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ARGENTINA | 09-03-2020 22:48

Thousands rally to demand gender equality in National Feminist Strike

Demonstrators call for legal and free abortion, gender-pay equality, and end to gender violence during two days of rallies across the country.

Argentina celebrated International Women’s Day this week with two days of events, calling attention to issues such as legal abortion, equal pay, gender violence and the country's debt burden.

The main event, the Paro internacional de mujeres ("National Feminist Strike"), took place Monday, as women marched from the Plaza de Mayo to the National Congress building. Feminist groups present at the event included Ni Una Menos and the Campaña Nacional por Aborto Legal Seguro y Gratuito ("National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion"). 

Thousands of people, mostly groups of girls between 15 and 30 years old, mobilised with green headscarves in support of the legalisation of abortion. Many demonstrators carried signs with slogans like "Stop killing us" and "Get your rosaries out of our ovaries." 

This walk-out came 24 hours after people around the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8.

In the capital on Sunday, many political groups gathered in Plaza de Mayo to protest outside of the Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires, demanding abortion reform.

Two weekends ago, in a landmark speech to Congress, President Alberto Fernández told lawmakers he would send a bill to Congress that would seek to legalise the procedure in Argentina within 10 days.

"We're here not only because of International Women’s Day but [to call] for equal salaries, science-based sex education, and the right to abortion,” Aurora Cividino, a 70-year-old grandmother from Buenos Aires City, told the Times as she marched.

“On the one hand, women are the head of the family, and on the other hand they keep us down and consider us lesser, both with our labour but also with the inclusion of the Church in sex education," she added.

Given Argentina's economic turmoil of late, it was no surprise that topics like the recession and the debt crisis were on the minds of many protesters. Some demonstrators came armed with signs calling for the government to adopt more leftist policies, as well as offer more support for workers. Others carried slogans referring to the gender pay-gap and called for more female representation in society.

A new report from the INDEC national statistics bureau released this week showed that only five percent of women in Argentina occupy management or leadership positions in their jobs.

Among employed persons, for every 100 pesos a man earns on average, a woman earns 75 pesos, the data showed.

‘Free and legal abortion’ 

With the battle to legalise abortion set to enter a new, crucial stage in Congress in the coming weeks, the crowd remained consistent in their desire to hold the Catholic Church accountable for efforts to block reform and those who suffer injury or lose their lives in botched procedures.

“Right now, we are here in front of the Cathedral because we are fighting for the right to safe, free, and legal abortion," Nora Biaggio, a 68-year-old retired teacher, told the Times, saying Argentina needed "obligatory, scientific sex education in all schools – but not in the hands of the Church.”

“The government of [Alberto] Fernández just made an agreement with the Church to include sex education in schools, but with the opinion of the Church, which is sexual oppression not sex education,” she added.

Church leaders have vowed to step up their own campaigning in a bid to block the bill.

In a rival anti-abortion rally in Luján, Buenos Aires Province on Sunday, the president of the Argentine Synod (CEA), Oscar Ojea stated that “it is not lawful to eliminate any human life,” declaring that “there is life from conception and a different life is formed within each woman.” 

President Fernández has declared that his bill is an attempt to address abortion as a public health issue, saying Argentina can no longer deny the amount of illegal procedures carried out each year in hiding.“

In Argentina there are between 375,000 and 522,000 clandestine abortions each year," Women, Gender, and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta told the Ámbito Financiero newspaper recently.

Against the debt 

Socialist groups and campaigners, especially, came out en masse for Sunday's demonstration.

Laura Álvarez, a 30-year-old administrative employee with the socialist Partido Obrero ("Workers' Party") party, said she believes the national debt stood in the way of protecting women’s health, criticising Argentina's creditors especially the International Monetary Fund.

“We are always under the supervision of imperialism and the IMF, which acts grimly to collect on a debt that in reality, is fraudulent, and illegal,” she told the Times. 

"We think, and rightly so, that if paying the debt is prioritised then everything that is public health will fall behind,” she declared.

Her concerns were echoed by many others during the demonstrations. With Argentina's creaking debt burden appearing increasingly unsustainable, many women expressed frustration and fear that austerity measures were on the way. 

“This is a government that totally surrenders to the IMF, and that’s incompatible with what we are fighting for, which is abortion that is legal, safe, and free,” María Sanchez, a 58-year-old retiree told the Times. “What we are asking for is legal abortion in hospitals, and paying the debt is totally incompatible with any elemental need for education, health, or anything.” 

References to the debt-load were everywhere. Signs and banners outside the Cathedral on Sunday decried the IMF and declared: “The debt is with us.”

Ni Una Menos member and strike organiser Cecilia Palmeiro believes there is a strong connection between feminism and debt.

“If the State has to cut spending on services like healthcare and education, then they become privatised. We continue to use these services, but now we have to pay for them. You pay for that by taking on debt," she told the Times.

“Violence against women — in terms of financial violence — is very related to debt. Women, when they are in debt, have to reduce their autonomy. Debt makes you work jobs you don’t want and to stay in relationships you don’t want,” concluded the professor.

Gender violence 

Calls to end femicide and gender-based violence also dominated the demands of feminist groups. According to local reports, 69 femicides have been registered in Argentina so far in 2020.

“There’s been almost one femicide per day since the beginning of 2020," said Lulu Escurra, a 58-year-old university employee, saying the issue wasn't getting enough coverage in the press. "Everyone is so worried about coronavirus, but nobody seems worried about the security of the women who continue to be murdered by patriarchal violence almost every day.”

For those demonstrating, there is much work still to be done. Officials in the government say they are hearing the call.

“We understand [the Feminist Strike] as a day to make all work visible, not just formal and paid work that we see every day, but also the invisible labour that is done everyday in our homes, and in our families, that keeps the world turning," a spokesperson for the Women, Gender, and Diversity Ministry told the Times.

“This year the motto of the strike is ‘The debt is with us’ which alludes to the pending challenges in the context of equality of opportunities and rights," the spokesperson added. "Despite the advancements we’ve had over time, we’re conscious that equality is still the parameter we’re striving for.”

by Jennifer Heiman & Anina Hoffman

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