Not one less, we want ourselves alive.
A woman dies every 31 hours in Argentina. 15 die every day in Brazil. About 2,000 die every year in Mexico. As shocking as these numbers may sound, in Latin America this type of crime happens so often that it has its own new name: femicide. Although violence against women is not region specific, the problem with Latin America is that it’s accepted or even encouraged within our culture. It took us a long time to realize the problematic aspects of hundreds of years of tradition, but now we’re finally ready to speak on behalf of our lost sisters.
But, what’s even a femicide? Why do they happen? What are its after effects?
A femicide is when a woman is sentenced to death for committing the crime of being a woman. Machismo is deeply ingrained in our culture, women are taught that they’re meant to serve.
Thelma Aldana, a district attorney in Guatemala, has witnessed policemen telling brutally assaulted women that “they didn’t take care of their husbands properly”, that they surely deserved it. In Dominican Republic, where a woman dies every two days, women are beat “for tradition”, according to one anonymous interviewee for the online publication Al Jazeera.
The toxic masculinity of Latin American cultures doesn’t allow men to solve problems peacefully. Stereotypes and pressures of society for men to act “manly” lead them to aggressive behavior, this is why many of them try to find solutions with bullets rather than words. Relationship dynamics tend to be unbalanced because of this way of thinking, and the social context of Latin America just reinforces it by teaching that women are more like “dolls” than people. It should come as no surprise that Latin America is the region with the highest levels of inequality, what’s surprising is that we turned inequality deadly.
Femicides are the results of said machismo taken to new extremes. Men and women alike are victims of the extreme misogyny of our culture. According to the UN’s records, out of 25 countries with the highest violence rates against women, 14 are Latin American.
Misogynistic society blames the victims for their own death. This creates shame, and fear for other victims that got to live to tell to go to the authorities. They die in the hands of men that believe they own their bodies and their lives.
Luisa Carvahlo, head of the women’s rights division of the UN, states that 98% of femicides go unprosecuted. The crimes that are prosecuted are somehow related to drug and sex trafficking, or relationship violence. According to Argentina’s Supreme Court, a woman has a higher chance of getting murdered by a person she knows than for a burglary.
This means that we’re being murdered by our lovers, our friends, our neighbors and our own families. The hands that take our last breath might be the very same ones that gave us life.
There are so many tales of victims that tried to reach out for help but were shut down by the police, and now it’s up to us to make them listen.
Femicides and its growing rates have impacted a Latin America desperate for change. Latin women are tired of living in fear, so we refused to continue living in silence.
The feminist movement “Not One Less” has given us a voice. Started by the mexican poet Susana Chávez in 1995 to protest the indifference of the government towards the dead women of Ciudad Juárez. The poet was murdered in 2011 as a victim of a femicide, but her death made the movement stronger, inspiring women from different countries to speak up against injustice. The protests started in Argentina and then spread to Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Perú with an average of 300,000 people in attendance in all of them.
The UN and the protests are pressuring governments to change their laws to protect women. The Latin countries with frequent protests have made a lot of changes including free shelters and hotlines to help female victims of abuse. They have made their sentences stricter and promised full prosecution to all women that report crimes.
However, despite these changes, the body count is still high with Argentina reporting 277 murders last year — only 30 less than the year before, according to The Observer.
For the ones that are not with us anymore, for those of us who remain, and for those that might be taken away we can not continue being silent.
We don’t want to be brave, we want to be free. We don’t want to live in fear, we simply want to live. Being born a woman shouldn’t be a death sentence.
For this and more, we are tired: not one less, we want ourselves alive.