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What More Do Latin American Women Want? Equality, Safety and Respect for Starters

"Mujeres feministas se manifiestan en Santiago de Chile, pidiendo democracia durante el gobierno militar de Augusto Pinochet." (de Kena Lorenzini) CC BY-SA 3.0

“Feminist women rally in Santiago de Chile, demanding democracy during the military rule of Augusto Pinochet.” (by Kena Lorenzini) CC BY-SA 3.0

International Women's Day always brings with it questions and quarrels, celebrations and clarifications. It is a day in which feminist movements (and their opponents) shake up social media worldwide to make their points of view known. The discussion includes robust accounts of the oppression, both visible and invisible, that dominates the lives of women around the globe.

Within Latin America, the debate includes many different types of struggles, including the plight of indigenous women, violence against women in urban and rural areas, social oppression behind the concept of love and family, and the criminalization of abortion.

This year, March 8 celebrations come as protests continue for the release of jailed indigenous leaders, the historic trial of soldiers accused of committing sexual violence gets underway in Guatemala, and the murders of two Argentinian travelers in Ecuador and Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres rattle the region.

Gaby Arguedas, from Costa Rica, pointed to these facts and reflected on the concerning social status of women in Latin America:

El mensaje inscrito en el cuerpo de una mujer asesinada o agredida puede resumirse así: Los hombres tenemos poder sobre las mujeres porque son nuestra propiedad. Hacemos con ellas lo que queremos. Si están en la vía pública, son objeto público. Las podemos tocar, perseguir y golpear, si nos da la gana. ¿Y qué? ¿Quién nos lo va a impedir? Las mujeres no son sujetos, son objetos […] Si no que lo digan mujeres como Milagro Sala, dirigente comunitaria de Jujuy, Argentina, detenida arbitrariamente desde hace dos meses; o Maricela Tombe , líder campesina y ambientalista, de la comunidad del Tambo en Cauca, Colombia, quien fue asesinada hace pocos días. La lista sigue y es larga.

The message written on a woman's body, whether killed or assaulted, can be read as such: Men have power over women because they are our property. We do with them what we like. If they are on a public street, they are a public object. We can touch them, chase them and hit them if we feel like it. And so what? Who will stop us? Women are not subjects, they are objects […] If their stories are not told by women such as Milagro Sala, community leader of Jujuy, Argentina, arbitrarily arrested two months ago; or by Maricela Tombe, the rural environmentalist leader from the community of Tambo en Cauca, Colombia, who was murdered a few days ago. The list grows and is long.

Despite these cases and the conversations that stem from them, activists still face questions online about the need for an International Women's Day. In her blog, Coral Herrera, a researcher from Spain residing in Costa Rica, analyzed the topic “what more do women want?” — a question that for her is the “favorite of people who know nothing about inequality”:

Queremos que nos dejen de violar y de matar a diario en todo el mundo. Queremos que nos dejen de mutilar los genitales, queremos que no nos encierren en las casas, queremos que dejen de esclavizarnos para la trata sexual, queremos que dejen de desaparecernos, queremos que dejen de someter a las niñas a matrimonios forzados, queremos viajar solas sin que nos maten, queremos caminar libres por las calles sin miedo, queremos parir en los hospitales sin riesgo a morir o a sufrir malos tratos, queremos que nos dejen ser madres cuando elijamos, queremos que las niñas y las jóvenes puedan estudiar, queremos parar el acoso sexual en las universidades y en el trabajo, queremos empleo y salarios dignos, queremos que se nos deje de usar como botín de guerra en los conflictos armados, queremos que se garanticen nuestros derechos humanos en todo el planeta.

We want them to stop raping us and killing us daily around the world. We want them to stop mutilating our genitals, to stop locking us in our homes, we want them to stop turning us into sex slaves, we want them to stop causing us to disappear, we want them to stop submitting girls to forced marriages, we want to be able to travel alone without being killed, we want to be able to walk freely in the streets without fear, we want to give birth in hospitals without risk of death or of suffering abuse, we want to be able to be mothers when we choose it, we want for girls and young women to be able to study, we want the end of sexual harassment at school and at work, we want dignified employment and salaries, we want an end to being used as the spoils of war in armed conflicts, we want our human rights to be guaranteed across the entire planet.

The many fronts of the battle for equality

Spanish-speaking social media across the Americas has hosted discussion on women's rights since the beginning of March. Under the the hashtags #8demarzo (March 8) and  (International Women's Day), Web users have examined the purpose of International Women's Day, the struggles still being faced, and the triumphs achieved, as well as the racial discrimination and problems that constitute part of daily life for women in the region.

Last year, Luis Sallés evoked the central reason for the March 8 celebration with a cartoon published on the website Cinismo Ilustrado. The artwork was in response to the fact that many of the words and memes shared on International Women's Day are steeped in flowers and feel-good wishes, something that seems more appropriate for Valentine's Day than the international day dedicated to women:

Viñeta de Luis Sallés sobre el 8 de marzo. Publicado en 2015 y compartido masivamente en la red.

Cartoon by Luis Sallés about March 8. Published in 2015 and shared virally online.

The cartoon reads:

¿Qué no se celebra el 8 de marzo:

-Al “más grande regalo de Dios”
-A “lo más bonito que hay en este mundo”
-A “una criatura angelical, la pincelada de un artista celestial”
-Al “amanecer de todas nuestras mañanas”
-A “las dueñas de nuestros corazones”
-O a la flor que enfrenta retos con valor y fuerza.

Hoy se celebra la lucha por la igualdad, la justicia y los derechos de la mujer. Sigamos luchando por eso. Feliz 8 de marzo.

What is not celebrated on March 8:

-“The biggest gift from God”
-“The most beautiful thing in the world”
-“An angelic creature, the brushstroke of a heavenly artist”
-“The sunrise of all our mornings”
-“The owners of our hearts”
-Or “the flower that faces challenges with courage and strength”

Today we celebrate the fight for equality, justice, and women's rights. We continue fighting for this. Happy March 8

In addition to misunderstandings, there are those who are missing from many of the conversations surrounding International Women's Day. For example, community site Afroféminas, which is based in Spain, published a post on Facebook, saying that March 8 “talks about women but doesn't take into account black women.” To raise awareness, the site has dedicated the month of March to chronicling the work of pioneers of black feminism as well as exploring the unique context of their fight.

In one of the articles dedicated to Afro-feminism, Antoinette Torres Soler explained:

Se abolió la esclavitud. Sin embargo cuando llegó el momento de aquellas marchas que pedían justicia para la mujer, aquellas feministas blancas, las mismas que hablaban en nombre de la MUJER y que pedían avances para ellas, estas mismas exigieron su segregación. Las negras podían marchar, pero separadas de ellas. Y esto es clave para entender el porqué del feminismo negro. La preocupación de la mujer afro estaba centrada no tanto en sus relaciones patriarcales como en su reconocimiento como MUJER.

Slavery was abolished. Nonetheless, when those marches began demanding justice for women, those white feminists, the same ones who spoke in the name of WOMEN and who demanded progress for us, those were the same women who demanded our segregation. Black women could march, but separated from them. And that is key to understanding the reason behind black feminism. The concerns of the black woman were just as much centered around her patriarchal relationships as they were around her recognition as a WOMAN.

Meanwhile, Urufarma, a contraception lab in Uruguay, released the campaign “The first time”, in which different fathers are asked how they think their son's first sexual experience will be, and then, that of their daughters. The difference in their responses are dramatic, as are the reactions to the video, having already exceeded 57,000 views. Watch the video below with English subtitles:

In Mexico, Twitter users seized the occasion  to demand answers for the rising number of femicides in the country's capital:

We demand timely action. 35 women killed in 2016 in the State of Mexico. #InternationalWomen'sDay

#NotEvenOneMore I want to go out into the streets without fear, #Chimalhuacan [a suburb of Mexico City]

Reflections on the significance of celebrating a day for women continue to spread online. Venezuelan Aglaia Berlutti, who wrote detailed commentary about the daily oppression faced by women, from cultural conventions to the power of words, and finally about the need to continue this fight, which has barely just begun:

Camino por la calle, en este país de mujeres: de madres, de hijas, de esposas. De mujeres sin adjetivo como yo. Y pienso en esas batallas diarias. En esa noción de continuar aunque la lucha parezca estéril, simple y desigual. Pero supongo que toda idea comienza así [y me lo] digo mientras una niña pequeña me sonríe desde el hombro de su madre unos pasos más allá de la calle donde camino.

I walk down the street, in this country of women: of mothers, of daughters, of wives. Women, like me, without adjectives. And I think of these daily battles. Of this notion of keeping on, even when the struggle seems sterile, simple, and unequal. But I suppose that all ideas begin like this, I say [to myself] as a little girl smiles at me from the shoulder of her mother a few steps ahead of me on the street where I'm walking.

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