So, after years of struggle by millions of Argentina’s citizens, the Argentinian Senate voted on August 8 to reject a bill to make abortion legal in the first fourteen weeks of pregnancy. The Senate vote was close – 38 to 31. The Senators deliberated for seventeen hours, till 3am. The tensions inside Argentina’s society spilled into the Senate chambers.
At issue is the fact that the lack of legal abortion led to clandestine abortions, which has led to the deaths of over three thousand women in the past twenty-five years (this number is a very low estimate). Close to two-thirds of Argentina’s population supported the bill. In June, the lower house of the Argentinian parliament – the Chamber of Deputies – voted to move along the new bill. This bill would overturn Article 86 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws abortion. But, with intense pressure from the conservative bloc (including the Catholic Church), the Senate buckled. Not enough Senators crossed over to vote for this essential public health bill.
Clearly, this was going to be a difficult fight. When the Chamber of Deputies considered the bill on June 13, a million people took to the streets across Argentina. That vote was also very close: 129 for the bill and 125 against it. This time, everyone knew that the pressure needed to be much fiercer. ‘If for 13J we were a million’, it was being said in reference to the June 13 protests, ‘we have to be 2 million this time’. Indeed, the streets were full. For the second time in two months, the main towns and cities of Argentina were filled with an array of people – many trade unions and human rights groups, many feminist groups and millions of young people. The writer Luciana Peker called this ‘the daughters’ revolution’. The colour of the fight for abortion is green. On a cold and rainy day, the streets became green. It was impossible to see anything other than this colour of life.
Ni Una Menos.
The current movement has been building up for a long time. It has been the subject of two important recent books – Luciana Peker’s La revolución de las mujeres: no era sólo una píldora(The Women’s Revolution Was Not Just a Pill) and Mabel Bellucci’s Historia de una desobendiencia: aborto y feminism(History of Disobedience: Abortion and Feminism). Both these books take us backwards into the past and forwards into the future. The attitude of this feminism is clear in Bellucci’s title, disobedient to the current order.
On June 3, 2015 tens of thousands of people went on the streets of the country with the slogan – Ni Una Menos– Not One Less. They wanted a society without machismo and femicides. This movement drew from a long history of Argentine feminism that sees its origins in the fight for the vote and then comes forward to the fights against human trafficking, sexual abuse, domestic inequality and rights for women workers.
The Argentinian use of the slogan Ni Una Menosis openly an homage to the Mexican poet Susana Chávez, whose slogan – Ni una muerta más(Not one more woman dead) – emerged out of the deadly violence against women workers along the US-Mexico border – but particularly in the city of Ciudad Juárez. Chávez was herself assassinated in 2011 in that town. She was only 36. There is internationalism at the heart of this struggle. A great sense of possibility came with the vote for abortion rights in both Chile (2017) and Ireland (2018), two largely Catholic countries that went against the Vatican and their own church hierarchy. The creation of Paro Internacional de Mujeres/International Women’s Strike emerges out of this dynamic.
It is clear to the ‘new wave’ of fighters that their goal is not merely to make abortion legal. Their goal is to defeat the right-wing conservatism and machismo that makes society ugly. Women’s emancipation is at the heart of it. As the title of Peker’s book puts it, the women’s revolution is not just about a pill. It is about much more, including the destruction of patriarchy in all its forms.
Two hashtags from this movement offer a sense of the popular confidence that a new age will dawn – YaGanamos (We Already Won) and EstoReciénEmpieza (This Has Just Begun). There is a generational shift in Argentina. Young women have walked to the good side of history. They do not accept conservative social norms, nor are they governed in all aspects by the Catholic Church. But this is not a fight of women alone. Young men share their attitudes, eager to build a new kind of Argentina.
The World Health Organisation says that each year about 25 million dangerous abortions are conducted. The numbers of women who die or do not properly recover from these operations is not well-documented. This is a serious global public health issue.
It is also more than that. It is about patriarchal domination of state policy, a patriarchy that has been strengthened by religious authority. The Argentinian novelist Claudia Piñero made the point that what scares the old order is women’s desire. Backward interests in Argentina, she writes, ‘are appalled at the desire of women. That’s why they condemn, punish and criminalise it. In their eyes, women – without exception – are born to be mothers. They have established that as our aim, although it is not our will’. That last phrase is the essential one – it is not our will. That has been shown by the millions of people who have taken to the streets and have said that they will continue their fight.
Nayla Pis Diez and Vijay Prashad both work at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. Nayla is a Researcher in the Buenos Aires (Argentina) office, while Vijay is the Executive Director.