Skip to main content

Las madres del plomo”: Women’s Environmental Activism and Suffering in Northern Chile

Part of the Studies of the Americas book series (STAM)

Abstract

This chapter focuses on an environmental conflict linked to toxic mining waste, imported into Chile during the dictatorship and deposited in the northern Chilean city of Arica. Particularly, it highlights the point of view of a group of female grassroots leaders who experienced daily exposure to this toxic waste and collectively organized to demand a solution. I analyze 37 semi-structured interviews carried out with male and female grassroots leaders and state workers during 2014 and 2015. The analysis is based upon the concept of environmental suffering (Auyero and Swistun, Inflamable. Paidós, 2008), which I extend to include the gendered, and not only class-based, inequalities seen in the subjective experiences of those affected by the toxic waste contamination. At the same time, I also employ the concepts of maternalism (Koven and Michel, Mothers of a New World. Maternalist Politics and the Origins of the Welfare States. Routledge, 1993) and female consciousness (Kaplan, Signs 7: 545–566, 1982), in order to analyze how traditional gender roles imprinted particular characteristics onto the politicization of the women interviewed. The main results show that both the experience and the particular expression of activism of those female leaders are shaped by being women, mothers and caretakers of the “children of lead” (niños del plomo).

This chapter was produced with the support of the SEMILLA (2014) project, of the Universidad Diego Portales, called “Political mediation and collective action around polymetals contamination in Arica”. I would like to thank Mayarí Castillo, with whom I carried out the interviews, also Nayadeth Arriagada, Paulina Rojas, Vania Perret and Catalina Tapia, who contributed to transcribing and organizing them. Additionally, I want to express my gratitude to Alejandra Ramm and Nicolás Angelcos, who read and discussed the preliminary version of this paper, and also to Gabriela Álvarez, who helped me to summarize the main ideas expressed here. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Javier Auyero, who generously discussed my revision of his “environmental suffering” concept, and its connection to Bourdieu’s idea of “masculine domination”.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-21402-9_7
  • Chapter length: 21 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-030-21402-9
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Notes

  1. 1.

    According to the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice (http://ejatlas.org/), Chile is among the countries with the most environmental conflicts in the world. With 47 conflicts documented at this time, Chile is number 12 in the world ranking and it moves up to number 5 on that list, if the number of conflicts is evaluated on a per capita basis. Other studies have shown that Chile has 102 environment conflicts (INDH 2016). The majority of these conflicts are primarily associated with extractivist processes that take place in international chains of production, as is the case in the mining, forestry and aquaculture industries.

  2. 2.

    The reference here is made to the low presence of gender perspective in environmental studies in Sociology, especially in those fields with which this article intersects (namely Critical Sociology and Social Movements Sociology). By contrast, other approaches have been more active in analyzing the linkages between gender and environment. Such is the case of Feminist Political Ecology (see Rocheleau et al. 1996), a perspective that—despite belonging to a different paradigm—has certain similarities with the interpretation offered here.

  3. 3.

    Arica belonged to Peru up until the 1929 Treaty, when it was annexed into Chile (González 2006).

  4. 4.

    This expansion began in 1953, during the government of Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, when the Open Port Law was passed, which made foodstuffs that were exported and imported from the port area exempt from taxation. This was written into law by the Supreme Decree 303, passed on July 25, 1953, and later complemented by Decree 566, set forth as law on June 7, 1955, which extended tax-exempt status to all goods that circulated within city limits (Podestá 2004).

  5. 5.

    Although the group initially had some men who participated, they have always been referred to as “las 14 dirigentes”, and, so, I have translated this as 14 Female Leaders.

  6. 6.

    Although this aspect of their politicization will not be explored in this chapter, I would like to point out that the relationship between the 14 Female Leaders and the right-wing political parties was one that was built slowly over time and through a series of material and symbolic exchanges of political patronage (Arriagada 2013). At first, these linkages were more like a series of personal, rather than ideological, relationships with the region’s members of parliament who belonged to the far right Independent Democratic Party (Unión Demócrata Independiente, UDI). After the election of right-wing coalition president Sebastián Piñera (2010–2014), these relationships became stronger, favoring the presentation and passage of the Polymetals Law, as well as the organizations led by the 14 Female Leaders, which received resources and benefits.

  7. 7.

    This is Law 20.590, which “establishes an intervention program in Arica’s polymetals zones”, passed on May 14, 2012. For more information, see: https://www.leychile.cl/Navegar/index_html?idNorma=1040447.

  8. 8.

    As Auyero describes in “Patients of the State” (2012), there are interesting parallels that can be established between masculine domination and the experience of waiting. In both cases, submission is experienced primarily through symbolic violence. The convergence between these two forms of domination can be seen in relations between the State and “female patients”, where maternalism plays a key role (Ramm, in this book’s introduction), as it constantly reinforces the pattern of male provider and female caretaker.

  9. 9.

    See this book’s introduction as well.

  10. 10.

    With regard to Latin America, both Maxine Molyneux (2003) and Margaret Power (2008) have shown how the politicization of motherhood played an important role in twentieth-century women’s movements, on both the left and the right.

References

  • Arriagada, Evelyn. 2012. El Conflicto por Polimetales en Arica, desarticulación local e intervención centralizada. In Nueva Agenda de Descentralización en Chile. Sentando más Actores a la Mesa, ed. Gonzalo Delamaza, Nuria Cunill, and Alfredo Joignant, 459–484. Santiago de Chile: RIL.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2013. Clientelismo político y participación local. El rol de los dirigentes sociales en la articulación entre autoridades y ciudadanos en Santiago de Chile. POLIS, Revista Latinoamericana 12 (36): 15–38.

    Google Scholar 

  • Auyero, Javier. 2012. Patients of the State. The Politics of Waiting in Argentina. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Auyero, Javier, and Débora Swistun. 2008. Inflamable. Buenos Aires: Paidós.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bell, Shannon Elizabeth, and Yvonne A. Braun. 2010. Coal, Identity, and the Gendering of Environmental Justice Activism in Central Appalachia. Gender & Society 24: 794–813.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 2000. La dominación masculina. Barcelona: Anagrama.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, Phil. 2007. Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement. New York: Columbia University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bullard, Robert. 1993. Confronting Environmental Racism. Voices from the Grassroots. Cambridge: South End Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Capek, Stella. 1993. The “Environmental Justice” Frame: A Conceptual Discussion and Application. Social Problems 40 (1): 5–24.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Castillo, Mayarí. 2015. Desigualdades socioecológicas. Miradas etnográficas sobre el sufrimiento ambiental en los casos de Ventanas y Arica. In Desigualdades, tolerancia, legitimación y conflicto en las sociedades latinoamericanas, ed. Mayarí Castillo and Claudia Maldonado, 433–457. Santiago de Chile: RIL.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2016. Desigualdades socioecológicas y sufrimiento ambiental en el conflicto “Polimetales” en Arica. Convergencia 72 (septiembre–diciembre): 75–100.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flam, Helena. 2005. Emotion’s Map: A Research Agenda. In Emotions and Social Movements, ed. Helena Flam and King Debra, 19–40. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Folchi, Mauricio. 2001. Conflictos de contenido ambiental y ecologismo de los pobres: no siempre pobres ni siempre ecologistas. Revista Ecología Política 22: 79–101.

    Google Scholar 

  • González, Raúl. 2006. Agentes y dinámicas territoriales. ¿Quiénes producen lo local? Teorías y estudio de tres ciudades chilenas (Valdivia, Temuco y Arica). Lovaina: Universidad de Lovaina.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guha, Ramachandra, and Joan Martínez Alier. 1997. Varieties of Environmentalism. Essays North and South. London: Earthscan.

    Google Scholar 

  • INDH. 2016. Mapa de conflictos socioambientales en Chile. Versión Digital. Santiago de Chile: Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos. http://mapaconflictos.indh.cl/assets/pdf/libro-web-descargable.pdf.

  • Jasper, James. 2011. Emotions and Social Movements: Twenty Years of Theory and Research. Annual Review of Sociology 37 (April): 285–303.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan, Temma. 1982. Female Consciousness and Collective Action: The Case of Barcelona, 1910–1918. Signs 7: 545–566.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • ———. 1997. Crazy for Democracy: Women in Grassroots Movements. New York and London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koven, Seth, and Sonya Michel. 1993. Mothers of a New World. Maternalist Politics and the Origins of the Welfare States. New York and London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krauss, Celene. 2008. Challenging Power. Toxic Waste Protest and the Politicization of White, Working-Class Women. In Community Activism and Feminist Politics. Organizing Across Race, Class, And Gender, ed. Nancy Naples, 129–150. New York and London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leff, Enrique. 2003. La Ecología Política en América Latina; un campo en construcción. Sociedade e Estado 18: 17–40.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Levine, Adeline Gordon. 1982. Love Canal: Science, Politics and People. Toronto: Lexington.

    Google Scholar 

  • McAdam, Doug. 1999. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency 1930–1970. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • McAdam, Doug, and Hillary Schaffer. 2012. Putting Social Movements in Their Place. Explaining Opposition to Energy Projects in the United States, 2000–2005. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Molyneux, Maxine. 1985. Mobilization without Emancipation? Women’s Interests, the State, and Revolution in Nicaragua. Feminist Studies 11 (2): 227–254.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2003. Movimientos de mujeres en América Latina. Estudio teórico comparado. Madrid: Universitat de Valencia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neumann, Pamela. 2016. Toxic Talk and Collective (In)action in a Company Town: The Case of La Oroya, Peru. Social Problems 63 (3): 431–444.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Olmedo, Clara, and Iñaki Ceberio de León. 2016. Nonogasta: sufrimiento ambiental y silencio social. Crítica y Resistencias. Revista de conflictos sociales latinoamericanos 2: 46–67.

    Google Scholar 

  • Podestá, Juan. 2004. Claves para entender el desarrollo de la Región de Tarapacá. Revista de Ciencias Sociales 14: 20–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Power, Margaret. 2008. La Mujer de Derecha. El poder femenino y la lucha contra Salvador Allende, 1964–1973. Santiago de Chile: Centro de investigaciones Diego Barros Arana.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rocheleau, Dianne, Barbara Thomas-Slayter, and Esther Wangari, eds. 1996. Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experiences. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sarlingo, Marcelo. 2013. Corporalidad tóxica y sufrimiento ambiental. La experiencia de los habitantes de Colonia Hinojo, República Argentina. QuAderns-e 18 (2): 156–172.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tarrow, Sidney. 2004. El poder en movimiento. Los movimientos sociales, la acción colectiva y la política. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tironi, Manuel. 2014. Hacia una política atmosférica: Químicos, afectos y cuidados en Puchuncaví. Pléyade 14 (julio–diciembre): 165–189.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Arriagada, E. (2020). “Las madres del plomo”: Women’s Environmental Activism and Suffering in Northern Chile. In: Ramm, A., Gideon, J. (eds) Motherhood, Social Policies and Women's Activism in Latin America. Studies of the Americas. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-21402-9_7

Download citation