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What Women In Argentina Are Fighting For

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Photo: Courtesy of Lucia Perez's Facebook
16-year-old Argentinian schoolgirl Lucía Perez died after being drugged and gang raped on the 8th of October 2016. An “additional object” was used. The judge assigned to the case commented: “I’ve seen a thousand things in my career, but nothing equal to this litany of abhorrent acts.”
This horrifying tragedy triggered a massive women’s strike in Argentina on Wednesday ­– the most powerful feminist demonstration in the history of the country that had repercussions not only in the region of the crime (Mar del Plata) but overseas as well.

In the UK, an organisation I belong to [I am an Argentinian woman from Buenos Aires and I moved to the UK last year] called Argentina Solidarity Campaign held a vigil outside the Argentinian embassy, covered by the BBC and national newspapers. We observed a minute’s silence in memory of our sister Lucía Perez and all the women raped and killed in Argentina and beyond. It ended with a loud chant: VIVAS NOS QUEREMOS – We Want Us Alive.

Sexism, sex crimes, gender and domestic violence is rife in Argentina. Whether it’s on the streets where you’re constantly harassed, on public transport where your body is leered at as an object of pleasure, or by your Argentine boyfriend who tells you that you look like a slut today – it is an everyday occurrence. It could be the television that broadcasts ridiculous programmes fetishising our bodies, or the taxi driver who tells you what he’d like to do to you on your way home. I could describe and detail hundreds of situations like these that my friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, family and myself have experienced since – more or less – the age of twelve.

Lucía Perez’s murder is shocking and terrifying, but she was not the first or the last; three women have been killed in Argentina in gender crimes since her death.

While Lucía was being brutally raped in Mar del Plata, 90, 000 women gathered together in what’s called “Encuentro de Mujeres” to celebrate the 31st Women’s assembly in the province of Rosario (which runs on the 8th, 9th and 10th October). This meeting takes place every year in a different city of Argentina to debate and discuss issues such as the below:


Abortion


Abortion is illegal in Argentina – and many other countries in Latin America, with no hope nor political will to have this readdressed in Parliament. The National Campaign for the Right to Abortion Legal, Safe and Free (translated name) calculated that between 460,000 and 600,000 women undergo clandestine abortions every year. The illegal operations endanger women’s lives and the danger increases tenfold for women living in poverty. It is estimated that around 100 women die each year from complications related to unsafe terminations.

Women At Work


According to Argentinian feminist organisation Economia Feminista:
- Women do 76% of the domestic work.
- Women are more likely to get informal / precarious jobs and in these cases they get 40% less salary.
- In general, the gender pay gap equates to 25% less for women – which increases with women with children.
- Only half of women worker
s get maternity leave. Paternity is only two days.


Femicide


Despite not having official statistics (one of the current petitions addressed to the government), La Casa del Encuentro – an organisation who in the absence of official statistics produced the first report on femicide in Argentina taking into account cases from 2008 and 2014 – estimated that one woman was killed every 40 hours in 2014 by their partner, ex-partner or by male members of their family. In 2015, they estimated that it was one every 36 hours.

In the UK, the Independent reported 235 femicides in Argentina in 2015. Whichever way you look, the numbers are alarming.

Gender Violence


The assembly in Rosario ended when the police tear-gassed women who were painting graffiti on the walls and national media coverage after this was outrageously one-sided. Not only did they ignore the demands of over 90,000 women, but channels such as TN News actually dedicated the news time that day to talking about the “violence” of painting walls and women being topless.

What the media focus on after a girl is killed is the clothes she was wearing. On news programmes broadcast at prime time, the circumstances of the crime are described like this: “She was wearing shorts, she was out until late, she was not accompanied by a man.”

During the following week, after the Encuentro de Mujeres event, more women were killed. While the Independent reported three women killed after Perez’s death, on feminist Argentinian websites, the number rose to seven.

These were the conditions that caused the protest on Wednesday.
La Casa del Encuentro found that two out of every 10 women go to the police to report domestic abuse but they are rarely taken seriously. From my personal experience reporting instances, women are humiliated and disrespected by officers – who laugh and make jokes. In small towns outside the capital, women’s husbands are often friends with the local police and so claims are not just not reported officially, but laughed out of the building.

Despite the fact that Argentina has pioneered LGBT rights, passing the same sex marriage law four years before the UK in 2009, the country refuses to treat gender equality as progressively, failing to guarantee the security, health and wellbeing of women.

I spoke to Juliana di Tullio, the first woman to be Head of Congress (Parliament), and former women’s rights ambassador for South America at the United Nations, who joined the strike on Wednesday. Di Tullio says that as a female member of parliament, it is very difficult to exercise power because of the patriarchal and chauvinistic constitutions inherent in the government. She commented:

“The media objectifies, defames, slanders and exercises violence upon women in many ways: verbal, psychological, etc. That intensifies the forms of sexist violence in the country even more. Judges and police forces must ensure, at local and national level, that policies protecting women are implemented correctly. They need to be trained properly in how to deal with gender issues.”
She continued: “There is a new law project circulating congress that eliminates the Special Victims Unit of Violence Against Women (Unidad Fiscal Especializada en Violencia contra las Mujeres – the one entity that investigates femicides in the country.”

The President of Argentina himself, Mauricio Macri, said publicly in an interview – and I have translated this word for word – “Deep down, all women like to hear compliments, those who say they feel offended I don’t believe it! There isn’t anything nicer than someone saying how beautiful you are even though it’s accompanied by vulgar words like 'what a nice bum you’ve got'.”

A serious plan of action in terms of gender criminality just isn’t on the government’s agenda. What my organisation and the feminist organisations in Argentina are fighting for is cultural change, and effective legislation and policies that tackle gender issues. We are fighting to eradicate the violence and make a rapid impact on women’s lives.
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