This book attempts to present a new set of issues within feminist research in education. While discussions about the education of women in Latin America typically refer to the fact that in most cases women enjoy a satisfactory parity with men--a parity that surpasses by a considerable margin that of women's education in many Asian and African countries--the analysis of many other educational issues from a gender perspective has been limited. Often it has centered on the identification of sexual stereotypes in textbooks, a crucial but nonetheless partial aspect of the differential education of women.

An effort to expand the literature on gender and education was reflected in a previous work I also coordinated (Stromquist, ed. 1992). Through the chapters presented here, this expansion continues. Various issues with profound implications for policy making or for social change are reviewed in this new text. Lest the reader be surprised by my distinction between policy making and social change, let me explain that policy making refers to changes that governments may undertake. In contrast, efforts at social change, particularly those regarding gender, are more likely to be initiated outside the structures of government.

I wish to thank the Organization of American States (OAS) for their invitation to publish this volume on gender and education in Latin America. Through Carlos Paldao, editor of La Educación, the OAS encouraged me to continue the debate.

As editor, I sought to provide a greater representation of the countries in Latin America in the chapters included here. For various reasons, a number of studies from other Latin American nations did not materialize. However, the contributions that appear in this volume reflect an in-depth and sophisticated look at education, identifying important gender dimensions in topics that have been previously seen as gender neutral. The set of studies presented herein can be viewed as a second generation of gender research in education. Not only are the methodologies more refined and the evidence more concrete, but the conceptual and empirical lenses used to detect gender dimensions have obviously grown in power and clarity.

A rich utilization of qualitative methods can be found in several of the chapters. The detailed and interpretive nature of historical approaches is present in the study of a group of indigenous people in Mexico by Lorena Martos. The value of oral history methodologies and the insightful information gained by the researcher from listening to the perspectives of others, particularly those who are marginalized, rather than expressing only her own voice is reflected in the detailed texts she presents us.

Qualitative techniques are also used by Marilia Carvalho, Pia Wong, and Susan Rippberger. Carvalho relies on observation and interview techniques to describe how primary school teachers--many of them female--experience the tensions of being professionals and having important responsibilities for family and household. The students' use of the term "aunt" to refer to the female primary school teachers in Brazil reveals an ambiguity between affection and authoritarianism, and between individualism and impersonal teaching behaviors. She rescues some of the affective behaviors that teachers display in primary school, showing that they contribute to a closer and more personal relation between teacher and student. The extension of the private world to the school, however, also has negative repercussions, particularly in the way teachers tend to treat female staff members. Pia Wong also uses qualitative methods to examine an important project of educational change, which tries to transform the curriculum and teaching from a very standardized and detached mode to one that would be interdisciplinary and rely on substantial teacher participation. She found that the fact that the conditions and experiences of female teachers were not acknowledged affected the involvement of the teachers. The logistical and emotional constraints on participation experienced by the female teachers indicate that for them the transition expected by the interdisciplinary project was difficult; only a few teachers succeeded.

Wong places the study of the new program within the framework of innovation-adoption theory, and convincingly demonstrates the weakness of trying to produce change without first understanding the perceptions and situations of the teachers who are to serve as change agents.

Using open-ended interviews, Rippberger detects quiet but important changes occurring in the education of Indian children in Mexico. These changes are taking place through the increased presence of indigenous female teachers whose commitment, patience, and cultural identification indicate that they are functioning as teachers in ways very different from previous generations of teachers. Interestingly, Rippberger describes the establishment of spaces for such educational change within public schools, despite the assimilationist programs being promoted by the central government.

In addition to sharing qualitative methodologies, the studies mentioned above also share their focus. Carvalho and Wong enter the school and the classroom, to examine everyday practices and to obtain the perspectives of teachers. Rippberger does not enter the classroom, but tours the community and talks extensively with the teachers to understand their methods and intentions.

Martos and Rippberger share another focus: seeking a greater understanding of the experience of indigenous people and indigenous teachers. In past studies of Indian populations, the focus has been on language programs and the extent of their access to schooling. In contrast, Martos and Rippberger address the nature of their culture and highlight how indigenous communities see the school, which is set up by a central government bent more on social induction than on the recognition of cultural diversity among its people.

Regina Cortina also examines teachers, but does so from a policy perspective by describing their strong participation as teachers but weak performance as union leaders. She discusses current policies in Mexico to change the character of the union and teacher, as well as to decentralize the educational system; from this Cortina draws inferences about a likely increase in participation by the women teachers.

A focus on teachers reveals that in Latin America most teachers at the primary level are women. And, although reforms and innovations have been tried, the conditions of female teachers have not been taken into account. These teachers earn slightly more than a bus driver and much less than an executive secretary (ILO 1990, 95-96). The low salaries of teachers have been coupled with generous maternity leave that reinforce social expectations that women be responsible for children and others in the family. In societies where teachers earn so little and where many female teachers feel domestic responsibilities should take priority, what can be said about their permanence in the system and their availability to serve as agents for change? Relationship patterns at home spill over into professional areas. Not surprisingly, we see that women as teachers have little time for meetings about innovation (shown in the chapter by Wong) or for participation in politics (as highlighted in the chapter by Cortina).

An important theme elaborated on by Silvia van Dijk concerns the role of nonformal and popular education for adult women. Often marginalized and seen as unfortunate but unimportant residuals of the formal education system, these women can sometimes take advantage of a growing number of programs--run by women and with a feminist perspective--which provide a crucial array of educational services for women. Van Dijk's account relies on the review of numerous reports usually not found in university libraries; she relies also on her wealth of experience working with Non-Governmental Organizations for women in Latin America.

The chapter by Fulvia Rosemberg and Edith Piza shows the contributions of demography to these studies. The authors painstakingly explore the connections between race, gender, and literacy. Looking at available census data, Rosemberg and Piza trace, through longitudinal observations, the evolution of these three key variables and their shifts over time. Through the juxtaposition of various variables, the authors show the perverse effects of the combination of race and gender in the case of black women in Brazil.

Sex education, a longstanding concern of parents and teachers and a controversial subject, receives extensive substantial discussion by Barbara Bayardo. She explores the various understandings of sexuality and how these are reflected in sex education programs. She also underlines the important role played by conservative groups in society in setting narrow parameters to the knowledge disseminated in classrooms. Bayardo's comparative analysis of sex-education debates and of programs in Mexico and the U.S. demonstrates the clear interaction between knowledge and power; it also improves our appreciation of situations and processes that need to be resolved.

Problems of access to education are important and have not been fully resolved in the Latin American context. However, there are many other problems that deserve attention as we move education toward the 21st century. The studies this book offers introduce the gender dimension to a new set of educational issues. Hence, they should contribute to sharpening the debate about, and the analysis of, educational experiences, settings, and institutions. From the above, it is clear that traditional notions of femininity and masculinity are maintained through education. It is also evident that groups both within the school (e.g., the indigenous female teachers in Chiapas, the gender-trained teachers in Argentina) and outside it (e.g., the numerous NGOs for women involved in popular education) can create transformative spaces that break traditional male hegemony. By opposing tradition and increasing their knowledge, these women are producing a new vision of social relations of gender. In this new vision, men might be detected as the current source of oppression. At the same time, they are also seen as individuals who must be part of the process of social change. With a less dichotomous understanding of people's sex and sexuality, traditional views of masculinity and femininity will weaken, and with this, new and more inclusive identities will be forged. While the reader may surmise that important research using gender perspectives is being conducted about education in Latin America, it must be noted that there is still a dearth of studies documenting the form, content, and experience of gender differences in schools. Some future studies in this area are identified below.At present, very few studies describe the hidden curricula--unstated norms, values, and beliefs embedded in and transmitted to students through routines and social relationships in school and classroom life. We need to probe deeper regarding the information that students acquire in schools, their relationship to teachers, their interaction with peers, and the attitudes and aspirations developed through their schooling experience.

Regarding teachers, we need to learn more about their training content from a gender perspective, their interaction with girls and boys in classrooms, their relations with superiors, and their relations with parents, especially mothers. Research is also needed to identify moments of teacher resistance to dominant patriarchal ideology and how this resistance may be utilized for gender transformation.

There have been few studies that explore the connection between school and home for the teachers and how they deal with the overlapping spheres (the article by Carvalho is one exception). Yet to be studied are the consequences the home/school connection has upon students. Some say it brings advantages such as increased interaction with students, but others point out the negative consequences, such as excessive obedience, which tends to perpetuate the authoritarian character of many Latin American classrooms (Rosemberg and Amado 1992). The qualitative studies also show that even though teachers and parents usually talk in terms of parents in the masculine form (padres), in reality the great majority of participating parents are madres (mothers).

We know little about the participation of parents and their possible role in the transformation of the social relations of gender. Studies on this matter are just beginning to emerge: Schmukler (1992) on parents in Argentina, and Carvalho and Vianna (1993) in Brazil. Both are qualitative studies that, through detailed observation and interpretation, depict the power conflicts that take place in the educational arena in which teachers and administrators welcome the participation of parents but limit the areas of involvement to improvements in the physical condition of the schools or to applying pressure to the educational system to pay more attention to schools, while avoiding issues of a pedagogical nature.

Finally, we need to understand more clearly what obstacles female teachers face as they try to move into higher administrative positions. We must develop greater knowledge about the administrators' relations with teachers and how this influences the processes of curriculum renewal. Finally, given the strong impetus in Latin America toward decentralization in education, there is a need to become more aware of its possible impact on either increased cognitive outcomes for students or more participation by teachers and parents (both of whom represent a large number of women). Edmund Sullivan has asserted that, "to mask the gender system in an interpretive social science would simply further contribute to the oppression and exploitation already embedded within this system" (1990, 106). The qualitative studies in this book are very responsive to this call.

Latin America remains a set of multiracial and multicultural countries, many with poor economies. The region also continues to be torn between social demands for solidarity and for economic competitiveness, between the creation of a single identity and respect for its great diversity. These are important dilemmas that need to be resolved. The analysis of gender dimensions in the construction of a pluralistic democracy and the particular role of education in this process cannot be left out.


Carvalho, Marília Pinto de and Claudia Pereira Vianna. 1993. Relações entre educadoras e mães de alunos em escolas públicas de 11 grau: Um (des) encontro. Relatório Final. São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo. (mimeo)

International Labor Office (ILO). 1990. Teachers in Developing Countries. A Survey of Employment Conditions. Geneva: ILO.

Schmukler, Beatriz. 1992. Women and Education in Latin America. Ed. Nelly P. Stromquist. Boulder: Lynne Reinner.

Stromquist, Nelly, ed. 1992. Women and Education in Latin America. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

Sullivan, Edmund. 1990. Critical Psychology and Pedagogy. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.