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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S
From Address to the
Feminist Family Values Forum
by Maria Jimenez

To my mind, this movement of the Mothers of the Disappeared was the forerunner of all modern movements seeking democracy throughout Latin America. More significantly, it is this movement that redefined for me the essence of the women's movement. While this is the common vision of women throughout Latin America, for me, a Mexican American living in the United States, this was a new perspective: this courageous campaign against totalitarianism broadened my vision of how women could achieve equality.

In the words of Guadalupe, a member of CONVIGUA (National Coordinator of the Widows of Guatemala): "We did not know what to do after the massacre of 1982. We didn't cook, we didn't eat; our children cried from hunger and pain, but we came to realize that we were left to carry the full responsibility of our family, to feed our children, apart from the great burden of suffering, which we carry around in our hearts." A woman named Teresa, from the Federation of Popular Neighborhoods in Guadalajara, said, "For the woman, the house is hers, and things such as no light and no water are part of the home. So it is her fight."

In this movement, women assert their moral authority as mothers and raise their voices for the the political systems they want and against oppression. Their reproductive and nurturing roles were transformed from the private to the public, the biological to the political. Said a widow in Guatemala: "The first thing we had to conquer was our own fear."

These groups challenged totalitarian regimes and the use of state-initiated violence to suppress the political freedoms of expression and association. These movements became the precursors of current movements to challenge undemocratic practices of governments and to defend and protect human rights.

Moreover, when they confronted repressive governments, seeking to defend individual children and relatives, they were subjected to harassment, persecution and violence. Many became victimized by private and public security forces--suffering torture and rape. Ultimately, seeking justice for their family members, the mothers and women relatives of the disappeared confronted their situation as women--political rape created an understanding of gender abuse and gender inequality in power relations.

In the end, the movement of Mothers of the Disappeared opened an alternative space for political participation that mobilized people in forms other than those established by traditional political systems. The issue is no longer whether the movement is feminist or not feminist, but that it changed the lives of women and the way in which gender is perceived in traditional politics, leading to a questioning of power relations as they move from the individual, personal, and familial to the broader society.

Historically then, it becomes clear that for many Latin American women, the struggle to assert their rights and dignity as women is an integral part of the liberation movement of all peoples. We cannot liberate people without liberating women, and we cannot liberate women until we liberate all people.



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