They called it the “shadow pandemic”.
As Covid-19 trapped people in their homes during 2020 and parts of 2021, the rates of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Latin America exploded to horrifying new levels.
But this was not an unforeseeable outcome. Even before the pandemic, Latin America had one of the worst rates of GBV anywhere: in fact, the region contains 10 of the 12 countries with the highest levels of femicide in the world. Compounded by a deeply entrenched patriarchal society and draconian anti-abortion laws, this is no safe place to be a woman.
Argentina’s feminist record is far from clean, either. The country is, however, slowly making progress towards equality, with voluntary abortion finally legalised in late 2020 – after close to half a century of concerted effort from women’s rights groups – and GBV (at least, pre- and post-pandemic) gradually on the decline.
A huge part of this positive shift is thanks to the tireless efforts of women-focussed NPOs operating within Argentina. It’s not just persistence that makes their work pay off, though: it’s the intelligent and adaptive strategies that they use that ensures their voices are heard and respected.
Let’s take a look at two Argentinian NPOs in particular, and how their differing approaches form a resilient network that not only effects genuine, systemic change, but also provides the women of this otherwise beautiful country with a sorely needed resource: hope.
Fundación Mujeres en Igualdad
Aside from the growing strength of the feminist movement in Argentina, the sheer longevity of Fundación Mujeres en Igualdad (MEI) is a glowing testament to their approach. Formed over 30 years ago, and surviving through several changes in government since then, MEI has sought to continually engage all sides of the feminist question in their push for equality.
It would be a wonderful world where women could simply demand equality and receive it. Unfortunately, this plan of action only rarely leads to rapid change, leading many grass-roots movements – who expect to make an immediate impact – into disillusion and despair.
MEI is, no doubt, also a holistic NGO demanding wholesale change. But their approach is far more pragmatic, recognising firstly that change takes time and comes with incremental victories, and secondly that it is much easier to find approval for change when everyone – even those who strictly speaking have no invested interest – is included in the debate.
Ignoring voices leads to stubborn dissent from those voices, even if the proposal doesn’t really affect them. On the other hand, if you feel like you’ve been heard, you are more likely to remain open.
Keeping this in mind, MEI works with all levels of society, industry, and government. Politicians, lawyers, journalists, academics, unionists, artists, and the general public: everyone is included.
This mentality is perhaps best displayed through their “Representatives and Represented” breakfasts, which have been running across Argentina for the better part of 30 years. Here, people from across the wide spectrum of life gather to discuss, debate, and share ideas about what can be done to reduce discrimination, violence, and inequality.
Using the same mentality of “broad engagement”, MEI also runs a diverse range of activities catered to every level of society. There are programs and workshops that assist women at risk of, or victims of, GBV or trafficking. There are seminars and bulletins that cater to lawmakers, candidates, and campaigners. There are international conferences that draw together NPOs in the same fields, as well as political scientists, UN delegates, and politicians themselves. They have their own app, FEMPLEA, a female labour marketplace, as well as providing employment training for women in need. Finally, there are programs dedicated to discussion, education, and advice to the police force and those in the justice system.
Fondo de Mujeres del Sur
If MEI takes a top-down approach to fighting for gender equality, then Fondo de Mujeres del Sur (FMS) – at first glance – seems to take the diametrically opposite route. Building from the grassroots up, FMS provides both financial and advisory support to hundreds of smaller feminist and LGBTQI+ organisations, as well as thousands of individual activists working and fighting within the space.
That’s not to say that the overall mentality of these two organisations – MEI and FMS – are all that different. Both believe in the power of networks in amplifying individual voices, and both find strength in differing perspectives that are, nevertheless, reaching for the same goal. They both understand that equality is a broad church, and since it will result in the betterment of humankind as a whole, it makes sense that their network reaches as many supportive people as possible.
The success of FMS’s model is undeniable. Not only have they been operating for over 15 years, but their network of smaller partners now reaches far beyond Argentina and into virtually all of South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. Apart from funding to continue their activities, grassroots organisations that link up with FMS have access to so-called “strategic programs” – including forums, workshops, mentoring, and more.
For these smaller NPOs, the benefits are obvious. There is no doubling up on redundant services or programs in the same region, and at the same time they have immediate access to likeminded partners, who can be their sounding board, their motivation, their source of inspiration, and their own safety net if problems arise.
There is also a huge benefit to exactly those vulnerable communities – of women and those in the LGBTQI+ community – that the NPOs are trying to serve. If they are in trouble, or need guidance, or want to contribute more to the cause, they no longer just access an isolated service. Instead, they can connect with a much stronger network that stretches right across Latin America.
A Brighter Future for Equality in Argentina
At times, the struggle against inequality, discrimination, and gender-based violence can seem too immense. But as these two organisations show, there are no shortage of brave, fiercely intelligent women leading the way.
Combining innovative, inclusive tactics, and addressing systemic problems from both the ground up and the top down, there’s no doubt that Fundación Mujeres en Igualdad and Fondo de Mujeres del Sur are making every single day a positive step forward.
We at Copalana would like to thank both organisations, and all those who fight for equality and equity across Latin America, for the incredible work that they do. Thanks to them, we can all look forward to a brighter future in Argentina, and beyond.
If you’d like to support organisations like MEI and FMS in their fight against inequality, you can with Copalana. Contribute to a crowdfunding drive or give your time and skills to a volunteering project today!