This #8M has been a day of important mobilization throughout the Latin America. Although more symbolic than real, many organizations have joined the International Women’s Strike. These protests coincide with an impulse of the international feminist movement derived from campaigns like #MeToo or #TimesUp. However, Latin America has produced its own campaigns such as #NiUnaMenos (No One (Woman) Less) that has played a major role on the continent. How have social media influenced feminist activism in Latin America? What are the particularities of online feminism in this region?
As many other International Women’s Days, Latin American feminist activism has revolved around classic demands such as the right to abortion, the fight against femicide and, more generally, against an economic system that discriminates against them. But in recent years, March 8th has been given a new boost and is much more visible both in the tweets as in the streets. “If our lives are not worth it, go produce without us,” has been the leitmotiv of #NosotrasParamos (#WeStop), the hashtag that has united Spanish-speaking feminist activists to show the importance of women’s contribution in our current productive system and to claim that it should be recognized.
Some figures on the situation of women and Internet
Every day 12 women are murdered in Latin America and the Caribbean of the mere reason of being women. Of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are in this part of the world. As if that were not enough, it is also the most unequal region in the world, which is a double handicap for the majority of half of the population of the continent: women and poor. Regarding the use of the internet, the penetration rates are still far from those of the OECD countries: 55% compared to 82%. However, this is increasing. According to a study by the IDB and Latinobarómetro for El País, 65% of internet users access social networks and that the increase in users grows faster than social inclusion.
#MeToo arrived after other big movements in Latin America
A few months ago, when the #MeToo movement broke out in the US and Europe, Mexican writer Ilan Stavans complained in the New York Times that the #MeToo movement did not have a greater impact in Latin American countries. However, the reporting of cases of harassment in the networks is one of the usual practices of feminist movements arising in the heat of the Internet, as a response of the incapacity of judicial and protection systems.
The #NiUnaMenos movement has boosted the Latin American feminist panorama for three years. It arose when a group of journalists and writers called for a public reading after the brutal murder of an Argentine teenager at the hands of her boyfriend. The hashtag #NiUnaMenos spread like wildfire and after three months there were massive demonstrations in cities of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Mexico and Spain. It was not the only movement that arose from the heat of the networks. Also in 2015, the #PrimerAssedio (First Harassment) hashtag ignited in Brasil and spread in the continent (#MiPrimerAcoso), and even before, the #SlutWalk had a lot of follow-up in the region.
That social media have revolutionized the way in which activism currently is taking place, has been largely discussed by academics such us Castells, Bennet and Seberg, and many others. These media produce more horizontal movements in their organization and communication and is therefore appropriable and replicable by different actors. The historical evolution towards a more identity feminism seems to fit with the personalization of the contents of the networks. In addition, the weaker or more liquid identities produced by these movements make them adapt to different contexts depending on the “personal” needs of their members, who gather around moments of emotion and union.
In this sense, the spin-off that the #MeToo movement has made in Mexico is interesting. With the hashtag #YoNoDenuncioPorque (I don’t denounce because) women show not only the abuses they have suffered, but also the legal and cultural wall that persists in Latin American societies if a woman wants to denounce her aggressor.
#YoNoDenuncioPorque Cuando conté a familiares me preguntaron si estaba segura y dijeron que tal vez era mi imaginación. Que ya había pasado mucho tiempo y que a lo mejor estaba confundida.
— Detective Salvaje (@DulceMireles) 23 de febrero de 2018
“I don’t denounce because when I told my family the asked me if I was sure and told me that it was maybe my imagination. That it was long time ago and that I was maybe confused”. @DulceMirles, February 23rd 2018
Although social media have undeniably influenced these movements, “Ni Una Menos was not given birth by Twitter”, as underlined journalist María Florencia Alcaraz, but by decades of feminist and social activism in Latin America. Poell and van Dijk argue that it does not make sense to separate the on- and offline scopes in the study of activism. However, it is perhaps due to the presence of a solid associative fabric that the internet movements have caught on more strongly in some territories than in others. But it is also true, that the these new forms on/off-line activism have managed to gather more young urban girls than before.
What is the impact of these movements?
The million-dollar question has no clear answer, although there are timid advances in response to their demands. As Argentinian feminist Ximena Schinca states in this interview in English, the issues are now talked about on prime-TV, which was inconceivable a few years ago. More concretely, on the issue of abortion, Chile ceased to be in 2017 one of the few countries in the world that still penalized abortion without any causal exception. Even the president of Argentina, the conservative Mauricio Macri has recently announced the opening of the parliamentary debate for the total decriminalization of abortion. With regard to femicides, 18 countries have currently legislation that takes into account the gender dimension in the murders of women, but in practice few aggressors are punished. In recent years, femicides have actually increased.
It is also important to take into account a traditional media system deeply centralized and linked to the instances of power in this region. Additionally, the continent has now ticked towards right-wing governments, less sensitive to the feminist cause. Both variables make networks the natural means to criticize the system, while also hindering the dissemination of these discourses outside the network. Analyzing the impact of these hashtag campaigns could only be done from the perspective of a broader and more complex communication ecosystem.
The challenges of Latin American feminist activism are not a few. Will this wave of online activism be able to enhance change in the continent?
Bennett, W. L., & Segerberg, A. (2012). The logic of connective action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 739– 768.
Castells, M. (2012). Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the Internet age. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Poell, Thomas & José van Dijck (2018). Social Media and new protest movements. In The SAGE Handbook of Social Media, 546-561, edited by Jean Burgess, Alice Marwick & & Thomas Poell. London. SAGE.