South America: Women’s Day events focus on violence, poverty

South Americans celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, the holiday’s 100th anniversary, with actions calling attention to the murders of women, along with other forms of violence against women and failures by the region’s governments to provide security from these crimes.

In Argentina, unions and social and human rights organizations held marches in the main cities to demand an end to violence against women; some also called for approval of a law decriminalizing abortion. Meeting House (Casa del Encuentro), a women’s support organization, scheduled a sit-in in front of the National Congress with the slogan “No one listened to them,” referring to women who report family violence of which they are victims but are ignored by the police. “We’re witnessing alarming numbers of women being burned by their partners,” Leonor Arrigo, the director of the Abused Woman’s Aid Center, said on local radio stations. Women’s organizations have recorded 50 cases of gender-based violence so far this year, according to Arrigo, but she noted that the lack of reliable official statistics on this sort of violence forces nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to depend on accounts in the media.

Dilma Rousseff, the first woman to be president of Brazil, marked the day with a message calling the “elimination of gender discrimination and the valuing of women and girls…indispensable strategies for bringing about the struggle against poverty.” “In Brazil poverty has a face—it is feminine,” she explained. Rousseff has called the eradication of poverty the “fundamental” objective of her administration. (AFP, March 8, via Terra, Peru; La Raza, Chicago, March 9, from EFE)

Some 70 Peruvian organizations held a sit-in in front of the Judicial Branch in Lima and delivered a letter to its president, César San Martín, demanding that justice be accessible to women who are victims of violence. According to the Judicial Branch, at least 123 women were murdered by their partners or ex-partners in 2010. (AFP, March 8) In Ayacucho, capital of the southern province of Huamanga, dozens of women from the National Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (Anfasep) marched through the main streets with signs referring to the political violence of the 1980s and the failure of the government to pay attention to the victims. Protester Mercedes Gutiérrez Ochoa’s two children disappeared in 1983. “Maybe my children are alive,” she said. “At least I’d be resigned if I could bury their bodies, but now I know nothing.” She said she’d come from Arizona community in Vinchos. “I got soaked by the rain, but I have to come to make my voice heard,” she said. (Correo Perú, March 9)

The United Nations agency for women, UN Women, opened its office for Colombia on March 8 in Bogotá. Local director Margarita Bueso said women are “without doubt the ones most hurt” by the country’s armed conflict. Guests for the opening reception included women in the government of rightwing president Juan Manuel Santos—Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín, Attorney General Viviane Morales and others—and the director of the Women for Peace Initiative (IMP), Angela Cerón. Created last July, UN Women is headed by former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. (AFP, March 8, via Terra, Peru; Radio Santa Fe, Bogotá, March 8)

International Women’s Day coincided with traditional Carnaval (Mardi Gras) celebrations on the last day before Lent. In Venezuela, a group of women participated in a Carnaval parade in a float celebrating the women heroes of the country’s struggle for independence. The government of President Hugo Chávez reportedly promoted this activity. (AFP, March 8, via Terra Peru)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 13.