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ARGENTINA | 02-01-2021 08:15

Feminist ‘green tide’ delivers legal abortion in Argentina

Argentina’s “marea verde” has helped deliver sweeping abortion reform in one of Latin America’s most Catholic countries.

As the result of the Senate vote on the government’s abortion bill was announced, the huge crowd of campaigners gathered outside Congress erupted into joy. 

Among the cheers and tears, almost all the demonstrators were clad in green clothing – most notably the now-famous headscarf that’s been worn permanently by thousands of people across the country, demanding legal, safe and free abortion in Argentina.

The demonstrators, predominantly women, were the latest in-person incarnation of the “marea verde,” the “green wave” or “green tide” that has helped deliver sweeping abortion reform to one of Latin America’s most Catholic countries.

"The marea verde is a feminist revolution in motion, it is intergenerational. There is an experience of transversality, a coming together of unions, social movements, human rights – it is not a fad, there is a history [behind it]," said María Florencia Alcaraz, the author of ¡Qué sea ley!, a book detailing the battle to legalise abortion in Argentina.

The struggle has been decades in the making. Two years ago, a bill to legalise the voluntary interruption of pregnancy (IVE) was defeated in the Senate after passing the lower house. Some believed a chance had been missed, others felt its passage in the Chamber of Deputies showed that reform was inevitable, if perhaps not immediate.

"[The vote in] 2018 marked the exit of the abortion issue from the 'closet’, having been taboo for so long in Argentine society," said Alcaraz, a founder of Latfem, a feminist media outlet.

Mila Mondello was one of thousands of 'pibas' who demonstrated on December 10 and 11, as the Chamber of Deputies prepared to vote on the bill, which this time around had the support of President Alberto Fernández.

"Abortion is a situation that a friend may be going through next to you, and that gives you empathy. You say to yourself: ‘Crazy! The legal system is talking about me, about situations that I could live through,’” Mondello said in an interview. 

“If they discuss whether a girl of 14 to 16 years old needs the explicit permission of 400 adults to have an abortion, it’s an issue that touches me directly," she added.

Mondello, 17, awoke to the feminist struggle with the arrival of the Ni Una Menos anti-gender violence campaign in 2015. The abortion reform movement, led by the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal Seguro y Gratuito (“National Campaign for the Right of Legal, Safe and Free Abortion”) campaign group, has been around for more than a decade.

"After a year of many frustrations, if the bill passes, there will be unbridled joy," she said, prior to this year’s Senate vote.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the massive in-person marches that have characterised the abortion reform movement have been re-created online via social media campaigns. Activists have staged smaller demonstrations and photo-ops at Congress, while human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have been prominent in supporting the bill.

"The crowd is a beautiful photo, it has to do with the celebration and occupation of the street. But the feminist struggle is also the exercise of politics, of strategy," said Alcaraz.

The call for legal abortion has also broken down political barriers. Though the bill bore the signature of Argentina’s Peronist President Alberto Fernández, its passage was only possible with the support of a number of opposition senators, given that some ruling coalition representatives refused to back it. 

"This law is not owned by any president or government, it is another achievement of the women's movement," said lawmaker Silvina Lospennato, a vocal 'green' activist from the PRO party led by former president Mauricio Macri, who lead the country when the 2018 bill was rejected in the upper house.

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