Role of Women in Latin America

Latina Mujer

Latin America was becoming a more modern society by 1900. Women were soon taking small steps towards independence and liberation from constraints.

Between the end of the nineteenth and beginning twentieth century, Latin America was changing from a traditional to a more modern society. This began with a change in the machismo-hebrismo dichotomy. Women’s roles were shifting, however they were still seen primarily within the home setting. Those of the lower classes worked side by side with men in the fields. Women in Latin America were soon taking small steps towards independence and liberation from constraints.

Women in Chile and Mexico

Similar to what occurred in the United States, in Chile, when the males marched off to fight in the War of the Pacific (1879 – 1883), women occupied many jobs formerly held by men. For example Chilean women of the lower classes held a variety of jobs in the cities by the end of the nineteenth century such as running streetcars, street cleaning and selling meats, vegetables and fruits in the markets and on street corners. While in Mexico, the soldaderas (women soldiers) accompanied the armies of the Mexican Revolution and played significant roles during that struggle.

Women in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay

Women took their first steps towards social and political equality with men in the cities where the traditional patriarchal families dissolved. Where there was an absence of men within the family, women took jobs in factories and offices to help provide for their families. Teaching was the first profession conquered by Latin American women.

Feminists such as Carmela Horne de Burmeister and Julieta Lanteri of Argentina and Paulina Luisi of Uruguay proclaimed the causes of equality for women. Dr. Paulina Luisi, one of Argentina’s first female physicians, championed for social reforms including political suffrage. Brazilian feminists such as Bertha Lutz formed the Brazilian Federation for Feminine Progress (Federacao Brasileira pelo Progresso Feminino), one of the largest women’s organizations in Latin America.

Women in Public Office

As the years passed, women were finally receiving the right to vote. Ecuador in 1929 made voting voluntary for women. Women in Brazil in 1932, Argentina in 1947, Chile in 1949 and Mexico in 1953 were also given the right to vote. Soon enough, they began entering public office. The Feminist Party of Uruguay nominated Celica Guerrero de Chiappa, a professor of education as its candidate for the presidency in the 1971 elections.

Five women have governed as presidents of Latin American countries: Violeta Barrios de Chamorro of Nicaragua, Mireya Elisa Moscoso of Panama, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina. In 2010, Laura Chinchilla became the first female president in Costa Rica.

Clearly the role of women in both the social and political arena was broadening, although the machismo attitude still prevailed. An evolution has resulted and the social concept of women has forever been changed.


  1. Bergmann, Emilie; Greenberg, Janet et. al. Women, Culture and Politics in Latin America, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990
  2. Bryson, Lyman, eds.. Social Change in Latin America Today, New York: Random House, 1960
  3. Schurz, William. This New World: The Civilization of Latin America, New York: Dutton, 1964.
  4. Toiba, Michal. Women Make Strides in Latin American Politics. Council of the Americas.