Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The travel enrichment grant allowed me to learn about women's movements during Pinochet's dictatorship with aim of deeply understanding how women mobilized and how over time those movements have changed. In order to understand politics in the southern cone, I closely looked at the structures, the values, and the impacts of different women's movements within Chile and compared them with the Argentinean mothers of the disappeared. In both cases my focus was on the evolution of the movements, the current status of women and their involvement in politics.
Major polarization existed between Pinochet supporters and none Pinochet supporters. Therefore, discussion of Pinochet and his era (the 80s) was a sore topic in Chile making many Chileans scared and suspicious to tell stories of the past. Otherwise, some Chileans felt that there was nothing to tell other than a story of sadness and loss of loved ones. Often, the older women would say "la vida se continua" (Life continues). I conducted my interviews in Viña del Mar, Santiago and most of them in Valparaíso since it's the port of Chilean history. The remnants of the historical movements could be seen on murals on the walls of Valparaiso. Additionally Chilean congress is in Valparaíso allowing me to interact with many people who were involved in different movements. Presently, men and women mobilize along the lines of needs. For example, many students are part of CONFECH (Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile), a student confederation fighting for free education, and others are against Hydrosen's move to create energy in Patagonia Chile.
My interview wit mothers of the disappeared highlighted similarities in strategies used between mothers of the disappeared and Chilean women's movements. From the conversation they stressed that it was important to understand that the women's movements in southern cone in general didn't disappear after dictatorship. The goals changed and those involved changed over time. However, it was many of those women's grand/daughters that still continued to be active in politics whether through fighting for gay rights, environmental consciousness, education and many more.
In summery, women in southern cone strategically used non-violent means by organizing themselves around basic needs due to the collapse of the economy. For example, husbands who were breadwinners lost their jobs due to the increased unemployment rate. Also, many of the men had been tortured and disappeared, putting more strain on women. The other reason why women were the ones to mobilize was because both Pinochet and the women were using traditional family discourse for their campaign. For example, Pinochet claimed that he was defending and protecting the future of the fatherland while the women claimed that they were defending family values of those they loved. Similarly in Argentina women used the "being a good mother" argument to create networks that they later used as resources for finding their loved ones, taking care of their children etc.
Undertaking this research experience in Chile and Argentina was a dream come true for me. I am thankful to the donors who made this experience possible for me. Not only did I learn more about Chile and Argentina but also immensely challenged. Unlike any past projects in which I have known the language and gained trust from locals immediately, this was different. From this project, I was challenged, I made great friends, and got moved by the spirits of many who had lost loved ones and yet had the ability to take their time to share their stories with me (stories of human survival in a time of hopelessness). Among these women were also ones that reminded me of the political activist I want to be because their willingness to step on streets and seek change felt contagious!