On March 15, Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista, lawyer and catalyst behind Peru’s #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less) movement, joined a panel of women advocates and survivors in Washington, D.C., at the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss her experience and views on the importance of legal frameworks and institutional accountability in addressing gender-based violence.
Contreras received the Department of State’s International Women of Courage award in 2017 for her efforts to shine a spotlight on violence against women in Peru. In 2015, she refused to accept the one-year suspended sentence her attacker received for assault after the court dismissed the more serious charges of attempted murder and rape. Her case sparked nationwide outrage, which led to a 2016 demonstration involving over a hundred thousand people, stretching 30 blocks in the capital city of Lima – considered the largest demonstration in Peruvian history. The Embassy’s support for Contreras and the Ni Una Menos movement has amplified Contreras’ voice. U.S. Embassy supported the #NiUnaMenos movement in 2016 by projecting the hashtag onto the Embassy building’s façade. In 2017, the photos of the Ambassador and Mission employees holding #NiUnaMenos signs on the Embassy’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram platforms provided further momentum to the movement by pushing her message to thousands of user feeds.
Gender-based violence is an obstacle to security and development. In the Americas, although many countries have passed laws and created public services intended to protect the rights of women, implementation and enforcement still present obstacles. According to the Peruvian Ministry of Interior, there were 133 femicides, 4,514 complaints of sexual violence, and 141,922 complaints of family violence in Peru in 2018 alone. The same year, 66 percent of women between 15 and 49 years old were victims of some type of violence (psychological, verbal, physical, or sexual) by their husband or partner, according to Peru’sNational Institute of Statistics and Computing (INEI).
Contreras’ work to increase social and political awareness about women’s rights and gender-based violence has inspired women throughout the country, and has been instrumental in the rise of the #NiUnaMenos movement regionally. While the beginning of the #NiUnaMenos movement began in Argentina in 2015, the movement’s name comes from Mexican activist and poet Susana Chávez, “Ni una muerta más” (“Not one more [woman] dead”) in 1995, following the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez. Chávez was herself killed in 2011.
Since winning the award in 2017, Contreras has continued to advocate for justice. Contreras was selected as one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2017” and one of the BBC’s top 100 Women of 2018. The Embassy of Great Britain in Peru honored her with the 2018 Human Rights Defender Award. In December 2018, Contreras’ attacker, who had been caught on video dragging her by her hair in the original attack, had his sentence annulled. In the wake of her own devastation over her attacker’s sentence, Contreras is continuing to challenge the ruling.
At the Washington event she noted, "At this moment I am the voice of women who cannot speak, who cannot tell their stories, who cannot sit in front of you at this moment and publicly denounce everything they live day to day." She and other women on the panel discussed how the legal system is failing to bring their attackers to justice. "It is very important to be able to take my case and make an in-depth analysis so that this type of situation does not happen again to other women and is efficiently served with an effective jurisdictional protection that functions." Through her quest, Contreras seeks a legacy that will benefit others: “I do not want to leave a negative precedent in my fight but rather the complete opposite: I want to leave a precedent that serves a purpose and is useful.”
The Department’s International Women of Courage awards recognize women from around the globe who have demonstrated courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Since its inception in 2007, the State Department has recognized more than 120 women from more than 65 countries.
March is also Women’s History Month in which we highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Contreras’ work is contributing to improving the lives of women in Peru, and to legal systems that will help women throughout the region.
About the Authors: Kerri Sjoblom, Nancy Chen, and Kayla Savage work in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.