Argentina’s far-right president poised to shut down anti-gender violence agency

<span>People protest against gender violence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 3 June 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Roberto Almeida Aveledo/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
People protest against gender violence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 3 June 2024.Photograph: Roberto Almeida Aveledo/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Javier Milei, Argentina’s far-right president, is poised to dissolve the government department responsible for tackling gender violence, prompting a furious backlash from human rights activists.

Claudia Barcia, the head of the undersecretariat for protection against gender violence, resigned on Thursday with a warning that the agency will soon be shuttered. “The Undersecretary of Protection against Gender Violence … will cease to exist,” Barcia wrote on Twitter, later confirming to the Guardian that she had received the news the previous day.

The decision comes as Milei’s administration cuts back on government spending and imposes sweeping austerity measures in an attempt to lift Argentina out of its economic crisis.

The country is suffering one of the highest inflation rates in the world, with more than half of people living in poverty. A source at the human rights secretariat said the move aims to “streamline” the agency and “optimise resources”, adding that “all missions and programmes” will continue.

The agency oversees the 144 emergency telephone hotline and the Acompañar programme, which assists those at risk of gender violence. It has already faced cuts – public spending on gender-based violence reduction policies was 26.8% lower in the first quarter of 2024 than in 2023, according to an analysis of government data by the Civil Association for Equality and Justice.

“We are faced with a total hollowing out of policies for the prevention of gender-based violence,” said the department’s workers, who originally numbered 600 but have been slashed to 200, in a statement.

Fernanda Tarica, a doctor and founder of NGO Shalom Bait, which supports victims of gender violence, said Argentina is “in the hands of a dangerous man”.

“Women are at risk,” she added.

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Argentina faces high rates of gender violence, with the number of femicides – misogynistic killings – increasing 11% last year, according to court data. Local observatory Now They See Us has recorded 78 femicides this year, which accounts to one gender-based murder every 37 hours.

“Milei is dismantling the last resource against gender violence in public policy. He has established feminism as his enemy and he is punishing women again,” said Verónica Gago, a researcher and member of the feminist movement #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less).

The state workers association called the move an “enormous setback” and noted that this will be the first time since 1992 that Argentina will “not have an organism responsible for carrying out public policies that promote a life without violence and discrimination, and in favour of equality”. It has called for a protest against the decision next Tuesday.

The libertarian president is openly anti-feminist and has faced regular criticism over women’s rights issues. In his first six months as president he has banned gender-inclusive language across the public sector, and described abortion as “aggravated murder”. The gender violence department was itself a replacement of the ministry of women, gender and diversity, which Milei closed shortly after taking office in December.