“My measurements are 2,202 cases of feminicide reported in the last nine years in my country,” Canicoba, a contestant for the Miss Peru pageant said into the microphone on Sunday.
The others behind her followed suit. One woman spoke of children who die from sexual abuse. Another said 70 percent of women had been victims of attacks on the streets of Peru.
As women in the United States have spoken out in recent weeks against sexual abuse by men in Hollywood, the media and government, the beauty pageant in Peru has ignited its own wave of debate this week in a part of the world where violence against women is more extreme by many statistics.
In fact, the killings of women have become so numerous in Latin America that newspapers refer to them as feminicide.
The defiant display at the beauty pageant — unprecedented in Latin America — for a moment turned one of the region’s most macho traditions on its head. In countries like Venezuela and Colombia, the pageants can be as followed as fervently as top soccer matches, as beautiful young women stride on stage in bikinis and evening gowns as the judges, sometimes men many years their senior, rate their looks and personality before the nation.
This time it was the women casting judgment on their country.
“There are many women who think their cases are isolated and now they are realizing that they’re not unique, that it’s time to raise their voices,” Jessica Newton, the pageant’s director, told reporters after the show. She said she supported the contestants’ focus on the issue.
Still, some who shared the contestants’ concerns took issue with the venue. Was it right for a protest against killings and sexual abuse to take place during a pageant where, according to many feminists, women were being paraded around as sex objects? By competing to become a beauty queen, some asked, is a woman acquiescing to the very machismo she might be fighting?
“On one side I’m pleased that a traditionally machista space has opened up as a window to discuss the topic,” said Alexandra Hernández, a feminist psychologist in Lima. “But if you analyze yourself, and you see your speech says one thing but your actions say another, then there’s a double standard.”
As Canicoba said from the stage, the last decade in Peru has been a particularly violent one for women, with more than 2,000 killed, almost all of them at the hands of men. Peru ranks seventh among 19 countries in the region for killings of women, according to figures published by the nongovernmental groupTribuna Femenista. Honduras and El Salvador topped the list.
'Not one less'
In Argentina, where 225 women were killed in 2014, a feminist protest movement emerged after the death of Daiana García, whose body was found in a garbage can in Buenos Aires in 2015. The protests, known in Spanish as “Ni una menos,” or “Not one less,” have grown as still more women have been raped and murdered.
Peru witnessed one of the chilling combinations of fame and murder in 2012 when Ruth Thalia Sayas Sanchez, 19, was slain after confessing on a popular reality show that she had accepted money for sex. Her boyfriend, who was in the audience, was convicted of the killing.
In any case, the subject came as a surprise to viewers of the Peruvian pageant on Sunday.
“My name is Karen Cueto,” began the contestant after Canicoba. “And my measurements are 82 feminicides and 156 attempts so far this year.”
All told 23 women offered statistics of violence instead of their body size to wide applause from the audience.
“The idea was to call attention and get people to react,” said Luciana Olivares, a marketing executive who organized the campaign, told reporters afterward. “These figures aren’t beautiful at all, they’re very much the opposite.”