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Barbara Frechette - Sharing PowerSouth American feminism is different from the US model according to journalist Barbara Frechette. She also adds that in several ways, it is better and could serve as a lesson in unity for all US women today. Her book, Sharing Power, analyzes what was in recent years, a quick efficient and less contentious empowerment of women leaders in Columbia. It demonstrates how, by using their regional feminism, they avoided the US feminist pitfalls. It is proof that since it happened then, it could happen again.

First, Latin American and Caribbean women sought only to share their governing power as citizens in democracies. They never put men in an adversarial position. Nor did they make them feel defensive. By seeking men as working partners and mentors, they avoided “gender warfare.”

Wow! Was I stuck with Latin American stereotyping of women, since I had the impression that women’s lot in Colombia was to be docile! Barbara said she had also been amazed by Sharing Power’s seven outstanding women’s many barrier-breaking leadership positions when she was in Colombia in the 1990s, even though she had served (through her husband’s ambassadorships) in Latin America twice before. Her well-researched and well-written biographical sketches of these inspiring feminists, who knew how to play the game of influencing politics, make a convincing case for male-female power sharing. Here’s an example to support the peacemaking theme in “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven”. It represents complementary interdependence for moving together toward a common goal. Be all the woman you can be!

A second distinguishing mark of Latin American and Caribbean feminism presented in Barbara’s book is its non partisan, highly organized, inclusive women’s movements that are aimed at clearly defined, shared goals. Unity, inclusion and shared purpose prevented South American feminism from the partisan and religious conflicts that created such feminist identity crises as the “mommy wars” in the US.

Sharing Power also contains South America’s long and fascinating history of feminist political activism.

  • Activism that helped elect eleven women presidents since 1974;
  • They aided in the overthrow of authoritarian regimes;
  • They impelled the granting of women’s suffrage;
  • They helped establish democratic governments.

According to historian Peter H. Smith in Democracy in Latin America, the political power of women organized for change was demonstrated again and again in the granting of women’s suffrage in the Southern Hemisphere between 1929 and 1961 in Ecuador, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, and Paraguay.

Such was the case in mid 1950’s Colombia, when all of those revolutionary events happened at the same time. Female leaders from Colombia’s Liberal and Conservative political parties organized the Union of Colombian Women, making sure to include all women, regardless of political, religious, economic, racial, or other differences. The first of the Union’s agreed upon agenda of 22 shared goals was a peaceful resolution of Colombia’s two decades of bloody Liberal-Conservative warfare that had cost 200,000 lives! The second goal of the Women’s Union was gaining the vote for Colombian women. The next 20 goals were for shared social, political, and economic equity rights that worldwide women were, and are still fighting for even today. A good example is the U.N.’s CEDAW (Convention For the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.)

The first two of the women’s goals were met in 1957 when women won the vote. A new form of democratic government was established that granted equal presidential and legislative power to each warring political party. Esmeralda Arboleda, one of the two organizers of the Women’s Union and spokeswoman for its causes, was named Colombia’s first female national senator. Her steadfast political mentor, Alberto Lleras Camargo, became the first president of the new bicameral form of government that he had helped design. It lasted for twenty peaceful years.

I found the chronology of Barbara’s stories, and the historical comments in Sharing Power to be perfect bedtime reading. Before sleep, I savored learning about her inspiring women, one for each reading. I had the added enjoyment of rereading in order to keep a list of each woman’s defining traits, and then made her one of my personal role models. Sharing Power has become a “how-to guide” for me.

The book’s main theme also relates to my active feminist experience since 1980, as it has to do with keeping men on our side. Today I see the lives of both sexes in the United States continuing to be submerged, swimming in the polluted waters of the cultural construct - patriarchy. Barbara’s book gives the chance to breathe in the fresh air of liberation.


Vigdis Finnbogadottir, when President of Iceland, said, “Women cannot lead without men, but men have to this day considered themselves capable of leading without women. Women would always take men into consideration. That’s the difference.”


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