[eng] Waleska Abah-Sahada Lues - Gender-focused public policies as an instrument for achieving cultural justice

In the following lines, I intend to address how gender-sensitive public policies can contribute to transforming the social and cultural conceptions imposed by the patriarchy, which have historically meant added value of the masculine over the feminine, causing a situation of cultural injustice (Fraser, 2000). The former, taking into consideration that public policies are a tool that contributes to the achievement of cultural justice, through the changes that its implementation can generate in cultural practices, meanings and symbolisms that respond to the patriarchal system that prevails in some societies, such as the Chilean.

The term cultural justice refers to the "transformation of social and cultural classifications, by which notions of first-class and second-class citizens prevail" (Grimson, 2013: 12). It is a concept that aims to reverse historical inequalities, in order to generate a society based on a culture in which justice, non-discrimination and equal rights among all its inhabitants take place. A situation of cultural injustice can be deeply rooted in societies and, in general, supported by their social languages, their history and idiosyncrasies. When sustained over time, it can lead to social unrest that will result, among other things, in mobilizations promoted mainly by the group being oppressed, and will have the main purpose of producing cultural change to reverse that injustice. The importance of generating cultural change is that culture is "a fundamental tool to combat the effects of exclusion and inequality" (Grimson, 2013: 9).  

As for the patriarchy, it is a type of social organization in which the authority is exercised by the male, who constitutes the head of the family and as the owner of the estate, which in former days, was made up of the children, wife, slaves, and 'other goods’. This system spells out "the relationship between a dominant group, which is considered superior, and a subordinate group, which is considered inferior, in which domination is mitigated by mutual obligations and reciprocal duties" (Lerner, 1990: 60). Hence feminisms have as their main purpose "to unravel the roots of sexual discrimination, in order to promote the modification of the cultural and social patterns that underpin it" (Kirkwood, 2017: 24). 

The patriarchal system has been characterized by establishing canons of behavior that determine what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman [1], expressed through behaviors and actions that are socially accepted and others in which women’s realization is excluded for not meeting the patriarchal standard. These patterns are those that have generated a cultural assignment of certain social roles to men and women, producing an unfair culture towards the latter group, present in the various social models (Fraser, 2000), which institutes a cultural injustice. Thus, the demotion of women to the realm of the private, that is, to what happens domestically (De Barbieri, 2018: 205), together with imposing a reproductive and care role in relation to the intimate situations that take place in that space, exclude women from public spaces, which is a concrete expression of this injustice.

There is talk of unfair culture, given that women have been delegated to a situation of domination and submission, which has been perpetuated by the practices, uses, customs, symbolisms and cultural representations presented in society, resulting in an internal organization based on the division between 'nature' and 'culture'. Thus, "when a woman wants to get out of the sphere of the natural, that is, who does not want to be a mother or take care of the house, she is called unnatural" (Lamas, 1986: 178). Unlike men, who are culturally invited to leave their limits and exceed the natural state, until they achieve the unattainable. 

That is why feminisms, in order to achieve equal rights between men and women, point to the need for cultural change, that is, to generate a transformation of social and cultural classifications to achieve cultural justice. So as to be able to introduce these topics on the public agenda and demand change, feminist movements have used social mobilizations and protest "on the streets, in universities and high schools, collectively, in the spaces of formal politics, from the territories, from the cabinets, from the academy, from UN agencies, from NGOs, anarchically, in clandestine abortion groups, within political parties" (De Fina & Figueroa, 2019: 52). These actions, present since 1931 with the first feminist wave, which had as its main purpose the emancipation of women and equal political rights, have allowed for this issue to be placed on the public agenda.

Once the issue is recognized as a public issue, it is necessary for the State to propose a solution to it, through the adoption of public policies, which allow it to take an active role in building a society based on equality and non-discrimination. In this sense, public policies are a fundamental tool for driving transformations towards higher levels of justice, as well as expressing the political decision of governments to move forward in solving the problems of inequality affecting women (ECLAC, 2015), precisely because through them the State can drive cultural transformations to reverse historical inequalities associated with gender.

It is important to note that the generation of a specific legal programme or standard that addresses one of the many gender inequalities affecting women is not sufficient. It is necessary to contemplate plans to promote the changes of these cultural practices based on prejudice and gender stereotypes (Pardo, 2017), which perpetuate the cultural injustice described. In addition, the intersection of feminism with other movements and struggles must be taken into account, that not only stick to the 'specific' demands of 'women' but intertwine different themes in a cross-cutting way, given the interconnection that has taken place from feminisms to the anti-patriarchal struggles, and the "anti-colonial, anti-racist and against class inequalities exacerbated by neoliberal capitalism" (De Fina & Figueroa, 2019: 66). 

In carrying out this task, it should not be overlooked that this unjust culture is institutionalized at the level of state and economy (Fraser, 2000). This means that the predominant patriarchy in society permeates the State and its institutions, which are made up of people steeped in this patriarchal culture, so the change in these cultural norms will necessarily pose a challenge to the status quo prevailing in institutions and areas of public activity (Pardo, 2017). Hence the need for a process of institutionalization of this approach in public organizations and those that make up said institutions, which are responsible for promoting it, to begin, in parallel with gender-focused policymaking. In order for these policies to generate an impact in the sphere of the private, that allows to distort culturally deferred morality as a result of the socially imposed roles of men and women, achieving the longed-for cultural justice, indebted for so many centuries, not only in Chile, but in the world.

[1] Furthermore, there are social expectations towards men and women, imposed by culture. Thus, the role that women have historically been expected to play is to dedicate herself to home and care, in which having a husband, daughters and sons and dedicating herself to them and them being the predominant thing. On the other hand, from men, it is expected of them and fostered to become successful and the supplier, in short, that behave as the "Pater families".


ECLAC. (2015). Public Policies for Gender Equality. Santiago, Chile: ECLAC.

De Barbieri, M. (2018). "Women's areas of action". Mexican Journal of Sociology,203-224.

De Fina D. & Figueroa F. (2019). "New feminist "fields of political action": A look at recent mobilizations in Chile", Punto Género Magazine, 11, 51-72. Doi: 10.5354/0719-0417.2019.53880

Fraser, N. (2000). "From redistribution to recognition? Dilemmas of justice in the postsocialist era". In N. Fraser, & J. Butler, Recognition or Redistribution? A debate between Marxism and feminism  (p. 23-66). Madrid: Traficante de sueños.

Grimson, A. (2013). The challenge of cultural justice. Argentina: CONICET.

Kirkwood, J. (2017). Feminarios.  Buenos Aires, Argentina,  CLACSO.

Lamas, M. (1986). "Feminist anthropology and the "gender" category". New Anthropology, VIII(30),173-198. [Consultation Date March 24, 2021]. ISSN: 0185-0636. Available in: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=15903009

Lerner, G. (1990). The creation of patriarchy. Barcelona, Spain, Novagrafik.

Pardo, M. (2017). "Mexico: Including public policies?", Journal of Public Administration,47-59.

* Waleska Abah-Sahada Lues
Lawyer, Diploma in International Human Rights Law and Master in Management and Public Policies (c) of the University of Chile. She currently serves as a teacher at the Henry Foundation Dunant and as a human rights lawyer for the Children's Rights Office of Chile.

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