The world is still very far from eliminating gender based violence. It’s estimated that around 35% of all women in the world have suffered some type of physical or sexual violence, an alarming figure given the international community proposes the eradication of the phenomenon by 2030, according to the 5th Sustainable Development Goal of the UN.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is key in order to make this reality visible, however many activists in Latin America fighting against the grotesque rates of violence remain in the shadows.
For these reasons we must go beyond the trends, the hashtags, and conventional media outlets, to commemorate the lesser known activists fighting for change.
We present 6 of these activists fighting from North to South to give a voice to women who have experienced gender based violence and to defend their dignity.
1) Maria da Penha: she gave a name to the law against domestic violence in Brasil
Maria was shot by her husband whilst sleeping, leaving her paraplegic and in a wheelchair for life. The worst of all was his posterior attempt at electrocuting her after she survived the first attack.
Her case remained on hold due to an inefficient and highly sexist judicial system, whilst her husband remained free.
Her relentless fight years later paved the way for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hold the Brazilian government responsible for her case, obligating the State to create a law to charge perpetrators with acts of domestic violence.
This case gained significant media attention in Brazil and the government responded by creating the Maria da Penha law in 2006, which dealt with the issue of domestic violence.
This law has guaranteed the rights of 3 million women who have since received assistance, and has ensured the prosecution of around 331,000 perpetrators.
2) Hermelinda Tiburcio: a strong indigenous voice against sexual violence
In Mexico, in Costa Chica, Guerrero, Hermelinda represents the voices of indigenous women who suffer violence characterised by exclusion and social inequality.
Her tireless struggle has led to her being threatened and chased to the point of suffering 3 assassination attempts. She was the first indigenous woman to publicly denounce a case of rape in which Mexican soldiers attacked two women from her community in 1999.
Upon denouncing the government and the army, she was threatened until she received protection from the UN. Since then, her story has become a symbol of the fight to draw attention to the exclusion, violence and systematic discrimination indigenous women in particular suffer from.
3) Susana Chávez: she inspired the #NiUnaMenos movement against femicide
This activist and poet from Chihuahua, Mexico, combined her words with activism in defence of human rights and social movements in order to bring to light the horrific and systematic femicides that took place in Ciudad Juárez in the 90s.
Her fight would later become a powerful movement that would spread across Latin America and the world. The hashtag #NiUnaMenos comes from a poem of the same wording she penned herself.
However in January 2011, after denouncing members of the “Clan Azteca” as the perpetrators of a case of femicide, Susana became their next victim. She was only 36 years old.
Thanks to Susana’s fight, femicide is now a recognised phenomenon throughout Mexico and the entire region of Latin America, and her poetry has become a driving force of one of the most powerful feminist mobilisations of the world.
4) Taya Carneiro: the Brazilian who fights to protect trans women
This woman from the outskirts of Brasilia is one of the voices that speaks out for trans women and the violence they suffer around the world.
In 2017, and at only 24 years of age, Taya became the president of the of the Libertarian Union of Trans Women of the District of Brasilia, leading a campaign to combat negative prejudices such as the idea that trans is a medical disorder.
Her activism has focused on the investigation and creation of collectives that promote the rights of the LGBTI community and that improve general understandings of trans identity as a form of preventing gender based violence towards them, a significant problem in Brazil.
Due to her activism and her research, she has presented her case of violence against trans women in New York for the UN International Youth Day.
5) Dora Coledesky: a key figure in the Argentine green tide movement
In Argentina, Dora is one of the most important figures that helped bring to life the green tide movement this year which mobilised millions in Argentina and across the world to demand legal abortion in the Southern Cone.
From a very young age, her fight to legalise abortion thrusted her into the activist spotlight in order to change the law in Argentina through citizen mobilisation. Her aim was to gradually secure more rights and constitutional guarantees for women.
She led the first ever organisation in Argentina that proposed the legalisation of abortion, the Commision for the Right to Legal Abortion in 1987, and her fight has prompted the articulation of laws that have gradually guaranteed more sexual and reproductive rights for women in Argentina even though there is a long way to go.
6) Bellanir Montes: the face of feminism in the periphery of Bogotá
Bellanir Montes is a community leader in the locality of Ciudad Bolívar on the outskirts of Bogotá that has worked since the 90s fighting for women’s rights.
She works tirelessly to promote the feminist cause and has been a part of numerous acts demanding an end to violence and the construction of peace in her community.
After the tragic femicide of her daughter, Nayibe Reyes Montes, in 2011 who was killed trying to defend an abused woman, her fight only became stronger. Today, Bellanir is a part of the “Colectivo Nayibe”, one of the 13 organisations that make up the Network of Women of Ciudad Bolívar for Power and Peace.
In this network, women fight to reverse the damaging gender roles that keep them in a submissive position and they advocate for the recognition of women in political and public spheres.
They reinforce the value of women as active agents of transformation, participation and peace building, whilst redefining gender roles in the public and private space to mitigate acts of violence.
These 6 stories of female activists that fight with passion and courage from Mexico and Brazil, to Colombia and Argentina have helped create international movements that define the new direction of women’s rights in the region and the entire world.
There’s no doubt that their contributions, along with those of thousands of other brave women that risk their lives to fight for their rights, have been vital in order to move forward in the realms of women’s rights and the fight against gender based violence in Latin America.