Cheap Food & Women’s Work

By Ivy Ken & Benjamín Elizalde

People tend to think about school meals from the point of view of children:  Does the food taste good?  Is it nutritious?  How much of it is thrown away?

Feeding kids at school, though, is also a labor issue.  We spent half of last year in Chile to study the school feeding program there, focusing on the labor conditions of women along the commodity chain that supplies public school children with meals.  The government outsources this public service to private companies that hire workers to prepare students’ food.  In Chile these workers are called manipuladoras de alimentos:  food handlers.  More affectionately they call each other tías or señoras de la cocina, and throughout the country these women are organized, unionized, and politically active.

In October 2014 the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, used the occasion of International Rural Women´s Day to announce a new law to support women’s work.  “All companies that help the state to serve Chile should be the best, with outstanding labor practices,” she said (translated).  The law applied to 40,000 manipuladoras along with cleaning and maintenance staff, security workers, and drivers, or in other words, employees of companies that contract with the state.  For manipuladoras, the law requires a yearly bonus of CLP$67,500 (about US$100) and salary for the months of the year when school is out of session.  To accomplish this, the government is supposed to give priority to the food service companies that agree to pay it. Continue reading “Cheap Food & Women’s Work”


How Expertise is Gendered

By Maria Azocar and Myra Marx Ferree

For some of us, being part of academia is our great luck. We spend years in PhD programs, we do our best to become experts in our areas, and if things go well, we might be called to participate in state-sponsored “expert commissions.” Imagine you are living in a country experiencing a political transition to democracy. Academia is now not only the incarnation of your personal aspirations, but a privileged space for imagining the future of your country.

Well, during the 1990s in Chile, this is exactly what happened. A group of lawyers working in a small university had an ambitious proposal to transform how the criminal courts worked. Their goal was to redefine the punitive power of the state after seventeen years of gross violations of human rights. But it was precisely this difficult political context that made their proposal almost impossible to implement. The Supreme Court, the right wing, and the notables of the legal profession attacked it. The government supported a different legal reform, focused on family courts, aimed to “fortify the family,” as the public realm was so precarious. Nonetheless, the criminal lawyers managed to bring the restructuring about, despite opposition. We show that their use of gendered expertise can explain this surprising result.

Continue reading “How Expertise is Gendered”