Our Bodies, Our Choices, Our Voices
By Elpida Bograkou
When discussing and fighting for one’s human rights, breaking the silence and breaking the norms go hand in hand. How peculiar that our most honest dialogues regarding our rights, our bodies, our choices, and our relationships tend to happen in our minds. When these imaginary dialogues happen, they are the most relieving and free us in an unprecedented manner.
It is common and, at some point justifiable, for all people to refrain from opening up in real life. Why you may ask. Maybe it’s because of the societal norms that we have internalized and these norms, by extent, dictate that some issues should be tabooed. One of those issues are reproductive rights and more specific the right to safe and legal abortion with a framework that will protect the woman and her decision.
The norms of any given society are dictated and change according to the major social institutions. For Jonathan Turner (1997; 6-7) these institutions are a system of “positions, roles, norms, and values” that can be found in “social structure” and are used to “organize stable patterns of human activity”, and I would also add, behavior. Social structures that are considered social institutions are the government, religion, education, family etc. According to Anthony Giddens (1984: 31; 1976: ), social institutions are by definition “the most enduring features of social life”. They are features that have the gravitas to establish and influence decisions, beliefs and ideologies.
There has been an ongoing debate, and several United Nations and other organizations and NGO publications, that have argued in favor of acknowledging women’s basic human rights such as the right to terminate their pregnancy for any reasons they might have. The fight towards recognizing the right of abortion has built a momentum all over the world with various countries reaching the historical stage of approving legislations that will ensure and promote women’s right to abortion (Amnesty Internaltional). The time has come for all societies to admit one, undeniable, universal truth: “my body, my choice”.
After Poland, the most encouraging news came from Latin America and Argentina most specifically. Latin American countries have always been negative towards abortion mostly because the influence of the catholic church (Human Right Watch) with only three countries legalizing abortions. However, the grassroot movement “Ni Una Menos” has secured a pivotal and historic win for the feminist movement. In late December 2020, women in Argentina celebrated the Senate’s decision to legalize abortion. This resulted from years of activism that started in 2015 and was ignited by the shocking killings of two girls, aged 14 and 16 respectively. “Ni Una Menos” became the movement that will carry the fight towards legalizing abortion (The New York Times, 2020).
The insurgence of the #MeToo movement in 2017 and its spread all over the world boosted the efforts of the “Ni Una Menos” movement in Argentina and fueled other movements like the one in Greece that started after the brutal murder of Eleni Topaloudi. In addition to the increasing awareness around the issue of reproductive rights in Argentina, a change in state leadership and more specifically the election of President Alberto Fernandez signaled a turn of the country to a more, socially and economically, liberal state.
Argentina made history. A deeply religious state controlled by outdated and dangerous for women’s lives belief systems sent a strong message. Women are, and should be, allowed to exercise their rights. It is imperative that a woman can decide on her pregnancy and governmental mechanisms should ensure safe access to abortion.
Argentina has undoubtedly entered a more liberal era but last December’s decision was only the beginning. The abortion bill was voted by 38 members of the Senate and 29 voted against with one abstention. The very fact of how close the votes were helps one understand that there is still a long way until all people understand how important this recognition of reproductive rights was.
One thing is certain, as long as the Catholic Church hold its power in Latin America, pro – choice activists will continue to push for change!
Amnesty International. (2021). My Body My Rights. [online] Amnesty.org. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/my-body-my-rights/ [Accessed 22 January 2021].
Giddens, A. (1984).The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Human Rights Watch, n.d. International Human Rights Law And Abortion In Latin America. [online] hrw.org. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/wrd/wrd0106/index_old2384523.htm [Accessed 22 January 2021].
The New York Times, 2020. How Argentina Bucked Tradition In Latin America And Legalized Abortion. [online] nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/30/world/americas/argentina-abortion-questions-answers.html [Accessed 22 January 2021].
Turner, J. (1997). The Institutional Order. New York: Longman.