Theatre for transformative gender justice: A comparison of three Peruvian plays on rape during political violence

Alexandra Hibbett'


Several recent works argue that theatre has great potential in post-conflict societies within a transitional justice agenda (Thompson, Hughes, and Balfour 2009; Cohen, Gutiérrez, and Walker 2011; Becker, Hernández, and Werth 2013; Simic 2017). At the same time, there is a widespread consensus on the need for transitional justice to be transformative (Gready and Robins 2014), especially where it is necessary to tackle the structural causes of gendered violence during both war and peace (Duggan, Bailey, and Guillerot 2008; Rubio-Marin 2009b; Boesten and Wilding 2015; Bjorkdahl and Mannergren Selimovic 2017). To this aim, many argue that transitional justice must reach beyond a legalistic framework and emphasise the importance of cultural interventions in the form of symbolic reparations, combined with longer-term social policies (Duggan, Bailey, and Guillerot 2008; Brandon and Palmary 2009; Rubio-Marin 2009b; de Greiff 2014; Bahun 2015; Simic 2017). Within the range of possible cultural tools towards this aim, museums, photography exhibitions, and monuments are, in practice, usually preferred to other art forms. But, in light of the difficulties entailed in representing gender violence in such arts (Brandon and Palmary 2009), in this chapter, I explore the potentials and problems of theatre for a transformative gender justice agenda. I do this by comparing the techniques, circulation, and reception of three Peruvian plays on rape during political violence. I argue that theatre in Peru is working transformatively on gender violence committed during armed conflict, but also facing several complications in its attempt to have significant social impact. That is, while the plays hold much promise for transformative gender justice (especially, as I will argue, the collective productions that involve grassroots organisations and people directly affected by violence), the political and economic realities of post-conflict societies such as Pem mean that such potential is plagued with challenges.

Peru is an extremely violent country for women and is therefore a particularly convenient case study for this reflection.2 In recent times, feminist grassroots movements such as Ni Una Menos (Not One [Woman] Less) have succeeded in bringing gender violence to national attention. However, discourses that attribute shame and blame to victims are still widespread, hindering women’s pursuit ofjustice and reparation (Brandon and Palmary 2009).3 Rape,

Theatre for transformative gender justice 231 forced cohabitation, sexual slavery, domestic slavery, and forced sterilisation were important dimensions to the political violence in the country during the 1980s and 1990s, unleashed by Shining Path’s Maoist-inspired uprising and the state’s authoritarian, militarised, and ultimately criminal counter-terrorist strategy (Comisión de la Verdad 2003). The Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 2003 report included a study on sexual violence during the conflict, which it found was perpetrated by all sides — but more often and systematically by the state’s security forces — against poor, rural, Quechuaspeaking women (one of Peru’s most vulnerable populations). Before the TRC, rape during this period had occupied little to no place in public discourse. Today, an ongoing state-sponsored reparations process, which includes reparations for victims of rape and sexual violence, has given some visibility to the issue; some cases were taken to court (Villanueva Flores 2007; IDL 2010), and cultural productions inspired by the TRC’s report began to focus on the issue.4 Indeed, artists and cultural workers today insist upon the importance of post-conflict ‘memory’ in general, along with NGOs, human rights activists, and victims’ associations. Theatre, in particular, has had a visible role in this regard, especially the important and long-standing Yuyachkani theatrical company, which collaborated with the TRC (Lambright 2013). Despite this, there is considerable resistance to the judicialisation of rape by armed forces during the conflict. Only one case has so far led to some sort of conviction,5 while there are 4,678 victims of rape and 83 victims of sexual violence on the official national registry of victims of the conflict (Ministerio de Justicia 2018). What is more, the reparations programme is far from incorporating a holistic gender perspective (Guillerot 2006; Duggan, Bailey, and Guillerot 2008). This resistance to justice is framed not only by a sexist normalisation of rape but also by a widespread backlash against human rights discourse and the legacy of the TRC, upheld by a narrative that construes the state as a heroic defender of democracy (Drinot 2009). The state in Peru has not embraced a transitional justice agenda and the TRC’s recommendations have been consistently undermined (Macher 2014).

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