‘Down with patriarchy, long live feminism’: How demonstrations led to Argentina legalising abortion

Argentina has become the largest South American nation to legalise abortion after massive demonstrations across the country by pro-abortion activists, who had seen several bills about the issue rejected until now. December 30 saw one of the most important moments in Argentina’s history when after more than 12 hours of debate, the Catholic church influenced government passed the law, which legalises abortion allowing terminations up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

“We managed to break the prejudice, and the discussion became a lot less dramatic. Society at large started to understand the debate in more moderate, less fanatic terms,” Lucila Crexell, a senator, was quoted by the New York Times.

Argentina is a country where the Catholic church has long held sway in government decisions, therefore the topic of abortion was always shunned. Only two years ago, the government rejected a bill that sought to legalise abortion, a decision that felt like a heartbreaking defeat for the organisers and demonstrators of a stirring women’s movement.

However, the fight for legalising abortion had started in the 1980s, when feminists took up the cause. The issue gained little to no traction at the time, owing to a time when democracy seemed weak since the country had just come out of a military dictatorship and religious conservatism ruled public debate.

In 2005, the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion was formed and the fight for legal abortion had formally begun. The first bill was introduced in 2008 but it was shunned due to lawmakers who did not want to be associated and the Catholic church lobbying. “Many said they agreed, but refused to put their signature on the bill,” said Julia Martino, one of the activists in that effort as quoted by New York Times.

What really kicked off the movement was the brutal murders of women in 2015, including a 14-year-old pregnant girl, and led to the creation of the Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less) movement, which began highlighting the struggle Argentine women faced in getting underground abortions.

The efforts of the movement brought Argentinian women together, participating in massive street demonstrations and protests, and shedding light on the issues like sexism, gender parity and women’s rights. Their demonstrations were so effective and outreaching that several other Latin American nations took notice and followed in their footsteps.

In 2017, abortion rights activists called for a demonstration to support legalisation and the turnout was unlike anyone had expected. “What happened with the movement is that it started increasing in number and gaining different voices,” said Claudia Pineiro, a writer and abortion-rights activist. Slogans were shouted at the massive rallies, of which the most popular was, “Down with the patriarchy, which is going to fall! It’s going to fall! Long live feminism, which will triumph! It will triumph!” One of the activists of the issues in the 1980s and a government sociologist, Dora Barrancos, said that the new generation had ‘an insurrection that is infectious.’

The Ni Una Menos movement had rocketed the issue of women’s rights into the country’s political discourse and has had a significant impact on government decisions surrounding the issue. In 2017, the country passed a law expanding the quota system which women to attain full parity in national politics.

The foundation stone for such decisions was also laid by female lawmakers who, despite having political differences, found themselves united on this particular front who planned out their strategies on WhatsApp groups. “We realised how powerful we are as women when we act in a coordinated fashion,” Silvia Lospennato, an ally of the former president Mauricio Macri who was against abortion, was quoted as saying by New York Times. “We all contributed, in a way of doing politics that is very anomalous and is completely different from the way men do politics,” she added.

Several women lawmakers sought to legalise abortion in 2018 but the government, after intense lobbying by the Catholic church, rejected the bill. Several senators who voted against the bill then, voted for it this time around as well. President Alberto Fernandez, elected in 2019, promised to make the issue a legislative priority in his campaigns.

The movement had eventually garnered the support of all kinds of people. It had started out with young women but they were joined by older women, men, blue-collar workers and over time, the demonstrations had taken the shape of a national movement. Rural campaigners had also joined in with the urban base.

This is not the first time that street activism has succeeded in ushering in progressive laws in the country. In 2010, Argentina approved same-sex marriage and 2012 saw them approving one of the world’s most progressive gender identity laws. Both had gained importance and traction through street demonstrations.

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