Political Activism Abroad: The Abortion Vote in Argentina

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Politics in Argentina

In general, Argentines are more politically active than Americans.  Many mendocinos ((residents of Mendoza) have told me how Argentines are knowingly vocal and up-front about their political opinions, whether they know anything about the topic or not. Unlike in the United States, it’s not considered rude for friends, family, or even strangers to discuss politics. I was shocked when my professor abruptly asked me what I thought of the American president, because from my experience in the American university system, professors never ask students about their political affiliations so directly. But it’s not unusual for a mendocino to ask an American student directly about their political opinions.

Study abroad ArgentinaWith the country’s recent dictatorship fresh on their minds, people are more likely not only to voice their opinions, but also to demonstrate publicly in the streets. Additionally, mandatory voting laws for citizens over 18 leave residents no choice but to stay informed about current legal issues.

Students participate often in political rallies and debates, much more than their American counterparts. Political banners plaster the hallways of UNCuyo (Universidad Nacional de Cuyo), one of the public universities. Involvement in the city’s political life isn’t a choice for most students, whether because they miss class due to professors striking for higher wages, or because they organize initiatives to clothe and feed the homeless populations of the city.

A Fierce Debate in Reproductive Rights

In the first week of August especially, Mendoza saw a number of demonstrations concerning the Argentine senate’s abortion vote on August 8.

In the province capital’s streets, people across gender, age, and political spectrums sport bandanas to represent their opinion on the issue: either green, hoping to pass the vote, or blue, hoping to deny the movement. In the past two weeks, both groups have manifested multiple times in the center of Mendoza, banging drums and singing their fervent support for or disagreement with the issue.

In Argentina, the abortion debate stirs up strong emotions on both sides. The country, along with the rest of Latin America, has a deep Catholic tradition that causes many people to oppose abortion, donning blue bandanas to support the sanctity of life. Others call attention to the over 350,000 clandestine abortions that happen every year, calling the debate a public health issue instead of a moral conundrum. But unlike in the United States, Argentina has a universal healthcare system that would make abortions free for patients; taxpayers would indirectly be required to support the operation financially, regardless of their opposition to it.

The Feminist Movement in Argentina

The vote means a lot for Argentina, as Pope Francis’ birth country, and for Latin America as a whole, which has restrictive abortion laws. The vote arises as part of a larger wave paralleling the “Me Too” movement in the United States, “Ni Una Menos,” that has manifested in Argentina in the past few years to call attention to the high levels of violence against women. Mendocinos claim that the movement has lowered the machismo that’s common in South America; for example, catcalls which were once commonly heard on the streets are now socially unacceptable.Study abroad Argentina

On the day of the vote, mendocinos gathered in the Plaza de Independencia to watch the livestream of the senator’s debate, their faces painted with blue or green sparkles and their arms covered by bandanas. Many people I talked to, including my host mom, stayed up into the early hours of morning to watch the televised results.

The motion wasn’t expected to pass in the senate, and it didn’t. But many mendocinos believe that the issue will come back in a few years after the next election, and the outcome might be different. Overall, the project is one of many that represents a changing atmosphere for women in South America.

Emma Houston is an English literature and Spanish major at DePauw University and studied abroad with IFSA at the Mendoza Universities Program in Argentina in the fall of 2018. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.

Article by Emma Houston