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Empowerment, mobilization, and transformation: Assessing social psychological processes of feminist social change in rural Nicaragua


This dissertation examined the social psychological processes through which women in rural Nicaragua resist exclusion and seek to create equitable change in their communities. Specifically, using mixed methods analyses, I assessed if women’s involvement in a grassroots feminist organization in rural Nicaragua was associated with individual empowerment and, in turn, women’s efforts to transform their communities with the aim of promoting justice and equality. Data collected and analyzed for this research were 298 quantitative surveys and 24 qualitative interviews conducted with two groups of women living in rural Nicaragua. One group of women (approximately half) were members of a grassroots feminist organization, and the other group lived in nearby communities where the organization did not offer programs. Analyses of the quantitative data provided support for two models: one outlining a psychological process through which involvement in the organization related to women’s increased involvement in reproductive decision-making with their husbands and higher levels of educational aspiration, and a second that linked involvement in the organization to women’s increased engagement in community support activities. Findings from the qualitative data provide insight into three themes: (1) how specific features of the organization impacted women; (2) how participation in a feminist empowering setting impacted women’s sense of identity, and (3) how involvement in the organization related to women’s goals for their communities and ability to create change consistent with these goals. Overall findings from this research are valuable to both social psychological researchers and groups seeking to enhance social justice and uphold feminist values of equity and community well-being.

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