Tens of thousands of protesters braved the torrential rain and took to the streets on Wednesday evening in Buenos Aires. The roads were lined with women wearing all black, laden with banners, posters and flags singing and chanting in groups, as bystanders got swept up into the sea of umbrellas marching from the Obelisk to Plaza de Mayo. These marches were replicated in cities all over Argentina and across Latin America, as women rallied together to stand up against femicide, with the common chant of Ni Una Menos! (Not One More!) and Vivas Nos Queremos! (We Want To Live!).
In a powerful statement released last night after the march the organisers at women’s rights movement Ni Una Menos declared ‘We mobilise, and we defend ourselves. When you touch one of us, we all respond’.
One of these women responding on behalf of the many women murdered in the past few weeks was university student Gaita, who had ‘Enough’ painted on her cheek. She described the protest as more serious than the ones she had been to before, like the National Women’s Encounter in Rosario last week, stating that “after brutal police repression in Rosario and the horrific femicides in the time since then, we are back and we are stronger than before. This time, enough really is enough.”
Nelly, a bank worker who joined her female colleagues to strike and march today, was pleased to see so many younger women, as she hopes that informing and empowering them will help to end the vicious cycle of abuse that can lead to femicides. “For some young women, abuse is now seen as a normality, and it shouldn’t be that way. We have to tell them that this isn’t normal. It’s not normal that they hit you, it’s not normal that they abuse you. It doesn’t matter if you are wearing a miniskirt, no means no.”
Nelly also referred to sentiments shared by many women at the march that they hope that their protests would force the government to take action. Some called for a change in the law enforcement system to get further justice for victims and families of domestic abuse and femicide, others desired more classes or workshops to be introduced at schools. “How can we expect things to change if we don’t make information about sexual consent and domestic abuse accessible to young people at school?” she exclaimed, shaking her head.
Controversy was also evident as to whether men should be participating in the march. Some women, such as student Gaita, argued that it was a “Women’s strike and march” and that therefore men should not be welcome, as they detract from their message. However, the majority seemed to welcome male protesters and viewed their presence in a positive light. A group of women from a division of the Luz y Fuera union in Lomas de Zamora, a suburb in Greater Buenos Aires, told the Indy that they thought it was a good thing that so many men had turned up to support the cause. If we are fighting for the same thing, they said, then “We are partners, we are the same”. They also noted their presence will help to inform other men about gender issues, which they hope will lead to positive social change.
Cosima and Calendaria, two teenage girls who came to the march after school armed with spray cans declared that “It is important that we come out and express our anger on the streets and fight against femicide.” When asked why they were expressing themselves with graffiti, they responded “It’s the best way that we can show men, or at least sexist men, that they don’t own us.”
‘Puta feminista’ (Feminist whore) was an expression that they sprayed on different streets and walls of the city, one that could be seen on badges and signs all around the march. They told the Indy that their decision to use ‘Puta feminista’ was their way of regaining power over bad perceptions of women. Calendaria also added “It’s to show that we are in charge of our bodies – that only we can choose what we do with them. It’s to show that no means no.”
Another woman with ‘Puta feminista’ emblazoned on her t-shirt was Berti, a writer from ‘Ammar’, an organisation that fights for women’s rights, with a focus on supporting and giving a voice to sex workers, lesbians and transsexual women. Berti was surrounded by women with rainbow flags and umbrellas, and whilst they seemed jovial in spirit, she declared Black Wednesday to be “The worst time of all. Today is a day of mourning. We have no choice but to take to the streets. It is a terrible day – and not just because of the rain.”
In another part of the march, amongst the puddles on Av. 9 de Julio, women lay motionless with plastic bags over their faces to represent the dead bodies of the victims of femicide. It was a small demonstration, but powerful and moving: the only thing separating these women from the reality of Lucía Pérez and the 226 women murdered this year was the rise and fall of the plastic bags in time with their breathing. A woman with a megaphone reminded those surrounding the bodies that femicide can happen to any woman in Argentina, and that if 19 women were murdered in the first 17 days of October, then the protesters lying on the ground could very well be next.
A group of young schoolgirls the same age as Lucía Pérez was when she was brutally raped, tortured and murdered last week in Mar del Plata stood nearby watching, and praised the bluntness of the protest. “I think it is very realistic, and that’s good, because these things actually do happen. It’s a way of shocking people into thinking about it, and making a change. I’m sure many people will see this and respond thinking it’s ugly, and that it’s too crude. But how can it be when it’s reality?”