When Women Have Wings

When Women Have Wings

Cover Art | Images | Music Links | Back to Murdock

When Women have WingsWelcome to my personal website for the book "When Women Have Wings: Feminism and Development in Medellín, Colombia." This is published by the University of Michigan Press.

Based on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork (1998-1999), the book shows that women in Medellín, Colombia face violence and poverty, and also new development demands that pressure grassroots organizations to professionalize. A compelling account of women's experiences, this book illuminates the daily realities of promoting development under these challenging conditions.

The call for greater grassroots participation in development is widespread, and many scholars criticize the de-contextualized nature of many approaches. It is helpful then to explore development in a context such as Medellín's in the last years of the twentieth century. Neoliberal economic reforms cut social welfare in a wide, destructive swath. Public protests escalated, as did the ongoing civil war, and civil society actors in particular were targeted. At the same time, feminists working to resolve these problems found themselves pressured to become more educated, policy-savvy, and oriented toward institutional reform. As newly-formed feminist non-governmental organizations (NGOs), they had greater access to resources, and seemed better prepared to democratize the policy arena. But they also seemed less committed to working with grassroots populations, raising questions about their real democratizing potential.

In Medellín, professionalization escalated demands for formal education, policy efficacy, and social distance between middle- and working-class feminists. Poignant accounts of women's attempts to navigate these challenges amidst poverty and civil war show how changing political and economic demands may ultimately compromise feminist NGOs' long-held commitments to radically democratic development practice focused on grassroots empowerment. Still, despite the stark conditions, women found their way against great odds by carrying their struggle into uncommon arenas. They used decorative, fine, and performance arts to transcend class and generational differences in literacy, countering professionalized emphases on logocentric methods, and better facilitating cross-class interactions. Development practitioners have long understood the community-building potential of artistic methodologies, and development planners increasingly focus on these techniques. Through an evocative account of both the art and women's articulation of its uses, this book shows more specifically how artistic development methodologies can potentially work across boundaries in violent, exclusionary contexts.

Both scholars and activists have suggested in abstract terms that professionalization may work against grassroots democratization by encouraging elitism and social distance between diverse groups of women. Based on ethnographic field research with a local feminist NGO and a community center project in one of Medellín's most embattled working-class districts, this book provides a much-needed experience-near contribution to the debate by allowing the reader a privileged window onto womens' intimate and group interactions. It complements more abstract scholarship by providing insight into the everyday workings of professionalization, and contributes locally nuanced ethnographic material that will clarify the ways that large-scale predictions might (or might not) come true in any given context.

This book is designed for both scholars and students interested in gender, development, social movements, and Latin America. Written in an accessible style, a major portion of the text consists of vivid, personally moving accounts that will help readers get to know these women, empathize with their circumstances and experiences, and understand the complexities involved in the promotion of civil society, democracy, and social development in places like Medellín.