A little over a month ago, Eyvi Agreda died after a man who had been stalking her attacked her, covered her in petrol and then set her on fire. “If you aren’t mine,” he said during the brutal assault, “then you’ll be nobody’s.”
Agreda died several days later as a result of infections from second and third-degree burns. In response, the President of Peru, Martin Vizcarra, offered sympathies to her family—but then declared that “sometimes, that’s how life is, and we have to accept it.”
Feminists in the region disagree.
Vizcarra’s remarks sparked widespread outrage, and activists in Peru took to the streets and rallied shortly after Agreda’s death to draw attention to the minimal sentences that have been handed down to perpetrators who commit femicides and other forms of gender-based violence.
“This march is a cry against impunity,” Ana Maria Romero, the country’s minister for women, told The Guardian. “It’s a cry for equality and for the decent treatment of women.”
Eyvi Agreda had been harassed by her assailant for two years, and had reported it to the police, but no legal action was ever taken by officers on her behalf. That is a familiar story in Peru, where one of the biggest challenges facing women’s rights activists is a sexist culture that refuses to believe the stories of women being harassed, abused, stalked or assaulted. Between 2010 and 2017, there were 837 reported femicides in Peru and 1,172 attempted murders of women. The country’s national human rights ombudsman office stated that every month, 10 women are killed by their partner.
“No, Mr. Martin Mizcarra, this is not ‘how life is,'” former presidential candidate Veronika Mendoza tweeted after Vizcarra’s statement. “Eyvi was killed by Carlos Hualpa but also machismo in the state and in society.”
The past several years have seen an increase in feminist organizing around femicides in Latin America—and the struggle in Peru gained international attention in 2017 after beauty pageant contestants publicly addressed the high level of gender-based violence. Traditionally, during one segment of the competition, women would wear swimsuits and state their body measurements—but in 2017’s contest, contestants instead made statements like, “my measurements are: 2,202 cases of murdered women reported in the last nine years in my country.”
The social media movement #NiUnaMenos, or “Not One Less,” has also been growing, drawing attention to widespread violence against women across Latin America through posts from Argentina, Chile and Bolivia—and Peru.
In the wake of Agreda’s murder, Vizcarra has changed his tone, promising that police stations would be on a 24-hour alert and that an emergency committee to address femicides would be formed. But activists and feminist lawmakers want even more: a national state of emergency and focused, intentional effort by the government to undo machismo culture.
“It’s fundamental to eradicate the macho and homophobic culture in this country,” Minister Romero told The Guardian. “Heading towards the bicentenary of our independence we still objectify women or naturalize violent conduct against her. That belongs in the primitive era and has no place in the 21st century.”