Why won’t you protect women, Cristina?

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Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has done great things for Argentina. The income gap between the country’s rich and poor has been reduced by nearly half, the torturers, kidnappers and murderers (generals, officers, etc) of the 70-80’s military junta are being brought to justice – and finally sentenced. She, and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, have done what few – if any – Argentine Presidents have succeeded to do since the Dirty War: start to get the country back on its feet and bring out the truth and justice that the military have done their very best to conceal.

It speaks volumes that several Latin American countries have done what neither the US nor most countries in Europe (my home country Sweden included) have done: elect female presidents. And these presidents often have to face struggles that their colleagues in Europe rarely have to. The question of women’s reproductive justice is one of them. I can only speculate in what President Fernández de Kirchner’s personal feelings are regarding these questions but, officialy at least, she is anti-abortion.

I admit that I’m not too involved in Argentine politics – I’ve never lived there, only visited to spend time with family – but the country will always have a special place in my heart. And that’s why it hurts me to know that the first elected female president isn’t doing all that’s in her power to stop women from dying from clandestine abortions. Not only is abortion illegal in Argentina, according to Human Rights Watch“multiple barriers prevented women in Argentina from making independent decisions about their health and lives related to reproduction. These restrictions included inaccurate, incomplete or entirely absent information; domestic and sexual violence; and economic restraints that the government was not adequately addressing.”  The study shows that not only is abortion not allowed unless it is a direct threath to the mother’s health or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, but there are no guarantees that you will be allowed to perform an abortion even in these cases. Furthermore,  most women aren’t aware that they (might) have the right to an abortion in those cases, or even that they have a right to receive the contraceptive methods of their choice. The Catholic Church is of course one of the main reasons behind these very restricted abortion laws, but according to NY times, the stigmatization of abortion increased after President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took over in 2007.

Nora Cortiñas

The President’s close ties with two of the most famous feminist groups in the world makes her stand in the question peculiar to me, to say the least. Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo and Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo are the mothers of the young people who were disappeared and killed by the military junta during the Dirty War, and the grandmothers of the babies born in captivity, disappeared, and either killed or adopted by the military men and their families. They are both feminist groups who work with La Presidenta. Even though they may not have abortion on the top of their list,  it is one of their issues since it is a women’s issue. Nora Cortiñas (Madres) says: “We are all women. We have doubts only on one issue; we don’t agree on it or haven’t discussed it widely: abortion. It’s a complex topic, you know; some of the women are Catholic, but they are beginning to understand that the issue is that poor women die while those who are well-off can have an abortion; they can decide and their health is protected. And these poor women cannot afford contraceptive methods. Furthermore, there isn’t any kind of sex education. But that took some time. At first, the topic of abortion produced uneasiness. Many said they didn’t want to get mixed up in that question because woman is a lifegiver….But you know, we’ve made progress in that field. For many years I have fought for the decriminalization and legalization of abortion, although I don’t support it. But I think every woman has a right to decide.”

(You can read Cortiñas’ full testimony in the book Women’s Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean: Engendering Social Justice, Democratizing Citizenship)

As Nora Cortiñas said, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, wealthy women do have access to abortion, and studies have shown that most of them are adults, married with children – and catholic. So it’s the young and poor women who are, again, left to take care of  and defend themselves the best they can…

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Organizations working for women’s reproductive rights in Latin America and the Caribbean:

Read about the National Campaign for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortions in Argentina here

and PAF’s pdf about the campaign here

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