< Regional Programs

Women's WORLD Program in Latin America

Women's WORLD's Latin American program has its headquarters in Lima, Peru, in the office of RELAT, a network initiated by Mariella Sala, who is Chair of the Women's WORLD Board of Directors. RELAT (Red de Escritoras Latinoamericanas), a regional network of women writers, was formed in 1998 in order to apply to writers the networking methods Latin American women had already found successful in the areas of women's health and violence against women. By holding conferences, communicating across borders, and getting to know one another's work, RELAT members hoped to develop more of a public presence for Latin American women writers. RELAT now consists of groups in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Peru, and individual members in other Latin American countries. Its members communicate through a website with linked websites in Brazil and Argentina. They develop projects together, such as a series of international conferences in Argentina, a data base of Latin American women writers, an anthology of articles concerning women and censorship in the region, and a contest for the best first novel by a woman writer. RELAT is also developing local projects in Peru, including a writing workshop for low-income women and a creative writing project in the Amazon.

RELAT recently articulated its analysis and program evaluation as follows:

While the people of Latin America share a history and a common language, the region is not as homogeneous as it seems from outside. All the countries in the region face economic difficulties, but there is a big difference between the economies of countries like Chile, Brazil and Mexico and those of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and most of the countries of Central America. There are equally sharp contrasts in the field of culture, as measured in education and cultural policy, with the same division between countries in the center and those on the periphery.

Despite their different circumstances, women writers all over Latin America have a common experience of gender inequality. From the beginning, we have said that one of the main obstacles we must overcome as writers is our isolation, which results from women's lack of participation in public life, on the one hand, and the lack of communication between women writers, on the other. Our communication across borders is so poor that women writers in one Latin American country will know almost nothing about the work of women writers in other Latin American countries.

To overcome these barriers, we are building an activist network that will not only defend our right to free expression, but can function as a forum for discussion and an information exchange for thousands of writers in our region, as well.

Perhaps our biggest challenge comes from Latin America's enormous ethnic and cultural diversity. For centuries, this diversity was rendered invisible by a Eurocentric, positivist perspective that not only influenced the West but made non-Western cultures see themselves as devalued or excluded. From this perspective, the issues of gender-based censorship and self-censorship that motivated RELAT's creation appear more complex than we thought when we began. At first we thought Latin America had a great advantage, compared to Europe and Asia, because the same language was spoken throughout our region. We did not yet grasp the critical importance of the diverse non-Western cultures that survive in Latin America. Now we see that the real challenge of Latin America is to enable rural and indigenous women to have a public voice, and we have begun to develop projects to give our work this intercultural perspective.

Still, the needs of the educated urban writers, from which RELAT arose, are also valid. Women write us hungrily of their desire to communicate with other women writers and to have access to more information about editorial markets, competitions, and publication possibilities. This lack of information alone would be sufficient justification for the existence of a network of Latin American women writers. No other organization fills this void at the regional level and, even at the national level, such information is in continual demand, at least in Peru.

RELAT's chief problem has been a bitter lack of economic resources that has prevented us from carrying out many of our projects. The catastrophic economic situation of our region is more than just an obstacle to our work; it threatens the stability and even the existence of our entire network. It is impossible to build a stable base of volunteers since, throughout Latin America, writers must work two or three jobs just to earn enough money to live. If, in addition, they want to write, they have little time left for volunteer work.

In addition, the very isolation and need for information that make our network necessary are also one of the obstacles to its growth, in that we need more trained leadership people who are willing to subordinate their individual careers to building RELAT. It has taken us some time to realize that RELAT cannot focus on the career needs of individual writers; we are not a self-help group or a union organization, whose mission is to satisfy the professional or economic and emotional needs of writers, but an NGO that seeks to facilitate discussion and build a community of writers. For this reason, we have decided to seek out not only poets and writers of fiction but also essayists, historians, and sociologists, and to look for people with a clear political position and a feminist vision, who will put their social commitment before their professional success.

For more details of the work in Latin America, see our Affiliates Relat, Rebra and Sudestada.