Moving Closer to the Legalization of Abortion in Argentina

The feminist movement is about to achieve a historic conquest in Argentina. After years of struggle and social debate, President Alberto Fernandez has announced the introduction of a bill for the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. It adds to the bill of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion (which has already been introduced eight times and was first debated in 2018), and would legalise abortion in Argentina.

At Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for the Right to Choose), we have witnessed firsthand the growth of the ‘green wave‘. The movement convenes activists across generations and calls for the dismantling of patriarchal structures to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Green Wave Reaches Congress 

Photo by Natalia Roca

We have actively participated in the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion since its founding. Early pioneers would collect signatures in city squares to support the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy bill that they themselves had written. Today, young women march with the green scarf of autonomy over their bodies.

It was a long time before the bill was discussed in Congress. And though it was finally rejected by the Senate, there was extensive debate. The green wave managed to consolidate a collective voice that continues to defend abortion as a matter of public health, social justice and human rights. We claim autonomy over our bodies as an unavoidable step towards full citizenship and the lay state as the fundamental axis for guaranteeing rights. 

As Catholic and feminist activists, we pose the need to remove religion from the heart of the debate.

By doing so, we can reveal the moral and religious background behind the arguments against women’s autonomy. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has not held a unique position on abortion. Biblical texts have not included it as a central moral issue. Feminist theology gives us a broader vision that can help us to build more inclusive churches. It also enables us to guarantee the secularity of the state while taking into account the diversity of opinions and realities. Therefore, our view reflects the possibility of being women of faith and supporting the right to choose.

One of the phrases we have printed on our green scarves and T-shirts is: “Mary was asked to be the mother of Christ”. These are not just words. They signal an ethical position from which we consider the decisions women make throughout their lives. They call for attentive listening in order to defend the life and health of all those with the ability to gestate.

Abortion as a Debt of Democracy

In Argentina, interruption of pregnancy is currently legal only if the pregnancy is the result of a rape or the pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger. However, there are still multiple barriers that force women to resort to clandestine, and often unsafe, abortions. These include: disparity in access to information and quality health services, professionals who present themselves as conscientious objectors, multiple inequalities that persist in our country, and moral and religious prejudices.

There are approximately 54 abortions per hour in Argentina. That’s 1300 per day and 520,000 per year. At least 3040 women have died from unsafe abortions in the last 30 years. During 2018, seven girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth per day. Every day we are faced with a critical scenario regarding the health of women and girls. The more time we take to ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights, the more lives will be impacted.

Photo by Emergentes

What does the bill presented by the @CampAbortoLegal say?

1. It guarantees access to abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. After the 14th week, it authorizes the procedures with no time limit or judicial complaint if a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in the case of rape.

2. It defines health according to the World Health Organization – complete physical, mental and social well-being – and defines the right to abortion as a human right. Abortion as a right must be included in the contents of comprehensive sex education, as well as in teachers’ training courses and courses for health care professionals. 

3. It guarantees abortion without distinction of origin, nationality, residence and/or citizenship of the person who requests it. People who are migrants in transit are included. Furthermore, the practice must be guaranteed within the five calendar days in which the abortion is requested. The person seeking the abortion must sign an informed consent form, and this must be the ONLY pre-requisite.

4. It guarantees access to information on abortion. This must be relevant, accurate, secular, up-to-date and scientific, in the language that the person communicates in and in accessible formats. The person may request counselling, but it is not mandatory.

5. It guarantees the right to abortion access for children and teenagers. In all cases, the best interests of the child must prevail. No person can be replaced in the exercise of the right to decide. All insurance plans, health care systems and prepaid private systems must guarantee the practice free of charge. This will be a Public Order Act and its implementation is compulsory throughout the territory of the Nation.

It Will be Law

The coronavirus pandemic has forced countries to take urgent measures to stop the spread of the infection, and we understand the need to give priority to the global health crisis we are currently facing. We also know that, sooner rather than later, we will achieve the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act in Argentina. Meanwhile, we will continue working and collaborating to get through this pandemic. Special attention must be paid to the impact of COVID-19 on women, sexual minorities and other vulnerable sectors of our society. We will continue accompanying those who need us, fighting for our rights, and building a world of justice. Together, we are making history. There is no turning back.

We are organized and we have political experience – accumulated over many years of struggle. Working together with a network of health professionals, lawyers, journalists and teachers, we have strengthened ourselves. We have developed response mechanisms to assist, guide and train people who need it. Our strength is collective and it is nourished by the intergenerational exchanges that have made this green wave possible. It is a green wave that fills us with pride.

Since 2018, when more than one million people flooded the streets, we have witnessed the growth of the movement, the intensification of social debate and the building of consensus that influences public opinion. We have no doubt that the right to abortion will be law in Argentina and when that day comes, it will find us together.

Photo by Emergentes

Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir Argentina is a Safe Abortion Action Fund grantee partner.

Feminism in Yemen: “Now is not the time for women.”

To understand a bit about feminism in a country like Yemen, you must first understand what the situation is like for women there. It is a country that has consistently ranked the lowest on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index since 2002 (yes, that is 17 years in a row). Women’s rights and empowerment have never been a priority.

The discrimination against women in Yemen is very complex. 

Women in Yemen are often discriminated against and looked at as inferior to men. It is a conservative and deeply patriarchal society. Inequality doesn’t only come from the culture, but also from the government. With laws that allow women to be married against their will and under the age of 18, laws that allow “honor killings”, and even laws that obligate women to ask for permission from their husbands to go out, violence and discrimination are inevitable. 

Signs of hope are destroyed too soon.

It wasn’t until the Arab spring of 2011, when thousands took to the streets in peaceful protest, that we had a sign of hope for Yemen. Women participated in the protests and demanded equal opportunities and representation. Finally, Yemeni women were shining and breaking stereotypes. The protests resulted in the National Dialogue Conference in 2013, and 30% of its members were women. The conference proposed a new constitution that recognized women as equal citizens, set a 30% quota for them in decision making positions, and tackled some of the most discriminatory laws. This victory, however, was too good to be true.

Everything went downhill when the Houthi Rebels took power in late 2014. Hope was destroyed and there has been ongoing conflict ever since. The intervention of a western-backed military coalition led by Saudi Arabia turned this conflict into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And so, women had to survive not only the struggles of being female in Yemen, but also a deadly war that caused thousands of deaths, forced many to flee their homes, and deprived many others of basic needs, healthcare, and access to safe water.

Women’s representation and rights are considered luxuries.

5 years later, and after a number of attempted peace negotiations, there is always one answer whenever the representation and rights of women are brought up: “Now is not the time for women.” As if women’s participation in these negotiations is a luxury and not a necessity. It is the same comment I get on the feminist online platform I founded, The Yemeni Feminist Movement.

The Yemeni Feminist Movement is the first Yemeni feminist online platform. It raises awareness on feminism and discriminatory laws and practices against women in Yemen. When we post about gender equality and the discrimination against women in the Yemeni legistlation, people will often say, “Now is not the time for women’s rights.” They say to me, “We are at war and all you care about is women’s rights?” or “We don’t even have human rights, so now is not the time for women’s rights.”

It is astonishing to me that a lot of people think of human rights as different from women’s rights. As if women aren’t humans! “Let’s focus on human (men’s) rights first and then we will focus on women’s rights later!” It is even more bewildering when people don’t understand the correlation between conflict resolution and equality for women. How can we achieve peace if women aren’t part of peace negotiations? If there is no justice and equality for women? How can we ever be a peaceful country when women aren’t given the same freedom and opportunities as men?

We almost had victory in 2013 because of strong Yemeni women who vocalized their demands and did not take no for an answer. If now is not the time for us Yemeni women to do the same again, when will be?

A Word to Men Ahead of International Women’s Day

Feminists around the world have put endless effort into explaining that International Women’s Day is for all people to fight together for gender equality. And while the statement is true, I don’t believe everyone’s job is the same. Every year, ahead of 8th March, there’s heated debate on men’s role in the gender equality movement. Are they doing enough? Are they doing too much?

These are my reflections for all men willing to listen.

Believe in Feminism

Take part in International Women’s Day because you believe in gender equality. It’s not our duty to make you feel included. It certainly is not our responsibility to convince you to fight for women’s rights. I often struggle to find the correct arguments to get men onboard, or the best feminist angle so as not to offend anyone. But I shouldn’t soften my words for the sake of masculinity.

Know your beliefs and own them. Advocate for women’s rights because you want to. Don’t wait for an invitation. Be a feminist because you see the burden of unbalanced gender dynamics and you want to tackle it.

It’s not just about the Women you Love

Whenever a case of sexual assault or domestic violence occurs, it’s common to hear that “it could have happened to your girlfriend/sister/daughter”. It seems like the offence is aggravated by the victim’s relationship to a man. Sure, we’re someone’s relative or friend but our worth doesn’t rely on this kinship. Before someone’s daughter or sister, we are our own selves. Women are deserving of respect, public presence and integrity because we exist.

Don’t march on International Women’s Day for your mother, daughter, girlfriend, wife, sister or female friends. Forget about the women you love for a second. Get involved for the billions of women you don’t know. This is not about someone close to you suffering, it’s about justice for half the world’s population.

Know your Role and Step Back Sometimes

Being an ally to any cause means acknowledging your privilege, offering support and settling for a secondary role to leave space for others to speak up.

Being an ally to women means understanding men’s role in the movement. While you’re welcome to stand at the very front of a march, think twice: do you really have to be right there? Or are you taking someone else’s place? Feminism wants and needs men to be involved but we don’t need you to lead. We can lead. We don’t need you to give us a voice, but we do need you to shush people when they aren’t listening. Shout with us, not for us.

An effective way to take part in International Women’s Day is to contact feminist organisations and offer to volunteer or make a donation. You can also babysit the children of your female friends or relatives so they can fully commit to the day. In your workplace, support female colleagues, employers and employees if they decide to go on a strike. Campaign on social media, don’t mansplain feminism to women and encourage your male friends to march. But mainly, don’t be scared of calling yourself a feminist – it’s a good thing.

Women’s Rights for Everyone

Gender inequality doesn’t just affect women, and it doesn’t affect all women equally. Working class women, BAME women, trans women, lesbian and bi women, Muslim women, older women, female sex-workers, disabled women, women in non-paid domestic jobs, women who don’t adhere to traditional beauty standards, homeless women, migrant and refugee women… All of us struggle in different ways.

Listen, learn and acknowledge the different ways patriarchy constrains women’s rights. Not all discrimination looks the same. So make sure you don’t assume, judge or take anyone for granted. Every single woman should feel as worthy as everyone else. 

Question Yourself

International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to reflect on the invisibility of everyday sexism. Turn off autopilot and question everything you assume about gender. Work to deconstruct your normalised behaviour and interrogate your day-to-day vocabulary. Likewise, pay close attention to bias that goes unnoticed, like sexist news headlines and misogynist commercials. Take some time to understand the concept of toxic masculinity and how it affects you. Understand that your position as a man might not allow you to witness the whole spectrum of gender discrimination.

Take this opportunity to interrogate your conduct and examine if there’s anything about your actions that could change to achieve a fairer future for everyone. 

March and Be Proud

You’re campaigning for female empowerment, against gender-based violence, for respect and justice, against stereotypes and gender-bias, for full social, political, legal and economic equality and against the othering of women in society. That’s major.

Don’t question your power and feel proud of what we can achieve together.

Has Today’s Feminism Gone Too Far?

A common critique of today’s feminism is that it has ‘gone too far’. Some say that we’ve ‘created’ a gender ideology, that we hate men, that we cook up harassment stories, and that we’re easily offended, angry or radical. Others want to belittle feminism by calling it a fad.

‘Today’s feminism’ implies that, once upon a time, there was a more acceptable, amicable and effective feminist movement. When people criticise ‘today’s feminism’, they assume that ‘yesterday’s feminism’ was preferable. And I wonder, was it?

The first wave of feminism took place between the 19th and early 20th centuries. It focused on achieving women’s suffrage among other basic rights. These feminists were known as the Suffragettes. The right to vote, to property and to divorce may seem like obvious demands now, but they were met with ridicule at the time.

Suffragettes were depicted by media outlets as disgusting, boisterous and radical.

Men who supported them were publicly mocked. Anti-suffragists claimed that women’s ability to vote would grow radicalism, increase domestic terrorism, and generally turn the world on its head.

Anti-Suffragette Cartoon from 1908


A second wave of feminists emerged in the 1960s. These women fought for sexual and reproductive freedom, against strict beauty norms and for their right to work outside the home.

Second wave feminism suffered a tremendous backlash.

Society declared them ‘petty’ for discussing bras and body hair instead of ‘real problems’. Feminists at this time were heavily stereotyped as being humourless, hairy-legged, man-hating and unhappy women. Media outlets censored their fight by using the past tense when referring to feminism and falsely declaring that feminism was ‘dead’.

As a backlash to the backlash, a third wave of feminism sprouted in the 1990s – largely influenced by punk and underground trends. Third-wave feminists fought for social justice and focused on increasing the intersectionality and inclusivity missing from earlier forms of feminism. However, once again, they were demonised with the same arguments: man-hating, ugly, crazy, going too far.

I make these brief historical references to point out that no feminism has ever been fully celebrated. And in the current fourth-wave of feminism, which uses digital tools to strengthen the fight, anti-feminist voices are as loud as ever.

Anti-feminists have been critiquing ‘today’s feminism’ for decades.

Doing so allows them to acknowledge that widely-celebrated changes from the past were good, while simultaneously attempt to halt current and future progress.

Most people today will agree that to vote is a basic right and that women deserve economic independency and sexual agency. But not everyone understands yet that trans women are women, that sexism is an everyday problem and that the pay gap exists.

In 30 years time, we will look back and think of the #MeToo movement as a crucial point on the feminism timeline. It will be recognised as a necessary step on the way to equality – in the same way that no one now doubts that women’s suffrage was worth the fight.

One day in the future, 2019’s feminism will be normalised and seen as worth the fight. But for this to happen, we must never let them tell us that we’ve gone too far.

When Nadia Murad Stood Before Trump

When the best of humanity stands before the worst of humanity, the rest of us have an opportunity to learn. 

Nadia Murad belongs to the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority. When she was 19 years old, the Islamic State attacked her village in Kojo, Iraq and killed 600 Yazidi men, including members of her family. Nadia, along with many other young women and girls, was abducted and trafficked.

After three months enduring beatings and rape, she escaped and made her way to a refugee camp. She told this harrowing story in her book, The Last Girl, and now works to help survivors of human trafficking and the Yazidi genocide.

At the other end of the fight for the rights of women and girls, we have Donald Trump. So far, sixteen women have accused him of sexual assault and two women, including his ex-wife, have accused him of rape. Teenage girls said that he walked into a dressing room while they were changing.

While these are accusations and not convictions, Trump has boasted about sexually assaulting women and has called women pigs and dogs. He has made jovial remarks about Epstein, the billionaire who was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting and trafficking teenagers.

“He likes beautiful women as much as I do,” Trump noted, “and many of them are on the younger side.” With these words I believe he convicts himself of the crimes he otherwise denies.

On Saturday, Nadia Murad stood before this mighty and devious man to speak about the Yazidi genocide. Either because he did not pay attention to her testimony or because he is unable to respect a woman, the president asked Murad where her family members were right after she’d told him they had been killed. Despite this hurtful insult, she pressed on, using words like “dignity” to a man who believes that the best way to treat women is like shit.” 

At first, I could not understand why Nadia was there. Why didn’t she refuse a meeting to protest his words, his deeds, and his policies impacting women and girls? But watching the video of their encounter, I realized that meeting with the president was the most powerful form of protest because she wasn’t there for him.

Nadia stood before Trump in solidarity with the women and girls she represents.

Knowing that he has been accused of some of the same crimes committed against her while she was living in slavery, she still stood before him as a tower of strength. Trump avoided looking in her eyes. He barely listened to her story. But there she was, insisting that he acknowledge her words, her story, her humanity; insisting that he come face to face with a survivor of the crimes he, at the very least, jokes about.   

Toward the end of their encounter, Trump asked her why she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nadia replied, “I made it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women. This was the first time a woman from Iraq got out and spoke about what happened.

Trump’s discomfort and resentment were palpable through my computer monitor. So were Nadia’s courage and defiance.    

If we are to honor our commitment to fighting for the rights, health and dignity of women and girls, we must stand for them in the most difficult places and situations. For me, this has been conflict zones and resource-poor settings. For Nadia, this has been the White House.  

What I learned from Nadia is that our commitment to human rights must not shy away from the powerful, the ambivalent, the offensive. These are the trenches we need to sit in; these are the battles that we must choose.

It is the most hardened hearts and minds – not the hearts and minds of our allies – that we must change if we are to create a more just and inclusive world.

And even if we cannot change their hearts and minds, we can go on record for standing tall in the face of injustice. Where one of us stands, we all stand together.  

Speaking the Unspeakable to Advance Human Rights

At the 2019 Women Deliver Conference, Kate Gilmore, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “the silence with which they would enshroud the story of the unspeakable must be broken.”

And all of a sudden, I think of pink flipflops. I think of a young girl who stared at her pink flipflops as she spoke.

The girl was 13 and forced to marry a man in his 30s. She was suffering from malnutrition. I could have wrapped my pinkie around her wrist. Although poor, they had a farm that produced fresh milk, eggs and vegetables. But she was starving because she was not permitted to eat that nutritious food. She ate only the scraps left on her husband’s plate.

We worked with her on self-esteem, ultimately hoping to empower her to sneak bites of food while she was preparing her husband’s meals. I wanted her to get a divorce and an education. But all I could do was teach her to sneak handfuls of barley.  

This memory became personal. I still can’t let my daughter wear pink flipflops. And I don’t want to tell the story. How can I describe this girl’s physical and psychological torture? What words can I apply to child marriage – a practice that Kate has called “marriage not worthy of the name”?

At Women Deliver 2019, Kate Gilmore confessed that she doesn’t want to tell these stories either.

But, she argued, we must. Because if we do not speak the unspeakable, there will be “no end to slavery, no life-saving drugs for people living with HIV, no exposure of sexual violence at the hands of high priests, culture, church and commerce, no land rights for indigenous peoples, no independence from the colonizer, no marriage equality, no universal suffrage, no protection of rights for women in marriage, no protection of rights for children within the family, no Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

I feel a metaphysical camaraderie with Kate because her emotion and conviction reveal that she too has been there. And so, Kate knows how to muster the impossible when encountering the unspeakable. She can conjure smiles for children whose circumstances sicken her. She can focus on the eyes of mutilated women. She can comfort people there and then, and afterwards, almost miraculously, she can put the unspeakable into words.

I was first touched by Kate through a blog post about an encounter with a 14-year-old girl who, married at age 10 to a man aged 60, developed an obstetric fistula that left her incontinent. The girl’s family abandoned her, as did the husband. When Kate met her at a hospital, she longed for human connection, “just as would any of us who has nowhere to belong, no one to belong to, and nowhere to go.”

I felt this particular story in my bones because it brought up memories of mine. No matter how many times I encounter suffering, the tragedy never becomes normal. Rather than becoming desensitized, each encounter feels more and more personal. Each story feels harder to tell.

Kate, though, pulls it together. For years I’ve thought that there must be something she knows, some trick she has, to make it all bearable. I thought she must somehow be able to recover.

And so at the Women Deliver Conference I asked her to share her secret. She told me:

“I hope that each and every one of us who has had any exposure to those stories never recover until such time that those stories diminish in number, diminish in gravity, diminish in their global presence.”

Back at my hotel that evening I cried over her words. I did nothing to deserve my privilege, just as others did nothing to deserve their suffering. And yet our destinies are interwoven. Their stories are a part of mine.

This is my greatest takeaway from Women Deliver, my greatest learning from Kate Gilmore, and perhaps one of the most important lessons of my life. It is our responsibility to carry pain because without it we couldn’t speak the unspeakable.