Behind Prison Walls, Violence Against Women Is Often Ignored in Argentina

Photo by Flickr user Rock & Rejas: Sonidos de la Cárcel (Gira 2003). CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Photo by Flickr user Rock & Rejas: Sonidos de la Cárcel (Gira 2003). CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The rights of women in Argentinian prisons, where gender inequality, violence and exclusion can flourish, are systematically violated. Gender violence behind bars can often result in attacks on a woman's body.

A study done by Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nacion in Argentina found institutional violence is an increasing problem in jail, given that the number of woman in jail has increased. Several studies examining the situation in which they live have shown that not much is being done to protect women's rights there. 

Comunicar igualdad is an Argentine civil organization which focuses on expanding gender issues in the media as an strategy to obtain an equitable society. In a post titled “Woman in Jail“, it analyzed different cases of violence against woman deprived on freedom: 

La violencia es simbólicamente mayor cuando es ejercida por las instituciones. ¿Por qué no pensar entonces que la invisibilización hacia las mujeres es muchísimo más potente cuando hablamos de aquellas que se encuentran privadas de su libertad? El enfoque de género aplicado al sistema carcelario podría ser una herramienta eficaz que amplíe y diversifique la concepción vigente de derechos humanos y proponga un ámbito no tan recorrido por donde transitar hacia un estado cada vez más democrático.

Violence is symbolically greater when exercised by the institutions. Why not think then that the invisibility towards women is much more powerful when it comes to those who are deprived of their liberty? The gender approach applied to the prison system could be an effective tool to expand and diversify the current conception of human rights and propose a less traveled area through which transition to an increasingly democratic state.

According to the blog Women and prison, prison affects women in a different way than men — since the number of woman in prison is much lower than men, prison facilities for them lack amenities such as sports and leisure activities. Women also endure the lack of contact with their families, the abandonment of their partners, and poor health care.

At the same time, if they are foreign they face irregularities such as peculium payment due to the fact of taxing situation

The lack of interpreters is another problem facing foreign women imprisoned in Argentina. Reyna Maraz, a Bolivian citizen living in the country who doesn't speak Spanish, only Quechua, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband, after three years in jail without being allowed to appear before a judge or having access to an interpreter.

The UN Committee Against Torture is the body of 10 independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment throughout the world. A recent book debuted at the National University of La Plata City, Argentina, “Kick the gate. Gender, confinement and access to justice: women imprisoned with their children in the province of Buenos Aires” presented the Committee's report

Entre las conclusiones a las que arribó el equipo, subrayan que los jueces legitiman la violencia de género, que solo consideran a las mujeres en tanto madres, y que legitiman la presencia de niños y niñas encarcelados.

Among the conclusions of the team, they stress that judges legitimize gender violence, who only consider women as mothers, and legitimize the presence of children imprisoned.

The blog Atrapamuros described the actual situation of women deprived of freedom

La violencia de género es posible dentro de lo que conocemos como sistema patriarcal. Entender políticamente al sistema patriarcal nos permite examinar con mayor profundidad el rol que ha venido jugando el Estado ante los casos de violencia de género que terminan en actos ilegales perpetuados por las mujeres. Siempre ausente en las políticas de prevención y detención de la violencia de género, el Estado hace su entrada en la vida de las mujeres cuando puede juzgarlas y castigarlas. 

Gender violence is possible within what is known as patriarchal system. Understanding the patriarchal political system allows us to further examine the role that the state has been playing to cases of gender violence ending in illegal acts perpetrated by women. Always absent in prevention policies and stopping the violence, the state makes its entrance into the lives of women when they can judge and punish them.

The Procurator's Office of the Nation, an institution that aims to protect the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty in Argentina, wrote in its annual report of 2012, about violent practices carried out during the humiliating searches: 

varias detenidas se vieron obligadas a “sacarse su ropa interior, voltearse y abrirse las nalgas con ambas manos para que el personal penitenciario las observe”. Ello sucedió momentos previos a que las detenidas concurriesen a una actividad académica en la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Varias detenidas desistieron de la salida para evitar este tipo de medidas ultrajantes, incluso una de ellas fue sancionada por negarse a ser revisada en el modo anteriormente mencionado.

several detainees were forced to “take off their underwear, turn around and open the buttocks with both hands for prison staff to observe.” This happened before the detainees were going to meet at an academic activity at the University of Buenos Aires. Several detainees withdrew their departure to avoid this kind of outrageous measures; one was punished for refusing to be reviewed in the aforementioned manner.

In its investigation into women in prison, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) analyzes not only the conditions that female prisoners endure in Argentina, but also the constant violent violations of their rights, as told by the convicts. It is up to the state to assume the political and ethical responsibility of the consequences:  

La investigación describe minuciosamente todas las violencias, abusos y vulneración de derechos que sufren las presas, así como las gravísimas consecuencias que su encierro provoca en cuanto al desmembramiento de sus hogares y al desamparo de sus hijos. Ello, con el objetivo de abrir un debate que involucre tanto al poder legislativo como al judicial y al ejecutivo, en el marco del cual se evalúen alternativas menos nocivas que el encierro carcelario. Si pese a todo deciden no revertir la situación, ya no podrán alegar desconocimiento de la situación para no asumir la responsabilidad política y ética de sus consecuencias.

The research thoroughly describes all the violence, abuse and violation of rights suffered by prisoners and the dramatic consequences that this confinement causes in relation to the dismemberment of their homes and the helplessness of their children. This, with the aim of opening a debate involving both the legislature and the judiciary and the executive, within the framework of evaluating less harmful alternatives to imprisonment. If they nevertheless choose not to reverse the situation, they can no longer claim ignorance of the situation not to assume political and ethical responsibility for its consequences.

See Global Voices’ special coverage: 16 Days to End Violence at Home and Around the World

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