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Hundreds of thousands protest violence against women in S. America

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Natacha Pisarenko/AP

(Read caption) People demonstrate against gender violence outside the National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Every 30 hours a woman is murdered in Argentina due to gender violence, according to Ada Rico from La Casa del Encuentro, an NGO that councils abused women and called for the protest.

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Hundreds of thousands of South Americans took to the streets this week to protest high murder rates of women, calling for more recognition of the problem and the enforcement of femicide laws.

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Some 200,000 women gathered in Buenos Aires Wednesday night, with thousands more meeting in roughly 80 other Argentine, Chilean, and Uruguayan cities, reports Pagina 12.

The marches in Argentina were spurred by a number of recent brutal attacks against women. Those include the beating death of a 14-year-old pregnant girl by her boyfriend and a kindergarten teacher who had her throat slit by her former partner in front of a class full of students, reports the BBC.

Some 15 Latin American countries have laws calling for the harsher punishment of gender-based crimes or homicides, but implementation has been limited, reports Agence France-Presse. Some countries don’t adequately define what gender-based violence or femicide is, making it more difficult to enforce laws targeting these issues.

A 2012 Argentina law made femicide a crime that carries a life sentence, The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time, but activists say it hasn’t been enforced.

"The current situation shows that legislation and prison sentences are not enough. We have to confront the problem by changing the culture and educating people,” Argentine lawmaker Gabriela Alegre said.

Protesters carried signs reading “Ni Una Menos (Not one less)" and simply “Basta,” or “enough.” 

Some 277 women were killed in Argentina in gender-based violence in 2014. AFP reports:

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Statistics are incomplete and inconsistently kept across the region. But where they are available, they are startling: Domestic violence kills nearly one woman a day in Argentina, more than five a day in Mexico and 15 a day in Brazil, for example.

“Our country’s laws are beautiful and divine, but they’re not applied,” Martin Garcia, one of the protest organizers, told Fusion in a phone interview. “All that we’re asking is that the government apply its own laws. They don’t even have to think about it. Just act on the laws they already have. Easy!”

The 2012 Monitor report stated that more and more women are starting to report gender-based crimes, but impunity remains one of the biggest challenges.

"For a long time, women didn't come forward," says Alessandra Guedes, the regional adviser on intrafamily violence at the Pan American Health Organization, the regional office of the World Health Organization ... "It was very much a private issue ... dealt [with] within four walls."

Initiatives such as all-female police stations in Brazil for battered women have made it easier for women to come forward. Nonprofit organizations are reaching out to young men and boys to help chip away at machismo. There is also a spate of new legislation across the region….

[But], women's rights advocates say that impunity is their biggest challenge…

"Impunity sends a message of tolerance. I can rape you and nothing happens, and I can kill you because nothing will happen," says [Silvia Juarez, who heads the violence against women program for the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace.]

Earlier this week Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff drew attention to the issue of violence against women during the inauguration of a center that delivers specialized care to victims of gender-based violence: “Everyone in society is assaulted when a woman is attacked," she said.