This article is part of the NCAFC Women & Non-Binary zine being distributed at this week’s NUS Women’s Conference. You can find the whole zine here.
By Zoe Salanitro
Right now the feminist movement in Argentina is at a really exciting place. There has always been a strong history women’s organising in the South American country led, most famously, by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of the May Square). The Madres are the mothers of Argentina’s disappeared: the 30,000 activists, dissidents, students, lawyers and journalists who were disappeared and murdered under the last and most brutal dictatorship in Argentina between 1976-85. Every Thursday they protest in the Plaza de Mayo, the main square in front of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, for justice and for the truth of what happened to their children.
Moreover, for the last thirty years women activists in Argentina have gathered every year for the “Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres” or the National Women’s Meeting where they discuss all the issues in society and how they affect women. Chief among them is reproductive rights. In Argentina abortion is illegal, anti-contraceptives are difficult to come by in rural areas dominated by the Catholic Church and sex education isn’t a compulsory part of the school curriculum, and in many places not covered at all. The Encuentro has traditionally attracted numbers of 40,000 or 50,000 women and is a unique phenomenon to Argentina.
Despite the previous president being a woman, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, many women activists still felt women were getting nowhere. There was no move from Kirchner to introduce abortion legislation and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio becomming Pope Francis empowered conservative movements in the country. It’s important to note that while Pope Francis’ enjoys a progressive reputation in the West, he was involved in the repression of dissidents during the military dictatorship and has had a reactionary influence on women’s reproductive rights, among other issues, in Argentina where the Catholic Church remains a powerful institution.
Campaña Nacional por el Derecho del Aborto (The National Campaign for the right for abortions) outside the national congress Buenos Aires, Argentina. The banner reads their demand: Not one single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion.
Everything changed in June 2015. 14 year old Chiara Páez, became pregnant by her boyfriend. When he found out, he beat her and buried her alive under the patio of his house, in the Santa Fe province of Argentina, whilst his parents helped cover up the crime. Outraged at the news, women across Argentina took to the streets on 3rd June demanding #NiUnaMenos (not one woman less). Around 250,000 women marched, making it the biggest feminist march in generations. This was the last straw: a woman or girl is killed every 18 hours in Argentina by a partner, ex-partner or family member. In the last seven years there have been only five convictions for femicide and the Argentine government only began ‘officially’ counting rates of femicide last year, as a result of pressure from women.
#NiUnaMenos has had a huge affect on feminism in Argentina: numbers attending the Encuentro de Mujeres in the last two years has been 80,000 – 100,000 and 3rd June has become annual march against femicides. Since then there has also been marches across Latin America: in Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia and Mexico to name just a few. In 2016 the demand for legal abortions was also incorporated into the demand of #NiUnaMenos after Bélen, a young woman in the rural Tucúman province went to hospital because she was miscarrying. The doctors, affiliated with the Catholic Church, accused her of having an abortion and she was sentenced by the courts to seven years in prison. This proved another another flashpoint for Argentine women.
As did the murder of 16 year old Lucía Perez in the seaside city Mar del Plata. Lucía was drugged and raped causing her to die of a heart attack. Horrified by the murder, in November women once again to the streets – this time 500,000 in Buenos Aires alone – in the pouring rain to say enough. This march was also inspired by the Polish Women’s strike and women wore black and some even took an hour out of work to protest. This was the beginning of the momentum that led to the Women’s Strike early this month for International Women’s Day.
The two biggest demands for feminists in Argentina are around #NiUnaMenos and reproductive rights, however, their demands have expanded to equal pay for equal work, an end to sexual and labour trafficking, demands for domestic violence services which are funded and an end to gendered discrimination in work. International Women’s Day was the culmination of this: with women across the country marching and, where they had the support of the unions, walking out of work.
In the wider context of Argentina, the women’s march was the third march in the capital that week. With teachers (who are mostly women), parents and pupils marching on Monday 6th March: the teachers are fighting with the government for pay which matches inflation (last year inflation in Argentina was 40% and it looks like it will be again this year) whereas the government want a measly 18%. Public sector employees marched on 7th March and women culminated the action on 8th. As a result the CGT (Argentina’s TUC) and the CTA (most similar to UNISON) have called for a general strike on 6th April against the neoliberal government of Mauricio Macri, who is seeking to introduce austerity measures and turn the argentine economy into a cheap labour economy like Brazil. Macri’s economic plans will especially affect women who are already in some of the lowest paid and precarious work. It was heartening to hear chants for a general strike at the women’s march – a recognition of the gendered effects of the current government’s programme. We must recognise the way that capitalism and the patriarchy are intertwined and we need to defeat both if women are to be truly liberated.
This is certainly a time to be watching Argentina’s women movement: women are shaping much of the national and international picture politically. It powerful and it’s coming from below, not from women in charge, like Kirchner who demonstrated just having a woman in leadership is not enough to cause real meaningful change. Argentinean women are angry and are taking to the streets, we should follow their example and say Not One Woman Less.