Latin America is experiencing a wave of feminist protests linked to movements across the world. Here’s what we can learn.
Over the last few years, Latin America has been gripped by a wave of feminist protests that have remained underreported in Western media. Confronted by widespread gender-based violence and institutional barriers to equality, women have taken to the streets to demand real change.
The protests centre around two key demands: an end to violence against women and the legalisation of abortion. Latin America and the Caribbean suffers from some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, with an estimated 12 women murdered a day in the region.
The Ni Una Menos movement emerged in Argentina in 2015 to demand that ‘not one more’ life was taken, a galvanising slogan quickly taken up elsewhere. In addition, while abortion is currently only legal in Mexico City, Cuba and Uruguay, pro-choice campaigning has gained traction following several high-profile cases of young rape victims being forced to give birth.
Faced with these overwhelming institutional challenges, along with the persistence of Catholic social conservatism, feminist movements have shown an impressive dynamism.
Protest symbols often emerge from specific cultural contexts, but soon spread beyond them. For instance, victims of ‘femicide’ or gender-based murders receive special vigils in Mexican Day of the Dead commemorations, while the green headscarf worn by protesters in Argentina and Chile is now a universal symbol of the abortion rights campaign.
The most powerful recent example of this cultural exchange is the spread of the chant ‘A Rapist in Your Way,’/‘Un Violador en Tu Camino’ from Chile to the rest of the world. The feminist anthem was first performed as anti-government protests linked up with the 25 November Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It has since spread throughout the continent and beyond; the Mexico City performance featured thousands of blindfolded women all performing in sync.
This intercommunication and unity among feminists isn’t limited to Latin America, but seems to be part of a global movement for female empowerment. In India the murder of a gang-rape victim has sparked mass demonstrations, while popular protests in Sudan recently led to draconian laws on female conduct to be repealed.
And the movements are making progress: this year the Mexican state of Oaxaca will legalise abortion, while the new President of Argentina has suggested change is coming. Femicide is now recognised as a legal category in 16 Latin American countries, a measure that helps with data collection and prosecution of perpetrators. Yet there is still much further to go.
These global movements set an example of how to resist seemingly-impossible barriers and demand change. In the UK, where legal battles over abortion rights, equal pay and discrimination legislation seem on the whole to have already been won, it can be easy to forget the reality of patriarchal violence faced by women around the world.
The recent push towards intersectional feminism, which recognises the diverse challenges faced by women of colour, LGBTQ+ women and other groups, has done great work; but this push won’t be complete without recognising the resistance of our sisters around the world.
Their movement offers us inspiration with its energy and protest methods, and deserves admiration – but more importantly, demands solidarity.
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