Buenos Aires, Argentina – Women snuggle up to them, cringe their necks and snap photos at the ornate advertising booth in the heart of Argentina’s capital that has been covered with posters of men accused or convicted of murdering women.
The word “FEMICIDA” – female killer – screams in big black letters under each name.
The posters, like the thousands of people who gathered outside Argentina’s Supreme Court last week to protest, are a measure of the country’s rage at endemic levels of violence against women.
It was the murder of 18-year-old Ursula Bahillo that pushed the women’s movement onto the streets on February 17 in numbers not seen since Argentina’s Congress. legalized elective abortion in December. This time the mood was much darker.
Bahillo was killed in her hometown of Rojas, in the province of Buenos Aires, on February 8. Her ex-boyfriend, police officer Matias Ezequiel Martinez, has been charged with femicide, with the aggravating factors of premeditation and cruelty.
“We want to be able to walk the streets without having to look over our shoulders,” said Fabiana Costa, a 26-year-old mother who lives in Quilmes, on the outskirts of the capital, standing with a sign calling for “judicial reform feminist ”outside the Supreme Court.
Advocates say Bahillo’s case has been a lightning rod because it clearly demonstrates the many ways the state fails to protect women.
She had filed several complaints with the police against her ex-boyfriend and obtained a non-compliance order which was not enforced. The last time she went to the authorities to file a complaint, she was told that they did not work on weekends and that she would have to come back another day. The following Monday, the day her panic button was due to arrive, she was dead.
An autopsy revealed Bahillo had been stabbed 15 times in the back, torso and neck with a butcher’s knife found at the scene. Martinez, her ex-boyfriend, was found in the same rural area where her body was discovered, with a stab wound.
Since Bahillo’s death, more cases of femicide have been reported in Argentina. Ivana Modica’s body was found buried behind a hotel in the town of La Falda, in the province of Cordoba, after her ex-boyfriend confessed to the crime. Miriam Beatriz Farias, who was set on fire in the city of Cordoba by her partner, also a police officer, died of her injuries.
On Tuesday evening, 21-year-old Guadalupe Curual was stabbed to death on a busy street in the southern town of Villa La Angostura, apparently by an ex-boyfriend against whom she had also obtained an injunction.
“Cases are everywhere. We all have a neighbor, or someone we know, who has been there, who is living it now, but the justice system is not doing anything about it, ”Costa said at the Buenos Aires rally.
“You’re going to file a complaint with the police station, and they’re just looking at you. They register your complaint and that’s it. The restraining order never comes. [Or] it happens after the person has already left. We want to live. “
High rates of violence against women sparked a new wave of activism for the Argentine feminist movement in 2015, after the body of 14-year-old Chiara Paez was found buried in the backyard of her family. boyfriend. The pent-up outrage drew hundreds of thousands of people to the streets under the banner of #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less).
The movement seeks to eradicate gender-based violence and has spread to several countries in Latin America.
Nearly 300 femicides were reported in the country in 2020, according to organizations that follow the cases through the media. In the first 52 days of 2021, there were 43 femicides and transfemicides, according to Mumala, a feminist organization that counts cases. Of these, 38 were direct victims and five were children or others related to the woman who was killed.
But the crisis extends beyond Argentina. Most Latin American countries have changed their laws so that the murder of a woman appears specifically as femicide in the penal code or is considered an aggravating circumstance of homicide.
Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic recorded the region’s highest rates of femicide in 2019, with more than six women killed per 100,000 population in Honduras and around three killed in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
In Mexico, an average of 10 women are killed every day.
“Feminicides are the bloodiest expression of a male chauvinist society which we must end once and for all,” Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said on Twitter on the day of the demonstration in front of the Supreme Court.
He met with Bahillo’s parents and announced plans to create a Federal Council for the Prevention of Femicides, Transvesticides and Transfemicides. Its mandate will be to coordinate an integrated response to the question by different government agencies.
“We know that the state has a duty to ensure prevention, assistance, punishment and redress for gender-based violence, but we also need everyone to embrace a cultural change that eliminates violent machismo in all aspects of life. our life, ”the president wrote in a letter to the governors of the country.
But for many, the advice isn’t going to cut it.
Soledad Deza, a well-known lawyer from Tucuman province who has worked extensively on women’s rights, said Argentina already has a ministry for women, gender and diversity and does not need to create more organizations.
Instead, she said the focus should be on prevention. “We tend to think of violence as a private matter. Violence is a political, social and cultural problem that is based on models of inequality, models that allow violent masculinities, ”she told Al Jazeera.
For her, an education that breaks these cultural patterns at an early age is crucial. The government must also ensure that a gender perspective permeates all corners of the state.
Argentina has a law that makes training on gender-based violence mandatory in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, but Deza said the large number of femicides this year indicates much more is needed.
“We need public policies, and we need effective implementation of these public policies, to make what we have to work,” she said, adding that more men needed to be involved in discussions on how to prevent, eradicate and punish this violence.
“Since they are part of the problem, they have to be part of the solution.”
‘More of the same’
For Marta Montero, what she hears from the government is “more or less the same”.
The murder and rape of her 16-year-old daughter, Lucia Perez, in 2016, has become a landmark case of femicide in Argentina. Three men were acquitted of his sexual abuse and femicide, and two were only convicted of drug administration. A new trial has since been ordered.
Montero is now part of a group of families of femicide victims seeking a government hearing to ameliorate what she has described as a painful and labyrinthine journey families must take in search of justice for their loved ones.
There isn’t enough help or financial support for the legal battle, she said, and the swift justice they seek rarely happens.
“I don’t need the state to spend unnecessary money on talking people. As families of femicide victims, we want action. We want things to be done, we want concrete things, ”she told Al Jazeera.
“Why do we have to spend three, four or five years bouncing back in search of justice?” she said. “I need the state to get down to work, to take responsibility for the dead, the orphans, the families who end up being destroyed.”