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Challenging Continuums of Violence: #NiUnaMenos and the Transformative Power of Feminist Action in Argentina

By Olivia Storz for Denver Dialogues

A sign at the June 13th #NiUnaMenos rally in front of Congress in Buenos Aires as legislators deliberated on a bill to legalize abortion before 14 weeks. The sign says “Congress members (gender neutral) open your eyes, clandestine abortion is femicide by the state”. Photo by the author.

María grew up in a heavily Catholic suburb of Buenos Aires under the military dictatorship. During her childhood, tens of thousands of Argentinians were “disappeared” by the regime. After the transition to democracy began in 1983, she found a career as a feminist and an artist. In 2015, she became increasingly angry as week after week she read newspaper reports about the brutal murders of young women. Despite the purported peace that had arrived at the end of the dictatorship, violence persisted in a different form.

More than 286 femicides—generally defined as deaths ‘por ser mujer’ (for being a woman)—were reported in Argentina in 2015. When a collective of feminist journalists organized a national protest march against these deaths under the viral hashtag #NiUnaMenos (not another woman less), the mobilization provided María a welcome opportunity for action. She recalled that #NiUnaMenos began when women “left the house. When we began to think of ourselves as people who did not deserve these things to happen to us.”

María attended every one of the eight major #NiUnaMenos protests from 2015 to 2017, often bringing along her teenage daughter, alongside hundreds of thousands of other activists. A tragic story of the domestic homicide of a protester returning from a #NiUnaMenos march gave her the courage to leave her own violent husband. She saw herself in the women whose untimely deaths she had marched against.  “Why were we there?” she asked, “because we were being killed basically. We want to live freely. With these thousands and thousands of women we felt powerful and able to create change. I felt I was with my sisters.”

Dr. Dora Barrancos was born before Argentine women achieved suffrage in 1947. During the 1970s, she received death threats and left the country. Since the return of democracy, she has participated as a scholar-activist in Argentina’s resurgent feminist movements. She notes the parallels between the disappearances during the “Dirty War” and the alarmingly high rates of femicide in Argentina, often at the hands of intimate partners.

Such violence captures the continuum of violence between “war” and “peace.” Indeed, signs of torture for young femicide victims are often similar to those employed during the military dictatorship, illustrating the links between militarized “political” violence and “personal” violence against women. Dr. Barrancos described #NiUnaMenos as a “watershed moment,” but she cautioned that the fight was not over and that #NiUnaMenos must be maintained and expanded. Decriminalizing abortion, with clandestine operations as the number one driver of maternal mortality in Argentina, is at the top of her agenda.

Since 2015, women like Dora, María, and hundreds of thousands of others have engaged in this innovative feminist movement, utilizing a variety of “repertoires of contention” to address gender based violence in a historic, sustainable, and transformational way. While #NiUnaMenos was initially a reaction to horrific murders, it built upon an existing feminist infrastructure and has since expanded and solidified, becoming a powerful cultural and political movement. The movement has diversified to include LGBTQIA(+)  concerns and a broad range gender issues. Legalizing abortion, in particular, has become a critical goal of the larger movement, especially as many activists see the deaths due to unsafe abortions as “femicide by the state.” Incredibly, last week the lower house of Argentina’s Congress narrowly voted in favor of decriminalizing abortion, and the bill will continue on in the Senate. Today, #NiUnaMenos is emblazoned on T-shirts and captured in murals across the country.

A #NiUnaMenos emblazoned t shirt in a tourist shop in Buenos Aires. Photo by the author.

#NiUnaMenos is an heir to a rich tradition of protest in Argentina. From Peron’s affinity for crowds, to the memorable protests of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Argentina has a proud and prominent protest culture. Even within this cultural landscape, however, #NiUnaMenos stands out by linking intimate partner violence to broader systems of patriarchy and political violence. #NiUnaMenos activists are are fighting for their own lives, while also disrupting and challenging systems of violence and patriarchy more broadly.

Finally, from the #MeToo movement to the #NotAnotherWoman protest in Uganda and the #blackprotest in Poland,  #NiUnaMenos is far from alone. Innovative, women-led social movements are contributing to a powerful feminist moment that is an antidote to rising chauvinistic nationalism across the globe. Cynthia Enloe’s recent book The Big Push reminds us of the importance of current (and future) feminist activism for challenging the “persistence of patriarchy.” These movements aim to dismantle an entire continuum of patriarchal violence that extends from the home to the battlefield and back again. As depicted in the poster below, the arrival of this “feminist wave” has transformative potential.

This poster, found on the wall of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) says “we are going for ALL of our rights and calls on students to “get on the feminist wave”. Photo by the author.

Note: Interview testimonials were de identified from names with the exception of scholar Dr. Dora Barrancos. Names used are pseudonyms.

Olivia Storz graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Denver in June 2018 with a Bachelors of Arts in International Studies and Spanish. She was awarded the Pioneer Award, the university’s highest undergraduate honor, in recognition of her scholarship and public service on behalf of survivors of sexual violence. She completed her undergraduate thesis on the #NiUnaMenos movement after a six-month field experience in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

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