Women’s and LGBTQ+ groups fear backslide

Ashifa Kassam Josefina Salomón Buenos Aires






Three years after Argentina made history as the first large Latin American country to legalise abortion, women’s rights campaigners are gearing up for battle following the election of Javier Milei as president. “It’s a very bleak picture,” said Soledad Deza of the Fundación Mujeres x Mujeres. “This is a government that is promising us greater inequality and – from the first minute – that the autonomy, sovereignty and independence of our bodies is not going to be supported by the state.” Milei, a volatile, far-right libertarian, has routinely taken a hardline stance on women’s issues, vowing to hold a plebiscite on whether to repeal the country’s 2020 landmark legalisation of abortion, describing social justice as an “aberration” and promising to shutter the country’s ministry of women, gender and diversity. He’s denied the existence of a gender pay gap, despite statistics that suggest women in the country earn 27.7% less than men, and has been accused of ignoring the existence of gender violence and discrimination in a country where one woman was murdered every 35 hours on average last year. “Without a doubt, the results are a blow to the heart,” said Deza. “For those of us who work in these issues, I think we have a lot of struggle and organising ahead of us.” The discourse unleashed by Milei echoes that of Donald Trump in the US or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, hinting at what may lie ahead for Argentina, said Giselle Carino of Fòs Feminista, an international alliance of women’s organisations. “The result of the election, while expected, is devastating for all of us working on these issues.” While analysts have suggested that the country’s highly fragmented congress may force Milei to temper some of his more radical proposals, Carino said it was too early to tell. “What we have learned, most unfortunately, is that when people put forward declarations on our issues like he did, we have to take that seriously.” The election saw a shift in tone that could have far-reaching effects, said Claudia Laudano, a professor of feminist studies at the University of La Plata. “The legitimacy of all the work we have been carrying out for so long is being put into question, and that is very worrying,” she said. “Publicly recognising how violence affects women in particular is something we have worked on for a long time and Milei is saying that all violence is the same. This fuels a discourse that is very dangerous.” LGBTQ+ people said they were also bracing for a rollback of their rights. “My first feeling was fear, ghosts from the past,” said Mariana Gisela Tissone, 50, a trans woman and activist who said she was able to transition thanks to a law implemented during the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. “I’m not sure what Milei will do tomorrow, no-one knows,” she said. “But I’m worried about a setback when it comes to human rights, those we have conquered. I feel the same way I felt 20 years ago.” Argentina has long been a regional leader on gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights, ushering in Latin America’s first gender quota law in 1991 and legalising same-sex marriage in 2010. In 2021, legislation was brought in that allowed non-binary people to mark their gender with an X on official documents.