Strength in Numbers: Argentina’s Women’s Movement

Argentinean feminists are renowned for being at the core of the “Ni Una Menos” (Not One More) collective, a pan-Latin alliance that is leading the cry for justice, as gender violence remains largely unabated throughout the region. Argentina’s women have a long history of struggle, having led the fight for justice during the country’s brutal dictatorship and demanded answers for the tens of thousands of people who were “disappeared” during that time.

This counterforce to a ruthless patriarchy was physically evident in mid-October, when more than 70,000 women from across Argentina gathered to discuss a range of women’s issues, energize one another, and march through the streets of the aptly named Resistencia, a city in Argentina’s northern province of Chaco. The Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres or “National Women’s Gathering,” began in 1985 as a convening of several dozen women, and now draws tens of thousands. The meeting rotates locations throughout Argentina every year and participants told me how they saved up and fundraised for the past year to attend. Many women had traveled up to 12 hours by bus, and to save on accommodation costs, many slept in schools or wherever they could find a comfortable spot.

With a vast array of workshops, panels, presentations, live performances, art and booths run by various feminist collectives and women’s organizations—even a feminist radio channel—the vibrancy of the movement was on full display. This year I had the chance to experience the event alongside IWHC’s long-time partner organization, Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir-Argentina (Catholics for the Right to Decide or CDD Argentina) who have helped to ensure that safe, legal abortion figures prominently in these annual gatherings.

I was especially struck by not only the sheer number of participants, but also how they represented a range of identities, including women from rural areas, women with disabilities, older women, adolescent girls, trans women, queer women, and sex workers. Topics covered were equally diverse, ranging from unpaid care work to bi, queer and lesbian activism, a rich learning experience that enabled participants deepen their expertise and empathy, and gain new approaches. I watched as adolescent participants discussed with older feminists how gender identity can be just as fluid as sexuality. I watched as rural, indigenous activists explained to urban feminists the centrality of rights over resources and land. I saw women challenge and support one another, and ultimately leave the experience with a more intersectional, nuanced understanding of their common struggle.

Despite the fact that the participants came from various backgrounds, there was a surprising amount of consensus, especially regarding the right to safe, legal abortion as a key priority. Reproductive rights figured prominently in the workshops and discussions, and when the women took to the streets of Resistencia two demands figured prominently—the right to safe, legal abortion and an end to violence against women. This was not always the case, and CDD-Argentina along with their allies in the National Campaign for the Right to Abortion, have played a major role in ensuring that access to legal abortion figure as one of the primary feminist demands in Argentina. As CDD’s Communication Officer, Diana Hernández put it, legal abortion came to be seen as Argentina’s “outstanding debt to women.”

Such a large gathering also naturally led to points of contention, including an unresolved debate about the inclusion of trans men and gender queer participants. Also, while sex workers offered critical perspectives on decriminalizing their work, abolitionists convinced that sex work is inherently oppressive and must be eliminated or heavily regulated to combat sex trafficking also presented panels. However, as one participant told me, “You cannot address sex trafficking without centering the conversation on sex workers and their perspectives.” This understanding is due to the tireless work of AMMAR (Asociacion Mujeres Meretrices de la Argentina en Accion por Nuestros Derechos), an organization founded to address the abuse sex workers  by the police and now a member of Argentina’s largest labor union.

These wins—the unified call for abortion rights and the recognition that sex workers have basic rights—did not come easily and required years of advocacy. Additionally policy wins over the years include a law on sexuality education, a law on violence against women, and a law on reproductive and sexual health; however, the women’s rights activists who I met have no plans of stopping. While current policies provide a means towards justice and equality, implementation is uneven and, as the Ni Una Menos movement makes clear, violence against women is pervasive. Abortion is legal in the case of rape, to preserve the woman’s life and health, but remains hard to access, especially for women who are already discriminated and marginalized such as rural, poor and indigenous women.

When we left Resistencia for the 12 hour drive back to Córdoba, the staff of CDD Argentina was visibly energized. “The Encuentro pushes us to keep incorporating new demands in our feminist struggles,” said CDD President Maria Teresa Bosio.  And as I saw, a diverse, inclusive movement is a strong movement.

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