Among the many signs visible during last Friday’s demonstration Ni una menos, perhaps the most powerful are those showing real women in the act of political resistance. In the past year, 227 women have been lost as a result of femicide. We have seen many of their names plastered on every TV screen and newspapers, but there’s something different about seeing their pictures being carried by their loved ones. When something is reported on the news, it somehow feels distant and it’s difficult to imagine that it could happen to us. The demonstration is a way to come closer with that grim reality, and to march alongside those who have suffered gender violence in the flesh and the relatives of those who have lost their lives to it.
As I march from Plaza Congreso to Plaza de Mayo, I try to at least catch a glimpse of every sign along the way; there’s so much to fight against, so much to fight for. There’s one pasted on a subway map that says that one woman is killed every 30 hours in Argentina.
And still thousands of us are marching. Amidst the despair and desolation of the people mourning their loved ones or the many women more silently thinking about the violent relationships they managed to get out of, there’s an overall feeling of hope. Like every good Argentinean demonstration, there are drums, chanting and the smell of choripán – what better way to describe our political identity than with that triad? There are political groups holding up flags as long as the street is wide, and there’re young photographers trying every possible angle to get the right shot (see gallery above). The demands written on the signs are as varied as the people holding them: no more catcalling. No more obstetric violence. No more domestic violence. No more objectification of women in local media. No more illegal and dangerous abortions.
“What’s good about this demonstration is that the main thing it stands against is something no one can object to: nobody can be okay with femicides” says Agustín, a 25-year-old who’s attending Ni Un Menos for the second time. “But from all this, people start talking about where this culture that catalyzes femicides comes from.”
If there’s one thing that can’t be denied, it is that people are talking. Last year’s demonstration finished setting feminism onto the public agenda, and it has been in and out of the media in the country ever since. This alone represents a victory for the movement: the main aim of Ni Una Menos is, after all, to raise awareness about gender discrimination.
“People usually think that when we say these demonstrations change something, it means that we will all wake up tomorrow and the world will have undergone a revolution. That’s not how change works. The fact that many women have been killed since we last marched doesn’t mean that last year’s demonstration was useless or that it didn’t do any good”, says Natasha, a 20-year-old activist. “Setting this into the public agenda is also important, as well as women knowing where to issue a complaint for violence or to just have an occasion where we can express ourselves.”
Natasha has just been part of Mujer Basura, a performance she did with La marcha de las putas in last year’s Ni Una Menos where women would be put in garbage bags to illustrate the cruelty with which many women are murdered and thrown away every year. The performance gained worldwide recognition, and become so famous there’s a book being written about it. This year, however, the performance was organized by Natasha and its creator Paula Naanim, and its focus was put on the media’s role in all of this. “We wanted to talk about how powerful media is, and how they reproduce horrible machista standards and blame the victims”, she says. After reading aloud several headlines that prove her point, all of the women involved yell out “let’s throw rape culture away!”
The demonstration is filled with people like Natasha and Agustín, who may not have suffered the worst of gender violence in the flesh but who still consider this a vital struggle. But it is also filled with people like Catalina, a 54-year-old mother asking for justice for her daughter. “I’m here for Suhene, because her boyfriend killed her. It’s already been proven, but the judge isn’t doing anything”, she says. “He’s still out there, and we got news that his family took him to Israel. The judge promised me he was going to jail and then they claimed that what happened was medical malpractice. They’re saying she had an illness prior to the beating. She was a third-year Veterinary student. She had good grades. A girl like that doesn’t have problems with her brain.” Before Suhene died, her boyfriend hit her so hard in the head that he left her cross-eyed.
Sasha has also suffered such violence closely. “My sister was Diana Sacayán, an activist from Movimiento Antidiscriminatorio de Liberación”, she says. On October 13th last year, Diana, a trans activist who had helped write laws such as marriage equality and gender identity, was found murdered in her apartment. “We want to talk about this because the media usually says things like “a travesti was found dead.” They don’t talk about how they died, or how the bodies of our sisters and our friends are mutilated. We’re here to ask for justice for Diana. Her cause is labelled as a “femicide”, but we want to change that to “travesticide.” We want to set a precedent”.
The voices roaring at this year’s Ni Una Menos are many. Melanie is simply tired of being afraid. Bárbara wants to eliminate talks of the victims’ outfits on local news. Joel is part of his school’s student center, and wants to make people aware of what feminism is. David wants to eradicate machismo because he grew up surrounded by it and, being a gay man, suffered very much from it. But what’s interesting about getting to know the people marching is that although all of them see the many symptoms of the disease that is machismo, they’re all here tonight because there’s a part of them who believe it can be cured. Step one was to diagnose it: to put the issue in the public agenda, to make it a topic of conversation at every dinner table across the country. Now, the fight continues. Like Sasha said, “if we didn’t think that coming here was useful, we would be hopeless and that would be too sad. Of course it’s hard to say that you’re strong and that you believe, but we do it. We wake up every day and we say we can.”