chapter  6
27 Pages

Women’s Rights as Human Rights: Exile, International Feminist Encounters, and Women’s Empowerment under Military Rule in Chile, 1973–1990

ByJADWIGA PIEPER MOONEY

In January 1974, Nieves Ayress, a Chilean woman in her early twenties, was arrested and imprisoned by the military that had seized power on September 11, 1973. Shortly after her arrest, Ayress managed to circulate a personal testimony of the brutal torture she was subjected to in the prison where she was held. She wrote a letter “for all women who were not able to speak,” in which she openly described the sadistic details of her ordeal.2 Ayress’s personal survival strategy aimed to break the silence that had descended over torture victims after the dictatorship’s agents had raped and sexually humiliated them.3 Her letter also raised awareness of the gendered nature of military violence that disproportionately a ected women; military power was built on the dependent roles of women in the family and in society.4 Nieves Ayress-and many fellow Chilean women who protested against the dictatorship-refused to accept the gendered construction of political power by the military and its employment of sexual di erences to “naturally” place men and women in di erent spheres. As they mobilized for human rights, women also challenged the quintessential expressions of patriarchal power the military depended on.5