Madres of the Plaza de Mayo

Around the world memorial practices  predominate in social movement sites the most obvious being that of the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.They contested the military dictatorship by appropriating conservative ideologies of motherhood to publicly question the role of the military regime in the disappearance, torture and murder of thousands under the dictatorship. The centrepiece of the public struggle of the Madres was their weekly walk around the square outside the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, wearing images of the disappeared. This image of mainly middle aged and elderly women wearing white handkerchiefs on their heads walking in silence with their burdens of loss around their necks performed the ghostly aftershocks of state violence that resulted in the death of 30,000 in the dirty war. In the last three decades this image has become a generative symbol of the fight for democracy in the midst of continuing violence. Its power has been in its proliferation. Referenced by many other struggles, it has migrated across borders, becoming a global template for women in protest against violence. It places women’s bodies as central to social reproduction and the wasted lives engendered by violence. The performative images of the disappeared became a language for talking about the losses incurred by state violence that accompanied the dawn of neoliberalism in Argentina. This took place precisely because the women used the power of their traditional caring role of women as iconic mothers of nation to subvert that role by calling the violence of transnationalism into question (Taylor, 1997). These powerful performances of protest do not raise issues of difference among the women who struggle or the communities they represent, nor do they call into question the forces beyond the local, though their struggle continues to generate much global support. Rather they reach for strategic unity which makes their demand impossible to ignore.

Honor Ford-Smith


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