Argentine women are mobilizing against gender violence, which kills one woman every 30 hours in the country, with almost 3,000 women killed in total since 2008, when the organization Casa del Encuentro started to monitor femicides.
Femicide refers to the murder of a woman by a man who considers her his property and therefore has the right to her life or death. It was recognized as a specific case of homicide in Argentina's criminal code system and susceptible to heavier prison sentences since 2012 during the progressive administration of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
While Argentina has been a pioneer in implementing laws defending the rights of the LGBTI community over the past decade during the progressive Kirchnerist administration, the country only recently started to measure the extent of the femicide issue, after an accumulation of horrendous murders were covered in the media.
The case of Angeles Rawson, 16, killed in June 2013 on her way back from the gym, contributed to make parents with daughters feel personally concerned, according to Aixa Rizzo, a law student who participates in the popular movement Ni Una Menos, or “Not One Less” launched in June 2015 to combat femicides.
Rizzo is known for raising awareness about the correlation between sexual harassment of women on the street — or nicely put as “catcalling” — and rape. The activist posted a YouTube video that went viral shortly after using pepper spray to escape an attempted rape by a group of workers near her home who used to catcall to her on a daily basis.
“When a woman is being raped in the street, no one says anything, so imagine what happens between four walls,” she told teleSUR over the phone.
According to Casa del Encuentro, at least 65 percent of the registered femicides are committed by the victim's partner or ex-partner. “The most unsafe place for a woman is her own home,” Ada Rico, director of the organization, told teleSUR.
The movement #NiUnaMenos was, among others, part of an initiative of a group of journalists, said Rizzo, who firmly disapproved of the way the mainstream media covered gender violence in the country by finding excuses for the assailant and blaming the victim for the way she dressed or her decision to walk alone in a dark alley, among many others.
But above all, the movement spread on social media and in the streets as a result of the overwhelming number of women killed on a daily basis — and in horrendous ways. A massive protest mobilized tens of thousands of women on June 3, 2015, raising awareness about gender violence, marking the beginning of regular protests.
The level of gender violence in Argentina seems surprising for a country that has been a pioneer in Latin America in defending the rights of the LGBTI community for instance, and that elected a woman president twice. According to Rico, Argentina's society is deeply polarized between very progressive and very conservative sectors, rather than homogeneously mildly sexist.
The legacy of the dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, and later the neoliberal democracy of Carlos Menem, certainly explain to a large extent the current trends, added Rizzo, currently embodied by President Mauricio Macri — known for saying "every girl likes hearing she's got a nice bottom."
Feminist groups are nevertheless confident that the government, even with the current conservative administration, will soon implement laws and programs that will protect women from gender violence.
Stop Violence Against Women
On one hand, women are the most affected by the current wave of unemployment in the country — partly fomented by a series of recent neoliberal measures — highlighted Mariana Carbajal to teleSUR, one of #NiUnaMenos leader. But Macri's government will have to eventually implement the measures agreed to by the previous administration, under popular pressure and pressure from the United Nations, which presented its recommendation to the government on the matter on Tuesday.
These recommendations coincide completely with the ones that the Casa del Encuentro has been pushing for years, said Rico, such as better training of judges and police officers. Despite the inclusion of "femicide" in the criminal code in 2012, only one man has been sentenced for femicide charges since then. It still represented a "victory" for feminist groups, said Rico, as the sentence came only 15 months after the legal modification when it usually takes longer to be implemented in courts.
Besides women, femicides also create another type of victim, pointed out the Casa del Encuentro's director: many children are often left without parents, resources and legal protection after their mothers are killed and their fathers, in most cases, kill themselves, become fugitives from justice, or go to prison.
Since the organization set up a record in 2008, it has found that about 1,800 children are in this situation and need state protection. Because of the initiative of the feminist group, a bill is currently being debated in the Senate in order to provide them with a financial pension and health care coverage, as they usually require psychological care.