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Inside the 31st National Women’s Encounter

10 0 138

Days later, the theme song of the Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres, the “National Women’s Encounter” (ENM) continues to ring loud. At first, it felt like any other day in Rosario, a city 300km northwest of Buenos Aires in the province of Santa Fe. This was before Saturday’s opening act at the city’s Flag Monument, attended by tens of thousands of Argentine women from all over the country. That first unilateral cry of “que momento” (What a moment) charged the city air.

From 8-10th October, women of all ages took to the pavement in pairs or groups — 70,000 in total. A friend remarked that she had never felt so safe in a public space. Indeed, the familiar leers and kissing noises were notably absent; the “encuentro” as it is commonly known, had shaped a new social mandate for the moment. While many participants distinguished themselves with t-shirts and banners displaying the names of activist groups, almost all had tied the trademark green handkerchief on their wrists, heads and necks to support the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion.

Photo by Meghan McDonough

The idea for the gathering was born in 1985, when a group of Argentine women participated in the World Conference on Women in Kenya. Upon their return, they discussed the need to address issues specific to women in this country. Following the same format of open workshops used in Nairobi, the group launched the first ENM the very next year in Buenos Aires.

The tradition has since been repeated annually on different long weekends in order to accommodate as many participants as possible. Numbers have jumped from around 1,000 in the first to an estimated 70,000 this year.

“Every year it exceeds expectations,” says Noel Gassman, a member of the organising commission. “This is because the space has proved to be a tool of participation and democracy seen in very few places in the world, and we women value that very much.”

According to the official website, “The format of the Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres is unique in the world…it is self-organised, horizontal, federal, self-financed, diverse, and deeply democratic.” Each year, the organising commission is open to women in the chosen city and surrounding area. There is no hierarchical structure, and they have autonomy from political/governmental institutions and foundations. If politicians participate, their role is the same as any other woman in the workshops.

By uniting Argentine women from all walks of life, the ENM aims to convert problems that seem individual into something........

© Argentina Independent