Even the best-designed laws in the world are as worthless as the paper they’re scribbled on if the government doesn’t provide the intestinal fortitude and money needed to bring them to life.
That’s that message that thousands of Argentines are taking to the streets today to shout at their government.
Under the banner #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less) — a hashtag that has gone viral this week — Argentines are marching to protest an unofficial femicide rate that has reached the ghoulish tally of 1,808 over the past seven years. That’s an unofficial count because the Argentine government, despite it’s progressive legislation aimed at protecting women from violence, doesn’t keep such numbers.
And that’s part of the problem. Despite having what many consider to be “model legislation” to protect women’s right to a life without violence, Argentina’s government hasn’t given the issue much more than lip service over the past decade, feminists say. And sometimes not even that much.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a self-styled leftist, has essentially avoided addressing the issues of femicides and violence against women for years. Only last night did she finally jump on the hashtag bandwagon on the eve of today’s nationwide march. And even then, according to young feminist activist Pamela Martin Garcia, Kirchner managed to bungle the message of the march, treating the matter as a women’s issue — prompting a flurry of Twitter responses from men and women reminding the president that violence against women is an issue that affects everyone.
That simple tweet, Martin Garcia says, is demonstrative of the gaping disconnect between the government and society when it comes to women’s rights. For that matter, the young feminist leader says, it also shows the disconnect between the government and its own laws, which have been neatly shelved and ignored in leather-backed tomes.
“Our country’s laws are beautiful and divine, but they’re not applied,” Martin Garcia, one of today’s event organizers, told Fusion in a phone interview from Buenos Aires. “All that we’re asking is that the government apply its own laws. They don’t even have to think about it. Just act on the laws they already have. Easy!”
Specifically, she said, rights activists are calling on the government to implement an action plan to educate people about the country’s legislation and how to report instances of abuse. They also want the government to harmonize the application of the legislation to assure equal access to the law in liberal and conservative provinces, and fund violence-awareness and prevention campaigns around the country. It just requires a little money and political will, Martin Garcia said. Nada más.
In some ways, it’s Argentina’s duty and obligation to carry the banner on this issue, because the country has already had the “femicide discussion” and the issue of violence against women is not as taboo there as it is in some other conservative countries in Latin America.
Argentines — to make a sweeping and irresponsible generalization — tend to talk about such matters more openly than other countries. And when they do, the rest of the region listens. Already, the #NiUnaMenos campaign has spread virally around Latin America, inspiring similar marches in Chile, Uruguay, and Mexico.
Latin America’s failure to protect women isn’t due to a dearth of good legislation, rather a lack of execution. According to CEPAL, 15 Latin American countries now have some form of progressive legislation aimed at protecting women from violence, even though not every country has typified femicide as a crime, and those that have aren’t necessarily in agreement over what the term means.
Still, most Latin American countries now have laws on the books. And nine of those countries have passed their laws in just the past three years, indicating a serious regional momentum. Application of the law, however, is a separate challenge — as is machismo and other regional expressions of violence against women.
“Laws alone are not sufficient,” María Cristina Benavente, of CEPAL’s Observatory of Gender Equality, told Fusion. “With these new laws needs to come a transformation of culture, from police and prosecutors down to all people in society.”