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Visiting professor lectures on women’s roles in peace process

| Wednesday, October 14, 2015

According to Dr. Selina Gallo-Cruz, the role of women in organizing for peace has long been ignored.

Gallo-Cruz, a professor of sociology at the College of the Holy Cross of Worcester, Massachusetts, and a research fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, delivered a lecture Monday afternoon at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies titled, “Vulnerability over Violence: Women and Nonviolent Power in Argentina, Serbia and Liberia.”

Sponsored by the Kroc Institute, the lecture examined nonviolent movements spearheaded by women that were overlooked and even mocked, but ultimately, led to significant results. In particular, Gallo-Cruz analyzed the impact of women in the Dirty War in Argentina, on ethnic cleansing in Serbia and in recurring civil wars in Liberia.

Gallo-Cruz began by summarizing common academic theories on the relationship between people and social power, asserting that there is a tendency to overemphasize dramatic action and landmark events over more subtle movements.

“There are different ways of defining power and measuring power, but there is also a particular bias in how we locate and define power,” Gallo-Cruz said.

In order to rectify this mistake, Gallo-Cruz said, academics must pay closer attention to social movements that embrace nonviolence and less overt action than public protest and armed resistance.

“My aim is to expand the theoretical framework for how we understand people and power and if there’s an explanation for how different sectors of a social movement can mobilize in different ways to give a broader explanation of the lifetime of the social movement,” Gallo-Cruz said.

The first case Gallo-Cruz used to illustrate these ideas was a period of tremendous violence in Argentina from the 1970s to the early 1980s known as the Dirty War.

“It was popularly called the Dirty War, although many scholars say we should really call it a genocide,” Gallo-Cruz said

The Argentine government launched a massive campaign against anyone they considered a dissident under the guise of fighting guerrilla rebels, Gallo-Cruz said, and their victims included students, academics, social workers, doctors and many others.

“About 70 percent of the victims were men, but often, their wives would disappear shortly after,” she said.

In response the widespread crackdown and persecution, Gallo-Cruz said, many groups organized resistance, but one of the most important was the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children were victims of the government.

Gallo-Cruz said the government did not take the Madres or their efforts to protest and spread awareness about the disappearances of their family members seriously, because the group lacked the male leadership and formal resources of other resistance organizations.

Even after the Dirty War ended, Gallo-Cruz said, the Madres served a crucial role by speaking out against attempts to whitewash or compromise with perpetrators of the brutal persecution and the disappearances

“They became really crucial in developing a discourse against denial,” Gallo-Cruz said.

The next case Gallo-Cruz examined was the role of the Women in Black in combatting nationalistic violence during the 1990s in Yugoslavia.

Gallo-Cruz said the Women in Black organized actions and demonstrations specifically designed for publicity that successfully drew attention to the atrocities being committed.

“The Women in Black are known for doing public protests and street theater,” Gallo-Cruz said.

However, she said their dedication extended beyond public demonstrations.

“They immediately moved into extensive work in unattended social spheres,” Gallo-Cruz said.

Additionally, Gallo-Cruz said, the Women in Black also provided useful information because they had training in sociology and made an effort to collect exhaustive accounts of the violence.

“They did hundreds of surveys throughout the region on all kinds of data: on the experience of women in conflict, on the ways in which men were mobilized into conscription,” Gallo-Cruz said

The last case study she discussed was the civil wars in Liberia.

Starting in 1989 and ending in 2003 with several gaps in between, the Liberian civil wars threatened the foundations of society, Gallo-Cruz said.

“There were nine different ceasefires in that period, none of them lasting,” Gallo-Cruz said

A common tactic throughout the conflict was the systematic rape of women, she said.

“An early survey from medical workers in 1994, that’s really early on in the conflict, show that half of the women surveyed had experienced rape at the hands of an armed soldier,” Gallo-Cruz said.

According to Gallo-Cruz, this may have helped prompt women to organize with a call for peace.

Just like their counterparts in Argentina and Yugoslavia, Gallo-Cruz said, the women of Liberia combined their political cause with social work.

“They were this invisible force in society, really building up the decent structure of the movement from disarmament to leading social services to food and medical treatment,” she said.

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