Wednesday, March 29, 2023
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ARGENTINA | 08-03-2023 07:00

Mabel Bianco: ‘The mechanisms we have to support women are not working’

Physician, campaigner and activist Dr. Mabel Bianco on gender equality in Argentina, abortion reform, barriers to reproductive freedom and tackling violence against women.

Women and girls across the world will come together this International Women’s day to march, protest, and commemorate the achievements in fighting gender violence, inequality and the barriers to reproductive freedom. 

In Argentina, there’s a lot to celebrate, albeit cautiously. With the decriminalisation of safe and legal abortions in late 2021 and the 2020 unanimous passing of the Comprehensive Attention and Healthcare During Pregnancy and Early Childhood Law, also known as the ‘1,000-day law,’ Argentina is in line with progressive countries around the world in supporting gender equality. That is, on paper, at least.

In front of the National Congress building in Buenos Aires, the same spot that pro-choice campaigners and green-clad activists wept in the streets to celebrate abortion reform more than a year ago, thousands of people that June marched against femicide, begging for answers to the incessant violence that kills on average one woman every hour in the country, according to data from the Women's Office of Argentina’s Supreme Court.

The Times sat down with physician and feminist campaigner Dr. Mabel Bianco, the president of the Foundation for the Study and Investigation of Women (FEIM) and the Gender Ombudsman for Perfil, to discuss the state of gender equality in Argentina.

 

On this International Women's Day, what advances in gender equality do Argentines have to celebrate?

I think that this year we have to celebrate that we have achieved the law on abortion, or voluntary interruption of pregnancy, and also the 1,000-day law. This means progress, fundamentally for women, but also for couples because if they want to terminate their pregnancies they can do so without putting their lives and health at risk. And if they want to continue the pregnancy and are in critical or vulnerable situations, they can have the support of the State to be able to continue with the pregnancy and then raise the child. I think this is not minor, especially in times when we have such a high rate of poverty that especially affects women and young people. So this 1,000-day law becomes a very important and very useful law.

 

How does the state of gender equality in Argentina compare with that of Latin America as a whole? With the rest of the world?

If we compare ourselves with the countries of the rest of Latin America, we have very strong laws and many laws, which is important. However, we do not have as strong enforcement of these laws as we should have, and that is a major problem. If we compare theoretically, we are much better than other countries, but if we compare practically, we are not so much better. I think that the issue of poverty that is affecting us in the country is a very serious issue and it is apparent in relation to some countries in the region that also have poverty, but not so intense, not so marked.

The other big issue is that we have, for example, a very good law to fight against violence, but nevertheless, we have not managed to reduce femicides or cases of violence. I think that one of the problems we have is that the implementation mechanisms to support women are not working. For example, we do have the possibility for all women to file a complaint, but the complaint is filed and nothing is done. We also know that by filing a complaint, it creates a situation of even greater risk, so this is a cause for concern.

Yet, we also have to mention that we have the law on sexual and reproductive health, the law on comprehensive sexual education and now the voluntary interruption of pregnancy law, that in this sense, puts us in a very good position in relation to several countries. Some Latin American countries also have some of these laws and they have developed them well, but not all of them. For example, if we look at what happens to women who are imprisoned for abortions in Central America, we see that we are actually much better off.

 

Law No. 24,012 of 1991 set quotas for the minimum representation of women on the ballot of each political party. How has female representation in government and leadership positions in Argentina changed since this law was created?

In relation to women's political participation, we have improved in general in all the parliaments because the quota laws and now the parity laws at national level exist in many of the parliaments in the provinces. This is very good and very positive.

However, one of the issues we have is the problem of how we can improve in areas other than the Parliament and in the Executive. We are not as good as other countries in the region where 50 percent of ministers, for example, are women. We are still lagging behind and we have many shortcomings at the level of female governors as well.

Where we are lagging behind substantially is in trade union representation. Although we have a law on quotas, it is not complied with, and this is a very worrying issue. It is a marginalising factor even in very feminised unions –– it marginalises our female workers from having access to leadership. This is something we should try to correct and overcome.

 

Almost seven years after the beginning of the Ni una menos anti-gender violence movement, how has the movement grown to include LGBTQ+ perspectives? How has the feminist movement in Argentina in general become more inclusive of queer and non-binary identities?

We have made great strides. I think that starting with having a Women, Gender & Diversity Ministry means that we are already recognising the appropriate place of non-binary people in relation to women and in relation to the rest of the population.

It is also true that we have perhaps not managed to ensure that this diverse population has equal rights in the context of violence. Today, we are talking about transfemicides and this seems to me to be positive, but this is not yet in the law. Transfemicides are happening, and I think it would be very positive to incorporate it into the law against gender violence.

On the topic of the quota, we have regulations that talk about having a trans quota in the public sector and yes, it is also a good thing, but this quota only applies to the public sector. It is not general for the whole private sector, which means that we still need to do a lot of work to incorporate diversity, so we still have a long way to go. 

Still, I do think that we have to recognise that we are one of the few countries that have a very good gender identity law, one that is a model that I wish others would copy, especially in Latin American and Caribbean countries where this is overdue. This is not the same as the law on equal marriage, it is much more: it recognises the identity of people according to how they perceive themselves, which is very important.

 

What progress has been made in eradicating domestic, workplace and political violence against women?

As I said before, the issue of gender violence has not improved in terms of legislation or in terms of such important elements as increasing the budget and creating support for women who are victims of violence during the six months of minimum wage provided as economic means of survival. Neither has it been possible to improve the rate of femicides. Despite approving a treaty recognising the right of everyone to a work environment free from violence, violence in the workplace is still very prevalent. 

So we really need, in the field of violence, to overcome –– or better said, not to overcome. The legislation that we have created to combat violence is not being implemented, and we need the governments, at the local, provincial and national level to coordinate. If this does not work, violence is suffered by all women in all circumstances, in all social groups and in the whole country. This issue doesn’t have political flags. 

We need to achieve an approach that really allows for the assistance of women by making better use of resources and organising all the existing ones. Something that we haven't done is prevention campaigns, and I don't mean the targeted prevention campaigns that have been carried out, I mean the general campaigns, the broad campaigns that go to the whole population in order to denaturalise gender violence.

 

What more needs to be done culturally and legally before the next International Women's Day?

I think the other big step we have to take is to have a care policy that helps men and women and families to overcome the fact that unpaid care for sick people, children and disabled people is not covered, and often means women have to do this work. We need to change this. We really need a care policy that provides support from both the state and the private sector to overcome this. 

In that sense, I think that the most important thing now would be to standardise, or at least increase, parental leave, which at the moment, is almost non-existent. We need men and women to have equal rights to parental leave and leave to care for the people that need full-time support. This alone is a very important step that we need to take.

Last year, we had here in Buenos Aires a regional conference that is held every three years dedicated to this issue and there were fundamental agreements made. Now what we have to do is put them into practice, adapt the legislation and start working. This must start by recognising men's rights in care duties so they will have the right to more days and more time for the birth of a child. It also means they will have to take care of their children, and not only leave women to care for the newborns. This obviously needs to have a legal basis, but above all, a great cultural basis for the changes that have to be made in our society.

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Erica Davis

Erica Davis

Reporter for the BA Times

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