South America: activists march and petition on Women’s Day

This year the United Nations designated March 8, International Women’s Day, as an occasion to honor rural women, but as in previous years, many of the marches and protests celebrating the day focused on violence against women; others emphasized demands for abortion rights and equality in political representation.

Some 10,000 Chileans celebrated International Women’s Day in Santiago with a march from the Plaza Italia to La Moneda, the presidential residence. The demonstration, entitled “Power, Rights, Freedoms,” was organized by women’s organizations and the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT), the country’s largest labor federation, and included union presidents and leaders of last year’s student strike. As often happens in Chile, the march concluded with confrontations near La Moneda between the carabineros militarized police and hooded youths. Police agents used water cannons and tear gas on protesters, while unidentified youths set a microbus on fire, along with some partitions and chairs from a bank; 20 people were reportedly arrested.

The government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera marked the day by sending Congress an initiative for reducing the maximum workweek for domestic workers from 72 to 45 hours, in line with the workweek for other workers; the proposed law would allow another 15 hours but at a higher rate of pay. (AFP, March 8, via Univision; EFE, March 9, via (Piñera’s popular support has declined as his neoliberal policies face challenges from the student movement and from protests in the Aysén region in the south.)

In Argentina activists gathered postcards in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo calling on President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the 257 legislative deputies in Congress to legalize abortion. “Not one more woman dead from clandestine aboritions” and “Neither husband nor boss, my body, my choice” were some of the signs the activists displayed. Clandestine abortions are the main cause of death for women of child-bearing age in Argentina, with a toll of one death every two days, according to Laura Velazco, an activist in the center-left Free of the South Movement.

In Uruguay activists posted signs on buildings and statues on March 8 to call for decriminalization of abortion, while in Paraguay protesters banged on pots and pans in a cacerolada to demand that public institutions provide more aid for pregnant women.

In Brazil the Senate approved a bill during the week of International Women’s Day to impose fines on companies that pay less to women than to men doing the same work. In 2011 Brazilian women’s pay was 72.3% of the pay for men, unchanged since 2009, according to the governmental Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.

In Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, some women marked March 8 by donating their hair to make wigs for women who had lost their own hair when men assaulted them with acid, a form of violence against women that has been on the rise. According to statistics released by Presidential Adviser on Equality for Women Cristina Plazas, 1,444 women were murdered in Colombia in 2010, 26% of them in their own homes. Women represent 84% of the victims of sexual crimes, with 16,916 cases in 2010; 51% of the crimes were committed by relatives. (AFP, March 8, via La Nación, Costa Rica; EFE, March 8, via

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 11.

See our last post on violence against women.