By Caty Seger
In 2015, Argentine feminists birthed a movement against femicide that would spread across the continent. The #NiUnaMenos collective began holding regular marches to protest the murder of 14-year-old girl, Chiara Paez, whose body had been found under her boyfriend’s house on May 11 after having been beaten to death, a few weeks pregnant. Femicide and violence against women Describing themselves as “a collective scream against machista violence”, the #NiUnaMenos movement spread to surrounding countries, including Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Brazil and others. An August 2016 march in Lima, Peru was described as the largest march in Peruvian history by newspaper La Republica.
They organized the first-ever mass strike of women in Argentine history in October of 2016, in direct response to the murder of 16-year-old Lucía Pérez who had been raped and impaled in the city of Mar del Plata. Women ceased their work and their studies for one hour in the afternoon while dressed in mourning clothes. Following the strike, similar protests were held in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Spain. The strike went on to inspire the 2017 Women’s March on Washington in the United States.
The impact of #NiUnaMenos is undeniable. Other feminist collectives have made headlines of their own throughout the region: Chilean collective LASTESIS went viral with their song “Un violador en tu camino”/ “A rapist in your pathway” last year during Chile’s protests against Pinochet-era neoliberalism and Mexican feminists recently seized control of a federal building to protest the government’s inaction on femicides. The United States’ women’s movement, though, has struggled to maintain the mainstream attention it saw in 2017. What lies at the heart of its sustainability problem is exactly what the #NiUnaMenos collective did so well.
Since those initial marches in response to the murders of young girls and women all throughout Latin America, #NiUnaMenos has expanded their activism to include the fight for abortion rights, the rights of sex workers, the gender wage gap and transgender rights. What may be most important, though, is their focus on debt, neoliberalism and financial violence that is foisted onto Argentine women.
In her conversation with CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans, Dr. Tithi Bhattacharya explained how in her work with the #NiUnaMenos collective, the massive debt owed by Argentina and other previously colonized nations to institutions like the IMF was central to their understanding of their oppression as women.
“One of the things they argue,” Bhattacharya says, “is that in the 1980s the IMF pushed through the debt regimes in Latin America. In the 1990s the Washington Consensus of neoliberal reforms further exacerbated the indebted condition of Latin American countries that some have called financial colonization.” While #NiUnaMenos began as a movement against gender-based violence and femicide, they have been able to articulate how the issues Argentina grapples with, especially debt, are crucial to their feminist framework.
“Economic terrorism and gender violence go hand in hand with each other,” says Bhattacharya. “The Ni Una Menos movement started as a collective against gender violence but they also launched the slogan, that I don’t think a lot of people are aware of which is ‘We want ourselves alive, free and debt free.’” The movement has done what feminist movements in the United States have failed, and frankly, refused to do: position the material problems faced by women as issues not just of patriarchal violence, but of global power structures.
Women’s movements in the United States would do well to follow in the lead of the Ni Una Menos collective, which many claim as an inspiration. However, this hasn’t happened — why is that?
The uncomfortable truth for many US-based feminists is that to make the same demands of a complete restructuring of global power requires a reimagination of where US women stand. Mainstream feminists in the US have often focused on shallow representation in political arenas, seeking to become #GirlBosses rather than feminist revolutionaries. They can understand and empathize with the struggle against gender-based violence; intimate patriarchal violence does not discriminate. When it comes to broader forms of patriarchal violence like neoliberalism, US-domination and the never-satisfied machine that is financial capitalism, though, elite US feminists are silent.
The often working-class women who demand more of their feminist movements are often silo’d off into other movements in the United States. Being in the imperial core, US women have a unique responsibility to stand arm-in-arm with global South feminists who have made demands to end imperial domination, financial colonization, and US-dominant militarism that kills their loved ones, bombs their neighborhoods and destroys their countries. While unique in our proximity to global power, US feminists have failed to answer the call of our sisters in struggle because restructuring global power means losing that very proximity to global power.
No longer can #GirlBoss feminism control the narrative of US women’s interests — the average working-class woman in the United States has more in common with a Venezuelan or Iranian woman trying to pay their rent while struggling under economic sanctions trying or with Argentine women fighting for the right to fully access reproductive healthcare, including abortion.
In 2004, writer Arundhati Roy argued that the checkbook and the cruise missile are the two most important tools of imperialism: when the checkbook no longer works, the cruise missiles come out to play. Building on that, Tithi Bhattacharya says that any social movement that challenges that very relationship is where feminist restructuring of global power can be birthed. That is exactly where US feminists need to be working.
Caty Seger (she/her) serves as our Feminist Foreign Policy Campaign Organizer and is a writer and non-profit worker based in her hometown of New York, NY. She's invested in demilitarizing your community and building working-class feminist power.