Buenos Aires – When Cecilia Palmeiro began organising “Ni Una Menos” (not one less), a campaign against femicide in Argentina, in 2015, she wondered what power a women’s strike could have.
It wasn’t until the following year, after witnessing Polish women striking for abortion access, as well as hearing reports about the rape and murder of a 16-year-old Argentine girl, that the strike she thought about in 2015 became a reality.
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On October 19, 2016, Palmeiro and her colleagues at Ni Una Menos organised the first National Women’s strike. Since then, Ni Una Menos has played a key role in the Argentine feminist movement and continued to lead public protests like the international women’s strike.
On Monday, thousands of Argentine women took to the streets of Buenos Aires again with the similar aim of past actions: to draw attention to an economic crisis and call for women’s rights, in this case, the right to economic security and abortion.
‘We want us free and without debt’
With presidential elections approaching in October, Argentina has been consumed by frustration with the current administration, led by President Mauricio Macri, and debate over which candidate will best alleviate rising inflation and a debilitating national debt. Argentina received a $56bn loan from the IMF in October 2018 and the National Congress passed an austerity budget to comply with the terms of the loan for 2019.
In the week leading up to the march, Buenos Aires was already abuzz with economic dissatisfaction. Argentina’s largest labour union, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), organised a National Strike on May 29, largely shutting down Buenos Aires.
For Ni Una Menos, the national debt and austerity budget aren’t just the source of economic woes, but feminist concerns as well.
“Since the government of Macri produced this debt, the largest debt in the history of Argentina, one of our principal areas of interest is the relationship between state debt, private debt, and machista violence,” Palmeiro told Al Jazeera.
She explained that the state’s debt and austerity programme forced it to cut social services, producing private debt among families that relied on those services. Palmeiro believes that debt harms women because it forces them to stay in abusive relationships and take on undesirable work.
Palmeiro also noted that the state’s austerity programme had cut retirement benefits for women who work at home. At the International Women’s Strike on May 8 of this year, Ni Una Menos demanded a salary for caretakers, part of their call for society to recognise domestic labour.
Alongside its usual hashtags like #VivasNosQueremos (#WeWantUsAlive), Ni Una Menos has used new hashtags this year, like #LibresYDesendeudadasNosQueremos (#WeWantUsFreeAndWithoutDebt) and #NiUnaMenosSinJubliación (#NotOneLessWithoutRetirement), to draw attention to these economic issues.
For many in attendance at the march, the economic crisis is a key area of concern. Leftist political parties like the Socialist Worker’s Movement (MST) and the Worker’s Left Front turned out to show their support for economic reform.
“For us at Juntas y a la Izquierda (Together and to the Left) at the Socialist Worker’s Movement, there is an inseparable relationship between the fight for the rights of women and the fight against the politics of this government,” said Cele Fierra of MST.
She explained that Juntas y a la Izquierda emerged as a feminist branch of the Socialist Worker’s Movement that believes that the fight against capitalism and against patriarchy are intertwined because “in moments of crisis, like we are living right now, we are the ones that suffer more”.
Similarly, at the Plenario de Trabajadoras (Assembly of Female Workers), part of the Worker’s Left Front, women’s rights and worker’s rights are one and the same. “Part of our work as a revolutionary and historic party is to defend and fight for the rights of female workers,” said Lourdes Alfonso.
Push for abortion access
Yet, even with national attention focused on an economic crisis, Ni Una Menos hopes Argentines will consider other social issues come election day. Specifically, the National Campaign for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion’s bill to legalise abortion.
Last Tuesday, Argentines gathered in the thousands as the National Campaign presented a bill to legalise abortion to Congress. Abortion is only legal in Argentina in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s health, but has been the subject of intense debate since the Argentine congress narrowly rejected the campaign’s bill last year.
Palmeiro believes that violence against women, the economic crisis, and abortion are connected. Each is related to women’s labour – reproductive, domestic, or professional. “Violence against women is intimately related to the accumulation of capital,” said Palmeiro.
In support of Ni Una Menos, feminists from various backgrounds gathered in the streets around the Avenida de Mayo, beginning four hours before the march was scheduled to begin. Alongside worker’s parties, members of the National Campaign for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion donned their green scarves and vests; families of women lost to femicide wore the names of their loved ones; and vendors sold the famous green scarves of the abortion movement alongside the purple scarves of Ni Una Menos.
In their march from Congress to the presidential office, Argentine feminists called on their political leaders to end to patriarchal violence, solve the economic crisis and approve abortion legalisation.
Yamila Picasso of the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free abortion, said that the most important issue for the campaign this year is the right to abortion, but she acknowledged that the economic crisis and abortion are intertwined because of the “feminisation of poverty”.
“Of course, the feminisation of poverty affects women who decide to abort in this socioeconomic context,” Picasso told Al Jazeera.
“We see that there is a clear relationship between these factors because abortion is a matter of social justice,” she said. “Those who have the economic means can have an abortion, and those who do not must have unsafe or clandestine abortions.”