The Fight Against Femicide & Gender Violence In Latin America Continues — & It’s Crossing Borders
Women in the United States are organizing demonstrations in solidarity with protests unfolding in Latin America.
In 2019, local activists hosted a feminist performance piece titled “Un violador en tu camino” (A Rapist in Your Path) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. First brought to life by feminist art collective LasTesis from Chile, the performance involved hundreds of women, who shuffled and chanted a chorus that would become a powerful global feminist anthem: “Y la culpa no era mía / ni dónde estaba / ni cómo vestía.” (And the fault was not mine / nor where I was / nor how I was dressed). The performance, which ends with the refrain: “El violador eres tú.” (The rapist is you), went viral and has spread to cities like Chicago and New York City.
“As a long-time feminist and activist, I felt immediately called to organize this performance in L.A.,” said Inger Flem Soto, a graduate student from Chile studying in Los Angeles. The performance was a partial response to the protests in Chile that began in October 2019 when students evading subway fare increases grew to large-scale demonstrations denouncing economic precarity and inequality in the country. In response to statewide protests, students were met with police repression that included sexual harassment and violence. For Chilenas like Soto, organizing the performance in Los Angeles was a way of supporting protests in Chile while raising awareness about gendered violence on a global scale.“Thankfully, I had other Chilean and American comrades that were eager to make it happen, and it was a beautiful and powerful day for all of us,” she tells Refinery29.
As rage boils over about the unrelenting wave of femicide and gender violence in Latin America — specifically surrounding women along the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum — people in the United States have organized demonstrations in solidarity with protests unfolding across the region. These demonstrations and actions are helping generate awareness about gender violence abroad and locally. It’s a display of cross-border feminist solidarity denouncing gender violence, economic precarity, and state violence impacting women on a regional scale.
A year after Mexico’s largest-ever march for International Women’s Day in Mexico City, feminist protestors painted the names of feminicide victims on metal barriers erected around Mexico City’s national palace last month, while thousands gathered across the country to protest femicide that included a historical national women’s strike. Puerto Rican organizers, Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, gathered in San Juan in a comparsa afrofurista to center Black struggles for liberation of the past and present. Protestors also gathered in other Latin American cities, including Buenos Aires in Argentina, San Salvador in El Salvador, Quito in Ecuador, and Managua in Nicaragua, among others. These efforts have poured over into the U.S., with protests happening in El Paso, Texas and Los Angeles, California.
These demonstrations draw attention to the outsized gender violence in Latin America that’s recently reached a tipping point. Earlier this year, Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency over the alarming number of women murdered, as activists report that at least 303 women were killed in the last five years. In Argentina, the number of women killed reached a 10-year high last year under coronavirus lockdown, according to La Casa del Encuentro, a Buenos Aires-based feminist group. In February, the murder of 18-year-old Ursula Bahillo pushed thousands into the streets of Buenos Aires to protest femicide in the country. Nearly one million women joined a massive protest in Chile to mark International Women’s Day in 2020 and in Honduras, a woman has been killed every 36 hours so far this year. Violence against women in El Salvador has only been exasperated during the pandemic. In Mexico, at least 939 women were victims of femicide last year.
Meanwhile along the U.S.-Mexico border, women are protesting the convergence of state violence, gender violence, and racism. In Tijuana, Mexico, the organization Espacio Migrante held a virtual protest for International Women’s Day last month, sharing selfies of migrant women and advocates holding up signs denouncing racism as well as misogyny when protesting violence against migrant women. “Everybody wants to fight against machismo and femicides because we have all experienced some sort of violence, but we also need to talk about racism, anti-Blackness, and discriminaton,” said Paulina Olvera Cáñez, the director and founder of Espacio Migrante. “If we’re really talking about feminism, those voices need to be included.” Many of the women who participated live in the city’s migrant shelters, including some from Espacio Migrante’s shelter for migrant families, which opened in 2019.
“Many of these women are single moms and many are fleeing from sexual violence from their home countries and have experienced sexual violence on the journey to Tijuana, and in Tijuana,” said Olvera Cáñez.
"Let’s not forget that differences can and must be made at micro-political levels, too."
Inger Flem Soto
Estefania Castañeda Pérez is a PhD candidate at UCLA and writer whose work calls attention to how capitalism, racism, classism, and displacement enacts violence against communities along the border, which leads to a normalization of femicide. Last year, she attended the Tijuana march for International Women’s Day, which drew more than 2,500 protestors. As a transfronteriza, Perez spoke to other cross-border protestors about their participation in the march, some of whom were migrants living in the border city. “Migrant women are among the most likely to experience gender-based violence and that’s ignored,” says Castañeda Pérez. Castañeda Pérez said it’s important to focus attention and mobilize protests in response to violence against migrant and Black women living in Latin America.
This week, outrage grew in Mexico and El Salvador when it was confirmed that Salvadoran migrant Victoria Esperanza Salazar was murdered by police officers in Tulum. Mexican authorities announced that Salazar died in police custody after they broke her neck. The office of the attorney general of Quintana Roo stated that the prosecutor of Mexico's public ministry is pursuing criminal action against the police officers involved. This is just one of the ongoing horrific murders that are sparking these cross-border demonstrations.
Soto, who’s currently in Chile but said she looks forward to returning to Los Angeles this year, said that although the pandemic has meant a retreat from public protest, it’s important to keep acting against gender violence. “We can and must stay active, wherever that may be: online, in our work and study spaces, in our daily lives. Let’s not forget that differences can and must be made at micro-political levels, too,” she urges.
Castañeda Pérez said activists hope to keep up the momentum of last year’s protests. “There is a strong desire to always be open about the different struggles. There’s more awareness of feminicidios and machismo in general. People want to keep the ball rolling and challenge what it means to act,” she said. “Last year's mobilizations just generated more anger and more courage for us to keep mobilizing in whatever way we can and in whatever capacity.”