Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
While the last decade in Argentina was characterized by the increased visibility of gender violence, prison conditions for women have deteriorated. A prime example took place in Buenos Aires in May 2014 when thirty women in ‘Unidad 31’ were, with no prior warning, violently transferred from a minimum-security facility to a maximum-security prison to accommodate men convicted of crimes against humanity during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983). The ‘invasion’ of these elderly men into a prison designed exclusively for women and mothers is one of the many instances in which institutional violence blurs boundaries to oppress women in favor of men. In this presentation, I argue that the masculinist oppression that plagues the prison system unravels new legacies of the “Dirty War.” Drawing on 3 years of ethnographic fieldwork (2014-2017) in Buenos Aires, I examine creative responses to the criminal justice system by women organized in a collective, a women-led space that promotes self-determination and empowers networks of interdependence. YoNoFui (It Wasn’t Me) is a collective that offers art-related workshops both inside and outside of women’s prisons to make visible the continuum of institutional and gendered violence that women endure. Women that stayed in Unidad 31 (a prison nursery where women are incarcerated with their small children) were forced to share their space with men and exposed to high levels of unequal treatment. This is what I refer to as Everyday Cruelty. As men and women cohabitated in a women’s prison, women were subjected to unimaginable forms of cruelty.