Access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Latin America is significantly restricted, which negatively affects women’s wellbeing. Nowadays, most Latin American countries fail to fully recognise and guarantee women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies and thus forbid, or strongly restrict, access to free voluntary abortion (Center for Reproductive Rights and The Dialogue 2015). In most countries abortion is only permitted in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when pregnancy is unviable (Kelly 2018). Furthermore, the few countries in which abortion is legal lack adequate public access to this right (Barragán and Kadner 2017). The previous situations are extremely damaging for women’s wellbeing throughout the region as they are forced to seek clandestine abortions - which are incredibly risky - or cannot access private abortion clinics due to economic vulnerability.
La Marea Verde: the emergence of a regional feminist movement
In June 2018 Argentinian women mobilised to get approval for a law to achieve voluntary interruption of pregnancy. They took to the streets and public spaces, wore green handkerchiefs and protested under the slogan #AbortoLegalYA (#LegalAbortionNOW). After a few months, the protests were replicated throughout the region – a movement known as La Marea Verde (The Green Wave) – and Latin American women demanded information with which to make choices, access to contraceptives to prevent abortion, and legal abortion without charge to prevent death (Distintas Latitudes 2018).
These protests highlighted threats to women’s wellbeing where abortion is not legalised, as clandestine abortion is extremely dangerous. Furthermore, there is an important focus on women’s right to live their sexualities without fear, as empowered agents. Today, the green handkerchiefs characterise Latin American feminisms, and are worn even when the specific aim of a feminist event is not to demand free and safe abortion (Amnesty International 2020).
The importance of access to information, contraceptives and free voluntary abortion for women’s empowerment and wellbeing
Information to decide, contraceptives to prevent abortion, and abortion without charge to prevent death (the core demands of Latin American feminist movements regarding sexual and reproductive rights) are inherently linked to women’s empowerment and wellbeing.
Firstly, access to reliable and accurate information is fundamental for women to make empowered decisions. Without access to information, the range of decisions women can make is significantly limited, and knowledge of the implications of such decisions is significantly limited. For these reasons, it is imperative that Latin American governments guarantee access to essential sexual education for women and girls.
Secondly, access to contraceptives is crucial for women to have control over their bodies and sexual and reproductive lives. Lack of access to diverse contraceptives means that women are exposed to multiple sexually transmitted diseases while having little or no control over their reproduction. Therefore, it is crucial for governments of the region to guarantee access to diverse types of contraceptives that respond to women’s physiological, psychological and economic needs.
Lastly, access to safe abortion without charge is essential for women to have control over their bodies and futures. When abortion is not legalised women that need to abort are forced to seek clandestine abortion, which is extremely dangerous and threatens their health and lives. When abortion is legal but not part of public health services, it unequally benefits women from the region as economically vulnerable women are left behind. Because of this, Latin American governments need to legalise voluntary abortion and guarantee free and safe access for women.
The Green Wave: Marching towards legal abortion in Argentina - Amnesty International:
An unstoppable wave
The mobilisations that started in 2018 have resulted in an increase of union between Latin American feminist groups. Feelings of empathy, identification, understanding, and discontent with the status quo have led to mutual trust and support amongst women in the region.
This deep relationship between Latin American women and feminist groups is an achievement, as it leads to safe spaces for women, communities of support, and cooperation to create pathways that respond to women’s needs. Academics, students, mothers, daughters, activists and all kinds of women have come together in order to claim their rights, showing that there is a way to obtain sexual and reproductive health and rights: through sorority and regional cooperation.
The Green Wave has demonstrated that, although lack of access to sexual and reproductive rights affects women in different ways - as vulnerable women suffer the worst impacts - this is an intersectional issue that concerns all women. From our personal trenches and according to our capabilities, we create this movement that seeks to empower women and guarantee their wellbeing. Let this text be a personal contribution from a distance.