation. fluence on the dependent countries.
TT: Although a Socialist revolution has already taken place TT: Do you believe that within the framework of a capital-
in Cuba, there still are problems there regarding the situation ist bourgeois society, the changes brought about by the
of women. What do you think of the recent law establishing feminist movement contribute to - the struggle against the
the division of responsibilities for domestic work between present social, political and economic situation in Latin
men and women? America?
V.B.: I think it is a very important step toward a solution V.B: That depends on the movement's orientation. Inas-
for Cuba, within its material conditions as an underdeveloped. much as some sectors of the feminist movement tend to
country, still very poor, which has to overcome 400 years follow orientations which lead them to defend particular
of backward heritage. We also must not forget that "machismo" interests, divorced from more ample social struggles, I don't
exists in Cuba, as it does in other Latin American countries, think they are collaborating Harnercker's hook "Cuba, Democracy
based on a very strong cultural tradition which even a revo- ments. This happens in many advanced capitalist countries.
lution as radical as the Cuban one has not been able to eradi- Quite to the contrary, the contribution is even negative. The
cate. This fact indicates the need for a profound cultural movement in Brazil, on the other hand, is playing a very
revolution.. .and to avoid being idealistic, we must say that important role, because the women there are organizing
this profound cultural revolution, this change in mentality, themselves in a struggle for democracy. That without doubt
can only come about as the result of material, economic and is an important contribution.
industrial development. The changes implied by the new law
are very important, but they are only transitory, interme- TT: In the present critical situation, women are led to work
diate steps. The Cuban woman has only achieved a slightly outside their homes, and to study; at the same time, they
greater degree of independence. The discussions on the are urged to maintain their traditional role. Who is interested
Constitution in the Revolutionary Defense Committees in in the conservation of this traditional role?
Cuba were very interesting. People said, 'If you don't work, V.B.: The system is interested in that, because it has no
you don't cat.' Some pointed out that many women didn't possibility of incorporating women into the market. We are
work, and the women's answer was, 'Of course we do, we living in a period of technical and scientific revolution, and
work at home.' One must not forget that Cuban society is there is a capitalist trend toward structural unemployment.
still unable to incorporate all women in the productive The last two crises of the system led to unemployment figures
system, as it has nut been able to solve the day care prob.. which surpassed all previous counts; I'm talking about countries
lems yet. Although great advances have been made, the such as U.S.A., France, and Germany, not to speak of Great
Cuban woman is still a prisoner of domestic activities, even Britain, where the situation is now very deteriorated. The
more so in this period of transition; for example, the petit system cannot massively incorporate women to the productive
bourgeoisie cannot solve the problem by transferring the apparatus. This can only be done in a planned socialist eco-
exploitation to servants because there aren't any servants nomy. Because of this, the system is interested in keeping
left If thin MC line tips due to food scarcity. everybody women subordinated at home; it cannot solve the problem
has to stand in line. On one hand, the women have to any other way. Front the point of view of capitalist ideology,
sacrifice a lot in this period of transition, but on the other, there is nothing to stop incorporating women into the pro-
they have become more respected and independent. I had ductive system, but it cannot be done, so the whole mother-
a very moving experience while I was in Cuba; I talked to hood and child care myth has to he developed. The system
some ex-prostitutes. Prostitution was eliminated very quick- cannot solve this problem, arid what is more, it becomes pro-
ly in Cuba; even during the democratic period there was no
gressively worse, both in the developed and the dependent
prostitution left. One of the women I spoke to had become
capitalist countries. All the resources of the media, publicity
integrated into productive life; she had solved her problem, ' and advertising are geared to the justification of this situation.
and was even going to become a 'millenia'. It was very
touching to see how her comrades treated her with respect
TT: But, at the sabre time, women are stimulated to study
and affection.
and improve their training, in order to make more qualified
Tr: Do you think that the changes which occur in a social- labour available.
ist society, for example, Cuba, have any influence on Latin V.B.: True, but then they have no opportunity to join the
American women? working force. This is a current problem for today's youth
V.B.: Yes, in the sense that those experiences can serve as in general. It is also one of the reasons for young people's
an inspiration for the future, when we start to build social- rebelliousness: they have no professional future. What happens
ism; we can look at the examples and know what road to in Latin America for an instance, is that women's particip-
take. Only in this sense. I don't think there is enough in- ation in the university increases, but they marry soon after
formation about Cuba in the rest of Latin America to justify and devote themselves to raising children because it is so
talking about any other kind of influence. Just remember difficult to get a job.
that 70% of the countries live under military dictatorships. Ti': What are the developments in the power of decision and
The people know very little of what is going on in Cuba. political participation of women both in socialist and capital-
Sonic intellectuals have access to the literature on what is ist countries?
41
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Very important ones. For example, if one analyses food, thus creating the required conditions for women's
thekilhan case, women's participation at all levels of political total liberation. In Cuba today, the activist who discrim-
i)cen integrated with that of the whole people. From inates against his wife and does not collaborate at home, is
the Revolutionary Defense Committees, which are organized expelled from the Party. But, as I said before, it is a gradual
in each block, with massive participation, to the Popular Power process; and although women are not massively incorporated
Assemblies, and the recent discussions on institutionalization. into the productive process, this has not been an obstacle -
I suggest you read Martha Harnewrcker's book "Cuba. Democracy to their involvement in the political process, perhaps because
or Dictatorship?", where all this is explained in great detail. this is also the result of an important revolution.
TT: You said before that Cuba was not able to incorporate TT: And what is women's power of decision and iolitical
women massively into the productive process. Why do you participation in the capitalist countries?
stipulate women in this context'? Isn't this a ease of discrim- V.B.: It is very restricted, and only appears as the right to
ination against women?
vote in those countries where there is a representative dem-
V.B.: The problem is that Cuba has not been able to create ocracy. It is interesting to see that in many cases right wing
the conditions which would enable women to leave home. par ties arc elected on the basis of women's votes. Christian
The necessary infrastructure of day care centres, popular Democracy in Chile and Franco in Spain, were both elected
restaurants, collective laundries, and so on will take years to on the basis of women's votes. Women tend to be conserv-
complete; it implies an architectural and urban revolution at ative, and the left has always lost their vote. This is an im-
all levels, and a solution to the urban-rural contradiction. portant point for consideration. In any event, their partic-
That is why I said that this could only be achieved at a com- ipation is limited to voting; there are very few female MP's,
munist stage, which would imply a tremendous development Senators or politicians in capitalist countries.
of productive forces.
TT: Is it legitimate to he concerned about the situation of
TT: What is the Cuban woman's participation in Party life? women before a socialist revolution, or should one wait,
V.B.: It has increased drastically. If you take a look at the devote efforts to the revolution and then attend to women's
Thesis and Resolutions of the First Congress of the Com- liberation?
munist Party of Cuba, you will see the Party's preoccupation V.B.: The struggle for woman's liberation should he taken
with the massive incorporation of women, and with making up now, because it is a very important component of the
that incorporation meaningful. This concern is very healthy struggle for a socialist revolution. The best possible advantage
and aims at finding better solutions to the problem. should be taken of this struggle; it is an important revolutionary
banner.
TT: You state that the incorporation of women into the
productive process will depend on existing economic de- TT: What form should our struggle and preoccupation about
velopment. If in Cuba today there is no infrastructure which the situation of women take today?
will enable this development, do you think that this may
V.B.: I think that the struggle for women's liberation should
become an obstacle to the advancement of the Cuban
he led by the working class and its parties, and all women's
woman's present situation; in other words, that the lack of
demands should he made in the context of that struggle,
job opportunities may continue to relegate her, and lead her
above all those of oppressed women, workers, peasants, and
to revert to her traditional role?
important sectors of the petit bourgeoisie. To conclude,
V.B.: I was trying to point out that the change cannot be women have an obligation to participate in the people's
accomplished all at once. It is a relatively slow process, but general struggles, in pursuit of political and economic dem-
there is an increasing trend towards a consciousness that this ocracy as pre-requisites of a socialist revolution. These popular
incorporation is necessary. On the other hand, the develop- sectors should also show solidarity with women's demands,
ment of industry, hospitals, factories and so on in Cuba advocating their incorporation into the productive process,
naturally help to create the conditions for this incorporation, and their right of a wider political participation, although
and the increase in accumulation permits the assignment of they know that this will only be possible when capitalism
more funds to the building of day care centres, collective is overcome.
restaurants, and provokes the disappearance of line ups for

42