Argentina grassroots movement fights violence against women

In this June 3, 2017 photo, Maira Maidana, bottom right, holds a banner with pictures of herself during a march organized by the movement “Ni Una Menos,” or Not One Less, to protest violence against women in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “With Ni Una Menos, women are no longer hiding,” said Maidana, 29, who is scarred in her neck and chest after her partner burned her in 2011. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — On Christmas Eve of 2011, Maira Maidana lit a candle to the patron saint of Argentina and closed her eyes in prayer – just like she did every time she feared a brutal beating by her partner.

But this time, she felt her whole body catch on fire. When she turned around, she saw him staring at her with a bottle of alcohol in one hand. Ablaze, she ran to three faucets, but not a single drop of water came out.

Fifty-nine surgeries later, Maidana has finally found the courage to tell the truth about what happened to her that awful night. She says she owes that courage to a grassroots movement of tens of thousands of people across Argentina who have mobilized to fight violence against women. Called Ni Una Menos, or Not One Less, the movement has spread rapidly worldwide.

“With Ni Una Menos, women are no longer hiding,” says Maidana, who is scarred in her neck and chest and speaks in whispers. “Before, we wouldn’t talk…I don’t know if it was fear or shame, or feeling that justice was not on your side…I like it that it’s now out in the open.”

One in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence, according to the United Nations. In 2016 alone, 254 Argentine women died from gender-based violence, according to a report released last month by the Supreme Court. That amounts to one woman killed every 34 hours.

Maidana feared the day would come when her partner would try to kill her.

They met in 2003, when he was 14 and she 15. The first time he beat her up was in 2005. They were playing with schoolmates and he was jealous.

When they got back to her home, he punched her in the face. She went to school the next day with a bruise in one eye. A friend told her to break up with him, warning her that it would happen again and only get worse.

She was right. Over the next eight years, he beat her up regularly, except when she was pregnant with their two children. He did drugs and…