At yesterday’s massive women’s march in downtown Buenos Aires, as people sang and chanted under merciless rain and the constant clash of umbrellas, the realization quickly hit that this march was different. It wasn’t just the new chants. Ni Una Menos as a movement is truly here to stay the way it began — as a vehicle for protest.
“Abajo el patriarcado que va a caer, que va a caer! Arriba el feminismo, que va a vencer, que va a vencer!”
[Down with the patriarchy, that will fall, that will fall! Up with feminism, that will conquer, that will conquer!]
This was the third protest that I’d gone to this year alone for women’s rights after the June 3 Ni Una Menos march and the July breastfeeding protest. I also went to the original Ni Una Menos march last year, the first against femicides and gender violence. Each protest is distinct, but yesterday’s march was different to the others because it marked something deeper.
Last year, there was real indignation, anger and a concrete demand: the state needed to actually start measuring the number of femicides because there was no reliable indicator at the time. There was also an almost giddy feeling that something historic was happening and it was a new kind of relief to be able to walk around unhindered and without fear of cat-calls or groping.
This year, on the anniversary of that first march, the march was just as massive but the main takeaway was that the issue was ongoing and that Ni Una Menos was now an established part of the national conversation. There were, of course, many reasons to protest such as asking for the freedom of Belén and Milagro Sala, but despite the defiance (especially toward the new government), the march was less angry, with more unions and politics in the mix.
That was not the case yesterday. The past few weeks have been horrible, for lack of a better term, for women in Argentina and the people at the march were angered and driven to protest against it. The main trigger was the brutal rape, torture and death of Lucía Pérez, a 16-year-old from Mar del Plata who died as a result of her injuries — a vasovagal reflex from the “inhumane sexual aggression” she was subjected to.
As if Lucía’s appalling death wasn’t enough, there were many other triggers throughout the week. While Lucía was raped and murdered, there was police repression at the 31st National Women’s Summit in Rosario last Sunday. Then, three femicides in less than 72 hours in Córdoba province, a mother who killed her daughter for being lesbian, the random attack and stabbing of two teenage girls by a man in La Boca and a woman found strangled to death and her body dumped in a box in La Matanza. The list goes on: a woman from Mendoza was even brutally beaten up by her brother while the march was happening, and died as a result.
At the march in Buenos Aires, sudden outbreaks of whooping that shook the thousands of walking umbrellas streaming with water gave the march an unprecedented, eerie aspect at times. As in previous protests, women walked around with photos of their daughters, nieces, cousins and mothers: victims whose presence make each rally more poignant.
“There have been 19 femicides this month alone, now 20 with Deolinda [the Mendoza victim]. When will the state listen? When will this end?” demanded a loud, trembling voice blaring from speakers on Plaza de Mayo. The women who had clambered onto the speakers yelled their consent. There was a minute’s silence for the victims with the clamor of drums in the background.
In that sense, it felt a lot like last year’s march. There was one message: We are sick and tired of the constant rape, torture and murder of women. It could have been any of us because gender was their death sentence, and here we were protesting to make ourselves heard. The contrast between the colorful umbrellas and the black clothes was almost poetic: different people from all walks of life were there for the same cause. Last year, we were all Agustina and Laura. This year, we were all Lucía. Next year, it could be Paula, Florencia or even Valentina.
“The thing is that every time we march, something horrible has happened, femicides keep happening, the judicial system carries on being unjust, it never stops,” said Solange, a woman whose teenage niece died due to violence but she didn’t want to go into details.
The way we can actually say that things are worsening is one of the key, albeit bittersweet, victories of Ni Una Menos. No one thought the problem was going to simply disappear but now at least we have numbers. In addition, the issue is getting more attention than ever. Nobody in Argentina can pretend to be unfamiliar with the words “Ni Una Menos,” although it’s sometimes subject to banalization.
“Donde están las feministas? Acá estoy! Acá estoy!”
Another palpable difference with previous marches was the presence of the word “feminism.” It may seem counter-intuitive, but many people marching against femicides have done so without identifying as feminists: it’s more a question of outrage and grief than ideals.
The one-hour strike that was held before the march yesterday — the first strike of its kind in Latin America — is also indicative of how this word had begun to have more presence. The demonstration was about femicides, but the day of protests was not just about horror or indignation, but pointing out that women in society as a whole are at a disadvantage, economically as well as socially.
As I dodged around umbrellas in Plaza de Mayo to where the passionate speeches were being made about Lucía and the police repression at Rosario, it hit me. The reason why yesterday’s march felt like the first cry of Ni Una Menos in 2015 wasn’t because the anniversary march was any less powerful or the crimes at the time any less heinous. It’s that this march was spontaneous, fueled by recent horrors and stood alone as a guarantee that Ni Una Menos has become a true platform to protest whenever the need arises. It’s bigger than the anniversary of a historic march, it’s bigger than hashtags, bigger than social media and June 3. There is a new and more articulated aspect to the protest as a social and feminist movement with gender equality at the fore. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s there.
Despite the continued need to be dressed in black to mourn victims and march to be heard, yesterday’s spontaneous march in response to more horrifying instances of gender violence was proof that Ni Una Menos was reborn as a protest and has come into its own as a movement. Travelling home on the subway, I can’t say that I felt safer than before — gender equality and ending femicides is a road longer than Avenida de Mayo — but the sea of people in drenched, black clothing like me was comforting, at the very least.