Argentina: After gang rape, women strike against gender violence

National strike against femicide, San Carlos de Bolívar, Buenos Aires Province, September 19.

Tens of thousands of women across Argentina walked off the job on October 19 to “make noise” against gender violence and economic inequalities in the first women’s national strike in the country’s history.

The strike came in the wake of a brutal gang rape and murder of a teenage girl that has reinvigorated the fight against femicide and gender violence across the continent. Protesters showed signs with the stories of missing or murdered women, chanting “We won't forgive, we won't forget”.

In the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, women gathered at a main thoroughfare to provide public sexual education classes about preventing sexist violence. There were also football games with all-female teams to fight stereotypes about women and sports. In schools and kindergartens, the strike featured sexual education for children, with families welcomed to take part. Demonstrations also took place in dozens of other towns in Argentina as well as in Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, the US and Spain.

The movement against gender violence has been spearheaded by the Ni Una Menos (“Not One More”) collective. Protesters wore wearing black as a symbol of collective mourning over the gang rape and killing of 16-year-old Lucia Perez. The strike also aimed to emphasise the crucial role of women in the country’s economy and highlight the fact that women have been the first victims of the huge public-sector layoffs carried out by the right-wing administration of President Mauricio Macri.

Organisers highlighted the link that makes poor and disadvantaged women more vulnerable to gender and sexual violence, including human trafficking. “We are challenging the traditional meaning of a strike,” women’s rights activist Maria Florencia Alcaraz told the Buenos Aires Herald. “Behind femicides there is an economic framework that makes women more vulnerable to violence.”

The mobilisation went viral on social media after the horrific rape and murder of Perez on October 8 after she was forcibly taken from her school. Three suspects have been arrested.

Jailed Argentine Indigenous leader Milagro Sala, dubbed the first “political prisoner” of Macri's administration, wrote an open letter addressed to the women of the country, thanking them for taking action to defend women's rights. The Ni Una Menos collective was founded in March last year to protest the scourge of femicides in the country, which have increased exponentially in recent months. The campaign, under pressure from women workers, was then endorsed by Argentina's main trade unions.

Journalist and activist Marta Dillon, part of the Ni Una Menos collective, said: “We are striking because we earn less, we face more unemployment — 10.5%, two more points than men — we are hit harder by precarious life and poverty.” The marches come as Macri’s government promotes a bill in Congress that would effectively eliminate the special prosecutor focused on violence against women and femicide. According to data from human rights groups, a woman in Argentina dies every 30 hours from domestic violence. Since 2008, 1808 women have been violently killed in the country.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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