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Women's Movements in Times of Democratic Expansion - The Spanish and Portuguese Cases

Presented by Ana Prata Pereira

Different theories of Southern European democratizations have privileged an elitist or "top-down" orientation to democratization, focusing mostly on the state and on pacts between elites. These approaches tend to neglect the role of non-elite political actors (e.g. women's movements) and are unable to capture the full range of experiences that impede or facilitate participation of previously excluded actors in democratization.

After the formal transition to democracy in Spain and Portugal (elections, drafting of the Constitution) began a decade of democratic expansion in which various groups struggled to participate and find representation. In both countries, the women's movement actively joined this process. They made claims for several specific issues, the most important of which was reproductive rights. However, the outcomes of their efforts were very different, with Spain providing much greater reproductive rights policies then Portugal. The difference in outcomes is unexpected because the two countries had many similar conditions: similar democratic rights provided to women; organizationally weak movements; a political environment dominated by parties; similar fascist experiences; patriarchical cultures; and strong Catholic counter-movements.

By focusing on an issue central to women's movements in both countries - reproductive rights - this paper explains the relative impact of women's movements in the two democratization processes. Using archival research and interviews, I gathered data in both countries on women's organizations and their interactions with the state, the media, political parties, and the parliament. At this point, my analysis indicates that the difference in outcomes occurred due to allies and the institutional structure of government. Compared to Portugal, the women's movement in Spain could count on the presence of influential allies (Socialist Party) and had increased possibilities for legal collective action in regions due to their relative autonomy within the Spanish state.