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Logo von Frauen in Schwarz, Belgrad

Women refusing militarization in South America

No more bodies for war

by Colectiva Antimilitarista La Tulpa, Colombia

(05.09.2020)  [...]the political praxis of women as a process and as a project, should be the act of ‘denying’ permanently everything that stands in the way of achieving their freedom; denial of the mechanisms that reproduce their alienation and, at the samepoint,denial  of everything which constituted the origin or genesis of generic subordination of women. (Julieta Kirkwood, 1983, p.15)

Countries from South America have been historically arbitrated by perpetuation of repressive actions from Government as torture, chasing, disappearance, among others; with the objective of keeping control on society, through surveillance and meddling from military statements at the society, as we watched at its moment with ‘Operation Condor’ in midst 70s and 80s. As a result, the civilian population has become aware of resistance processes, where women, from their voice and actions, have been a fundamental part in activities as complaints, reparation, no repetition and constructing a historic memory which relates their experiences in this armed conflict. Indeed, recognizing these dynamics focused on the invisibility of the impact of war on women, their body and territory, as a silent complicity from a patriarchal system.

Subsequently, through this text we tried to inform about three motives to refuse to the military structures: Recognize the women’s body as a territory of specific violence; learn from a critical exercise and political participation of women in militarized social contexts, and resist to the complicity of capitalist speeches who legitimized an oppressor and patriarchal system. Also, we understand that narratives, events and social movements, correspond to complex and deep political and social stages which require a precise analysis. Therefore, this text openly invites us to keep constructing memory, comprehension, and resistance from different South American contexts.

In the case of our actual social process, from the recognition and de-construction of militarization that has permeated us as women in South America, the author Ana Giorgi (2019) made a short and wise description of the warlike logic where we had been immersed. She mentions:

It cannot be understood the women’s situation in Latin America, without taking into account the dictatorships, guerrillas, paramilitary groups, genocides, unpunished murders and other acts. And, in this case, it’s not only about taking into account the different women’s condition, but how those experiences are meant to make visible, comprehend and complaint the oppression over them (p.142)

Thus, from each territory growth a social, economic and political perspective, which emerge a necessity of collectively strengthening themselves to demand the conditions for a dignified life. This comprehension allowed to unveil our condition of oppression as Latin American women in the feminist movement.

For many years, the militarization has questioned our bodies, expropriating our autonomy and stories. It has involved our identity uprooting, and, as a mark in our bodies, inevitably, mark our ways of living and live in our contexts. The women’s body so, it has been a war trophy, a territory and a map for war, which tell us the not spoken, attached to the sexual violence, and historical torture made as a war strategy to establish control and authority.

From literature, stories like the one from Marta Traba in “Conversación al sur” (Translated: South conversation), it enables to understand the different damages of war to women’s body that points out and stigmatizes their femininity, at the same point that wreck the identity that has been successfully built beyond social dictum, where it has privileged the male superiority (Crespo, 2016:233). Then, the importance of the reported pain, of the remembrance that moves the wish to change, of the care and legitimate acknowledgment of resistance.

Similarly, inside this context and dictatorship dynamic lived in Uruguay (1973-1985), it states that all of the existing reports about torture points out that feminine body always has been a ‘special’ object for the torturers (Sapriza, 2009, p. 74), configuring the women’s body as an object of sexual torture. The torturer -soldier- in this way, reaffirms his masculinity and power, producing subordination through victims’ pain. The women’s body and their subjectivity were always attached to specific violence and particular forms to justify this treatment.

Meanwhile, in the Bolivian experience, we brought the text from Noema Viezzer named “Si me dejan hablar” (Translated: If you let me speak), which presents us the voice from Domitila Barrios, a  miner woman who relates her life and, therefore, her resistance next to the ‘Comité de Amas de Casa de Siglo XX’ (Translated: Housewives of XX Century Committee), in times of coup. Consequently, this allows us to show one of the buried conditions in the history of war: the physical and psychological torture of women in military prison and at home.

It’s evident the integral damage to women, both, the psychosocial effects produced from threat, intimidation, persecution and humiliation, as much as physical violence that caused fainting, abortion, and force pregnancies, among other mistreatment. Furthermore, going into a resistance movement as a housewife, involved the growing of ‘domestic’ violence, where education and political participation were punished and repressed, strengthening the prevailing gender roles in the society (Chungara, 1984). In this context, the Bolivian women resisted and transformed their realities from its autonomous formation in political participation, thus generating many concrete actions as ‘hunger strikes’ at La Plaza of La Paz, a decisive act to the end of the dictatorship.

Additionally, in the Colombian context, the party elites have alternated power under old political agreements sustained by a military doctrine, which has strengthened the internal war in a narco-paramilitary Government. Consequently, the perpetration of violence against women through the appropriation of their bodies with false pretenses, extortion, kidnapping, selective murders, sexual violence, stigmatization, force displacement, among others (Ortega, 2012). These modalities are part of the mechanisms to leave a precedent, stating that power is unlimited and women must submit.

The power of armed men over women’s bodies relates one the cruelest and silent scenarios of war in Colombia. The observatory of memory and conflict from the National Center of Historical Memory in Colombia (2017) has, in its figures, 15.076 victims of crimes against their freedom and sexual integrity during armed conflict. 91% of these cases are girls, teenagers and adult women.

Thus, silence and complicity of power structures on sexual violence and cruelty, which it has subjected many women under its weaponry, it has produced constantly a re-victimization. This has carried that building a historical memory hasn’t been easy, even though the collective efforts of women have consolidated the intention to knit the different narratives.

In the same way, the ‘JEP’ (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) created spaces for encountering between victims and women’s organizations, who have delivered 31 reports about sexual violence cases. However, they have requested to open a macro-case because they considered that there is a pattern of sexual violence from armed actors who have not been recognized yet (Lopez, 2020).

Now, feminism, from an antimilitarist position, propose the necessity to transcend from gender roles who have been assigned to women from a war speech, understanding that:

An almost direct knowledge of what wars mean for women has been gained through the testimonies of other women, who were eyewitnesses of armed conflicts. It has discovered women who denied to bend to the identity, which it has been assigned to them in war (Peralta, 1998, p.13).

Consequently, women can tell from their own experience the consequences of militarization. In fact, historically they have told their stories, their stance and their fights from social movements who are not represented by militarist expressions.

With the end of the Uruguayan dictatorship, it is identified that the process of memory and claiming of justice was built from voices of male political leaders. Because of this, a group of former political prisoners called for a space for sharing their tales, with an activity that took three years and reunited more than 300 experiences which report the violence of militarization (Sapriza, 2009). Therefore, they point out: ‘the Uruguayan former political prisoners called themselves under the slogan of ‘Because we were and we are part of the history’’ (Alonso & Larroba, 2013, p.57). Thus, nor only they questioned and resisted the official report, but they also reaffirmed their past to contest for the spaces of construction and claims for historical memory (Alonso & Larroba, 2013).

In the same way, it is important to highlight the resistance of the ‘Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo’ (Translated: Grandmothers from the Plaza of May) in Argentina. It is necessary to comprehend that military logic implied the induction of values, behaviors, and normative and assigned roles. So, at the beginning of the dictatorship state and under the idea of a patriarchal family, mothers and grandmothers were assumed as ‘Madres de la República’ (Translated: Mothers of the Republic) as necessary for the military power (Laudano, 1998 in; Quintana, 2016, p. 70). The mothers should keep the role of control, education and surveillance. Then, through repressive dynamics and fear speeches, it was reinforced the identity of woman - mother; ensuring this superposition was guaranteed nor only their bonding, but also strengthened their functionality for the regime.

Above all, it realizes why the action from the grandmother represents a space so subversive. Nor only it is consolidated as a political agent, with a schedule and clear demands, but also transgresses its place of  statement from private to public, claiming for the appearance of their grandchildren. Therefore, they detach from the speech of the dictatorship where they are an element to be controlled, and it is consolidated as an example of subversion from these speeches which transcend their assigned role, which claim and convert their political organization to demand for the truth and justice (Quintana, 2016).

In Colombia, mothers victims of extrajudicial execution, whose young boys  were killed and given as guerrilleros under the policies of democratic security, have been one of many experiences of resistance. Because of this judicial impunity, the mothers have been a clear example for the strengthening of historical memory, and the catharsis through art, with plays as ‘Antígonas: tribunal de mujeres’ or ‘El Costurero de la Memoria’ (Translated: Memory Sewing Box), where they have spun through the needles their stories and the history of the country. They have claimed for the achievement of truth, reparation and no-repetition, so the murder of their children does not remain unpunished nor forgotten (López, 2018).

In this way, in the attempt to improve the damaged image of the military and its structures, it looks like, using women for speeches, make them believe they are appealing for ‘democracy’ or ‘equality’. It is mandatory to make visible that maintaining the established order as being part of the military dynamics, inevitably keeps strengthening a patriarchal structure (Ruiz, 1990). The entrance of women into the military structures, in some way, contributes to a process which legitimizes the institutionalization of violence (Lorenzo, 1998).

Allowing the legitimization of these dynamics make us lose the only chance to debate about the relationships of power that carries on. Then, the fact that women exploit women legitimize the system in the eyes of a society who has its own categories about what is feminism and often limits it to occupy determined  space in the society (Yuste, 2005, p.7). Therefore, we understand that refusing a patriarchal culture involves, in some way, the necessity of refusing its relation to military structures. We refuse to use our names to keep reproducing and legitimizing power, oppression and violence.

In conclusion, learning about which are the impacts of militarization in our bodies and recognizing the stories from women who have resisted against this violence, has allowed us to enlighten a path of resistance against this war dynamics, which, even after modernizing their own speeches, keep setting and permeating our daily basis. Above all, we refuse to complicit oblivion, to take the assigned roles inside and outside these fights, and the idea of being part of structures with ‘inclusion speeches’, which only keep strengthening the patriarchal system where we live.


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The author Leidy Arévalo is psychologist with emphasis in social psychology. Member of the ‘Colectiva Antimilitarista La Tulpa’ and ‘Fundación Latir-Equidad en el mundo’. Email: leidy25arevalo(at)gmail.com

The author Manuela Niño is psychologist with emphasis in social psychology. Member of the ‘Colectiva Antimilitarista La Tulpa’. Email: manunr9728(at)gmail.com

Translation by Santiago Forero. Psychologist, member of the ‘Colectiva Antimilitarista La Tulpa’. Email: santiforears@gmail.com

Colectiva Antimilitarista La Tulpa, Colombia: No more bodies for war: woman refusing to militarization in South America. September 5, 2020. Written by Leidy Arévalo und Manuela Niño. Translation by Santiago Forero.

Keywords:    ⇒ Antimilitarism   ⇒ Argentine   ⇒ Bolivia   ⇒ Colombia   ⇒ Uruguay   ⇒ Women