The liberal and libertarian project in Argentina: the six hardest blows against women’s and vulnerable sectors’ rights

Only ten days after assuming the presidency after winning the ballot with 55.7% of the votes, the libertarian liberal Javier Milei signed a Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU). In this article we present the 6 blows against the emblematic advances that Argentina had made for women’s rights, for training on gender issues, for the prevention of discrimination and for the protection of nature in the country.

Only ten days after assuming the presidency after winning the ballot with 55.7% of the votes, the liberal libertarian Javier Milei signed a Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) in which he set forth the “bases for the Argentine reconstruction”. A week later, he sent to Congress a project he called “Bases and Starting Points for the Freedom of the Argentines”. It is so extensive and touches on so many different issues that it is known in the media as the “omnibus law”. The Decree is in force until the Congress deals with it (except for some articles suspended by the Courts). The law, on the other hand, is being debated in the Chamber of Deputies while the social mobilization does not cease. Between the two norms, the President is proposing adjustments, economic and financial deregulation, reduction of the State, increase of poverty and setbacks in terms of women’s, diversity and children’s rights. 

The coin is in the air and, in the meantime, the rights of diversities, the country’s historical efforts to achieve political parity, gender training for government officials, care for the environment, care for children in their first thousand days of life, and even the right to voluntary interruption of pregnancy are at risk. To cite one fact, in the 89 pages of the Decree of Necessity and Urgency, the word “gender” appears only once. To cite another, as soon as he took office, Milei turned the Ministry of Women, Genders and Diversities into an Undersecretariat that will only deal with “Protection against Gender Violence”. 

Abortion, conquered in Argentina in 2020 after a long public debate and many popular mobilizations, was questioned by the ruling party throughout the campaign in a rhetorical way. But now it became concrete: at the beginning of February, deputies of Milei’s coalition (La Libertad Avanza) presented a bill to repeal Law 27610 and re-criminalize the interruption of pregnancy. At the same time, the head of the Ministry of Human Capital signed agreements with the Fundación Cooperadora Nutrición Infantil. This organization is presided over by Abel Albino, a well-known anti-abortion militant who even opposes the use of condoms. Among other things, he has said: “women should strive to offer men both their physical and moral virginity”.

First strike: gender training for those who work in the State. 

Micaela García was 21 years old when she left a nightclub in Gualeguay (Entre Ríos province) and was kidnapped, raped and murdered. It was in 2017. The young woman was a feminist militant and, for that reason, her parents decided to carry on her legacy. They fought not for revenge but for a law, known as Ley Micaela. It establishes that it is mandatory for all people working in public service, in all hierarchies and in the three branches of government, to be trained in gender and violence against women and diversities. It was an avant-garde law that resulted in thousands and thousands of people being trained in this perspective. 

The Omnibus Law proposes to reduce it to training only for those who work with the issue. With this, the spirit of the norm, which understands that the gender perspective must be transversal, would be lost. In addition, the law changes the expression “gender violence” to “family violence and violence against women”, leaving out diversities.

Second blow: the law to take care of the first days of pregnancy

When in 2020 in Argentina the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy was approved, the Thousand Days Law (Law 27,611 on Integral Health Care and Attention during Pregnancy and Early Childhood) was also passed. The idea was, precisely, that the choice of family planning should not depend on socioeconomic status and to support both those who decide to terminate the pregnancy and those who decide to continue it. 

Thus, the Thousand Days Law seeks to ensure “access to a comprehensive system of care, through policies of income, identity, health, social development, education, protection, gender, culture”. In it, it defines care (activities to meet our basic needs, such as food, health care, education, hygiene, rest, containment, shopping, cooking and asking for a shift) and stresses that “even today, in most households the responsibilities and tasks of parenting and care fall on women”. 

Through awareness raising and access to community care spaces, it seeks to distribute care with an “active participation of men” to contribute to gender equality. It also creates a comprehensive health care allowance (a sum of money for each child under 3 years of age in the woman’s care) and expands existing allowances, including pregnancy, child and adoption allowances. It guarantees the right to have a document, facilitating the mechanisms for those who did not have one at birth, as well as a life free of violence and health care for the pregnant woman. 

In the chapter of the Omnibus Law in which the Executive seeks to modify this law, where it used to say “women and pregnant women”, it now says “pregnant mothers”, eliminating all diversities and with a conservative view on pregnancy. In addition, instead of proposing the accompaniment of early childhood health care as a universal right, it focuses only on what it calls “situations of vulnerability”. Among other changes, it omits the objective of “preventing violence” and does not include the principle of “progressive autonomy” or “respect for the gender identity of individuals”. In addition, it explicitly speaks of “children from the moment of conception”, something that clashes head-on with the concepts behind the right to the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy.

Third strike: against political parity

Argentina has a very important tradition in the struggle for political parity. In 1946 it became the seventh country in the region to achieve political rights for women. That is, the right to elect and be elected. In 1991, as the percentage of female participation in Congress was only 5%, it passed the Quota Law that established a minimum of 30% of women on the lists. In 2017, it was the turn of the Gender Parity Law that indicates the obligation to place women and men in an intercalated manner, from the first to the last. The objective, historically, was to achieve true equality in the possibility of access to positions of power and thus comply with what the National Constitution and the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women) say. Now, with the Omnibus Law, Milei proposes to divide the country into 254 constituencies that would send one representative each. Thus, the Parity Law would no longer be applicable as we know it. Advances, such as the achievement of having 47% of women in Congress, could vanish in a few elections.

Fourth strike: the setback in the fight against discrimination

Article 348 of the Omnibus Law proposed to repeal Law 24.515, which created after the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA, the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), an agency that carries out different policies to make society increasingly diverse and egalitarian. In a study conducted by the agency in 2022, they identified that 72 percent of people, at some time felt discriminated against, either in education, in the workplace, or even in public. In a statement, the Argentine LGBT+ Federation repudiated the proposal: “The closure of INADI goes against respect for diversity and freedom in our country. One cannot be free if the answer to freedom is violence and discrimination. And it is the State that must watch over that freedom”. In mid-February, the presidential spokesman announced that he would close it unilaterally: “The decision was taken to move forward in the dismantling of different institutes that effectively serve absolutely no purpose or are big political boxes or places to generate militant employment and the first of them will be the INADI”, he said during the usual press conference from the Government House. 

Also at risk is the Public Defender’s Office which, among other issues, has been in charge of defending the audiences and making recommendations for the coverage of gender and environmental issues.

Fifth blow: against the protection of lands, glaciers and forests.

The DNU signed by Milei repeals the Law known as “Ley de Tierras”, which set limits to foreign ownership and prohibited private ownership or possession of riparian lands and border security zones. According to the President, he wants to modify it to encourage investments. In a press release, the Colectivo de Acción por la Justicia Ecosocial (CAJE) and the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers (AAdeAA) stated: “Foreign ownership of our soils means losing our sovereignty over the common goods associated with soil and water. In turn, this implies the displacement of vulnerable populations. Peasant and indigenous communities could be expelled by metalliferous and lithium mega-mining, the expansion of the soybean-livestock and forestry-industrial frontier and the shift of hydrocarbon exploitation”. 

Milei also wants to change the Law of Forests, which establishes minimum budgets of environmental protection for the enrichment, restoration, conservation, exploitation and sustainable management of native forests. Several human rights organizations, such as CELS (Center for Legal and Social Studies) denounced “concern for the maneuvers carried out by transnational mining companies in Congress during the treatment of the omnibus law to modify the Glaciers Law”. This law seeks to protect glaciers from contamination and exploitation, given that they are strategic natural assets to preserve life.

Sixth strike: dismantle programs against hunger and labor rights.

Another issue raised by the DNU is the elimination of fines for those who do not register their workers. Taking into account that more than 90% of domestic workers are women and that 70% are in the informal sector, the decision will only continue the trend towards the feminization of poverty. 

In addition, in Argentina there are more than 70,000 cooks in community kitchens, an emergency response to the economic crises in Argentina. During the pandemic, the organization La Poderosa presented a bill to recognize their work symbolically and economically. It became known as the Ramona Law. Today, far from that, the country is facing the opposite: they are neither recognized nor receive the food they need. The situation is complex in a country where, according to a UNICEF report from early 2023, more than half (51.5%) of children and adolescents live in households that cannot afford the basic food basket. And worse: 13.2% live in indigent households. 

There have already been several demonstrations asking for the canteens to receive food. Even the Catholic Church, through a Caritas communiqué, asked the Government to regularize the supply. A few days ago, something singular happened. The Minister of Human Capital, in front of the protesting referents, said: “Guys, are you hungry? Come one by one. I am going to write down your ID number, where you are from and you will receive help individually”. Said and done, with popular creativity, the next day several organizations lined up, one by one. The line was 30 blocks long. 

In the face of the right-wing coup in Argentina that threatens the rights of women, dissidents, workers, women laborers and other populations historically violated, civil society, feminist movements and international organizations are preparing their responses. At the end of January, the General Confederation of Workers held its first national strike, perhaps the fastest since a government took office in living memory. It was very well received and mobilized tens of thousands of people. In mid-February there was also a massive mobilization for the food emergency. The workers’ organizations are already thinking of a second one. On February 21 there was a train strike and it is possible that, if the Government does not react in the next few days, there will be strikes in hospitals and schools. 

Julia Muriel Dominzain is an Argentine journalist. She writes and collaborates in several media in Argentina and the region. She was correspondent from Moscow. She has worked in television, participates in documentaries, scripts, produces and broadcasts podcast series. She is a regular contributor to MIRA: Feminismos y Democracias.



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