Archive for activism

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!

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16 de Julio: Entre cumpleaños y el cambio

Posted in Argentina, Bolivia with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, while Bolivia celebrated its antiquity, Argentina led the charge for progressive change in Latin America.  Today, el 16 de Julio, marks the 201st anniversary of Bolivia’s revolution for national independence.  While citizens of La Paz marched through the streets to commemorate the date, in Buenos Aires, gay men and women and their allies celebrated Argentina’s July 15 legalization of gay marriage.  The confluence of the two dates makes me reflect on Latin America’s tumultuous history, and brings me hope for more positive changes to come on the continent.

This photograph of Argentina’s presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, was provided by a guest photographer.

Bolivia’s popular daily paper, La Razón, published a nostalgic piece on the anniversary of the revolution emphasizing the changing face of La Paz city and the tenacity of its residents.  La Paz, originally founded inside a giant bowl, has seen its neighborhoods creep up the bowl’s sides and spill over onto the flatlands above.  The settlements on the high plains, or altiplano, have turned into El Alto, currently the fastest growing city in Latin America.  The residents of El Alto–largely indigenous migrants from the mines and countryside–have been involved in some of the most important Latin American political mobilizations of the 21st century, such as the 2003 overthrow of neoliberal President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada.  Sian Lazar’s El Alto, Rebel City (2008) and Lesley Gill’s Teetering on the Rim (2000) offer insightful accounts of El Alto’s role in radical Bolivian politics.  Back in 1809, El Alto did not yet exist, but the region’s radicalism was already apparent.  On May 25, 1809, Bolivia’s city of Sucre hosted the first revolt for independence on the continent.

View of the “bowl” of La Paz from the city of El Alto, about 350 meters above.

Bolivia’s La Razón also reported on Argentina’s historic passage of gay marriage, making it the first country in Latin America to do so.  Argentina–likely the least Catholic of the nations on the continent–legalized gay marriage in a Senate vote of 33 “yay,” 27 “nay,” and 3 abstaining.  Mexico City, which also allows gay marriage, immediately followed by offering the first gay couple married in Argentina a free honeymoon in Mexico.  While in Buenos Aires 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the yearly gay pride parade, and was surprised at how small it seemed.  Fortunately, much seems to have changed in the last decade.

In short, today is a good day.  Working on issues affecting women in Bolivia, it is easy to become discouraged by stories about and statistics on violence, unwanted pregnancy, and death.  However, the “norm” is changing.  All over the continent, people are working to improve their own and other’s lives.  And lately, these efforts are producing results.

29 de Abril: Ojo–la ley no te protegerá

Posted in abortion, Bolivia, sexual violence with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

A couple of recent events have revealed the fragility of women’s right to choose in Latin America and in the United States, despite laws guaranteeing abortion access in those countries (or at least, under certain circumstances).

A few weeks ago, in a piece for Womanist Musings, I commented on the case of a nine-year-old-girl in Brazil who, after much difficulty, succeeded in securing a legal abortion when a rape left her pregnant with twins.  In that case, the Brazilian Archbishop ex-communicated the entire medical team that performed the procedure, along with the girl’s mother.  Now, RH Reality Check brings us the story of another young girl, raped and impregnated by her step-father in Quintana Roo, Mexico.  According to the local reproductive rights group, GIRE (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), the pregnant girl and her mother “received biased information from authorities about their rights and access to abortion.”

As in Bolivia and in many other areas of Latin America, women in Mexico who become pregnant as a result of rape are legally permitted to have an abortion.  However, in practice, the bureaucratic processes necessary to secure a legal abortion, as well as the tendency of anti-abortion authorities to pressure women against the procedure, make cases of legal abortion fairly rare.  This is not, as many have pointed out, because rape is rare: Marcy Bloom, of GIRE, notes that in 2009 alone, 881 women in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo “became pregnant as a result of rape.”

After some deliberation, this young Mexican girl and her family have decided to continue the pregnancy and keep the child.  Still, anti-choice activists in the country have used the case as an opportunity to attack pro-choice groups like GIRE, arguing that the organization attempted to pressure the girl to get an abortion.  In fact, women who become pregnant as a result of rape in Mexico are much more likely to be pressured by anti-choice elements to give up their legal right to abortion (see the RH article for a number of examples).

In case you are tempted to believe that legal abortion is so difficult to secure in Latin America because of the restrictions surrounding the procedure, think again: this week, abortion access suffered a major blow in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, where Roe v. Wade ostensibly extended abortion rights to women over 30 years ago.  Thanks to the Oklahoma Legislature, women seeking abortion in that state will now have to view ultrasound images and “listen to a detailed description of the fetus.”  Like the 24-hour wait law and other obstacles to abortion access, the Oklahoma measures display the profoundly condescending notion that unless forced, women will not think deeply about their decisions to have an abortion.  That, unless the state imposes its own definitions of “thoughtfulness” and “consideration” onto women’s abortion decisions, then women will approach these decisions with frivolity and disdain.

The photographs in today’s posting were provided by a guest photographer.

When women were granted the vote, we were supposedly recognized by the state as “adults” capable of making independent decisions and of running for office.  Restrictions to abortion access, however, return women to the realm of childhood, where we are deemed wards of the state who cannot be trusted with decisions impacting our own bodies and reproductive lives.  These three stories reveal a painful truth–that we cannot trust the law.  Laws alone will not protect us.  Access to legal abortion–and “permission” to act as capable adults–are still a long way off.

13 de Marzo: Ni flores, ni gases en nuestro día

Posted in Bolivia, International Women's Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

As many of you know, last Monday, March 8, was International Women’s Day (IWD), and while I shared some images on the blog from a La Paz-based IWD march, I have not yet had a chance to comment here on some of the events that took place.  IWD was a busy day in La Paz and I doubtless missed some of the activities that occurred, so the reflections that appear below are partial, at best, and represent my own experiences during the holiday.

The day began with a televised speech by Bolivian President Evo Morales that was even more disappointing than many local feminists expected.  (I have not yet been able to find a transcript of this speech; if I do, I will post it to the site.  This article, however, includes some brief quotes from the speech.)  Regular readers of the blog will remember that Morales recently instituted a policy of gender parity in his government cabinet which has gained international attention, despite the lack of political experience of some of these women.  Although Evo’s famous gender parity measure was instituted through a law, Morales’ speech insisted that women do not need government regulations, norms, or laws to achieve equality with men.  Instead, Evo argued that Bolivian women are often their own worst enemies, and that envy and in-fighting prevent them from achieving their full potential.  In other words, until all women can get on the same page, they have no business asserting themselves on the political scene.  (As if all men are on the same page, politically or socially, and refrain from political in-fighting.)

“The machismo of MAS [Movimiento al Socialismo, Evo Morales’ political affiliation] suffocates me more every day.”

Bolivian feminists had little time to react to Morales’ speech, since they were planning a morning march on the Ministry of Justice, a dilapidated yellow building on La Paz’s Prado street.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, feminist marchers hoped to call attention to the problems of violence against women and feminicide by insisting that women want justice for victims, not flowers and accolades, on IWD.  (Men typically give flowers to women for IWD in Bolivia.)  In the most recent issue of their bulletin La Escoba, La Paz-based feminist organization CIDEM estimates that 98 feminicides took place in Bolivia in 2009, 28 of which occurred in La Paz and El Alto.  (A PDF of this bulletin is available here for readers of Spanish: Boletina la escoba 8.  Regular readers may notice that a Spanish-language version of Eugenia’s January post on unsafe abortion appears in the magazine.)

Five groups of family members of recent victims of feminicide attended Monday’s march, most waving red signs bearing pictures of their deceased loved ones.  The woman pictured below is demanding justice for her daughter, who was four months pregnant when she was discovered late last year hanging by a rope in her living room–the main suspect to the crime is her own husband.

The marchers–who, in addition to the family members of victims of feminicide, included activists from local organizations CIDEM, CEPROSI, Gregoria Apaza, and Coordinadora de la Mujer, among others–blocked the street in front of the Ministry of Justice for nearly an hour, calling for the Minister to come out and address the issue of feminicide.  As I have mentioned before, feminist activists in Bolivia are pressing lawmakers to incorporate feminicide into local penal codes, so that perpetrators will be subject to prison sentences of at least 30 years and will be unable to escape on “crime of passion” defenses.

Eventually, it became clear that the Minister–a woman, as many in the crowd were eager to point out–was not going to emerge from the building.  Slowly, the crowd began to disperse, passing around water and candies to the tired marchers.  And then this happened. At the tail end of the march, when only perhaps 30 people remained, most standing on the curb holding a black banner denouncing feminicide, the group of motorcycle cops pictured below rode by and sprayed the line of women in the face with tear gas. The mayhem was immediate–women scattered, some collapsing to the ground, struggling against both gas and altitude to breathe.

Once the women recovered, some joked that the cops had sprayed us with tear gas to wish us a happy International Women’s Day.  “Men give us flowers,” one said, “but if we don’t want their flowers–if we want justice, instead–the cops gas us.”

Eventually, a small commission of women was received by the Minister to talk about the issue of feminicide.  Some say that Minister Torrico is sympathetic to the idea of incorporating the crime of feminicide into legal codes, as other Latin American countries have recently done.  However, it will most likely take a lot more than one supportive minister to change this law.  And unfortunately, we know how President Morales feels about laws protecting women.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

10 de Marzo: Imágenes de Protesta

Posted in Bolivia, images, International Women's Day with tags , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Below are several images of an International Women’s Day protest that took place last Monday in La Paz, Bolivia.  The central idea behind the protest was to insist that women want justice for female victims of violence and feminicide, not flowers, on their “special day.”  The family members of five recent victims of feminicide (murders of women for the simple fact that they are women) were present at the march.

Come back and visit the site this weekend to learn more about the International Women’s Day events that took place this year in Bolivia.

3 de Marzo: Están invitad@s

Posted in Bolivia, International Women's Day with tags , , , , , , , on March 3, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

I’d like to invite anyone who is currently in La Paz, Bolivia, to attend an event on the evening of Monday, March 8, commemorating International Women’s Day. At 18:30hs (6:30pm) on Monday, the Women’s Documentary Center “Adela Zamudio” of local feminist organization CIDEM, in cooperation with the Documentary Center in Latin American Art and Literature (CEDOAL), will be holding an event recognizing local women for their work in poetry, film and radio. Please join us at the Espacio Simón I. Patiño on Av. Ecuador 2475, at the corner of Belisario Salinas in Sopocachi. I hope you all have a fabulous International Women’s Day!

Invitation: Event Flyer

20 de Febrero: Igualando oportunidades

Posted in Bolivia, inequality with tags , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, a brief note on two pieces that at first glance seem somewhat unrelated: a recent article from the BBC applauding the role of Bolivian women in President Evo Morales’ administration, and a report by the Bolivian Vice-Ministry of Equal Opportunities on their campaign urging young people to “live their sexuality with responsibility” during the crazy days of carnaval.

In a previous post, I have discussed what I see as the danger of congratulating too enthusiastically Evo Morales’ incorporation of unprecedented numbers of women into his administration.  By hand-picking several members of the female sex and depositing them in a variety of government posts, Morales can both claim that he is in favor of “women’s rights,” and insist that women’s activism is no longer necessary.  Luckily for Morales, this article by the BBC seems to support his contentions.

The opening sentences of the BBC piece adopt the common, and always disturbing, trope of arguing that things have generally sucked for women until an important man raced in to save the day.  Reporter Andres Schipani traces an undifferentiated line of women’s oppression from the wars for Bolivian independence in the early 1800s, to the ascension of Evo Morales to the presidency 200 years later.  Schipani writes, “In the early 19th Century, Bolivian women fought alongside men for the country’s independence from colonial Spain…But their presence on the battlefield did not translate into presence in the political life of their nation. For many, their education, job opportunities and political rights were limited – until now.”

However, Morales’ placement of a number of women into government posts neither means that these particular women will necessarily do anything to support women’s rights, nor does it automatically elevate other women’s chances for achieving similar success.  While some of the women that Morales have placed in government sport long careers in politics and an interest in women’s issues, others seem to have appeared out of nowhere and may not be equipped to carry out their jobs effectively (think U.S. ex-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin).  Recently, a friend who shares my concern about the hoopla surrounding Morales’ new “feminist” cabinet remarked that, by placing unprepared women into government positions, the president may inadvertently reinforce stereotypes that women are ineffective and useless in politics.

So, what does elevate your average woman’s chances for success, if not Morales’ insertion of a few representatives of the female sex into government?  Here, I’d like to direct you to the report by the Vice-Ministry of Equal Opportunities on their recent campaign, “Que este carnaval no cambie tu vida, vive tu sexualidad con responsabilidad” (“Don’t let this carnaval change your life–live your sexuality with responsibility”).  Carnaval in Bolivia is a raucous event, consisting of four days to a week or more of drinking, dancing, costume-wearing, and general merry-making in mid-February.  The Vice-Ministry’s campaign for carnaval was, “directed toward youth and toward the Bolivian population to prevent problems such as: unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and domestic violence.”  (All translations are my own.)

Okay, so I realize that the strategy of creating “equal opportunities” for men and women through the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and STIs speaks to rather different issues than Morales’ strategy of fomenting gender parity in government–but still, I am impressed.  I am impressed largely because this campaign constitutes a direct recognition on the part of the government both of the gravity of problems such as unwanted pregnancy and violence in Bolivia, and of the role these problems play in maintaining women’s unequal status.  Of course, descriptions of the Vice-Ministry’s campaign are limited to what I have quoted here–it’s unclear if condoms were distributed during carnaval, or if government officials simply “urged” Bolivians to “be careful.”

In general, it seems to me that the more proposals for gender equality, the merrier, whether these target congress or party-goers.  This doesn’t mean, however, that we should accept these proposals outright, without discussion or debate.  Perhaps especially when proposals for gender parity are handed down to us by a patriarchal state, the need for democratic debate–and the inclusion of women in this debate–is particularly called for.