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Ni Una Menos Stares Down Conservative Reaction

Monday 28 May 2018, by Jelke Boesten

As an unprecedented wave of feminist campaigns gains ground across Latin America, a dangerous backlash is afoot on various fronts.

Well before outrage over Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein gave rise to the #MeToo movement in October 2017, feminists throughout Latin America had been using social media to organize large-scale nation-wide protests against gender violence. Between 2015 and 2016, mass demonstrations shook Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, each triggered by local events: in Argentina it was the murder of a young woman later found dumped in a garbage bag in March 2015; in Brazil, it was the May 2016 gang rape of a 16-year-old girl, filmed and posted on YouTube; in Peru, it was impunity surrounding a man who violently dragged his girlfriend through a hotel lobby, recorded and uploaded for the world to see. Though sparked in each instance by different cases, all protests converged around a shared slogan–‘Ni Una Menos’ (Not One [woman] Less)–and one demand: an end to violence against women.

These protests happen amid staggering levels of violence against women. At least 75% of Peruvian women report facing some form of violence from their partners or ex-partners during their lifetime. Femicide–the murder of women–ranges from an estimated ten a month in Peru to seven a day in Mexico. [1] Meanwhile as more women enter politics on their own terms, they are increasingly subject to political violence, as the recent assassination of Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco chillingly exposed. And though no solid figures on sexual violence against minors exist, reliable estimates based on available data suggest at least one in five girls experiences sexual violence before they turn 15. [2] It is plausible, then, to assume that many and perhaps most teenage pregnancies–so charged an issue in Catholic Latin America–result from rape. In turn, these shocking figures have spurred new debates around legalizing abortion, at least in cases of rape.

Still, numbers only scratch the surface of what, in each instance, is a deeply disturbing personal story. What Ni Una Menos has accomplished is to make abstract figures tangible, imaginable. Relegated to reports and statistics, numbers can be dismissed. But testimony–long a feature of Latin American social justice movements–is a powerful tool. Peru’s Ni Una Menos campaign began on a Sunday morning in July 2016 when Natalia Iguińiz, Jimena Ledgard and Elizabeth Vallejos set up a Facebook page, aiming to organize a march similar to those held earlier in Brazil and Argentina. Within 24 hours, women of all ages and backgrounds had posted their stories. They told of childhood abuse never before shared, of sexual coercion as adolescents, of physical and emotional abuse by partners and ex-partners, of the impunity that followed, of lack of support from relatives. Suddenly, abstract figures came alive.

To be sure, feminist consciousness-raising campaigns are far from novel. What is new is the potential audience for these traumatic experiences, now reaching tens of thousands instead of ten. Though resembling #MeToo in scale, the level of detail relayed in Ni Una Menos testimonies far exceeds that found in #MeToo. Inclusion and diversity are also hallmarks: though in Peru three well educated urban middle-class women created the platform, women from many other backgrounds and geographies quickly joined the movement. Now tangible, the multiple violences women of many social classes experienced, identified with, and shared generated enormous energy among group members and drew in family and friends. In turn, this energy grew into powerful political mobilization, including alliances with the private sector and state institutions that sponsored and participated