Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Chapter 6 – Refusing and Using Data

Published onNov 02, 2022
Chapter 6 – Refusing and Using Data

It was March 8, 2022, International Women's Day, also known as 8M, and I was navigating a jubilant Callao Street in Buenos Aires. It was the first mass mobilization after the exhaustion of pandemic lockdowns and tens of thousands of Argentines, especially women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, travestis, sex workers, babies, and families, had turned out en masse to protest. A document assembled and read by dozens of feminist groups, women's groups, workers' groups and LGBTQ+ groups spelled out their main messages: "No to the government's trade agreement with the IMF! No to violence against women and disidencias! Stop the repression of the women, men and non-binary people leading this fight!"1

I made my way closer and closer to the National Congress, through enormous banners and drumming circles, through people dressed in colorful smocks to match their group, through vendors selling snacks and underwear (so much underwear!) and pins and scarves. Finally, I arrived at my destination: the banners, puppets, infographics and signs held up by the group Mumalá. As I described in Chapter 4, Mumalá works across the country and focuses on the intersection of neoliberal economic violence and gender rights. At the march, one large banner read "Ni Una Menos / Vivas y libres nos queremos" – Not one (woman) less / We want to stay alive and free. The other banner read "La deuda es con nosotres" – The debt is to us (figure 6.1). This latter slogan encapsulated the march's linking of economic violence – the government's recent deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restructure Argentina's debt and impose austerity measures – with the labor of women and non-binary people. Instead of owing the IMF, Mumalá suggests that the government owes women and gender minorities.

Figure 6.1 (a) The group Mumalá's mobilization for the International Women's Day March on March 8th, 2022. "La deuda es con nosotres" translates to "Your debt is to us". Mumalá is using "nosotres" instead of "nosotros" (us men) or "nosotras" (us women). Nosotres represents the non-binary way to say "us". Courtesy of the author.
Figure 6.1 (b) An example of a report from Mumalá's Observatory. The group publishes their reports as extended social media posts with aggregated statistics and graphics. This is a Facebook post from March 22, 2022, and represents a report about five years of monitoring femicide in Argentina. Courtesy of Mumalá.

The Mumalá group included around fifty people in costumes, some carrying smaller individual signs, and then several hoisting a huge Uncle Sam puppet representing US imperialism. One of the most fascinating aspects of the display was the way in which Mumalá incorporated data from their observatory, called Women, Disidencias, Rights2. As you can see in figure 6.1a, members of Mumalá held up printed placards with infographics about femicides. A honeycomb infographic provided multicolored counts of different types of violence. The observatory had counted 32 direct femicides, 2 trans/travesticidios, and 62 attempted femicides so far in the year 2022. A bar chart placard showed the breakdown of what the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator was, with the majority – 60% – of femicides due to intimate partner violence. Other placards depicted aggregate statistics about children left behind, the number of victims who had filed prior complaints against their aggressors (20%), and the weapons used.

As artifacts of communication these printed infographics were altogether curious. In the midst of raucous dissent, drumming and chanting, here were some charts and statistics which one might normally expect to find in a staid policy Powerpoint. What was the purpose of including infographics in a public protest? What other ways does Mumalá circulate its data, to whom, and with what effects?

This chapter surveys how grassroots groups simultaneously use data and refuse data. It describes how activists circulate their feminicide data in the world, what forms their data artifacts take, and how activists are trying to mobilize diverse audiences and shift power in multiple domains using data-driven communication. Circulating their data publicly is only possible after the accumulated efforts that go into producing data – the resolving, the researching and the recording described in prior chapters.

As our research team interviewed activists about where their data go and why, it became clear that all groups use data to refuse feminicide. Within that larger refusal, five themes emerged for us which describe the goals and impacts of feminicide data. Each represents a way that counterdata are used to refuse feminicide: to repair and heal families and communities; to remember the individual and collective lives lost to structural violence; to reframe feminicide as a structural issue, rather than an interpersonal problem, typically using media and culture; to reform the laws, policies and practices of the state around feminicide; and, finally, to revolt by using data in large scale mobilizations in public spaces. While these uses of activist data take different aesthetic forms and target different audiences, I will argue in this chapter that they all constitute ways of enacting feminist refusal of gender violence through data. In the process, activists also end up refusing (while using) the data themselves.

The last category – revolt – describes Mumala's use of infographics in the #8M march. They are using data and infographics in a demonstration of mass dissent. While Mumalá was unique amongst our interviewees in using printed infographics at protests, other forms of data communication in the revolt category included public art interventions created for mass demonstrations, using names, shoes or chairs to symbolize individual victims, with the list of names drawn from activist data. Still other revolt actions might include aggregate statistics about feminicide on large-scale banners carried by many people at once.

Groups often mobilize different ways of circulating their data at different times. For example, Mumalá does not only circulate their data at large-scale demonstrations of dissent. They also publish research reports to social media which function to reframe the public discourse around feminicide (see figure 6.1b). Mumalá releases such reports annually and then also to coincide with specific feminist dates of importance, like the anniversary of the first #NiUnaMenos uprising and the 8th of March. These reports take the form of extended posts to social media with aggregate statistics over the time period. For example, figure 6.1b shows an example of a report Mumalá published to Facebook summarizing five years of data produced by the observatory. The report includes extensive lists of aggregated statistics as well as maps, bar charts and other visualizations. When Mumalá releases a report like this one, they also put out a call to their networks to publicize it. It typically gets picked up by media outlets. In the days and weeks thereafter, Mumalá's spokesperson stands at the ready for interviews and to participate in public events. Indeed, the report in figure 6.1b was featured by numerous digital, print and broadcast news outlets, with headlines such as "In 5 years, Mumalá registers 1343 femicides; They reiterate their call for an 'emergency'"3. Thus, by giving news media an authoritative data source for statistics about femicide, and then participating in interviews about the phenomenon, Mumalá's reports function to reframe the public discourse around feminicide, inserting key frames such as "emergency" and "sexist violence" into mass media that would not otherwise come from institutional actors4.

Refusing & using data

Figure 6.2 Refusing and using is the final stage of a feminicide counterdata science project. Graphic by Melissa Q. Teng.

While prior chapters have focused on how activists produce counterdata, this chapter is focused on how they communicate their data. As we will see, activists circulate their data in a wide variety of forms ranging from reports and graphics to large-scale artworks to vigils and ceremonies. This chapter is called "refusing and using data" because of the multiple ways in which grassroots activists use data to enact refusal. Activists circulate data about feminicide first and foremost to refuse a status quo that disproportionately delivers fatal violence to women. Here the idea of necropolitics from Achille Mbembe is useful to pick up again from Chapter 2. Necropolitics relates to the fact that death is not distributed equally – specific groups are targeted for both direct and indirect violence. Necropolitics also relates to the performative and discursive element of interpretation around what those disproportionate deaths mean – this is to say: in a particular society, whose deaths matter?

While Mbembe himself had little to say about gender, multiple feminist scholars have drawn connections between feminicide and necropolitics. In a 2011 article, geographer Melissa Wright describes the necropolitical struggles between activist and government narratives around femicide on the Mexico-US border5. As femicides rose due to the Mexican government's "war on drugs", the rise of maquiladoras, and organized crime, the government called on individual women residents to avoid wearing provocative clothing or going to dangerous public places or going out at night unchaperoned. For Wright, this constituted blaming women for the violence they suffered (or blaming families, who should be ostensibly monitoring and controlling women's use of public spaces to avoid them getting killed) and it reinforced the misogynist idea that because women victims were being "inappropriately public" they were responsible for their own deaths. Activists countered with campaigns around government impunity in an attempt to focus the public's attention on the state for its systemic deflection of responsibility for ensuring women's safety and their human rights. Montserrat Sagot builds on this latter argument around impunity in her 2013 paper linking femicide and necropolitics in the context of Central America6. For her, necropolitics defines who is disposable – in other words, whose lives can be taken without consequence and without outrage and with the complicity of the state. And in her 2016 dissertation, feminist geographer Lorena Fuentes links the necropolitics of femicide in Guatemala to Judith Butler's concept of normative violence. The state, media and culture are complicit in the differential allocation of disposability – where women who are racialized or poor or sex workers or out-late-at-night or leaving their partners or seeking economic independence are more vulnerable to violence and such violence is rendered so normal and inevitable that it becomes impossible to even see. Necropolitics can help explain how it is possible for violence against women to be so prevalent and simultaneously obscured from view – invisibilized in plain sight.

Yet the terrain of the necropolitical is, of course, political – it is disputed and contested territory. The activists described by Wright refused and countered the government's interpretation of the increasing feminicides in Ciudad Juárez. Indeed, given Lagarde y de los Ríos' definition of feminicide as a crime of the state, all anti-feminicide activism could be considered to be engaged in necropolitical struggle over the meaning of the widespread killing of women and the assignment of responsibility for the prevention and elimination of such violence. Media scholar Francesca M. Romeo advances the idea of necroresistance to describe work "that targets the authorities that perpetrate necropolitical violence and mobilizes the sight of the corpse as a means to sustain and ensure security for the living." In this way, activists are able to "translate corporeal suffering into social and political change."7 For example, political theorist Shatema Threadcraft lauds the way in which #BlackLivesMatter has used necropolitical struggle to shift public discourse in the US (though she expresses doubts about whether such strategies work to make visible the femicides of Black women)8. And Bronwyn Carlson, writing about Indigenous femicide in Australia, describes how Indigenous communities document femicides of relatives on social media in defiance of the data silences produced by the settler state9. These, too, are examples of necroresistance – refusing to accept disproportionate death, refusing to normalize it and using imperfect but available and effective tools in the service of that refusal.

Data activists' circulation of data about feminicide constitutes exactly such necroresistance. While their production of data about feminicide in the prior stages – resolving, researching and recording – might also be considered necropolitical, it is in the communication and circulation of data about feminicide that activists mobilize their data in the service of particular narratives and interpretations; they give their data particular forms in order to reach specific audiences. Thus, while all stages of a counterdata project are engaged in necropolitical struggle, it is in the stage of communication that activists are most concerned with deploying data for necropolitical effects.

Activists communicate their data to refuse feminicide and to refuse the social and political and informatic silences that surround it. Moreover, activists recognize the complex and diffuse structures of power that work to reinforce the necropolitics of feminicide across multiple domains: the state, media and culture, families and communities. While many feminist critiques try to responsibilize and reform the state, none of its neglect would be possible without the oppression that is actively circulated in other domains. In turn, activists resist across those multiple domains and their highly diverse and creative use of data communication strategies reflects that.

Theme

Audience

Forms

Repair

Survivors; Families & communities

Direct services to families; Accompaniment; Rallies for justice for specific cases;

Remember

Families; Activists; Public

Public vigils with lists of names; Artworks about victims; Social media posts about individuals

Reframe

Public; Media & culture

Journalism and storytelling, supported by maps, statistics & multimedia; Activists give interviews to press about their data; Workshops and trainings for journalists

Reform

State

Reports with accompanying graphs, maps and charts; Policy recommendations backed by statistics; Activist dialogue with state about cases and data

Revolt

State; Media & culture; Public

Data used in protests; Large public art interventions; Coordinated campaigns on social media

Table 6.1 Five themes that describe activist goals and impacts for data communication. Each has different target audience/s and activist data are manifested in different forms.

Table 6.1 shows the five themes for activist data actions that emerged from our interviews. As we spoke with groups about their data production process, we also asked questions about how they published and circulated their data, who used their data, what impacts they aspired to have with their data, and on which audiences. We grouped their responses into these five themes that describe activist goals for their data: to repair, to remember, to reframe, to reform and to revolt. These are not hard and fast categories, but rather a way to explore the diversity of settings in which feminicide data circulate and the impacts that they have (or aspire to have).

Data communication undertaken by most activist groups falls into one or two of these categories. As we saw in the example of Mumalá, they use their data to support large-scale protests (revolt) and they produce reports on social media that they try to circulate for media attention (reframe). Other groups we will meet in this chapter focus more on using their data to interact with the state around laws and policies (reform) or serving impacted families and communities (repair). And activist data can circulate without the activists themselves in the driver's seat. Observatory projects often end up operating as information intermediaries that support other groups that may focus more deeply on one of these goals, e.g. providing information to survivor-led advocacy groups so that they may hold a vigil in order to remember their family members together. In some cases, official institutions draw from activist data for their research and reports, and the lines between counterdata and official data start to blur. For the remainder of this chapter, we will examine these five themes in turn.

But before we go there, I want to raise an ethical consideration that emerges from considering activism that engages with necropolitics. In their paper on trans necropolitics, scholars C. Riley Snorton and Jin Haritaworn posit the idea that the deaths of trans people of color serve as a kind of raw material for trans rights movements that are dominated by white trans activists from the Global North. Through two case studies, they show how trans people of color are disregarded in life but become "used" in their afterlife by social movements: "Immobilized in life, and barred from spaces designated as white (the good life, the Global North, the gentrifying inner city, the university, the trans community), it is in their death that poor and sex working trans people of color are invited."10 Rather than being a site of recuperation or humanization or memory justice, then, Snorton and Haritaworn demonstrate that necropolitical narratives can themselves be an extractive method – a way of using the afterlife to reinscribe some of the same forces of domination that activists claim to be working against. As with all matters, the important question to ask is "Who benefits?"

Circulating data publicly in the service of necroresistance engages exactly such fraught ethical territory. In the following explorations of the diverse ways that feminicide data circulate, we will continue to examine how those data are used to refuse, at multiple levels, taking multiple forms, across multiple domains of power. At the same time, each theme necessitates ethical questions about value extraction, re-victimization, privacy, and the production of deficit narratives about marginalized groups, and we will also engage these questions in turn.

Repair

Figure 6.3 Uma por Uma compiled a database and in-depth reporting about every feminicide in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco during 2018. Courtesy of NE10.

Uma por Uma was a data journalism project based in Recife, Brazil11. During the year of 2018, a large team of more than thirty women journalists working for the digital news outlet NE10 compiled a database of every woman or girl killed in the state of Pernambuco12. The goal was, first, to systematically collect information about each case – Uma por Uma translates to One by One. It was also to do original reporting on each, including interviewing families and law enforcement and following cases through the justice system. Their published investigation, seen in figure 6.4, leads with the words "There is a story to tell behind each murder of a woman in Pernambuco. One by one, we will count them all…The pain will not pass. But it generates – needs to generate – reaction, demand, confrontation. To help prevent deaths and, above all, save lives."13 The multimedia site includes maps and infographics, a page narrating the life of every woman in their archive, as well as the impact that her death had on her relatives and community. Julliana de Melo, one of the reporters on the project, explained their intentions: "We always tried to show that when a woman dies, it's not just the woman who dies – that woman's family also dies a little"14.

Whereas around half of the groups that monitor feminicide do not engage directly with family members, the Uma por Uma journalists developed intimate relationships with impacted relatives and survivors in the process of reporting cases over multiple months. Family members would call them for information about a case when they couldn't get any from law enforcement. After receiving a call from a grandmother they knew, Uma por Uma successfully lobbied the state for resources in a case where three children were orphaned. They secured protection from the State Department of Women for a family who was facing threats of violence for having reported the case. They fought with the judicial system to demand that they not drop specific cases. When a mother called them on the phone to vent, they listened. Says Ciara Carvalho, executive editor of the project, "We ended up establishing close relationships with some families. And we were a support, too. We were the channel of communication, of bonding, but as Juliana said, we were also that ear. The mother of one of the girls told me, 'If it wasn't for you, my daughter would have been forgotten.' The mother recognized that it wasn't only me, it was the project, it was all of us."

Repair is the term our team uses to refer to the ways that activist data circulate to address the grief, loss and acute needs of families, relatives and communities following a feminicide15. We saw this surface in the impact on families of activists simply including their loved one in a database; in the humanizing, careful storytelling for families that data activists do; in the direct services and support that activists end up providing to families; and in activists providing data to family-led groups for their advocacy work. All of these are ways that activists use their data for repair and healing. Moreover, as we have seen, data activists are often themselves survivors of gender-related violence or have been touched personally by feminicide, so in some cases the repair and healing is also for themselves.

Annita Lucchesi from Sovereign Bodies Institute talked about how the simple act of logging a person's case can be a small but meaningful step, "Entering them in the database doesn't necessarily bring their case to justice and it isn't justice for them or their family on its own, but it does feel like we're giving them a little bit of peace knowing that they're being counted and they're being honored and they're being prayed for."16 Many data activists told us stories about family members who reached out to thank them for including their loved one in their database.

In the case of Uma por Uma, the repair function of their work included the impact, for families, of having carefully reported stories about their relative in a high-profile public forum. As Julliana insisted, the team wanted to "Look more deeply at these stories and give these women the dignity of having their stories well told. Because, imagine family members when they read an article like this: 'the body found, it was my mother, it was my sister, it was my daughter'... And you have nothing saying who she was, how the neighbors saw her, what was her importance to that family! So there's a well-treated text, well-written, with dignity, so that the memory of this woman is kept properly and justice is done."17 Storytelling for families is central to the work of the African American Policy Forum, originators of the #SayHerName campaign. The organization compiles a database of Black women killed in police violence and also runs a network for mothers. They have worked with multiple musicians to produce a song about the victims, and even commissioned a play for families that re-imagined their daughters back into the world and depicted what they would have gone on to do18. Stories, narratives, and "well-treated texts" created explicitly for families serve a reparative function to insist, whatever treatment they may be experiencing from the state or the media, that their relative was beloved and deserves dignity in death and in life.

Like many data activists, Uma por Uma also found themselves fielding requests for information and services from families themselves. Data activists occupy a unique informatic position in relation to anti-feminicide advocacy – they often have more information about a case than authorities (or are more forthcoming with such information) and they often have expert knowledge of the media, the judicial system and their failings. Because of this, a handful of activists end up doing direct service provision or case-by-case advocacy, like Uma por Uma. For example, Sovereign Bodies Institute told us about buying groceries for families19. Others, like Carmen in Puerto Rico, act as first-line information providers, telling families who contact her where to start to access different kinds of services. Most commonly, this work takes the form of "acompañamiento". This is a Spanish word that literally translates to accompaniment, and it can mean literal accompaniment, such as the Guatemalan Group of Women who accompany families to appointments with state officials. This is a way for activists to "fight for access to justice" for individual families20. But acompañamiento can also mean other forms of support, such as the organization Manuela Ramos in Perú, which provides space for family groups to meet. Or Mumalá members showing up for family-led rallies and protests around specific cases. Or Utopix in Venezuela joining in digital protests produced by family groups. Sometimes this accompaniment can be in direct support of preventing further immediate trauma in the community, as Mak from Justice for Native People stated: "If something bad happens, we'll see a number of suicides that follow. And so we've tried to do stuff in our community, when that happens, to gather around and be like, 'Hey, we're here. We're all here. Let's all get together and mourn and support each other,' so that people don't get too desperate and we start losing more people."21 The key point is that many data activists forge relationships and on-going links of support with families, impacted communities and family-led activist groups.

A handful of data activists also described how they provide their data to family-led and survivor-led organizations who are producing reports, protests, vigils or other acts of data communication. In this, data activists operate as data intermediaries, providing key infrastructure for the leadership of families in the anti-feminicide movement. Sociologist Mariana Mora in Costa Rica told us how she dropped everything to fulfill a data request from a man who had lost his sister and young niece to feminicide and wanted to write an article about child feminicide for the local paper. Data requests from family groups were happening so frequently for the Alianza in Ecuador that, at the time we interviewed them, the group was working on building an interactive dashboard so that families could run custom reports and access the data they needed in a more automated way. [address data sharing?]

There are a number of ethical challenges faced by activists in using their data to repair and heal communities and directly serve impacted families. Many groups talked about the importance of not re-victimizing families in the process of producing data about feminicide. And while many had received thanks from families for including a loved one in their databases, all groups who published their data openly online had also received requests to remove names by family members. In all but one case, they removed the case or took down social media posts immediately upon request, but it served as a poignant point of reflection for activists that it is not a given that inclusion in a database is going to be a healing nor welcome gesture for all relatives22. For this reason, the majority of counterdata projects – 31 of 35 groups we interviewed – do not openly publish their databases with raw, disaggregated information so as to avoid exposing victims' names and identifying information. In the case of Jane Doe, a US-based organization, the executive director renamed their database from "Domestic Violence Homicide List" to "Domestic Violence Homicides" based on feedback from a family member that calling it a "list" was dismissive and reductive of the lives contained therein. Groups that deal with MMIWG2 and racialized feminicide also discussed the trust and care that was required to work directly with families due to the intergenerational nature of the trauma. As described in Chapter 4, the Sovereign Bodies Institute provides direct services and support to families but only when those families contact the organization directly.

Data activists circulate their data and leverage their information and positionality in a variety of ways to support families and communities impacted by feminicide. These actions challenge power primarily by supporting families who are left navigating a confusing maze of institutions amidst extreme pain; where they are shown, in any number of different ways, that their relative did not matter to the state or to the media or to the public. Using data for repair helps survivors in multiple ways: to navigate their grief; to seek services; to validate that their relative mattered and deserves dignity; to fight for justice; and to build their voice and their power. As Annita told us when reflecting on the impact of Sovereign Bodies Institute's work, "I think the coolest thing has been to see how it has led other survivors to find their voices and help families find their voices. I think that's definitely what I'm most proud of."23

Remember

In March 2022, Helena, Silvana and I experienced a wholly different way of encountering feminicide data. We met up in a cafe in the center of Montevideo and talked with the two artists who had coordinated a project called "Cortar el hilo" which translates to "Cutting the thread". Alejandra García and Marby Blanco are textile artists based in Uruguay, and in 2020, they created with twenty-seven others an exercise in participatory embroidery and collective memory. Alejandra and Marby put out an open call on Instagram to women and disidencias24. Each would embroider a single name with red thread onto a piece of linen fabric, and then the individual pieces would be linked together at the end to represent the women killed in feminicide in Uruguay in 2019 (figure 6.3a). For the two coordinators, this was a way to establish a relationship between the embroiderist and the woman killed: "We wanted each woman and disidencia that was part of the call to get to know a little more about that other woman (or sometimes a girl) who was no longer alive, and that she not remain only in name…that that woman, in some way, would continue to be present."25

Figure 6.4 Cortar el hilo, a participatory embroidery project coordinated by Alejandra García and Marby Blanco. (a) Cortar el hilo, detail. Using red thread, artists brought together through a participatory process embroidered individual names of killed women onto a single piece of linen. (b) Cortar el hilo, installation. Alejandra and Marby stitched together all of the pieces into one long line which represents the names of women killed in feminicides in 2019 in Uruguay. Courtesy of Alejandra García and Marby Blanco. Photos by the author. Stitched photograph by Melissa Q. Teng.

Each participating artist was sent the linen, thread, a name and accompanying information, sourced from Feminicidio Uruguay, the data activism project that Helena leads. The artists all met in-person to deliver their finished works, and it was a moment of tremendous emotion "when a large number of new stories, feelings, sensations and connections emerged. Everything that happened while the piece was being embroidered, what was left on the canvas, could reach us and in some way give greater meaning to what we were doing."26 Later, Alejandra and Marby sat together and stitched the individual pieces into a single long scroll, paying careful attention to connecting the red thread from the end of one piece to the beginning of the next27.

Almost exactly a year after its initial creation, Helena, Silvana and I had the opportunity to feel some of these connections because Alejandra and Marby brought the finished piece to our meeting in Montevideo. We walked into the Plaza de la Constitución, an expansive and historic public space with tree-lined diagonal walkways. Helena stood, holding one side of the artwork, and Marby unrolled it slowly across the wide stone walkway. At almost thirty feet long, it took up the urban space, blocking passage through the plaza. Unfurled, we could see the work up close, and could appreciate the variation in size, in lettering, in the precision versus the drama of the stitches, in the small flourishes introduced by the hands of the artists, in the juncture points where individual fabrics and names were pieced together to make the whole.

In this case, the data from Feminicidio Uruguay were arranged explicitly to remember those lives lost to violence; to establish an intimate, material relationship between individual artists and individual women killed in gender violence; and to stitch those relations together into a collective refusal to forget. Using activist data to remember draws collective deaths into the public sphere for mourning, memorial and observance. While repair is about using data to support impacted families and communities, remembering actions are targeted at a broader public audience and aim to answer the question posed by Ida from Cuántas Más: "How do we explain what we have lost?"28

Using activist data for remembering can take many forms. There are many examples of creative artworks that draw from feminicide data – like Cortar el hilo. These follow in a tradition of what is called artivism or craftivism, techniques which use artistic methods to engage in collective resistance29. Another common aesthetic form is the vigil. For example, on the first Tuesday of every month, the Manuela Ramos Movement in Peru hosts a public vigil. They bring a large-scale physical calendar representing one month to the vigils with the names of victims placed on the dates that they were killed (figure 6.3). These names are drawn from the Movement's on-going counterdata production about feminicides in Peru. Next to each name is a red handprint pressed into the calendar from one of its activist creators. The vigils include remembrance of the women's lives and the lighting of candles. Participants touch the calendar as part of the ceremony. As Mabel describes "Each one of us would reach out and put our hand on that little hand as if we were trying to make a connection. More than a connection, it's like — each one of those victims is an inspiration of life for us. We consider these murdered women to be our sisters."30

Figure 6.5 Calendar produced by the Manuela Ramos Movement for their monthly vigils. Red hands mark the day that a woman was murdered. Source

Data activists have developed other creative techniques for memorialization. Many activists, including Manuela Ramos and Helena for Feminicidio Uruguay, remember individual women by creating social media posts about each woman, as they enter their information into their databases. For some, such as Rosa Page, who runs Black Femicide US, the stream of posts with women's faces and stories on social media is the primary way that their data are publicly circulated31. An illustration collective out of Mexico called No estamos todas (We [women] are not all here) creates artistic renderings of victims of feminicide and publishes them to Instagram32. Other activists have produced digital videos set to music, using photos from their databases33. La Casa del Encuentro in Argentina raised money to produce a book with a story about every woman's life from over ten years of collecting data. Called For the women…Ten Years of Reporting Femicide in Argentina, it is, sadly, very heavy because there are so many pages and so many stories34. Here, the main communications goal is to publicly remember victims of feminicide as full people. As Marta Perez from Mujeres de Negro in Argentina explained, "we wanted to visibilize, we wanted people to see, that behind every death there is a story, a life, a family."35

The ethical challenges that face activists who circulate data to remember are similar to those of repair, because in both cases activists work with the names and stories of victims. Virtually all activists who engage in remembering actions noted the tension around representing victims as full human beings while not re-victimizing them, objectifying them or hurting their families. In their paper on feminist countermemorials, Christine Bold and colleagues note that memorializing work exists in a conflicted relationship with attribution of legal responsibility (which it often does not address) and also with "the naming of victims and respecting of individual experience."36. Moreover, who has the right (and the consent and the blessing) to use whose names and stories? In Remembering Vancouver's Disappeared Women, Amber Dean narrates the story of artist Pamela Masik's planned and then cancelled exhibition of large portraits of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Activist groups led by First Nations women challenged Masik's claim that she, a white woman, could act as a "witness" to the violence that the community had suffered. Gloria Laroque, one of the organizers of the Women's Memorial March (an annual event described in Chapter 1), gave this quote to local media, "the show would have made Masik the 'spokesperson' for aboriginal women's issues, denying the efforts and voice of aboriginal and Downtown Eastside women, as well as causing pain to family members of the murdered and disappeared."37 This resonates with the concerns raised by Snorton and Haritaworn around how trans rights movements extract value from the stories of trans women of color – a form of exploitation that centers trans women of color in death but excludes them in life.

To navigate these tensions, some activists take steps to anonymize victims – by only publishing their first names in artworks, for example. Others create works of memorialization that address the phenomenon of feminicide in the aggregate rather than the particular, such as the widely exhibited REDress Project by Anishinaabe and Finnish artist Jaime Black, which commemorates missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada38. Other activists coordinate directly with family-led groups and integrate families into their remembering actions. For example, the Manuela Ramos Movement provides meeting space for family-led activism and strives to maintain on-going "relationships of friendship and feminist camaraderie" with families39. And still other activists continue to use full names in their remembering work but remove them at the request of families.

As I stood there in the plaza observing Cortar el hilo and the long linen line of names, in some minutes of silence, I thought about how the scrolling artwork in front of me was not only refusing feminicide, but also enacting a refusal that names and people should ever become data in the first place. The process of Cortar el hilo – connecting individual artists and individual women – serves a recuperative purpose: to try to recover names and data from their spreadsheeted abstraction and back into embodiment, albeit embodied through another set of hands and another body that cares for the one that was lost. This constitutes a deeply political action but the political demand is less focused on the state. As Indigenous planning scholar Laura Harjo has stated, remembering demonstrates a turning away from the colonial state and a refusal to reduce killed women to their status as subjects of the state, choosing instead to remember them as loved and missed people40.

Indeed, as described in Chapter 5, many data activists see themselves as either directly doing or else supporting memory justice work – the insertion, contestation and recuperation of public memory around feminicide41. In her introduction to the Red Feminista Antimilitarista's 2019 report, Stop the War Against Women, Graciela Atencio states it like this: "When we document a femicide, we make a montage. We put together the pieces of those stories, we weave into it the resonance left to us by the daily tragedy of patriarchal violence. And when we collect all the possible information that circulates in the media about the murdered women, it is because we resist accepting that the victims are nobodies."42 In this formulation, then, circulating activist data is directed towards the production of public countermemory: to collectively refuse to forget individual lives, to recuperate some amount of their dignity and fullness, and to "weave" those personal stories into the structural story of pervasive gender-related violence.

Reframe

Journalists María Eugenia Luduena and Ana Fornaro cover LGBTI+ issues across Latin America and remember 2019 as a particularly terrible year for hate crimes, lesbicides and transfeminicides43. Recounts Ana, "It was a year in which, for some reason, there was a lot of violence at the beginning of the year. We were, like, we couldn't cope." Adds María Eugenia, "We were uploading stories all the time." The two journalists have a background in gender issues and human rights communication. Together they co-founded and run a feminist news outlet called Agencia Presentes that seeks to "visibilize human rights violations against LGBTI+ people, defenders, Indigenous women and migrants using an intersectional lens."44 Ana and María Eugenia decided to try to keep a count of the violent episodes because they couldn't publish stories fast enough to keep up with their occurrence. This is a rather different origin story from many other groups that we interviewed. Whereas most groups started out by counting and documenting feminicide and later look to news outlets for media attention and amplification, Agencia Presentes is the media. They started by crafting news articles and only began producing data when the amount of violence exceeded their ability to report on it. Securing a small grant, they convened a group of five LGBTI+ activists and worked together to define the data fields, categories of violence, and visual design approach. In late 2019, they published the "Journalistic Map of Hate Crimes Against LGBT+ People" which includes an open registry of cases as well as a map of where they have occurred across Argentina (figure 6.4)45. It has been widely shared and cited, and the journalists continue to log cases there even when they don't have the bandwidth to undertake full coverage of every hate crime.

Figure 6.6 The Journalistic Map of Hate Crimes Against LGBT+ People by Agencia Presentes, 2019 - present. Courtesy of Agencia Presentes. Source: http://mapa.agenciapresentes.org/

The primary goal of the map, as with their overall reporting mission, is "to influence political agency and public conversation using communication."46 They explained that LGBTI+ issues are rarely covered by mainstream media in Latin America and when they are covered, it is nearly always with bias, stereotypes and stigmatization. Agencia Presentes seeks to both uplift issues of gender-related human rights violations but also to model and teach other journalists about best practices for rigorous, culturally-appropriate reporting. The map is one of many approaches they have used to reach a broader audience about gender rights. Another artifact that garnered viral attention was their comic-book-style explainer of the legal case of the murder of the travesti activist Diana Sacayán (figure 6.5). The six-frame comic tells the story of Sacayán through vibrant illustrations.

Longer version is here - https://twitter.com/PresentesLatam/status/1050381743696560129/photo/1- I HAVE ASKED THEM IF WE CAN TRANSLATE THE SPANISH PARTS INTO ENGLISH AND THEY SAID YES
Figure 6.7 A comic explainer by Agencia Presentes about the importance of the ruling of travesticidio in the case of Diana Sacayán. Courtesy of Agencia Presentes. Translation by Valentina Pedroza Munoz. Graphics production in English by Tiandra Ray.

Sacayán was of Indigenous descent. She was nationally known for her leadership on LGBTI+ issues, instrumental in advocating for trans access to healthcare and state recognition of gender identity, and, in 2012, became the first person in Argentina to have her national identity card updated to reflect her gender identity as a woman47. Three years later, Sacayán was brutally murdered in her home. The crime was investigated with explicit attention to her gender, a first for the country, and the prosecutor repeatedly used the term travesticidio in the hearings to frame it as a murder that was motivated by her gender identity. Travesti, trans and LGBI activists played a large role in drawing attention to the case48. And Agencia Presentes devoted a great deal of coverage to the case. "We chronicled each hearing," explained Ana, "So, there is also something like having put ourselves there, to show that we were there, physically present, which built another type of trust."49 This is, in fact, the point of having "presentes" in the group's name – they are present, physically. They show up to document and narrate, rigorously and carefully, those events that have to do with ensuring gender rights, and to contextualize and disseminate them to a broad public50. In a monumental decision in 2018, the Argentine court ruled that Sacayán's murder did indeed constitute travesticidio.

Ana and María Eugenia decided to create a visual artifact to explain and frame the historic import of the court's decision for non-experts. "Because it is something that is difficult to communicate. Why is it important that the judicial system take the word travesticidio? It is somewhat technical," recounts Ana about what they were up against. They worked with activist illustrators to create the comic in figure 6.5 which ultimately went viral. For the two journalists, reaching people who may never have heard of the case or the trial or the word travesticidio was one of their proudest moments, since such issues rarely get attention in the mainstream press in Latin America.

Agencia Presentes' work is emblematic of a third function of activist data circulation: to reframe feminicide and fatal gender-related violence. This work seeks to produce narrative change in the realm of media and culture. It often draws from data but uses storytelling to challenge stigma and stereotypes and weave a broader and more contextualized story around structural violence. The goal is typically to raise consciousness in the broader public. Thus, while Diana Sacayán's case was entered and visible in Agencia Presentes' registry and on their map, it was their in-depth reporting, live videos, and viral comic that enabled the data points to go beyond the spreadsheet and to assert a new, structural frame into the public conversation: It was travesticidio.

Thus, reframing happens by creating and disseminating alternative narratives. Data activists refuse the narrow interpretations of violence coming from the police and the state and the mainstream media; they uplift stories of grassroots and community struggle for justice; and they insert feminist framings of the violence into public circulation, often using their own data as key evidence. Reframing doesn't only happen via the data artifacts – infographics, reports, maps, visualizations, stories, and even comics – that counterdata groups produce. It also comes from activists strategically inserting their data and statistics into mainstream media narratives, and from their efforts to educate journalists and other communications professionals.

As you read in the opening of this chapter, a key way that activists leverage data to reframe public narratives about feminicide is exemplified by Mumalá's use of their observatory data to position themselves as authorities on the matter in the media, putting out press releases and making themselves available for interviews and public events. Activists leverage the fact that state data on feminicide is missing, and, possessing their own counterdata, become a key credible source for news outlets. "They call us from the press, from television, from everywhere, because the state does not have that information systematized," says Estefanía Rivera Guzmán from Red Antimilitarista Feminista in Colombia51. For activists, this is a crucial way of interrupting the toxic and harmful narratives around individual cases of feminicide, where the press, seeing the state as the only legitimate producer of information about a criminal case, tends to solely interview law enforcement and judicial officials and thus reproduce those narrow views52. Some groups have even studied this media pattern. Jane Doe, an organization which produces data about fatal domestic violence in Massachusetts, did a qualitative study of over a hundred news articles. "We found that few provided any information that would be valuable to survivors, like where to look for help, or what the warning signs were, anything like that," related Toni Troop, their Director of Communications53. The vast majority of articles led with the law enforcement perspective and secondarily quoted neighbors. Thus, through the legitimacy that producing data and quantitative information confers, activists are able to intervene on this dynamic and insert both their data as well as their framing of feminicide into the public conversation. As Silvana Mariano from the Brazilian group Observatório Néias stated, "Our contribution has been in the sense of producing another narrative about these crimes that is not the police narrative, of offering to the media an interpretation of the phenomenon that is not a police interpretation. I think this is a very important collective gain for us."54

A final way that activists use data in the service of reframing feminicide has to do with offering trainings and workshops to other journalists and communications professionals. In particular, groups like Agencia Presentes and Cuántas Más, that come out of journalism and communications, leverage the visibility and "clickability" that maps and data artifacts provide to their organizations to try to push for larger structural change in the media ecosystem through running workshops and trainings. These educational sessions are not about data analysis, but rather about feminist and queer analysis. They provide conceptual tools to analyze the problem of feminicide and fatal violence against the LGBTI+ community, as well as to help disseminate creative approaches to communicating about it. As Irma from the Observatory of Gender Violence in Puerto Rico describes it, such capacity building sessions are "a space to guide and educate other people who are approaching these themes"55.

Reframing actions carry ethical risks and are not without conflict. For example, in attempts to reframe the phenomenon of feminicide as structural and widespread, a great many groups produce maps56. But Cuántas Más decided to take their feminicide map offline when they realized that, rather than bringing justice, the spatial patterns it showed might further stigmatize low-income and Indigenous regions in Bolivia. This illustrates activists’ awareness of data’s power to portray deficit narratives, that is, narratives that communicate the “difference, disparity, disadvantage, dysfunction and deprivation” of minoritized groups57. In the case of Cuántas Más they shifted to aggregated statistics and stories as a refusal to participate in such deficit narratives, but it remains a tension for those groups that use maps for communication58. Likewise, because activist data have become a source of credibility and authority, with their data and their voices being widely circulated in the media, this can produce competition and conflict amongst groups, as evidenced in the story of Mumalá's data loss from the beginning of Chapter 4. Thus, while I have emphasized how activists work collectively and in concert with movements, this work is not always happy, multicultural sunshine. In fact much of the pluralistic coordination is forged through conflict, deliberation and difference.

Reform

"We were born in times of war," stated Giovanna Lemus matter-of-factly59. The Guatemalan Civil War lasted from 1960 through 1996. It was instigated and prolonged in no small part due to US government and corporate involvement in the country. The decades-long war used strategies of forced disappearances, razing the villages of peasants, and weaponizing gender and sexual violence, in particular against the Mayan Indigenous people. In this context of extreme violence, the Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres (Guatemalan Group of Women, GGM) was founded by Giovanna and colleagues in 1988 to support women survivors of violence and to work – primarily through laws and policies – to ensure a life free of violence for women and girls in Guatemala60. GGM engages in a wide range of activities, including coordinating with feminist organizations around the country, running shelters, engaging with international scholars and organizations, and producing comprehensive data about femicide in the country.

The first legal win the group secured was in 1996 – a law about domestic violence, but painfully limited in its scope61. When GGM and other feminist groups had pushed for more comprehensive protections and for a broader definition of violence against women, political institutions told them that they couldn't do more because of the lack of data and information to support their demands. That same year, GGM began producing comprehensive data and analysis about femicide in Guatemala. When they started, there were no nationally systematized statistics or death records, so they had to count themselves. They had piecemeal access to police reports and regularly went to the morgues to document the women who had died and their causes of death. They released public statements with their findings to try to push the media to start reporting more widely about the problem. In 2006, after intense lobbying from GGM and others, the government established the INACIF, Guatemala's national institute of forensic medicine, and the institution started publishing open death records. The creation of this national institution made GGM's work vastly easier – they were able to triangulate official data with press reports to scrutinize individual cases and produce their femicide data, a system that they continue to this day62. Like many groups that use data for reform, one of the primary audiences is the state, so GGM communicates the results of their research with reports, analysis and conventional charts – forms of data communication that are readily understood and assimilated by government. For example, figure 6.6 is a bar chart from their 2018 report and shows six months of monitoring work where they compare counts of violent deaths of women against those deaths they have ruled to be femicide.

Figure 6.8 Chart of femicides as compared with violent deaths of women from GGM's 2018 report. They use official statistics cross-referenced with media reports in order to estimate femicides. Source: Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres. English version of graphic produced by Wonyoung So.

GGM's work has played a significant role, first in the measurement and collection of information about femicide, and eventually in institutional and legislative reform around femicide and violence against women in the country. Some of the group's achievements include helping to establish, in 2000, a national commission for the prevention of violence against women (CONAPREVI), which GGM has a seat on; the establishment of the INACIF in 2006; and the passage of a 2008 law defining femicide in the Guatemalan penal code. This was one of the first laws in the region codifying femicide. These were not solo achievements. GGM emphasizes that their work is always in coordination with other women's groups, with the larger feminist movement in Guatemala and with international networks. "It was hard at first getting institutions to give us information," recounts Giovanna, "but as we systematized that information we saw the possibility that all of us, including members of the Latin American network we worked with, could show the seriousness of violence against women by using these strategies."63

Like all groups we interviewed, for GGM it's never about having data for data's sake. Emphasized Giovanna,"It's not about having data for simply having it. It's about putting it into action in such a way that it can generate a response from the state." Putting data into action, for their group, meant going beyond parking femicide data in spreadsheets. It meant undertaking "constant analysis"; it meant circulating their data in reports naming and framing the problem of femicide; it meant articulating specific political demands that, first, created institutions, and then pushed those institutions towards recognition – using feminist analysis – of the problem of femicide.

Reform encompasses the ways in which activists use counterdata to push for changes in laws, policies, institutions and/or official data collection practices around feminicide. The target of reform efforts is typically the state, and activists design their data communications in aesthetic forms that are understood as "evidence-based" by the state, including reports with charts (like figure 6.6) or policy recommendations backed by statistics. Reform actions include activists leveraging their counterdata to get a seat at the table to be in dialogue with the state; using data as evidence to demand new laws or reform existing laws; using data to shift and strengthen state data collection; as well as various ways that activist data take on a life of their own and circulate independently of activists themselves.

Similar to the prior section, reframe, activists leverage their independently produced counterdata to gain legitimacy and recognition. In the case of reform, however, activists often seek the state's recognition of feminicide as a legitimate public problem, and their counterdata can be a way to gain a seat at the table. For example, Geraldina Guerra from the Alianza in Ecuador stated, "Now we have dialogue with the state…they ask us for meetings, but before they didn't call us since we are from civil society."64 The Alianza, in fact, now has monthly meetings with state officials to compare cases, and the state speaks publicly and proudly about their collaboration65. Numerous data activist groups that we interviewed had been invited into committees in the municipal, state or federal government. For example, Mujeres de Negro sits on the Feminisms and Disidencia Commission of the Municipal Council of Rosario. The Red Feminista Antimilitarista in Columbia was invited to participate in a national commission on the classification of feminicide. In 2021, Utopix was called to participate in testimony and workshops convened by the Permanent Commission of Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace of the National Assembly of Venezuela as the body tried to establish more links between feminist groups and government policy towards women66, and María Salguero has given testimony twice to Mexico's national congress.

These exchanges, as well as news articles that cite activist data, have led to the state relying directly on counterdata as evidence for legislative reform. This was the case in Puerto Rico, for example, where the Persistence of indolence report, described in Chapter 2, was directly quoted in the island's 2021 law which updated the legal framework for feminicide and transfeminicide67. The Argentine observatory Ahora que sí nos ven has seen their statistics cited in proposed legislation. Activist data have also been used to debate laws and policies that reach beyond codifying feminicide. For example, in 2018, a law named "the Ley Brisa" passed in Argentina concerning reparations from the state for children orphaned by femicide, and activist data are cited in the decree that describes how to implement the law68. Coverage and maps produced by Agencia Presentes played a role in Argentina's 2020 passage of a law outlining a travesti and trans quota for public sector employees. And GGM's evidence and advocacy played a significant role in the government establishing the Isabel Claudina Alert, which mandates better government response times in cases of missing women.

Counterdata also travel into officialdom, sometimes without the knowledge of their producers. In Ecuador in 2018, the Alianza was surprised to see their feminicide map used as evidence by an assemblywoman in debates around updates to the national law to prevent violence against women69. Data produced by the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) are regularly quoted in US State Department human rights reports for El Salvador70. These statistics, in turn, are then used as evidence to make determinations in individual cases of women seeking asylum in the US. "The immigration courts lean heavily on these State Department reports," described Mneesha Gellman, a political scientist who studies El Salvador, and provides expert review of asylum cases71. This is not a use previously conceived of by ORMUSA, nor do the activists have any role in writing or framing reports from the US State Department, but it illustrates the way that counterdata is viewed by institutional actors as the best available data in an imperfect information ecosystem, and thus it may be picked up and employed in high-stakes contexts. This may, in fact, be the most enduring way that activist data are used for reform – not necessarily through directly protesting and lobbying in order to get a few bills passed, but through gradual, informatic infiltration into the official understanding of a problem.

Activists also use their data to influence official measurement and classification practices by the state. This can be an informatic strategy for achieving official state recognition of the problem. "There was no data. There was no acceptance that there was this problem of violence," says Fabiola Ortiz of GGM about the early days of their data production. Many activists related to us that their work is primarily about this visibilization, particularly to the state. Once counterdata exists, "it's a tool to argue with the authorities about official figures," related Geraldina Guerra of the Alianza. Their group is in regular monthly dialogue with state agencies and uses their data to push the state to expand their criteria for what counts as a feminicide. The Alianza counts induced suicides, transfeminicides and girls' murders as feminicides, for example, while the state does not. "We want a reform to be made to the criminal code so that these related feminicides are included", states Geraldina. While this has not happened yet, the numbers and counter-numbers have provided the basis for discussion, exchange and comparison.

Numerous ethical issues and contradictions arise in using activist data for reform. For example, at the same time that GGM has worked for decades producing counterdata about femicide, they also refuse the idea that this is their responsibility. Giovanna declared, "This was our fight: to not do this work and to make the state do its job."72 There is an inherent contradiction, then, in producing counterdata for reform. On the one hand, the state will take no action without proof of the problem, but it will not invest in such proof when the problem is invisibilized and normalized. Public health scholars have called this the "no data, no problem" problem73. At least half of the activists we interviewed wrestle with the contradiction that they are engaging in work that they do not want to do, that they refuse to accept as their responsibility, that they are not resourced to do, and that can, in fact, result in severe undercounting of feminicide because their sources of information are limited and they don't have the same reach as government institutions74.

This leads to another ethical tension that relates to the visual communication of counterdata for reform. In order to be legible to the state, activists seeking reform employ some of the most familiar conventions of data communication: neutral titles, dry reports, clean graphic layouts, and geometric shapes and lines (like figure 6.7). As Kennedy et al have asserted, such visualization conventions work to "imbue visualizations with a sense of objectivity, transparency and facticity."75 Such apparent objectivity helps counterdata achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the state, and certainly helps them travel and spread, going on to be cited in legislation, media reports, and international policy documents. And yet, activists are deeply aware of the limitations of their data. They know that they are underreported and subject to media bias, and they also want to carefully communicate those limitations. As Lara from Ahora que sí nos ven stated, "If we present a report where we say that we have three transfeminicides, we are missing reality. We know that it is not so. So, it is about being able to look for ways to be able to present the data, and always mentioning that our analysis is of media reports, and that at least we have this number of cases, right? Understanding that what we present is always an underrepresentation."76 This, again, represents a kind of ethical contradiction in which activists both use and refuse data – they engage the visual politics of data neutrality, leveraging those conventions to achieve recognition and audience with the state, their primary audience, and yet simultaneously reject such neutrality and try to emphasize the underreporting, partiality and incompleteness of the data.

Amidst these various efforts at reform, it is striking how fuzzy the lines start to get between counterdata and official data. Indeed, perhaps the greatest achievement of counterdata is when it is used by state institutions themselves as the evidentiary basis for taking official action and strengthening official data collection. In some cases, such as that of GGM, the state even comes to rely on activists to do the research and produce the statistics that they do not have the capacity for. There are many cases of dialogue between activists and state agencies, even leading in some cases to friendship and shared vision. This can happen because the line between activists and public sector employees is also not so hard and fast. Any seeming binary of activist vs. state is constantly disrupted by the flows of people into and out of public sector employment. For example, the woman who founded Ahora que sí nos ven spent two years running Argentina's national violence observatory for the Ministry of Women, and then departed to once again direct the activist observatory. In another instance – the Office of the Prosecutor for the Investigation of the Crime of Feminicide in Mexico City – a municipal agency has initiated their own database of feminicide that combines official data with news media reports77. Here we see an example of inside-government counterdata production. Or can we call this counterdata production?

Whatever we call such state-adopted data, it is clear that the state is not a monolith. Indeed, as Pine and Liboiron point out in their paper on the politics of measurement, data activism can often come from insiders and experts who seek to use quantification to reframe matters of health and harm78. Necroresistance itself may not always come from outside of institutions but from concerned professionals within institutions who draw counterdata into official data settings, who develop mechanisms for collaboration with activists, and who leverage the authority and legitimacy of the state itself to transform counterdata into institutional action. Helena and I saw this show up in the active and committed participation of many public sector employees who showed up to take our online course, Data Against Feminicide: Theory and Practice, in Spring 2022. And activists themselves are not always operating at cross-purposes from the state. At the end of our interview with her, Fabiola stated that what kept GGM going was their firm conviction that "we are building something better for this country."79

Revolt

Figure 6.9 Members of Colectiva SJF stenciling their large-scale installation of names of victims of feminicide in Mexico for International Women's Day 8M 2020. Courtesy of Colectiva SJF. Photo by Santiago Arau.

A group of ten women showed up early on International Women's Day 2020 in Mexico City's emblematic public square: the Zócalo. They brought buckets of paint, long rolling brushes, and four-foot-tall stencils. From the early hours of the morning through the surge of crowds in the afternoon, they stenciled the names of women killed in feminicide onto the large gray concrete expanse (figure 6.8). Jacqueline. Mercedes. Sirenia. Olimpia. Veronica. Catalina L. Araceli R. Christy C. Gertrudis S. Laura M. Martha M. Josefina. Agustina. Amada. The group of ten was joined by over two hundred more women painters that morning. The names were arranged in quadrants just like the concrete squares of the Zócalo, spiraling out from the center (figure 6.8). At the edges of the arrangement of names, the painters stenciled the movement's slogans in bright pinks and purples:

NI UNA MENOS.

NI UNA MAS.

NOT ONE LESS WOMAN.

NOT ONE MORE WOMAN.

Figure 6.10 Aerial view of Colectiva SJF's installation in the Zócalo, with over 200 names. Courtesy of Colectiva SJF. Photo by Santiago Arau.
Figure 6.10 Aerial view of Colectiva SJF's installation in the Zócalo, with over 200 names. Courtesy of Colectiva SJF. Photo by Santiago Arau.

The Colectiva SJF is a group of artists, filmmakers, and graphic designers based in Mexico who do large-scale creative interventions into public space around human rights issues. Explains Marcela Zendejas Lasso de la Vega, "the main objective is how to translate the message and the fight and, well, la lucha. This very important work that human rights activists do. How can we translate it into a language that more people know about, or that has the power to influence in a stronger way?"80 For example, in 2021, the group coordinated an action which spelled out "Donde están?" (Where are they?) in front of Mexico's national palace; the letters were formed by clothing belonging to some of the thousands of people who are missing and whose families continue to search for them81.

Colectiva SJF decided to take action on feminicide one afternoon at an informal social gathering at one of their member's houses. They were discussing the inadequacy of data, said Mónica Meltis Vejar, and "we started talking about how it’s crazy that the numbers don’t validate the importance of the person that we are missing in a feminicide case. So, we started to say, “Yeah, we have to do something. We’d need to find a way for people to feel closer to the problem.”82 But in order to do a large-scale intervention they needed the names of feminicide victims. Mónica also happens to be the director of a Mexican NGO called Data Cívica which has been monitoring feminicide and gender-related violence against LGBTTTIQ+ people for some time83. Data Cívica wrote a web scraping application to review the last four years of news articles about feminicide and extracted the names of thousands of victims.

Ultimately, on March 8, 2020, the activists were able to paint more than 200 of the names provided by DataCívica before the masses of protesters swarmed the Zócalo with signs and slogans and chants that reverberated the words from the ground: "Ni Una Menos," calling the named women back into presence for the collective political body. It was a massive aesthetic takeover of public space. The federal government tried to take it back the next day. In line with the Mexican president's preoccupation with protecting public property over listening to citizens, government employees showed up promptly the next morning for cleaning84. Though they tried to efficiently erase the names and suppress the record of the action, it was fitting that they were unable to fully do so, leaving large smudges and smears of white across the plaza (figure 6.10).

The traces remained, not only materially through the white paint lingering in the Zócalo, but also through the spectacular documentation, produced by the activists in collaboration with aerial photographer Santiago Arau. The images are intentionally and strategically designed for digital circulation, part of a wave of anti-monument monumentalism in Mexico which seeks to document, preserve and circulate feminist actions in public space85. And indeed the action received a great deal of national and international media coverage, with articles in mainstream Mexican media, international art magazines and thousands of retweets on Twitter86.

Figure 6.11 Image of the Zócalo plaza on the day after Colectiva SJF's intervention when government employees tried to scrub it clean. Courtesy of Colectiva SJF. Photo by Santiago Arau.

Revolt is focused on the ways that anti-feminicide activists mobilize data for public protests and spectacular collective actions aligned with specific political demands. While these actions share some similarities with remembering actions – the use of names, for example – the focus is less on memorializing individuals or engaging in collective mourning. Rather, revolt targets injustices in laws, policies and their implementation, and usually takes place in concert with larger mobilizations. In using data for revolt, activists make particularly symbolic uses of both space and time in order to register their dissent and make political demands. For example, Colectiva SJF chose to take action in the Zócalo, an emblematic public space at the center of Mexico City which has served as a backdrop of official ceremonies and of political protest since Aztec times. Activists also align their data actions to symbolic dates and times – such as the 8th of March, the 25th of November, or the anniversary of #NiUnaMenos – so as to maximize public attention and the circulation of documentation on social media.

In some cases, the same activists who produce feminicide data are also the ones who are staging revolts in public spaces. As Silvana Mariano from the Brazilian collective Observatório Néias stated, "We have seen that when we are physically in these spaces – and this has to be with a protest, with a demonstration – this enhances the visibility of our work, our message."87 In another example, Mujeres de Negro Rosario collects data about feminicide with the express purpose of holding weekly silent vigils and then staging annual large-scale public interventions with their data. For example, on November 25th, 2021, they placed 250 chairs outside the provincial court building in Rosario. Each chair was labeled with the first name of a victim of feminicide from that year and some information about her case. For Marta Perez from Mujeres de Negro Rosario, she wanted to presence the lost lives not only through names but through bodily space, "Seeing people's faces…I mean, one says 250, and it's a number, but when you see that represented with the space that woman occupied, this has another impact on people."88 The court building was chosen as the site of their public action because of the group's work demanding justice for children and families left behind.

Five rows of plastic black chairs placed together outside a building. Each of the chairs is empty but for a printout which has an image and information about a woman and the circumstances of her feminicide.
Figure 6.12 On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in 2021, the group Mujeres de Negro Rosario placed 250 empty chairs outside the provincial court building in Rosario to symbolize the 250 women lost to feminicide that year. Courtesy of Mujeres de Negro Rosario.

In other cases, like the Zócalo action, data activists operate as data intermediaries and provide information to other activist groups so that they may stage physical or digital interventions89. Mariana Mora, in Costa Rica, described how she gets data requests each year from activists in the weeks leading up to November 25th. The Ahora que sí nos ven observatory has provided data to family-led groups so that they could produce large-scale banners for marches they were organizing. And revolt actions do not only happen in physical spaces. Utopix, in Venezuela, has provided data to activist groups coordinating large digital tuitazos or tweet-a-thons in which activists seek to temporarily take over certain hashtags on social media with messages against feminicide and gender-related violence.

Yet there are many cases where counterdata travel and circulate of their own accord. For example, Paola from the Alianza in Ecuador, described how she encountered a group at a march on November 25th who had printed an enormous version of their map and carried it as a protest banner. Memorably, she called it a "giantography" and noted her realization that "for me, this demonstrated that this map had a life of its own."90 Nerea Novo, from Feminicidio.net, recounted how she had, more than once, experienced "going to a demonstration and seeing the names of the victims that you have documented, seeing them with the classification that you have given, seeing that people are debating in the middle of a demonstration why it is a femicide, what is not a femicide, why we need to ask the government to include them in the official figures."91 She was filled with pride to see her group's data on display and catalyzing debate at mass mobilizations.

Like remembering, the ethical questions for activists using data for revolt have to do with whether and how much to disclose the names and stories of victims while trying to protest structural violence. For activists, using names can be a key strategy to humanize victims and remind the public that they are more than numbers. These were two frequently stated goals, which represent – again – a refusal to let people's lives be subsumed into numbers. Yet using names and stories can re-victimize families and communities, especially when used without consent. Colectiva SJF, like most groups using data for revolt, chose to use only the first names of victims, sometimes followed by the initial of their last name (figure 6.9). The installation of empty chairs undertaken by the Mujeres de Negro Rosario (figure 6.11) has a similar ethic where the group only uses first names and does not include a photo of the person unless the family has sought them out and given their explicit permission. In the case of the three women in the foreground of the photo, such consent was granted, but the vast majority of chairs have no photo or surname because the family was not in contact with the group.

A second ethical tension lies in the aesthetic strategies used to depict individual victims within aggregate groups. Activists refuse that individuals would be seen as numbers, and yet they also refuse to keep individual cases isolated and separated. When aggregated and connected, using chairs or names or other visual strategies, these collections of unjust deaths illustrate the larger structural phenomenon of feminicide. Here, activists insist on representing data in a multiscalar way – simultaneously focusing on parts and wholes of the phenomenon of feminicide; asserting that the scale of the individual cannot be forgotten and the scale of the structural cannot be ignored. Both scales are essential and both scales are not enough on their own.

Data actions for revolt refuse the state-sanctioned silence around gender-related violence by claiming space and time to insert new necropolitical narratives. These actions claim physical public spaces associated with the state in large-scale demonstrations of dissent using data. They also claim discursive and digital spaces by circulating spectacular documentation, which persists even after the protest is over and despite the state's attempted erasure, symbolically and literally, of the phenomenon of feminicide. They claim time by capturing strategic moments of public attention. Using data for revolt often functions as what scholar-activist Joy Buolamwini has termed an evocative audit: "an evaluation of a system through a combination of human experience and documented evidence to viscerally relay harmful behavior like discrimination that has real-world impacts."92 For example, in the Zócalo action we see individual names (human experience, human scale) aggregated into a massive artwork (documented evidence, structural scale). This combination of scales functions as a powerful and evocative audit of both structural harms and their interpersonal effects.

Nevertheless, in using data for revolt, activists continue to refuse the data themselves. They refuse to allow names and people and lives to be subsumed into aggregations and counts – even as they produce counts for families to carry as banners or on maps handed out as flyers at protests. Lara from Ahora que sí nos ven stated that as they plan public interventions they are always discussing how to put a name and a face to the numbers that they have collected. Geraldina, from the Alianza in Ecuador, mentioned many times the concept of "nourishing the data point", connecting it back into its full context and into the full life-world from which it emerged93. Data actions for revolt thus embody this apparent contradiction of using data while (doubly) refusing it: using data for massive actions to refuse feminicide, while simultaneously, persistently, refusing the reduction that accompanies aggregation and abstraction. These tensions are productive – they invite us to think and feel and act, simultaneously, across scales of the matrix of domination.

Counterdata science vs. hegemonic data science

Anti-feminicide data activists circulate their data in many forms and to many audiences. If there is one major difference with hegemonic data science, it is this embrace of a multiplicity of uses of data and modalities of data communication. This constitutes an activist epistemology of data that embraces such pluralism precisely because activist data circulation is not centrally about the data themselves but about what kinds of political impacts and effects that data may support. This is to say that data plays a supporting role, but is not center stage in any of these public data actions and circulations. As Aimee from Utopix says about their public communications, "we do not center the data." [CITE] This lifts the constraint, inherited from more positivist notions of data science, that data should be neutral, rational, raw and primary material for decision-making by status quo institutions. It opens up possibilities for elevating emotion and embodiment, for speaking to more diverse audiences, and for inviting evocative and human experiences into the equation.

Groups and individuals that produce counterdata about feminicide told us repeatedly in interviews: "no somos números" – "we [women] are not numbers." This resonates with a widely circulated statement of feminist refusal called the Feminist Data Manifest-No: "We refuse to understand data as disembodied and thereby dehumanized and departicularized."94 Yet data activists told us this while also speaking about their rigorous methods of quantifying, enumerating and aggregating feminicide. There is tension that data activists feel in attempting to shift power using exactly those strategies which are associated with the power of the patriarchal, hegemonic state to allocate the differential disposability of women. They are using necropolitical tools to enact necroresistance. This relates to the famous master's tools argument advanced by Audre Lorde, who argued that "the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”95

Extending this argument to data, we might assert that data and quantification cannot eliminate feminicide and the gender-related oppression that undergirds it. As Lorde states in the same speech, "What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable."96 In their article "The numbers will not save us", information scholars Roderic Crooks and Morgan Currie build on Lorde's words to document the ways in which data-driven evidence of oppression may not serve liberatory ends. This is particularly true, they argue, for grassroots community organizers who face high emotional burdens in documenting harms and have fewer resources to enable them to extract value from data97. Where the co-authors see some liberatory potential is in the concept of agonistic data practices, the idea of using community data in affective and narrative ways (such as the many performances, vigils, installations, and social media posts that have been discussed in this chapter).

Yet no activist that we interviewed thought that more data would save us, or that it could dismantle the master's house – that is to say, for activists, data on their own would never be enough to eliminate feminicide. As Paola stated about the work of her observatory in Ecuador, "We play a minimal role in this process, which is basically a defense, a fight for rights and for a dignified life for women and for the eradication of violence. But this is collective work, work in networks, work that has to continue expanding upwards, downwards, towards all the edges that we can give it."98 As she explains it, data activists see their work as part of a larger chorus of other actors and actions, embracing pluralism to achieve transformative social change. This was, in fact, actually the point of Lorde's "master's tools" speech – it was first given in 1979 to an academic conference organized by white feminists about the lives of American women. Lorde noted how the conference did not consider race, nor sexuality, nor class, nor age. Using the master's tools in this context meant repeating the racism, heteronormativity, patriarchy and ageism inherent to academic structures. It meant failing to recognize difference and multiplicity. Lorde was calling the attendees into collective action, into pluralism, forged from exactly such difference. In the same speech she stated this: "Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist."99

Thus, the point of the master's tools argument shouldn't be to posit a binary – whether data science will or won't liberate us. This isn't a useful question in the abstract100. The question is rather around whether and how counterdata science makes pluralism and collective action possible and under which constraints. Thus, it may be more useful to look at where Bronwyn Carlson lands in her discussion of using social media to document Indigenous femicide: "Social media, however, despite its conspicuous corporatist—and colonialist—objectives, provides us with platforms we are able to seize and utilize for our own ends. These sites are where we will continue to document our deathscape archive. This is not a solution, but it is part of a solution for so many of us who have been silenced and are now refusing that (im)position."101 The italics in that quote are mine in order to emphasize the point that no activist would see social media platforms, or data, or infographics, or a data-driven artwork as a "solution". The technosolutionist realm of magical thinking is exclusively the territory of Silicon Valley – activists themselves refuse to accept such nonsense.

Activists use data because they have been able to develop creative and rigorous methods to produce it and because they strategically exploit the legitimacy that quantification and data confer on their creators. They also refuse that data would dehumanize women killed in feminicide, and they acknowledge the tension that data always carry that risk and sometimes do have that effect. Once a body has been abstracted into rows and columns it is hard to re-vivify. Activists are anti-abstraction and anti-reduction while abstracting and reducing102. They do not fully resolve this tension because it isn't resolvable. Instead, they both use and actively refuse data. They consistently navigate the tension by inserting and reasserting emotion and embodiment back into their data communications. "No number is adequate, because it's not about numbers, it's about lives," stated Geraldina Guerra from the Alianza in Ecuador103. Many of the data communications produced by activists echo this sentiment. For example, a social media post announcing Mumalá's report leads with the all caps statement:

THEY ARE NOT NUMBERS, THEY ARE LIVES THAT WERE TAKEN FROM US.104

That said, at the same time that data activists refuse the fiction that data are neutral representations of reality, they still strategically leverage such popular, positivist conceptions of data science in order to garner authority for their organizations and legitimacy for their struggle. As we saw, particularly in the case of reframing and reforming actions, activists leverage the high epistemological status of data – as a form of knowledge perceived by the media and the state to be authoritative – in order to amplify their message through the press or get a seat at the table in dialogue with the state105. Here it may appear that activists are wholeheartedly embracing data (rather than refusing – while using – data as I have been arguing). Yet if we look closer it is apparent that activists' embrace of data represents something more like an opportunistic political alliance. They leverage the authority that systematized data confer in order to effect an amplification of feminist messaging, i.e. data become a key to gaining entrance to mainstream media, to the state, and to the broader public. This is a vision of the purpose of data that is quite different from positivist claims of data as truth, the "view from above" . Rather than data as the "view from above" – representative of the best, most omniscient view of a problem– this is a more tactical view of data as "the way to get to the table". Helena Suárez Val has named these activist data practices as "strategic quantification" (which draws from Gayatri's Spivak's formulation of strategic essentialism in which groups mobilize around shared identities for purposes of political efficacy, not because they believe those categories to be correct) [CITE 4S?]. This is a final difference between counterdata science and hegemonic data science: data are not representing absolute truth or knowledge but rather a passageway to building power and amplifying the voices of grassroots feminist groups and impacted families.

Conclusion

Refusing and using data is the last stage of a feminicide counterdata science project in which activists communicate their data in a variety of forms to a variety of audiences. Anti-feminicide data activists circulate their data in order to repair and heal communities, to remember people lost to gender-related violence, to reframe media and cultural narratives around feminicide, to reform state policies and practices, and to revolt in large public demonstrations. I have argued in this chapter that activists are consistently using their data to refuse: to refuse feminicide; to refuse gender subordination; to refuse state neglect, media bias and public ignorance. Activists also refuse data itself – repeatedly refusing to reduce people's lives to numbers. Yet they refuse data while using data to enact their refusals. They refuse quantification while providing numbers to families. They refuse to forget a person's life while representing it as an empty chair, an absence. It is not that activists are inconsistent and they are not ignorant of these apparent contradictions. It is, rather, that they have developed complex ways to appropriate "the master's tools" and bend them towards necroresistance. And part of this bending involves staying with the tensions of refusing while using data and using while refusing data.

While refusing and using data is the ostensibly "final" stage of a counterdata science project from my diagram in figure 2.4, the reality is that communicating and circulating data is always taking place in parallel with researching and recording cases (Chapters 4 and 5). What activists learn from their labor in these three stages doubles back to inform the analysis of power and theories of change that I described in resolving (Chapter 3). These stages are helpful to differentiate characteristics of data activist labor, but they are not linear and they are often all unfolding simultaneously in a given feminicide counterdata project. The other reason this stage is truly not "final" is because the work continues. It continues especially for the many activist observatory projects that aspire to monitor continuously – and ostensibly without end. For these projects, the end is when the violence has been eliminated. As Audrey Mugeni from Counting Dead Women in Kenya stated directly: "One of the things I realized is that, for us, counting was also a form of saying no to violence, that this all needs to stop, because it's what is leading to all of these deaths. It was a form of us saying, 'No, this can't continue. We cannot continue talking to one another like this. We cannot continue with corporal punishment. We cannot continue with the violence in our homes. This all needs to stop.'"106

Comments
1
?
Alexis Henshaw:

One question that lingers for me about mapping projects is whether groups have also encountered/discussed potential privacy issues. Similar to the Bolivia example mentioned in this chapter, I can imagine there may be concerns in small or rural communities about mapping efforts potentially compromising anonymity, stigmatizing communities where reporting is higher, etc.