By Amy Booth, Valen Iricibar, Lucía Cholakian Herrera and Estefanía Pozzo
Argentina’s government is heading into October’s elections with a series of internationally recognized achievements on women’s rights and progressive gender policies to its name. The December 2020 legalization of elective abortion paved the way for similar decisions in Colombia and Mexico, marking a regional shift in reproductive rights.
A labor quota for transgender people and the introduction of nonbinary national ID cards were heralded as a progressive move towards the inclusion of people of diverse and dissident gender identities who have long faced violence, discrimination and exclusion.
There have also been a series of initiatives on periods, described by campaigners as “menstrual sovereignty,” that seek to highlight issues such as the cost and pain of menstruating, periods in the workplace, and tackling stigma and shame around menstruation.
However, principle and practice can be worlds apart. In some cities, women continue to face barriers accessing abortions because all the doctors at their local hospitals are conscientious objectors. The actual number of trans employees is rising, but still falls well short of the minimum established quota.
Meanwhile, hundreds of women are still murdered because of their gender each year, and the attempted assassination of Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in September shows that, from impoverished rural women to the highest offices of state, patriarchal oppression persists.
After almost two decades of feminist campaigning, elective abortion was legalized on December 30, 2020, fulfilling one of President Alberto Fernández’s campaign promises. Now, the law allows any pregnant person (up to 14 weeks of pregnancy) to request the procedure, free of charge, in a public or private hospital.
Typically, patients are given an initial scan, take the abortion pills in their homes, and then return to the hospital for follow-up checks. Abortions have typically been carried out with misoprostol, but the regulator ANMAT yesterday authorized the use of the abortion drug, mifepristone.
To make this accessible for everyone in the country, every hospital must have at least one medical professional who is not a conscientious objector – and therein lies the biggest barrier to access today.
In the first year and a half after abortion was legalized, over 130,000 pregnancies were legally terminated across the country. But, in some provinces, anti-rights movements have sought to block access to the procedure. In cities like Río Grande, in Tierra del Fuego, none of the thirteen doctors in the local hospital are willing to perform abortions. Therefore, patients have to travel 200 km (124 miles) to Ushuaia, the nearest city, to access one. Ongoing obstacles across the country also include access for women with disabilities, as well as delays and lack of information.
Thanks to the suits filed through the Sexual Health hotline, the Health Ministry intervened in 51 cases where the right to access abortions was restricted. As well from Tierra del Fuego, health workers were found to have obstructed abortions in in Salta, Buenos Aires, Chubut, Mendoza and San Luis provinces.
Conversely, the persecution of health workers who do perform abortions is also a challenge. Miranda Ruiz, a doctor from Tartagal, Salta, was detained and faced charges for having performed an abortion after the law was passed. She was acquitted, but in the new book “A patient enters, a lawsuit exits,”researchers agree that doctors continue to face fear of being legally persecuted
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International and several organizations that compose the National Campaign for the Legal, Safe and Free Abortion warned that there is still a lack of public campaign and information spread by the State about how to access an abortion safely.
In July 2021, the Senate approved the “Diana Sacayán-Lohana Berkins” Transgender Job Quota Law establishing that one per cent of public sector jobs should be held by travestis and transgender people. It also included tax incentives for the private sector to hire trans employees. Unlike its direct English translation, travesti in Argentina is a gender identity with deep political roots that is worn with pride.
According to a February report from the Ministry of Women, Genders and Diversity, there are 574 travestis and trans people working in the Executive Branch — they do not specify the gender identities of all those involved, but since they include travestis and trans women, the Herald considers it relevant on International Women’s Day.
While the law was conceptualized with community involvement, addressing unemployment from a transversal perspective, there is a problem with enforcement. The report highlights that there are now trans people working in every province but the quota’s implementation is “heterogenous” — there are calls from the community to guarantee its proper application.
The presence of 574 trans people in government offices across the country is vital but far from representing one per cent of staff and none of those registered employees work for the legislative or judicial branches. According to a report by the Travesti, Trans, and Non-Binary Assembly in 2022, the number should be 5,551.
Despite landmark achievements such as the legalization of abortion, there are still hundreds of femicides in Argentina each year. According to gender violence observatory Ahora que sí nos ven, there were 249 femicides in 2022 and 44 in the first two months of 2023. Around two thirds of killings are carried out by partners or former partners, and a similar proportion happen in the victim’s own home. Of those killed this year, seven had reported their aggressor at least once and four had protective measures in place.
Women from oppressed groups face additional barriers to justice. For example, Indigenous women living in conditions of desperate poverty say they struggle to report violence against them because there is often no public transport to the nearest town and even if there is, they cannot always afford the fare. Many do not have stable access to phones or the internet and some do not speak fluent Spanish. When they do make it as far as reporting, police often fail to take their reports seriously.
However, as the assassination attempt against Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in September showed, gender-based violence in Argentina still reaches the upper echelons of the nation’s most powerful.
On March 3, an Organization of American States committee visited Argentina to investigate violence against women in politics, in reflection of the country’s obligations under the 1994 Belém do Pará convention against gender violence. In preliminary findings, the committee said that manifestations of violence against women in politics were “widely tolerated […] in all areas of public life”. They highlighted the role of the media and social networks, which “facilitated and exacerbated” violence, and encouraged the State to develop stronger protocols and mechanisms to guarantee women’s rights.
No matter what job they have, what position they hold, what level of education they have attained or whether they come from a rich or poor neighborhood, Argentine women have something in common: they earn, on average, 25% less than men. But this general average hides another phenomenon, which is the difference between women: for women workers with low-quality jobs, the wage gap with men in the same situation is double that of a woman with a high-quality job. Whichever way you look at it, inequality is an obstacle to the full development of women’s autonomy.
In this context, a growing demand in the Argentine feminist movement is to value the unrecognized contribution that women make to the economy in the form of unpaid domestic labor. In 2022, these demands were translated into a bill that creates a national care system that would recognize and professionalize the contribution of hundreds of women to the economy. Now it is the turn of Congress to make it a reality by at least getting that bill onto the floor and discussing it.