Argentina: Our Rights on the Precipice

In December 2023, Argentina celebrated 40 years of uninterrupted democracy. For women's rights and policies promoting gender equality,these four decades witnessed fundamental changes and undeniable progress. Simultaneously, it was a period in which successive governments of various political stripes failed to stabilize the economy, strengthen a productive framework to expand the job market, ensure dignified and equal employment conditions, or send clear signals against an entrenched system of institutional and corporatist corruption at different levels.

In consequence, the outcome of the recent presidential elections (from the primaries in August to the general elections in October) dealt a blow to those achievements that we considered secured. The dissatisfaction felt by a significant part of the population, especially the youth, became evident as they distanced themselves from more traditional political forces that failed to reflect the interests and concerns of society. Proposals based on confrontation and offensive labeling prevailed over the exchange of ideas and political debate. Additionally, partisan proposals that were less receptive to an agenda of gender equality were imposed. The power of the women's movement and its demands for a life free from violence, that celebrated progress while advocating for pending equality issues in other social and economic dimensions, lost political prominence.

It will take time to comprehend how we transitioned from mobilizing hundreds of thousands of women across the country, calling out to the Latin American region with the #NiUnaMenos slogan to denounce femicides, to a leadership perceiving public policies promoting education for equality as a threat—a product of a "ridiculous" conspiratorial imposition of global “socialism." While this swing towards anti-rights conservatism responds to a regional and global phenomenon, it has indeed found space in a society burdened by successive crises and the inability of different political forces to grasp the dimension of unresolved problems and their impact on daily lives.

As our country marks 40 years since the first presidential election of this democratic period, the evolution of women's rights and their recognition as human rights faces a critical moment.

During the electoral campaign, the winning candidate had already clearly shown his disdain for the rights of women and any policies related to equality. As documented in our monitoring of electoral proposals, this disdain began materializing with the first measures announced, such as changes in the State structure eliminating the Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity (replacing it with a significantly reduced sub-secretariat), Emergency Decree 70/2023 (imposing restrictions on incipient changes in care policies), and the Omnibus Bill (which, restricts, among many other problematic changes, the recognition of gender violence and the implementation of parity in politics).

The bill presented by the Executive Branch to the national Congress, known as the "Law of Bases and Starting Points for the Freedom of Argentinians" but commonly referred to as the "Omnibus Law," has faced numerous criticisms from various quarters. It proposes a disproportionate use of legislative delegation to the Executive Branch based on what it deems an "unprecedented public emergency in economic, financial, fiscal, social, retirement, security, defense, tariff, energy, health, administrative, and social matters." With this argument, changes are being proposed in hundreds of laws, to create a change in paradigm that aims to extend its validity beyond the established deadline for such emergencies.

The most widely discussed debates concerning the project highlight divergences and concerns on countless topics: fiscal reform, privatization of companies, deregulation of various sectors of the economy, changes in the energy sector, environmental impact, and political financing, among others. However, less attention has been given to concerns about other reforms clearly aimed at eroding policies that contributed (until now) to advancing some basic consensuses regarding the importance of promoting gender equality policies and respecting the rights and autonomy of women.

Without explaining its connection to the emergency these reforms claim to address, the Omnibus Law proposes changes to core laws protecting women's human rights and promoting equality policies. It suggests changes to fundamental policies ensuring women's representation and participation in political life, limiting conditions for exercising their rights in the face of marital dissolution, restricting the exercise of their reproductive autonomy, safeguarding the dignity of adolescents, women, and other pregnant individuals in their reproductive decisions, and diluting the most widespread policy for awareness and training to promote the best possible conditions for the State, at all levels, known as the Micaela Law, which has promoted a response that is sensitive, informed, and non-revictimizing, in situations of gender violence,

So great is the magnitude of proposed reforms, that offer no public reasons or evidence to justify them, that there hasn’t even been an attempt to explain how these changes are linked to the economic, financial, and fiscal crisis facing the country, and urgently impacting daily lives. It is almost inevitable to associate the name of the project, the "Omnibus Law," with the image of a large vehicle speeding up to trample on women's rights.

The ELA Team, a civil society organization dedicated to promoting a more just and equal society, has prepared a series of documents analyzing the issues we identify with these reforms. The documents were distributed to all political forces represented in Congress and also served as the basis for our intervention in the Plenary of the Committees in the House of Representatives.

The reform of the electoral system proposes incorporating uninominal constituencies by modifying the National Electoral Code. The impact of this change implies, in practice, the elimination of parity in national congressional elections. Evidence shows that this system insurmountably obstructs the goal of gender parity in improving women's participation in legislative bodies. The cases of provincial legislatures in Córdoba, Santa Fe, and Salta illustrate this. We know that without women in spaces of political representation (even diverse women with different ideas and convictions, not necessarily defenders of a feminist agenda), women's rights are unlikely to be considered in decision-making spaces.

The reform of the Civil and Commercial Code, which introduces the possibility of dissolving marriage through "communication" to an administrative body without guaranteeing access to information on rights and obligations regarding the effects of the divorce, will imply a limitation in the exercise of rights, especially for women. One cannot exercise a right that is unknown. The described problem has unequal gender effects, as women, due to the distribution of tasks within households, dedicate more than double the time to unpaid work compared to men. This affects their employment and, consequently, their income. Women and single-parent households (usually bearing the main responsibility for childcare) become impoverished as a result of separation.

The proposed reform of the Micaela Law, which requires mandatory gender training for all individuals in the three branches of government (Law No. 27,499), is particularly distressing. This January 10, marked 5 years since the law was passed. It is difficult to imagine the pain that must be felt by the family that turned their individual tragedy into collective repair by creating a tool that helps us improve as a society, only to see the law's objective completely distorted. The proposal not only changes the purpose, but also the scope of individuals obliged to receive the training, violating the memory of the young woman in whose honor the law was enacted. The proposal limits training to "competent" bodies instead of applying to all three branches of the state at various levels—national, provincial, and municipal—ignoring that the State has a responsibility to ensure the best possible care for individuals experiencing situations of gender-based violence, requiring the intervention of different state employees or officials in any of the three branches across the country. Understanding the challenge and opportunity offered by the Micaela Law, all provinces in the country adhered to and implemented this law in their territories.

Reflecting on gender equality and gender-based violence is not the same as focusing on family violence. Limiting training to the issue of "family violence," eliminating content related to structural inequalities that undermine women's autonomy and the recognition of diversity rights, impoverishes the identification of problems that make it possible for a femicide to occur every 35 hours in Argentina. This change will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the design and implementation of effective and efficient policies for its prevention and eradication. This approach goes against Argentina's international commitments, which have earned it recognition for the positive aspects associated with this public policy.

Finally, there is concern about the proposed reform to Law No. 27,611 of a Thousand Days, a law approved alongside Law No. 27,610 of voluntary interruption of pregnancy, with the aim of organizing public policies and social support policies for those who decide to go through with a pregnancy and for the children during early childhood. The proposed reforms indicate an intention to trample on the autonomy of girls, adolescents, and women, restrict the exercise of their autonomy, and regress in sexual and reproductive rights.

Among the many problematic changes proposed by the project is the incorporation of the non-legal category of "mothers in a situation of vulnerability" and "children in a situation of vulnerability" as future recipients of the public policies outlined there. This modification, in addition to being a shift in paradigm that distorts the meaning of the norm, introduces a serious problem of inefficiency by generating difficulties in terms of having to redefine who belongs to said category, imposing a greater bureaucratic burden involving costs for the state (a concern they claim to be central to this crisis situation), deteriorating the quality of services provided, and inevitably leading to errors in implementation, when individuals are included or excluded incorrectly. There is much evidence indicating the high administrative costs of targeted policies.

The depth and diversity of the topics that the Executive Branch proposes to reform contrast with the lack of public reasons stated in the message accompanying its presentation to the House of Representatives.

Some of these changes, it seems, have been removed from the majority opinion that was approved in Committee Meetings a few days ago, so they may not be part of the bill that (eventually) could be approved.

However, the lack of transparency in the debate and the reasons leading the Executive Branch to promote these changes require us to remain vigilant. Sooner or later, with different strategies, we know that this is part of the government objective and the prism through which they will approach public management in the years to come.

Natalia Gherardi is an Argentine lawyer and university professor. She holds a Master's degree in Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She directs the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA), a civil society organization founded in Buenos Aires in 2003, dedicated to promoting gender equality through public policies and access to justice.

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