02 November 2006

The equal sex

The Argentine Senate has just ratified the CEDAW (UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). It's not that things are going to change overnight for discriminated women in Argentina, but it's something. Passing through the Senate was a major obstacle, but 32 out of 44 Senators were in favour. The ones against were following the line of the Catholic Church, which also sent letters pressuring more progressive legislators to block the ratification of the CEDAW, calling it "abortionist". Octopus Dei member Senator Liliana Negre de Alonso practically repeated a note sent to other Senators by the Episcopal Conference in 2002, which contained a number of inaccuracies (these were promptly refuted by another Senator).

Argentina is a weird beast when it comes to religion; it's not your typical Latin American red-blooded Catholic country; the framers of the modern state were liberal to the point that they appropriated all the lands owned by the Church, passed a fully non-religious education law as far back as 1884, and though usually what we'd call elitist and conservative, they wanted a powerful national state and viewed the Church as a competitor. There was never a "wall of separation" between Church and State in Argentina. The seemingly paradoxical result of this is that over time the Church has became just another political actor and lost most of its spiritual appeal. It still has some sort of moral authority for many, but most Argentinians are no-nonsense regarding religiously motivated ideologies. Let me explain...

People in Argentina (mostly) don't approve of abortion. They don't believe embryos and fetuses are just lumps of tissue that women should be able to remove from their bodies at will. They don't believe that the lack of a right to abortion is discrimination against women. But when you tell people that badly-performed illegal abortions kill hundreds of women each year, and when in the streets of any city you can see malnourished 16-year-old mothers pregnant with their second child as they carry their firstborn, most, Catholic or not, think twice. This is why the Catholic Church does not organize massive popular rallies and processions to protest laws giving women the right to decide. At very specific times they gather their bases for minor demonstrations; usually, they only send notes to politicians -- they point directly at the core of power and influence. They address these notes to conservative politicians who will broadcast the ideas of the Church disguised as religiously-neutral legalese, and to progressive politicians who might be led to think that pissing off the Church is a bad idea. Sometimes that works; this protocol first entered the Argentine Congress in 1985...

It's premature to think what this ratification of the CEDAW protocol will do for Argentine women, but a step towards the goal of equal rights is a step no matter what.

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