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2017: Another Year of Feminist Counter-Power in Latin America

“We Want Ourselves Alive” Photo from Emergente. Used with permission.

2017 was another year of alarming numbers and another year of women pushing back. It was a year that Latin America raised its voice against gender violence with feminist movements that caught fire and expanded all around the region, creating bridges with other women's movements globally.

These global movements reverberated around the world and were recognized by mainstream media outlets: English-language Merriam Webster Dictionary chose the word “feminism” as the Word of the Year and US Time magazine chose the #MeToo campaign, in which thousands of women shared their personal stories of sexual assault, as Person of the Year.

Global Voices followed many of the movements that shook Latin America, and as the year ends, we want to look back at some of the moments when women's struggles took center stage.

“The same week in which Latin America hit the streets and the net to defend women's rights, the regional public was in an uproar over the death of 41 young women inside a shelter on the edges of Guatemala City.” Photo: Carlos Sebastián for the online media Nómada. Used under Creative Commons – nonspecified – license.

March was a tragic month for Guatemala. It was a month that saw 41 girls die in a fire at a state-run foster home in the outskirts of Guatemala City, an incident that sparked many initiatives from civil society groups. Most notably, the tragedy led to the global campaign #56Hurt (#NosDuelen56). The initiative brought together a group of international artists who created portraits of each girl that died in the fire, demanding that Guatemalan authorities take action.

Indira Jarisa Pelicó Orellana, one of the victims of the “Hogar Seguro” massacre, was 17-years-old when she died. Portrait by Mexican artist Claudia Navarro. Used with permission.

#NosDuelen56 es un grito por la justicia desde el arte, el periodismo, el medioactivismo y los feminismos. Es un ejercicio de memoria colectiva y de dignificación por las 56 niñas que fueron encerradas y quemadas en un hogar estatal en Guatemala el pasado 8 de marzo del presente año. De ellas, 41 murieron como resultado de este crimen femicida y 15 están con heridas de gravedad.

#NosDuelen56 is a cry for justice through art, journalism, online activism and feminism. It's an exercise in collective memory for the dignity of the 56 girls who were locked up and burned in a state-run home in Guatemala on March 8 this year [2017]. Of these girls, 41 died as a result of this femicide and 15 are badly hurt.

In July, the main stage was taken by an independent open data initiative that aims to map femicides in Mexico (in Spanish, MFM). The map provides geographic coordinates and context for femicides that have taken place since 2016. By the end of 2017, the map had registered 1,824 cases.

In August, a whole movement following a student from Paraguay's School of Medicine at the University of Asunción revealed the complicated and powerful net that puts many female medical students’ careers at risk.

In September, Mara Castilla's femicide by a Cabify driver shocked the whole region. Castillo's murder sparked protests in eleven states in Mexico, with protesters criticizing the State's for its lack of security measures and the reigning impunity surrounding violence against women. At the same time, several online hashtags connecting her death to previous gender violence cases (most notably, the #IfTheyKillMe campaign) demanded security for women and an end to online victim blaming.

Opening spaces, fighting back:

In this year's Miss Peru beauty pageant participants took the stage calling attention to the alarming number of violence cases against women in the country. The initiative shocked international media, but Peruvian netizens quickly added nuance to the story. For many, the contest itself was a part of the complex system which objectifies women: 

Screenshot from Al Jazeera: “Miss Peru contenders turn pageant into gender violence protest.” Available on YouTube

Primero, hay que reconocer el contexto de la situación. Miss Perú 2017. Un concurso que elige a su ganadora en base a su apariencia física y capacidad de responder preguntas en tiempo record. Donde todas las mujeres son casi idénticas: altas, delgadas […] Lima, Perú. La 5ta ciudad más peligrosa para las mujeres en el mundo […] Estas dos cosas están relacionadas, ambas son producto de una sociedad machista. La cosificación de la mujer es una forma de violencia que nace de una sociedad que solo nos valora por nuestros cuerpos y que piensa que pueden hacer lo que les da la gana con ello.

First, we should recognize the context. Miss Peru 2017. A beauty pageant that chooses its winner based on her physical appearance and the capacity of answering questions in record time. [A contest in which] all women are almost identical: tall, thin […] Peru. The 5th most dangerous city for women in the world. […] These two things are related. They're both the product of a sexist society. The objectification of women is a way of violence that emerges from a society that values us only because of our bodies and think they can do whatever they want with it.

She continues:

Si Latina.pe y Miss Perú en verdad les importara el bienestar de las mujeres peruanas y realizar un cambio potente en nuestra sociedad machista y violenta, hubieran utilizado ese tiempo que dedicó para emitir el certamen para algo más productivo que nombrar a otra reina de “belleza” (física, específica, occidental y que no representa la apariencia de la mayoría de peruanas). Yo no le voy a tirar flores a un certamen porque por fin se dio cuenta que las mujeres peruanas estamos sufriendo en una situación crítica. Nosotras no decimos “nos están matando” o “#PerúPaísDeVioladores” porque nos gusta. Nos duele. Mucho. Nos deprime. Nos parte el alma pero lo gritamos porque es la verdad y no podemos ignorar lo que estamos viviendo.

if Latina.pe [the TV chain transmitting the contest] and Miss Peru really cared for the well being of Peruvian women and wanted to make a powerful change in our sexist and violent society, they would use that air time in something more productive than having yet another “beauty” queen (a queen of a very specific physical beauty: Western, not representative of most Peruvian women). I'm not throwing flowers to the pageant because they finally realized that Peruvian women suffer a grave situation. We're not saying “they're killing us” or #PeruCountryofRapists because we like it. It hurts. A lot. It's depressing. It breaks our souls but we shout it out loud because it's the truth and we can't ignore what we're living.

Other artistic initiatives denounced abuses, like the photography series which criticized illegal clinics aimed at “correcting” homosexual women in Ecuador, while other projects praised the contributions of Latin American female scientists. At the same time, these movements and initiatives opened up spaces for dialogue (both online and offline) about intersections of race and gender and the need for difficult conversations regarding discrimination inside equality movements:

Now, more than ever, it is time for us black women to define ourselves on our own terms, and to gather in spaces created by us and for us […] Some white/intersectional feminists will cry separatism and segregation after reading this, but please use this opportunity to educate yourself about hypocrisy and contradictions of the feminist movement regarding black women.

All in all, the struggle continues and the communities fighting for the cause are only getting stronger. As women's movements continue to gain ground in the region, 2018 is expected to be a year that sees the growth of many more projects that push for fundamental changes to society and advocate for a safer and more just world for all women.

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