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Experience file Dossier : Gender and Conflict Transformation

June 2005

The personal is very political in Argentina

Conflicts about the right to abortions.

Keywords: Sierra Leone

Conflict description:

The long-standing abortion debate recently came to the national forefront in the Republic of Argentina as a result of a National Campaign that was launched on May 28th for the Right to Abortions, requesting that they should be legal, safe and free of charge. The campaign will last six months and will end with the presentation of a petition , signed by citizens nation-wide, to the National Congress, seeking the immediate action for the legalization of abortion.

Abortion is currently legal in Argentina only when the life of the mother is at risk or when a woman is mentally challenged or mentally-ill. It is illegal under any other conditions, including for situations of rape. Between 400 and 500 thousand clandestine abortions occur in Argentina each year, which lead to at least 500 deaths attributed to complications.

Roles of men and women:

This discussion is related to women’s (human) rights, specifically their sexual and reproductive rights and can be understood as a conflict over values, about who can make decisions about women’s bodies and the lives they carry. Women and men’s gender roles are influenced by the conflict’s outcome. The legalization of abortion could bring about various gender role changes for women and men. Principally, women would have full autonomy to make choices regarding their bodies, including reproductive self-determination. When paired with sexual and reproductive health education, and the provision of contraceptives, this provides the conditions for both women and men to make informed decisions about family planning. This newly gained autonomy would empower women and would increases their decision-making power, especially within the household. Women and men, especially the impoverished, no longer have to bear the burden of raising large families that result from unwanted pregnancies. In traditional households, women’s domestic responsibilities would be reduced and likewise men’s economic responsibilities. The household responsibilities and economic burden of raising a large family would especially be reduced for women who work both within (non-remunerated work) and outside (remunerated work) the home.

Changes in identities:

I don’t think the legalization of abortion itself can change deep-seated gender identities, especially in a non-secular state where the Catholic Church has great influence. However, legalized abortion, can help pave the way towards altering the quite traditional gender roles and identities we see in Argentina today. If such a highly debated issue as abortion, in which moral and ethics come into play, can be legalized, then this is a sign of changing times and more liberal thinking on the part of society and government. This type of thinking could create spaces where dialogue and action could be taken towards recognizing and respecting a wide range of other women’s rights. For gender identities to change in meaningful and long-lasting ways we must change the way society thinks about and treats gender as a socially constructed identity.

Impact on rights:

Abortion is considered by many to be a ‘rights’ issue. When looked at it from this perspective, abortion is said to fall under the realm of four key human rights: the right to life; the right to health and eliminating discrimination against women in terms of health; the right to equality and freedom from gender discrimination; the right to autonomy in decision-making in private matters. When abortion is legalized, these four human rights are respected, when abortion is illegal, we are in violation of these four key human rights. Both women and men are affected by legalization of abortion, but women are more directly impacted due to the physical implications of child-bearing and abortion.

The legal recognition of a women’s right to abortion gives her full-autonomy over her reproductive health. It also provides women who have suffered a violation of their human right to be free from violence, through rape, to exercise her right to terminate this pregnancy legally, safely, and free of charge. Just yesterday we came to fully understand the urgency of the legalization of abortion, especially for victims of rape. A young rape victim, Romina Tejerina, was sentenced to a fourteen year prison term for killing her new-born child shortly after it was born. This tragedy could have been avoided if Romina would have had access to free, safe and legal abortion services following her rape.

Impact on relationship:

Women’s empowerment in general, and specifically in relation to their bargaining power in matters of family planning, would be strengthened. Men would legally have to respect women’s decisions in relation to reproduction, which hopefully would create more respectful and collaborative dialogue between men and women on the topic.

In the larger sphere, the decision itself to legalize abortion would not change the gender inequity present in formal governance structures. It is important for relations to change on all levels for real gender equality to occur and for the power structure between men and women to shift towards equality in all spheres of life.


In this essay the authors discussed the abortion debate, which recently came to the national forefront in the Republic of Argentina as a result of a National Campaign that was launched on May 28th for the Right to Abortions as legal, safe and free of charge. While the abortion debate affects society at large, especially women, the Catholic Church (Pro-life), Feminist and Women’s Rights organizations (Pro-choice) and the national government are taking part in the current debate are.


  • The author of the file is : Laura Eileen Hunt.