#NiUnaMenos; standing up to femicides and ‘machismo’ in Argentina – A blog by Natasha Gamboa
In 2008, it was estimated that every 40 hours a woman in Argentina was killed for reasons pertaining to her gender. In 2014, that number had risen to every 31 hours. Between these years, over 1,800 women have lost their life to femicide (Heguy, 2015). However, these figures are only those that had been reported in the news, as there does not exist official statistics, so it is likely that this number is a lot higher.
So what explains these deaths?
In Argentina, and even more so in other parts of Latin America, there is a strong ‘machismo’, or ‘macho’ culture. Having lived there during the summer by myself, I can attest to this. It is a culture that sees women getting catcalled in busy streets, one that sees women being groped out in public, and one where a huge sense of male entitlement exists. I recall in particular one of my first days over there, when I was walking through one of the most famous street markets in Buenos Aires. I was alone and incredibly out of my comfort zone, when a man at least 20 years my senior approached me. He asked me to go out for ‘a few beers’ with him later that night, and would not accept ‘no’ for an answer. He continued to pester me for around 15 minutes despite my rejecting him and having made very clear the fact that I felt incredibly uncomfortable.
This machismo culture is something that is so deeply embedded into Argentine society that nobody seems to bat an eyelid when they see this blatant objectification of women out in public, even to the point where it could potentially be threatening.
For this reason, it is easy to see why these horrific femicides are so prevalent in this kind of society. According to the WHO (2012), femicide can be defined as the “intentional murder of women because they are women… Most cases of femicide are committed by partners/ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.”
In fact, in Argentina, statistics have shown that 9 out of 10 victims of femicide were killed by either a partner or ex-partner (Amaya and Rubio, 2015). Take, for example, the case of 14 year old Chiara Paez, who was eight weeks pregnant when she was beaten by her boyfriend (16) and buried alive in his grandparent’s garden with the help of his mother and stepfather. Three days later, authorities found her body. An autopsy found that she had been given abortion-inducing drugs, (which prosecutors suspect were likely administered against her will) and had been killed in an ensuing fight. Or, the example of 44-year-old Maria Eugenia Lanzetti, who was in the middle of teaching her kindergarten class when her soon to be ex-husband (against whom she had a restraining order) came into the classroom and slit her throat in front of her young students. Or, the case of Daiana García, who had left her house for a job interview, and never came home. Her body was found the next morning on the side of a motorway in a rubbish bag, half naked, after having been suffocated with a sock.
Despite horrific cases like these that receive significant media attention and backlash, not much is really done. Can something so deeply ingrained into an entire society change anytime soon? How many more women will have to lose their lives while we wait for this change?
Surprisingly, Argentina’s gender violence laws are actually quite comprehensive. In 1994, the first law (Ley Nacional 24.417) relating to gender violence was enacted, which specifically addressed domestic violence. A few years later, a law that was much broader in its contents was then enacted (Ley Nacional 26.485), and in 2012, a law was introduced that changed the sentencing of a convicted perpetrator of femicide to life in prison. Despite all of these changes, femicides continue to rise. This shows that simply enacting a piece of legislation doesn’t (and hasn’t) solved this deeply rooted societal problem. However, it has been suggested that these laws are not being fully implemented in the first place. According to a piece that Pomeraniec wrote for The Guardian (2015), this may be because “budgets need to be assigned”, and “security forces and justice officials need to be trained in how to deal with women who wish to report violent partners.” Another major issue that arises when trying to understand how best to tackle the issue, is the fact that the true scope of this problem cannot be known. As I mentioned above, no official statistics exist on femicides, and people only have mainstream media sources to rely on to try to understand the problem.
Gender equality in Argentina, and in Latin America, has always been disappointing at best. Women are seen as objects that can be owned, and who are inferior. They’re seen as people who must always answer to a man in their life, be it a husband, boyfriend, or father. It is often these men in their lives who commit such atrocious crimes against them.
There also exists major gender inequalities in the work force. According to Sebastián Lacunza (2010), 9 out of 10 working mothers that have 4 children or more are employed as cleaners in private homes. They also sometimes receive abysmal pay. I remember earlier this year reading a post in a Facebook group for expats in Buenos Aires, an advertisement that somebody had posted for their maid. They were moving back to America, and didn’t want to leave her unemployed. When asked in the comments how much she charged, the original poster replied ’50 pesos an hour’ – the equivalent of about €3. To put this into perspective, renting a very small studio apartment in a disadvantaged area of Argentina can cost 4000 pesos a month. It is no surprise then that women in Argentina earn half of what men earn – according to Lacunza, in 2010 men were earning on average “17,710 dollars a year against only 8,958 dollars [for women]”.
It is no surprise then, after all of the recent high-profile cases of femicide, that a movement was launched – under the banner of #NiUnaMenos [Not one less]. A well-known Argentine journalist, Marcela Ojeda, sent out the following tweet:
This translates to: “Actresses, female politicians, artists, businesswomen, opinion makers … [sic] women, everyone.. Aren’t we going to raise our voice? They’re killing us!”
This tweet caught the attention of other female journalists, intellectuals, and activists in Argentina, who all gathered together to discuss what must be done. They acknowledged the already existing gender violence laws, and how they were not working. They realised that what had to be changed was how people think about gender equality. A real discussion needed to begin. And so, they came up with the idea of holding protests around the country, with the main one being outside of the congress building in Buenos Aires. It was to be held on the 3rd of June 2015.
What then happened, was one of the biggest feminist marches to have ever taken place. Thousands showed up in cities around the country: “45,000 in Córdoba, 20,000 in Rosario, 12,000 in Santa Fe, La Plata and Mendoza, 10,000 in Mar del Plata, and thousands more in smaller towns.” (Adamovsky, 2015). However, the biggest march that took place was the one outside of the national congress building – where estimates of attendees vary from 150,000 from police, to 300,000 from the event organisers.
The response to this was great. Within 24 hours, “Supreme court Justice Elena Highton announced a registry of femicides would be set up at the court” (Pomeraniec, 2015), as did the Human Rights Secretariat. It also opened up a much needed discussion on these femicides and the treatment of women under the ‘machismo’ society between men and women alike.
However, one wonders if much will be done by the new government. The presidential elections that were held at the end of November 2015 saw two presidential hopefuls, the ex-president backed candidate Daniel Scioli, and opposition leader Mauricio Macri fight for the presidency. The ex-president, Kristina Fernández de Kircher, had a disappointing response to the protests – she just sent out a few tweets. She has also been known to disregard feminism in the media, and was criticised in July when in a speech that was transmitted live to all state television and radio broadcasters, she said that “you cannot be a great woman if you don’t have a great man by your side” (Adamovsky, 2015).
The other side of the presidential campaign isn’t one that inspires much hope either. Mauricio Macri, the new president of Argentina, who was previously the mayor of Buenos Aires, last year decided to shut down an important program for the Assistance of Victims of Sexual Violence that the city had run until then. An apparent ‘lack of funds’ was given as the reason, despite a steadily growing budget (Adamovsky, 2015).
All of this paints quite a bleak picture of what may be to come for Argentina. However, the most important thing has already happened – a nation-wide discussion. People must become educated to realise the deep flaws that exist within the society, and by talking to each other, they will become more educated. People will start to become more aware of how the things they say or do perpetuate this culture, and hopefully help stop it and speak up. Of course, Rome was not built in a day, and it will take a long time for a significant change in the public psyche to occur. But it is certainly not hopeless. There are already measures in place on getting femicide statistics together, so that the true scope of the problem can be realised, and hopefully something more can be done from there. I’d suggest mandatory sex education and gender equality classes for children in school, as this is something currently lacking in the Argentine education system. It is a problem which manifests itself in many ways. Domestic violence for example is one such issue, which according to the Refugee and Immigration board of Canada in 2008, one in three Argentinean women suffer from physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse in her home. It also results in high teenage pregnancy rates which according to the World Bank in 2014, 64 out of every 1,000 births in Argentina were from mothers that are aged between 15 and 19-years-old. And of course, as we know, it also results in high numbers of femicides.
So, we have to hope that this dialogue continues, that activists continue to push for change, and that the state implements new measures to facilitate this. We can keep the conversation alive on social media – just search the hashtag #NiUnaMenos on twitter (there is a fair amount of response in English also).
Heguy, S. (2015) Machismo: Impunidad y violencia contra las mujeres [Machoism: Unpunishment and violence against women]. Clarín May 31. Available at: http://www.clarin.com/opinion/Femcidios-Ni_una_menos-Niunamenos-Argentina_0_1367263372.html
World Health Organisation (2012) Femicide. Understanding and addressing violence against women. Available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf
Rubio, M. and Amaya, S. (2015) El mapa de los femicidios en la Argentina [The map of femicides in Argentina] La Nacion 20 May. Available at: http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1794148-el-mapa-de-los-femicidios-en-la-argentina
Ley Nacional (1994). Protección contra la violencia familiar [Protection against domestic violence] Available at: http://www.notivida.com.ar/legnacional/Ley%20NACIONAL%2024.417%20PROTECCION%20CONTRA%20LA%20VIOLENCIA%20FAMILIAR.html
Pomeraniec, H. (2015) How Argentina rose up against the murder of women. The Guardian 8 June. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/08/argentina-murder-women-gender-violence-protest
Lacunza, S. (2010) ARGENTINA: The Gender Roots of Labour Inequality. Global Issues 5 August. Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/news/2010/08/05/6519
Adamovsky, E. (2015) ‘NiUna Menos: Feminism and Politics in Argentina. TeleSur TV 6 July. Available at: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Ni-una-menos-Feminism-and-Politics-in-Argentina-20150706-0011.html
Research Directorate: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (2008). Argentina: Women victims of domestic violence; state protection and resources available to victims. Immigraton and Refugee Board of Canada 17 January. Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47ce6d7ca.html
World Bank (2014) Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19) Data at the World Bank Available at: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.ADO.TFRT
Natasha Gamboa is an Argentine/Irish citizen. She is currently a second-year student, doing a BA in Politics and International Relations at UCD. She identifies as a feminist, and has a strong interest in matters relating to current global gender issues.