Abortion legalisation debate ignites soul searching on women’s rights
Every 10 minutes, a teenage girl in Argentina becomes a mother. In most cases, government data shows, she is from a poor family without the financial resources to support raising a child, continuing a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.
Is Argentina on the verge of a huge leap forward in gender equality?
NOT FIRST PLACE, NOT LAST
Compared to the rest of the world, Argentina’s brand of sexism is only moderately bad. The country comes in 34th of 144 countries ranked on the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index – better than 45th-ranked United States and 35th-ranked Canada.
Argentina has had two female presidents. María Estela Martínez de Perón succeeded her husband, the iconic leader Juan Perón, in 1974. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner governed the country for two terms, from 2007 to 2015.
Women in Argentina face serious inequalities. Data from the National Statistics and Census Institute (INDEC) showing that men earn 23.5 percent more than women in the same jobs could be expressed like this: Argentine women work for free 86 days of the year compared to their male colleagues. Government data also show that Argentine men who participate in household chores and care-taking do so 24 hours a week on average. Women spend 45 hours a week taking care of their homes and their family members – which adds up to 100 days of unpaid labour a year.
Argentine women share the problem of excess household labour with women in Australia, the United States, Norway – pretty much everywhere.
Decades of evidence demonstrate the negative consequences that this burden causes for women. It makes some job opportunities unattainable and reduces their earnings when they have to work less to care for loved ones. Across the globe, raises and promotions tend to come more slowly for women.
This discrepancy is particularly strong in fields with hierarchical systems based on rigid promotion requirements like academia. The University of Oxford named its first female chancellor in 2015 – a mere 800 years into its existence.
In Argentina, women constitute the majority of the teaching staff at the country’s 55 public universities. But 89 percent of Argentine university presidents are men.
The sudden addition of gender to the political agenda should have an important impact on the October 2019 general election, when Argentina will elect its president and legislators.
Men still dominate the top ranks of all the country’s main political parties. The inequality has persisted despite a 1991 “gender quota” requiring parties in Argentina to nominate women to run at least in 30 percent of all legislative races. That law succeeded in getting more women into Congress, but not into leadership positions within their own parties.
In 2019, parties must nominate the same number of men and women. In my assessment, that will oblige male politicians to negotiate with women and share decision-making with them from a more equal position. If women aren’t fairly represented on a given party’s candidate list, that party can’t run anyone in the election.
The sudden surge of gender equality-related legislative debate will all but ensure that women’s rights become an issue on the 2019 campaign trail. Social problems like maternal mortality, the gender pay gap and sexism in the workplace have long been ignored during electoral cycles.
Now, political parties will be compelled to declare their stance on these issues. Candidates will have to propose policy solutions and explain their ideas to citizens.
This will make for some heated and passionate confrontations, but that’s a good problem. Because when a subject enters the political debate, it sends a powerful message to society that it’s worth discussing – and needs resolving.