The annual National Women’s Summit (ENM), which will take place in Rosario this weekend, has become surrounded by controversy. A contentious campaign has emerged and posters have popped up around the city in protest against the conference. Meanwhile, a petition on Change.org is calling on the local authorities to control the behavior of those who will be attending the annual summit.
Starting in 1986, thousands of women — now tens of thousands — from across the country gather once a year to discuss numerous issues affecting women, including discrimination, wage disparity and femicides. This year in Rosario, the conference will involve 69 different workshops, a variety of debates and, of course, the traditional closing march.
Hotels in Rosario have been completely booked out for the last month and many public schools are being used as accommodation due to the enormous number of women set to arrive from all over the country to take part in the event. La Nación has reported that some 70,000 people will be in attendance, many of whom will be there as members of activist groups, unions and political parties.
In previous years the conference has faced hard opposition from various reactionary right-wing groups. In 2014, when Salta hosted the ENM, its predominantly Catholic community came out against the attendees. Last year in Mar del Plata, violence broke out during the march when a demonstration campaigning for abortion rights was carried out in front of the city’s Cathedral. Participants of the march reported that members of the National Patriotic Front, who were positioned inside the Cathedral waiting for their arrival, had assaulted them as the event came to a close. The police cracked down, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in order to disperse the demonstration.
This year, it doesn’t look like things are going to be any friendlier in Rosario. Over the last few days, a series of anonymous posters have appeared on the streets of the city, displaying the words “Así, no” (“Not like this”) and “Rosario espera mujeres sin violencia” (“Rosario awaits women without violence”) on top of an image of naked women wearing balaclavas. The image corresponds to the abortion demonstration last year in Mar del Plata, where some protestors campaigned topless while masking their faces.
Simultaneously, a petition has cropped up on Change.org created by a profile called “Hagamos paz” (“Let’s have peace”) imploring the city’s authorities to exercise control over the women who will be attending the ENM. The text explains that events in previous years indicate that violence and aggression is a common occurrence at the conference, both within the areas where the workshops take place and during off-site events. They conclude by stating, “We call on the local and provincial authorities to put all measures possible in place to avoid rosarinos being left once again as victims of the behavior of the participants of ENM 2016.” The petition currently has 146 supporters on the site.
A second petition has also emerged that asks for the conference to be banned completely, but this has so far only attracted 3 supporters.
In the face of these acts of protest, the organizing committee of the ENM has assured the public that the event, including the march, is intended to be peaceful. “The conference is often framed as a manifestation of violent riots. Last year there was a lot of attention surrounding the conflict at the Cathedral, but that only involved one group,” the group said in a statement. “We are respectful of everyone, we want the conference to go well and take place peacefully.”
With any luck, those attending this weekend’s events will be able to campaign peacefully against violence toward women without being on the receiving end of even more.