ABSTRACT This article analyses the contradictory nature of the 'new space' created by women working in emergency employment programmes in Peru. It focuses on the different forms of opposition towards this new space and illustrates the mechanisms women have used in order to negotiate their place within it. The article briefly outlines the role played by the Peruvian state in legitimating this new space for women and argues that with the representations women make of themselves, of other workers, and of their workplace, these employees take strategic steps in forging new femininities. Empirical evidence is used to show how women simultaneously identify difference and commonality with their fellow female workers. In theoretical terms, the implications of these processes are examined in the context of the reproduction and subversion of stereotypes and the contestation of dominant gendered ideologies in Peru. The article examines how the reproduction and subversion of stereotypes involves the manipulation of binary categories of 'good' and 'bad' women. It argues that strategic representations, in everyday contexts, are vital to the renegotiation of femininities. It introduces the notions of 'strategic representations' and 'contradictory spaces' to examine some of the debates concerning the role of 'survival strategies' in gender and development analysis.