Co-Madres of El Salvador

The Co-Madres are a women's interest group formed amidst the civil war in El Salvador between the military government and the FMLN. It began in April 1975 and by December 24, 1977 a committees was formed under the direct auspices of the Archdiocese of Monsignor Romero (Viva 32). Every woman in the Co-Madres has a disappeared, assassinated, or jailed relative as a result of the civil war (Viva 32). Of the 9 original Co-Madres, most were campesinas, and that number grew to between 25-30 by early 1978 (Viva 34, and Stephen 37). Despite the campesinas base the initial group included: teachers, workers, peasants, students, lawyers, market women, housewives, and small shopkeepers. This heterogeneity of women has held consistently true through out the life of the organization (Stephen 38). An aspect of their membership that makes the Co-Madres unique is that they include mother of soldiers who have been forced to join the army. The Salvadoran military has a policy of forced recruitment, if they did not join then they were called guerillas and assassinated (Bejarano 133), all mothers are united against this forced recruitment (Viva 35). Today there is an estimated membership of 550 Co-Madres
(Viva 33).The Co-Madres are a new social movement due to their calls for reform by the government, rather then abolition, and its international networking as seen in their demands/agenda and their tactics.

Demands and Agenda:
The Co-Madres confronted the Salvadoran and United Stated governments regarding the atrocious human rights violations that were "supposedly" happening (Shayne 91). One of their core demands is that the Salvadoran government and military and security forces provide information about the disappeared, incarcerated, and assassinated family members. Their struggle to find their family members has caused them to move into the political sphere, were as women they have been marginalized. Therefore they have begun to demand the incorporation of women into formal decision-making bodies as part of the democratization of El Salvador (Stephen 29). As the movement has evolved they have broadened the scope of their objectives to include human rights violations, their definition encompassed domestic violence and other women's issues (Bejarano 133). Co-Madres eventually began to bring issues of domestic violence, rape, and their lack of control over their own sexuality into their political analysis and work (Stephen 29).

The hardships these women faced during their struggle made them talk about their experiences as women and question gender roles. This was especially true since many activists were not supported by their husbands, at best, and at worst they were beaten by them (Stephen 41). The small feminist movement supported this addition of women's rights into their public agenda during the 1980s
(Stephen 41).

In the 1990s the OC-Madres refined their demands. Their main focus was still holding the state accountable for the human rights violations that were committed during the civil war and on making sure that the recommendations of the UN Truth Commission are followed by the state. In addition the have added four more aspects to their agenda. First they are confronting the legal system to get them to provide better protection for political prisoners, as well as assurances that human rights abuses will not be committed in the future. Second, they are working against domestic violence, and to some extent, unequal gender relations in the home. Third, the CO-Madres are working to educate woman about political participation and how to take parting elections. Lastly, they are sponsoring small
economic projects such as sewing co-ops to help women support themselves (Stephen 53).

Tactics and Activities:
Primarily the CO-Madres search for their relatives in morgues, military barricades, jails, and body dumps (Viva 32). In order to find their relatives they take a group of mothers around to jails and physically look for their relatives. The officials will deny the existence of the persons in question, or at least their presence at the facility. In one case the Co-Madres found a boy at a military barricade only because a cook overheard the men say the name of the missing. Even with this information the Co-Madres had to publish their demands in the newspaper to get the boy released (Viva 37).

Many bodies are buried in clandestine cemeteries. When the Junta came to power on October 15 the Co-Madres demanded that an investigatory committee be assembled, but it was refused. Therefore the Co-Madres established their own, it was comprised of a physician, a member of the human rights commission and five Co-Madres, the found 43 places where bodies were buried (Viva 38).

The Co-Madres had staged sit-ins at the ministry of justice and churches in San Salvador. Co-Madres have occupied government offices including the OAS and the UN in San Salvador in order to telex their demands to Washington and Geneva so as to put pressure on the Salvadoran government (Viva 33). In 1978 Co-Madres occupied the Salvadoran Red Cross and organized a hunger strike. November of that same year they marched with most of the Priests of San Salvador (Viva 38). They work to educate people on the tactic of disappearance. One of the ways they do this through their own radio program, which covers negotiations, politics, if a massacre occurs or a disappearance or capture (Viva 33).

In order to humanize those who have disappeared, those who were killed, the Co-Madres carried banners with photographs ofloved ones combined with strong messages against state sponsored violence; this soon became a signature form of action (Bejarano 140). Another tactic of theirs that increased their visibility and recognition is the wearing of black dresses and white scarves. The black
dresses signify the condolences a d sorrow they feel the persons killed, and the white scarves represent the peace with justice that they hope for (Bejarano 138). Typically they also carry a red and white carnation, the red for the spilled blood, white fore the detained and disappeared while the green leaves are for hope (Viva 33). Since beginning to wear this uniform the army has not disrupted the marches
of the Co-Madres, everyone knows that this is the dress of a committee of women, it gains them a presence and both the public and government began to recognize them (Viva 34).

Networks. domestic and international:
In 1979 the Co-Madres made their first trip abroad, to Costa Rica. After this trip they began an extremely effective campaign to build international solidarity for their work. Through out the 1980s they traveled around the world to Europe, Australia, Canada, the United States, and other Latin American countries (Stephen 39). The Co-Madres soon became one of the leading forces in FEDEFAM (Federation
of the Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained in Latin America). This organization includes movements from 17 Latin American And Caribbean countries (Stephen 39). In 1984 the Co-Madres were the recipients of the first ever Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award, they were thus internationally recognized for their human rights work (Stephen 39). Solidarity organizations were established in the
United States, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, and Canada called the "Friends of Co-Madres," in the mid-1980s. These groups carried out fundraising and acted as political watchdogs for abuses in EI Salvador on behalf of the Co-Madres (Stephen 39).

Domestically the Co-Madres formed coalitions with other women's groups in El Salvador called. "Mujeres '94" that worked to create a unified platform for women and then delivered it to all of the political parties that participated in the 1994 election. This platform called for: end to incest, rape, and sexual harassment; land, credit and technical assistance for women; adequate housing with ownership for
women; economic development and job training; more education for women and girls; better medical attention; end to the rising cost of wage goods (Stephen 54).

Threats and Repression:
The Co-Madres, "peacefully called on the sate to end the war with justice-a demand that was opertaionalized with out weapons but resulted in severe repression," (Shayne 92). Following the marches and protests of the Co-Madres, warnings were made in conspicuously public displays, for example the newspapers, by right wing forces (Bejarano 136). Their offices were first attacked in 1980 and since then there have been bombings at Co-Madre offices in 1981, 1986, 1987, and 1989. The bombing on October 31, 1989 seriously injured 6 Co-Madres, a North American, and a 4-year-old boy. November 15 of that same year the treasury police arrived in the middle of the night and captured 4 Co-Madres, while the following day the National Police took everything of value from the office, including $500,000 in medicines (Viva 40). 1982 marked the abduction of the first Co-Madres (Shayne 92). When they were detained the members of Co-Madres were raped as a routing part of their torture.

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