The Guardian view on #NiUnaMenos: challenging misogyny and murder | Editorial

Black-clad girls and women downed tools, pens and keyboards in Argentina’s major cities today and took to the streets to demand “no more machista violence”. Their strike and demonstration followed similar protests across the region: seven of the 10 countries with the highest rate of female murder victims are in Latin America, where activists say the phenomenon reflects not only high rates of violence, social conflict and organised crime, but also a cultural strain of aggressive hypermasculinity. Now people have had enough. Though there have been powerful women’s movements in the region for a long time, the campaign against gender-based violence has gathered momentum, culminating in the #NiUnaMenos – “not one less” – movement.

The symbolic power of so many women standing together proves that focusing on victims does not mean portraying women as passive. These protests have given women a name and face and presence in death, when their killers and society more broadly objectified or ignored them. They have shown that violence is not only the result of inequality and discrimination but also a mechanism perpetuating such problems.

While the concept of femicide – generally understood as the misogynistic or gender-related killing of women – has been particularly resonant in Latin America, it is employed worldwide. Last year, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, urged all member states to establish a “femicide watch” and publish the statistics each year. The UK already has such a project, the volunteer-run Femicide Census, but only because Karen Ingala Smith began tallying deaths independently.

Focusing on femicide must be done with care: it is a way of forcing society to confront violence against women, not of allowing authorities to ignore anything short of murder – both because lower-level violence is more prevalent, and because men who murder their partners usually have a history of attacking them. Acknowledging the commonalities is not a reason to ignore social and cultural differences that result in very different patterns of crimes against women in different places, such as dowry-related violence and so-called “honour killings”. And the success of Latin American movements in achieving legal change must be set against the difficulties of enforcing those laws and effecting a shift in social attitudes: not just prosecuting and punishing gender-related crimes but preventing them.

Perhaps the movement’s greatest value has been in making connections that are often overlooked: challenging the lines drawn between categories such as domestic and stranger violence, and related judgments about the “worthiness” of victims or the importance of cases. The latest protest was sparked by the rape and murder of a schoolgirl. But in others, marchers have reacted explicitly to attempts to dismiss victims on the basis of factors such as their sexual behaviour. Not one less schoolgirl; but, equally, not one less sex worker, or gang member. Paradoxically, by focusing on the value of each and every woman’s life, the movement turns our attention away from what they have or haven’t done and towards the actions of violent men – which are, after all, what must change.

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