Galvanized by the recent, violent murder of a woman by a man she hardly knew in broad daylight in a populated, public space, women’s rights activists in Argentina have revived the slogan that began in Mexico in response to the mass killings of young women in Ciudad Juárez. Ni una mujer menos, ni una muerta más (not one less woman, not one more female death) was the cry when the murders reached their apex in 1996 when eight dead women and girls were found in Juárez, where the yearly death toll due to femicide reached 304 in 2010 and continues unabated and largely unreported. Those words were spoken by Susana Chávez Castillo, a local poetry prodigy who met the same fate when she took a simple walk in her neighbourhood to visit some friends. Her mutilated body was found on January 6, 2011. In Argentina, they are saying, Ni una menos, not one less female, because every woman and girl’s life matters.
Buenos Aires, May 2, 2015: A woman arrives at a popular sandwich shop in the Caballito neighborhood. She asks the waiter for a seat by the window, “Where I can be seen and where I can see outside.” She is there to meet up with the man who has been bothering her for the last three months, ever since he learned that she had separated from her husband. It’s an old acquaintance, and he won’t take no for an answer. He arrives, they talk, she rises from her seat, he stabs her seven times in full view of café patrons. The neck wound is fatal. The man breaks through the café’s window and uses the same knife to stab himself in front of passersby on the busy street.
At first, the papers said it was her ex-husband who had killed her and then attempted to take his own life, a mistaken assumption that belies how commonplace that scenario has become. Two days after the incident, Argentinian magazine Clarín took pains to explain to its readers that the two were not a couple. Romina Diurno, professor of gender studies at the University of Buenos Aires Department of Psychology, was in the avenue in front of the café with her daughter that day and experienced the killing. In her article, “Witnessing Femicide in Caballito: Running and Screaming,” she relates:
“The media later recounted the news and described the precautions the woman took in meeting him: a public place, in full view of everyone, accompanied, but it was not enough. Hypervigilant strategies are never enough. Nobody could avoid the outcome, neither the dozens of people who were there, running, desperately trying to protect themselves, many not understanding what was happening, nor the medical personnel trying to resuscitate the victim on the way to hospital.”
The term femicide is apparently formed from the two words “female” and “homicide,” and is generally defined as the intentional killing of women and girls because they are female, or better yet and more inclusively, female-identified. It is what is happening in Juárez, what happened in Caballito, what happens when baby girls are left to die. And it happens in the home, hidden from view.
According to the World Health Organization’s information sheet entitled “Femicide: Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women,” “Most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.”
But often and sadly, this latter definition is taken to imply a shared responsibility on the part of women, leading mistakenly to endless discussion, programmes, training and proscriptions, as if it were in their power to avoid abuse and femicide. But in Juárez and Caballito, one cannot in any way implicate the women who were killed; there was nothing they could have done. As Diurno writes, “Femicide is nothing more than patriarchy’s greatest expression, the dominion of male over female, and the response is brutal for females who want to escape this destiny.”
In the words of prolific author Ilka Oliva Corrado, “Saying not one less means no more defenseless princesses and violent little he-men. It means taking down trafficking and prostitution networks. No more precarious labour, equal pay for equal work. Sexual education to decide. Contraception to not abort. Legal abortion to not die. No more assaults and violence against women, justice for the victims.”
Pictures from the June 3, 2015, Ni una menos demonstration in Buenos Aires can be seen here.