The sound of drum beats echoes down Mendoza’s Avenida Sarmiento. A collective hum of voices — some chanting, some shouting — carries over the otherwise ordinary noise of rush hour traffic. Amorphous blocks of colours, indistinguishable to the human eye from a distance, slowly start to take form, crystallising into hand-painted banners and props held by the masses of people gathered at one of the city’s main intersections.
It feels like a giant block party. And, in some ways, it is — a celebration of what it means to be a woman and all the ways that can look, a number of participants said. But the thousands of women and their allies are here to call for an end to machismo, to put a stop to gender violence and to demand laws that equally protect and defend all humans.
November 25 is the Día Internacional de la Eliminación de la Violencia contra las Mujeres (“International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women”). It commemorates the the assassination of three Dominican women, ordered by then dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. The women were fierce opponents of the regime, and it was on this day in 1960 that their corpses appeared, just hours after a government-ordered investigation had suggested their death came as the result of a car accident. Today, it’s widely celebrated across Latin America, including in many provinces in Argentina, with marches and public demonstrations.
“We say violence doesn’t have a place in our society,” Nilda Giménez, the secretary general of Movimiento Evita [“Evita Movement”], told the Times. “That means all types of violence. Femicide, but also institutional violence, sexual violence, domestic violence, labour violence. Whatever it is.”
Upwards of 20 organisations came from all over the province to participate. Some brought handmade banners large enough to spread the length of one of the city’s largest avenues emblazoned with the name of their group, and others had members wear items or paint their bodies in colours that would advertise their affiliation. The signature green of La Campana Nacional por el Derecho de Aborto (“National Campaign for the Right to Abortion”) appeared as scarves.
The hallmark purple of Movimiento Evita showed up in t-shirts. And the emblematic “rainbow” of Colectiva Feminista La Revuelta (“The Collective Feminist Revolt”) soared above the crowd in multi-coloured umbrellas. Together, the passage of march-goers more closely resembled an abstract watercolour painting in movement, with each wave marked by its own distinct drumline, dancers, and chants.
And it’s not just the more traditional feminist groups that turn out in support. Collectives representing political parties, indigeneous communities and those who identify as trans, nonbinary or other non-traditional gender identifications marched, too. There was also an enhanced focus on the rights of women in Bolivia and Chile who are believed by some to have been especially harmed by the social unrest in each of these neighbouring countries.
“Being in favour of ending gender violence crosses the lines that may separate one group from another,” said protester Nancy Castronovo.
Similar demonstrations to denounce violence against women took place all over the world in cities like Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, as well as Mexico City, Montevideo, Istanbul, Brussels, Khartoum and more.
“We will keep thinking together and working together to secure our rights,” said the event’s MC at the Mendoza chapter’s culmination point outside the province’s main courthouse, the location a poignant symbol of what demonstrators believe is an institutionally sanctioned system of violence against women.
“There’s all this hidden violence against us. From the number of victims of femicide to the way we’re denied women’s healthcare like abortion to the ways the laws fail to protect us,” said Elina, who asked that her last name not be used. “People are mobilising, and we’re getting stronger each year, demanding that the lawmakers and governments pay attention to women.”
Gender violence figures in Argentina remain alarming. Last year, a report from the INDEC national statistics bureau – the Unique Registry for Cases of Violence against Women (RUCVM), the first of its kind – revealed that complaints quadrupled between 2012 and 2017 but resulted in no reduction in femicides. National statistics reported 292 cases in 2017, almost identical to 2016’s statistics (290 cases) in a country of 42 million people.
Another study from the Ni Una Menos feminist movement found a woman was killed every 29 hours in Argentina in 2017. More than half of those women murdered in 2017 were mothers, and around 65 percent of the femicides were committed in the home of the victim.
Daunting as the statistics might be, activists and organisers believe public demonstrations like this annual march make a tangible, positive impact.