By Oriana Santana Macias
“The killing of women because they are women” is a recurrent phrase that has captivated the focus of Latin American feminist activism. The region includes 5 of the 12 countries with the highest rate of femicide in the world. According to The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean throughout January 2019, in 15 Latin American countries, there were about 282 femicides. Mexico exceeds with 133 cases, Brazil with 69 cases, Honduras is third with 30 cases, and Argentina is next with 27 cases. Thus, while femicide is a global human rights concern, Latin Americans were the first to express the political strength to strive for equality, justice, visibility, and ultimately terminate the rampant impunity of these human rights violations.
For the past years, a social movement in various countries of Latin America has mobilized themselves to demand the end to violence against women because, despite the measures taken by governments and the efforts of human rights protectors, the number of victims confirms how far the eternal issue of femicide is from being resolved. One of the main movements that initially started in Argentina in 2015 and now further has spread across several Latin American countries and gained worldwide recognition is the “Ni Una Menos” movement. “Not one [woman] less” is a Latin American feminist movement, which descended from perceptions such as “we have had enough of femicides” and aims to denounce “gender-based violence“. The feminist movement broke onto the global political scene in 2015, when the streets of the world’s central cities were crowded with thousands of women denouncing the various forms of violence to which they are exposed daily. This article demonstrates the relevance of exposure of femicide through the “Ni Una Menos” feminist movement.
Thus, when interpreting the “Ni Una Menos” movement’s communicative landscape, it is evident that it popularized the assumption that social media has been the principal tool to amplify the voices of the activists. This conventional approach is evident in various headlines, such as; “From a Tweet to the Street“, “How One Tweet About Femicide Sparked a Movement in Argentina” and “How Twitter Activism Made Violence Against Women a Campaign Issue in Argentina“.
Although social media has been employed as a tool, it is not fundamentally the central mechanism that shed light on the femicide issue. However, the “Ni Una Menos” movement’s coverage was subjugated to a technological utopian spectacle that dehistoricized and decontextualized the movement by excluding historical, political, and national contexts. Therefore, many forms of alternative media that were not technological and key for the protests were neglected due to this technological emphasis on broadcasting.
The coverage of “Ni Una Menos” movement from its origin in 2015 up to 2020 reveals a standard framing overpowered by the ‘Technological Sublime’ discussed by scholars such as Mosco and Alrasheed. This utopian aspiration is evident in the way mainstream news coverage has followed a model that idealizes digital media as having the sole capacity to have influenced the region’s political and social landscape. A technologically utopian view of technology has the bedrock for the reporting of the feminist movement. Countless articles about “Ni Una Menos” focus on how the movement promptly originated in Argentina due to solely a hashtag and thus pushing women’s rights to the top of the agenda. This utopian approach describes the movement through social media itself instead of concentrating on the movement’s complexity. For instance, articles emphasize Twitter and use hashtags as headlines such as #InternationalWomensDay, #NiUnaMenos, #NiUnaMenos Feminist Revolution, and headlines that include “Twitter Activism” and Twitter Feminist Revolution. Similar to the way how technological utopianism was present in the coverage of other movements such as the Arab Spring when media “were even quick to label these uprisings Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram’ revolutions”, the “Ni Una Menos” movement also was promoted and displayed as “media spectacles” and “technologically mediated events“.
Mass media consistently portrayed social media platforms as subjects, as the single center of the whole movement instead of shedding light on the issue. Thus, the activists of the movement are presented as the object of the social media and given less importance. For instance, they would state that “Twitter acted as a resource for these women to come together and create a call to action to reach as many people as possible“.
Malcolm Gladwell tells us that the external coverage of recent movements reveals how they are now defined by their tools rather than the causes themselves, meaning that social media tends to be glorified while the cause’s importance is dismissed. Although digital media has been involved in a particular limited manner, it is essential to look at other types of non-digital media and consider how they reveal the complexity of the movement and provide a complete interpretation of how this movement has progressed. For example, the fundamental media of communication for the “Ni Una Menos” movement has been face-to-face interactions in public spaces. The movement has also managed to impact public opinion, such as securing the authorities’ attention and triggering institutional and normative changes, by using the public space. The use of public spaces has made their protests exceptionally visible, such as gathering over 80,000 women in the capital Mexico City at the Plaza del Zócalo and the crowd of women packed into the historic square of Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires. Similar to the Montgomery bus boycott when tens of thousands of people who generally depended on public transit refused to ride the city’s buses in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest over the bus system’s policy of racial segregation, women, in support of “Ni Una Menos,” from all walks of life were absent from public transportation, workplaces and the streets all over the country; for example, in Mexico, they did “A Day Without Women,” where women stayed home from work or school so society can feel the impact of the absence of women. This followed with pictures being circulated of nearly empty college classrooms, bus seats, and metro cars with only men. The public space also provides a strong irony since women are typically not safe in public. Thus, being conspicuously absent from public space calls for worldwide attention. The revolutionary technology was not the main force behind the protests; rather, it was the social, political and cultural discussions and gatherings in public.
Bodies were also engaged in the protest, and they were sites of contestation. The body’s role in a movement is not simply about the body or the flesh but also related to what is called “performance“. One of the most prominent examples is the performance of “Un Violador en Tu Camino” (A rapist in your path) conceived in 2019 by the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis. Groups of women worldwide began to replicate the movement themselves and adapt it to their context, from Argentina to France and India. This performance did not gain recognition by solely being online but instead it utilized the body and the public space by involving “lyrics sung in unison to a catchy beat, and a simple choreography performed synchronously by a group of women in a public space”. But most importantly, something that made the embodiment unique was the emphasis on the oppressor; it directly states, “the rapist IS you.” It is intending to enact some of the transformative theories of the feminist perspective, in this case, explicitly referring to rape as a political act of domination, which derives from traces of the coloniality of power in the privileges and social inequalities that characterize the context in which these acts of violence are taking place. It is holding accountable those with authority by directly pointing and singing at them. Therefore, using different media, the women were able to visualize their claims and find a way to appear in the public sphere, which allowed them to demand their right to be recognized as equals and call for action combating femicide.
To conclude, the technological utopian lens does not function when understanding the social movement “Ni Una Menos,” since instead of showing the historical and political complexity and the material progress, it merely portrays this story of this was a quiet place, social media was introduced and boom everything changed. However, despite the coverage, the movement has shown its prime triumphs. It has been successful in pushing women’s rights across the region and accomplished a particular significant outcome, which is transforming people’s perception of femicides by revealing the injustices and the cause of the violence associated with the machismo culture and the inherent patriarchal system. But first and foremost, it has sparked a sense of hope in Latin America in pursuit of gender equality.
Oriana Santana Macias (@orianacsan) is a fourth-year student pursuing a Double Major in Communication & Media Studies and Political Science at Carleton University. She is currently working at The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, in The Future Challenges Division, which mobilizes social sciences and humanities research to address emerging economic, societal and knowledge necessities for Canada and is the Project lead at a non-profit organization called The Vision Movement, where she produces content to amplify the voices of womxn. Her studies at Carleton consist of two international internships; CMTS World Media Internship (2019) in Vietnam, supported by the School of Journalism and Communication and Virtual External Relations Internship (2020) in Colombia. Additionally, Oriana was chosen from the Communication and Media program to present her research paper at the 15th annual Communication Graduate Caucus Conference. She aspires to develop a career in the domains of human rights, media, and international relations.