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Argentina’s Abortion Vote Inspires Worldwide Demonstrations

While Senate voted, the pro-choice movement mobilized on an international scale.

By | [email protected] | August 9, 2018 12:24pm

Protestors at the 'Pañuelazo Internacional' in London. (Photo: Emma Conn).

As we wake up to the news that the bill to decriminalize and legalize abortion in Argentina has been defeated in Senate by 38 votes to 31 and the pro-choice movement wipes the green face-paint from tear-stained cheeks, it’s easy to feel deflated after the soaring elation and hope that the vote in the Lower House had inspired. It was always unlikely that the more conservative Senate was going to approve this bill, but the unexpected result in June had given people grounds to expect the unexpected in this crucial final vote.

However, despite a disappointing result, the fact that the bill got as far as the Senate represents a massive step forward for women’s rights in Argentina. Furthermore, the Campaña Nacional por el aborto legal, seguro y gratuito has inspired unprecedented levels of mobilization on an international scale. This Saturday, they launched the Pañuelazo Internacional initiative, hoping to inspire worldwide protests in conjunction with those taking place in Argentina.


What on the surface would seem to be a matter of national legislation has captivated the imagination of women and men around the world and the conditions were propitious for Argentina’s vote to become emblematic of wider concerns. The #MeToo movement, combined with the mobilization behind #NiUnaMenos, the International Women’s Strike and local scandals such the ‘Wolf Pack’ trial in Spain, created a tinderbox of feminist activism waiting for a spark.

Moreover, the symbolic importance of the vote in Argentina for other countries in Latin America cannot be understated. If this bill had been passed, Argentina would have become only the third country in Latin America to legalize abortion after Cuba and Uruguay (abortion is also legal in Mexico City). Much of the bill’s success can be attributed to the mobilization of the pro-choice movement, whose green pañuelos have become icons of the call to grant women the right to choose.

The impressive visual impact of the pañuelo demonstrations, the so-called “pañuelazos,” have allowed the abortion debate to become a part of popular culture in Argentina and throughout Latin America, with pro-choice movements in various countries adopting pañuelos in different shades, inspired by the success that they judge these scarves to have had.

While awaiting the Senate’s vote, protesters gathered in cities all around the world, from Tokyo to Caracas. The Bubble spoke to the organizers of these events in an attempt to gather the sights and sounds of the protest and to understand the what this vote meant for them. Despite the disappointment that many expressed about the ultimate fate of the bill, many remained positive. “We are not putting our pañuelos away yet,” said one. “It will be law.”

Harvard University, USA

(Photo via Cecilia Nicolini).

When the Campaña Nacional lauched the Pañuelazo Internacional Iniciative, Cecilia Nicolini was determined to join the movement. She asked her friends if they knew of any gatherings around Boston or Cambridge but found diddly-squat. “I’m almost 9 months pregnant so organizing something on my own was going to be tough,” she said. “But as a woman, a feminist and future mother, I had to mobilize people in support of this historical moment.”

Nicolini decided to contact a group of Argentines at Harvard to help her organize the event. “We are aware that with the privilege and opportunity we have of studying, working or teaching in an institution such as Harvard, also comes the responsibility of giving back to our country, our society. We needed to do something.”

(Photo via Cecilia Nicolini).

Both sides of the debate have relied on social media to mobilize and raise awareness, with much of the debate played out online. This is even more of the case for Argentine expats wishing to follow developments from across the world. “It is fantastic how cyber activism has become such a powerful tool for citizens around the world to keep you connected to what is going on in your country no matter where you are,” said Nicolini.

“The feminist movement understood this using a concept that has been fuelling this during the last years, the so-called concept of “sorority”. We don’t feel alone anymore, there are millions of women out there willing to support us. And we are there for them, also.”

(Photo via Cecilia Nicolini).

The pañuelazo at Harvard took place on Tuesday, when the future of the bill looked bleak but its death toll had not yet rung. Even so, the protesters shared the belief that they had already won. “We won the cultural and social battle, which is the mother of all battles. The majority of Argentine society now supports the legalization of abortion. Now, we need to fight to change the institutions. We will win, sooner rather than later. The revolution has started and next year, our daughters, little sisters, nieces will vote… and they will change history.”

Barcelona, Spain

María Belén Dileo is a feminist lawyer studying her postgraduate in Gender and Equality at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and is a member of Marea Verde Barcelona, a group born out of a drive to support their compañeras in Argentina but also one which considers the intersection of feminism and immigration.

“As feminists, the debate about our right to decide over our bodies and the conditions – clandestine or otherwise – of these practices leads us to mobilize from the personal and the political,” she said. “We know that our migrant trajectories are politicized and that is why we understand them from the perspectives of territories and peoples who are still passing through their process of decolonization.”

The group sees their heritage as innately politicized. “We situate ourselves as political subjects through and from feminism, with sudaka origins, descendants of the witches they burned and also of those they could not burn, granddaughters of those mothers and grandmothers that the last Argentina civic and military dictatorship did not manage to silence,” said Belén Dileo. “If there is something that we have learned from them, it is that our rights are conquered every day and on the street.”

For Marea Verde, intersectionality plays a huge role in explaining the social problems presented by clandestine abortion. “We know that the risk of our autonomous decisions increases according to the class conditions and the different vulnerabilities that intersect us,” said María. She adds that they want to challenge the Senators, who they consider ignore these women who die from consequences of these back-street abortions.

“Our activism lies in showing Senators […] that feminism crosses geographical and ideological borders and that the international community is watching them carefully. They have in their hands the opportunity to rid Argentina of one of its greatest shames in terms of human rights,” she said.

Copenhagen, Denmark

(Photo via Argentinos en Copenhague).

Argentine expats gathered on Dronning Louises Bro Bridge in Copenhagen yesterday to watch the vote unfold in Senate. Denmark is internationally recognized as one of the countries with the best track record in terms of gender parity and reproductive rights, and so it must have been devastating for those assembled to watch the same freedoms be denied to their compañeras yesterday.

Nonetheless, those assembled were aware of the significance of the occasion. “We are making history. This is what we all feel. United and fighting. Convinced and excited. Engaged and involved,” the organizers told The Bubble.

(Photo via Carolina Tapia).

As with many of the other groups, those gathering in Copenhagen were motivated by a need to protect the lives of vulnerable women, teenagers and girls who are most at risk from dying due to complications arising from back-street procedures.“The illegality of a fundamental and human right such as the voluntary interruption of a pregnancy makes abortion invisible but does not eliminate it,” they said. “It censors our freedom to decide over our own bodies.”

(Photo via Argentinos en Copenhague).

Though it was hard to watch from afar, “those of us who are outside of Argentina, we are also dyed green,” they said. “Day after day the green tide grows and is spread by the hands of many people. It expands in Argentina and invades Latin America. It crosses borders, jumps oceans and arrives in Europe on the backpack of the thousands of travellers who bring, ask for or make their own pañuelos.”

Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia

Pañuelazo in Sydney. (Photo via Vicky García).

The mobilization in Australia was part of a nation-wide push by Feministas Autoconvocadas en Australia (Assembled Feminists in Australia), who called for pañuelazos in King George Square in Brisbane, Federation Square in Melbourne and at the Argentine Consulate in Sydney.

Pañuelazo in Melbourne. (Photo via Vicky García).

“As Argentine women abroad,” they said, “we want to show our support for the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto legal, seguro y gratuito and we also want sexual and reproductive rights to be recognized as the basic rights of all people.”

Brisbane. (Photo via Alejandro Mezio Sirera/Facebook).

They say that they protested in Australia to make the fight visible on the world stage. “Abortion is part of the daily life of half a million women who, year upon year, disregard the mandates on their bodies and their lives and bring a crucial issue to the public stage: motherhood must be voluntary, desired and planned.”

The Hague, Netherlands

(Photo via Luis Thur).

Protesters also met in the home of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, where they gathered outside of the Argentine Embassy. While the Netherlands are not necessarily known for having a large Argentine expat community (apart from Queen Máxima, of course), the pañuelazo saw nearly 60 people join together in solidarity with those protesting in Argentina.

“There were girls who lived in Holland, as well as girls who were on vacation or on study trips,” said Evelyn López, one of the event’s organizers. “We were happy to at least be able to spend some time among people all looking for the same thing, even though we are far away from our place of birth.”

(Photo via Luis Thur).

She expressed bitter disappointment at the outcome of the debate but acknowledged that the issue would not fade back into the woodwork. “Feminists are not stupid and we know that women will continue to die from clandestine abortions. Sooner rather than later it will be law, especially because the streets and the strength are ours.”

Miami, USA

(Photo via Eva Levin).

One of the organizers of the Pañuelazo in every Argentine’s favorite holiday destination, Amanda Epstein, told The Bubble, “we feel it’s out responsibility as Argentinians living in a country where abortion is already legal to stand up in solidarity and ensure our compañeras have the same right to choose and live that we do.”

Although Epstein and her associates live in a country where abortion is legal, the recent dialing back of sexual rights under the Trump administration has made their situation less secure. In that sense, the pañuelazo was as much a demonstration for their rights in America as their compañeras’ in Argentina.

(Photo via María Alconada Brooks/Facebook).

“Given the current political context,” Esptein said, “it is unclear whether abortion will remain legal in the United States. It is a constant struggle that women around the word are facing and we need to be united on all fronts.”

Sao Paulo, Brazil

The event in Brazil was organized by a relatively new group, the Colectivo feminista de argentinxs en Sao Paolo (The Feminist Collective of Argentines in Sao Paulo). They met online while organizing a pañuelazo for the vote in the Lower House on June 13th at the Argentine Consulate in Sao Paolo, from which they formed this collective.

Living outside of Argentina, they are more than aware of the wider implications that this vote could have on Latin America as a whole. “We have met with feminist collectives and Brazilian political parties to be part of the fight for legal abortion in Brazil and seek support for the struggle in Argentina. from local groups and parties,” they told The Bubble.

They organized the pañuelazo in Sao Paulo in conjunction with various Brazilian pro-choice collectives, recognizing that this was an opportunity to start a real conversation about reproductive right across the continent. In addition to solidarity with the cause, they said “[the pañuelazo] will also give visibility to the Brazilian struggle for the conquest of their rights.”

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria. (Photo via Nicht Mit Mir).

Vienna’s pañuelazo was hosted by feminist and anticapitalistic group Nicht Mit Mir (Not With Me). “We believe that every woman has the right to decide for herself if she wants to have an abortion,” they told The Bubble.

“In legalizing abortion the question is not whether you are for or against abortion but rather if women should die or not when aborting. Because women will abort – either legally and under safe conditions or illegally under precarious and dangerous circumstances.”

For Nicht Mit Mir, such demonstrations are essential for protecting women’s rights across the globe, even if this time the bill did not succeed. “International solidarity is essential in achieving full women’s rights,” they said. “The fight for self-determination will continue!”

Pañuelazos also took place in many other cities around the world, including:

Asunción, Paraguay

Pañuelazo in Asunción, Paraguay. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

Berlin, Germany

Pañuelazo in Berlin. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

Bogotá, Colombia

Cali, Colombia

Cali, Colombia. (Photo via Anllel Ramirez/Facebook).

Caracas, Venezuela

Protest in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

Chiapas, Mexico

Chiapas, Mexico. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

Mexico City, Mexico

??? Aborto SÍ, aborto NO … eso lo DECIDO YO ???

A post shared by Sunshine Sunflower (@yaya_gandaya) on

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin. (Photo via Valentina Quironga).


Ecuador. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Pañuelazo in Guatemala. (Photo via Festivales Solidarios).

La Paz, Bolivia

London, United Kingdom

(Photo via Emma Conn).

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru. (Photo via Ni Una Menos Somos Todas – Los Olivos).

Madrid, Spain

Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

New York City, USA

Washington State Park, New York. (Photo via Mercedes D’Alessandro/Facebook).

Paris, France

Paris, France (Photo: Laura Lago,

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro. (Photo via Facebook).

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy. (Photo via Marea Granate).

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. (Photo via La Internacional Feminista).

Santiago, Chile

South Korea

Tokyo, Japan

Toulouse, France