Over 200,000 women, men and children mobilized on June 3 2015 in Buenos Aires in support of ‘Ni Una Menos’, a massive demonstration against gender violence that gathered in front of Congress. Gender inequality ceased to be the concern of a small group of feminists and became a public issue recognised by the whole of society. How did this change come about?

The call, Ni Una Menos (not another woman killed), was coined originally by activists protesting the deaths of women in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico in the 1990s. It was taken up by women in Argentina after a string of recent murders of young women sent shock waves through social media, highlighting the prevalence and horror of femicide.

 Groups of secondary and university students, young families, working women and men, representatives of all political parties and of most of the social movements streamed from the metro exits, all heading in the same direction.

The sight was moving and overwhelming for the women’s rights’ activists who had never expected to see such crowds demanding that society recognise the violence perpetrated routinely against women.  The huge plaza was so packed it was hard to move.

Groups of girls and boys sang to the tune of a World Cup song and danced while singing “in this society abuse is so normal, we still think women are the ones who provoked it”. Other participants expressed their amazement, “this is one of the biggest demonstrations I’ve ever seen”. For many this was the first they time they had come into contact with women’s organizations.

Building on a marathon of literary readings against the femicides committed in March in Argentina, ‘Ni Una Menos’ started as a Facebook page and spread virally through cyberspace and the media. It grew with support from public figures and journalists.

During May, gendered and sexualized violence became regular topics in TV talk shows, national newspapers, radio programmes, Facebook and Twitter trends. Families discussed violence against women at the Sunday dinner table. The momentum built for the thousands who organized via WhatsApp to come to the march and demand that not another women should suffer violence.

Actress Erica Rivas, actor Juan Minujín, and cartoonist Maitena read out the declaration and the list of nine demands , urging the full implementation of the existing law to tackle violence against women. They demanded the publication of official statistics, institutional and judicial guarantees for the protection of victims of violence, access to justice and the inclusion of gender violence in sex education and training of all state officials.

The absence of records

Recent debates had highlighted  the complete absence of even basic official information on gender-based violence. The state neither records the number of women killed due to their gender nor the prevalence of domestic violence. The absence of national statistics and longitudinal data makes it impossible to determine whether the rising toll reported by NGOs means that violence has worsened or is simply the result of increased media coverage.

Producing hard information is the responsibility of the Consejo Nacional de las Mujeres (CNM). International institutions have repeatedly warned that official attempts to measure gender equality lack sufficient funding, administrative capacity and the political will to carry out their mandate. Mariana Gras – President of CNM – declared in TV news programmes that the main policy for eradicating violence was a social programme that funds women’s cooperatives, ‘Ellas Hacen’.

Activists who aim to stop gender violence face more challenges than the inadequate state bureaucracy. There is the danger, as participation widens, of having their message coopted. Notoriously misogynist TV presenters became unexpected sponsors of the movement. Presidential candidate Mauricio Macri was photographed holding a placard ‘Ni Una Menos’ – yet he also stands accused of revealing to anti-abortion organizations the secret location of victims of human trafficking, before these could legally end an unwanted pregnancy. Even the Catholic Church signed the petition.

In an election year, feminist demands are being listened to and sometimes echoed with unusual enthusiasm by all political actors – they do not want to be seen to support the murder of women. Yet at the same time right-wing politicians use feminist concerns to fuel demands for more policing and security.

As ‘Ni Una Menos’ shows, intolerance to violence is something that right, left and centre, radical feminist and religious institutions, can all agree upon, even if they don’t agree on the causes or appropriate policies to tackle it. Such welcome agreement, however, underlines the danger of a single-issue focus on violence which ignores wider demands for social, economic and cultural rights. Dealing with gender violence needs to be part of a broader transformative agenda.

Ni Una Menos was successful in moving beyond preaching to the converted, opening out of a small group of activists. Now we must call for all who participated to remember that society needs to tackle the structural and institutional gender inequalities that cause violence, not just its effects. Remembering yesterday’s demonstrations, feminists will continue to contest discrimination, inequality and above all, they will keep asking uncomfortable questions.

Constanza Tabbush is an Argentine feminist scholar and social science researcher working at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Gender Studies, University of Buenos Aires.

Main photo (‘Basta’): Felicitas Rossi

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