By the 1990s the grassroots feminist movement in Spain lacked the momentum and visibility that had marked its activism throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. The Spanish government’s founding of the Instituto de la Mujer, or Women’s Institute, in October 1983 gave citizens a new government body through which to ... (Show more)
By the 1990s the grassroots feminist movement in Spain lacked the momentum and visibility that had marked its activism throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. The Spanish government’s founding of the Instituto de la Mujer, or Women’s Institute, in October 1983 gave citizens a new government body through which to channel women’s concerns and debate equality policies; as a result, independent feminists using grassroots organizational strategies no longer drove the political or cultural debates about women’s rights. Instead, both independent feminism and its grassroots organization, eclipsed by the Instituto’s efforts, faded into the background.
Notably, the shift from independent activists using grassroots techniques to institutional feminists organizing through formal political networks and using government resources coincided with a simultaneous shift in international feminist activism over the 1980s and 1990s. This shift saw newly formed national women’s bureaus from across the globe participate in the World Conference on Women series and lobby organizations like the UN and EEC for policy changes to expand women’s rights. Indeed, institutional feminists in the Instituto found that working through official government channels plugged them into the inner workings of the EEC and the UN’s equality bodies, something that independent feminists had not achieved.
Yet instead of alleviating the challenges that Spanish feminists in general faced, the creation of the Instituto and its reach for international networks added complication for both independent and institutional feminists seeking political solutions to womens’ problems. Independent feminists increasingly understood institutional feminists’ entrenchment in government-created networks, including their embrace of international organizations’ policies to alleviate gender discrimination, to be evidence that institutional feminists were feminists in name only. As such, independent feminists developed a deep ambivalence toward institutional feminists and their policies: on the one hand independent feminists denied their counterparts’ identities as feminist, while on the other hand independent feminists recognized that they sometimes needed the political leverage that institutional feminists and their networks could apply even though they disliked, disagreed with, or disavowed institutional feminism itself.
Ultimately, the relationships between competing groups of self-identified feminists, in addition to the political leverage derived from internationally-accepted and in some cases internationally-mandated policies, shaped the rights and the political representation that ordinary women could access in Spain. The shift from grassroots activists’ internationalism to the decreasing possibilities for international engagement that independent feminists still using grassroots organizational techniques faced once the Instituto’s own internationalism predominated; the limited role of the national Instituto in deciding women’s rights policies for the whole of Spain; and the conflict between ideologically opposed groups of self-identified feminists over what equality meant and who got to be feminist all illuminate the ways in which Spanish feminists of different ideological camps mobilized for and effected domestic political change in the late 20th century. (Show less)