Feminist Struggles in Photography in Argentina by Lieta Vivaldi and Valentina Stutzin

Our aim in this short text is to display a photographic slant on issues that, transversally, have covered the feminist agenda in Argentina during the past few years. Since the first feminist groups emerged in Argentina during the late nineteenth century, women’s movements have iteratively experienced expansive and contractive periods. At the present time, feminist groups organise themselves from the neighbourhoods, and from there stand on the streets and make themselves visible, resist and fight. The Argentinian feminist movement has transitioned from initial struggles concerning the feminist vote and political recognition, towards domestic violence, the defence of sexual and reproductive rights, women’s equal inclusion in the labour market and the vindictive struggle of sexual dissidence. With the rise of the feminist movement after the dictatorship, there emerged a strong critique against the notion of ‘woman’ and the so – called subaltern gender categories, framing them through a perspective that includes the intersectionality between gender, race and class.

The Women’s National Meeting has been promoted in Argentina during the last twenty nine years, creating a self – convened space hosted every year by a different province. It is organised by autonomous committees, with no interference of political parties or NGOs. In this way a democratic, horizontal and heterogeneous space is articulated; a space that belongs to every woman, who year after year meet to share their diverse experiences and points of view. The Women’s National Meeting seeks to highlight and unite the female voices, usually silenced by the social oppression it is inscribed within. These meetings are an expression of the meaningful struggles that women conduct in their own territories, and in each of these encounters women occupy the city and the streets, marching and painting its walls.

The first meeting took place in Buenos Aires in 1986, hosting more than a thousand women, and since then onwards it has been uninterruptedly celebrated every year. The last of them, in 2014, was hosted by the Provincia of Salta, gathering more than forty thousand participants from all over the country.

FOTO 01

Women’s National Meeting, 2013. San Juan de Argentina. During the last demostration some women changed the word ‘Direction’ to ‘Liberation’

Photograph by: Valentina Stutzin.

Beyond this large women’s movement there are some issues that transversely demand the attention of current feminist agendas: legalization of abortion; violence against women,with special concern on the increasing femicide rates in the country -; and women’s disappearance in democracy due to sex trafficking and exploitation.

FOTO 02

Transversal issues of the feminist agenda: the legalization of abortion – Virgin Mary demands to abort – and the struggle against violence and sexual exploitation. Painted on the walls of San Juan during the National Meeting of 2013.

Photograph by: Valentina Stutzin.

In recent years, young voices have emerged from the photography field capturing images of diverse themes related to the feminist agenda. From a committed documentary view, they have made original proposals to design, visualize and represent, on the one hand, different forms of violence suffered by women and, on the other, the courage of resistance. We present in this article a brief account of three projects: 11 semanas, 23 horas, 59 minutos. Aborto Clandestino en Argentina (’11 weeks, 23 hours, 59 minutes. Clandestine Abortion in Argentina’) by Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice; Esclavas 2.0 (’Slaves 2.0’) by Cecilia Antón, on missing women through trafficking for sexual exploitation; and photographs of a work in progress on femicide in Argentina, made by Agustina Ciccola, Gisela Orieta and Valentina Stutzin.

These works have in common that they address issues which have been widely discussed but not necessarily observed from photography. The authors have addressed them from thoughtful and politically powerful places that refuse to repeat the graphics and re – victimising models that are used by mass media. They seek to bring to the public and political agenda urgent issues focusing on personal stories and social frameworks on which they are held. That is, to show those women that ‘use their body’. Women who use their bodies through clandestine abortions to reaffirm their autonomy despite everything; women who are not there any more, whose bodies have been disappeared or killed by patriarchal violence; and women who fight for justice, using their bodies for their daughters, organizing themselves and raising orphaned grandchildren. These are works that explore the female body as locus of control and resistance, exposing the faces and names behind statistics.

These works can also be seen as maps of ‘becoming’ (devenires) of women’s bodies in the patriarchal and capitalist Argentinean society: maps of the territories of abortion; maps of the disappearance, maps of gender violence taken to the extreme of femicide. The ‘intimate’ space appears, thus, as reaffirmation of autonomy in a clandestine abortion or the intimate space as the fatal locus on a femicide. However, these territories have nothing intimate, they are public and political. These works also are a map of objects which speak of women who refuse to disappear in the memory of their families and the women’s movement. The women’s body is a battlefield.

Abortion

 The work ’11 semanas, 23 horas, 59 minutos – Aborto Clandestino en Argentina’, by Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice, was completed in 2013 by three young photographers from different countries (Argentina, Germany and France). They joined together to focus and describe how clandestine abortion exists in Argentina. They share the deep conviction that motherhood is a choice rather than an obligation and that “beyond any political, religious and cultural position, we embrace the right to legal abortion, believing deeply in each individual freedom.”[1] They sought to avoid victimizing images like ‘abortion is equal to death’, but rather to show women from their courage, associating abortion with a female’s physical rights.

FOTO 03

Camila 2007

Voluntary termination of pregnancy. 21 years old. Surgical abortion.

Photograph by: Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice.

“My concern was always that I knew there was no place which could take care of me. Everything was so illegal that I did not want to expose myself to a situation where I could even die”.

’11 weeks, 23 hours, 59 minutes – Clandestine Abortion in Argentina’.

FOTO 04

Liliana 1980, 1986

Voluntary termination of pregnancy. 17 and 24 years old. Surgical abortions.

Photograph by: Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice.

“I had an abortion in 1980, under the military dictatorship government here in Argentina, and another abortion in 1986, just at the beginning of democracy. I highlight my abortions over the years and in different governments just to show that in both dictatorship and democracy, I practiced abortions clandestinely.”

’11 weeks, 23 hours, 59 minutes – Clandestine Abortion in Argentina’.

FOTO 05

Mara C. 1980, 1986

Voluntary termination of pregnancy. 23 years old. Abortion with pills.

Accompanied by the help of La Revuelta, a feminist organization.

Photograph by: Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice.

“I want to share my experience to ‘put a face’ to the problem and to show that it’s something I would not say ‘natural’, but I want people who are around me could realize that: your grandmother had an abortion, your aunt aborted, your sister had an abortion, or that they could realize that the woman that aborted could have been your neighbour, your sister, your cousin, the woman in the store next to you”.

’11 weeks, 23 hours, 59 minutes – Clandestine Abortion in Argentina’.

FOTO 06

Photograph by: Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice.

Sonia Sánchez

Five voluntary terminations of pregnancies. Abortion with pills.

“Do you know why I had the abortions? I never had a pimp, man or woman. The state was the pimp for me; hunger, lack of education, of work. It was not a man, it was hungry. To live five months in Plaza Once was what prostituted me.”

“When I had the abortion it was because I wanted to get that out, I did not want to have a child who I did not know who the father was. I felt it was something imposed (…) It never felt like a child. I had to get rid of such a violence that was getting inside of me. For me, to get pregnant was more violent, it was a stronger form of violence. ”

’11 weeks, 23 hours, 59 minutes – Clandestine Abortion in Argentina’.

FOTO 07

Photograph by: Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice.

’11 weeks, 23 hours, 59 minutes – Clandestine Abortion in Argentina’.

In Argentina the number of abortions is estimated as 400,000 per year. 80 women die each year. Currently, most abortions are performed with Misoprostol tablets but also by surgical abortion. There are legal abortions in cases of danger to the life or health of women, when the pregnancy is the result of rape and when is the product of indecent assault on a mentally disabled or insane woman.[2] However, due to bureaucratic hurdles and institutional and medical violence, the right to abort in these cases is not always guaranteed.

FOTO 08

Photograph by: Guadalupe Gómez Verdi, Lisa Franz and Léa Meurice.

’11 Semanas, 23 Horas, 59 Minutos – Aborto clandestino en Argentina’.

Women trafficking and sexual exploitation

Cecilia Antón started to work in Esclavas 2.0 several years ago, documenting the disappearances of women trafficked for sexual exploitation in Argentina. Besides the photos presented in this article, her work includes images of families who tirelessly search for their daughters; of the places where they were kidnapped; of the rooms where the families are still waiting for them; of personal objects, and also of female survivors who have managed to escape and tell their stories. Argentina is a country of origin, transit and destination for men, women and children victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour. Argentinian women, girls and children, especially from rural areas or northern provinces, are forced into prostitution inside the country. Additionally, a significant number of foreign women and children, mainly from Paraguay and Dominican Republic, are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation within Argentina. There are no official national statistics on missing women, but some organizations estimate the number in about 400 per year. In December 2012 the National Law 26.842 against trafficking was enacted. In Argentina, 98% of victims of sexual exploitation are women, and of these, 72% are over 18 years old.[3] According to the Ministry of Justice since 2008 over 4,600 victims have been released in more than 2,100 raids across the country.

FOTO 09Photograph by: Cecilia Antón.

Ramona ‘Peli’ Mercado, from La Rioja, Argentina.

She disappeared at 13 years old. There were some clues but she has not been found yet. This happened in 2005. She went to the capital of La Rioja to study at the secondary school. Not long after, she was taken from the door of her house, or near there.

FOTO 10

Photograph by: Cecilia Antón.

Susana Betker disappeared when she was 17 years old. Her friends told her mother Margarita, that Susana left with the ‘boy’ who forced her into prostitution. A year later she was found dead in an apartment on Tucumán Street (Buenos Aires).

FOTO 11Photograph by: Cecilia Antón.

Dana was born on October 1987, and was killed in November 20 years later. She was kidnapped and prostituted in Olavarria, Province of Buenos Aires. She tried to escape with her daughter but her pimp (father of the girl) killed her. Today the girl is in custody of the pimp’s family. Her maternal grandmother struggles to get her granddaughter back.

Femicide

Agustina Ciccola, Gisela Orieta and Valentina Stutzin are working on a photographic project on cases of femicide in Argentina, where gender violence has increased with fatal consequences. The only official statistic is provided by the NGO La Casa del Encuentro, an Observatory that investigates cases of femicide in the country by following the news. In the period from January 31 to December 31, 2013, it was recorded 295 femicides and related femicides[4] of women and girls, as well as 39 related femicides of men and boys. Accordingly, every 30 hours a woman was murdered by gender – based violence in Argentina. Since the observatory was formed in 2008, there have been 1236 femicides in five years (2008 – 2013), 95 related femicides of men and boys. In 2011 they began to record the children who lost their mother. In two years 703 children were collateral victims of femicide.

In a similar way than Cecilia’s work, in this case photography is an exercise of the memory, which speaks of the presence of the victims through the remembrances of their families.

FOTO 12

Photograph by: Agustina Ciccola, Gisela Orieta and Valentina Stutzin.

Beatriz Regal is holding her daughter’s childhood doll. Wanda Taddei, was killed at 29 years old by her husband Eduardo Vasquez, former drummer of the rock band Callejeros, the 21th of January 2010 in Buenos Aires. Eduardo sprinkled her with alcohol and then set her on fire, causing severe burns that killed her eleven days later in the hospital.

FOTO 13

Photograph by: Agustina Ciccola, Gisela Orieta and Valentina Stutzin.

Anabela is the daughter of Gabriela Consme. Gabriela was killed at 24 years old by her partner, Walter Santiago Marker, the 25th of November 2013, in Morón, Buenos Aires. Since 2011 there are over 800 orphans for femicide.

Dealing with violence against women in Argentina, these projects capture in a particular way situations and modes which are common to most Latin American countries and elsewhere. These kind of projects are crucial not just for academic analysis but also for its contribution to public denunciation and political action.

Lieta Vivaldi is PhD Sociology Student at Goldsmiths College, London and Valentina Stutzin is Photographer and Anthropology Student at Universidad de Buenos Aires.

lietavivaldi@gmail.com 

‘Feminist Struggles’ is published in the 2015 edition of Streetsigns, the journal of the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London. You can read other articles here : http://www.gold.ac.uk/media/2015_Issue.pdf

[1]           Project Statement.

[2] Article 86, Argentinian Criminal Law

[3]           Statistics from the Fiscal Assistance Unit for Research in kidnappings and Trafficking (UFASE) and the Institute for Comparative Studies in Criminal and Social Sciences (Inecip).

[4]           ’Femicidios vinculados’ or related femicides, according to the NGO, are those murders perpetrated while trying to kill a woman (for instance a person that is killed as a result of trying to stop the attack).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s