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Sociologist Talk Pushes Change for Women [The Badger Herald]

October 1, 2008
by Jim O’Connell, The Badger Herald

Peruvian sociologist Virginia Vargas described conflicts women face throughout Latin America as part of a lecture at the University of Wisconsin Tuesday.

Vargas said the only way for Latin American women to gain true equality is to light a fire under the citizenry and fight for democratic equality. Among the issues women confront in Latin America is a constant battle with the Catholic Church, she said.

Vargas added women in Latin American cannot progress because of the church’s views on rape and abortion. However, the general Catholic population has been supportive of women’s rights, she said.

“Some of the most significant forces that are against the rights of women come through the hierarchy of the Catholic Church,” Vargas said.

The battle between the Catholic Church and the rights of women is familiar to many Americans, Vargas said. The conflict surrounding the morality of abortion is one that has upset the Catholic Church ever since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

“The church is usually pretty far behind the times, so I think I am in agreement with what [Vargas] was saying,” UW junior Steph Lease said. “She seems to know a lot about the topic.”

The abortion issue hit home with some UW students in attendance.

“It is always neat to get perspective from a different part of the world,” UW freshman Conner Wild said. “I thought it was interesting to see that there are still struggles and there are still people fighting.”

Vargas said that due to Catholic Church policies, government action is needed in Latin America to make expanded women’s rights a reality.

“There is no way to better women’s rights in a transformative way if we don’t do it as part of a political agenda,” Vargas said.

There have been some places where progress has been made, Vargas said, adding Peru’s Fujimori regime, which ruled in the 1990s, granting some women’s rights, hampering democracy.

Although progress has been made throughout Latin America, the unequal distribution of goods and power has plagued the region for nearly all its existence, she said. The power shift from the Fujimori regime to an indigenous regime in Peru spells hope for Latin American women, Vargas added.

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