Ni Una Menos march in front of Congress. Photo: Santiago Carreras

Thursday, in the National Senate, representatives from Ni Una Menos participated in a debate on policies and political discourse concerning – you guessed it – women, and they had a clear message to share: “No to punitive demagogy, no to misogynistic garantismo. Not in our name.”

The debate took place as part of an on-going discussion surrounding a recent proposal to amend the law on the execution of penal sanctions, Law 24660, which regulates the release of prisoners, an endeavour that has returned to the political agenda following the recent femicide of Micaela García, whose alleged killer was a convicted rapist on parole.

Invited to National Congress for the first time since the women’s rights association’s foundation in 2015, Ni Una Menos representatives Vanina Escales and Mariana Carbajal presented a statement that asked not for harsher punishments, as members of the Government are proposing, but instead for “more prevention and care, more equality and justice.”

Just a few hours after Patricia Bullrich stood up in front of the same audience and remarked on “a feeling of impunity” exacerbated by the murder of Micaela García and argued that harsher measures need to be taken against convicted criminals, the Ni Una Menos stance stood in complete contrast with the Security Minister’s assurances. The members insisted that “the toughening of punishments and extension of sentences do not deter crimes against life. It is merely punitive demagoguery in the face of social indignation.”

Security Minister Bullrich spoke before Ni Una Menos. Photo via Télam

“We believe that they’re using what happens to a woman every 18 hours in this country in a cynical and demagogic way,” Florencia Alcaraz, a member of the Ni Una Menos collective, explained to Notas in anticipation of the debate at the Justice and Criminal Affairs Commission yesterday.

During the debate, anthropologist and specialist in studies on machista violence Rita Segato also spoke on behalf of Ni Una Menos: “I’m feminist and anti-prison, even if that seems like a contradiction.”

“The rapist is a social symptom. The law that classifies crimes of sexual abuse only captures the tip of the iceberg. And it’s just not possible to enforce punishment for every episode of machista violence because it would be impossible for society. Nor would the prisons be able to,” she added. “The only thing certain is that the solution is not to simply have more punishment and more prisons.”

Segato summed up her argument compellingly: “Prisons are schools to generate new rapists.”

And the facts do seem to suggest that the Government may be barking up the wrong tree on this one. At the time of the first Ni Una Menos march in June 2015, which saw thousands of women demand greater prevention, an increased budget and the end of the dismantling of programs for women, a femicide was being committed every 30 hours (2014 figures). “Two years later,” according to the human rights organization’s statement, “we are still asking for the same things” while the Government continues to focus on punitive solutions, and the femicide rate has risen: “Every 18 hours, a woman in Argentina is killed because of her being a woman.”

“Not one death more.” Ni Una Menos is asking for the focus to be on prevention and care.

On the back of these worrying figures, Ni Una Menos used the opportunity in Congress to ask once again that their requests be met: “there are no prevention policies – comprehensive sexual education has not been implemented or budgeted for; nor has legal sponsorship been instigated; the judicial personnel and security forces have not recognised machista violence as a structural problem. The State is just reducing the problem to a penal issue. We need dispensations for victims of gender-based violence, access to work, access to housing, economic autonomy and sovereignty over their own bodies.”

The statement produced before the commission also highlighted the treatment of victims of gender violence, pointing out that female victims’ voices are constantly “under suspicion” and that this is “complicit with a system of misogynistic garantismo that trivialises and minimizes the violence that affects us.”

“This punitive system is no less machista: crying for more prison sentences is a way to avoid carrying out the appropriate and accurate analysis that would allow prevention and care strategies that could actually save lives,” the document explained.

Whether Ni Una Menos’s assertions will be taken into account is yet to be seen. The commission is due to issue a verdict next Tuesday and, on Wednesday, the draft could be turned into law if there are no more modifications to the text.