“One of the things that I simply will not do now is shut up. The women of my generation in Latin America have been taught that the man is always in charge and the woman is silent even in the face of injustice…Now I know that we have to speak out about the injustices publicly… I am going to denounce them publicly without fear. This is what I learned.” María del Rosario de Cerruti, a Madre (Women in World History, 2007)
During the military dictatorships in both Guatemala and Argentina , the murder and disappearance of thousands silenced and terrorised the two nations. Civil society was forcibly closed by both regimes who implemented counter-insurgency tactics to suppress the opposition forces. Many innocent civilians were also affected by the violence despite their lack of involvement in either side of the conflict.
Women, mainly mothers in Argentina and widows in Guatemala began to mobilise in response to the repressive military regimes. Helen Safa believes the root of this resistance lay in the traditional role of women as caregivers in Latin America (1990). She suggests that the self-identification and gratification that women derive from motherhood and marriage is vital to ‘the tenacity of family in Latin America’ (1990, p.364). Women, therefore, began to resist in an effort to break the silence and find their lost loved ones. “Activist mothering” (Afflitto and Jesilow, 2007, p.113) and “movement midwife” (Kurtz, 2010, p.1) are two concepts used to describe the women’s movements that grew out of the dictatorships. Both tconcepts can be used to analyse why and how women in these two countries organised themselves and affected change.
Argentinian organisation, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (the Madres) are probably the most famous women’s group fighting for justice. The Grandmothers (the Abuelas) campaign to identify the stolen children of their disappeared children has also grown and continues to be politically active today. In Guatemala, the Group of Mutual Support (GAM) and the National Council of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA) led the way. The contributions of individual women in the struggle against human rights violators must also be recognised. Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Rosalina Tuyuc, Hebe de Bonafini, and Claudia Paz y Paz must all be considered as ‘agents’ of change, rather than recipients of it (Kandawasuika-Nhundu, 2013).
This paper will explore four important contributions made by these women to the struggle to end human rights violations and to tackle impunity for previous violations. It will begin by exploring the important role that these movements had in bringing women out of the home and into politics. Traditional roles were changed for ever. The next issue to be discussed will be the contribution made by these movements to the voice of women in Guatemala and Argentina today, for both civil and political human rights issues and economic and social issues too. The third contribution was the strengthening of national solidarity through human rights activism. The fourth and final contribution to be discussed in this paper is the creation and maintenance of links with the international community.
 Guatemala’s 36 year civil war began with a US-sponsored military coup in 1954 and continued until the Peace Accords were signed between the government and the guerrilla group, Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (UNRG). The UN-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) stated that the Guatemalan government was responsible for 93% of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances during the civil war (1999). This figure is largely undisputed. 83% of people killed were of the indigenous Mayan population, though many human rights and social activists in urban settings also became targets.
 Argentina’s civil war began in 1976 when the Peronist government was overthrown in, yet another, military coup. Tactics used by the Argentinian government included torture, arbitrary detention in clandestine detention centres, assassinations and “death flights” (prisoners were sedated and then thrown from airplanes into the sea. The National Commission on Disappeared Persons (CONADEP) estimated 11,000 disappearances while the Madres put the figure at 30,000 (Women in World History, 2007).
 This is a generalisation based on the focus of much of the literature analysing these women’s movements and on the names of the various women’s organisations that were formed. These two countries have been chosen as a focus so as to allow for more detailed analysis, rather than providing an overview of Latin America as a region.