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Why I Marched Against Gender-Based Violence in Peru

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To protest cases of violence against women that didn’t get justice

On Aug. 13, I joined tens of thousands of people marching through the streets of Lima to call the attention of the Peruvian government and judiciary system to the violence against women in our country.

The four friends I had planned to march with grew into a group of 11 women when we came across other friends from work, from our neighborhood, even past jobs, on our way to the gathering point. We were ready to start marching at 3:30 p.m., but there were so many people ahead of us, we could barely move.

“No is NO!” we yelled, making a single voice with the people around us. “I said no to you. What part of it didn’t you get? Was it the ‘N’ or was it the ‘O’?!”

As we yelled this motto over and over again, it reverberated with increasing intensity through the crowd. I saw a mother teaching her little girls how to yell and cheer other women on. I saw a little boy carrying a banner with the message: “My mother didn’t raise a male chauvinist!” embellished with Pokémon pictures. I regretted not having taken my baby boy with me, so that he could see the power of people protesting for justice, for equal rights, and for a stop to violence.

This march was an extension of a public outcry on social media under the hashtag #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less). Two recent cases, in particular, have brought violence against women into the spotlight in Peru.

Arlette Contreras was chased, beaten and dragged all over the floor of a hotel lobby while being pulled by the hair by her ex-boyfriend in front of security cameras and the staff of the hotel. The judges’ verdict: It wasn’t attempted rape, the injuries sustained by the plaintiff were minor, and it should be taken into consideration that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol. And so, he was released.

In another case, the image of a young woman, Lady Guillén, was shared widely after her former boyfriend beat her. He too was released from jail.

The march was organized to protest these cases and every single case of violence against women that didn’t get justice, all those cases which were ignored by the police, and all the instances in which women lost their lives at the hands of their abusers. We marched to say we are here, we know our rights, and we want justice!

It was the biggest march I’ve seen in Peru in my lifetime. Police estimated 50,000 people attended while organizers estimate hundreds of thousands.Taxi drivers said to us that they had never seen so many people on the streets for a single cause, and journalists covered the event on four or five different TV channels.

Our voices were loud as we chanted: “What do we want???”… ”JUSTICE!”… “And when do we want it???”… “NOW!”…

One of the most significant moments wasn’t a shouted slogan, but a powerful silence. A group of women came to Lima all the way from the Peruvian highlands dressed in their traditional polleras and ponchos. As I read their signs it dawned on me that they were victims of the forced sterilization inflicted by the government of Peru on thousands of women in the ‘90s.

These brave women walked in silence, and from time to time one of them blew a kind of horn that we call apututu. Every time the horn was blown, I got goose bumps all over my skin and my heart was overwhelmed: I wanted to get close to them, give them a big hug, and tell them that I’m really sorry.

I appreciated that my friend was there with me because otherwise, I would have probably started crying, remembering how many times I didn’t fight for my rights because I let fear get the best of me; remembering all those times I allowed someone to call me “silly” or “stupid”; remembering the times I failed to speak up whenever someone took my work and success as his or her own.

I hope to have one ounce of the strength that those women showed in their silent walk. This march helped me remember that I am not alone: I am surrounded by other women who also want justice for themselves, for their children, and for their friends; above all, it reminds me that I should never ever let anyone inflict any kind of damage upon me.

If a few women can walk in silence and inspire awe, imagine the power that all of us—writing, talking and screaming—can wield.

Enmita Marin is a contributor from Peru. This piece was originally published on World Pulse. Sign up to get international stories of women leading social change delivered to your inbox every month here.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.

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