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For Community-Driven Global Development

Reproductive Rights in Argentina

Abortion is a hot topic in Argentina these days as its Congress considers a bill to legalize it. The current law bans abortion except in cases of potential health hazards to a mother and fetus. Yet, according to the country’s Ministry of Health, between 370,000 and 522,000 illegal abortions are performed each year. This may change, as public support for decriminalizing abortion is on the rise; as in many countries, though, this is no guarantee that politicians tasked with making laws will act accordingly. Better information and dialogue is needed at all levels of society to inform political action.

University of San Francisco intern Kaitlin Chassagne worked in reproductive rights and gender perspectives in Salta, Argentina, although this was not her original plan. Because visa issues prevented her from traveling to India, at the last minute she was reassigned to work in Argentina. But having grown up in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, she was open to working in South America, a region to which she had never traveled. “I plan on living and working abroad for most of my life, and working in a completely new place with a completely new community reassured me that, despite the initial culture shock and language barrier, you can make meaningful connections anywhere,” she says.

Kaitlin had previously studied abroad in Nepal, where she conducted fieldwork and did independent research on reproductive rights. There, Kaitlin focused on international laws, researched policy history, and familiarized herself with the various actors involved in banning (and later legalizing) abortion in that country. She used this research from Nepal as she conducted workshops about reproductive rights in Argentina, where she developed and facilitated a workshop centered around reproductive rights with her host organization, Caminar con Valores, a nonprofit focused on supporting young people to become well-informed, active citizens and leaders who engage effectively in the political process and act on their beliefs.

During these workshops, Kaitlin and her colleagues provided practical information about reproductive issues to high school students. The topics also included sexual health and orientation, gender roles and inequalities, healthy relationships and intimacy, and gender identity. Typically, a school requested a workshop in order to help educate both boys and girls about reproductive rights, sexual violence, and related topics. When discussing the issue of abortion in schools, Kaitlin aimed to provide accurate information and present multiple angles to students.

She also led discussions among FSD volunteers, Caminar con Valores, and other organizations’ staff on how the illegality of abortion in Argentina can be problematic for (and detrimental to) women’s health and safety. In these workshops, Kaitlin and participants discussed issues both domestic and global in scope, comparing Argentina and the United States, then connecting them to larger international perspectives. “We reflected on our own biases and values, and how our political decisions are rooted in these views, and what we can do to educate ourselves and our communities about relevant reproductive and gender-based rights,” Kaitlin says. “I was a little hesitant about the ethics of creating a project for a community I had only been with for two weeks, but after they expressed their collective desire for this workshop, I felt right about doing it. My workshop opened up a dialogue amongst my NGO members and between members of my NGO and other NGOs, which will be valuable in the long-term and short-term as my nonprofit develops their ‘gender perspectives’ project.”

The workshops Kaitlin initiated are in large part still in progress. These workshops do not endorse or oppose government initiatives or policies; it is their political agnosticism that allows them to be held in schools and local communities. Encouragingly, the content of these workshops has been shared with other nonprofits, enabling a dialogue about reproductive rights issues and providing information to students in the immediate area and beyond.

In the end, Kaitlin found out as much about herself as about the culture in which she was immersed. “I miss the people more than anything; we enjoyed so many conversations on an endless variety of topics in multiple languages with so many hilarious, strong-minded characters,” she says.

Kaitlin also found that much like in the United States, people’s views aren’t always reflected by their government’s actions or by their country’s laws. She “felt solidarity in the outrage expressed in Argentina against problematic politics--outrage myself and many of my friends feel in the United States as well. It gave me hope that people across the world are fighting diligently as well for what they are passionate about.”

Her internship allowed Kaitlin to gain cross-cultural insight into a subject area she had researched in another part of the world. “Having studied reproductive rights in Nepal  before going to Argentina, this opportunity allowed me to further internationally expand my knowledge of policies, laws, and historical precedents regarding reproductive rights,” she says.

Kaitlin believes that sustainable development is already happening in many parts of the world. “Outside forces can help, but people know what they need, and we can shape their work and how they achieve and goals. FSD allows for a unique synthesis of  initiatives--those we design and execute, those the community may initiate, and those that result from a blend of both, which can be the most effective ones of all.”