By Nina Awarie
The Latin American women’s movement “Ni Una Menos” (not one woman less) is currently one of the world’s largest and best-known movements against women’s oppression. Triggered by a massive wave of violence and an unbelievably high rate of murders of women, millions of people, especially in Argentina, have been brought onto the streets not only against domestic violence and femicides, but also the structural role played by the state in violence against women.
Femicide, a word that has become an integral part of public discourse in Latin America, especially in Argentina, was originally the main issue for activists. Femicide is a murder whose main motive is that the victim is a woman. Such murders are part of everyday life in Argentina and have been ignored in the past and in many cases they have been played down by politicians, the judiciary and the media. Instead, they talked about them as “crimes of passion”, or the result of a “state of violent excitement”. The use of such phrases meant not only that the perpetrators could count on a mild punishment but that their crimes were in some way justified.
According to “La Casa del Encuentro”, the Meeting House, an Argentine NGO and contact point for female victims of violence, every 31 hours a woman is the victim of a femicide in Argentina. In Latin America, there are more than 17 femicides every day, most of which are committed by partners or ex-partners.
It is not only the terribly high murder rate that characterises the very precarious situation of working women in Argentina as well as other Latin American countries. Other factors include a high maternal mortality rate, an almost complete ban on abortions as a result the enormous influence of the Catholic Church, and low wages for paid work and appalling working conditions
The first nationwide protest day against femicides, sexualised violence and a state that refuses to act to stop this, was held in Argentina in June 2015 under the slogan “Ni Una Menos”, not another woman less. The trigger was the murder by a teenager of his 14-year-old pregnant girlfriend. A group of female journalists organised the protests, in which up to 500,000 people took part in Buenos Aires and 80 other Argentinian cities. The “Ni Una Menos” movement was born and spread like wildfire in Latin America.
There were solidarity demonstrations, in which tens of thousands of people took part, in Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. The demands they took onto the streets included: effective application of the law to prevent, punish and eliminate violence against women; free legal assistance throughout the process; and the opening of women’s shelters. But other issues such as the economic discrimination against women and, above all, the right to abortion, are also increasingly being addressed by activists.
In addition to the numerous mass demonstrations, there have also been strike actions. The first political strike of the “Ni Una Menos” movement took place in October, 2016. Once again the trigger was the cruel murder of a young person. In Buenos Aires, 200,000 workers took to the streets from their factories, universities, schools and hospitals in a symbolic one hour strike.
Right to physical self-determination
In Argentina, as well as in numerous other Latin American countries, there is a virtually complete ban on abortion. Only in a few exceptional cases, such as pregnancy as a result of rape, can a woman have a legal abortion. As a result, according to the Argentine Ministry of Health, there are over 350,000 illegal abortions every year. Up to 50,000 women have to be admitted to hospital after such risky operations. Amnesty International estimates that 23 percent of all deaths among pregnant women are the result of illegal abortions, deaths that could be prevented by professional medical care. Therefore, the activists of “Ni Una Menos” correctly call for legal, free abortion facilities and characterise the current legal situation as state femicide, which mainly affects women from the poorer classes.
These women cannot afford a trip abroad to have their abortion carried out under professional conditions. This situation, in which the Argentine state is responsible for these structural femicides because it fails to provide medical care, will not change quickly. Although two months earlier the Argentine House of Representatives had approved a bill for legal abortion up to the 14th week, on June 13, 2018, after a 16-hour session, it was defeated in the Argentine Senate. On the day of the vote, mass demonstrations for the right to physical self-determination took place in Argentina with almost 1.5 million participants. Nevertheless, the Senate voted by 38 votes to 31 with two abstentions against legalisation. This result was certainly also influenced by the Catholic Church, which spared no expense or effort in the run-up to the vote to organise a reactionary, misogynistic counter campaign to maintain the patriarchal status quo.
The numerous mass mobilisations and strikes have clearly shown one thing: the women in Latin America are fed up with their oppression. Not only are they in a position to organise themselves in a grassroots democracy and fight for their rights, they have also managed to expand the initial movement to include topics such as social cuts, state repression and the rights of the indigenous population. However, above all, the protests against the abortion ban in Argentina clearly show that no matter how large a mass movement on the street may be, it does not prevent the reactionary professional politicians in the parliaments from continuing to push through a patriarchal policy against the interests of the majority of all wage earners.
The ruling class, represented above all by the government under Mauricio Macri, has no interest in abolishing the discrimination and oppression of women. On the contrary, precarious wage conditions and individualised reproduction secure extra profits for the bourgeoisie through the special exploitation of women and at the same time provide the structures that promote domestic violence against women. Although Macri outwardly supports the “Ni Una Menos” movement, this is no more than hypocrisy, given his neoliberal policy of cuts, which primarily affect wage-earning women. This can also be seen from the fact that he did not oppose the Senate when it voted against the legalisation of abortions.
This is an example that shows that the fight against the oppression of women can therefore only be fought against the bourgeois state, not with it.
This does not mean that it is fundamentally wrong to make demands on the government. It must be clear, however, that without pressure from the street and above all economic pressure in the form of political strikes, women cannot expect any concessions from the bourgeois state. In order for such a strike to be as effective as possible, all strata of the working class must be mobilised, including wage-earning men. Moreover, it should not be limited to symbolic actions, but in the best case should be extended to an unlimited general strike until the government finally responds to the demands of the masses.
For this, it is absolutely necessary that the grass-roots members of the large trade unions exert pressure on their leaders to finally support the strike actions. The struggle against women’s oppression must be seen as part of the class struggle and the struggle against capitalism and for a socialist perspective. This also means that it is our task as internationalists to take up the struggles of women in Latin America and to connect them with ours in this country and to show our solidarity. Only if we stand up for our rights, together, can we win!