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Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina: a pioneer in women's rights

Tired of seeing their mothers, sisters, friends and neighbors murdered, Argentine women have taken to the streets under the banner of #NiUnaMenos (“Not One Less”). Marches organized on social media demand government policies that protect women and put an end to femicide.
7 Mar 2017 – 05:32 PM EST
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Ni Una Menos, or "Not One Less," has become the rallying cry against machista violence in Argentina. Crédito: Eitan Abramoich/Afp/Getty Images

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Wanda, Daiana, Elizabeth, Laura, Agustina, Tamara, Noelia, Rosa, Priscila, Melina, Serena, Cynthia and Nicole are some of the names of women murdered recently by men in Argentina. In just the first 45 days of 2017, there were 57 reported femicides.

Since 2008, a woman has been murdered every 30 hours by a man in this country, according to data from the Observatory for Femicides. That's 230 to 290 femicides per year.

The high number of gender-based murders is proof that government policies are not working. As a result, non-governmental organizations are springing up to demand change.

Leading the charge is #NiUnaMenos, founded two years ago to shine a light on the discrimination of and daily violence against women. The group organized Argentina's first National Women's Strike in 2016, and will hold another on Wednesday, March 8, International Women's Day.

The #NiUnaMenos movement was born in 2015 after a tweet by journalist Marcela Ojeda about the murder of Chiara Páez. The 14-year old was pregnant when she disappeared in May in Santa Fe province. Her body was found buried under the patio of her boyfriend's home. She had been beaten to death.

For Ojeda, Páez was the straw that broke the camel's back.

“Minutes after learning that Chiara had been murdered, I got mad at myself, at everyone, because I was tired of having to constantly write about cases in which they beat, rape and murder women and girls,” Ojeda told fellow journalists, referring to the wave of femicides in the past decade. Her anger led to a tweet: “Women, together. Why don't we scream? THEY ARE KILLING US.”

A group of authors, journalists, sociologists and activists echoed her call. They started to round up their social networks, and the hashtag #NiUnaMenos went viral. Together, they transformed fury and pain into a mass mobilization. Thousands of women and men of all ages took to the streets of Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities in the middle of 2015. The agenda was set: women are in danger, and something must be done.

The movement grew even stronger in 2016. Organizations met to coordinate events, and thousands of people hit the streets again to answer the call. Activists also launched the first Index of Male Chauvinist Violence, which showed the magnitude of the problem. Ninety seven percent of all Argentine women reported suffering some type of sexual harassment.

October’s strike was born out of the brutal murder of Lucía Pérez, 16. She loved animals, and lived with her parents in the beach city of Mar del Plata. She was drugged, raped and impaled by two men. With the help of a third, they cleaned her up and delivered her to a hospital. She died a slow death, after being pierced with a stick that reached her heart.

“Impaled”: The word made headlines and turned stomachs. The women’s strike was scheduled for a few days after the brutal crime under the rallying cry #MiercolesNegro, or “Black Wednesday.” Groups from the United States, Spain, France, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay and several Central American countries supported the strike.

The tip of the iceberg

Femicides – the murder of women because they are women – are the extreme and final consequence of gender-based violence, or the tip of the iceberg. Behind the attacks lies a deeply rooted machismo that is tolerated throughout society.

Experts consulted by Univision News agree that education must be centerpiece of any effort to end this type of violence.

Ingrid Beck, editor of the Argentine magazine Barcelona, worked with Martín Romeo to develop the Index of Male Chauvinist Violence, a survey that aims to help women realize that they’ve likely experienced situations of violence that seemed acceptable to society.

“I didn't remember that I suffered an incident of exhibitionism when I was a girl,” Beck said. “I realized it when I answered the questionnaire. I had accepted it as normal, and that's not normal. That's not good.”

In addition, women suffer discrimination in a long list of areas just because they are women, Beck said. “Women earn 27 percent less than men. Add to that the lack of participation in politics and labor unions, unpaid domestic labor, teenage pregnancies, clandestine abortions as the top cause of death among pregnant women, obstetric violence and the acceptance of daily harassment. We have a huge problem,” she complained.

The journalist blames those problems on government failures at every level.

Many women are only now beginning to realize how much they’ve been victimized.

Violeta teaches a postgraduate course on domestic violence (she requested we leave off her last name). “I went from reading … reports on victims of gender violence and child abuse to reporting my own experience,” she says.

She filed a complaint with the Office of Domestic Violence, which is part of the Supreme Court of Justice, to enter the protective system. Officials determined that she had suffered all five types of gender violence – economic, physical, psychological, sexual and symbolic – and issued a tough restraining order against her former partner.

The law says that there must be no contact between victim and aggressor. But when Violeta and her children went for a psychological examination, they ran into the aggressor, who had been called to help with the diagnosis. In practice, the victims are always exposed to danger.

Violeta now carries a panic button provided by the City of Buenos Aires, where she lives. But it does not work outside the capital. That means victims remain vulnerable in the provinces, where police often refuse to record complaints of machista violence.

Increasingly cruel femicides

Many other issues are yet to be addressed. Only three percent of those accused under the 2012 Femicide Law, which provides for life in prison, have been convicted. “The government is not moving with the urgency required by this problem,” said Beck.

With support from the #NiUnaMenos movement, a National Register of Femicides and a special prosecutor's unit for crimes against women were established in 2015 by the Supreme Court. And on the day of the women's strike last year, the Argentine Congress approved a Gender Equality law.

Yet femicides are increasing, and growing more cruel.

“There is a reaction against women who defend themselves and against the empowered young women who protest on the streets,” Beck said. “The level of cruelty in some of the latest femicides is really something new. There's already been two women impaled and several gang rapes.”

She's emphatic in her instructions to women: “Keep hitting the streets.”

Luciana Peker, a journalist with the Pagina 12 newspaper and expert on gender issues, says the biggest achievement of the #NiUnaMenos movement has been to lower the tolerance for male chauvinism.

The femicide that most impacted Peker was the 2003 murder of Lucila Yaconis. The 16-year-old girl was 150 feet from her grandmother's house when a man tried to rape her and choked her to death.

Her mother Isabel told Peker that as Yaconis fought with her attacker, the owner of a nearby shop came out and asked what was going on. “Nothing. She's my girlfriend,” the attacker replied, as though beating a woman was part of a normal relationship.

“Isabel always points out that the shop owner could have saved her daughter. That was part of the idea that a girlfriend can be mistreated, that you should not get involved. Today, that idea is not there. I know about a lot cases of women saved in hotels, streets, buses. That's a battle that has been won,” Peker said.