September 19, 2020

An investigation uncovers Franco’s violence against women


“We have buried her like a whore,” recalled the gravedigger. With one man above and one below, dead. And penetrating her. She was Antonia Regalado. She was 22 when she was raped and executed by the coup plotters. A paradigmatic case of the extreme violence of the Franco regime against women that reveals the research published by the archaeologist and forensic anthropologist of the University of Amsterdam and the University of Extremadura Laura Muñoz-Encinar.

'La Luna', the republican feminist executed by Franco as punishment for all women

‘La Luna’, the republican feminist executed by Franco as punishment for all women

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In an article published in the journal World Archeology, titled Discovering gender repression: an analysis of the violence suffered by women during the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship in southwestern Spain, the researcher documents how “during the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship, republican women suffered a specific type of violence based on gender”.

The work advances in his postdoctoral project to analyze “the treatment and use of bodies and victims as part of repression strategies and I explore their symbolic meaning”.

The Spain of the coup conspiracy never forgave that the women will break during the Second Republic the patriarchal rules of the game. The rebels exercised a special gender repression that part of the hot terror during the Civil War: kidnapping, humiliation, torture and murder.

And from there, the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco designed a unique model of women through 40 years of dictatorship that went from incipient feminism to ‘submissive and devout ‘national catholic. Through “archaeological and forensic investigations of the common pits“, the study provides” new data on how this repression was “.

The woman, a second-class citizen

“Franco’s repressive strategy developed complex mechanisms of physical and psychological punishment,” explains Laura Muñoz-Encinar, who already defended her doctoral thesis in 2016 under the title From the exhumation of bodies to historical knowledge. Analysis of Franco’s irregular repression from the excavation of mass graves in Extremadura (1936-1948).

“Female punishment could be physical, through execution, torture and rape first during the war and later in Franco’s prisons,” he adds. Women employed “as a weapon of war”. And the men “using the violation of their bodies to terrorize and punish their enemies.” Because in wars, he continues, “throughout history women have been victims of all kinds of acts of sexual violence.” The Spanish Civil War was no exception.

“In the Spanish case, gender violence did not occur only during the period of the coup, but continued during the war and also with force during the dictatorship, both in Franco’s prisons and in the fight against the armed guerrilla”, Muñoz-Encinar explains.

A “gender-specific repression” that was born in addition to a reactionary idea: “feminism and the equality policies introduced during the Second Republic” promoted, in the eyes of Spanish fascism, “the growing corruption of women.” Hence, they ended up “punished for acting inappropriate for their gender to the point that ‘red’ acquired the meaning of non-woman.”

Violence against women drew sustenance from the work of “Francoist ideologues” such as the psychiatrist and soldier Antonio Vallejo-Nájera. “They considered women inferior and fickle beings, who made use of social revolutions to give free rein to their latent sexual appetites, convinced of their cruelty, innate perversity and natural criminality”, describes the researcher.

Franco against women

“For the Franco regime, women lacked civil and political rights, building the ideology of women based on a Catholic patriarchal structure,” sums up Muñoz-Encinar. Some principles “that were put into practice through Social Assistance and the Falange Feminine Section, under a discourse of humility and submission “.

The Franco’s repression against women She was born like this from various wombs: “as a consequence of their political activity during the Republic or because they were wives, mothers, sisters of Republicans.” And for the fact of being a woman. The coup plotters set up a “repressive system” as a “specific procedure applied to republican women.”

This “selection of the victims”, and the pedagogy of terror applied from “the treatment of living and dead bodies”, does not end with the end of the Civil War. “Many women trusted Franco’s words and returned to their villages.” Error. “They were immediately arrested, like the teacher Matilde Morillo, when she got off the train with her daughters. She was tortured, raped and executed. Her body is still missing,” she says.

“One of the most significant cases is that of Antonia Regalado Carballar, executed when she was 22 years old in Fregenal de la Sierra,” says Muñoz-Encinar. According to oral sources, of a relative, the undertaker “put a man under her, then put [el cuerpo de] my aunt on top and [el cuerpo de] another man penetrating her on top; one below and one above (…) she will be satisfied (…) she told him enjoying it, with clean laughter (…) they made her run through the cemetery and abused her. Then they killed her. The gravedigger buried her body in this position and said, ‘We buried her like a whore.’

Antonia’s body never appeared. “But that of an older woman who had been buried in the same way.” It was not a “specific procedure” but rather “a habitual practice of humiliation” that went beyond death. “Within my investigation the cases of several reprisal pregnant women are very significant,” he adds. Like “a woman executed in an advanced stage of pregnancy, in her pelvis we found the remains of a fetus between 7 and 9 months old.”

Women in mass graves

“The percentage of murdered women is lower than the number of men,” says Muñoz-Encinar. Because, “far from an attempt to be annihilated”, they experienced the “extreme cruelty” of the coup plotters as a plan focused “on exemplarity.” The “specific violence exerted on the body of women was based on the purifying purpose of Francoism and the policy of dehumanizing anti-fascist women,” he summarizes.

And “in the common graves we found the evidence of those women who were tortured and executed,” he says. Opening the illegal graves allows us to read the serious human rights violations committed by the Franco regime and that Spain continues to be unsolved. The information provided by “the study of the skeletal remains” is key: to know “the biological profile of the victim” or about the “violence” received “and the manner of execution”.

The objects associated with the bodies also reveal details: “high-heeled shoes, buttons, earrings, hairpins, rings, garters to hold stockings, remains of a dress …”, he lists. Elements that speak “of the cultural profile of the victims” and open inquiries about the “repressive context”. The exhumations have been a key tool to provide “new data on the hundreds of reprisal women for whom there is no documentary record and of whom, sometimes, we only know their nicknames,” defends the researcher.

His work is focused on Extremadura, but the results can be extrapolated to the rest of the country. “During the military occupation, many women were raped and executed, not infrequently pregnant,” he explains. And there are times when “the vexation of the victims does not end with death.” There is the episode lived in the Badajo municipality of Fregenal de la Sierra, where “several women were buried naked between two men”, a procedure that shows “a high symbolic component.”

The land also reveals how women were “generally the last to be introduced into the deposits and with different burial patterns than men.” They were “victims of multiple types of sexual repression with a highly symbolic component as a measure to discredit the Second Republic.”

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