More than 1,000 activists gathered yesterday in front of Congress, donning green bandanas (or pañuelos), a symbol of the feminist movement in Argentina. The protesters were there to advocate for free, legal, and safe abortions, which they consider to be a basic human right.
While the message was serious, oblivious onlookers might not have realized that the gathering was political upon first glance: protesters sat on the grass, drank mate, smoked cigarettes, painted each other’s bodies, and wore glitter on their faces. Yes, the activists were there to advocate for change, but for many, it was also a place for liberation, and these means of self-expression were not just fun – they were political too.
Well-known feminist leaders such as Celeste Mac Dougall led the rally, addressing the large crowd and advocating for abortion rights and comprehensive sex education. Currently, abortions in Argentina are only legal if a woman’s life is in danger, or in the case of rape (as proof that the rape occurred, survivors only need to provide a signed affidavit stating their case.) In addition to this and since 2003, the law allows for women to access abortions to preserve their physical or mental health, too. Regardless of these specific situations, abortion remains largely illegal, and so the protesters advocate for free, legal, and safe abortions for all, no matter the circumstances.
However, while more seasoned activists led the movement and aired their usual grievances (this was the seventh annual pañuelazo), one activist, Natalia Saralegui, said she was most impressed by the presence of young protesters. This year, more so than any other, she saw a significant presence of very young women – many between 13 and 17 years old.
“This is the continuation of the struggle that took place last year, demanding comprehensive sexual education and protocols against gender violence in schools,” Saralegui said.
We talked to these politically engaged young women to find out what pushed them to get involved in this issue, and one reason for the huge turnout was to rally behind the cause for comprehensive sex education. Argentina does have a comprehensive sex education law which was passed in 2006. In theory, it ensures that children have access to sexual education during their high school years, but reality paints a different picture, one in which many high school students state that they receive less than two hours of sex education per year, and some of them, none at all.
“Without comprehensive sex education, we can’t know how to make the right decisions about our bodies,” Julia, 13, told The Bubble.
A group of young girls – ages 13 to 15 – explained to The Bubble that in Argentina, sex education classes can differ widely, depending on the teacher and that the law remains largely unenforced.
“I think the right to make decisions about my own body is more important than any moral or religious belief someone else may have,” Eloisa said.
Further, several teenage women discussed the impact of class on the abortion crisis in Argentina. These aren’t just teenagers engaging in #hashtag #activism for their social media accounts – even though some did point out their excitement around the presence of one of their favorite social-media-famous activists, Malena Pichot – but young women trying to change what they believed to be a restriction of their rights.
“I come from a privileged class,” 17-year-old Chaira Jarzynski stated. “I’ve had the opportunity to educate myself about these issues. I know how to access contraception, but someone that was raised in a villa might not.”
Two other 17-year-olds, Ludmila Mazzola and Noelia Alilfraco, explained that wealthy women can often get access to safe abortions even though they’re illegal because they can pay for it. Meanwhile, poorer women often end up having to resort to unsafe methods, thus putting themselves in danger.
As the saying goes, “Educación sexual para decidir, anticonceptivos para no abortar, aborto legal para no morir” – Sexual education to be able to decide, birth control to avoid termination, and legal abortion to stay alive. With this in mind, all activists emphasized how the protest was not just about legalizing abortion, but also about making it free and safe, and above all, an actual choice, by providing the tools so that women of all classes could make decisions about their bodies.