At first glance, the gathering in Bariloche this weekend might look similar to other feminist marches that happen from time to time in Buenos Aires City. Tens of thousands of heads become tiny dots in the distance, getting lost in the horizon. You can’t really tell where they begin and where they end. Music, chants, and the sounds of various instruments fill the air. This one, however, is different.
The annual Plurinational Meeting, now in its 37th year, is a large-scale demonstration of what the Argentine feminist movement is: a three-day gathering of women, lesbians, bisexuals, travestis and transgenders, non-binary and intersex people to debate social, political, and economic issues, mostly linked to gender-based inequality.
The women and disidencias (an umbrella term used in Argentina to include the diverse identities mentioned above) gather in a city chosen the year before. This year, it’s being held in Bariloche, Río Negro, on October 14, 15, and 16.
“It’s not a congress; it’s not a people’s assembly,” feminist and lesbian political activist Adriana Carrasco told the Herald. “It doesn’t aim to reach a concrete resolution.” Rather, it aims to be a space for people to share their concerns and for others to actively listen.
There are 112 workshops this year. Among the topics are sexual and gender identity, feminism, social movements, Indigenous land rights, and more. Every workshop discusses the topic at hand and reaches a conclusion that is read on the third day. It was conceived like this from the very beginning, Carrasco says: she was a part of the first organizing commission that created the Plurinational Meeting in 1986.
Although the more prevalent and urgent issues discussed in the meetings are linked to the social and political context, there are three main topics that are always included: sexual and reproductive rights, labor rights and equality, and gender-based violence.
“The demands of the meetings haven’t changed that much over time, but certain forms of oppression do take more relevance according to the context,” said Amanda Alma, a lesbian and feminist activist. Alma cites issues like abortion and poverty among women as topics that have always been discussed but became particularly relevant at certain points in history — like the years prior to the 2020 legalization of abortion, or the social and economic crisis of 2001, respectively.
The history of a legendary gathering
The first gathering took place over the long weekend of May 23, 24 and 25 of 1986, at the San Martín Cultural Center, in Buenos Aires City. One thousand women participated in the workshops, where they discussed their role in political parties, unions, and public life, as well as feminist views and demands.
Back then, the gathering was called Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (National Women’s Meeting). The “national” aspect comes not only from the fact that it called for women from all over the country to participate, but also because it aimed to have a federal approach. In fact, it has been held in a different province every year. The organizers of each year’s meeting are people who live in the chosen destination of the event.
The meetings are always held on long weekends to ensure more people can attend. The host city provides spaces for participants to sleep free of charge. The workshops are held during the first two days. Since 1992, all participants march on Sunday night to express the demands of the meeting, according to Mujeres que se encuentran (Women Who Gather), a disertation written by Alma and Paula Lorenzo on the history of the meetings. Another march was added in recent years on Saturday to protest against transfemicides.
In recent years, the organizers have settled on the long weekend of October 12, which celebrates the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity, mainly because of the warm weather. The date is also significant because it represents the demands of Indigenous people against racism and colonization, which have become increasingly relevant in the meetings.
Plurinational and inclusive
The name of the gatherings has become a subject of debate over the years — and often, big fights. “The collective decision-making process [of the meetings] is not tension-free,” Alma said. More and more people have started demanding a change in recent years.
The indigenous communities that participate in the meetings made the point that “national” was not broad enough. They argued that it only referred to the Argentine nation, while they consider each indigenous community to be a nation of its own. The gatherings also needed to explicitly include immigrants and people from other countries that travel to Argentina to participate. Hence, the request for the name to be changed to “plurinational.”
A second point of contention regarding the name was the participants’ gender identity. They were not only women. Lesbians (who often refer to themselves as having an identity separate from womenhood), non-binary, intersexual, and trans people had always attended the meeting but were not acknowledged in the name.
“Lesbians were there from the beginning, although many were closeted back then,” Carrasco said, adding that she was the only one in the first organizing commission that explicitly presented herself as a lesbian activist.
“We had to work hard to get the organization to formally recognize our lesbian workshop,” she said.
Although the more conservative sector of the organizing commissions rejected modifying the name or including certain identities, such as trans people, the demand for change prevailed. Two meetings were held in 2022 — the Women and Disidencias’ Plurinational Meeting, and the National Women’s Meeting. Since 2023, there is only one inclusive and plurinational meeting.
The meetings have become more massive throughout the years — going from just a couple thousand in the beginning to around 200,000 participants in La Plata in 2019.
“Feminism in Argentina turned into a very powerful movement and became common sense,” Carrasco said, adding that this year’s meeting will be particularly important since it will take place a week before the October 22 elections. Far-right Javier Milei is the leading presidential candidate, after coming first with nearly 30% of the vote in the primaries.
“Feminism, the women and LGBT movements are going to fight those who want to impose a horrible way of living on us,” Carrasco concluded.