Women Strike in Latin America and Beyond

NACLA spoke with Argentinian feminist activist Cecilia Palmeiro, a founding member of the Ni Una Menos feminist collective and organizer of the 2018 International Women’s Day Strike.

March 8, 2018

Protestors from the #NiUnaMenos movement in downtown Buenos Aires on June 3, 2017. (Tiki Nicola/Wikimedia Commons)

On March 8 (International Women’s Day), thousands of women in Latin America—and throughout the world—will participate in the second annual Paro International de Mujeres, or International Women’s Strike (IWS). Last year’s strike drew the participation of thousands of women in over fifty countries. Much of the organizing for the IWS has come out of Latin America with substantial participation in Argentina galvanized by the Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less) movement that began in 2015. Initially organizing around the issue of femicidio—the murder of women with impunity—Ni Una Menos activists have since rallied against all forms of violencia machista and have looked to “striking” as method for transformative, feminist resistance.

Organizers of IWS—from Buenos Aires to Bogotá to New York City—aim to bring attention to the many forms of unacknowledged and undercompensated labor such as childcare, eldercare, and emotional labor done by women throughout the world. Organizing through popular assemblies, strike activists have declared their movement to embrace a “feminism of the 99%.” The day of the strike, thousands of women around Argentina and the world plan to withhold their labor at work, school, and in the home. Marches and rallies are planned in Buenos Aires and other cities throughout the world.

The following is an interview with Cecilia Palmeiro, a founding member of the Ni Una Menos feminist collective and organizer of the March 8 strike in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Claire Branigan (CB): Where and how did the idea for the women’s strike emerge? How has the strike grown and changed over the past year or so? Is the strike a part of a larger women’s movement?

Cecilia Palmeiro (CP): Since the beginning of the Ni Una Menos movement, we had been dreaming about what it would be like for women to strike, and how it would change the history—or “herstory”—of feminist politics in terms of pointing to all the invisible labor we do that consumes our time and energy. These conversations between members of the Ni Una Menos collective started exactly three years ago at a party, even before the collective was founded, and the idea was almost like the sketch for an artwork.

On October 3, 2016, Polish women went on strike over abortion. That was the moment in which our dream started to take shape. On October 8, 2016, Lucia Perez, a 16-year-old girl was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered [in Argentina]. The perpetrators used “impalement” (empalada), a colonial form of torture used during the [Spanish] Inquisition in the Americas. This femicide happened in the city of Mar del Plata, which has a very strong presence of narco-mafias and neo-Nazi gangs that are exacerbated by a right-wing, anti-women’s movement local government. On October 9, 2016, a rally organized [in Mar del Plata] by the Argentinian National Women’s Meeting [in Mar del Plata] was heavily repressed by the police.

The coincidence of police violence, sexual violence, and the key date of October 12—the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas—demanded immediate action. On October 13, the collective Ni Una Menos decided to make an open call for the first National Women’s Strike and to organize it together with many women’s groups through a popular assembly gathered at the trade union CTEP (Confedederation of Workers of the Popular Economy). The idea of the strike went viral and in five days we organized the first National Women’s Strike, which took place on October 19, 2016. We stopped all other activity for an hour, and rallied massively all over Argentina and Latin America with solidarity rallies in New York City. That key date became a turning point in the history of Latin American feminism, because we were able to map the many forms of violence against women. We began to link the most dramatic forms of femicide, rape, and physical violence to more naturalized forms of exploitation in the context of neoliberalism.

The Women’s Strike is different from strikes traditionally led by unions, because our work [as women] is not limited to our jobs, it is emotional labor as well. The strike makes visible that love, domestic, reproductive, and caregiving tasks are indeed labor, and they must not be taken for granted and for free. The strike positioned us as subjects—and not objects—of history: it allowed us to shift from victims into protagonists of the economy and the order of material, intellectual, and spiritual production. It is a form of direct economic intervention. It points out the power we have and our fundamental role in the world’s economy. With our undercompensated labor in the market—the pay gap is 27 % in Argentina—and the unrecognized labor at home, we hold up the capitalist economy—and we can also bring it down.

After the first National Women’s Strike in October 2016, our movement demanded a networked global action, and thus we called and organized the first IWS, which took place on March 8, 2017, with the participation of women from over 50 countries around the world. Women from all Latin American countries participated in the strike and it became a decisive moment in the history of our revolutions, especially taking into account that our region is a laboratory for the most contemporary phase of high impact neoliberalism. This new internationalism coming from the Global South led us to include the demands of women from very different backgrounds. We describe this process as radicalization by massification and inclusion. Through these unprecedented alliances that connected women around the world in transversality, horizontality, and sisterhood  (sororidad), we could detect the global trends in violence against women.

The experiment of the IWS has succeeded at many levels, affecting not only the political, but also the micropolitical, existential dimension of this molecular revolution. The second edition of the international strike—taking place on March 8, 2018—is more massive and powerful. The idea is already a part of the public imagination and it is contagious.

CB: Organizing for the strike is currently taking place throughout Argentina and other Latin American countries in the form of asambleas, or popular assemblies. Can you talk about what these asambleas are like? How have organizers managed to maintain a strong presence both on and offline?  

CP: Since the beginning of our movement we have organized our actions through open popular assemblies. Assemblies are a form of direct democracy with no representative hierarchies. Ni Una Menos does not represent the voices of those less privileged, but we amplify them. In assemblies, we elaborate and negotiate our claims and proposals, we discuss ideas, and we build a collective inclusive voice. The assemblies are the space that guarantees horizontality in the decision-making process. Physical presence is fundamental for us, as this is a revolution that takes place online but mostly offline, in the streets, at home, in our work environments, at school, and at the state level. All voices and all bodies matter. Assemblies have become the main form of organizing for this new feminist tide, from Argentina to the rest of the world. The methodology of the tide is sisterhood, intersectionality, transversality, horizontality, translation, and the emancipation of language from individual authorship and private property. Women of the world are weaving this tide into massive, oceanic protests, and transnational actions. For us, the value of the strike is the process of organization and what remains after the key date of March 8. In these processes we are creating a different sort of power, a power that is not accumulated in capitalist terms, but that permeates our subjectivities.

CB: Over the past several decades, women’s movements and women-led movements—from the Madres de Plaza de Mayo to the Piqueteras (unemployed workers movement)—have played an important role in Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America. Do you see this movement and moment as distinct? Are we seeing the emergence of a new Latin American feminism, or is it the continuation of it?

CP: Ni Una Menos is part of that revolutionary lineage of feminist’s politics in Argentina. We are the daughters of their disobedience. We are the locas, or crazy women, as the Madres [de Plaza de Mayo] were called. We are the heirs of the desaparecidas [disappeared] and the feminist organizations that came before us. We translate this powerful heritage into a political language trained in queer poetry and literature, a movement that I like to call las lenguas de las locas, [the language of the insane], amplified by a critical use of the tools of communications technology.

In the construction of a feminism of the 99%, in our radicalization by inclusion, all the political struggles connect to each other. The Argentinian movement of unemployed workers, the Piqueteras, is very present in our assemblies and in our claims, articulated with the organizations of workers of the informal economy. This is a crucial alliance for us as unemployment rises more and more, and our lives are being precaritized. The struggles for human rights, that the Madres and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo founded in Argentina, are at the core of our claims. We think of ourselves as a feminist human rights organization. The Madres themselves support our struggles with their physical presence at the assemblies and rallies. We draw on the experiences and knowledges of this genealogy of women’s struggles, and use them to interpret and confront the most contemporary social conflicts produced by extractivism and exploitation.

More specifically, in the case of the Madres and the Piqueteras, their struggle was a reaction against two specific phases of neoliberalism: the first neoliberal experiment in the ‘70s during the last civic-military dictatorship, and a second phase in the ‘90s with neoliberal democracies. We are now facing a third moment of accumulation by dispossession that is preparing the launching of a new phase of neoliberalism. Argentina—and Latin America, as it happened both in the ‘70s and the ‘90s—is a laboratory where this new extractivism is being rehearsed to be applied globally.

This new wave of feminism, that some have called the fourth wave or feminism of the 99%, can also be called feminism from below, because it is a grassroots movement with a very strong engagement in the marginalized communities that suffer the most. Feminism flourishes in the slums, in the countryside, and in the anti-colonial defense of Mother Earth, not just at universities, leftist parties, and NGOs, as in the past. It is fascinating how the critical tools elaborated in this [women’s] tide permeate the everyday practices of the younger and older generations, disrupts the order of the government, and changes how the general public perceives feminism. This is why feminism is the most radical and popular social movement in our continent today. It is a revolution from below and from the south. It floods from the peripheries to the centers.

CB: Talk a little bit about how the #MeToo movement is seen in Argentina among feminists and/or others. Do you see parallels or the potential for coalition building between the #MeToo movement and Ni Una Menos?

CP: Argentinean feminism is very diverse, but we can affirm that we celebrate the #MeToo campaign in terms of making machista violences at all levels visible. #MeToo has brought to attention the fact that regardless of social class and privileges, all women are workers, and we are oppressed, but we are no longer alone. We are building bridges between our different contexts. We also had our local campaign of #MeToo in Argentina, as women in show business have denounced the abuses they suffered by powerful men. We are empowering ourselves and we must connect our struggles, taking into account our heterogeneity and intersectionality. It is important not to isolate sexual violence from the very complex entwinement of machista violences that function at the core of the capitalist system.

CB: It seems that part of the success behind the Ni Una Menos movement has been the ability to organize across the progressive-political spectrum to build a strong, feminist, coalition. What advice would you have for activists in the United States attempting to build a similar movement?

CP: The International Strike and other global actions yet to come are outstanding opportunities to articulate a global feminist movement capable of transforming everything. In our experience, organizing in open assemblies guarantees that all voices and bodies matter and that we learn from each other and appropriate each other’s struggles. We must create empathy between us, and need to develop a deep understanding of our differences and conflicts. It is crucial that at the same time that we contest the existing order, we create utopias, and put them into practice.

The most difficult challenge is to avoid doing politics in the patriarchal capitalist terms of personal accumulation of power and group rivalries. If we want a different world, it is our responsibility to create it at every moment. Our capitalist subjectivities and our colonial unconsciousness will not disappear at once by magic, so we need to be very aware of our own misogyny and prejudices and undo our own identities. For us, the personal is political and we should not underestimate the role of affects in an existential revolution.

Cecilia Palmeiro received her Ph.D in Spanish and Portuguese from Princeton University, and a postdoctoral fellowship from CONICET-University of Buenos Aires. She is the author of five books and has taught Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at University of Buenos Aires and Birkbeck (University of London). She now teaches Contemporary Latin American Studies at NYU in Buenos Aires and Latin American Literature and gender theory at National University of Tres de Febrero (UNTREF). She has been a member of the Ni Una Menos feminist collective since 2015. 

Claire Branigan is a doctoral student in cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is conducting research on the politics of gender and violence in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Claire is a member of the Graduate Employee Organization (labor union for University of Illinois graduate students), which has been on strike since February 26, 2018 for tuition waivers and improved working conditions for graduate employees.  

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.