[In May 2015, an Argentinian radio journalist tweeted her dismay at yet another violent death of a woman in the country. Within a month, 300,000 people had taken to Argentina’s streets to protest the ongoing crisis of gender-based violence. The Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) movement has ignited the issue of women’s rights but, writes Mariela Magnelli, much still needs to be done.]
The Fight Against Femicide
Mariela Magnelli - Alborada magazine (Issue 2 - Winter 2015)
Since the return to democracy in 1983, a diverse feminist movement has worked to put an end to violence against women in Argentina. Where the state was absent, women stepped in. Women’s rights organisations built shelters for women survivors of violence, providing legal aid and psychological support to victims and their children. Other shelters collected data on the prevalence of gender-based violence which was then used to campaign and carry out high level advocacy to bring about changes in policies and legislation to protect women across the country.
But something changed in June 2015: the fight to end violence against women was popularised. What had previously been considered a private matter to be solved within the home, or a ‘women’s issue’ to be dealt with by specialised NGOs and a small group of concerned women, became a nationwide movement to demand the state take responsibility for the protection of women. Hundreds of thousands of women - and men - took to the streets, unashamed, shouting ‘Disculpen las molestias, pero nos están matando’ (‘We apologise for the inconvenience, but they’re killing us’).
‘They’re killing us’
Chiara Páez was 14 years old and pregnant when she was beaten to death by her boyfriend, after being forced to take an abortion pill. He buried her in his backyard. Before that, the body of 19-year-old Daiana Garcia was found inside a rubbish bag by a road. The list goes on. The majority of these women had been killed by someone they knew intimately.
When Marcela Ojeda, a radio reporter, tweeted on 11 May, ‘They’re killing us’ in response to the violent murder of yet another teenager at the hands of her boyfriend, she did not realise that this would be the beginning of a mass movement. But she had tapped into deep grief and outrage at the everyday sexism and violence experienced by women in Argentina. La Casa del Encuentro (The Meeting House), a shelter for women survivors of violence, estimates that in the last seven years 1,808 women have been murdered as a result of gender-based discrimination. In turn, World Health Organisation figures show that 36% of women in Latin America and the Caribbean reported having experienced some form of violence. Violence against women is a widespread yet previously-hidden pandemic.
The now renowned #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less) march was conceived on Twitter, as nine female journalists picked up on Ms Ojeda’s tweet. Shortly after, these journalists met with intellectuals, artists and activists to develop public action against sexist violence and insist that the Government take action. This holistic response was centred on five key demands: the implementation, funding and adequate monitoring of the National Action Plan for the Prevention, Assistance and Eradication of Violence Against Women; collection of rigorous data on femicide; guaranteed access to justice and protection for women; more shelters for victims of domestic violence; and the full implementation of the sex education plan.
Social media galvanised support across diverse groups. Professional journalists and visual satirists joined women across the country in tweeting about the movement and posting photos of themselves with #NiUnaMenos signs on Twitter and Facebook. Politicians, celebrities and even President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner followed suit. It didn’t take long before others across the region spontaneously joined the call and began organising - both in solidarity with their Argentinian counterparts and to draw attention to the endemic violence against women in their own communities.
On 3 June - just over 3 weeks after Ojeda’s pivotal Tweet - 300,000 people took to the streets in Buenos Aires and 120 other plazas and towns across the country to the chant of ‘Basta de femicidios!’ (‘End Femicides!’). Women in Mexico, Uruguay and Chile did the same. Despite the large crowd, the gathering felt intimate. One after another, women shared their personal stories of sexual violence, beatings and experiences of daily sexism. Many realised for the first time they were not alone, and that gender-based violence was systemic. Right there, in a plaza bursting with personal stories and thought-provoking signs, the personal became political.
‘The cause is our country’s macho culture’, Fabiana Tuñez, Executive Director of La Casa del Encuentro, told the New York Times. There is a continuum between the deadly violence that led to the Ni Una Menos movement and the everyday sexism experienced by women in Argentina. ‘Femicide is the most extreme form of sexist violence and it cuts across all social classes, creeds and ideologies’, declared a document read aloud on 3 June in front of the National Congress building. Femicide was not conceived as an issue of ‘insecurity' but framed as a violation of women’s human rights.
To ensure transformative change, the Ni Una Menos movement calls on us to reflect upon different forms of sexist violence - or violencia machista - from symbolic violence, to sexual, economic and institutional violence. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the underlying factor of gender-based violence is a structural inequality of social relations between men and women. In her study of femicides in Mexico, feminist scholar Marcela Largarde also found that in those regions where violent crimes against women were common, other forms of violence against women were steadily present and ‘tolerated by both society and authority, creating in turn a climate of impunity’. This is precisely why, on 3 June, a collective voice demanded a cultural shift in Argentina. A shift that was everyone’s responsibility, and one the Government needed to steer.
The Ni Una Menos movement has rapidly made impact. In just a few short months, gender-based violence has become part of public discourse on a previously unimaginable scale. The increased awareness amongst women immediately led to a 1000 per cent increase in the number of calls to the National Council of Women helpline, requiring an additional 50 operators to respond to the upsurge.
The Supreme Court of Justice committed to the establishment of a Registry of Femicides, and the National Government created the Office for the Registry of Femicide. Mendoza province will provide free legal aid for women survivors of violence. More recently, ahead of the October 2015 presidential elections, Ni Una Menos pressure secured pledges from 11 out of the 14 candidates for presidential primaries to fight gender-based violence and to present a concrete plan to combat violence.
Many were delighted to see the President join the Twitter campaign. After all, there is no quicker route to the immediate government prioritisation of an issue than presidential commitment. Yet she has since been accused of courting favourable publicity by jumping on the campaign bandwagon without following through with real action.
This is in keeping with a long history of government initiatives which have not fulfilled their initial promise. Although an ambitious law to end violence against women was passed in 2009, a combination of limited political will and lack of resources has resulted in failure to deliver the provisions agreed upon in its terms. This means that even when women do reach out for help, there is often no access to safe shelter or proper protection from the State.
Yet while the Ni Una Menos movement is growing, so is the backlash.
On 11 October, an unprecedented 60,000 women from every corner of Argentina joined the final march for the 30th National Women’s Meets (XXX ENM, Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres) in the beach town of Mar del Plata. But for the first time in the history of the Encuentros, attending women faced violent attacks from militant religious groups as well as police repression with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Worse, during the same weekend, four more femicides took place - two of them in Mar del Plata, where the XXX ENM was taking place. The main suspects are partners or ex-partners of the victims. One of the victims was Diana Sacayan, a transgender woman well known for her LGBT activism. She was found dead in her Buenos Aires apartment, and is the third transgender woman to be killed violently in Argentina over the last month.
The extent of the violence is not fortuitous. Journalist Mariana Carbajal captures the feeling perfectly: ‘[four] femicides in one weekend. But it wasn’t any weekend. It was this weekend. Like a disciplinary message for those of them, all of them, all of us, who are rebelling against patriarchal mandates, who are unwilling to remain subordinated to men in society, who aim to live in a society with equal opportunities for all.’
Ni Una Menos called another nationwide march for 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Argentine women are empowered, enraged, and this growing movement is acting as a catalyst in achieving change. But legal provisions and political promises are not enough. Women are still dying. The backlash from men trying to hold on to their domination over women and the resistance to change by those in powerful positions cannot be downplayed.
Together with the feminist movement and traditional women’s rights organisations, this emerging movement must continue to generate awareness and pressure. After all, following the findings of a ground-breaking study across 70 countries by Laurel Weldon and Mala Htun, feminist mobilisation is more important for combating violence against women than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. The Ni Una Menos campaign marks a significant milestone in the long journey of women’s rights in Argentina.
Mariela Magnelli is an Argentinian feminist and social justice activist. Based in London, she works for an international development organisation on global women’s rights.
Follow the Ni Un Menos movement at www.niunamenos.com.ar
This article first appeared in Alborada magazine – Issue 2 (Winter 2015) http://www.alborada.net/mag2
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