Last year something wonderful and unexpected happened in Argentina that filled us with hope and put some on alert: the feminisms across the country were transformed into a mass movement, into a political actor with its own heft and agenda, an actor with the capacity to disrupt the existing practices of organization and intervention and with a vocation for flooding the public space and not yield the streets. All of this happened in the midst of the most regressive political and economic context in a long time, in the midst of a conservative neoliberal landscape, in the country in which Macrismo had legitimately won the elections and in which it seeks re-election.
When people from other latitudes ask us how we managed to achieve such mobilized feminisms, we have no other choice but to trace our history. The massive mobilization for Ni Una Menos in 2015 surprised us, but to prevent that energy from dissipating, the feminists that had been struggling for years in their workplaces, in their organizations, in their territories, in their own houses were all paramount. Feminism in Argentina resembles a network of capillaries, and like any great movement, it surges and multiplies itself from below. As our dear Mother of the Plaza de Mayo Nora Cortiñas, who is almost 90, says, “many of us were feminists and didn’t know it.” What we saw, then, in these last few years was perhaps an awakening of sorts, the naming of rebellions that were already there, willing to multiply.
It’s a matter of course that the massiveness accomplished was achieved through the strength of marches and counter-marches, tensions and disagreements, critiques that oftentimes helped to revise our own position to enable more mature and diverse perspectives.
The Struggle for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion in 2018
Last year, still covered in green glitter, the color of the struggle for abortion, we wrote these lines in the aftermath of July 13th and August 8th, the days during which the bill for voluntary termination of pregnancy was discussed in our House of Representatives and in the Senate, respectively. The bill was approved by the House but was rejected by the Senate, but it still provoked an unprecedented scene of mobilization of around 2 million people who demanded a historical feminist right.
This demand implied tactical articulations in the Congress and strategic ones in the streets. The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion, constituted since 2005 as the front for political intervention across the entire country managed to coordinate a massive deployment of street demonstrations, adding legislative allies through an intense lobbying effort. The daily and ceaseless work of the Health Professionals Network (Red de Profesionales de la Salud) and of aid worker collectives, with a feminist perspective, multiplied the avenues for escorting pregnant people and terminating unwanted pregnancies wherever the State was not able or willing to do so (since 2015 abortion is legal in cases of health, rape, and risk to the pregnant person’s life). We also let ourselves get taken in by a group of activist feminisms that widened our reflections on these issues, such as trans activists that spoke not only about trans men’s demands for the right to abortion, but also about bodily autonomy and sexual freedom as the rallying flag of the local LGBTIQ collective — claims that cut across our ideas about why the decriminalization and legalization of abortion is necessary.
As we indicated in our reflections immediately following those days of struggle, thinking about our agenda for the future, though we did not win that battle we didn’t feel completely defeated. We belong to a new popular left that cannot think about anti-capitalism without speaking of feminism, and vice versa.
Everything that Fits in One Feminist Assembly
The great feminist mobilizations of the past few years were organized in assemblies in which each day’s demands are debated, a unified document is written, and we discuss how we must march. We were building, not without effort, a feminist movement that was plural and incorporated sexual dissidents. This 2019, the electoral agenda showed that for many of us, these meetings were, at times, only a platform for capturing votes in October, the month of our presidential elections: in that fight, there was a face-off between the groups affiliated with Kirchnerism (which ruled between 2003 and 2015) and the Trotskyists grouped under the Left Front. These short-term arguments, which sought to have the assembly propose a specific electoral ticket or a slogan that could be easily nestled under one or the other faction, made us lose sight of the common ground that we had achieved with effort. Not only demands to be made of the State, specific laws, and the demand that worker’s organizations call a strike, but also the certainty that a strike is impossible if it doesn’t include all jobs, paid or unpaid, with or without union representation.
Some of us feared that the assemblies would lose the ability to conduct politics and that the dates that impelled us — the international strike of March 8th, the fifth Ni Una Menos march of June 3rd — would become mere routine actions. But once more the streets surprised us. The March 8th strike was massive, and convened all political forces that opposed Macrism. Despite the differences and the push-pulling during the assemblies, the photos from this march made something abundantly clear: the feminisms were able not only to articulate sectoral demands, but also to mark the agenda for the whole political spectrum.
Do You See Us Now?
The feminist mobilizations were not only among the most massive, even within the context of a profound social and economic crisis, but also the most radical in their declarations and demands: questioning the system of representation, the forms of union activity, the historical devaluation of certain jobs, the power of the Catholic Church to involve itself in the affairs of the State.
This irruption in the public debate, in the streets, within organizations, continues to discomfort those who would want the feminist movement to stick to mere sectoral demands. Feminism did a great work when it politicized what happens behind closed doors, in private life, in the life of affects and intimacy, with the body and with sex. Not only to denounce the power asymmetries between men and women, or the cis-heterosexual order, but also to account for how these oppressions serve to reproduce the capitalist system as such. In this way, feminism, the feminisms, turn out to be crucial to think about politics at this stage because they were able to put a novel lens onto the capitalist crisis, one of which our leftist factions can’t help but to take note.
A few months out from those first assemblies of the year, and for the first time, the law of gender parity that forces the parties to have equal representation of men and women in their tickets came into effect. In this context, the slogan #Feministsonthelists (#Feministasenlaslistas) started a debate about the insufficiency of filling spaces with women. A year out from the debate on legalizing abortion in the Congress, voted for and against by men and by women, it was important to recall that feminism is a movement and that being a woman is not enough.
A question now emerges. Are the feminisms the critical mass that can help comrades from different political spaces to elbow themselves a space within the organizations that contest the elections? Or should our capacity to generate our own agendas, catalyze mobilizations, to contest what’s been denied find a different avenue to make itself heard? We have an intuition that has yet to be corroborated: we are about to see a phase of retreat for feminism and for the LGBT collective. “Backlash,” as they say in the Global North, disciplining and a call to order, that is what we are feeling. Were this not so, then why is the dominant approach in Argentina to capture with discourses of moderation the electorate that tacked right, instead of assuming that the feminist agenda is capable of mobilizing a wide swath of voters? The definition of the running tickets, where the candidate for each party is settled on, is a spectacle filled with misogynistic pettiness and alliances. Just as some comrades pointed out, it felt more like a formal achievement of equality, than the joy of contributing to a political framework that was also militantly feminist. Many comrades from the Kirchnerist persuasion faced difficulties conquering places dominated overwhelmingly by cis men.
Effectively, the ability of our comrades to insert themselves into those spaces that still wish to reduce feminism to a list of specific demands depends on the strength of a feminist movement, and of whatever unified critical mass we might be able to generate. It also depends on our ability to respond in a time when the disciplining of the green tsunami abounds. For those of us on the feminist left who wish to defeat Macri in the ballot boxes as well, our comrades who want to define a different tactical and strategic horizon are equally so feminist comrades who we must join with and with whom we must build. In the midst of austerity and the hollowing out of the State, we hope that it is those comrades, sitting in elected office, who will make the difference not only by voting in favor of legalized abortion, but also by positioning themselves against labor and provisional reforms that set the foundations for an even more sinister advance of capital over life.
A Feminist Pact
In April of this year, in the face of the current administration’s failure to put the breaks on the inflation that eats away at the quality of life of the workers, the Minister of the Treasury Nicolas Dujovne assured the nation that he had made a “gentleman’s pact” concerning prices with some business leaders. This unfortunate — and sexist — statement was little more than a declaration of good intentions that also failed to revert the economic crisis, nor did it control the rise in prices, and it did little to hide the insoluble alliance between the Macri administration and the country’s leading CEOs. In the face of this, feminists from different places — whom we met and with whom we built affective and political links in the assemblies, in the fight for legal abortion, in the streets fighting against the administration’s politics — wanted to propose our own pact: to think an antiracist, anti-Macri, anti-capitalist feminist agenda committed to intervening into the current political conditions.
In this agenda, a basic issue has to be the recognition of all jobs — those with or without union representation, unpaid domestic work, etc. — and the defense of their rights. It was in this spirit that the Feminist Norma Plá Working Day was conceived, inviting union comrades, agricultural workers, trans activists, feminist youths and girls to reflect on rights, welfare, labor, and feminist resistance. This organizing was made manifest within the Inter-syndical Feminist space, this past July 2nd, in the demonstration against the anti-working class policies desired by the IMF.
Whoever ends up winning the October elections, Argentina will have to debate what it will do regarding the demands with which the IMF will seek to guarantee the repayment of the record-setting loans it has given Mauricio Macri’s government. If these reforms are part of the language of the right-wing, the feminisms will have a great challenge: not only to face down austerity, but also to create space to debate and propose, against each reform, a revolution.
Cami Baron is an economist, feminist activist, and editor of Revista Intersecciones.
Gabi Mitidieri is feminist, researcher in history and gender, and activist for Democracia Socialista and Quimeras, its gender front.