By Maria Azocar and Myra Marx Ferree
For some of us, being part of academia is our great luck. We spend years in PhD programs, we do our best to become experts in our areas, and if things go well, we might be called to participate in state-sponsored “expert commissions.” Imagine you are living in a country experiencing a political transition to democracy. Academia is now not only the incarnation of your personal aspirations, but a privileged space for imagining the future of your country.
Well, during the 1990s in Chile, this is exactly what happened. A group of lawyers working in a small university had an ambitious proposal to transform how the criminal courts worked. Their goal was to redefine the punitive power of the state after seventeen years of gross violations of human rights. But it was precisely this difficult political context that made their proposal almost impossible to implement. The Supreme Court, the right wing, and the notables of the legal profession attacked it. The government supported a different legal reform, focused on family courts, aimed to “fortify the family,” as the public realm was so precarious. Nonetheless, the criminal lawyers managed to bring the restructuring about, despite opposition. We show that their use of gendered expertise can explain this surprising result.