Petite but with a big large smile, Ofelia Fernández is running, at the age of just 19, for a seat in the Buenos Aires City Legislature in the October elections. A short speech in defence of legal abortion in 2018 catapulted her into a political career.
Just out of high school, she still lives with her mother. But she has quickly become a well-known figure of the Peronist left and the symbol of a generation dedicated to activism in order to achieve its demands.
“This generation has a mark: its determination to challenge power,” she told AFP, explaining that her political engagement was inspired by the feminist movement that last year brought forward a campaign to legalise abortion that was ultimately voted down by the Senate.
“Our hypothesis is that all this time during which we [my generation] have not occupied spaces of power, no one in power did anything for us,” Federnández assured.
A member of the Frente Patria Grande, the young women has landed herself a prime spot on the ticket of the Peronist-Kirchnerite Frente de Todos coalition.
An electoral force
In Argentina, there are six million people between the age of 18 and 24, making up 22 percent of the electorate. In addition, those ages 16 and 17 (some 2.8 percent of the population) have had the right to vote in Argentina since 2012, though they are not obliged to do so.
Julia Andrade, 16, is a member of La Cámpora, the Kirchnerite youth wing. She is more than excited about going to the polls.
“I am going to vote because I want to decide the vision of the country that I want. It fills me with happiness, to be a participant in this change that we want to generate,” she declared.
For young people between the ages of 18 and 24, the most important qualities they want to see in the next president are “ability to resolve the problem of inflation” (52 percent) and “care for the situation of the poor” (49 percent), according to a survey conducted in February and March by the Ipsos polling firm.
Inflation in Argentina, which reached 22 percent in the first half of 2019, is one of the highest in the world. There has been an increase in poverty too, which closed at 32 percent last year according to official government figures.
Despite these feelings, party affiliation is very low in Argentina (four percent in between 18 and 24 years old) and 43 percent believe they will “never feel dedication to a political party.”
Politics, for this generation it seems, happens more through “causes” and ought to be brought about in a horizontal manner.
“We understand that there are a lot of people who are interested in politics but that they don’t feel motivated by political parties but by specific causes. We are looking to united all of this and give it a more collective organisation,” said Ana Julia Aneise, 23, a member of the campaigning group Les Jóvenes.
The other side
The massive demonstrations in favour of legalising abortion last year, in which many adolescents participated, has also motivated people on the other side of the issue to go out into the streets.
Camila Duró, a 25 year old university student, is one of them. She is part of the NGO Frente Joven, which is dedicated to social work in underprivileged neighbourhoods and opposes abortion with the slogan of saving “both lives.”
The debate in Congress “was a touchstone," Duro said. "It motivated us a lot when we maybe did not have an agenda to be seen publicly, to make a political push. The situation and necessity motivated us."
“I think young people want to be heard, because they have a lot to say. Argentina still has a lot of unresolved issues, especially poverty which is what hurts the most today, which perhaps is what most mobilise people to get involved in politics,” she added.