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ARGENTINA | 17-10-2020 08:19

‘This can’t happen’: Teen’s murder puts spotlight on Argentina’s femicide scourge

Parents of slain 16-year-old Iara Rueda join campaigners in call for improved efforts to tackle gender violence. According to the MuMaLá NGO, there have been at least 213 femicides in Argentina so far this year already.

Sixteen-year-old Iara Rueda went out on her bike to a friend’s house and never returned home.

Five days later, her body was found on waste ground just six blocks from her house in Palpala, Jujuy: apparently strangled, and one of the youngest victims of the plague of femicides across Argentina.

When she disappeared on Wednesday, September 23, Iara’s parents drafted in neighbours to help with the search for their missing daughter. They believe the police failed to react quickly enough.

“They didn’t seem to treat it seriously. They asked us if she had a boyfriend – she didn’t have a boyfriend,” the late girl’s father, Juan Rueda, told the Times. “She was a good girl, who loved baking in the kitchen. She wouldn’t arrive home later than 9pm. She asked permission to do anything, she never caused us a moment’s trouble.”

Local police in Palpala were dealing with the disappearance of another woman the following day, and Iara’s parents say a full search of the area wasn’t launched until the following Monday, September 28, the day her body was found.

In a recent radio interview, Iara’s mother said the authorities had to do more to tackle the femicide in Argentina.

“It can’t be that you don’t have the freedom to say, ‘I’m going to the square.’ We’re not going to be quiet anymore, this can’t happen anymore,” Mónica Cunchila told Klaxxon FM

Mónica and Juan have been active in weekly demonstrations in Jujuy demanding government action, protests that have replicated across the country against violent attacks on women, which experts say have intensified by quarantine. 

According to estimates by the MuMaLá (Mujeres de la Matria Latinoamericana) NGO there have been 213 femicides so far this year.

While only a rough estimate, with many cases still under investigation, it compares to last year’s official figure of 268 femicides during 2019, issued by the Supreme Court.

Last Saturday, businessman Jorge Neuss apparently murdered his wife Silvia Saravia before turning the gun on himself at their home on an exclusive country club in Pilar, Buenos Aires.   

On Monday, 35-year-old mother of two María Florencia Gómez Pouillastrou, was found dead with head injuries in San Jorge, Santa Fe Province. 

On Thursday, Sandra Soledad García, 28, was murdered in Moreno, Buenos Aires. She had been stabbed five times. 

 

‘Isolated with their abuser’

Data shows that 63 percent of femicide victims are killed by those closest to them, normally a partner or ex-partner, and the restrictions of quarantine had exacerbated the situation, said Victoria Aguirre, MuMaLá’s coordinator for Buenos Aires City.

“The headline from quarantine has been a doubling of attempts at femicide, with 190 since March 20. Women have been isolated with their abuser, without any escape,” she told the Times. “Quarantine has meant that violence which might normally dissipate during the day because the partner is out of the house reaches a point where it explodes.”

Aguirre agrees that national and provincial governments need to do more.

“We need better interaction between those in the first line of contact with victims, more lawyers specialised in gender abuse who can genuinely offer help, more places of refuge and more money available to vulnerable women,” she added.

The National Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry has reported a 25-percent increase in calls to the 144 Gender Violence Helpline up to the end of August, compared to the same period before March 20.

According to MuMaLá, which specialises in providing direct help for women vulnerable to the threat of violence, Jujuy Province had the highest rate of femicides in 2020 per head of population, with 10 already this year (and three suspicious deaths still being investigated): roughly 2.6 per 100,000 women compared to a national average of 1.1 in 2019. That’s a steep rise on three, last year’s tally from the province.

Iara is one of five young women killed in the northern province over the last two months:

   – Saturday, August 29: Cesia Nicole Reinaga, 20, disappeared from her home in Abra Pampa after telling her parents she was going for a walk. Her body was found 10 days later dumped in a disused slaughterhouse. Three people have been arrested, including a boy of 14. 

   – Wednesday, September 23: Iara Rueda, 16, from Palpala, left home on her bicycle in the early evening. Her body was found five days later six blocks from her home. Two people have been arrested.. 

   – Thursday, September 24: Gabriela Cruz, 24, disappeared from her home in Palpala. Her body was found seven days later near the entrance to the Zapla nature reserve, 15 kilometres away. A 23-year-old man has been arrested. 

   – Tuesday, September 29: Roxana Mazala, 32, from Perico, was found dead the day after joining friends on a march demanding justice for Iara Rueda. Her partner Fabián Barraza, who she had previously denounced for violence, was found hanged. Police believe he killed her and then committed suicide. 

   – Friday, October 9: Alejandra Alvarez, 17, left her home in Alto Comedoro on the outskirts of San Salvador de Jujuy. Her body was found nearby the following day. A man has been charged with her murder.

 

‘No options’   

Giovanna Martínez, MuMaLá’s representative in Jujuy, says there needs to be a change of mentality on the part of the government, authorities and police.

“There are only two women’s refuges in the province, one in the capital and one in El Carmen. 

“We don’t have enough refuges, and normally you can only stay for three days. A lot of women in danger have no option other than to return to their aggressor,” she told the Times.

“In Jujuy, there are a high number of women who work informally, struggling to make the minimum to feed themselves and their families.

 “We need more refuges, more anti-panic buttons, training of the police to deal with victims sensitively, and more coordination between professionals. A woman might not go to the police, but she’ll go to a health centre and they will see she has bruises.

Martínez says that people have had enough and are demanding action.

“The marches are becoming more and more massive, as anger increases,” she said.

The national government says it is seeking to tackle the problem. Recently, it proposed a new “Programma Accompañar” scheme, a plan designed specifically to allow those trapped by economic circumstances to escape abusive relationships. It’s based on a project first put together by MuMaLá.

The scheme dedicates 4,500 million pesos (US$58 million) of government funds to re-housing women who are at risk of violence, providing them with funds equivalent to the minimum salary for up to six months.

Launching the programme last month, President Alberto Fernández said the initiative “frees women from their violent jailers, and gives them the opportunity to start afresh with help from the state.”   

The national government is now waiting for approval of the plan province by province, so it can be implemented across the whole nation.

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Nick Evans

Nick Evans

Nick Evans is a British journalist and tour guide based in Salta, Argentina. Since 2008, he has been running Poncho Tours, a travel company specialising in tailor-made tours in northwest Argentina, with his wife.

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