The killing of three 12-year-old girls in Argentina, the gang rape of a teenage girl in Brazil and other recent acts of femicide have become symbolic for the movement against sexual violence across Latin America. In the wake of these events, women’s rights groups have utilized social media as a tool to help bring about social change in societies where violence against women has long been considered a norm.
In Brazil, where more than 10 percent of reported cases of violence against women are sexual assaults, women’s rights activists believe their movement is at a critical stage in its growth. After the recent gang rape of a 16-year-old in Rio de Janeiro, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, wrote a widely circulated response to call on both sexes to turn the tide of sexual violence against women and girls.
“From the highest levels of government, through the police, lawyers and the courts, all need to act with renewed responsibility and accountability for what is happening to women and girls and understand its real cost and consequences,” Mlambo-Ngcuka wrote. “Most important of all, this is a situation for every man and boy to consider, and to decide to take a stand to change and positively evolve the ‘machismo’ culture. This must not wait another day.”
Among several widely publicized protests and reactions in Brazil is the Twitter campaign #PrimeiroAssédio (“first harassment”), which the Brazilian feminist NGO Think Olga launched for women to share their experiences and talk frankly about a subject that has long been tabooed. According to Huffington Post, the hashtag was tweeted and retweeted 82,000 times in just four days.
A similar phenomenon has taken hold in Argentina, where thousands gathered in Buenos Aires on Friday for a second annual march to protest violence against women. Men, women and children carried signs with the movement’s slogan of #NiUnaMenos (“NotOneLess,” meaning we must not lose one more woman to violence).
The first march was sparked after a series of high-profile killings, including the death of a 14-year-old pregnant schoolgirl, Chiara Paez, who was found buried in her boyfriend’s garden in central Santa Fe province last year.
And in Mexico, where an estimated nine out of 10 women have been subjected to sexual violence, thousands took to the streets through the center of Mexico City this April, chanting, “machismo has to die.” Men took part in the protest as well, many carrying placards with statements such as “I need feminism, too,” and “Because she’s my sister, my girlfriend, my wife.”
Around the same time, a group of women calling themselves “Vivas Nos Queremos” (“We want to stay alive”) set off a march against sexual violence through the state of Mexico on April 24. Several women’s rights groups showed support for the campaign, predominantly with the hashtag #VivasNosQueremos.
“We call for the end of hate messages and chastise anybody who spreads sexist stereotypes that promote gender violence and misogyny,” the group said in a statement.
Prominent feminist groups have long argued that Latin America is particularly plagued by male-dominated traditions and gender-based violence, and there is plenty of evidence to show it. For today’s activists, the hope is that movements like those in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – not to mention Bolivia, Colombia, and other regions of the continent – will sustain their momentum.