By Francesca Nardi
I am writing this as my summer in Argentina starts to come to a close. This week is significant not only for me as my internship ends, but also for Argentina and many of those I have met throughout my time here.
From the moment I arrived and started walking around the city, blue and green banners and bandanas caught my eye. At first, I had no idea what they were for, thinking that maybe they were related to the World Cup.
I could not have been more wrong.
Throughout my time here, a national bill that would legalize abortion has been debated and voted on by the lower house of Congress. It passed through Congress in June, and tomorrow it faces a final challenge in the Senate. The debate surrounding this bill has been a feature of my summer in Argentina, and I feel lucky to have been here during such a fascinating time legally and politically.
It would be a massive understatement to say that this bill has been polarizing. Abortion in any context is incendiary, especially in a very religious country that is the birthplace of the Pope, in a very religious and conservative region of the world. There have been widespread protests since I arrived, as well as massive rallies organized by both sides. Men and women wear coloured bandanas, (green signifying support for legalized abortion, and blue signalling opposition) to work, school, and around the city during the day. The graffiti on the walls around the city contains political messages about this issue. Every party on Friday and Saturday nights descends into heated dinner conversation about the future of this bill and what it will mean for Argentina. For some, it represents Argentina moving into the future and joining the rest of the developed world in allowing women to make essential choices about their own bodies. For others, it represents an unacceptable departure from religious and moral values. For some, it simply means recognizing the reality that hundreds of women are dying in Argentina from dangerous underground procedures.
Being here during this time has turned every assumption I had about the abortion debate in Latin America completely on its head. Reading about the debate in Latin America, I always assumed that the opposition to abortion was fueled predominantly by men and by the Machismo culture that is so pervasive. I have been startled to realize that there are lots of women, including lots of young women who oppose legalizing abortion. Among my female friends, almost all of whom are lawyers or in their final year of law school, approximately half oppose legalizing abortion in Argentina. This realization has prompted some of the most interesting and challenging dinner conversations I have ever had with young women and friends my own age, and has served as such an important reminder that I am here to learn and to listen, not to impose my views or perspectives on the people I meet here.
It has been inspiring to see so many young people mobilizing to make their voices heard, on both sides of the debate. Argentina has a long history of a highly engaged political culture and consciousness and I feel lucky to have been here to see that in action. Regardless of what happens during the vote tomorrow, being here during such a time of dialogue and mobilization for change has been eye-opening both within my work and outside of it. I will be watching this debate closely, even once I am back home.
It is crazy that I leave in two days. Somehow this summer has been simultaneously nothing like what I expected, and exactly what I needed at the same time. I absolutely fell in love with Mar del Plata, and will be so sad to say goodbye to this beautiful city I have called home for the past three months. This opportunity has been so beautiful, and I will carry the lessons and the friends from my summer in Mar del Plata with me back to Canada with me.
For anyone curious about this debate: https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/americas/100000006031377/argentina-a-nation-divided-on-abortion.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=5&pgtype=sectionfront