2020 was the most difficult year of the last decade, but it ended giving a lot of hope to feminist movements in Latin-America. The green wave that has been sweeping all around Argentina since 2018, gained power, and just one day before the end of the year, the movements in the country achieved a historical victory with the pass of the bill on the Argentinian Senate, to decriminalize abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy. The result of this voting reflects a long-lasting and historical fight, which bonds generations and makes us – young feminists, immersed in quite conservative and reactionary contexts in the region – remember what is possible to achieve.
The victory in Argentina brings immediate effects on the lives of girls, women and anyone who can become pregnant. They must now remain hypervigilant in ensuring that this law is enforced to guarantee fulfillment of the rights they have conquered. There has also been a huge resonance in all Latin-American countries, encouraging activists and inspiring the debate on the subject. The images of our victorious sisters thrilled, filled with love and celebrating this historical achievement in the streets of Buenos Aires encourages us to add an item on the 2021 resolutions list: keep fighting to make sure that one day #sealey (it becomes law) for all of us. Last January, Chilean Congress started to debate the decriminalization. That same month, a reform was discussed in Honduras, but reactionary forces prevailed, and legislation prohibiting abortion was tightened. The activists in the country promised they won’t give up.
To celebrate the decriminalization of abortion in Argentina, FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund invited advisors and grantee partners in Latin America to share about the situation in their countries, and also to express their reflections about the importance of this victory to the region.
We open with this analysis shared by grantee partner No Tan Distintas, from Argentina. They highlight the need for feminist movements to keep alert in face of the reactions of conservative and fundamentalist sectors to the decriminalization:
“The conquest of the law that guarantees legal, safe and free abortion in Argentina since the end of 2020 is the product of decades-long struggle by feminist movements in our country. At the same time, we need to emphasize that it occurs at the same time that we have a popular national government, which made it possible for the necessary correlation of forces in Congress for this achievement. It is at the intersection of cultural, social and political struggles that the conditions for the approval of the law were generated. We are thrilled and happy, but we continue attentive to make sure the law is enforced, because right-wing representatives and religious fundamentalisms do not give up, they are furious and they are going to try to sabotage our rights with mechanisms such as conscientious objector and judicial representations to question its constitutional validity. We will keep fighting at all spheres, but we have the recognition of the right to decide on our side, as well as the certainty that, together, we will continue to transform the reality, to make the patriarchy shake and, finally, we will defeat it. May the abortion is legal in all Latin America! Stay strong, comrades! Feminist hugs from Argentina!”
Also from Argentina, Ludmila Martínez Catinari, FRIDA advisor who was present at the moments when the bill was voted by Congress, shares her memories of the December 30th, 2020, making us all feel the emotion of that day:
“It was and it is so amazing and powerful for me to be part of the green wave that took it to the streets, raising our voices, fighting for legal abortion, fighting for the right to make decisions about our own bodies. Pure feminist energy and enthusiasm. Besides the difficult context due to the pandemic, I had the chance to follow the voting of the bill both by congressmen and senators, and it is in fact quite hard to find the words to describe what we felt when it finally passed.
A huge party took the streets. Unlike the voting in the House of Representatives, we didn’t know what was going to happen in the Senate until a few hours before the session started. Minutes before the beginning, friends and feminist fellows started to sing and jump in front of one of the screens that were set up in front of the Congress. The moment the vote began the silence took the streets. We kept hugging during the session. At each yes for the bill, we celebrated and then, we remained in silence again, until all the votes were counted: 38 votes in favor, 29 against and just 1 abstention. Finally, the bill was approved, and the free abortion had become LAW. The streets immediately were full of screams, jumps, hugs, and tears of happiness. The joy and emotion were so overwhelming that it is indeed quite difficult to describe them. Writing these memories gives me goosebumps. Right after the approval, I went to see my mother, who was a few meters away. We met, hugged, and cried for a few minutes. She has also been a feminist activist for many years. We could not believe that it had finally become law. It was like we were in shock.
Then, I started to remember all the fights and the path that we had to go through, next to thousands of feminist sisters in 2018, when the green wave became bigger, some years after the first big march #NiUnaMenos in 2015. Since 2018, the discussion on the legalization of abortion was massively installed in the agenda of society, in the media and in politics. Abortion became a subject debated everywhere, in families, among friends, in schools, in offices, all over the country. I remembered hundreds of activities I did with my group in the university: “pañuelazos”, forums in universities, assemblies. Also, every “green Tuesday” we participated in the activities organized in front of the Congress. I also remembered the assemblies and sit-ins the days before the vote.
The green handkerchief had become a uniform, our insignia, our badge, our shield. Leaving home without it was like feeling empty. And when we crossed paths with someone wearing a green handkerchief, we felt safe, connected. It became our symbol, and we wore it everywhere – in backpacks, in handbags, as a bracelet, necklace or headband. From then on, I can’t stop wearing it.
I’m convinced that in 2018 we took a huge step from the moment that talking about abortion was not a taboo anymore, and we learnt that more people than we ever thought had done it. After the frustration, the anger and the sadness that we felt on that cold night in August 2018, when senators didn’t pass the bill, we continued working together and organized. With all our strengths, we were able to keep the issue in the agenda. Finally, December 2020 came, the bill passed, and it became law: no more clandestine abortions!!!! Thanks to the women who pioneered the debate many years ago. Thanks to the feminist and social organizations, to the Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, and to the green wave.
We know that the fight does not end here, that we will have to continue demanding that the law is really implemented in the country. We will continue fighting for the separation of the church from the state, to end violence and live in a more just society. I am sure that this step we took in my country is an impulse for the green wave for legal abortion to grow in other countries. I am sure that feminist strength crosses borders. From Argentina, we will be supporting these fights. Latin America is going to be all feminist”.
Ludmila’s words resonate in Mérida, México, where FRIDA grantee partner Reflexión y Acción Feminista greets their Argentinean colleagues and reaffirms the resistance for the emancipation of all bodies. In Mexico, legislation varies from state to state, and only in Mexico City and Oaxaca the abortion is legal and free until the 12th week of pregnancy.
“We want to extend our greetings to our Argentinean colleagues, the activists, the feminists, the ones who have been there unconditionally, and the ones who have exercised freedom over their bodies. We celebrate with our body full of joy, and our hearts pounding really hard thanks to this big step that was made in benefit to advance in the full exercise of the rights of all women in Argentina. Let’s not lose sight of the path towards the liberation of all bodies for all women and people with the capacity to abort, let’s go together, for all rights. We will not accept nothing less. It’s our lives, it’s our decisions too. For a free, feminist and supported abortion!”
Also from Mexico, the advisor Massiel Hernandéz points out the struggles that feminist movements still face in the country when it comes to the right to free and legal abortion:
“Despite regulations and legal advances, the reality for women in Mexico is harsh. When the interruption of pregnancy is authorized by law, women face institutional violence by the denial to provide access to services and by not enforcing the causes in the different penal codes. Compared to other countries in Latin American, we lead on adolescent pregnancy indexes. The promotion and dissemination of sexual and reproductive rights are not respected by institutions or by the state, which continues to expose women to vulnerability and violence, due to the lack of access to information that allow them to freely exercise or demand rights. Decriminalization in Argentina gives us hope, but it also opens up reflections on the challenges that we face to organize in such a large and diverse country, to collect information and understand the different contexts, violences and realities that we have both in Mexico and throughout Abya Yala. I think that we have learned a lot in this journey, with a very conservative political scenario in which groups opposing basic rights don’t stop attacking on all fronts, with fascist and classist speeches and actions. I believe that the Argentinian victory has invariably strengthened my context, reaffirmed my convictions, and also opened space for many doubts and questions. I always keep in mind that the autonomy of our bodies is the revolution that we live every day, and neither the state, nor the church, nor anyone else can take it away from us, or legislate over it”.
Karen Viviani is a FRIDA advisor in Chile, where legal abortion is subject to conditions such as risk to the health of the pregnant person, rape and non-viable fetal development. She points out that the criminalization of the abortion makes class privileges evident in the country:
“If we talk about sexual and reproductive health in Chile, we directly address a class privilege
It is not a coincidence that the last social debate around this topic was that the Chilean public health system “violated” the sexual and reproductive right of more than 110 women, by providing defective contraceptives, which resulted in unwanted pregnancies. It is worth mentioning that those who receive these contraceptives are precisely the women living in the most precarious situations in this country, who do not receive sexual education nor have the right to a safe abortion. The institutional triumph in Argentina for the decriminalization of abortion gives us a drop of hope for the peace of many women and people with uterus to not fear the retaliation that they could face for trying to exercise their right to have an abortion. We are aware that the violent retaliations by the state are suffered by us, the poorest ones. However, it also allows us to remain critical to the debate about a possible legalization in Chile, as we do not trust in the existing precarious public health system. In the meantime, we will continue to support each other, weaving autonomy, and recovering our ancestral knowledge and medicines of the Mapu-terra”.
In Brazil, the conditions to access legal and safe abortion are similar to the ones in Chile. And this right is under threat in face of the violent and reactionary government in the country. For Amanda*, FRIDA’s advisor in the country, the victory in Argentina is a message about the importance to not give up in difficult times:
“Brazil is going through a really challenging moment on topics such as the respect, the protection and promotion of sexual and reproductive rights. Our current government is politically conservative and makes it difficult for women to access their rights. Some of the rights that we have conquered in the past are threatened, new achievements don’t even seem possible, and initiatives from past governments continue to be interrupted and reversed. The threats are quite alarming, mainly the ones towards the legal and voluntary interruption of a pregnancy, in cases it’s permitted by law.
The current Minister of Human Rights (who renamed the Ministry to Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights) has a discourse that is not receptive to sexual and reproductive rights, claiming that it is an ideological gender discourse, even undermining sex education for girls and young people. The Ministry of Health issued an ordinance (Portaria nº 2.282 de 27 de agosto de 2020) that mandates health professionals to notify the police when women and girls seek voluntary interruption of pregnancy in cases of rape, which is permitted by law. In practice, this is a barrier to women’s access to sexual and reproductive rights, forcing doctors to break medical confidentiality and transforming a health and care policy into a public safety policy, which can also be used for persecution.
The victory achieved in Argentina can be a ray of hope for women’s movements and feminist movements in Brazil, and also for the few women in institutional politics who defend these rights. It is a moment for organizations, movements and collectives to strengthen themselves, fight against further setbacks, and then, achieve advances. Keep fighting is fundamental now”.
Camila Corvalán is an advisor from Paraguay, where abortion carries a prison sentence of up to two years for women who practice it and is only allowed, with various obstacles, if the life of the pregnant person is at risk. Camila says that conservatism is also a major threat to women’s rights, but highlights that the victory in Argentina may result in resuming a delayed discussion among decision-makers in her country.
“Paraguay is experiencing an important stagnation in sexual and reproductive health, which is constantly threatening to be turned into a setback of our rights. Policies depend on the individual wills of those who implement them, and it is not always sustained in the long term. The victory of our Argentinian colleagues is a breath of hope, admiration and satisfaction that shows us the strength and the capacity of the feminist movements in all the region. It also reaches positively Paraguay, thus the borders between our countries have historically been an opportunity to ensure rights. Although it may seem far away, we hope that this step will also bring us closer to a prompt victory. In the meantime, this celebration allows us to debate, as movement, on the horizons that we pursue in terms of sexual and reproductive health.”
Still from Paraguay, FRIDA advisor Belén Leguizamón Servián informs that pregnant people in her country can be directly affected by the decriminalization of the abortion in Argentina. Historically, populations living on the border have tended to rely on the neighbouring health system:
“In Paraguay the lack of access to health rights and services is not a recent problem, but a historical debt. In the COVID-19 context, this has worsened, since access to services related to sexual and reproductive rights has shrunk. In the same way, the processes of solidary and feminist accompaniment in cases of pregnancy terminations (which continue to be performed clandestinely) were hindered. Bans on circulation and social isolation requirements made it impossible for us to approach those who needed accompaniment, especially those of us who live in decentralized areas of the capital. Supporting networks continue to exist, but facing more challenges imposed by this context.
Living on the border with Argentina, and having a very poor health system meant that a large part of our population depended on the health system of the neighboring country. So, this victory impacts, on one hand, that many Paraguayan migrant women can access this right more safely, and on the other, that it opens a possibility to debate about sexual and reproductive rights, about abortion as an historical practice and about the conditions that are offered to us that live in decentralized areas, and we have to rely on a foreigner health system”.
Marilin Cabezas is an advisor from El Salvador, which sadly belongs to the 1% of countries where abortion is totally criminalized. Despite several years of fights, and demands to the government, showing cases and evidence of the terrible consequences of making abortion illegal in all its aspects, it has not given room to legalize it under four conditions: when the pregnancy is the result of rape; when the pregnancy is the result of human trafficking; when the pregnancy endangers the lives of the pregnant person; and in cases of medically unviable pregnancies. Marilin shares with us:
“In El Salvador, there is a lot of precariousness in matters of sexual and reproductive health and rights, since it is still a subject loaded with a lot of stigma and one that is just beginning to be discussed. In educational spaces, sexual education is censored, it is discussed from a narrowed point of view, which means from biological aspects, or merely focused on prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, barely teaching the use of contraceptive methods. It is not discussed from an integral and conscious point of view that might reflect responsibility, enjoyment, pleasure, reciprocal care, consensus, free of violence and it even less addresses sexual and reproductive rights.
This is due to double standards based on religious perceptions and institutionalized conservative thinking in our region, since even decision-makers in public office involve the church in their political decisions. This is concerning because this context holds back the right to decide.
The victory in Argentina is a huge achievement for the region, an achievement that represents the tireless fight for the defense of women’s rights, for their freedom and justice. At national level, it could be said that for conservative countries such as El Salvador opens up the possibility to put this subject on the social agenda once again, and being discussed. Thus, this is a clear evidence that abortion is a necessity and a right that guarantees women’s well-being, health and life.
The way in which Argentina fought for years to achieve legalization represents a model to follow, and it gives us great hope to think that the work of feminist organizing is generating an echo and, although slow, it is giving results and gaining ground. More women are getting organized, as well as joining the fight for demanding our rights. Even though the fight will not be easy, due to all the challenges of the context in our country, we know that ensuring sexual and reproductive rights, health and a dignified life for girls, adolescents and women is a possible dream”.
Lois Glez, advisor from Nicaragua, shares about the situation of sexual and reproductive rights in her country, and about how the victory in Argentina impacts on its context:
“From the Nicaraguan feminist movement, we celebrate and greet this achievement. However, the religious fundamentalist population has rejected the victory of the Argentinian movement. In my country, an exaggerated religious content circulates, and it disregards the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls. There are no policies that protect and guarantee women the right to decide about our own bodies. More, there is a setback in this matter, since in 2006 the interruption of pregnancy was totally criminalized, prior to elections, which confirmed once again that the State of Nicaragua puts its religious beliefs before women’s rights, violating the secular state. I hope that things will advance, but, given the socio-political crises that the country is experiencing, I do not consider that in this context much progress can be made in legislative matters. But we need to keep working in education and in raising awareness about the need to defend rights and decriminalize consciences”.
Across Latin America, the green wave is affecting us and renewing our strength. From FRIDA, we reaffirm our commitment to continue supporting young feminist movements with financial and non-financial resources, including by vocalizing the dreams of emancipation and freedom for all. Latin America is going to be all feminist and, to its fullest extent, someday, safe and legal abortion #seraley (will become law).
*We have changed their name out of respect for their privacy