[SPECIAL EDITION] #NiUnaMenos: Politicising the use of technologies

4 September 2017

Photograph by TitiNicola, under Creative Commons License Attribution Share Alike from Wikimedia Commons.
Translated from here

A kind of feminist confession is circulating these days on social networks and the internet in general. The word “feminist” turns up irreverently on Twitter profiles and Facebook posts with unprecedented frequency. Machista violence, in all its forms, is called out, and the “duty to be feminist” is stated, pronounced, even commercialised (thanks to femvertising). Every time there is a call for a street demonstration, an overflowing response is visible, and this physical participation is replicated in the digital space daily. As a result, women’s demands are trending topics whenever activists decide to promote them, and campaigns like #AbortoLegal (#Legal Abortion) slip into the media agenda, which now extends beyond what is published in the traditional media. Two years after the first “Ni Una Menos” – “Not One (Woman) Less” – demonstration in Argentina, which arrived on the scene with new narratives and without asking permission, it seems right to ask whether the fourth wave of feminism is riding on this alliance between technology, social networks and people on the streets.

Two years after the first “Ni Una Menos” – “Not One (Woman) Less” – demonstration in Argentina, which arrived on the scene with new narratives and without asking permission, it seems right to ask whether the fourth wave of feminism is riding on this alliance between technology, social networks and people on the streets.

One thing is certain: the fourth wave is here to debate meanings and to exercise “the right to appear”, as feminist philosopher Judith Butler puts it - “bodies in alliance” meeting in a public space that lacks physical and material boundaries. Today, public space must be understood as extending beyond our streets, squares and meetings: virtual spaces are also a part of this space. Despite the sexist trolling, technology-related gender-based violence and harassment that make social networks hostile territories for women and feminist organisations, the same social networks create the possibility of forging alliances and networks and participating in the media without intermediaries, without quotas and without parity legislation. Building networks is one of the greatest potentials for feminism at this juncture. The limitations of the digital divide are lessened when the messages published on the networks reach ground level, and the posters calling for a demonstration are printed.


Slogans and posters for #NiUnaMenos

Writer Maria Moreno’s text Mujeres de la bolsa (“Women in Bags”) says: “There are many women in bags, and we emerge from them so that there will not be one woman less.” Hers is a foundational text opening the discussion of the meaning of the phrase “Not One Woman Less”, in a new code making the language of feminist rhetoric more comprehensible for many people. It means “no more femicides” but it is also a demand to stop all forms of oppression, from the most extreme violence to the invisible unpaid work of women; from unsafe abortions to daily harassment on the streets. “Not One Woman Less” amalgamates each and every one of the forms of gender violence suffered by women, lesbians, transvestites and transpeople.

It means “no more femicides” but it is also a demand to stop all forms of oppression, from the most extreme violence to the invisible unpaid work of women; from unsafe abortions to daily harassment on the streets. “Not One Woman Less” amalgamates each and every one of the forms of gender violence suffered by women, lesbians, transvestites and transpeople.

Moreno’s text was the root of the “Ni Una Menos” collective and the readings and performance marathon against femicides at the National Library on 26 March 2015. The convening of the event accelerated after Daiana Garcia’s body was found, 10 years to the day after the disappearance of Florencia Pennacchi, a student from Neuquén. The date went viral on Facebook and in the end, the attendance surpassed all expectations. It is no coincidence that those of us who promoted this action and founded “Ni Una Menos” are, in one way or another, wordsmiths working with language in different formats and with different methods. While one of the roots was an exchange of writings, there was also fertile ground in which it could grow: the history of the women’s movement in Argentina was the spinal column, and three decades of National Women’s Conferences supplied robustness.

After the reading marathon, the femicide of Chiara Páez in Rufino, Santa Fe, launched a new call for action on 3 June 2015, heavily promoted through Twitter. Flyers, announcements and drawings by different illustrators multiplied. “Ni Una Menos” was born as a collective, but also as a slogan and a social movement.

“Ni Una Menos” potentiates a combination of unprecedented strategic and empowering alliances: the tenacity and perseverance over time of historic feminist militancy, a solid theoretical framework, consistent activism and the sounding board of the social networks. In this alchemical blend, knowledge of the new technologies is key for feminist empowerment. Unless feminism is understood as a dynamic construction, there is a greater risk of its being devoured by patriarchy. The vitality of feminism lies in that dynamism that politicises the use of technologies without losing sight of the horizon, the lineage or the genealogy.

Debates on meanings

The idea of a “strike”, historically and predominantly associated with labour unions and with men, was reappropriated by women all over the world on 8 March 2017, International Women’s Day, by means of a global action.

By this time, many women were now able to call themselves feminists. In Argentina there is no doubt that, since 3 June 2015, activism came out of the “ghetto”. It was the first time that a demand from the feminist movement occupied the public space en masse. And that mass gathering signified an opening and also permitted the use of the word “feminist”.

It was the first time that a demand from the feminist movement occupied the public space en masse. And that mass gathering signified an opening and also permitted the use of the word “feminist”.

Critics pointed out the consolatory approach taken by the action but the temporary denial of services showed that it was not just about rhetoric, and feminist expansion translated into overflowing demonstrations but also into positive political organisation. “Ni Una Menos” inspired organisation within unions, university spaces, neighbourhoods and territories. It tripled participation in the next National Women’s Conference and lowered tolerance for gender violence, as indicated by the increased number of complaints.

In retrospect, “Ni Una Menos” can be seen to have moved beyond the geographical limits of Argentina. After the first #3J [3 June], the feminist tide continued to rise and every intervention on the streets also made its explosion on the social networks: #7N in Spain; #24A in Mexico, accompanied by a virtual action in which nearly 100,000 women participated under the hashtag #MiPrimerAcoso (“MyFirstHarrassment”); #1J in Brazil, based on the strength of #PrimeiroAssedio (FirstHarrassment) and #EstuproNaoECulpaDaVitima (RapeIsNotTheVictim’sFault); #3J2016 in Argentina. on 13 August that year, “Ni Una Menos Peru” took place; on 3 October in Poland, there was a strike against the criminalisation of abortion; on 19 October, the first women’s strike in Argentina took place; and #26N marked “Non Una Di Meno” in Italy on 26 November. In 2017, the Women’s March inaugurated the Trump era on 21 January, and 50 countries around the world participated in the #8M International Women’s Strike.

Photograph by TitiNicola, under Creative Commons License Attribution Share Alike from Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile, the unjust detention of Belen in the province of Tucuman, Argentina, unleashed an online campaign that gave the case a high profile. The young woman was jailed for nearly 900 days, accused of a crime she had not committed, after suffering a miscarriage. When her case came to light, feminists managed to obtain her freedom within four months, and later her absolution. For the first time, Belen’s case placed a campaign demanding legal abortion as a trending topic on Twitter, for eight and a half hours. The initiative came from the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion. The story of the jailed girl was converted into multiple hashtags, videos, gifs and flyers, and there were concrete institutional interventions, such as Amnesty International’s urgent action in Argentina. There was also a nationwide mobilisation in August to demand her freedom.

The story of the jailed girl Belen was converted into multiple hashtags, videos, gifs and flyers, and there were concrete institutional interventions, such as Amnesty International’s urgent action in Argentina. There was also a nationwide mobilisation in August to demand her freedom.

In each of the recent mass street demonstrations, new technologies played key roles in calling people out and also in shortening the distance between latitudes. In order to shape the first women’s strike in Argentina, the “Ni Una Menos” collective used social networks to convene a historic assembly in the courtyard of the Confederation of Popular Economy Workers, in which more than 300 women participated. They decided to withdraw their labour for two hours and march to Plaza de Mayo, after the repression experienced at the National Women’s Conference in Rosario, and the brutal femicide of Lucía Pérez in Mar del Plata. From virtual announcement to mass assembly, and from there to the streets.

Connections with the International Women’s Strike also took place in Argentina on two planes: virtual exchanges between leaders in each of the countries, connected via a closed group on Facebook, and the mass assemblies that took place in Buenos Aires at the Mutual Sentimiento and over 70 assembly points across the country.

The purpose of “Ni Una Menos” is to democratise a message.

The purpose of “Ni Una Menos” is to democratise a message. In the past two years, street actions have shown that there are no boundaries and they can continue to expand, but a gap remains between the feminist ambience that is experienced on the networks and the demands made of states. That gap represents the lack of attention paid to a structural problem, and it allows the solidification of gender violence that has become more reactive and ferocious. Another problem is that complaints against violence against women are not interpreted by the most conservative sectors as demands for tougher penalties or responses derived from the Criminal Code. The challenge is to continue to enrich the meanings of the slogan, the collective and the social movement. And this produces anxiety. But what is reassuring is that, in spite of the persistence and the cruelty of sexist violence, the response has always been more feminism.

The challenge is to continue to enrich the meanings of the slogan, the collective and the social movement. And this produces anxiety. But what is reassuring is that, in spite of the persistence and the cruelty of sexist violence, the response has always been more feminism.

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