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SOUTHERN CONE
Women struggle for basic rights
Rocío Alorda*
3/10/2011
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Inequalities and abuses continue despite some advances.

Women across the Southern Cone region took to the streets March 8 — International Women´s Day — to demand their rights and an end to the abuses and discrimination their gender has suffered for centuries.

In demonstrations and meetings, women from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay sought to strengthen a growing women´s rights movement and to demand that their governments design public policies that defend these rights.

Although it was a breakthrough in Argentina and Brazil when their respective presidents, Cristina Fernández and Dilma Rousseff, were elected, inequalities and violence against women continue.

The legalization of abortion and the inclusion of the gender-based killings in the penal code are at the center of Argentina´s movement. In 2010, 260 women were killed, according to Casa de Encuentro, an Argentine´s women group. Despite some advancements, such as a new law aimed at preventing violence against women with stiff penalties for gender violence that went into effect in 2010, the trend has continued. Raquel Vivanco of the Juana Azurday Women´s Collective says that there have been 10 femicides so far this year.

Nevertheless, other aspects of Argentine law are threatening women, such as a ban on non-therapeutic abortions.

There are 500,000 voluntary abortions performed in the country every year, according to the United Nations, and back-alley abortions “are the main cause of maternal mortality in Argentina,” said Vivanco. Clandestine abortions there generate US$300 million a year.

Brazil´s feminist movement is hoping that Rousseff´s promise to dedicate her young government to eradicating extreme poverty and bridging gaps in equality will mean more equality for women.

Tica Moreno, a member of the Brazilian chapter of the World March of Women, said that it is important to make progress on the guarantee of childcare for the empowerment of women, build up forces in the struggle for the legalization of abortion, and fight against the objectification and “commodification” of women´s bodies and lives.

Women´s groups will meet later this year at the third National Women´s Conference, called by the governmental Special Secretariat for Women to debate and evaluate public policies and their impacts on women.

“We want to gain force and achievements in the fight for women´s economic autonomy in these spaces,” said Moreno. They also aim to increase their presence in the debate over the current development model, she said.

Pending issues
In Uruguay, women´s demands have been heard.

“It is widely understood now that women´s demands are valid and they have been adopted in politicians´ discourse, which has allowed for advancement in legislation and public policies,” said Lilian Abracinskas, director of the nongovernmental organization Mujer y Salud.

Abracinskas noted that women have long worked with politicians, civil society and labor unions, but women have not significantly advanced in their presence in government. Women hold only 12 percent of parliamentarian seats.

“Uruguay´s democracy owes something to women. This is something we´ve been after for many years,” said Abracinskas, adding that “political parties have no intention of promoting women´s leadership” and designate only women who support the status quo.

Paraguay has been slow to hear women´s cause. One of the most marginalized sectors in the country is poor campesina and indigenous women.

Women in rural areas face some of the highest risk of rights violations, facing forced migration or human trafficking, said Perla Álvarez, of the National Rural and Indigenous Women´s Coordinating Group.

As small-scale farming families are forced to look for work in urban centers, pushed aside by large agribusinesses, women often end up working living in precarious settings and are frequently subjected to wage discrimination as domestic workers. Álvarez said they face even worse discrimination if they leave the country to search for work.

Close to 25 women´s groups in Paraguay, including Amnesty International, Catholic Women for Choice, the Right to Health Movement, the Peace and Justice Service, among others, demanded equality and the respect of all women citizens´ human rights. Many women´s groups in Paraguay are urging the government to improve campesino women´s access to land, a land reform with gender equality that would allow them equal access to land titles, public policies that guarantee women´s right to life, health, a zero tolerance to gender-based killings, and a new sexual and reproductive health law.

Women in Chile continue to face perilous situations. The weak support to women´s rights during several governments since democracy was restored in 1990, has endangered women´s rights. The new right-wing government of President Sebastián Piñera has put these rights even more in doubt.

“The scenario is dangerous because the government´s proposal is reinforcing women´s roles in the home, working but with precarious work, and with many children to take care of,” said Gloria Maira, a member of the Feminist Articulation of Chile and the March 8 Coordinating Group.

“We have big demands and big resistance in this movement, which is not backing down from the rights we´ve already won,” said Maira. “The contraception has begun to disappear from health centers. Emergency contraceptives are not available in health centers as called for in the law.”

Maira said this March 8 should be a starting point for women around the region to unite and resist the current scenario of obstacles to women´s rights. —Latinamerica Press. 


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Women mark International Women´s Day with protests. (Photo: Rocío Alorda)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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