Hundreds of thousands of women in Argentina are expected to join a national protest over violence against women on Wednesday, after a horrifying attack in which a 16-year-old girl was raped and tortured.
“We are saying ‘enough!’ We won’t go back to being submissive and we won’t tolerate any more of the misogyny or violence that all us women have to deal with,” says Sabrina Cartabia, one of the organizers of the march.
The protest – marked with the Twitter hashtag #MiércolesNegro, or Black Wednesday – was prompted by the abduction of Lucía Pérez, a schoolgirl who was drugged, raped and tortured earlier this month in the coastal city of Mar del Plata.
The cruelty of her attack was such that Pérez suffered a cardiac arrest, according to prosecutor María Isabel Sánchez, who described it as “an act of inhuman sexual aggression”.
Following their assault, the assailants washed the 16-year-old in an attempt to erase forensic evidence and took her to a nearby hospital, where she died shortly after arrival from internal injuries sustained during her rape.
“I know it’s not very professional to say this, but I’m a mother and a woman, and though I’ve seen thousands of cases in my career, I’ve never seen anything like this,” prosecutor Sánchez told local media.
But Pérez’s murder is just the latest in a harrowing sequence of “femicides”, crimes usually committed by husbands, boyfriends, family members or acquaintances of the victim. In more than one case, the woman has been set on fire by her partner.
“This violence is trying to teach us a lesson, it wants to put us back in a traditional role into which we don’t fit any more,” says Cantabria. “It’s not a specific blow by a specific man against one woman in particular, it’s a message to all women to return to our stereotypical roles.”
Cartabia is a member of the collective Ni Una Menos (Not One Less – meaning not one more woman lost to male violence), which organized Argentina’s first march against gender-related crimes in June last year.
That protest and a second one in June drew hundreds of thousands of
women to the street in a growing movement to fight male violence against women.
In 2012, Argentina passed legislation against “femicide”, a legal term encompassing domestic violence, “honor” killings and other categories of hate crimes against women.
But campaigners warn that machista attitudes have been slow to change: in the last 18 days alone, 19 women have been killed in Argentina.
In an open letter earlier this week, Pérez’s brother, Matías Pérez, said that police initially refused to let him see his sister’s body because of the horrific nature of the violence she was subjected to.
“I refused to leave until I could see her; she was on a stretcher, her eyes half-closed, like she always slept,” he said.
Pérez’s mother, Mara Montero, called on women to join the protest “so that no more families are destroyed like ours”.Organizers of Wednesday’s “women’s strike” called for every woman in the country to stop work, study and other activities for an hour at 1pm.
“In your office, school, hospital, law court, newsroom, shop, factory, or wherever you are working, stop for an hour to demand ‘no more machista violence’,” wrote the march organizers.
Government statistics show that crimes against women have risen 78% since 2008 in Argentina, a rise that may be partly attributable to growing awareness of the phenomenon, but has prompted a national debate over sexist attitudes.
Every 30 hours a woman is killed in such crimes, according to statistics kept by La Casa del Encuentro, an NGO that helps female victims of violence.
The murder of Lucía Pérez came only a few days after a march by tens of thousands of women protesting about crimes against women in the central city of Rosario ended in violence when police fired rubber bullets and teargas into the crowd gathered outside the city’s cathedral.
The strike starts at 1pm, with the ceasing of all work and private activities, followed by a march congregating on the main Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires.
Three suspects have been arrested in the Pérez case, but her family has since reported receiving death threats.
“We have to gather strength and take to the streets,” wrote Matías Pérez in his open letter. “We all have to shout together, more than ever: “Not one less.”