Maria Clara Medina | 4 March 2019
Intervention in graffiti, Buenos Aires, Photo: MaC Medina ©2010
A spectre is haunting Latin America – the spectre of gender equality. You might have seen them in the media, these Latin American women on the streets with the green handkerchiefs. A green wave of pro-choice campaigners marching, shouting, chanting for State recognition of their reproductive rights and for gender-based violence prevention policies in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil, among other countries. Perhaps those images triggered your memory of other marches and other causes tinted by other colours. The use of handkerchiefs as symbols of women’s resistance was initiated by the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo during the civic-military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983). White for the disappeared sons, daughters and grandchildren; orange for the divorce of the State and the Church(s); green for gender equality. The handkerchiefs, previously a fashionable feminine identity marker, have lately become emblematic of women’s fight for fundamental human rights in Latin America.
Emblematic handkerchiefs for gender rights, Photo: MaC Medina ©2018
During the aftermath of the #MeToo phenomena in 2018, international media highlighted the #NiUnaMenos movement as a particular Latin American version of the global wave of testimonies and denunciations of gender-based violence. The members of the #NiUnaMenos reacted by denying this genealogy, rightly pointing out that the Latin American protests and fights started decades before the launch of #MeToo on social media. Some even considered this a new assertion of colonialism intended to claim Latin American and Caribbean resistance as an outcome of the North American experience, ignoring it as a result of a long tradition of struggle in the Global South.
In fact, the continent has a long history as the setting of transregional protest and policymaking around gender-based violence. Regional activists have built networks, organized macroregional and national meetings (“Encuentros”) since 1910, and pressured the OAS for the establishment of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women in 1994. Despite that, UN Women noted in 2017 that of the 25 highest femicide rates globally, 14 are still in Latin American and the Caribbean.
On June 3, 2015, the first massive and nearly spontaneous demonstration against gender-based violence gathered around 300,000 people in Buenos Aires and other major Argentinean cities. This protest signified a turning point where gender inequality became a public issue relevant to Latin American societies. The second march was held in June 2016 followed by the “Black Wednesday” protests and the first national women’s strike on October 19 of the same year. This protest was the point of departure for the first International Women’s Strike on March 8, 2017, a networked global action with the participation of activists from approximately sixty countries.
These demonstrations were inspired by the Argentinean movement / feminist collective #NiUnaMenos (“No One Less”), meaning that not a single additional woman should be the victim of misogynist violence. That is, no woman should be the victim of gender-based violence of any kind including physical, verbal, psychological, obstetric, economic, sexual, institutional, symbolic or labour violence. This claim was made tangible by the femicide of 14-year-old, Chiara Paez, one of the 286 women murdered in Argentina in 2015. Similar marches were simultaneously held in Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Even though the rate of femicide is actually much higher in other Latin American countries, it’s the Argentinean movement that sparked a social uprising against these appalling murders.
Argentinian National Campaign for the right to legal, safe, and free abortion, Photo: MaC Medina ©2017
The #NiUnaMenos movement’s greatest value is its capacity to make femicide visible, which led to the proliferation of powerful transregional actions against gender-based violence. Those associated with the movement have consistently demanded the compilation and publication of official statistics on violence against women, guarantees of protection and justice for women affected by violence, the creation of shelters for victims, the legalization of abortion and the provision of comprehensive sex and gender education. However, and as other colleagues already pointed out, despite its numbers, what makes this movement relevant for social change is the intersectionality of the demands and its transregional, massive and heterogenous character.
As a regional laboratory for the latest phases of high-impact neoliberalism, Latin America should also be understood as the avant-garde of the creative imagination of new utopias and forms of protest and public demonstration. Members of #NiUnaMenos have positioned themselves as a transformative opposition movement in sharp contrast to the resurgence of right-wing governments across the continent. In doing so, they have challenged power relations and the claim that societies should revert back to traditional social hierarchies. Transregionalism is understood by members of #NiUnaMenos not so much as resilience but as a consciously strategic narrative as well as a performative transnational community that transcends a mere geographic or national setting. In that sense, we can understand the #NiUnaMenos movement as an imagined community sharing an alter-world utopia against gender precarity and in control of a powerful civic creativity.
When Judith Butler affirmed in 2015 that these demonstrations are expressing collective rejection against the precariousness imposed by the socioeconomic order, she also acknowledged their performative exercise of the "right to appear" publicly, and to assert the right to a more liveable life. Those who live their gender identity and choices in a precarious situation also suffer a high risk of abuse, pathologisation and violence; and their human condition is usually devaluated. Precarity is, therefore, a social and economic human condition that will be expressed in alter-world movements as a plurality of bodies in action.
As an alter-world, horizontal and participatory movement, the #NiUnaMenos mobilises citizens as rights-bearers thanks to a set of informal networks and personal affinities; it is based on concrete and precise projects; conceives social change as only possible from the bottom up and through concrete individual actions that modify the unjust social hierarchies; and performatively transforms the ultimate meaning of democracy and dignity. Consequently, with its increasing capacity to (re)formulate and implement proactive agendas, the #NiUnaMenos has proved effective when fighting femicide, an upsetting phenomenon occurring repeatedly throughout urban and rural areas, and that transcends all social classes and age groups on the continent. Only through this collective and organized agency can the spectre of gender equality be enlightened, transforming precariousness into solidarity and hope.
Maria Clara Medina is an assistant professor and the International Coordinator at the School of Global Studies. Originally from the academic disciplines of history and social anthropology, she considers herself a gender researcher, a football connoisseur, and a result of multiple migrations. She has been publishing since 1989 including a number of scientific and popular scientific texts on, among other issues, Latin American agrarian history; ethnic, class and gender identity building in postcolonial situations; cultural history and the building of national myths; Swedish colonial ambitions in Latin America during the wars of independence; and intellectual history. Her current research is in the field of Human Rights with focus on reproductive rights and identity public policies, both in high- and low-income lands.