Women across the globe will take to the streets and go on strike this Thursday to commemorate International Women’s Day – and Argentine women, riding on the waves of feminist wins over the past few weeks, are preparing to double down on their demands.
The demonstration is particularly timely this year, taking place barely a week after President Mauricio Macri announced that lawmakers would look at existing abortion laws and just two weeks after thousands of women staged a massive pañuelazo in front of the National Congress calling for safe, free and legal access to the procedure.
Like the well-known Ni Una Menos collective movement, Thursday’s march focuses on several issues concerning women’s rights in Argentina. Activists will be protesting the country’s still staggeringly high femicide rate – at least 254 femicides occurred between January and November 2017 – and the continued presence of machista violence. Cutbacks to sexual health and sexual education programmes, the global “pink tax” that leaves feminine products priced higher than men’s products on the basis of them being for women and, of course, abortion.
RIDING THE WAVE
International Women’s Day dates back to 1857, where women workers in a textile mill went on strike to protest long working days and bad pay. Throughout the early 20th century the Socialist movement and many Communist-run countries regularly celebrated the day, and in 1975, the United Nations designated March 8 as International Women’s Day.
For some in Argentina, the sea change that has been witnessed in feminist activism and the scaling up in size of demonstrations that have taken place over the country over past three years is seen as a direct consequence of the now-historic Ni Una Menos collective’s march that first took place on June 3, 2015.
Paula Rodríguez, a journalist and the author of #NiUnaMenos, a collection of stories and first-hand experiences about how the demonstration and collective came to be, has watched the continued growth of feminist activism continue to push for changes. One of the demands that the Ni Una Menos collective put forth in its initial demonstration was the creation of an official database of femicide statistics, which up until that point did not exist.
“There is a movement of women that has multiplied and has forced leadership and lawmakers to think about women’s issues in the same way that they think about their political agenda,” Rodríguez told the Times in an interview.
Similarly, Soledad Vallejos, a journalist and one of the key figures that spearheaded the 2015 Ni Una Menos demonstration, says the strength in Argentina’s feminist movement lies in its diversity.
“In this moment feminism is as diverse as the demands on our list, and there are a multitude of different feminisms, which is a great thing. Ni Una Menos belongs to nobody; it belongs to the world. What that does is diversify the spectrum of demands,” Vallejos told the Times. “The majority of the groups, sub-groups, unaffiliated allies, and those who are simply just interested in this, they’re going to keep at it as long as we have a motive. And right now we have a ton of motives.”
AN OPPORTUNE MOMENT
The still-echoing calls from feminists over the past several years and the tide of green that washed over the National Congress two weeks ago may have caused President Mauricio Macri and his administration to reconsider their stance on abortion and feminist activism at large as the new legislative year kicks off.
“There mustn’t be fear in Cambiemos to think differently. I’m in favour of life and that is my position, but I respect others who think differently,” said Macri in a meeting with Cambiemos officials at his Olivos home on Monday, La Nación reported.
The national government has several officially endorsed events planned for March 8, with President Macri kicking off the day by recognising eight notable women in Buenos Aires. Performances, film screenings, discussions and dialogues are also scheduled to take place throughout the day. In conversation with the Times, representatives from the government’s National Institute for Women said it welcomed the march, saying the demonstration as a method of communicating the public’s concerns to the administration.
“From the Institute’s point of view, as far as a government body for public politics goes, we see it as very positive,” said Carla Majdalani, head of National Communication, Information and Broadcast at the Institute. “In this moment we’re here to listen to these demands and to channel them because there are clearly concrete demands that society is making to the state.”
The state’s apparent encouragement and support of demonstrators contrasts with incidents that took place at Buenos Aires’ 2017 International Women’s Day demonstration, in which a number of indiscriminate detentions were made by national police officers.
Human rights NGO Amnesty International recently cited the fact that “many women reported that they were mistreated, detained, and humiliated by police” as well as that “some said they were forced to undress completely” at last year’s event, in their 2017-2018 detailing concern oer freedoms of expression and the right to assembly in Argentina.
While some view the government’s move to allow lawmakers to debate abortion as taking advantage of an opportune moment and an attempt to curry favour with respect to public opinion, some argue that would not necessarily be a bad thing. If the government follows through on Macri’s public statements, it would be the seventh time that an abortion bill has been presented before Congress. The fact that it will be considered for debate, with little to no backlash, other than from the Church, is being seen as a win for proabortion activists.
“If it seems opportunistic, it’s because they think there can be a win, because the issue has momentum. They saw that there’s a demand at the social level, and that’s great. That’s a win for the women’s movement,” said Vallejos.
“The state only responds to demands. Politicians will go wherever they see an intense social demand and that’s why they’ve now chosen abortion. If there isn’t a permanent noise, nothing happens.”