Gender policy in the Milei era: five months of dismantlement and misogynistic attacks

On Monday afternoon, thousands are taking to the streets to declare ‘Ni Una Menos’ — and protest the current administration

“I won’t apologize for having a penis,” Javier Milei said to cheers and applause at the Buenos Aires Book Fair. 

The year was 2022, and the notion of a Milei presidency was more fantasy than plausible reality. But that’s when the radical libertarian first vowed to eliminate the Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity if elected to the Casa Rosada. 

It was a promise he would keep. In December 2023, days after being sworn in, Milei folded the government body into a newly-created Ministry of Human Capital, which itself was recently put under the control of the Ministry of Justice.

This Monday, June 3, marks the ninth anniversary of Argentina’s Ni Una Menos march. Each year, thousands take to the streets to protest gender-based violence, demand action from public officials, and take stock of how far the nation has come. But since Milei took office, many of the programs designed to end gender-based violence have been paralyzed due to budget cuts and mass layoffs, while incendiary anti-feminist remarks like his Book Fair comments have become commonplace in the halls of power. 

“The way [the government] approaches these programs is by dismantling them or letting them die,” said Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Justice and Gender Team (ELA, by its Spanish acronym). It took two months for Claudia Barcia to be named chair of the new undersecretariat, and workers who wished to remain anonymous told the Herald they felt adrift at the time, finding tasks for themselves or simply passing the hours at their desks while being given no direction.

According to the Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ), government data show that public spending on policies that aim to reduce gender-based violence is 26.8% lower than it was in 2023. At the undersecretariat itself, these spending reductions are even more dramatic. During the first quarter of 2024, expenditures were down 78% compared to the same time period the year before. 

Two of the key initiatives in peril are the 144 line, Argentina’s hotline for assisting domestic and gender-based violence victims, and the Acompañar program, which provides a monthly stipend for survivors of gender-based violence as well as psychological support and legal assistance to escape violent situations. The budget for Acompañar and the 144 line has not been updated since December, despite accumulated inflation hitting 65% in the first quarter of 2024. This means the government has spent 79% and 25% less in real terms on those programs, respectively, according to reports by ELA and ACIJ.

“We can’t say they shut down Acompañar, but there haven’t been any new [beneficiaries] since the current administration took over,” Gherardi said.

Milei’s austerity “chainsaw” has also sliced off the ENIA Plan, which targets unwanted teenage pregnancies. All of the plan’s 600 employees have been laid off in 2024, and its resources have been cut, leaving it functionally inoperable — this despite ENIA reducing teen pregnancies by 50% since 2017. 

“The plan has proved to be highly successful, as well as fiscally efficient,” said María de las Nieves Puglia, head of the gender studies area at research organization Fundar. 

Milei has similarly declined to renew a contract for Registradas, a program that encouraged the registration of domestic workers. 

The former ministry isn’t the only vital space for protecting women and marginalized genders that has been affected. In February, the government announced its plan to shut down the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI, by its Spanish acronym). Although the government can’t abolish the institute directly without congressional approval, it recently laid off 120 INADI workers after declining to renew the contracts of dozens more in December and March. Many of those terminated were people of color,  disabled persons, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“They are here to destroy [INADI], and they’re achieving it,” Celina Eibuszyc, a trans woman who has been working at the institution for the past 14 years, told the Herald. “We come here and stare at a computer screen and our ex-coworkers’ empty chairs for eight hours. We have no tasks.”

Eibuszyc said that only one fifth of the people working in her area remain in their positions. Many of INADI’s offices in provinces and cities have been closed, leaving certain regions with no direct access to the institution. She also noted that she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to keep her job. 

“It’s an agonizing situation,” she added.

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Sexism, hate speech and anti-feminist rhetoric 

In May, a man set fire to four lesbians were set in a boarding house. Three of them died from their injuries. “I don’t like defining it as an attack against a certain collective,” said Presidential Spokesman Manuel Adorni in the immediate aftermath of the murders. “It is despicable no matter who it was against.”

Adorni later mocked the use of the term “lesbicide” to describe the crime, saying it wasn’t in the dictionary.

“This kind of government-sanctioned speech endorses these actions, even if there isn’t a direct link between them,” Gherardi said. “People who question the basic rights of certain people to exist feel like they are allowed to act on that belief. The executive branch is not doing anything to condemn these actions, either.”

Milei has been “deliberately sexist” since his electoral campaign, said Lucía Cirmi Obón, an economist at the civil organization Futuros Mejores and the former equality policies undersecretariat under the now-defunct women’s ministry. “I think he’s trying to benefit from the [negative] reaction to the advance of feminism.”

During a fiery speech presenting his book this month, the president called abortion a “completely murderous agenda,” despite recently saying that overturning legal pregnancy interruption in Argentina is not a legislative priority.

Gherardi admitted she’s worried about the government’s willingness to overturn abortion law.

“We think there’s no chance of that happening in the short and medium term, but it confuses people,” she told the Herald. “It changes what many people think about the law and affects the backing medical teams have to perform the procedure.”

The Milei administration has already demonstrated that these kinds of provocations can lead to more tangible action. In February, it banned gender-neutral language from government documents — and modified existing documents to reflect that decision. At the time, Adorni said that the federal government would avoid “any kind of gender-sensitive approach” in its decisions going forward.

“Our biggest worry is the lack of protection women have against violence, which will probably lead to an increase in femicides,” Gherardi said. 

As of May 30, there have been 89 femicides and two transfemicides in Argentina this year, according to the media watchdog, Ahora Que Sí Nos Ven. It’s unclear what the government’s approach to this issue will be during its four years in power.

“As feminists, and considering it’s June 3, we need to think about strategies specifically aimed at young boys,” said Cirmi Obón. “They are often told that classic masculinity is not right, but what is the new masculinity? We need to spread the word about a feminist agenda for a life without violence and economic inequality. And we have to impress that it will improve their lives as well.”

Ni Una Menos march

Today, as on every June 3 since 2015, thousands will march to Congress to scream “Ni Una Menos.” The demonstration is set to start at 4:30 p.m. on different corners of downtown Buenos Aires. Most protesters will march along Avenida de Mayo before heading to the congressional building on Avenida Rivadavia.


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