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Argentina under Milei: The First 120 Days of a Government Marked by Wide-ranging Attacks on Women’s Rights

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By Sofia Quiroga, Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Program Officer in Argentina

Argentina’s new government, under the leadership of President Javier Milei, has recently completed its first 120 days, with alarming implications for women’s rights. The new president’s anti-feminist rhetoric is fueling an assault on efforts to address gender-based violence, and his promotion of regressive measures threatens the hard-won equality initiatives championed by the feminist movement over the past decade.

Bill seeking to recriminalize abortion

Milei’s political party, La Libertad Avanza (LLA), in February presented a draft bill in Congress to recriminalize abortion, outlining that women who have terminations and those who perform them would be punishable with prison sentences. In addition, the bill says that healthcare professionals in charge of performing an abortion should be struck off the medical register.

The bill aims to repeal Law 27610, which provides women with the right to access safe and legal abortion free of charge within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and without a time limit when there is risk to the mother’s life. The law was passed in 2020 following years of dedicated advocacy by women’s rights supporters. 

Not only does the new bill seek to remove this fundamental right to reproductive healthcare, but it introduces even more stringent restrictions than those found in the Penal Code that was in effect from 1921 to 2020, when abortion was only permitted in pregnancies resulting from rape or when the woman’s health was at risk.

The proposed new law fails to provide any exception for abortion in cases of rape. Instead, it would require a rape survivor to apply for a court order, with the decision left to a judge’s discretion.

The only circumstance in which interrupting a pregnancy would not be punishable is when a woman’s life is in imminent danger due to the pregnancy, but termination would only be permitted “as long as the danger cannot be avoided by other means.”

Shutting the Ministry of Gender and prohibiting a “gender perspective”

Shortly after taking office, Milei’s government dismantled the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity, transferring its responsibilities to the Ministry of Human Capital. This decision has generated considerable uncertainty regarding the continuity of the gender policies formerly overseen by the dissolved ministry.

President Milei has asserted that “violence does not have gender,” and in February 2024, his government declared its intention to prohibit “anything related to gender perspective” within the national administration. 

To promote regressive policies aimed at curtailing women’s autonomy and equality, Argentina’s far-right has launched an offensive against the term ‘gender’. Portraying legal rights and protections for women as a threat to traditional family values is a worrying trend that the international women’s rights organization Equality Now is seeing worldwide amongst far-right parties and governments pushing to restrict reproductive rights, reinforce traditional gender roles, and obstruct legal avenues that address sexual and gender-based violence.

Budget cuts threaten gender policies

Austerity measures implemented by Milei’s government have significantly reduced funds allocated to gender policies, and this is already impacting gender-based violence prevention and response services. 

An alliance of Argentine civil society organizations reported that state spending on public policies that address gender inequality has been slashed by 33%.

One example is the 144 Line, a communication channel staffed by professionals who provide care, assistance, and guidance to women and LGBTI+ individuals in situations of gender-based violence. The annual number of calls received by the 144 Line has significantly increased in the last few years, with consultations related to sexual violence accounting for a large portion of this increase. While the line remains operational, concerns have arisen about its effectiveness due to significant budget cuts, especially regarding the risks of staffing cuts.

Government funding cuts are also impacting the Acompañar Program, a policy that provides financial assistance to women victims of gender-based violence who are at high risk so that they don’t have to live with their aggressors. 

In the first two months of 2024, the program reduced its budget execution by 65% compared to the same period in 2023. Civil society organizations warn that there is uncertainty about the program’s future and that there’s no data available on the number of people who applied for the benefit and didn’t get it.

The reduction of state programs aimed at preventing and addressing violence against women directly harms the guarantee and exercise of women’s rights. Budget cuts for gender-focused public policies not only harm women but also society as a whole, which misses out on the broader benefits of gender equality.

Institutionalization of misogynistic rhetoric fuels violence against women

Milei employed misogynistic rhetoric during his election campaign and attacked the feminist movement.

Upon taking office, Milei escalated his rhetoric against advocates for women’s rights, spearheading an aggressive anti-feminist campaign. This encompasses attacks against public feminist figures, as in the case of the artist Lali Esposito, who is known for her progressive and pro-choice views and has publicly opposed Milei’s policies. Female journalists writing about gender issues say they are being subjected to a torrent of abuse, including doxing and online threats of violence. 

Around the world, when political leaders promote misogyny, they perpetuate a culture of machismo and harmful gender stereotypes, reinforcing a hostile climate and jeopardizing women’s fundamental right to live free from violence and enjoy freedom of expression. 

The real threat posed by regressive, far-right figures extends beyond their individual actions. 

It lies in the public endorsement and validation of their misogynistic discourse, which spurs others to act on their malevolent beliefs. Legitimizing hate empowers individuals and groups to oppress others through various forms of violence, including verbal, physical, and online. This is particularly dangerous for women and other marginalized groups, who often bear the brunt of such hostility.

Argentina’s feminists confront setbacks

In response, women across Argentina have taken to the streets and social networks to express their alarm at the government’s backsliding proposals and misogynist attacks, and to counter the narratives and stereotypes propagated by regressive conservative groups and far-right political forces. 

The women’s rights movement is an essential political opposition at both the national and provincial levels, which are playing a key role in confronting the national government’s reversals in gender policies. 

Argentina has one of the most vital feminist movements in Latin America and is a beacon for the region. Women’s rights supporters around the world must stand in solidarity with the Argentine feminist movement and amplify local voices fighting against these setbacks that risk women’s right to live a life free of violence. The global community needs to increase its support, be vigilant, and remind the government of its obligation to respect international human rights standards.

This article was originally published on El Desconcierto, in Spanish.