Joyce Bennett


This essay analyzes indigenous women’s collective action that improves indigenous women’s lives and increases their agency in a Kaqchikel Maya town. The women whose work I consider come together under the structures of a patriarchal organization, the Principe de Paz evangelical church. I extend Patricia Hill Collins’ concept of motherwork and Nancy Naples’ concept of activist mothering to what I call comadre work, or care work that women enact for each other through creative kin networks. Women practice comadre work as they pool physical and financial resources, teach each other to read and write in Spanish, and speak for themselves in public spaces, resulting in women’s increased ability to advocate for themselves and their families in various non-religious domains of life. While they do not self-identify as feminists, my analysis of their actions highlights how their comadre work is feminist because it supports and improves women’s well-being. This work is based on 20 months of non-continuous research between 2009 and 2016 with the 13 women in the group from the Principe de Paz Evangelical church in Santa Catarina Palopó, Sololá, Guatemala. I rely on participant-observation and interviews with women, all of which I conducted in Kaqchikel Maya. I conclude that Kaqchikel women use a homosocial space within a patriarchal institution to further women’s agendas. Recognizing indigenous women’s gender-based activism is critical to being more inclusive of indigenous women in the feminist movement and scholarship.

Author Biography

Joyce Bennett is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Connecticut College whose research and teaching focus on sociocultural and sociolinguistic issues in Mesoamerica and North America. Her primary research focuses on how migration impacts returned migrant women’s use of ethnic markers, particularly language and clothing, in the Kaqchikel-speaking region of Guatemala. She is increasingly interested in indigenous women’s activism throughout the Western hemisphere. Bennett is an avid supporter of multi-method and cross-disciplinary approaches.