The new wave of feminism sweeping Latin America

Jordane BERTRAND
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Women in Santiago, Chile in December 2019 sing "The Rapist is You," a feminist anthem that went viral

Women across Latin America are organizing a wave of protests to force gender politics into the public arena amid staggering rates of femicide and highly restrictive abortion laws.

Thousands of Argentines who demonstrated last week in Buenos Aires for the decriminalization of abortion are part of pan-continental movement that has seen action from Chile and Peru to Mexico.

"This time, it will be historic," said Mabel Gabarra, a lawyer and founder of a campaign to provide free, safe and legalized terminations in Argentina.

Despite some progress, and the enormous profile the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct has given women's rights in the West, many of the goals of Latin American advocates remain unrealized.

In Argentina, a bill to decriminalize abortion passed the lower house in 2018 but was rejected by the senate, which boasts 30 women among its 72 members.

Since center left President Alberto Fernandez assumed power in December, there has been renewed hope that the balance of a decade-long fight will tip in favor of abortion rights.

Several times, Fernandez has expressed his support for a change to Argentina's laws that allow the procedure only in cases of rape and risk to the mother's life.

"The history of feminist movements shows that the demonstrators need to impose their will, they need to maintain the pressure," said Argentine historian Lissell Quiroz-Perez, of the University of Rouen in France.

- Systemic problem -

In a demonstration of the solidarity underpinning Latin America's feminist movements, the protest in Buenos Aires was attended by Chilean feminist collective LasTesis.

In November, the group performed a song back home in Santiago called "The Rapist is You," which portrays violence against women as a systemic problem with a political context.

The anthem -- also known as "A Rapist on Your Way" -- quickly spread across the globe with its denunciation of a lack of action from the government, courts and police on violence against women.

Seen as emblematic of a wider feminist pushback, it shone a global spotlight on inequality in a country engulfed for months by protests that have been marred by police violence, some of it sexual.

In 2017, Chile adopted a law legalizing abortion in the cases of rape or risk to either the mother's or baby's life.

"We still don't have a law for violence against women," Claudia Dides, director of the Miles feminist charity, said.

"We still don't have a parliament that realizes the importance of eradicating this type of violence."

- Spike in femicide -

Depending on where you are in the region, there are wildly differing laws when it comes to abortion.

In Uruguay, Cuba and Mexico the procedure is entirely legal but in much of Central America it is totally banned, including El Salvador, where a woman can be jailed for a miscarriage.

In Colombia, the supreme court was due to rule Wednesday on whether or not to legalize abortion.

The arrival of a left wing government in Mexico at the end of 2018 gave feminists hope that the issue of violence against women would be tackled.

But with more than 1,000 femicides in 2019, two recent brutal murders -- one of a seven-year-old girl -- once again highlighted a lack of action by authorities.

Mexican feminists have demanded more effective policies from President Andres Manuel Lopez to combat the wave of violence.

It's a similar case in Peru where 2019 femicides were the highest in a decade.

"Feminist movements in Latin America are very dynamic. They inform and mobilize much better than in other countries," said Quiroz-Perez.

Many countries in the region have passed "pioneer laws" to promote equality and tackle violence against women.

In practice, says Quiroz-Perez, their application is blocked by "male chauvinism ingrained in (public) institutions."