From Chile to Brazil: Latin America’s fight for the rights of women
Trigger warning: The following reading includes a discussion of sexual assault and gendered violence.
Recent years have seen the issues of gendered violence and inequality brought to the fore throughout the world. Here in Australia, sexual misconduct allegations have rocked our highest public office and reverberated around the country. Demands for justice have culminated in thousands of people taking to the streets during the #March4Justice rallies in the capital cities. Throughout Latin America, recent movements have amassed international attention. From Chile's 'Un Violador en tu camino' demonstrations to Mexico's recent marches in the capital, denunciations of violence and discrimination perpetuated against women continue to gather momentum in Latin America and transcend borders.
Despite the challenges that persist with respect to the advancement of women's rights in Latin America, the region has a long feminist history stretching back two centuries. In the early 1800s, Ecuadorian woman, Manuela Sáenz, played a pivotal role at the beginning of the revolution for Latin American feminism, becoming a dominant precursor to women's emancipation in the Global South and beyond. Sáenz rose through the ranks of Simón Bolívar’s rebel army to become a powerful force not only in the fight for independence but as a promoter of anti-colonialism and the rights of women. Since then, key figures in feminist movements across Latin America have included Chilean journalist and poet Gabriela Mistral – who was the first Latin American to win a Nobel Prize in Literature, and feminist sociologist, Marcela Rios Tobar.
Fast forward to 2021 and the fight for the rights and protection of women is as fierce as ever, with gendered violence becoming increasingly prevalent in the contemporary political discourse of Latin America. On 25 November 2019, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, hundreds of women gathered around the Chilean capital of Santiago to denounce gendered violence. The women danced to synchronized choreography while declaring with one voice 'Un Violador en tu camino' ('a rapist in your path').
This demonstration, created by the feminist collective 'Las Tesis', began as a protest on the particularities of gendered violence and inequality in Chile but quickly garnered widespread support and spawned protests all over the globe. During the now‑infamous trial of Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, protestors gathered outside the courthouse in New York to perform a version of 'Un Violador en tu camino'. The demonstrators adopted the Las Tesis chant due to its critique of institutions such as the judiciary and the police being used by the state to uphold systematic violations of women's rights.
Since beginning in Chile, 'Un Violador en tu camino' has spread throughout Latin America, becoming a central part of protests in Brazil that followed the assassination of female politician and women's rights advocate, Marielle Franco. Whilst the tragedy sparked outrage that had been building for years, the protests grew to encompass a fundamental failure to protect women and promote their rights in a country where women occupy 15 per cent of the lower house seats and 9 per cent of ministerial positions. The nature of these violations is that they are not merely connected to interpersonal relations, but are political problems requiring political solutions. Brazilian activists lay blame at the feet of political institutions for perpetuating systems that promote ideologies that keep women under control.
In recent years, Mexico has seen its own surge in demonstrations against sexual violence and the degradation of women in all levels of political and civil life. Outrage has manifested in a number of protests including the marches in Mexico City opposing police violence against women and the recent #UnDiaSinNosotras (‘a day without us’) calling for systematic reform to ensure the protection of women and the dismantling of structures that provide impunity to perpetrators in power. As states all across Latin America fight for justice, demonstrators have coalesced under the common realisation that this is greater than any one city or country; greater than any one injustice.
The ubiquity and virality of 'Un Violador en tu camino' and subsequent demonstrations may be a testament to the strength of the movement against gendered violence, but it is also an indictment of just how widespread the issue is. As commentators have noted, the chant is a global phenomenon because the harassment, exploitation and forms of violence against women are global issues. Whilst originating in Spanish, the message now transcends language, culture and borders as the universality of gendered inequality and violence strikes at the core of institutions all over the world. Australia's struggle with these issues continues against the backdrop of a global movement to demand the protection of women and the upholding of their human rights.
Dylan Gaymer graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (Politics & Spanish). He volunteered at NGOs throughout Latin America during university and currently works as a commercial lawyer.