In 1977, the UN proclaimed 8th March as International Women’s Day to commemorate the struggle of women for their participation in society on equal terms with men. The 20th century brought with it significant changes for women: they revolutionised their role within the family and won territory in fields such as labour, science, the arts, academia, and politics.
In Argentina, women’s rise to prominence is conspicuous. With a female president, several female ministers, and one of the highest percentages of female parliamentary representation in the world, it would be easy to think that Argentine society affords women a position of privilege.
However, such achievements have been the result of decades of struggle within a deeply patriarchal society. Let us take a look at the milestones that paved the way towards the progress of women’s rights over the last century.
1947 – Female Vote
The enactment of law 13,010 in September 1947, which gave women the right to vote, frequently appears as a turning point and a substantial change in the inclusion of women in Argentina’s institutional life. The law had been pushed by Peronism during the electoral campaign and had been a recurrent topic in many of president Juan Domingo Perón’s and his wife’s speeches. It was Eva Perón, ‘Evita’, who specially insisted on the speedy enactment of this law, which became one of her primary objectives.
1949 – Eva Perón and the Female Peronist Party
Throughout Argentine history, there has been unanimous acknowledgement of the fact that Evita made of the recognition of equal civil and political rights between men and women a critical cause. Her charisma and leadership introduced Argentine women to the public sphere in a way that was unheard of before her.
After obtaining the female vote in 1947, Evita understood that the law on its own would not ensure the presence of women among the candidates in the following elections. For that reason, in 1949, together with a group of politically active women, Evita found the Partido Peronista Femenino (Female Peronist Party, or PPF). According to its general regulations, the PPF was intimately linked to the Peronist movement, but was autonomous from the original Peronist party formed by men.
Even though Evita did not match the political profile of the groundbreaking feminists of the time, her figure symbolised the achievement of the rights for which they had been fighting for decades. Women finally made their first appearance in the public sphere. However, the Peronist dogma also guarded the secular ideal of maternal and homely women, unable to dismantle the patriarchal stereotype that essentially divided the housewives from the political activists.
1960s – Sexual and Artistic Revolution
From the taking over of factories and universities to the sexual revolution and the hippie movement, the political rebellion took a broader meaning when the search of alternative family values and new forms of expression for women arose. Women’s clothing were a true reflection of such changes, as new ‘unisex’ clothes and miniskirts became a ubiquitous symbol of a sexuality freed from many of its rituals and taboos.
During the ‘60s, the Torcuato Di Tella Institute brought together all the artistic avant-garde trends in Buenos Aires and harboured controversial female artists who were getting noticed in the local scene. Under the influence of pop art, Marta Minujín, Dalila Puzzovio, Mary Tapia, and other artists articulated visual arts with fashion and design linked to the body and daily life.
1977 – International Women’s Day
The government of Maria Estela Martinez de Perón officially adhered to the International Women’s Day proclaimed by the United Nations.
1985 – Joint Parental Custody
In Argentina, joint custody had been established in 1949 by that year’s constitutional amendment. The repeal of this amendment by the military dictatorship in 1956 restored the inequality between women and men for several decades. In 1974, Congress re-established joint custody, but president Maria Estela Martinez de Perón vetoed the bill. The influential conservatives in Argentina argued that the family unit required that one of the parents had “the last word”, and that for cultural and traditional reasons this power should be attributed by law to the man.
In 1985, during the democratic government of Raúl Alfonsín, joint custody, a right claimed by women for years, was restored through law 23,234.
1987 – Divorce
In the midst of protests by powerful Catholic sectors, on 3rd June 1987 Congress voted for what went down in history as the “divorce law”. The very foundations of the Argentine state are rooted in the family model as defined by the Catholic paradigm, which devoted greater powers to the man over the family and imposed limits on women’s decision-making.
The law also attacked some forms of discrimination that limited women, who obtained, among other rights, equal conditions and the possibility to choose whether or not to use their husband’s surnames.
1991 – Quota Law
The quota law, adopted on 6th November 1991, established a minimum 30% female participation in the lists of candidates for legislative elections. Thus, Argentina became the first country in the region to implement a quota system to ensure the participation of women in national politics: for every two men, one woman.
1994 – A New Constitution, A New Step Forward
The constitutional reform of 1994 signified an important breakthrough in the recognition of women’s rights. The Constituent Assembly embodied in the new constitution the accomplishments so far consummated by women, and provided them with a legal framework and constitutional status. From the female vote, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Quota Law, the law on Protection against Family Violence, to the Program “Victims against Violence” and the creation of the Office of Domestic Violence in the Supreme Court, the State began to return women their rights, complying with international human rights treaties.
2008 – The Battle Against Human Trafficking
On 29th April 2008, Argentina adhered to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children through the enactment of Law 26,364 on the Prevention and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons and Victims’ Assistance.
The acquittal of those accused in the case of the abduction and disappearance of Marita Verón in 2012, sparked public outrage and accelerated the amendment of the law, which deepened the mechanisms to fight human trafficking. This amendment, which was passed unanimously, includes stiffer penalties for those found guilty of trafficking and an expansion of victims’ rights.
The fight against human trafficking in Argentina recorded in 2012 a total of 690 victims rescued from sexual exploitation networks and other 432 from labour exploitation such as clandestine textile workshops.
2009 – Fighting Violence Against Women
In April 2009, Law 26,485 on Violence Against Women was enacted.
The law recognises that violence against women and girls stems from discrimination, and proposes fundamental changes in the education system, both in curricula and in textbooks, teacher training, and the inclusion of a gender perspective in the training of the armed and security forces. Moreover, it provides the victims of this kind of violence with economic, physical, and psychological support.
2013 – Today’s Public Women
Argentine women are beginning to occupy a prominent place in the public sphere, more specifically in the artistic and the political fields. Today, women hold 38% of the seats in parliament, a number that turns the Argentine Congress into one of the parliaments with the greatest female presence in the region. In fact, according to the UN, the Argentine parliament is among the top five with the highest proportion of women in the world, ahead of most European countries.
At the executive level, as well as President Cristina Fernández, three women hold key ministries: the Minister of Social Development Alicia Kirchner, Minister of Security Nilda Garré, and Minister of Industry Débora Giorgi. There are also two female governors, Tierra del Fuego’s Fabiana Rios, and Catamarca’s Lucía Corpacci.
As for the feminist movement in Argentina, its groups have recognised that linking up with the state by adopting a position of greater openness undoubtedly increases the opportunities to be a part of the discussion and analysis of public policies. However, some consider that by having entered in the official agenda, the movement lost its strength and left the door open to the relativisation of several certainties of the past.
There is no doubt in that Argentina has come a long way in the fight against women’s discrimination and its unjust, and many times inhumane, manifestations. Over the last decades and under major social pressure, Argentine legislation began to tackle the issues of social and political inequality between men and women and to assist victims of femicide.
Unfortunately, sexual inequality persists in the social margins, entrenched in poverty, immigration discrimination, domestic violence, etc. There is still disparity between the formal achievements and the actual practices. International Women’s Day is not meant to congratulate ourselves for the accomplishments other women have attained before us, but to remind us that the eradication of fear and the transformation of patriarchal habits and attitudes are still goals to achieve.