Buenos Aires, Argentina – The road to legalizing abortion in Argentina is paved with sweat, tears and the dedication of women who have spent much of their lives fighting for change.
They are revered as “las historicas” – the pioneering activists, lawyers and doctors who occupied the lonely space on street corners in the 1990s, holding up signs demanding that women have the right to determine the fate of their bodies.
Wednesday, the Argentine Senate vote 38 to 29 in favor of legalizing elective abortion until the 14th week, with one abstention.
Some of these warriors were not fortunate enough to see their work bear fruit: like Dora Coledesky, a longtime activist, lawyer and advocate for women’s rights, who was reported as the main driving force behind the campaign in its early days. .
She passed away in 2009 and her granddaughter Rosana Fanjul is a key member of the legalization campaign.
Those who have been able to witness the story are now legends of the “marea verde” – or green wave, as the young pro-choice masses are called. They have the lessons of wrestling imprinted on their bodies. Their collective experience, the alliances they fostered, and the way they built consensus offer clues on how to sew a feminist revolution.
“My kids when they were younger would say, the only thing you talk about is abortion. Can’t you talk about something else? Recalls Alicia Cacopardo, 83, laughing. “Well, we got here.
The retired doctor was part of the commission for the right to abortion in 1988.
She had just moved her practice from a hospital in Buenos Aires to neighborhoods where she saw firsthand how illegality hit poor women the hardest. “The underground circuit worked perfectly in Argentina, paying for everything. This difference was so incredible, ”she said.
Cacopardo twice attended rallies outside El Molino, a famous and since-closed cafe within sight of the National Congress in Buenos Aires. There, the women distributed brochures about their proposal and how the issue was being handled by other countries.
“There were those who were for and those who were against, and there was debate going on around the corner. Of course, it had nothing to do with the green wave you see now, but there were a lot of people who supported us, ”said Cacopardo.
The street is undoubtedly a protagonist of the Argentine feminist struggle.
Women who searched for their missing children and grandchildren during the last military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, known as Las Madres and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, held weekly marches outside the government house, demanding responses of a regime that silenced its critics.
The symbol of their struggle was a white scarf worn around their head; for the legal abortion campaign, the symbolic scarf has turned green.
“Our mobilization is our presence,” said Nina Brugo, 77, a longtime labor lawyer and member of the campaign to legalize abortion. “A fundamental point is to take to the streets.”
It was the same for the National Gatherings of Women which have been held every year since 1986 in another city in Argentina. They feature 70 bizarre workshops on a rainbow of topics. Those who cannot afford accommodation have space to camp or are accommodated in schools. Some 600,000 people attended the last one in the city of La Plata in 2019.
“This is where we formed all the networks, all the alliances, because the women came from all walks of life and all over the country,” Brugo said. “There is someone who cannot read next to someone who has a doctorate – his voice has the same value in the workshops. It has been wonderful.
It was at one of the rallies in the coastal town of San Bernardo in 1990 that Brugo was approached by Coledesky, who was collecting signatures in favor of legal abortion.
Brugo had accompanied women who had abortions but at that time she did not yet see this as a right. At that same meeting, she listened attentively to the experiences shared by Brazilian women who proposed September 28 as the day for legal abortion in Latin America.
On that date in 1871, Brazil declared all children born to enslaved people to be free. “They wanted to equalize the freedom of the womb with the right to abortion,” Brugo said. “It touched me.” After that, she sought out Coledesky and added her signature to the cause.
Marta Alanis began to feel and call herself a feminist around 1991, when she met Brazilian feminist theologian Ivon Gebara and the social justice group Catholics for the Right to Decide in Uruguay.
Alanis then co-founded the Argentine section and held a central role in the campaign to legalize abortion. “Not all women were in favor of the right to abortion in women’s gatherings – the debate was there,” Alanis recalled.
“I remember that in 1997, during the national rally in San Juan, it was the first time that Catholic women were sent by church leaders to block the debate and this generated great unease,” he said. she said.
In 2003, they held the first assembly on the right to abortion in order to “define strategies”.
When the women who had been sent by the church arrived, they were told that if they did not have strategies to contribute, they were not welcome.
This 2003 gathering is where the Green Scarf was born. In 2005, the campaign to legalize abortion was officially launched. He presented his first draft, with the signature of a legislator, in 2007, and eight times thereafter.
It was first debated by National Congress in 2018, marking a turning point for a company that had spent so long looking elsewhere. He passed the lower house of deputies, but failed the Senate around this time – a devastating loss, but one that did not deter, and if anything did, fuel the conviction to be back.
“The campaign, like everything human, has known tensions,” said Alanis.
“But we never separated. And it speaks of a form of collective construction as feminists. It is built horizontally, where all the voices have space, and without hierarchy. It is very different from a political party or a union. “
It was a cacophony of voices on the night of the Senate vote, as tens of thousands of people, young women in particular, poured into the plaza around the National Congress, decked out in green. It was a far cry from the clutch of the women who stood outside of El Molino all those years ago.
“The square has become a place of great emotion for me,” said Nelly Minyersky, 91, a lawyer and member of the movement. She directs a master’s program at the Faculty of Law of the University of Buenos Aires. “Although it’s a big mystery to me, I’ve become someone young people really love,” she says.
Knowing this and considering the dangers of COVID-19, she stayed out of the place for the final vote, instead watching it from inside the Senate alongside Alanis and Dora Barrancos, renowned historian and advisor to the President Alberto Fernandez.
The three walked arm in arm along the side streets of the imposing building, with the festive sound of the street in the distance.
For Minyersky, like so many of his friends, approval doesn’t mean the job is done. Making sure people know the law – and making sure it’s enforced – is on her to-do list.
“One thing that really fills me with emotion is how we found such a beautiful reflection in young people,” said Minyersky. “It’s a great satisfaction. May the ideas you generate not stay with you, but may future generations continue to develop and perfect them. They take over.