In Argentina, talking about gender-based violence is easier than stopping it

"Ni una menos" (Not one less) protest against femicide in Argentina. (Credit: Prensa TV Pública/Flickr)

In Argentina, policymakers are coming up with new legislation to crack down on the relentlessly high level of gender-based violence, but many experts say the real hurdle is finding effective ways to implement the laws.

The newest anti-violence legislation, presented by Senate Vice President Gerardo Zamora on Monday, aims to modify the existing Law for the Integral Protection of Women “so that persecution, harassment, discrimination and exclusion as forms of violence against women are included,” according to Argentine newspaper La Nacion.

The legislation would mandate that the state work to prevent these forms of violence on the internet as well as social media platforms, which Zamora called “the preferred place for deepening one of the forms of modern discrimination” and other forms of mistreatment of women and girls.

While it is not yet clear how the legislation would specifically address gender-based violence on the internet, the bill might not be necessary, according to Debora Lopreite, gender and public policy expert at the University of Buenos Aires.

“Instead of promoting more legislative changes, it is important to implement high-quality policies and programs at different levels of government,” Lopreite said in an email to Humanosphere. “I think that a strategic plan with expertise in these particular issues, strong cooperation between national agencies and provincial governments, and financial resources are more important than developing new legislation.”

If the law is approved, Lopreite added, it could open a debate on social networks’ regulation, but she does not think a law that regulates content on social media networks is likely to be accepted.

Frustrations run high

The proposed legislation comes amid a growing mobilization against gender-based violence in Argentina. The movement Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) and related protests have garnered global attention since it began last year and has sparked similar demonstrations in Peru and other countries across Latin America.

In Argentina, the movement is a sign of widespread frustration as recent efforts to end gender-based violence have been relatively futile. A U.N. survey last month found a staggering 95 percent of Argentine women have been in violent situations that they felt should have been reported to the authorities, while up to 99 percent said they had experienced at least one violent situation with one of their partners.

Even more astounding, however, is the number of gender-based killings in Argentina. According to the Argentine nonprofit group Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, a woman is killed once every 30 hours in the country. Just last year, 286 women were killed in Argentina as a result of gender violence, according to the supreme court’s domestic violence office, and this year looks set to match that figure.

Making rules realities

Argentina has a very progressive legal framework to address women’s rights and gender-based violence, and has taken numerous steps in recent years to further crack down on the issue.

In 2012, the country introduced a femicide provision, which includes life sentences for offenders found guilty, and in 2009 updated legislation aimed to prevent and punish perpetrators of gender-based violence.

The country’s National Women’s Council (Consejo Nacional de las Mujeres) already does work similar to the legislation proposed by Zamora this week, running campaigns to remove offensive language and portrayal of women on social media.

Public policy experts and women’s rights groups say that if social attitudes are to shift on a mass scale, the next hurdle will be to effectively enforce the existing legal changes and ensure cooperation from all levels of the government. The goal, they say, will not just be to punish gender-related crimes as legislation have historically aimed to do, but to prevent them in the first place.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com