Over 300,000 women flooded the streets of the nation’s capital between Plaza de Mayo and the National Congress on Thursday, clad in the traditional purple of International Women’s Day and the emerald green of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion. The huge crowds, united in celebration, were demanding an end to street harassment, genderbased violence and calling on the national government to legalise abortion.
Political parties and NGOs alike established their presence with massive banners. Glitter-covered protesters brought out a spectrum of slogans, painted on cardboard or on the bodies of the protesters themselves, with sayings like “your ignorance is more scandalous than my sexuality” and “inhale anarchist feminism, exhale capitalist machismo.”
The mood was joyous, with drum beats, dancing and feminist chants of “legal abortion in the hospital” erupting from all corners of the march. But reminders of the violence women face on a daily basis were inescapable. Several protesters carried signs with photos of women who have died at the hands of gender-based violence.
Back in January, it was revealed that there were 298 femicides in Argentina during 2017 – one death every 29 hours. And earlier this week, the Unique Registry for Cases of Violence against Women (RUCVM), the first report of its kind carried out by INDEC national statistics bureau, recorded that in Argentina there were complaints raised on 86,700 cases of gender-based violence in the past year, compared to 22,577 in 2012.
Eugenia Jaimes, 23, came out to march for the first time in order to show support for victims of domestic violence. Jaimes, a teacher, said her and her mother had suffered at the hands of her abusive father and that it wasn’t until several years later after seeing a report on TV about domestic violence that her mother found the courage to leave the relationship.
“We have to show them this feminist movement and everything that’s happening, that [which] in reality always happened but is now more visible, and to show women that are in those situations that you can overcome that,” said Jaimes. She also expressed how even in these public spaces of feminist celebration, people still cat-called and harassed women on the street.
A 2017 survey carried out by the MuMaLá (Mujeres de la Matria Latinoamericana) movement asked 1,300 women across 11 Argentine provinces about their feelings and experiences regarding street harassment. Four out of five women said they feel unsafe walking on the streets alone. And 93 percent of women surveyed said that they have been the victim of sexual harassment on the street.
Mauricio Macri kicked off International Women’s Day with a ceremony featuring Cabinet members and government officials, where the director of the National Institute for Women, Fabiana Tuñez, introduced the president as the “least expected feminist.”
In his speech, Macri declared that he is “committed to the dreams and the future of women” and pledged efforts towards women’s equality and reducing gender-based violence.
On Tuesday, over 70 lawmakers across political parties presented a bill calling for the legalisation of abortion in the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy to Congress. Debate on the bill is set to start on March 20 and it could come to a vote in as soon as 60 days, but its fate in the Senate is decidedly less optimistic.
Not everyone is in favour of the bill being taken up for debate, however. As pro-abortion organisers were inside the Congress chanting “contraceptives to not abort, abortion to not die,” a smattering of anti-abortion protesters gathered outside the National Congress protesting the “right to life.” An antiabortion March for Life rally is scheduled for March 25.
As protesters made their way to the National Congress and plopped down on the damp grass after an afternoon full of marching, the air was full of feminist conversations and reflections on why they had come out to march.
Ana Paula García, a 23-year old student, said that the common thread between the different feminist protests over the past century has been the demand for equality.
“It’s a matter of not treating women as inferior, but also not over-feminising and idolising them because both are machista,” she shared. “In both cases, they’re treating you like an object and stripping away your personality. It takes out that human quality.”
Maiten Enrique, a 27-year old literature teacher, said that her motivation to march lies in her daughter, who she wants to grow up in a society free of violence that will allow her to dress and go out as she pleases.
“I march with her so that she knows and that she learns, so that she fights,” she declared.
Referring to Enrique’s daughter, friend Celeste Juan, 24, looked to her as the future of the feminist movement.
“Hopefully in a few years, the little ones that are here with us today will have different motivations for coming out and fighting and they won’t be these same ones, just as women years ago were fighting for the right to vote,” said Juan.
One thing is certain: within Argentine society, it’s feminist women who are leading the charge and demanding a country with equal rights and fighting for a life free from violence.
“I think we’re finding ourselves in a moment of rupture in which this majority of people, of women in the street, it means something,” said Enrique.
“I want to believe it.”