Argentina, with its “machismo culture”, fails in its protection of women and girls

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In 2015, 235 women were murdered in Argentina, simply for being women. Although the country introduced legislation to tackle femicide in 2009, the state’s response continues to be inadequate, as noted by the human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) and the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Dubravka Šimonović, in her recent report to the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Just over a month ago, on a 19 October that will go down in history, thousands of women braved the rain in Buenos Aires, taking to the street to shout, “Ni Una Menos, Vivas Nos Queremos” (“Not One Woman Less. We Want Us All Alive.”)

Marches under the same slogan were staged across the country and in cities around the world in response to the brutal femicide of teenager Lucía Pérez, and to condemn the male violence that killed 235 women in 2015 in Argentina alone, and by mid-October this year had already claimed the lives of 226 women and girls, according to the women’s organisation Mumalá
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The rejection and the identification of a type of violence that can no longer continue to be silenced was brought into the spotlight in Argentina on 3 June 2015, with the rallying cry “Not One Woman Less!”, launched as part of a successful media campaign that has put its finger on the wound.

The women of Latin America seem determined to “draw the line”, in the words used by Mexican feminist Raquel Gutiérrez to sum up the situation. As the academic and activist Verónica Gago explains, it means “setting a new threshold for what we can say and what we will tolerate. A number of clichés remain, but there is a change in everyday perceptions.” Macho-driven murders, she says, can no longer be categorised as “crimes of passion”.

In the middle of November, Argentinian institutions had to explain themselves to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Croatian Dubravka Šimonović. The United Nations expert visited Buenos Aires, Corrientes and Tucumán, met with women’s organisations, political leaders and female victims of violence. They shared, in a press conference, the preliminary findings that will be set out in more detail in the report to be presented in June 2017 to the UN Human Rights Council.

During her trip, Šimonović noted the “significant shortcomings” in the systems to prevent violence against women. She pointed out that under the federal Criminal Procedure Code, the prosecution of sexual offences was not conducted ex officio, which “sends the wrong message that rape and sexual violence are a private matter and not a public concern”.

Another shortcoming pointed out by the UN expert was the definition of rape: the latter is connected with the use of force rather than being based on lack of consent, a definition that is “in violation of internationally recognised standards”, explained the Special Rapporteur.

 
The state as a catalyst of violence

Šimonović praised the success of the “Ni Una Menos” (“Not One Woman Less”) campaign in raising the profile of gender violence. She also denounced the underlying patriarchal attitudes within institutions that should protect women, such as the police force and the judiciary, which often results in the victim being held responsible in cases of sexual violence.

The UN expert, clearly identifying the culture of machismo in Argentina, underlined the need to train support professionals and insisted on the need for education on the matter, for teachers as well as students. She took advantage of her visit to call for adequate budgetary resources to be allocated to the 2017-2019 National Action Plan, supported by improved coordination between institutions, to ensure the legislation does not remain a dead letter and to eliminate the significant variations in protocols from one province to the next.

She also requested that a helpline be made available to victims 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and stressed the need for comprehensive protection, providing viable alternatives for women in violent situations.

For Amnesty International, the Argentine government is failing women who are suffering from violence. According to the executive director of the Argentinian section of this human rights organisation, Mariela Belski, “The fact that adequate measures are not taken to protect women against violence means that the state could be considered responsible for that violence”, by acting as a “catalyst for violence against women”.

“The neoliberal government [of Mauricio Macri] is dismantling resources on all fronts, and macho violence is no exception: they were in the process of dismantling the Gender Unit of the Public Prosecutions Service the very same day we were marching, on 19 October,” underlines Verónica Gago.

This academic and activist is referring to a reform of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was set to eliminate the only prosecutions unit specialised in macho violence. The government has now withdrawn the reform, but the proposal created uproar among women’s movements.

 
Popular feminism

Meanwhile, the women’s movement is growing and women active in social movements are gaining ever-greater visibility. In spite of the fact that, or “Precisely because, we have to work three times as hard,” says Gabriela Olguin, head of the workers’ cooperative El Adoquín.

“There are girls who learn to speak three languages to sell handicrafts to tourists: women who study law after bringing up three children, who always remember their colleagues’ birthdays and always show an interest in your health. Thanks to our life experience, as women we have certain qualities that make us ideal for leadership roles in the workers’ movement,” she adds.

Many men still have difficulties accepting women leaders, and yet their advance seems unstoppable, and the changes come so quickly that, as the leader insists, “a great deal of maturity is going to be required on all sides”.

El Adoquín groups 400 artisans who sell their handicrafts at the popular San Telmo Fair. It is affiliated to the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Economia Popular, CTEP (Confederation of People’s Economy Workers).

On this Friday 25 November, as we celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Olguin has to appear in court: she has been charged with making illegal use of the public space, for selling her wares on the pavement.

But they remain determined to resist on the streets, despite the police violence.
“They charge at you for nothing, without paying attention to whether a woman is with her children; they take your merchandise, and for us that can mean having to sleep on the street that night.”

In this context, macho violence overlaps with other types of violence: “Women who, on top of everything, are immigrants and mothers, are two or three times as vulnerable. But the problem is that the capitalist system sows division every way possible; it needs to divide us. That’s why we need to stay united,” concludes Olguin.

 
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This article has been translated from Spanish.