CIVICUS speaks to Ana Correa, a member of the organising group of #NiUnaMenos, a movement that has held massive protests against gender-based violence in Argentina. Correa holds a master’s degree in international relations and is also a political communication consultant.
1. What are the origins and context of the recent protests against gender-based violence in Argentina?
The first big march against gender-based violence, which took place on 3 June 2015 under the banner #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less), was born out of a succession of femicides in Argentina. Every 30 hours, a woman was killed just for being a woman. The femicide of 14-year-old Chiara Páez in Rufino, Santa Fe province, unleashed a wave of indignation at what appeared to be a total lack of public reaction to the succession of crimes against women. People were already fed up, so the tweet published by journalist Marcela Ojeda fell on fertile ground. The tweet read: “Women: they are killing us. Are we not going to do anything?” At that point an organising group was formed with the aim of holding a great mobilisation event, a loud call for attention from the citizenry that forced political, social and media actors to react. We wanted to send a strong message and at the same time we imagined this as a “turning-point moment” regarding demands for women’s rights. If gender-based violence affected us all, then it was important for all of us to join forces in order to make ourselves heard.
Raising our voices was necessary to say “enough”. But also in order to shake society and the political class a bit, so they could see what the concrete actions were that they were failing at, be it by mistake, inaction or omission.
2. What was your role in the process leading to the mobilisation? How much spontaneity and how much organisation was involved?
I was part of the organising group for the 3 June mobilisation. I think there was some degree of spontaneity, but there was also a lot of organisational work.
From the beginning we set out to do something massive. We saw this as the only way our goals could be achieved. This could not be just another march. That’s why we took initiatives that were disruptive at the time: for instance, we sought the support of “celebrities”, women and men, so they could help us disseminate the call for mobilisation as far and wide as possible. Let’s keep in mind that we didn’t have any budget to do this, and we did not want to accept help from the very same sectors we were addressing our demands to. We needed allies in the mass media and support from both women and men. We did not ask for seniority credentials within feminist movements, although we obviously did in set some boundaries.
On the other hand, the political dimension was very important. It was an electoral year in Argentina and political forces were very polarised. Over the previous few years there had been virtually no mobilisation encompassing all sectors; there was always someone on the opposing side. So while we were disseminating the call for our big march, we met with representatives from political parties, the government and the judiciary to make our message clear: we are not protesting against anyone in particular; we just want you to do well in your job in combatting gender-based violence. Everything pointed in the same direction: towards the generation of a movement around the defence of women’s rights cutting across all political, social and cultural forces. We wanted to build a sort of great movement committed to women’s rights, which as such had to include representatives or sympathisers of all political parties defending these rights. As we noticed during the weeks leading up to the mobilisation, however, most political forces promoting a presidential candidate, be it male or female, actually lacked a gender policy proposal.
3. In light of the experience with #NiUnaMenos, what is the potential of social media in terms of protest organisation, and what are the limitations?
#NiUnaMenos has demonstrated the importance of social media when it comes to making a massive call and disseminating a message without the mediation of political and media structures. We know of the enormous efforts made by women who have participated in civil society organisations, and also in political parties, for many years. The former face the challenge of finding spaces to disseminate their message; the latter find difficulties in the very structures of politics. We have a female quota system for legislative seats, but not for decision-making positions within political parties. The voice of women on these matters is seldom heard. Social media does not replace activism of any kind. The woman who devotes most of her time to her work, inside and outside the home, without support structures or any help, has an important limitation when it comes to participating in organisations of any kind. Social networks allow for and activate another form of activism, which adds up to the traditional ones. What matters is to rattle structures and open participation to all women - to each one in a form that is attainable for them.
The logic of social media also helped a lot when putting out a message. We defined a hashtag, #NiUnaMenos, that was backed up by a document that was read at the end of the rally on 3 June 2015, and which was the result of much joint work within the organising group as well as with other organisations. But the motto that made our demand compelling was summed up in just three words.
4. What protest tactics have been adopted, and why?
After the first mobilisation, the rapid reaction allowed by social media to set an agenda, make claims and demand answers remained activated. But that was evidently not enough. During 2016 two important things happened. The first one was that, as the one-year anniversary of the first mobilisation approached, women throughout the country started to summon one another to march again. Just as the first march required total dedication to get organised, we saw with satisfaction that #NiUnaMenos now belonged to all. The date – June 3rd – was then instituted as #NiUnaMenos day. I believe that the best thing that can happen to this movement is for it to turn into something latent that can be appropriated by every person, male or female, who wants to see women’s rights respected.
The other important thing took place as a result of an atrocious crime. Lucía Pérez, a 16-year-old girl, was found tortured, impaled and murdered in the coastal city of Mar del Plata. There was almost no reaction from political and judicial actors. So much so that in those days, in the same city where the crime occurred, Mar del Plata, a big meeting – the IDEA Colloquium - was being held between businesspeople and representatives of the federal and provincial governments, and nobody there seemed to be aware of the brutal crime that had just happened again. It was as if they had become accustomed to these horrible things happening over and over. That’s when the decision was made to call for a Black Wednesday mobilisation and a women's strike for 19th October. On that afternoon it was pouring rain, but thousands upon thousands of women dressed in black marched through the city. It was necessary – again – to shake the apathy in the face of a new atrocity.
An International Women's Strike is now being prepared for 8 March. As its organisation is being coordinated with groups in other countries, not all the details are ready yet. But the idea is for the seed that was planted on 3 June 2015 to continue to grow. From the first march onwards, #NiUnaMenos mobilisations were replicated in various countries across the region, which then converged with other mobilisations that were taking place in European countries, and eventually with the Women’s March in the United States.
5. How were protests reported? Were there any negative media coverage or reactions to mobilization?
Media coverage was another important reason why we were concerned with closing the political “gap” between those supporting the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president at the time, and those opposing it. When organising the first march, we wanted to make sure that the media aligned with each sector would provide nonpartisan coverage of the march. And right after the demonstration, for the first time in years, the front pages of all Argentine print media highlighted the same event, our march, as the most important of the day. It was a historic moment in that sense too.
6. How did the authorities react to the protest?
At first there was distrust on the part of political actors. However we were so firm in making it clear that they were not allowed to appropriate the march for their own purposes, although it was imperative for all of them to support it, that there were only a few isolated attempts to co-opt the movement. And then, on the evening before the march, both the then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco, publicly (and independently from one another) gave their support for the mobilisation. We did not see this as a problem; on the contrary, the fact that the highest representatives of the State were acknowledging the protest was perceived as a step forward.
Elections however were close (presidential and legislative elections were both held in October that year), and during the weeks leading up to the march various candidates had begun to see it as an advantage to have their photo taken holding the #NiUnaMenos banner. We did see that as a contradiction: it was too easy for a legislator or a candidate to just take a selfie to attract the female vote. We needed something more from them, so we asked them that if they took their picture, then they also needed to sign a five-point commitment that they would work to eradicate sexist violence.
7. What impacts have been achieved to date, and what potential impacts do you see in the medium term ahead?
The main impacts were that women’s rights were placed on the agenda and that a state of constant alertness and mobilisation around these issues was achieved. There were also small but concrete steps forward, such as the judiciary launching the first Femicides Registry, the newly appointed president of the Council for Women presenting an action plan to eradicate gender-based violence, and an attempt to lower the Council’s budget being reversed, actually resulting in an increase. There is still a lot to do. We are convinced that we can only achieve our aims by remaining active in reaching out with our demands. And one of these definitely needs to be the implementation of the attention protocol for non-criminalised abortions – which applies in cases such as rape, foetal non-viability or danger to the pregnant woman’s life – and progress towards the legalisation of abortion in Argentina. In between, there is a huge agenda both in Argentina and in the region. With the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States we are already seeing setbacks at the global level that we would never have imagined. The only way to do something about this is to remain united, attentive and mobilised. And to keep exploiting our creativity so that we can achieve the required impact even if politics, the media and the circumstances are not on our side.
• Civic space in Argentina is rated as “narrowed” in the CIVICUS Monitor.
• Get in touch with #NiUnaMenos through their website or Ana Correa’s Facebook page, or follow @niunamenos_ and @anaecorrea on Twitter.