The Dawn / (report by Marta Dillon and Marcha) / October 12, 2015
Argentine’s 30th National Women’s Meeting (NWM) culminated in Mar del Plata with a massive demonstration of 65,000 women from all over the country and from other Latin American countries. For the first time in the history of the NWM, the closing rally was suppressed by the police and fascist groups.
Acts of violence against women in the city of Mar del Plata did not stop for the three days in which Argentine’s National Women’s Meeting was held, proving that the issue is prevalent and urgent. During the past three days, two femicides were committed, an activist was attacked by a group of skinheads and one of the participants who slept on campus -as many other women who came to Mar del Plata for the encounter- was allegedly raped.
But the voice of women was heard loud and clear all over the city. The biggest women’s demonstration that the city can remember was conformed by different voices, but each of them carried the same message: enough. The city -one with the biggest prostitution and sex trafficking issues in the country- felt nervous about the massive amount of women who filled its streets last night without permission, and some reacted with hostile attitude against the creativity of their songs, the sound of their drums, the evidence of the organization of women, their persistence. Last night it was impossible to ignore the 60,000 that came together from across the country to think and rethink, over three days, about ways in which to ensure rights and autonomy for the women of Argentine and Latin America. This creative turmoil contrasted against the violence and repression they suffered at the end of the demonstration, a retaliation that unveils the tensions of these times, where a patriarchal system -that remains invisible while it is naturalized-, shows its claws when it is confronted with the collective will of women. Tens of thousands of voices said no. No to violence against women, no to the control over their bodies when the right to end a pregnancy is refused, no the inequities that curtail the rights of women. And also to say yes to their freedom and independence.
Of the three days that the Conference lasted, two were dedicated to intense discussions held in 65 different workshops that covered almost all issues of the lives of women – e.g. representation in media, politics, sexuality, abortion (which is yet to be legalised in Argentine), the prison system, health and trans women issues-. Other parallel activities were held in Mitre Square and gathered thousands of women to listen to Latin American feminists that shared their own experiences in the popular feminist struggle, including a Kurdish army fighter who resists against the Islamic State but also “against our own patriarchal upbringing, against our own crystallized practices” as she said. The words of the speakers were broadcasted by a dozen alternative radio programs.
At the end of the second day, the heart of Mar del Plata was crossed by columns of women marching together to the center of the city and afterwards, when the streets became narrower, split up in various ways to finish, some in the mythical beach of Bristol and others facing the city’s Cathedral, symbol of the Church’s historic oppression against women. There, groups of Catholics, extremist right-wing groups (the same that had attacked abortion support groups earlier) and the police were awaiting the demonstrators. There, the situation rapidly descended into violence, and ended when a cloud of tear gas and rubber bullets violently dispersed the multitudinous crowd -in which many children were present. Three demonstrators were dragged into the Cathedral and illegally detained there for several hours. These event was unprecedented in the history of the Women’s Conference, which was always resisted by conservatives but never attacked by institutional violence as it was last night.
Police repression and neo-Nazi groups
Popularly known as the “happy” city, Mar del Plata showed its most hostile face against the women who attended the meeting. The murals that had been painted to greet the 30th Women’s Congress were covered with fascist graffiti, men awaited on the sidewalks to violently confront the women that painted their slogans on walls and the activists of the Network of Rescuers -a group present all across the country that attends to women who need an abortion and are not assisted by the public health system- were beaten and threatened with sticks in the afternoon.
Hours before the public demonstration, about fifty people, mostly men, were stationed on the steps of the Cathedral to await and confront the the women’s claim for the right to opt for legal, safe and free abortion, a demand directed each year against the State and the Church’s influence on public policy. With songs that mentioned the relationship of complicity between the church and the coups d’etat suffered by Argentine democracy in recent history, the sexual crimes endemic to the Church’s priesthood, and demands of respect for sexual freedom, different columns marched through the paths of the Plaza San Martín. Until the fascist decided to suppress it.
Carlos Gustavo Pampillón, extremist right-wing leader, member of the Patriotic National Forum, supporter of the military dictatorship and author of xenophobic graffiti campaigns, led the group inside the Cathedral. action that is repeated every year in the National Women’s Meeting. This is a situation repeated every year in the Congresses. After the police repression, Pampillon stood by the police officers who were stationed in the building and prevented access to the three women illegally detained inside. Some more were detained in different police stations. One had to be hospitalized due to the rubber bullet wounds. Thanks to the rapid regrouping of the organizations and their (spontaneously) coordinated action, the three of them were released later that night.
Amidst the chaos, several children lost sight of their mothers (although fortunately, none was reported missing) and babies were crying helplessly due to tear gas severely irritating their eyes and throat. It was a cruel attempt to neutralize the women’s voices, but far from being quieted, our convictions grow stronger.
Because we know that the conquest of our rights will not be easy. There are forces at work that resist a change in the unjust structure of society. But we are more aware than ever, empowered by our collective effort, conscious of the changes we want to see. We want freedom to abort, because clandestinity and illegality are a form of violence against women as serious as femicide, because poor women who resort to homemade abortions are risking their lives. We want not one more woman to be killed in the hands of a violent partner. Not one more trans or lesbian woman killed by trans- or homophobia. We want public policies that address our issues. We want to participate in society equally as men do. Our voices are one as we say: enough. And we won’t be suppressed by the patriarchate’s reactionary violence.