Archive for the Latin America Category

29 de Marzo: Es una buena idea

Posted in Bolivia, HIV/AIDS, Latin America, reproductive rights, sexuality, women on March 29, 2012 by eugeniadealtura

Compañer@s: This is a good idea.

Today, La Paz’s La Razón reported that, in a recent forum that brought together young people from over 50 different organizations around the country, Bolivia’s youth demanded that individuals under the age of 18 be allowed to access HIV tests without the permission of their parents–and that this testing be free of charge.  This is a good idea.  On the one hand, recent studies reveal that rates of HIV in Bolivia are increasing most rapidly among the under-18 population.  On the other hand, my own research in La Paz and El Alto indicates that few adolescents feel comfortable talking with their parents about their love lives–much less sex, condom use, or STIs.

The demands of Bolivia’s youth, which were articulated at a forum on sexual and reproductive rights organized by the European Union, in addition to other groups, will be presented for government review on April 3–although it is unclear in what form.  At the same time, a municipal law is currently being considered to introduce HIV testing to a greater number of local health care centers, as well as to promote educational campaigns about the disease.

Initiatives such as these are sumamente importante in a country such as Bolivia, where many women reach menarche, and even become pregnant, before they have even learned what a period is.  Social attitudes toward contraception, pregnancy, and courtship in the country are certainly changing, with an increasing proportion of parents speaking with their kids about sex.  However, sexual behaviors may be changing even more rapidly.  A number of medical doctors in Bolivia commented to me during interviews that, over the past 15 years, they have delivered a greater number of babies to adolescent women than ever before.  With kids having sex younger and younger–and yet, still not feeling comfortable speaking with their parents about these experiences–Bolivia’s youth should have the right to take care of themselves.  I sincerely hope that this & other laws allowing minors to access contraceptives and STI testing without parental approval–and to assume control of their sexual and reproductive lives–pass.  It’s the right thing to do.

15 de Agosto: Noticias

Posted in abortion, Argentina, birth control, Bolivia, Latin America, reproductive rights, women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, a variety of news bits on Bolivia and reproductive rights around the world.

First, a story of social and political conflict in Bolivia’s Potosí department, where for the past 18 days, strikers have blocked roads and led social protests in the area.  Protestors are attempting to hold the Evo Morales government responsible for a number of projects that, although promised some time ago, have scarcely advanced.  The projects include an the construction of an international airport in the city of Potosí, the establishment of a new cement factory in the region, and government preservation of the historic Cerro Rico–the mountain pictured below whose silver deposits essentially financed the Spanish conquest of Latin America over 500 years ago.

The Andean Information Network (AIN) interprets recent protests in Potosí as evidence that Evo Morales’ traditional bases of support are disappointed with the administration’s failure to keep its promises.  While the Morales government often describes protests as led by the right wing, the AIN notes that, “seventy-eight percent of Potosí voters chose Morales in the 2009 presidential elections, second only to voters in the La Paz department.”  La Paz’s paper La Razón reports today that a variety of officials of the Morales government have been in negotiations with the Potosí protestors, and that some progress has been made on at least one point of contention, the plan to construct an airport.  However, hunger strikes and street blockades have continued, since five other major grievances have not yet been addressed.  Meanwhile, in the city of Potosí, families have been subsisting largely on noodles and rice, since blockades have prevented meat from reaching local markets.

None of the coverage of the Potosí protests that I have encountered thus far has discussed women’s particular participation in the protests or how women and girls are being affected by the conflicts.  In similar mobilizations in Bolivia, however, women have taken an active role.

This photo of the Cerro Rico mountain and Potosí city courtesy of Gerd Breitenbach, a user of Wikimedia Commons.

As political conflict rages in Bolivia, Argentina received an embarrassingly poor report card last week on women’s reproductive and sexual rights.  Last Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a 52-page report chronicling, “the many obstacles women and girls face in getting the reproductive health care services to which they are entitled, such as contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after rape.”  Regular readers will remember that these are also common problems in Bolivia.  Their prevalence in Argentina, however, is even more appalling considering that this country’s socioeconomic indicators tower above those of Bolivia, even after the economic crisis of 2000-2001.

Similar to conditions in Bolivia, the report, entitled, “Illusions of Care: Lack of Accountability for Reproductive Rights in Argentina,” notes the high prevalence of illegal abortion, high rates of maternal mortality due to abortion, and the failure of judges and doctors to authorize and perform those abortions that are legal (ie., in cases of rape). Access to contraceptives is also restricted due to a variety of issues, such as long waits at clinics, the (unauthorized) demand that a husband sign for a woman’s sterilization procedure, and financial costs.  These issues–and other, similar ones around the world–prompted one Guardian blogger to call for a UN agency specifically devoted to women. That’s an idea that’s easy to get behind.

The Human Rights Watch report on Argentina can be downloaded here.

The San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Finally, good news from the U.S.A.: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in that country approved a new pill to be used to prevent pregnancy after intercourse. The medication, called “Ella,” is considerably more effective than the morning-after pill that is currently on the market, Plan B.  While Ella will prevent pregnancy for up to 5 days following sex, Plan B is only effective for 3 days, and becomes less effective the later it is taken after the event.

This move by the FDA has been interpreted as “evidence of a shift in the influence of political ideology at the FDA,” since its approval moved more quickly than that of Plan B, and, as one activist mentioned, was “‘based on scientific evidence, not politics.'”  This does not mean that the battle has been won, however–anti-abortion activists have been quick to describe Ella as an abortifacent, and some are planning campaigns against the drug.  At the moment, women can obtain Ella with a prescription from their health care provider at any time, so they can keep a supply at home.  Go get yours today!

20 de Marzo: Progresista, pero no hacia las mujeres

Posted in abortion, Bolivia, Latin America with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

A recent article by the IPS via Upside Down World reviews the dire situation of abortion in today’s Latin America.  The article, “Abortion in Latin America — Still Illegal, Still Killing, Despite Growing Awareness,” notes that more abortions are performed in Latin America than in any other world region, and that abortion is the second leading cause of maternal mortality in Latin American countries.  Abortion-related complications are responsible for “4,000 avoidable deaths” per year.

From left: “Condom–take responsibility,” and “Abortion is not only a woman’s issue.”

By now, it should surprise no one that Latin America leads the world in numbers of abortions not despite the fact that the procedure is illegal in almost every country in the region, but likely, because of it.  Statistics have shown time and time again that criminalizing abortion tends to increase, not decrease, numbers of abortions.  While four countries do not allow the procedure under any circumstance–including to save the mother’s life–13 countries allow the procedure in very limited situations, such as in cases of rape, incest, fetal malformation, or when the woman’s health or life is at risk.  Abortion on demand is available in Cuba since 1965, and in Mexico City since 2007.

What may be surprising, however, is that abortion restrictions remain tight in Latin America despite the presence of left-wing leaders in government.  Perhaps because of political tendencies in the U.S. or in Europe–where left-wing leaders often champion progressive legislation on gender equality–many of us tend to see left-wing movements as necessarily woman-positive.  In Latin America, however, this is not so. In fact, two of Latin America’s so-called progressive administrations rolled back access to abortion in the last few years, while two of the region’s “conservative” governments liberalized abortion access.  This tendency in Latin America is not new.  Scholar Mala Htun finds that conservative military governments in Latin America passed progressive legislation on issues of divorce, abortion, and parental rights between the 1960s and 1980s, while democracies often failed to do so.

“I decide.”

Moriana Hernández, a Uruguayan sociologist quoted in this article, notes that sexism is so entrenched in Latin American society that machista attitudes cross the political spectrum.  “‘It’s easy to negotiate over the bodies of women because of that patriarchal influence,'” she says.  Because of this, the issue of abortion–of women’s right to control their own reproductive lives–is often used as a “bargaining chip” in political struggles between leftist leaders and right-wing factions of society.  Rita Segato, an Argentine anthropologist, adds that the Catholic Church opposes abortion simply to demonstrate its continued influence in Latin America, and that the institution does not truly care about defending “life.”  If it did, says Segato, it would recognize what has been proven time and time again: that criminalizing abortion increases both abortion rates and women’s deaths. Don’t believe me?  In Cuba, where abortion has been legal on demand since 1965, “the abortion rate is less than 21 per 1,000 women of reproductive age, 10 points lower than the regional average” (emphasis mine).  

Both the right and the left in Latin America need to open their eyes: decriminalizing abortion will not only guarantee women’s inalienable right to control their own bodies and save women’s lives, it will also dramatically reduce the numbers of abortions being performed, plain and simple.

A graffiti drawn by Bolivian youth from El Alto, reading, “Being a father, being a mother–leave it for tomorrow.”  The first two images in today’s post were provided by a guest photographer.