Rage boils over amid Argentina’s unrelenting femicide crisis

The women huddle close, crane their necks and take photos of the ornate advertising stand in the core of Argentina’s capital city that has been papered over with posters of men accused or convicted of murdering women.

The word “FEMICIDA” – woman killer – screams out in large black letters under each name.

The posters, like the thousands who gathered outside the Supreme Court of Argentina last week in protest, are a measure of the rage that exists in the country over rampant levels of violence against women.

It was the murder of 18-year-old Ursula Bahillo that pushed the women’s movement into the streets on February 17 in numbers not seen since Argentina’s Congress legalised elective abortion in December. This time, the mood was much more sombre.

Bahillo was killed in her hometown of Rojas, in the province of Buenos Aires, on February 8. Her ex-boyfriend, police officer Matias Ezequiel Martinez, has been charged with femicide, with the aggravating factors of premeditation and cruelty.

“We want to be able to walk the streets without having to look over our shoulders,” said Fabiana Costa, a 26-year-old mother who lives in Quilmes, on the outskirts of the capital city, standing with a sign calling for “feminist judicial reform” outside the Supreme Court.

Lightning rod

Advocates say Bahillo’s case has been a lightning rod because it clearly demonstrates the many ways the state is failing to protect women.

She had filed several police complaints against her ex-boyfriend and obtained a restraining order that was not enforced. The last time she went to authorities to report a complaint, she was told they did not work on weekends and that she would have to come back another day. On the following Monday, the day her panic button was slated to arrive, she was dead.

An autopsy revealed Bahillo was stabbed 15 times in the back, torso and neck with a butcher’s knife that was found at the scene. Martinez, her ex-boyfriend, was found in the same rural area where her body was discovered, with a self-inflicted stab wound.

Since Bahillo’s death, more cases of femicide have been reported across Argentina. The body of Ivana Modica was found buried behind a hotel in the city of La Falda, in the province of Cordoba, after her ex-boyfriend confessed to the crime. Miriam Beatriz Farias, who was lit on fire in the city of Cordoba by her partner, also a police officer, died of her injuries.

On Tuesday night, Guadalupe Curual, 21, was stabbed to death on a busy street in the southern city of Villa La Angostura, reportedly by an ex-boyfriend whom she had also obtained a restraining order against.

“The cases are everywhere. We all have a neighbour, or someone we know, who has gone through it, who is living it now, but the judicial system doesn’t do anything about it,” said Costa at the Buenos Aires rally.

“You go to make a complaint at the police station, and they just look at you. They record your complaint and that’s it. The restraining order never arrives. [Or] it arrives after the person is already gone. We want to live.”

On Tuesday night, Guadalupe Curual, 21, was stabbed to death on a busy street in the southern city of Villa La Angostura, reportedly by an ex-boyfriend whom she had also obtained a restraining order against.

“The cases are everywhere. We all have a neighbour, or someone we know, who has gone through it, who is living it now, but the judicial system doesn’t do anything about it,” said Costa at the Buenos Aires rally.

“You go to make a complaint at the police station, and they just look at you. They record your complaint and that’s it. The restraining order never arrives. [Or] it arrives after the person is already gone. We want to live.”

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