Latin American Foundation for the Future

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

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On Saturday, November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women saw people of all genders and ages take to the streets in what has become an annual march in Latin America. The ‘Ni Una Menos’ movement began in Argentina two years ago and last August they staged their first march in Lima in what was then deemed to be the biggest demonstration in Peruvian history. The feminist movement began after the murder of a 19-year-old woman in Buenos Aires, to signify that “not one (woman) less” would be tolerated. The movement has continued to grow over the last two years and it highlights the vast extent to which violence against women and femicide are normalised in Latin American society. This year’s march in Lima saw a significant increase in participants from last year, reflecting the impact of several campaigns that have gone viral throughout the year highlighting the same issue.

One of the most prominent of these campaigns to affect Peru (and the continent as a whole) was#MisMedidasSon, a campaign started by the organisers and participants of Peru’s annual beauty pageant. Miss Perú took place last month on October 29th, and since its airing, this year’s event has attracted far more international media attention than ever before. The contest usually begins with the potential beauty queens stepping forward to introduce themselves, after which they announce their waist, hip and bust measurements. This year, however, the 23 participating contestants decided upon sharing some rather different figures with their audiences. The women each stepped forward, gave their names and hometowns, and followed this with some truly horrifying statistics on violence against women in Peru

Camila Canicoba, Miss Peru Lima, stepped forward to announce “Mis medidas son 2202 casos de feminicidios reportados en los últimos nueve años en mi país” (“2202 cases of femicide reported in the last nine years in my country”). Karen Cueto declared that in 2017 alone there had already been 82 cases of femicide in Peru, and a further 156 attempted cases and Romina Lozana, the eventual winner of the contest, revealed that up until 2014, 3114 women had been victims of sex trafficking in Peru. Within moments, the hashtag #MisMedidasSon was trending across social media networks in Peru and Latin America as people reacted overwhelmingly to a long overdue public acknowledgment of the appalling state of gender violence in Peru.

Although the protest came as a surprise to audiences, the staging of it had in fact been very carefully planned. As the contestants spoke, images of women who had been abused were displayed on a giant screen behind them, indicating that the event organisers had played a hand in bucking the pageant trend. The last few years have seen a number of investigations and studies conducted into gender violence in Peru, with El Comercio releasing a study just this morning to reveal that between 2013 and 2017, the number of cases of violence against women has risen by 78.4% and that in 2017 alone there have been 2,480 attacks against girls under the age of 18. In light of this, the United Nations has called on Peru to make efforts to change its attitudes towards women.

Whilst #MisMedidasSon has attracted a phenomenal amount of attention over the last month, the movement did begin on a televised beauty pageant. After the women in question had finished so passionately announcing their statistics, some skeptics have notably drawn attention to the fact that the cameras continued to zoom in on their surgically enhanced breasts and their artificially whitened teeth. True believers in this movement are forced to question why the pageant was not stopped altogether if its purpose was really to impact change? If Romina Lozana is such an advocate for gender equality, why did she proceed to participate in an event which for years has been a defining symbol of discrimination?

The action implemented by Peru and Latin America so far has been hugely positive, however, a lot of work still remains to be done. The difference between the attention paid to women who have suffered abuse in the developed and developing world is still deeply troubling. The UK and USA offer hundreds of helplines, shelters and counseling services for the many women that are affected. In Peru, support services are minimal and victims must report their cases within 72 hours and demonstrate evidence of sexual or physical violence for their reports to be considered by the judicial system. Most incidents, therefore, go unreported due to fear, shame or simply lack of connectivity for those living in remote areas.

There are a number of ‘casas de acogida’ (shelters) in Peru for women who have suffered at the hands of not only their aggressors, but attitudes perpetuated by society which associate survivors with notions of shame and dishonour. These houses provide a place of sanctuary for survivors, whilst allowing them to develop personal and employable skills, refusing to allow their futures to be defined by the abuse they have experienced. Unfortunately, there are only 39 such ‘casas’ across Peru, with only 11 being administered by local governments. This means that in total they are only able to house 20% of victims who are seek help, meaning the remaining 80% are often left unattended and alone (in Peru women are frequently disowned by their own families after reporting abuse, and can be left homeless and penniless). For this reason, now more than ever it is crucial for the statistics of violence to be talked about as far and wide as possible. The more awareness that can be generated at a global scale, the more women that can be protected from a system that is inherently machista and sexist. One of LAFF’s own partner projects is a casa de acogida based in Cusco, named Casa Mantay, and you can read more about the project or donate here.

#MisMedidasSon and #NiUnaMenos both echo the #MeToo or #YoTambién trends that were flooding social media feeds globally just a number of weeks ago. Every hashtag is becoming a call to arms and a catalyst for a mini-revolution – a chance for survivors to unashamedly tell their stories; a chance for awareness campaigns to become action campaigns; a chance to take one step closer to equality.

In 2017, headlines of sexual harassment have become a regular feature. Suzanne Moore recently named the experience of sexual harassment as having become a backdrop to the lives of many women, explaining that we had numbed to it for fear of allowing constant thoughts upon it to immobilise us. However, I believe the opposite. Silence propagates nothing. The more we meditate upon our experiences of harassment, be that as victims, witnesses or even perpetrators, the more we are able to expose the problems that are desperate to be dealt with. Whilst recent allegations against Hollywood moguls such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman have rocked the entertainment industry and horrified many – the fact that they have become public knowledge is imperative in starting conversations surrounding sexual violence.

Despite its ironies and criticisms, never has a platform as great as Miss Perú been used to catapult these essential discussions into the open. In a country where gender inequality is engrained in the national character, this stand taken by the organisers of the pageant was a monumental and historic one. Although questions remain to be asked about the segments in the show such as swimsuit competitions and talent rounds, audiences of feminists and non-feminists alike cannot fail to commend the immensity of using a platform such as Miss Perú to start such a long overdue lobby.  An acknowledgement of statistics such as those presented in the contest has never occurred at such a wide scale, and the results of this can be seen immediately in the ever-increasing population of those who wish to participate in events such as the #NiUnaMenos march, proving slow but steady steps towards establishing a redemptive and celebratory attitude towards women in the developing world.

 
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