In the weeks before, during and after May 28, the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, we are doing a series on how stigma shows up for national campaigns across the world fighting for abortion rights, from the perspective of inroads members who participate in and lead these movements. We have Spotlights on campaigns in Ireland, Malawi and here we present a spotlight on Argentina.
In Argentina, recently there has been a great wave of activism for free, safe and legal abortion but we learn that the work for this process of what is called “social decriminalization” began generations ago. Lola Guerra, member of inroads, who is part of Catholics for the Right to Decide and the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion in Argentina tells us more about what activism is happening in Argentina.
How have generations of Argentine women worked to change the attitude in Argentina from people who previously never accepted green handkerchiefs, to a movement that increased so much that the green fabric in Argentina ran out?
In the national meetings of women that take place every year in our country in a different city and in which thousands of women are found, the national campaign for the right to safe, free and legal abortion arose. This is an intergenerational, intersectoral and national movement with the participation from all the provinces. From this space we work collectively for the right to abortion. At the beginning, people did not want to receive the handkerchiefs, nor did they listen to us or want to sign their names back when used to collect signatures in the street for legal abortion. At the beginning there were a few of us who were mobilizing while anti-rights people came to throw holy water at us. We paid a lot of political costs for being feminists and for being in favor of abortion. I was part of a student organization where I was violated due to my position for the right to abortion, they even told me to take off my green handkerchief in various political events. Over the years we saw that the membership was growing, and more and more people were encouraged to use the handkerchief and adhere to the campaign. Accessions came from universities, youth groups began to hold talks on this subject. We took the political decision to install the issue of abortion in the youth agenda and I led that process from the area of Youth of Catholics for the Right to Decide. In the last 2 women’s meeting we had already seen a very big adhesion to our struggle but when the debate was opened in the congress was when all that was building for so many years paid off. It did not just sail from one moment to another but there were many years of activism behind the explosion. We went from a moment when people did not receive the green handkerchief to when they would call to ask for handkerchiefs, we had to make more and more, and so many green handkerchiefs were made that in Argentina the green fabric had run out for a few weeks. They had to import more green cloth. What we lived was a dream, it is not that we never believed living something like that but the initial passivity was incredible. There were a million women when the law was passed in deputies and 2 million when we lost in senators.
How does the movement work to break the prevailing stigmas within the movement itself? How does the movement work to completely humanize and normalize abortion?
We have achieved the social decriminalization of abortion, that is a victory, it is no longer a taboo subject, there has been talk of abortion everywhere, schools, houses, universities, television channels, radios, public institutions. There is not a single person who has not been challenged by this debate. We still notice that certain stigmas continue to be reproduced on the right to abortion and we work with messages that are particularly blameworthy from Catholics for the Right to Decide. In a Catholic society, such as Argentina, we share Catholic arguments in favor of the right to decide as the fact that the Virgin Mary was consulted to be a mother, that the code of canon law is more permissive than the current legislation on abortion, we speak of an inclusive Church that accompanies women and not that condemns them. We have made an audiovisual material with funding from inroads that tell stories of Catholic women who aborted, that material has been one of our most watched videos on our YouTube channel.
What are the dominant challenges of working and creating a movement in the countryside / provinces of Argentina?
The provinces of the North of our country tend to have a greater presence of religious fundamentalisms and societies are more conservative, however we do continue to strengthen our movement in the provinces. For example, I am from Córdoba, a province in the middle of the country where we have hindered access to abortion due to a judicial action by a religious fundamentalist organization. In the provinces we have and continue to live a lot of persecution. During the debate on the law, young people were thrown out of the schools because of going with the handkerchief, a 16-year-old girl who spoke in senators in favor of abortion was expelled from her school. A young fellow woman from the province of Tucumán was kicked out of her job for filing a complaint against public officials who tortured a girl by not allowing her to have an abortion allowed by law. Recently a companion of Catholics for the Right to Decide, Soledad Deza, who is a lawyer and was the defender in the famous Bethlehem case, has been criminally denounced to intimidate her by an anti-rights and misogynist teacher. The cause does not make legal sense and organizations from all over the country have expressed their support for Soledad. They also publicly intimidated a compañera in the province of Santiago del Estero referring to the campaign for the right to abortion. Several compañeras have received threats because of their position in relation to the abortion debate. This leads us to reflect on the attacks suffered by human rights defenders, especially in the provinces. That is why it is important to continue working and support those who bravely raise the flag for the freedom of women by taking so many risks.
How do you all work to combat stigma within the church?
We create and disseminate materials against the stigma for the right to abortion from a feminist theology perspective. A year ago we created the Catholic Youth Network for the Right to Decide in several provinces of the country. In the same way we work at the national level in interreligious alliances of progressive faith groups.
What role is the new feminist generation playing in Argentina to change thoughts and systems?
The new feminist generations come with everything. It’s wonderful to hear them. I am 29 years old and I already feel that my speeches and positions are old in comparison with the younger ones. I believe that the great virtue of our movement is that it has managed to come together in an intergenerational process where women of all ages dialogue and build collectively and where the trajectory and experience of the older women are combined with the fresh ideas of the youngest.
In inroads, we have many members from Argentina and we learn several things from their continuous and tireless struggle for the right for safe, free and legal abortion. We also observe how the ‘green tide’ is gaining strength throughout Latin America, and we are interested in continuing the conversation with our members in the region on the process of social decriminalization, movement building and stigma.