On June 3, something of historical significance happened in Argentina. Responding to a feminist call for action, over 200,000 people marched on the streets of Buenos Aires. Large crowds also gathered in smaller cities at the same time: 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.
It was not only the biggest feminist meeting of all times, but also one of the largest demonstrations seen in Argentina in the past three decades, and one of the few of real national reach. No small accomplishment in a country used to seeing large street gatherings.
The main slogan of the march was “Ni una menos” (Not one less) and it referred to the repeated cases of femicides reported by the press in the past years. According to one calculation, more than 1,800 women were victims of femicidal violence between 2008 and 2014, including “domestic” homicides by husbands, boyfriends and relatives and cases of rape followed by murder by strangers.
The march was organized in a rather spontaneous way, not by previously existing feminist associations but by a group of public figures – journalists, artists and actresses. As one of them explained, it all started in May, after the body of 14-year-old Chiara Paez was found buried in the garden of her boyfriend’s house.
“The seed was a tweet in which Marcela Ojeda, a radio journalist, challenged women across the country with a phrase that is already historic: ‘They are killing us: Aren’t we going to do anything?’ Some of us decided to do something. We protested, rallying around the slogan and hashtag #NiUnaMenos.”
Although it seemed unexpected, the demonstration is part of a growing awareness on gender issues among younger people and in the media.
Unlike some of the North American and European countries, Argentina did not develop a large feminist movement back in the 1960s and 1970s. To be sure, there were (mostly middle-class) feminist groups campaigning then and since the beginning of the 20th century. But it was not a mass social movement. This started to change in the past two decades, as feminism not only gained more presence in public debates, but also started to attract lower class women for the first time. This became visible in the phenomenon of the Women’s National Encounters, the main annual event of the movement.
The first Encounter was organized in 1986 as a horizontal space for deliberation among women, independent from the State and from political parties. Only 600 women attended, most of them intellectuals and experienced campaigners of middle class background. As Argentina’s economic crisis spiraled in the late 1990s, the annual gatherings attracted more and more women of lower class origins. Many of them were members of other social movements who had no previous knowledge of feminist politics, but were experiencing gender problems in their own organizations and neighborhoods. The 2001 Encounter was already a massive gathering of 12,000 delegates of a variety of origins, including housewives, workers, farmers, peasants, indigenous, piqueteras, students and Left wing activists, many of them representing larger organizations. The last Encounter, held in the province of Salta in 2014, counted 40,000 participants.
Year by year, after participating in the Encounters, all of these activists brought back to their organizations and communities new debates and experiences. Thus, a variety of feminist ideas and visions “contaminated” Argentinean society like never before. Feminism, usually scorned in the mass media, started to gain a place there too, with some celebrities campaigning for women’s rights but, more importantly, exposing the micropolitics of everyday sexism. It was in this new scenario that feminism for the first time gained the streets in a massive, national demonstration.
Politicians are reacting to this new scenario in diverse ways. As the “Not one less” hashtag went viral, they all discovered a sudden feminist vocation. Politicians of all persuasions let themselves be seen on the march and/or declared concern for women rights in the media and in social networks. The leader of the right wing PRO, Mauricio Macri, who is well positioned for the coming presidential election, pictured himself holding a “Not one less” banner. But as a mayor or Buenos Aires, he has not been friendly to women, to put it mildly.
Last year he decided to shut down the insignificant Program for the Assistance of Victims of Sexual Violence that the city had run until then. “Lack of funds,” was the laconic explanation that his office offered, even when the city’s budget has been growing steadily. Moreover, Macri himself was reported to have had misogynist expressions in public, as when he explained that women enjoy being harassed on the street, as they love to be told “What a good bum!” (sic) as they walk.
Kirchnerist politicians also set to support the demonstration. Yet, the government record on gender issues is not very impressive. In fact, the main demand of the “Not one less” march was that the government implemented the National Plan for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women, approved by a Congress law in 2009 but still not fully functional. Cristina Fernandez herself has made negative remarks on feminism in public. In addition, few days ago, in a speech transmitted through all TV channels and radio stations, she said that “you cannot be a great woman if you don’t have a great man by your side” – a remark that infuriated even kirchnerist feminists, and lesbian activists in particular.
The good news is that, regardless of the local politicians’ shortcomings in gender matters, the “Not one less” demonstration helped the feminist agenda to make a great leap forward. Virtually absent in public debates until recently, it is unlikely that political forces will continue to ignore it in the future. Or at least not without paying costs if they do. As a matter of fact, Macri’s candidate for governor of the Santa Fe province, Miguel del Sel, seems to be paying already.
A well-known comedian, Del Sel is famous for deriding women in his shows, in which they are usually portrayed as brainless, whores, or both. In April this year he won the Primary election in his province, defeating the socialists – traditionally the favorites in Santa Fe – by little more than 3,000 votes. As voting in Primaries is mandatory in Argentina – everybody has the obligation to choose among available candidates – and as Del Sel was the only candidate running for PRO in April, it was expected that he would become governor. But then in the elections, held few days ago, he lost to the socialists for only 1,700 votes. As some analysts have suggested, the “Not one less” campaign may have cost him the position.
Indeed, between the two elections, as the hashtag went viral in the province, his name was negatively associated with it in 98 percent of mentions. Del Sel was insistently depicted as a misogynist and related to the objectification of women bodies, which in turn enables femicides and violence. That trend may have influenced some voters. Maybe not a lot, but enough as to reverse the narrow results of the Primaries.