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In steak-mad Argentina, women’s work is increasingly butchering the meat.




Cordoba, Argentina – It takes only a brisk walk through Mercado Norte, a nearly century-old food market hall in this city, to discern that in this most carnivorous of countries, meat is the domain of men. Behind the glass counters of the carnicerias, or butcher shops, that make up most of the market’s food stalls, male butchers hold court, knives in hand, while women, if there are any to be seen, are relegated to the cash register.

The gorily stained apron that hangs from her neck identifies Maru Diaz as the exception to the rule.

On a recent Tuesday, Diaz worked alongside two other butchers, both men, to sculpt from goat carcasses recognizable retail cuts: racks of ribs, tenderloins and bone-in legs, whose meat has become a popular filling for empanadas. This is not a task for the faint-hearted. It begins by hoisting the 23kg (50-pound) animal on a hook, chopping off its head and hacking a knife along its backbone to cut the carcass in half.

“I work in a man’s world,” Diaz said matter-of-factly with goat heads piled up around her feet in what almost appears to be a religious ritual. Some men, after seeing her wield a knife or cleaver, have expressed their surprise in condescending comments that rankle her: “Be careful. You’ll hurt yourself,” or warnings to beware the “armed woman”.

“I like what I do,” said the 36-year-old, her black hair tied up in a bun. “But you have to really want it.”

And it seems more and more women are wanting it.

The butcher’s shop, like ‘Disneyland’

Women like Diaz are increasingly making their mark in the industry, raising their profile while working behind meat counters, and a few are even opening carnicerias of their own. At the same time, new training opportunities aim to further democratize the workplace and spread butchering know-how, creating more on-ramps for women and other outsiders.

The traditional Asado is seen during the 4th Federal Barbecue Competition in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The traditional asado is seen during the Federal Barbecue Competition in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2022 [File: Muhammed Emin Canik/Anadolu /Getty Images]

It’s a shift that carries outsized symbolic weight in meat-loving Argentina, where the asado, or barbecue, is king, where carnicerias dot nearly every city block and where locals are defying a crippling economic crisis and triple-digit inflation to retain their title as the world’s biggest steak consumers per capita. More even than the tango or Malbec wine or Borges or the legend of Maradona – well, maybe not Maradona – steak is the centrepiece of Argentinians’ identity.

Macarena Zarza, 29, understands this all too well. She got her first job at a butcher shop as a teenager, a product of chance and necessity. She had dreamed of a career in law enforcement but dropped out of high school to help support her family after her father died of cancer. She responded to an ad for a cleaner at her neighborhood carniceria in the sprawling Buenos Aires metro area.

Months passed, then years. When a co-worker who was responsible for making milanesas, or breaded cutlets, was out sick, she filled in for him. Later, the bosses tasked her with grinding beef, pressing hamburgers and deboning some cuts of meat. Before long, she was spending her lunch breaks and evening hours shadowing other butchers and learning to carve from her boss.

“It took me two years to get to the counter,” Zarza said.

The more Zarza learned, the more her passion grew. She now speaks of the need to “respect” carcasses when butchering and compares her passion for the trade to most Argentinians’ fervor for the national football team. She opened her own carniceria, where she singlehandedly butchers 15 head of cattle per week, and travelled to France to refine her skills with master artisans. More satisfyingly, she won over customers who initially told her a butcher shop was no place for women or that they’d rather wait for a male butcher to clock in before they put in their order. Nowadays, Zarza manages a meat processing plant that supplies area carnicerias.

“I never got a degree or a diploma,” she said. “But I show people what I can do with my knives.”

More women finding work as butchers in meat-loving Argentina
Maru Diaz readies the tools of her trade [Lautaro Grinspan/Al Jazeera]

Victoria Vago’s path to becoming a butcher hinged on a career turnaround. A political science graduate, she said she always felt “like at Disneyland” whenever she found herself surrounded by meat at a butcher shop. In 2018, she quit her office job in the Buenos Aires city government to apprentice at a local carniceria.

She never looked back.

Good technique better than sheer strength

Vago and Zarza said people who can’t countenance female butchers tend to see muscle and brawn as job prerequisites. But that’s a misconception, and a tired one at that. With training and a solid grasp on carving techniques, women can run a carniceria just as well as any male counterpart. In fact, an overreliance on physical strength during the butchering process could be a sign that something is awry, they said. In Vago and Zarza’s telling, butchering at its best is a kind of art form with butcher knives closer in spirit to a sculptor’s chisel than a miner’s pickaxe.

“Strength is just one part of it. If you’re working in a place that’s properly equipped, if you have good knife technique and you know where to cut, you’ll be fine,” said Vago, who at 157cm (5ft 2 inches) weighs less than half a typical side of beef.

“Technique is what makes this not … just a man’s job any more,” Zarza added.

While there’s no official data tracking the gender gap in Argentina’s meat industry, women last year reached their highest level of overall workforce participation in the country’s history, according to government reports.

Conversations about the Argentinian meat industry tend to spotlight the word “herencia”, or inheritance. That’s because, for all the national fervor around meat and despite the ubiquity of carnicerias across the country, becoming a butcher is still a haphazard process with no formal pipeline or vocational training programmes for aspiring butchering talent.

That informality tends to reinforce the male structure of the industry. Male butchers tap their sons, nephews or friends to work at – and one day take over – their businesses, and they also inherit their appreciation for the vocation.

“Butchering knowledge is based around family,” Zarza said.

Luis Barcos is trying to change that.

Training Argentina’s next generation of butchers

A veterinarian by training, Barcos is known for introducing the wagyu breed of beef cattle to Argentina in the late 1990s. He has presided over the national food safety agency and currently serves as the sole Argentinian member of the French Academy of Meat. His most recent venture is the Buenos Aires-based Institute of Meat Sciences and Trades, which will later this year debut a butchering course, a mix of classroom education and hands-on workshops.

“A school to train butchers never existed in Argentina,” Barcos said. “Passing on the trade from a father to his son or from a boss to his employee is a type of knowledge transfer that is very valid, and it has created a big labour force, but I thought we could make something more standardised, more professionalised.”

A shift towards standardisation “would without a doubt really boost the participation of women in the industry” he said.

More women finding work as butchers in meat-loving Argentina
More women are finding work as butchers in meat-loving Argentina [Lautaro Grinspan/Al Jazeera]

The Institute of Meat Sciences and Trades boasts support from heavy hitters like the University of Buenos Aires, multiple federal agencies, a leading meat industry publication and the French embassy in Argentina. (Barcos’s dream is for Argentinian butchers to command the same reverence and respect in Argentina as French food artisans do in their country.) But other, more homespun training initiatives are also taking off.

In the sparsely populated province of La Rioja, located in the mountainous Argentinian northeast, Soledad Andreoli co-owns a slaughterhouse and a local chain of carnicerias. This month, she launched a free “school for women butchers” by turning part of the slaughterhouse floor into a training facility.

Andreoli’s ambition is to give local working-class women better job prospects because most struggle to find opportunities outside domestic work, a field in which slightly more than 97 percent of workers are female. She also hopes to help accelerate change inside a “machista” industry that she says has systematically excluded women.

“Cultural changes, cultural revolutions don’t take place all of a sudden. They’re gradual. … To break down barriers, you need to find that starting point, contribute your grain of sand.”

Women working in carnicerias is “a change that is … here to stay”, she said.

“We are in another era now.”

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North Korea conducts test on new ‘super-large warhead’: State media





Pyongyang says new warhead designed for cruise missiles, adding that a new anti-aircraft rocket was also tested.

North Korea has conducted a test on a “super-large warhead” designed for a strategic cruise missile, state media reports, adding that it also launched a new type of anti-aircraft missile.

“The DPRK Missile Administration has conducted a power test of a super-large warhead designed for ‘Hwasal-1 Ra-3’ strategic cruise missile”, KCNA news agency reported on Saturday, referring to North Korea by an abbreviation for its official name – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea also carried out a test launch on Friday afternoon of a “Pyoljji-1-2”, which state media said was a “new-type anti-aircraft missile”.

KCNA added that “a certain goal was attained” through the test without providing further details.

The weapons tests were part of the “regular activities of the administration and its affiliated defence science institutes”, KCNA reported, referencing the operation of “new-type weapon systems”.

The tests “had nothing to do with the surrounding situation”, KCNA added, but did not give any further information.

In early April, North Korea said it had tested a new medium-to-long-range solid-fuel hypersonic missile, with state media sharing a video of it being launched as leader Kim Jong Un looked on.

Cruise missiles are among a growing collection of North Korean weapons designed to overwhelm regional missile defences. They supplement the North’s vast arsenal of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental variants, which are said to be aimed at the continental United States.

Analysts say anti-aircraft missile technology is an area where North Korea could benefit from its deepening military cooperation with Russia, as the two countries align in the face of their separate, intensifying confrontations with the US.

The US and South Korea have accused the North of providing artillery shells and other equipment to Russia to help extend its warfighting ability in Ukraine.

Since its second nuclear test in 2009, Pyongyang has been under heavy international sanctions, but the development of its nuclear and weapons programmes has continued unabated.



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Ecuador weighs security, international arbitration in latest referendum





Quito, Ecuador – He was elected president at a time of crisis, as Ecuador’s murder rate skyrocketed and gang violence seeped across the country.

Now, Ecuadorian leader Daniel Noboa is taking a plan of action to the voters, with an 11-part referendum on Sunday.

The referendum includes a wide range of proposals, from the militarisation of Ecuador’s police to tougher punishments for crimes like drug trafficking, murder and money laundering.

But Sunday’s vote is set to go beyond beefed-up security practices. One question, for example, aims to reform the judiciary system. Another considers whether arbitration should be the default approach to settling international financial disputes.

Noboa has been pushing for Ecuadorians to vote in favour of all 11 ballot measures, in an effort to streamline the economy and stamp out gang violence.

“Voting yes will strengthen our laws and leave no opportunities for those criminals who wish to joke with our justice [system] with the help of corrupt lawmen,” Noboa said in a public event on Monday.

But the broad nature of the proposals has prompted concern, with critics wondering what the consequences could be for human rights, the economy and efforts to stabilise Ecuador’s security situation.

Some have even questioned whether the referendum reflects a shift towards the “mano dura” or “iron fist” policies popular in countries like El Salvador, where human rights organisations have warned of false imprisonment and a lack of due process.

Daniel Noboa speaks into a microphone.
Daniel Noboa has made the national security referendum a goal of his presidency [Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo]

Limited opposition

Still, only one major political group in the country has consistently called for Ecuadorians to vote “no” on all 11 ballot measures: the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The group has accused the government of exploiting the referendum to further Noboa’s political ambitions, as the country approaches its 2025 general election.

Noboa — a 36-year-old politician and heir to a banana industry fortune — was sworn in last November to serve an abbreviated 18-month term, after the departure of embattled President Guillermo Lasso. But he is widely expected to run for a full term in the next race.

In a virtual forum on April 11, CONAIE president Leonidas Iza called the referendum a chance for Noboa to rally support.

“The government needs to consolidate its strength to impose neoliberal policies,” Iza said.

Referendums, he added, are costly to organise, and he called for the policies to instead be considered in Ecuador’s National Assembly.

Another CONAIE leader, Agustin Cachipuendo, was later quoted in the newspaper El Universo as saying any repercussions from the vote would disproportionately fall on marginalised groups.

“This government does not know poverty [but] makes decisions that affect the poor,” he said.

Soldiers in fatigues and combat gear walk through fields in rural Ecuador.
Soldiers patrol during a presidential visit to dairy farms in Poalo, Ecuador, on March 21 [Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo]

Rallying public support

Nevertheless, the referendum enjoys relatively broad public support. According to the research institute Comunicaliza, 42.7 percent of voters plan to back Noboa’s proposals.

Still, another 27.5 percent said they have not made up their minds yet.

Maria, a 48-year-old resident of Guayaquil who asked to use a pseudonym for her safety, is among those supporting the president’s measures to tighten security in the country.

Her city has been at the forefront of the crisis. In January, for instance, a criminal group stormed a local TV station during a live broadcast and held employees at gunpoint, generating international outcry.

Maria explained she had been targeted by a criminal group herself: They blackmailed her by threatening her children. But she said she feels safer thanks to the state of emergency Noboa imposed in January, which allowed the military to be deployed to city streets.

“Policemen and soldiers have been patrolling the borough in these months, so we can finally sleep tight at night,” Maria told Al Jazeera.

She credits the soldiers with curbing the violence in her neighbourhood. The referendum could pave the way for the military to have a permanent role in policing, something Maria hopes will happen.

“If they will leave us, what happens then? This is what everyone is worried about,” she said.

A soldier stands in shadow in front of a row of orange-clad prisoners.
A soldier guards cell block 3 of the militarised Litoral prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on February 9 [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

Searching for a permanent fix

Noboa’s government has argued that the referendum is a necessary step to curb the wave of violence that has rattled the country since 2018.

Declaring a state of emergency, officials argue, is only a temporary solution.

“The general purpose of the [referendum] is to establish some permanent mechanisms, breaking the cycle of enacting emergency decrees and then going back to business as usual,” said the government spokesperson Roberto Izurieta in an interview with local television station Teleamazonas.

The state of emergency granted the government additional powers, allowing officials to impose a curfew and take stronger action against gangs.

Under the state of emergency, for instance, Noboa’s government labelled 22 criminal groups as “terrorist” organisations, clearing the way for the police and military to focus extra resources towards combatting them.

Security forces also seized 77 tonnes of drugs and detained 18,736 people, 300 of whom have since been accused of terrorism. According to the authorities, violent deaths have reduced by 26 percent since Noboa took office.

But in early April, the state of emergency came to an end. Ferdinando Carrion, a security expert, believes some of the reforms in the referendum could help Noboa to continue his campaign against the violence, but more structural reforms are needed.

“They achieved good results in the first two months,” Carrion said of the government’s state of emergency. “But it looks like the effect has been exhausted.”

He pointed to Ecuador’s prison system as a particular area of vulnerability. Investigations have shown that criminal organisations use prisons as spaces through which they can run their operations.

But under the state of emergency, the military was allowed to intervene. Carrion said that produced positive results.

“They intervened in 18 prisons out of 36, managing to sever [the gang leaders’] relations with the outside,” Carrion explained.

“But the minute the army leaves the prisons and gives them back to the national service SNAI, they will return to business as usual, since it has shown problems of efficiency, corruption and collusion.”

Carrion would like to see even greater reforms to government agencies like SNAI, beyond what is on the ballot on Sunday.

“Strengthening our institutions is paramount,” he told Al Jazeera, calling for the creation of a new body to replace SNAI.

A tank sits in front of a Guayaquil prison
The Ecuadorian government has deployed the military to control prisons like the one in Guayaquil [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

Elections in the crosshairs

Still, some analysts question the efficacy of the referendum, even if it is successful.

Carla Alvarez, a professor studying security at the National Institute for Higher Studies, believes that the referendum will fall short of addressing the country’s gang crisis.

“No query made for public consultation will damage the structure of criminal organisations,” she told Al Jazeera.

She echoed concerns that the referendum has done more to bolster Noboa’s public image than to address the roots of crime in Ecuador.

Many experts trace the rise in the violence to Ecuador’s strategic location between the two largest cocaine producers in the world, Colombia and Peru.

They also point out that Ecuador’s economy was significantly weakened during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving unemployed youth vulnerable to gang recruitment.

But Alvarez said Noboa’s emphasis on holding the referendum is also motivated by his future ambitions. “This vote is happening in the middle of an electoral race. And this allows the president to revive his image on social media and achieve more visibility.”

The security situation has a direct impact on the integrity of Ecuador’s democracy. In the lead-up to the snap election last August, a presidential candidate running on an anticorruption platform was gunned down outside of a rally.

And in recent months, politicians have continued to be targets of the spike in violence.

Five mayors have been shot dead since the year began, the most recent murder unfolding on Friday, just days before Sunday’s vote.

The slain mayor, Jorge Maldonado of Portovelo, was the third to be killed in less than a month. His death followed that of Mayor Brigitte Garcia of San Vicente and Mayor Jose Sanchez of Camilo Ponce Enriquez.

Suspects kneel in front of armed police officers. In front of them is a blue table with guns arrayed as evidence.
Suspects and weapons are displayed for reporters at a police station in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on January 11, shortly after a TV station was stormed during a live broadcast [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

Chance of a split vote

Critics like Alvarez underscore that referendums are no silver bullet to the security crisis.

Rather, they are a relatively common political tool. Since 2006, Ecuadorians have been asked to express their will through referendums nine times, on issues ranging from oil exploration to presidential term limits.

Paulina Recalde, director of pollster Perfiles de Opinion, also questions whether Sunday’s referendum will create the groundswell of support Noboa seeks.

While Noboa is angling for approval on all 11 items, Recalde’s research suggests that voters will not unanimously back all the proposals.

“Since the very beginning, we never found an overall majority. People won’t vote the same in all the 11 queries,” she said.

Recalde also said there was confusion over the vote. According to her research, 68 percent of respondents knew little or nothing about the referendum a month ago.

She added that the power outages Ecuador is currently experiencing — as well as a controversial police raid on Mexico’s embassy in Quito — could dent Noboa’s popularity, regardless of the vote’s outcome.

“If people vote yes to expand the role of the military, does it mean that they are providing strong support for the president? I would say no,” she said.

An armed soldier in a helmet stands guard on a Quito city street.
A member of Ecuador’s security forces stands guard outside the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Quito, Ecuador, on April 16 [Karen Toro/Reuters]

Arbitration on the ballot

One of the most controversial ballot measures in Sunday’s referendum asks Ecuadorians to implement a system of “international arbitration” to resolve conflicts between the state and private foreign investors.

In international arbitration, a third neutral party is used to reach a binding decision that settles any claims.

Supporters of the measure feel arbitration could safeguard foreign investment in Ecuador, thereby boosting the country’s economy.

“In a dollarised economy like Ecuador, we need an increase in strong direct foreign investments aligned with our public policies,” said Eric Vinueza, investment counsellor for the Corporation for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (Corpei) who supports the measure.

But activists have criticised this proposal as a tool to discourage the government from enacting environmental reforms that might disadvantage foreign mining interests and other overseas companies.

With arbitration, foreign investors could file complaints and negotiate settlements behind closed doors, leaving the public no recourse to appeal.

“These are private and unilateral judicial spaces which allow transnational companies to sue the states, where the states are only able to defend themselves,” said Ivonne Ramos, a mining expert at the NGO Accion Ecologica.

In the 2008 constitution, Ecuador prohibited any international agreement that would limit its national sovereignty, including through international arbitration.

Sunday’s referendum would undo that protection. Ramos added that international arbitration could come with steep expenses for taxpayers.

Ecuador already owes $2.9 trillion to foreign companies. It is currently involved in 29 different lawsuits before international tribunals, with half of the complaints related to mining and fossil fuels.

“Three of the eight pending procedures could cost more than another $10 trillion, which is our national budget for education and health for 2024,” Ramos said.

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What’s the solution to the rising tensions between Israel and Iran?





The United States says it was warned in advance of the Israeli drone strike on Iran.

Iran has shot down Israeli drones in the latest confrontation on Friday.

There have been global calls for restraint – with both East and West fearful of what further conflict could mean for the region and the world.

So, what is the thinking in Iran and Israel? And what is next?

Presenter: Elizabeth Puranam


Mohammad Marandi – Dean of the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran

Gideon Levy – Columnist for the Haaretz Newspaper

Roxane Farmanfarmaian – Professor of Modern Middle East Politics at the University of Cambridge

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