2. Explain the US feminist movement to a room full of Argentine women I’ve never met
One of the most exciting and important aspects of Encuentro de Mujeres are the talleres. They are 3-hour workshops that occur three separate times during the weekend. On Saturday afternoon I chose to attend La Mujer, Identidad y Empoderimiento. I took a ton of notes, listening in on all the women speaking from personal experience and their own observations about what it means to be a woman in Argentina.
On Sunday I decided to attend Las Mujeres y Feminismos. Since the third round of talleres is for closing and conclusions, I wanted to commit to one workshop for the day so I could learn more through 6 hours with the same women. This time around, the women wanted everyone to introduce themselves to get a better feel for where everyone was from and so they could address each other by names. I wasn’t that nervous to introduce myself to a group of strangers, considering I’m constantly introducing myself as follows, “Hola me llamo Raquel. Soy de los Estados Unidos. Soy una estudiante intercambio. He vivido en Buenos Aires por casí cuatro meses. Estoy investigando el movimiento feminista de la Argentina y también el impacto y la perspectiva de las organizaciones feministas”.
There were four or five women who spoke up the most and helped move the discussion along. It was one of them that was extremely excited when she learned I was from the States. There also happened to be another young girl in the workshop, Melissa, who also studies in the States but is originally from Malaysia. As we sat down for the conclusions workshop after lunch, the same woman asked the two of us to share our perspective. I knew it was coming. I’m incredibly proud of the ease in which I was able to speak to a roomful of Argentines I didn’t know about the distinctions between feminism in the United States and what I’ve observed and experienced in Argentina. Looking back, I wish I could have explained it a little bit better – but then again it’s difficult enough to explain such a broad, large topic that encompasses so many subjects in my native language, much less in a few short minutes in my second language.
Never fear. I did explain that we don’t have the same ability to protest or march in the streets for our rights they way they do. To legalize the march, they inform the government and the police to ensure security on the roads, which allows for a more peaceful protest overall. I tried to explain that this doesn’t occur in the States. We have women’s organizations but they aren’t as visible as the multitude of groups in Argentina. I made sure at the end of my explanation to tell them how much I appreciated their passion and commitment to change. I told them that as a foreigner, I found them very loud, visible, and clear in their fight. That I could hear their many voices and loved that they have events such as Encuentro for all women to come together and discuss these important topics.
It was such a blessing to sit in on their conversations, jotting down as many notes as I could about their views on feminism in a machista society. I learned so much and gained a stronger perspective on the way they see the world around them.
3. Participate in a protest
We are over one thousand women. We are strong, independent, passionate, and courageous women all fighting for equality. Our right to choose. Our right to live fully and happily without the limitations of a machismo culture, without the stereotypes that secludes us to less opportunities and lower self-esteem. For the first time, I truly felt like I belonged in Argentina – more than just an outsider. It was incredibly moving and empowering to chant powerful words alongside so many strong and defiant Argentines.
On Saturday, there was an escrache. On Sunday, la marcha. The escrache, I quickly realized, was a lot like a march. All the women who are a part of an organization begin grouping up with their massive banners and flags, ‘repping all of their shirts with slogans like, “Aborto Legal en el Hospirtal Ya” or “Campaña Nacional Contra Las Violencias Hacia Las Mujeres”. I asked what the difference between the escrache and marcha was and Jose explained that escrache is the term used for a political demonstration where the activists go and “reclamar las demandas” by publicly addressing the homes and workplaces of the oppressors and using graffiti as a means to allow their voices to remain on the streets even after they have left. They have tons of stencils and spray paint to use during the march, drenching the walls of stores and buildings on the main streets to further express their desire for legalized abortion and equality for all.
There were so many chants that it was difficult for me to keep up and memorize them all just by ear. However, there were a few that stuck with me – both in the rhythm of the song as well as the strength of their meaning. One in particular though, was simple yet very powerful.
Mujer! Escucha! Unite la lucha!
(Women! Listen! Join the fight!)
Every so often, we’d respond to the women on the sidewalks watching us or peeking out their apartment windows. The chant was only five words but it got our point across and could be easily heard throughout the streets. We were yelling for these women to join us in our fight, because it’s everyone’s battle.
The biggest difference between the two marches that weekend was how we ended la marcha. We stopped right in front of the huge church by the main plaza of San Juan and continued chanting, though the march itself had already lasted around an hour and a half. We surrounded the church, peacefully enough that the police didn’t have to get involved. But we were loud and tough and more liberated than ever.
Jose and I had been participating in the chants of a large circle of women with drummers in the middle, when I turned around to see a huge fire. Another group of women had circled an area where they were burning an image in protest. It wasn’t until I did my own research later to learn it was an image of the Pope. The point of this burning was for the separation of church and state. This is why the march ends at the church – its values are in contradiction to all the issues feminists are fighting for: legalized abortion, integrating the sexual education law, changing the housewife stereotype of the traditional family, etc.
I found it fascinating how open Argentina is about abortion, considering it’s very taboo in the United States. To this day, I still don’t know where my beliefs lie because I think it’s extremely situational and I hope to never be in a conflict deciding between aborting or keeping a baby. Nonetheless, I do understand these women and their perspective. They are fighting for their choice. “Mi cuerpo es mio” (My body is mine). They don’t want the government deciding how they choose to live their lives, nor what they do with their bodies. They are against the government and its lack of safety in hospitals for women. Whether or not abortion is legalized, women are still going to abort. These women want to legalize it to ensure safe, rather than clandestine abortions, that kill so many women.
Encuentro chooses to meet in more conservative provinces of Argentina each year because it is within these conservative values that are fighting against the feminist movement. It is in these schools that girls and boys do not receive proper sexual education and therefore don’t have access or knowledge of contraceptives. They are the ones most likely to abort, but don’t have the money to afford it nor have access to hospitals or the proper healthcare in most situations.
The following video includes the escrache y la marcha, both from my camera as well as a few clips by other videographers so you can get a taste of what I experienced. Excuse all the shaking, but it wasn’t easy to capture so many moments.