The Women’s Movement Voices in South America

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By Victoria Herring

Women around the world rallied together on March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day. The celebration turned into both a triumphant and somber note, as women went on strike, left their jobs early and took to the streets to protest the ominous wage gap, among other issues the movement fights to eradicate. This particular day was indeed one of the most highly charged and political of its kind in recent history; the changing of hands in many political systems has urged both men and women to speak out against problems that affect the lives of millions of women worldwide, including both workplace and reproductive rights. This day marked the second major event of the women’s movement after the international marches on January 21st. Titled “The Day Without Women”, its purpose was to bring light to the inequalities faced by females on a global scale.

This past week, South America’s turbulent political climate became once again surrounded by tumultuous protests crowding their busy avenues. This time, the “manifestations,” as they are known to be called, were not concerning the government but were concerning the rights of women and protesting the increase of violence against women that has become prevalent in recent years. Although some South American countries were among the first to welcome women presidents and prime ministers, inequality nonetheless prevails in various aspects of life. Domestic violence and femicide, particularly among romantic partners, is an epidemic in Latin America. Between January and October of 2015, 223 women died as a result of gender-based violence in Argentina, according to La Casa del Encuentro. Since 2008, there have been over 2,224 reported cases of femicide in the country. The particularly large number of attacks on females at the hands of men inspired the hashtag #NiUnaMenos, meaning “not one less”. The inspiration for the hashtag arose from Mexican poet and activist Susana Chávez, who was murdered in 2011 and was known for her advocacy against gender-based violence, primarily femicide, in Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez.

Brazil was the only BRIC country – an acronym representing Brazil, Russia, India and China, referring to economically burgeoning and promising countries – to have a woman president. Unfortunately, Dilma Rousseff was impeached in May due to charges of money laundering and corruption and was replaced by her Vice President, Michel Temer. This example of poor leadership dealt a blow to the women’s rights movement, who heralded Rousseff as the quintessential example of feminine leadership in a country who needed reparations, both politically and economically. Brazil has recently erupted in these protests after comments made by Temer in his own International Women’s Day speech: he praised women for their ability to compare supermarket prices, and went on to thank his wife, Marcela, and other Brazilian women, for everything they do “in the house, in the home and for their children”. The leader has also come under fire for abolishing the ministry of women, racial equality and human rights shortly after becoming coming to power and for appointing an all-male cabinet. Two of the 28 cabinet positions were then given to women after large protests. While Brazil is in its largest recession in recent history for the second consecutive year with a GDP drop of 3.3%, it is projected that Temer’s economic plan will disproportionately and negatively impact women.

Globally, 35% of women have experience physical and/or sexual violence in their life, according to the World Health Organization — and for 30% it was at the hands of their partner. This problem was exacerbated in Brazil, when in 2005 domestic violence was not considered a crime. The Maria de Penha Law passed in 2006  finally condemned domestic violence as crime. Nonetheless, today, a staggering 88.5% of women in Brazil have experienced violence; 15 women are murdered every day. In response, movements in South American countries, like that in Argentina – Ni Una Menos – have urged their governments to increase protection for the defense of women. Ni Una Menos calls for “a collective cry against machista violence,” and has spearheaded the effort of the Argentine Supreme Court to create a femicide registry. Organizations like Amnesty International and Vital Voices have joined local efforts in South America to educate young girls and to cultivate a culture of peace. Over 5,000 people have participated in their workshops, and some have even taken place outside of Brazil, furthering the case for women – not as victims but as fighters.

Research indicates that feminist mobilization in society is a catalyst for change, and not initiatives taken by governments (especially since these are largely nonexistent). What type of women’s movement is most conducive to policy changes? How large of a scale must they be in order to herald the attention of lawmakers? Although it is disheartening that governments cannot mediate this problem on their own, this research gives the women’s movement hope that the protests, assemblies and conventions do in fact serve to light the spark of changing times for females.

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