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International Women’s Day and the right to decide in Latin America

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By Macarena Figueroa de la Fuente

In Latin America, March 8 is seen as a day of commemoration for those who are not present anymore, a day to fight, to demand equality in the most unequal region of the world, and a day to remember that women continue to be marginalized, discriminated, excluded, and murdered. 

It is the fight to decide on their bodies, to demand significant changes, and to draw attention to the demands of millions of women in the region. 

In Latin America, only Cuba and Uruguay have permitted the complete interruption of pregnancies. The majority of other countries allow it only under specific circumstances such as fetal unviability, the risk of life for the mother, or in the case of rape. Some countries like El Salvador, even punish women who interrupt their pregnancies with up to 8 years imprisonment. Argentina, Mexico, and Chile have recently spoken out strongly on this topic and introduced changes in their legislations.

Free abortion is now law in Argentina

The Marea Verde (or Green Tide) regained strength on Dec. 30, 2020. Argentinean women celebrated the approval of the abortion bill. Thousands of women carrying green scarves reunited outside the Buenos Aires congress hoping for the long-awaited decision.

After 12 hours of discussion, approximately at 4 a.m, a big screen installed on the street showed the results: 38 votes in favor, 29 against, and 1 abstention.

Although Argentinean women have managed to change the law, there is still a long way to go. Soledad Deza, the President of the Argentinean foundation MujeresxMujeres explains: “there is a very big gap between what the law says and what is implemented in practice.”

Today, March 8 marks one month since the femicide of Úrsula Bahillo, an Argentinean woman that was murdered by her ex-boyfriend – a policeman who already had legal complaints against him – after he stabbed her 15 times. “Cases like Ursula’s reflect a postcard of the state’s institutional failure. She did everything that the state indicated was the right way forward. She filed complaints, she sought help, and yet she is dead,” says Soledad.

Federal Mexico and its one by one legislation

Quintana Roo has been awakened by the feminists. From November last year until early February, the Congress was occupied by groups of women demanding free abortion legislation. The processing of the bill is now in pause because the parliamentarians have not been assisting the meetings, making it impossible to legislate without the needed quorum.

States in Mexico legislate independently due to the federal structure. In the country, the right to decide is only decriminalized in Oaxaca (since 2019) and Mexico City (since 2007), in both states it is permitted to end a pregnancy until the 12th week of gestation.

“The complexity in Mexico is that local legislation coexists with national legislation, which produces incompatibilities” explains political scientist and deputy director of the Group for Information on Reproductive Choice (GIRE) Mexico, Isabel Fulda. She also says that “so far, the political path continues to be state by state, there is no mechanism as such, in contrast to Argentina, for example, where decriminalization could be carried out at the national level.”

According to the most recent data from the Mexico City’s Ministry of Health, between 2007 and 2020, 229,293 abortions were executed in the country, and more than half of them were carried out in Mexico City and Oaxaca.

The Gender and Covid-19 Observatory in Mexico stresses that the current regulation is insufficient. “Women should not have to move to another state to access legal abortion services without restriction during the first 12 weeks of gestation.”

The Observatory also say that guaranteeing this right becomes even more important in a context where sexual violence is increasing because of confinement and where there is limited access to contraceptive methods.

“This March 8, it is important to raise awareness on the issue of decriminalising abortion but also on the issue of gender based violence, which is a problem that needs to be addressed at the national level and that, so far, the political will has been inexistent”, concludes Isabel.

Chile and a new constitution with gender perspective

The Chilean rallying cry “A rapist in your way” has resonated around the world with greater force since the October 2019 protests. The performance has been replicated inside and outside Latin America as an act of complaint against the state and the police, exposing the violence and aggressions suffered by thousands of women.

Since 2016, the feminist wave has driven collective action for women’s social and reproductive rights in the country. This drive increased even more with the 2019 protests that led to the creation of a new constitution: “We want a feminist constitution, we want women’s lives to be above private property. We will continue to fight for safe, free, and healthy abortions because the crumbs they gave us with three grounds do not address the importance of the problem,” says Nuriluz Hermosilla, spokeswoman of the Coordinadora Feminista 8M (8M Feminist Coordinator).

Some of the main focuses to be taken into account according to Coordinadora Feminista 8M are: feminist and non-sexist education, the fight for abortion, reproductive and non-reproductive sexual rights, feminist memory and human rights, and indigenous women in resistance.

Since 2017, abortion in Chile is only allowed under three circumstances: risk to the mother’s life, fetal non-viability and in case of rape.

In addition to abortion, one of the issues that concern Chilean women is gender based violence. According to data from the Chilean Network against Violence against Women, during the months of January and February of this year, there have been ten femicides. Seven of them were committed by partners, ex-partners, or cohabitants.

Since last Monday, the Feminist General Strike, organized by the Coordinadora Feminista 8M (8M Feminist Coordinator), began to generate actions to bring attention to the main demands. “No more femicides,” “Free and legal abortion” and “No more impunity” were some of the slogans that were distributed throughout the main metro stations of the country’s capital. 

For today in Santiago, a march was called for in Plaza de la Dignidad, guarded by human rights observers. “We don’t want to stop marching, because we understand that it is a space that produces a lot of happiness in many women who feel it is necessary to be there in person,” says the group’s spokeswoman, who also adds that the march will be carried out in a cautious way, and considerate to the global pandemic.

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