After thirty years of struggle, the Argentinean society finally breathed a sigh of relief with the legalization of reproductive rights, passed on the 30th of December 2020. Why did it take so long for Argentina to legalize abortion and what can we expect from this achievement? I interviewed Jesica Gindin, an Argentinean writer, policy analyst, and outspoken feminist. Organizing her own feminist encounters and participating in the Campaign for Legal, Secure, and Free Abortion, she took part in the movement for more than fifteen years. Fighting for women’s rights in South America, she published several policy articles and recently started a collaborative Podcast “El Compló Internacional.”
Listen to the interview in Spanish
Jesica, thank you very much for this opportunity. First of all, I would like to know more about you.
My name is Jesica Gindin. I would describe myself as a curious woman who has great social sensitivity. I am always looking for opportunities to meet others, to exchange ideas and perceptions. This enables me to understand and reflect on our society. Other than that, I am a student of International Relations and a teacher of Spanish language for foreigners. I have many projects, because for me the world is much bigger than one’s life, and the only richness that matters is diversity. And I am a feminist, of course!
What does it mean to you, being a feminist?
First, I understand feminism as a movement that tries to improve the understanding of reality and change social context. Inside this movement, we have a very political movement fighting for women’s rights, but also a theoretical movement. Feminism has started to theorize the world from a different angle in order to understand more about our reality. The feminist lens provides a different way of seeing the world, we could say it is a philosophy. And it is a political practice to change the reality.
There are many feminist movements, which one do you identify with?
My feminism is a feminism of Argentina and Latin America, within a concrete reality. Here, the movement is crossed with African culture, indigenous movements and is influenced by our economic reality as well. In Latin America, we speak of colonial feminism and it is a precise difference to other movements, because of these specific realities.
Can you name day-to-day examples, when you crossed “machismo” or sexism for the first time?
Being a woman, you feel vulnerable already growing up. It mostly means not having the same privileges as men. On a macro level, we face high levels of oppression, be it in a relationship, in the employment sectors, or in education. But other than that, we face the small things every day, the “micro-machismo” (micro-sexism).
A very good example from my childhood, which made me wonder a lot, is that I had to wash the plates and cutlery from my brothers, while they did not have to do so. I had to make the bed in my room and my brothers did not. These were very few acts that made me understand that being a woman is not the same as being a man.
I started asking questions and looked for information, via the internet, the school, the library. However, only entering the university, I became militant and practiced feminism, as it opened the gate to literature and provocative thoughts.
There are many big writers. Which were the ones that inspired you? Is there a regional difference between European writers and Latin American ones?
The first writer I had access to was Simone Beauvoir, the greatest feminist of the twentieth century. Later, I stumbled over Spanish writers like Marisa Rueda, she wrote a book on feminism for beginners. During University, I engaged with Latin American writers, for example, Dora Barrancas who is herself from my country, Argentina. Recently I started reading about many black and indigenous women, that have had very little access so far. I believe those are the future voices of feminism, particularly colonial feminism.
On December 30th, Argentinean feminist movements achieved the goal they were fighting for thirty years: The legalization of abortion. Can you explain the background of this law and why it took so long?
The fight for women’s rights in Argentina and for legal abortion is many years old. It really began with the return of democracy. As you might know, Argentina was a military dictatorship until 1983, and only afterward political participation was accessible. Those militants and intellectuals who had been exiled were in contact with feminists in Europe. When they returned to Argentina after the dictatorship, they began to organize themselves and started the feminist movement in my country. As a direct success, in 1987 we had the first national meeting of women where they started to ask questions about women’s rights in Argentina and Latin America.
These meetings proved to be very important because they provided the activists with data, experiences, positions, and so on. There is a uniqueness to the ’80s in Argentina. Activists had to ask themselves: How can we start talking about this issue in society after dictatorship? In a society used to not have freedom of expression? Here, where the conservative parties and catholic churches insert a lot of power on society and politics? After their first call for abortion law in 1889, those women were viewed as amoral, they had to resist a lot of criticism and exclusion. Abortion was taboo, shameful, criminal, and amoral.
What is the “pañuelo verde” and why is everyone wearing it?
One milestone was achieved in 2003, in Rosario, a very progressive city in Argentina in the region of Santa Fe. Rosario is the birthplace of the “pañuelo verde”, the little flag that we use to identify ourselves. It is the main symbol of the struggle for the campaign for legal abortion.
The color choice of green was by far not random: White is the color of the nationalist, red is associated with the left-wing parties, and yellow with the Catholics. Green is the color of hope and also of environmental issues, so the women of Argentina chose green as their symbol. Additionally, the scarf depicts the symbol of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, the movement for independence in Argentina in the 19th century.
In 2005, the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Secure, and Free Abortion was founded. They operate with the slogan “for the right to free and legal abortion”. You must understand, back then, particularly poor women, were the ones who died. The rich ones can go to a clinic and pay, but many women went through unsafe procedures out of ignorance or bluntly despair.
Why was the abortion law passed in 2020?
I believe there were three major changes that led to the law finally being passed in 2020. The first one is that the feminist women’s movement continued to set the issue in motion despite the fact that we are in a pandemic. We did not remain quiet just because of the pandemic. We all stayed inside our homes, we continued to meet in online conferences, virtual spaces and by doing so we continued to place the issue on the public agenda. We continue to fight, to work, to write, to be loud in all ways. At the end of 2020, the law was passed in both chambers.
Second, it was a promise of Alberto Fernandez’s campaign. In 2019 we lived through a turning point in Argentinean politics. It was again time for elections in Argentina, changing the national executive. Alberto Fernandez was running for the presidency, who promised with his campaign to discuss the legalizing of abortion. In fact, it was the first time in Argentina’s history, that a president pushed this topic forward.
However, it took him some time. It was still difficult, without resources, the pandemic came, and we needed all efforts in public health. Further, like all politics in this world, Alberto Fernandez also needed his voter’s approvals. In Argentina, this law had a high political cost. We are still very connected to Peronism, to be elected you have to be affiliated with Peron. Peronism is a diverse movement. Conservatives can be Peronists, and there is a branch of the Catholic Church as well.
Third, we feminists are very smart. We knew the discussion is not one about when life begins. The real discussion we led and even the Church had to accept, is do we want women to continue dying, or do we want their deaths to become preventable?
Is this the result the female society wished for?
In reality, Alberto Fernandez was only able to put through the abortion law by making adjustments different to the proposed law the campaign for legal abortion aimed at. Its main difference is that a doctor can deny interrupting a pregnancy. However, a doctor is obligated to deliver the case to a colleague.
Illegal abortion has many facets, how was the situation in Argentina before this year?
I myself accompanied many women to go through an abortion in Argentina. Until now, women had to use Misoprostol bought at the pharmacy and use it in times of secrecy. On many occasions, women would do the abortion with the medication at home. As we live in Rosario, the women I accompanied, we went together to the doctor. The doctor would examine the body and make a sonogram confirming that you are pregnant. He would prescribe the pill, you would take it at home, and afterward, once again check your health with the doctor. But we also need to see, that this was only practice in Rosario and Buenos Aires. The same procedure was impossible in the North, where you have a very strong influence of Catholicism on the public.
The abortion law was passed. Are there remaining challenges for women?
Argentina is a very big country; the issue that remains is how can this law be implemented now in these places where the church is very present? Because it is one thing to live in the capital and another thing to live in the little town, in the poorer areas. It is important that in each province and city we can count on the information for unwillingly pregnant people: Here, this is a doctor who will help you in this hospital, go directly there.
Another challenge is to change sexual education in Argentina. We don’t want to abort because we like abortion. In reality, it is the last option. Nobody wants an abortion. It is a decision we take out for many reasons and we feel sad, we are lonely, and we feel guilty. That is why it is also important to improve education so that women don’t become unwillingly pregnant in the first place. Education for both men and women. This education must happen already in school and should be the focus from now on.
What impact will have the legalization beyond Argentina?
It is a historical struggle, isn’t it incredible that more than 30 years have passed until women are able to decide over their own bodies? In many countries, such as Germany, it is an old struggle! But well, now Argentina is a hope for the whole region. In Latin America, only Cuba, the City of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guyana, and Uruguay have legalized reproductive rights for women.
Our movement will become international, we are collectively changing politics in Latin America and even beyond. You can already see, how the scarf we installed in 2003, is now being replicated in Latin America and elsewhere. Even now in South Korea, they use green handkerchief. And there is another progress: Our law now not only talks about women but about pregnant people. That is something very advanced for our region.
You yourself organize a weekly meeting between women discussing feminist literature. Why do you do it? Why do you think it matters?
Nobody can create change alone. Every change that was ever achieved, was achieved collectively. At the meetings, we present women’s literature, generate content, and share information. Things like experience and education are not important, we are all there to learn from each other and we don’t exclude anyone. In every meeting, we reflect on the reality and then we spread the word. Nowadays our world is full of images videos and online content. Sometimes, to have a text, to take the time to stop and discuss it, is a way to come back to ourselves to then create change.
Particularly, in times when we are losing our hope and it might feel like there is no change awaiting, we should preserve our tenderness and our humanity and we should do it collectively. Call me an idealist, but in my opinion, this is the way to have an impact on humanity.
Thank you, Jesica for telling your story.