The women felt, at least as I remember them, like my grandmothers. They sat on benches in the plaza every Thursday, white headscarves covering their faces, and they waited or marched together. The headscarves depicted diapers, as if, no matter how old they were, their children were still infants. In the 1970s and 1980s, they were the mothers – and later grandmothers – of Plaza de Mayo, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were once strangers to each other and occupied the square, waiting. They met at police stations and churches where they searched for their children’s records. What were they looking to find, exactly? Their children – young men and women, students and workers – vanished during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Instead, what they discovered was an unbearable truth: the government had tortured their children and killed them…. It occurred to me only later that I must have looked like their missing granddaughters, orphaned in the prisons of the dictatorship shortly after their birth. In the Argentine style of politics, these women were finding the reality from below: they took to the streets, occupied the square, and made their own bodies a shrine to the struggle.
I grew up in a small town in Córdoba, far from trendy Buenos Aires.
There, my father is a Catholic deacon.
I was baptized, made my First Communion, and confirmed; I married later, a Catholic woman from within Argentina.
There wasn’t much conversation about feminism or the sexual revolution caused by the Pill in the faith community where I grew up. When I immigrated to the United States in the early 2000s, I met people who challenged the Catholic faith based on the experiences of ordinary women. Like my mother, grandmothers and aunts, they were Catholic, but they talked of sexuality, abortion and gender equality. Marta Alanis, a Catholic who shared the story of her own clandestine abortion, was one of the movement’s founders.
She ripped off a piece of green cloth in 2003 at the end of the National Women’s Gathering in Argentina and put it on her head.
It was these feminists who supported the legalization of abortion in Argentina, resuming the tradition of the Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo.
It was the beginning of the “Green Wave,” a campaign on the streets of Argentina involving millions of girls and women of all ages and religions. On Wednesday, 30 December 2020, the Argentine National Congress voted that abortion would no longer be a criminal crime. Women will be able to terminate pregnancies for up to 14 weeks – free of charge in public hospitals – with the exception of rape and cases where the welfare of women is at risk after that date.
Girls who look like my own daughter are occupying the streets after 17 years of waiting and 13 bills to celebrate this revolutionary moment in Latin American politics for such a delicate topic. I was in Argentina when the 2018 bill almost passed; although lawmakers declared their votes in the form of long speeches, the outside mood was one of joy.
As I walked the streets around the Congress Palace, where the past wealth of Argentina is on show, I revelled in the measureless hope of women who could have been the granddaughters of Plaza de Mayo’s mothers.
They wore handkerchiefs, like their predecessors, which are now hopefully green and worn everywhere, around their necks and wrists, hanging from backpacks…. Last week, the Covid 19 pandemic prevented me from joining women in the streets, but I watched from abroad as Latin America was swept by the Green Wave. In pro-choice mobilizations in Oaxaca, Mexico; Brasília, Brazil; and Santiago, Chile, the green handkerchief was used.
Although the handkerchief has long been a symbol of the struggle of women in Argentina against abusive political authority, it is now also a symbol of hope and feminist transformation.
Abortion has been accepted by women already; it is something that we do regardless of the penal code of a country or our own convictions.
On the streets, abortion has already been accepted by generations of women.
Giselle Carino is the head of the Western Hemisphere Region of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.