[Editor’s note: Explicit pictures below.]
A feminist rally demanding an end to gender violence in Argentina ended with some violence of its own, as demonstrators hurled stones and bottles at a 19th century Catholic cathedral, prompting police to fire rubber bullets into the crowd. Several marchers were arrested, while both police and journalists covering the event were injured.
The demonstration featured women with naked torsos demanding legal and free abortion, and the recognition of prostitution as a legitimate trade.
Protesters stormed the cathedral chanting, “Take your rosaries out of our ovaries,” “O let’s swear to burn down the Church” (paraphrasing Argentina’s national anthem), and “Church, trash, you’re the dictatorship.”
Thousands of women on Sunday closed an itinerant three-day workshop known as “National Women’s Congress,” this year held in Rosario, Argentina’s second largest city. Many of the participants marched topless, with anarchist symbols drawn over their bodies.
Similar slogans were sprayed along the 1.5-mile-long path of the rally, across window stalls, churches, the local tribunals and historic buildings.
Several stores were vandalized, with women throwing stones through their windows and writing things such as “castration for rapists,” “lesbianize yourself,” and “legalize cannabis.”
Although not all of the thousands of women who participated in the rally agreed with the violent turn it took at times, the number of those who did was significant enough to cause the uproar of many in Rosario, who turned to social media to complain about the aftermath.
Earlier in the day- the rally was in the afternoon- several dozen of the Oct. 7-10 workshop participants had gathered in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and staged a parody, which included topless women dancing around a man dressed as Pope Francis while they sang for the legalization of abortion.
The weekend event drew a massive response, with thousands of women participating in over 300 workshops around the city. Among the issues debated were feminism, gender violence and “feminicide”; contraception; free, legal and safe abortion; prostitution; legalization of recreational drugs; bisexuality; lesbian activism; foreign debt; the feminization of poverty; human rights; migration; indigenous rights; and female and transgender quotas in public office.
The event has been organized by several feminist groups in Argentina for the past 31 years, always growing in size, with 70,000 women registering this time around. This year, it also had a strong support of the Movimiento Socialista Trabajador (Socialist Workers Movement) and the Kirchnerist Youth, aligned with the former governments of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.
Ahead of the congress, organizers had warned that Sunday’s rally would end at the cathedral church, as it often does. In the past, hundreds of Catholics would show up to pray the rosary while building a human fence around the cathedral, to prevent demonstrators from entering. For safety reasons, men were usually on the front line and would end up with red spray paint or feces in their faces.
This year, to avoid confrontation, Archbishop Eduardo Martin, appointed by Francis in 2014, had asked the faithful not to go, and instead requested the city’s government to protect the cathedral by fencing the perimeter.
Some Catholics turned out anyway, and some observers believe that’s what unleashed the violence against the cathedral. Others, however, say that given the marchers’ propensity for vandalism and rowdiness throughout the day, violence would have occurred in any event.
As a safety measure City Hall also sent the police to the cathedral location, who are now being accused of repressing the women who brought down the fence and began throwing stones and bottles at the historic nineteenth century building. The security forces used rubber bullets to try to steer them away.
Several marchers were detained, and policemen and local journalists covering the event injured.
Martin, known as an archbishop willing to dialogue with all sectors of society, had said on Saturday that “there are no rosaries in the ovaries,” calling one of the rally’s favorite chants an “expression of intolerance.”
Talking to a local radio on Saturday, he also said that “each person decides how to live their lives. We [the Church] don’t impose anything onto anyone. They are expressions with which I don’t agree, and that exert a certain verbal violence.”
He also acknowledged that the Church can have enemies, adding however, that the institution is no one’s enemy.
“If someone has something against [us], they can express it. What we ask for is respect. This is the fundamental thing in a civilized society and where we are together. The big challenge is always to live together.”
In Argentina, life is constitutionally protected from “its conception until natural death.”
President Mauricio Macri, as his predecessors before him, has said on several opportunities that he doesn’t plan on legalizing abortion, even praying for the protection of life when closing the XI National Eucharistic Congress earlier in the year.