By the Blouin News Politics staff

Can Argentina’s president make “Ni una menos” her legacy?

by in Americas.

People gather in front of the Congress building to take part in a demonstration 'Ni una menos' (Not One Less) against feminicide (a sort of genre violence consisting in the murder of women) in Buenos Aires, on June 3, 2015. JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images

“Ni una menos” protesters gather outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 6/3/15. JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images

Ni una menos,” or Not One Woman Less, was the rallying cry of some 200,000 people who filled the plaza in front of Argentina’s Congress on Wednesday. They were protesting femicide and the unacceptable culture of violence towards women, a chronic problem in Argentina and other Latin American countries. Despite laws specifically criminalizing gender-based violence, Argentina’s justice system often lets offenders off the hook. Much domestic violence goes unreported, since many victims feel stigmatized by the general public.

Two recent high-profile murders of Argentine women shocked the nation and catalyzed this movement. In April, a kindergarten teacher was murdered by her estranged husband in front of her class in the province of Cordoba. And in May, a 14-year-old girl in the province of Santa Fe was beaten to death by her boyfriend because she was pregnant.

At Wednesday’s rally, women, men, and children held banners and wore shirts with the names and pictures of women who have been killed. According to La Casa del Encuentro, a women’s rights NGO in Buenos Aires, there were 277 murders of women in Argentina in 2014. This represents a disturbing increase from previous years, as actress Érica Rivas noted in the movement’s opening speech: “In 2008, a woman was killed every 40 hours; in 2014, every 30. In those 7 years, the media published news about 1,808 femicides. How many women were killed this year just for being women? We do not know. But we do know that we have to say enough.”

Women who were victims of domestic violence also spoke out, some for the first time even though the abuse they have suffered often began years earlier. The social taboos on publicly discussing domestic violence are being shattered, which is a crucial first step, but the movement is pressing for concrete changes on the ground. Argentina adopted a femicide law in 2012 with tough penalties for domestic violence, but Ni una menos demands that its enforcement be stepped up vigorously. It also is calling for the compilation and publication of official statistics on violence against women, the opening of offices to handle domestic violence cases in courts throughout all of the provinces, and guaranteed protection of the victims. Ni una menos is insisting that victims get guaranteed access to legal justice, through personnel trained in every public prosecutor’s office and police station, and that such legal representation be free.

Ni una menos also drew protesters on smaller scales in neighboring Chile and Uruguay. (Three current South American presidents are female: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, Michelle Bachellet in Chile, and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil; all are in their second term of office. But despite their landmark electoral victories and socially progressive policies, their countries’ culture has been slow in changing longstanding patriarchal attitudes towards women.)

In Kirchner’s message to Ni una menos, she criticized the media for objectifying women and expressed her exasperation with “certain judges” and the absurdly low sentences they’ve given out to perpetrators of domestic violence. “It’s not only a judicial or police problem,” she added. “We’re facing a culture that is devastating to women, wherever they happen to be.”

Kirchner will leave office in December, and her legacy is controversial. But as a strong Ni una menos supporter, she could earn wide acclaim at home and abroad by doing her best to further the movement’s agenda.