By Laura Carlsen

March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD), serves as a barometer of the strength of feminist and women’s movements, especially in Latin America where for years people have been mobilizing for women’s rights and women’s lives. This year demonstrated enormous force that, despite difficult and openly hostile contexts in some countries, continues to grow, to make demands and to build alliances throughout the continent.

The massive IWD marches are only part of the measurement. For the tens of thousands of women and supporters who march, there are thousands of local, state and national women’s organizations that day after day do the work of protection, advocacy, education and resistance for a life free of violence, with opportunity and equality for all. The demonstrators also represent the thousands more women who cannot march: those who have disappeared, those who have been murdered, those who stay behind to take care of others, those who have disabilities and struggle with access, and those who have not yet overcome the traumas suffered in a patriarchal system that generates violence against them.

To delve deeper into the issues and organizing processes behind the mobilizations in Latin America, Mira spoke with four feminist women activists: Vanina Escales, from Argentina, where feminists face an aggressively anti-feminist government that seeks to dismantle the historical achievements of the movement; Mariela Arce, from Panama, where women are demanding their rights after a historic victory against the extractivist model and on the eve of presidential elections; and Itzel Plascencia from Mexico City and Paola Alcazar from the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, also facing elections  this year, with high levels of violence against women.

The 8M mobilizations

The mobilization in Mexico City is undoubtedly one of the largest in the world. This year it was estimated at more than 180,000 people in the downtown march alone. It was a huge, peaceful march, led by feminist youth.

Itzel Plascencia is a communicologist and bisexual feminist artivist in the communications group Luchadoras. Her team covered the mobilizations in Mexico City from different points. “It was a very, very big march, you could see a lot of strength,” she relates. “We think it is super necessary to occupy the streets, to make public space something that is ours.”

Like every year, the Mexican demonstrations focused on denouncing violence against women and sexual diversities. “The issue of the disappearance of women was very present, and that the figures on femicides, as you mentioned, have not gone down. The trans community was very present– we are the second country in the world in trans-femicides so, that’s a huge concern”, Itzel states.

Mexico has registered over 110,000 disappeared people –41% women– and femicide claims on average nearly 11 lives every day. Itzel adds, “The march is a protest against the violence, but I think it also reflects the strength of the community, the strength of women and dissidents – dissidents in many senses, not only gender dissidents, but dissidents in territories, in language”.

Women demonstrating in Mexico sought to position feminist issues and demand progress. In Argentina this year, women demonstrated so as not to lose gains after the far-right won the presidency with Javier Milei. Vanina Escales, a journalist with LatFem, feminist activist and human rights worker at the Center for Legal and Social Studies in Buenos Aires comments:

“In Argentina our estimates indicate that we mobilized a million women, men and diversities across the country. In the city of Buenos Aires, it was huge – it had been a long time since we’d seen such a big march. We worked hard to make it happen, to make it a big showing, because we felt like this time we had to be there, this time things have changed”, Vanina states.

She explains more about the context of 8M in Argentina this year. “I think Argentina’s experience is pioneering – the acquisition of rights through legislation, through social mobilization, such as the right to abortion, to gender identity and same-sex marriage… So, we felt in this scenario of so many threats, we have to go back to mass mobilization, take back the streets, like we did with the Marea Verde and Ni Una Menos,” says Vanina, referring to the historic Argentine women’s movements to legalize abortion and reduce gender-based violence.

Argentine women decided months before March 8 that their organizing this year had to go broad and deep. They held open assemblies in all the provinces to discuss and identify the main threats and issues, the messages of the mobilizations, and principle demands.

“What came out most was hunger as a central issue,” Vanina states. “Because this government is not only anti-feminist, it’s anti-people. The economic adjustment is so major, the deregulation of the economy, that people have seen their daily lives become impoverished, they don’t have food.” A UNICEF report denounces that child poverty is rising sharply in Milei’s Argentina and estimates that if economic policy continues along these lines, 70% of children and adolescents will be below the poverty line by the end of first quarter 2024.

IWD mobilizations across Argentina focused on economic violence –and the impact on women’s role as care workers–, but they didn’t leave out more traditional women’s rights issues. Women human rights defenders pointed out that the biggest threat is that the rights they fought for are being lost through selective cuts in the public budget. The Milei government eliminated funding for programs to eradicate and prevent gender-based violence, and to accompany victims. Access to abortion, although still legal, is being seriously curtailed through cutbacks in public health funding. Vanina warns:

“We believe that [Argentina today] is a laboratory of the far-right in the region. We have to organize ourselves at the Latin American level, at the regional level, because it’s not only Argentina. We’re seeing signs like this throughout Latin America–in Brazil we saw Bolsonaro, Kast in Chile had a strong showing in the election even though he didn’t win, Trump is apparently coming back in the United States…”

Vanina’s warning underlines the need to strengthen solidarity with Argentina and to watch what’s happening there. Not only to support Argentine women, but also to build resistance against rightwing backlash in all our countries by learning the real-time lessons coming out of their experience.

The emergence of feminist youth and the need for intergenerational dialogue

IWD demonstrations in the region this year had a common denominator–the overwhelming majority of young feminists. The feminist movement in Latin America is a wellspring that’s being constantly fed by new forces coming up from below. Feminism is expanding in high schools, in universities, among young women entering the labor market or becoming part of the care economy. Talking to marchers, it’s pretty clear what the appeal is: Today being a feminist is not just a political option; it’s a survival strategy.

Their signs read: “I am outraged at all my murdered sisters” “How many more have to die?”, “We want to walk freely and come back home safe”, “To live without fear is a right”, “I exist because I resist”.

“On this March 8, we could really see the emergence of young women’s organizations. It’s a phenomenon that I think in the last few years has been happening as a trend all over the world. And that gives us, the feminists of the 80s, a sense of relief and deep joy. Nowadays, to talk about the rising strength of women’s movements in Mexico and Latin America is to talk about young women and their many faces,” says Mariela Arce, a Panamanian economist, human rights defender and feminist popular educator.

“They [young feminists] have created new ways of doing politics, a synthesis between cyberactivism and at the same time getting out from behind the screens, adding their voices and bodies in the marches, in the streets, being seen publicly, which is important for any actor to generate power in society. They’ve forged new intersectional and intergenerational agendas. That’s also an advance in terms of strategy: not only to flood social media with slogans and hashtags, etc., but to provide content and political and strategic vision at a time when there’s been a kind of a hollowing out of the word ‘feminist’, a feminism lite that’s put out there by the institutions—wear a purple ribbon, give roses on Women’s Day. And now young feminists are clarifying, saying: ‘This March 8th don’t congratulate me–go out into the streets and commemorate the struggles, celebrate that there are women who’re giving their lives for our struggles’.”

Mariela’s words resonate among the panelists in the other countries. Itzel explains how young women are getting involved in Mexican movements from many different life experiences—sisters, daughters and mothers searching for their disappeared relatives, a new generation of land and territory defenders, and of course, the feminist youth forming collectives all over the country. She adds:

“The intergenerational issue is really important and we have to keep putting it on the table. There are a lot of things we should think about among all of us because unfortunately, we are still asking for the same things you asked for, that a lot of women have asked for over the years. We continue to ask for exactly the same things-that we not be killed, to have dignified lives. Having these intergenerational dialogues definitely puts us all on common ground”.

Paola Alcazar points out that it is young women who lead in organizing against all odds, even in the most hostile contexts. Paola is a human rights activist, feminist and popular educator in Guanajuato, the state with the highest rate of violence in Mexico. She already had a long history of feminist organizing in other states before moving to Guanajuato.

She says: “It is a very complex state. I thought a lot about participating again openly in the feminist movement in Guanajuato, because of the complicated issues that exist. But it was the young women who were telling us: ‘Where are you? Let’s keep fighting! Let’s get out of these closed spaces, there’s a lot to do!’ I have been so moved to see teen-aged girls of 14, 17 going out of their homes, taking precautions and daring to go out into the streets and organize”. In Guanajuato they’re forming a new collective of young women involved in art, education and feminism. Paola also highlights the importance of creating spaces where women of all ages and diverse experiences work together.

Continuing with the theme of intergenerational organizing, Vanina relates how the Argentine mobilizations found a creative way to promote reflection around the continuity of the struggle and to recover historical memory. “We did an intervention this March 8 in which we restored old photos, the images of the first March 8 demonstrations after the dictatorship. And the posters say the same things as today,” she comments. “So, the challenge is to know that the conquests are not forever, that the conquests are built on thin ice, and to have more permanent conquests, we need to do deeper work, be more humble, more antlike, more grassroots, have more face-to-face encounters, go out to meet with the other–we have many challenges.”

All the panelists agreed on the importance of keeping the movement history in mind, not only to remember the contributions of the past, but to fight for a world worthy of those who follow. “Returning to reflections on the intergenerational struggle will allow us not only to anchor ourselves in a history that is extremely strong, but also to be able to imagine beyond ourselves, beyond us, and to be able to think about who comes after us. This is just having the past well anchored, and being able to imagine the future we want, and the present we are now,” summarizes Itzel.

Mariela adds, “You have to know how to combine tactical moves with strategic ones, to be clear that you cannot afford to have the Christopher Columbus syndrome -that everything started when you found out, and you forget that you are on your floor which is the ceiling of those who came before you and that your ceiling is the floor of those who come after you”.

“This multiple birth of new generations of women, young feminists, I think that this also entails a great responsibility. Because we have to recover the memory of our struggles, given that it’s a millennial continuum – we are the heirs of the heirs of the heirs of the heirs. It’s key for any movement to recover its roots, its identity. Because if not, we become a leaf in the wind, in a storm that could carry us back to patriarchal fundamentalism,” warns Mariela.

New/old issues and innovative ways of doing politics

While the issues women fight today are much the same as decades ago, new issues and demands have become part of changing contexts. For Mexico and Panama, positioning during election season is a big topic for the organizations. Mexico holds elections in June of this year, with two women as the main presidential candidates. No one carried their images–or any party propaganda-in the massive Mexico City demonstration. Chants and signs reflected distance and disillusionment with electoral politics. Many repeated the same message to the candidates of both coalitions: “Women candidates, they are killing us every day!”

Itzel comments: “There was a lot of focus on the electoral issue. There are a lot of promises–so far both candidates are women–, but they don’t necessarily represent a feminist agenda. We have to be very clear about this: that they might try to use this discourse of feminism, of equity, this discourse of women, when in reality they don’t have a political agenda that responds to the needs and structural violence that women and dissidents experience”.

Panama also faces a major election, but there the process has been heavily influenced by the mass demonstrations against mining. Environmentalism had become a core part of the feminist agenda. Last year, women led the successful battle against a mining concession, marking a milestone in the development of the movement. “In these agendas, environmental demands are being incorporated in a substantive and central way. It is no longer a small thing, it’s already part of a feminist paradigm. It’s no longer ‘environmental feminism’, it’s a central pillar,” Mariela affirms.

All the reports on IWD mobilizations included a demand to stop the genocide against Palestine. “Another thing that seemed very important to us this March 8 was to take up again something we in the 1980s were very clear about, maybe because we came from the left–the issue of solidarity with Palestine. It’s knowing that our liberation is linked to the liberation and respect for the life of the Palestinian people,” says Mariela. Itzel reports the same from Mexico: “Palestine has been right up front for us, we continue to fight to name this genocide, which is not a war but a genocide, against a people that seeks to exist and protect its territory and its life”.

The violence of the world today requires new ways of doing politics, based on strengthening networks of care and collective care, and the use of self-care practices. For Paola, organizing in a conflict zone, it’s about keeping up the work, but with a low profile and explicit pacts of protection among the women involved.

Her detailed account of the challenges reminds us again that while every March 8th media coverage focuses on the demonstrations in the streets, most of the organizational work takes place far from public view. “In the social imagination, we’re only in the streets and doing direct action. That is just one of the many ways that we make use of our legitimate right to protest. But there are many other ways, such as accompanying families of missing persons, families of victims of femicides, supporting people who are victims of digital violence. The task and the work of those of us who call ourselves feminists is not only in the public space. It is in the digital space, in accompaniment and mutual support in daily life, in the micropolitics–that’s where it is, that’s where we all are,” says Itzel.

“We need to reimagine how we do politics, that doing politics is in the streets, it’s on digital platforms, it’s in art, it’s in partying, it’s in pleasure and in joy.”

Challenges 8M 2024 and beyond

In Latin America, women are aware of their global role at the forefront of the anti-patriarchal struggle. Another common sign on IWD here stated, “We’re not hysterical, we´re historical!”

There have been serious setbacks, like in Argentina, El Salvador, the United States and other countries or regions, and these have a heavier impact on women and diversities with intersectional identities. But grassroots mobilization, particularly of young people, is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. This leads to many risks and challenges.

Vanina identifies a challenge in the very growth of the movement: “It seems to me that there are problems when movements grow and become massive very quickly, because they deprive us of a trajectory of reflection and growth as a whole, collectively, and now there are so many mainstream feminisms that are white, confused, contradictory. So we have to work hard from the grassroots and with a lot of militancy, and a lot of communicational militancy as well, to make ourselves understandable again, to get out of a language that’s mostly used to attack us, and to be able to speak the popular language”.

Mariela emphasizes that a related challenge is to broaden and deepen our processes of political training, “because the political sense of why we do things, what change we’re seeking, what model motivates us, what’s the radical nature of the things we do, is beginning to be diluted”. This dynamic leads to unsustainable activism.

The capacity for self-criticism and review has been a conscious part of women’s movements that needs to be revalued. One aspect is to continually analyze and transform our own internal forms of organization. Even amid the euphoria coming off the M8 mobilizations, the women admitted the need to talk about obstacles and needs.

Mariela notes, “We have to talk about the challenges, because this is not a rose garden. It’s an ongoing construction with its ups and downs. Let’s also remember that we’re the children of patriarchy in our political methods as well. So we have to deconstruct many narratives, many personalistic leadership styles, competition, etc. Now we celebrate that we’re together, celebrate that we’ve grown, celebrate that we’re giving birth, celebrate that we’re a rising force–the women’s movement–in a context of multiple wars at the global, national and local levels. That’s called having strength – because it’s not the same to grow in a context of peace as to grow in a context of war”.

Amid it all, in this month of March in Latin America, hope dominates. Itzel concludes, “We’re living in a Latin America that is very violent, very vulnerable, but at the same time I say – and I don’t know if I’m overly optimistic about this – but seeing all of us marching together, seeing all of us with the hope that things can be different, changes the panorama”.

Laura Carlsen is director of Mira: Feminisms and Democracies. She also works with Just Associates and is a political analyst, researcher, and journalist on international relations, movement building and justice issues.



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