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Uzbekistan lifts ‘ban’ on minors attending prayers in mosques

Interior ministry says Muslim minors accompanied by ‘close relatives’ can attend mosques, ending a de facto ban.

 

Al Jazeera (03.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/3k9uspz – Uzbekistan has allowed children to attend Muslim prayers again, ending a de facto ban first enforced under the country’s late first president, Islam Karimov.

 

The country’s interior ministry said during the weekend that minors will be able to attend mosques “accompanied by fathers, brothers and close relatives” after restrictions on general worship imposed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak are lifted.

 

While the video statement posted on the ministry’s Telegram channel stressed there were no laws banning minors from attending mosques, a de facto ban was enforced under hardliner Karimov and persisted after his death in 2016.

 

According to a 2019 United States State Department report on religious freedom, police last year detained two bloggers who called for authorities to allow children to attend mosques, girls to wear hijabs and men to grow beards.

 

Religion is a sensitive topic for Uzbekistan’s government, which remains strongly secular nearly three decades after the country gained independence from the Soviet Union.

 

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has introduced several political and economic reforms while keeping the authoritarian government intact.

 

Mirziyoyev served as prime minister under Karimov for more than 13 years and has continued to honour him in public despite reversing some of his most repressive policies.





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The all-women law firm helping prisoners get justice in Nigeria

Poor Nigerian inmates can wait years for their cases to go to trial, but now a group of lawyers are fighting the system.

 

By Nosmot Gbadamosi

 

Al Jazeera (24.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Bmlgg0 – On a breezy February morning at the height of the dry season, Oluyemi Orija cranked down her car window and turned up the speakers, leaving trails of Jailer by Nigerian singer Aṣa in the warm air.

 

It was a fitting but ironic choice of song as she drove south towards Lagos State Ikoyi Prison with three members of Headfort Foundation – an all-women law firm – in the backseat.

 

The prison was 15 minutes away and a world apart from Awolowo Road, an affluent stretch the 31-year-old criminal lawyer was cruising through. Luxury shop fronts displayed designer dresses while curb-side juice bars pumped out jazz.

 

“We are going into hell,” Orija said. Seated beside her, I had volunteered with her team for the day to collect prisoner testimonies.

 

“The facility is built for 800, and 3,000 people are using it … we had one client defecate himself because he couldn’t access the toilet,” she explained, her eyes focused on the road ahead. “The congestion leads to a lot of communicable diseases.”

 

Earlier, in November 2019, on an afternoon visit without Headfort, I had glimpsed the blackboard inside the prison controller’s office. It listed the total number of prisoners in each cell – usually overcrowded barred rooms with hundreds of people sleeping together on the floor. One cell had 1,065 inmates sharing. In December, five people were fatally electrocuted because a cell meant for 35 was accommodating 140.

 

Once every few months, volunteers from the non-profit organisation Orija founded in 2018 collect the cases of poor inmates who have spent months, sometimes years, in jail without trial. They provide free legal services in one of the toughest judicial systems in the world.

 

In April, Emmanuel Imhoudu, a taxi driver in the capital Abuja, was sentenced to six months in prison for working during a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

 

Nigerian security forces killed 18 people in two weeks while enforcing lockdown measures, the country’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said.

 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, campaigners said Nigeria’s police made conditions in the country’s congested prisons worse through brutality, extortion and harassment.

 

A 2016 Amnesty International report accused the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian police force, of regularly demanding bribes from suspects. In February this year, the assistant chief state counsel of Edo, Justina Odihirin, called for a review of police prosecution powers. “Seventy percent of the files on our table brought in by the police are those who don’t have anything to do in detention at all,” she said at a public meeting.

 

Today, Orija and her all-women team work on the front line to tackle the problem.

 

With each visit to the prison, they collect roughly 35 cases. Some 80 percent are imprisoned for minor offences, according to Headfort. Many are there longer than the maximum sentence for their alleged crime.

 

About 70 percent of the total prison population in Nigeria is people awaiting trial. In prisons where data is collected, the average time defendants spend on remand is three years, while some spend more than a decade.

 

Wallowing in prison

 

At Ikoyi, all visitors walk through two locked doors and submit to a thorough body search – removing mobile phones and every connection to the outside world – before entry. But Headfort women are allowed to keep a legal pad and pen.

 

In the crowded prison courtyard and within a strict one-hour time slot, hundreds of inmates queued up, eager to share their stories and have a lawyer take up their case pro-bono.

 

Family members are often unaware that their loved ones are in jail. One prisoner, Chijioke, whose surname is not being published because his trial is ongoing, said he had been in jail since April 2019 after he was charged with stealing because he could not keep up with his loan payments on a keke (motorised rickshaw) that he bought for work. He owed two weeks of payments. He could not remember anyone’s mobile phone number to let them know he was in prison.

 

“If my brother only knew I was here, he would bail me out,” Chijioke said. He worried about getting enough food in prison without any outside help and being able to find work when he is finally free.

 

Azeez, whose surname is not being published because his trial is ongoing, was picked up on the roadside at 11pm while walking home from work. He said police charged him with social disturbance because he had not given them a sufficient reason for being on the road and because he refused to give them money. He had been in prison for a month when we met him and was worried about his mother, who was sick.

 

Tracing family members, many of whom live on the outskirts of Lagos, is a time-consuming and unexpected part of the women’s jobs.

 

“Your phone has been taken away from you so you can’t have access to any information, so the family members are not aware,” Orija explained. “Some of them believe that their family members are busy working in Lagos and they are blossoming, not knowing that they are wallowing in prison.”

 

Headfort’s project manager, Tolu Ajibogun, said that even when prisoners died, she suspected their families were not always informed.

 

“Last Monday, a man died, and it wasn’t recorded on the board. A client reported to us that in his 19 months stay in Ikoyi prison about 10 people died,” Ajibogun said.

 

“That’s just it, if they are dead, they are dead,” added Orija, referring to the perception some officials have that mourning or completing paperwork for the dead will not bring them back.

 

Passion for helping people

 

Orija did not start out with the aim of making the organisation exclusively women-led. “I realised that women are more passionate when it comes to injustice,” she remarked, adding that a lot of men were put off by the low pay in pro-bono work.

 

“They are driven by money, and if the figures aren’t adding up, they are not interested. While women will see injustice and want to do all that they can to ensure it is fought.”

 

She concluded that women were better suited to the job and less susceptible to corruption. So far, the group has secured the release of more than 100 inmates, many of them men. They are currently handling a further 90 cases in various Lagos courts.

 

Associate Hairat Suleiman is one of the firm’s three staff lawyers bolstered by a team of eight volunteers. At first, she appears shy – except around defendants. The 23-year-old spent most of her time in law school observing the system. “Not just in court but on the road, you see the way SARS policemen harass people, SARS will collect your phone and say they want to search through your phone as if it’s their right,” Suleiman said.

 

She believes many police officers carry their guns while off duty. “Which is wrong. It is just to scare citizens when they see the gun and the demand for money. You want to drop the money because you are at gunpoint,” she said. Seeing that it was often those too poor to pay who ended up in jail, she was determined to fight back. But her path to Lagos was not easy.

 

Suleiman grew up in the northern state of Kaduna. There, attitudes are more conservative than in the south. “I really didn’t want to stay in the north because I had a passion to help people … but if I should stay under my parents, I will be confined to just one place,” she said. It took a lot to convince her father to let her uproot and move to Lagos, but that tenacity drives her work.

 

“Our vision is to have this foundation everywhere in Nigeria,” Suleiman explained.

 

And this starts by first educating citizens in Lagos on the law. “We are going into schools and talking to them about the likelihood of them being a victim of police brutality and what to do should they find themselves in that situation,” Orija said. “We are giving them a helpline to call so that we can step in at that early stage.”

 

One of their most basic lessons is “at least know one person’s number off by head that you can call,” Orija said, tapping her forehead.

 

Waiting for justice

 

Once cases go beyond the police, the obstacles are even larger. Judges delay court proceedings, sometimes by several months.

 

One crisp morning in January, I joined Suleiman at Ikoyi Federal High Court for a hearing. Two men were charged with stealing electricity cables, while three others, including Suleiman’s client Wasuru, were in prison on charges of aiding and abetting them.

 

We arrived at about 8:15am for the 9am court start. We were still waiting by midday when a clerk announced that the hearing was postponed because the judge had not turned up.

 

“Often there is no reason,” Suleiman said, as she shuffled large folders back into her backpack. “Sometimes they say that the judge cannot make it, then they will give another date.”

 

I followed Suleiman to the courthouse holding cell. The inmates had been brought from jail, and like us, were eagerly awaiting their trial, their arms hanging through the bars.

 

Wasuru, a homeless man, had spent two years incarcerated. In February 2018, he was sleeping in an abandoned estate in the Lagos district of Ebute Metta. He was arrested for allegedly collecting 6,000 naira ($15) in proceeds from two men charged with cable wire theft near the area.

 

His trial started in October 2019, but this was the sixth time the case would not proceed. Wasuru’s face froze for a moment, then dropped, when Suleiman broke the news.

 

“At least they only pushed it back by another month, they could have said three months,” Suleiman told all three men charged with the same crime. It failed to raise spirits. The smiles that had spread across their faces upon seeing Suleiman had faded. They had already spent more time in jail awaiting trial than if they had been immediately convicted.

 

“He has given up all hope,” Suleiman later said about Wasuru, as we walked back to the car park.

 

“Many of them do. Many change their plea to guilty in order to just save time and know how long they will be there for, but then they find nothing has changed, it has not made a difference.”

 

Under Nigerian law, Wasuru was granted free bail but could not meet the conditions because he was unable to provide a wealthy guarantor. Research by PRAWA, a Nigerian justice NGO, found that most inmates had no formal education and about 76 percent were living on less than $128 a month prior to arrest.

 

As a result, inmates have an incentive to plead guilty, even to crimes that they did not commit, because they cannot meet bail conditions. They view it as the fastest way to get released.

 

Fighting the system

 

Shortly after our visit, the Nigerian government temporarily suspended court activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 

“Every year in July, the courts go on vacation and resume in September … they will still be in there at least till 2021 and for 6,000 naira,” Orija said. “At worst that should be community service, and now it will be three years and counting.”

 

President Muhammadu Buhari made reforms to Nigeria’s Prison Service last year, changing the name to Correctional Service and promising to speed up trials.

 

In turn, Nigeria’s police force has said citizens should report officers who violate rules on conduct so “the rights of Nigerians are not infringed upon under any pretext”.

 

“We have responded to some of the issues raised by the National Human Rights Commission Report … Even before the report was issued, our position has always been very clear,” police spokesperson Frank Ba told Al Jazeera via telephone. “Police officers must carry out their duties within the ambit of the law, they must be professional, must be firm but at the same time be caring, polite and respect the fundamental human rights of our citizens.”

 

“We have continued to push this narrative and to walk the talk,” he added. “In the few cases where we have found officers acting in manners that does not follow our code of conduct, we have not hesitated in calling them out and in bringing internal disciplinary procedures against them.”

 

Anietie Ewang, a Human Rights Watch Abuja-based researcher, said disciplinary measures do not go far enough. “If I see a police officer commit a crime today in Abuja, I can see him tomorrow in Lagos – he’s just been transferred.”

 

But there are some signs of progress. A new police reform bill could result in better record keeping. “We’ve been part of the process just like many other civil society organisations being a part of the public hearing at the National Assembly,” explained Ewang.

 

However, structural problems such as adequate funding also need to be addressed, Ewang pointed out. “When police officers are made to look for resources to be able to motor their vehicles, to be able to buy a bullet for their gun or to sew and make their uniforms and look presentable, obviously they are going to look to extra judicial measures to get that done.”

 

The Nigerian correctional service declined to comment.

 

At least 2,600 elderly inmates or those serving less than six month terms have been released from Nigerian jails in order to decongest facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak.

 

Still, rights organisations say too many people arrested on minor offences remain in jail waiting for a hearing.

 

“It is a good move. But it is not enough,” explained Isa Sanusi, Amnesty International Nigeria’s spokesperson, adding that defendants are caught in a system that is slow to bring cases to trial.

 

“There are [those] who have even overstayed. The worst thing is that the majority of people in Nigerian prisons are those awaiting trial. A prison that is supposed to hold a capacity for only 600 people will end up accommodating 2,000 people,” he added.

 

When the courts do run, judges pick which cases to hear from an overloaded daily list. “A few days ago, we had somebody that has been in prison since 2009, and I personally thought it should be a priority on that list,” Orija lamented. “But the judge didn’t pick it, it’s about 11 years, and this person is just going to be re-arraigned because the judge that was initially hearing the matter was transferred to another court.”

 

“Now it’s not about just going to the prison and getting people out of prison but fighting the system,” Orija said.

 

The group’s ambitious plan is to have a desk at every court staffed by volunteer lawyers who can represent those arriving overnight with police to be remanded.

 

“If we are there from the very beginning, maybe they won’t even get to prison at all,” Orija said.





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It is time for the world to start caring for the caregivers

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic underlines the urgent need for safety nets for domestic workers.

 

By Nisha Varia

Al Jazeera (01.05.20202) – https://bit.ly/2A1rBN5 – Few workers have cause to celebrate May 1, International Workers’ Day, this year. COVID-19 has been accompanied by another pandemic – of job loss and economic insecurity. Domestic workers, primarily women, have particularly precarious jobs and often do not qualify for government support.

 

In mid-March, as New Yorkers prepared for a mandatory lockdown, a person posted on my town’s Facebook group asking what type of protective equipment she should provide to her house cleaner. Replies came fast and furious. “Clean your own home and pay them anyway!” “Cancel and pay!” But in many other communities, and around the world, the response is different.

 

Domestic workers’ organisations and the media are reporting devastating stories of domestic workers catapulted into economic crisis across every region. Faced with lockdowns, social distancing restrictions, and in some cases their own economic hardship, many employers have dismissed their domestic workers or suspended them without pay. The loss of income is devastating for many domestic workers who may have little or no savings.

 

Others, especially live-in domestic workers on migrant visas such as those in the Middle East, might find themselves with extra responsibilities and longer hours, with children out of school and other household members at home.

 

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 67 million domestic workers globally and that 80 percent of them are women. Yet 90 percent of them are excluded from protections such as paid sick leave and unemployment benefits. This is particularly the case in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where the largest numbers of domestic workers are concentrated.

 

Despite this bleak picture, there are also promising examples of action by private employers, governments and labour groups to create safety nets for this vital group of workers.

 

In South Africa, domestic workers who are registered with the government are provided six weeks of paid sick leave in a three-year period, and are covered by the Unemployment Insurance Act, which provides up to 238 days of unemployment benefits. Gaps remain – those workers who are not formally registered with the government cannot access these benefits.

 

France uses a voucher system for social security safety nets and paid leave for domestic workers, easing administrative formalities for employers and contributing to relatively widespread coverage.

 

A World Bank compilation of emergency relief measures during the pandemic shows that many exclude domestic workers entirely. But some countries are taking steps toward inclusion. Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernandez, issued an executive order providing approximately $155 to domestic workers and other low-wage workers as emergency financial relief.

 

Spain extended unemployment benefits for the first time to domestic workers on March 31. Registered domestic workers can receive 70 percent of one month’s salary if their hours have been reduced or they lost their jobs since the lockdown began. This benefit is smaller than for other workers and not enough to sustain workers through an indefinite crisis but is a step towards bringing domestic workers’ benefits closer in alignment to those of other workers.

 

Workers’ organisations are campaigning to end these gaps, pressing governments to include domestic workers in their relief measures. They are using social media and other means to urge employers to continue paying domestic workers even when they cannot work due to social distancing restrictions. In Brazil, the National Federation of Domestic Workers and Themis, a gender equality group, is campaigning for employers to suspend domestic workers with pay or to provide them with adequate protective equipment. Their high-profile webinar explained domestic workers’ rights, with speakers including former President Dilma Rousseff.

 

In the United States, the National Domestic Workers Alliance is well on its way to raising $4m to distribute to domestic workers. While domestic workers may qualify for economic relief varying by state, a significant proportion are undocumented migrants who cannot access government benefits.

 

Domestic workers perform essential work, caring for the most important parts of peoples’ lives – our children, our parents, our homes. Once restrictions lift, employers would do well to remember how much they missed these services.

 

These caregivers deserve safety nets on par with other workers and treatment with dignity. The few positive models should become the new norm.

 

If you are an employer, pay your domestic worker full wages during lockdowns. If you are a politician, push for the full inclusion of domestic workers in emergency relief funds, including direct cash assistance that does not require formal employment registration or migrant status.

 

And we should all push for longer-term change. In 2011, the International Labour Organization adopted the Domestic Workers Convention, now ratified by 29 countries. These countries are obliged to ensure that domestic workers have legal protections on par with other workers.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted deep inequalities in how women’s work is valued and compensated, and the dire consequences when crises hit without safety nets. But the pandemic also provides an opportunity to make long-overdue changes so that women workers emerge stronger than before. And that would give us a real cause for celebration next Labour Day.





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WORLD: Some governments are using coronavirus to restrict women’s rights

Classing abortions as ‘non-essential’ is cruel and an assault on the rights of women to bodily autonomy.

 

By Claire Provost

 

Al Jazeera (14.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/3abWECf – Women are prominent on the front lines of the world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Globally, most of our health workers are women. They also do most of the world’s unpaid care work – even in “normal times” – taking care of relatives and helping them recuperate both from extraordinary illnesses and everyday exhaustion.

 

And yet, the rights of these women are coming under historic attacks even now.

 

Back in early March, a potentially historic bill to liberalise abortion in Argentina was an early casualty; its review has been indefinitely postponed along with many other democratic debates.

 

In the US, conservative states from Texas to Indiana are now banning most abortions during the pandemic. By classifying them as “non-essential”, they are arguing that abortions can be delayed so that all doctors focus on COVID-19 first.

 

Across the Atlantic, in Poland, a bill to further restrict abortion has been revived and will be heard in Parliament next week. When this first happened, in 2016, it was met with mass protests – which are currently prohibited under coronavirus emergency measures.

 

Are governments and anti-abortion campaign groups taking advantage of the crisis to further restrict women’s rights?

 

It would not be the first time. Around the world, organised ultra-conservative movements are looking for ways to use this moment to achieve what they always wanted; fewer rights for women over their bodies.

 

Anti-abortion activists in Slovakia, Italy and the UK are also campaigning for abortions to be suspended during the pandemic, arguing that all resources must be focused on the coronavirus right now. They do not want women to have these rights after the crisis, either.

 

Others are celebrating the closure of clinics amid emergency measures that have already taken a drastic toll on access to abortion as well as contraception, HIV medicine and domestic violence services.

 

This pandemic is also exacerbating and shining new light on the astonishing amount of red tape that has long limited women’s access to abortion in places where it has been legal for generations.

 

In Italy, doctors can refuse to perform abortions (and up to 90 percent do, in some areas). Medical terminations (consisting of two pills, taken across several days), are only available during the first seven weeks of pregnancy, rather than nine as in many other European countries. And these pills must be taken in hospitals, unlike in other countries, where they are also available at clinics.

 

These details are crucial. Abortions are by definition time-sensitive procedures. Even before the coronavirus, women in Italy struggled to access them.

 

Now hospitals are overwhelmed by the coronavirus and this access is increasingly impossible. As a result, women are being forced to endure unwanted pregnancies for longer and to have surgeries they do not want as medical abortions have been largely suspended.

 

In other countries, restrictive red tape includes mandatory counselling, waiting periods or requirements that two doctors sign off on an abortion.

 

Such rules vary across borders but their effect is the same; making difficult experiences for women even harder, even in “normal times”, and exacerbating these challenges today.

 

These restrictions have other things in common, too. Neil Datta at the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Rights told me they stem from compromises made when abortion was first legalised, which happened in the 1970s in Italy, for example. At that time, some doctors were still “diagnosing” women with hysteria.

 

In other words, there is nothing enlightened about this red tape. And what ultimately lies beneath these restrictions is the toxic, patriarchal idea that women cannot be trusted to control their own bodies and make their own choices.

 

Today, women’s reproductive rights are being sidelined – again. For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued guidelines about domestic violence, contraception, childbirth and breastfeeding amid COVID-19.

 

But so far, it has been noticeably silent on safe abortion during the pandemic.

 

Thankfully, this is not the full picture. Big changes are also happening in response to the public health crisis and its fallout in all aspects of our lives.

 

Some US cities have suspended evictions of renting tenants, for example. In Iran, thousands have been released from prison. Many things that would have seemed impossible a year ago, do not any more.

 

And we are seeing some evidence of this for women’s right to choose, too. England and Wales, for instance, have issued new rules to enable women to take medical abortion pills at home and via telemedicine appointments. Ireland and France have done similar. Germany has at least made its mandatory counselling available online and by phone.

 

These practical moves are victories for sensibility amid crisis. They uphold rights and public health. If women do not need to travel to multiple appointments, this can help limit the spread of coronavirus and get us out of this emergency faster.

 

Indeed, during crises change can happen quickly. Archaic red tape can be cut. Toxic distrust of women could give way to a new common sense that prioritises rights and health over politics. And those who were afraid of women’s autonomy might not find it so scary now that they have witnessed something a lot more frightening – a historic pandemic threatening lives, health systems and democracies worldwide.





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Argentina president to introduce bill to legalise abortion

If the bill is approved, Argentina will be the largest jurisdiction to legalise the procedure in Latin America.

 

By Natalie Alcoba

 

Al Jazeera (02.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2PL73NM – Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez will send a bill to Congress in a matter of days that seeks to legalise abortion, marking the first time the initiative will have the backing of the president in what could be a significant breakthrough for abortion rights in Latin America.

 

Fernandez made the announcement in the National Congress on Sunday, with thousands of people gathered outside, including women brandishing the green handkerchief of abortion rights. Some wiped tears from their eyes during his speech.

 

In Argentina, abortion is illegal and can mean jail time, except in instances of rape, or if a mother’s health is at risk.

 

The new bill comes two years after a dramatic debate in the home country of Pope Francis in which the legalisation of abortion was narrowly rejected by the Senate.

 

Fernandez called the current law “ineffective” because it has had no deterrent effect.

 

“It has also condemned many women, generally of limited resources, to resort to abortive practices in absolute secrecy, putting their health and sometimes their lives at risk,” he said.

 

“A state that is present must protect citizens in general and obviously women in particular. And in the 21st century, every society needs to respect an individual’s decision to make choices over their own bodies.

 

“That is why, within the next 10 days, I will present a bill for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy that legalises abortion at the initial time of pregnancy and allows women to access the health system when they make the decision to abort.”

 

Advancing women’s rights

 

Argentina’s feminist movement is pushing to legalise elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

 

The president will also send a project to Congress that will provide better support to mothers and newborns, as well as a plan to ensure sexual education is delivered in schools.

 

The Argentine government estimates that 350,000 illegal abortions take place every year in the third-most populous country in South America, putting women’s lives at risk. Human rights groups estimate the number could be as high as 500,000. Many women who try to access abortions that are legal also face obstacles, with doctors invoking religious or moral objections.

 

Ana Correa, a women’s rights activist who wrote Somos Belen, a book about an Argentine woman who was imprisoned after suffering a miscarriage said she was delighted with Fernandez’s decision.

 

“We’re very happy and hopeful,” Correa told Al Jazeera. “We will have some important opponents, but it’s going to be very difficult for legislators to oppose this project because there really is very compelling proof of how clandestine abortions impact women.”

 

Daniel Lipovetsky, a legislator in the province of Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera that Sunday’s announcement showed how far Argentina had moved ahead on the issue.

 

“Just a few years ago, it would have been unimaginable that a president would send a project to legalise abortion to the Congress,” said Lipovetsky, who forms part of the political opposition and in 2018 was part of the group who worked in favour of legalisation.

 

Argentina is in the midst of an important transformation around the advancement of women’s rights. In 2015, a feminist movement known as Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) took to the streets to denounce high rates of violence against women and triggered a broader debate that set the stage for the vote in 2018.

 

Correa, one of the founders of Ni Una Menos, highlighted three cases that have served to “unmask” the truth of abortion in Argentina: that of Belen, who spent more than two years in prison after a court ruled that what doctors had diagnosed as a miscarriage was an abortion (her conviction was overturned in 2017 following a public outcry); that of Ana Maria Acevedo, who sought an abortion in 2007 in order to undergo chemotherapy, was refused, and died; and that of an 11-year-old girl known as Lucia, who was raped by her grandmother’s partner and denied a legal abortion by health authorities in 2019, until a court finally intervened. An emergency caesarean section had to be performed, the baby did not survive, and the doctors were then accused of homicide. No indictments were filed.

 

Correa said Fernandez’s project to provide support to new mothers also serves “to deconstruct that false notion that those of us who are in favour of legal abortion are against maternity – that’s not true.”

 

Influence of Catholic church

 

The president’s speech opening the session of Congress addressed a slew of other issues in Argentina, which is in a deep recession and in talks with the International Monetary Fund and other international creditors to restructure its debt. He made repeated references to taking care of the most vulnerable.

 

“His discourse was steeped with his set of values, of an Argentina that is inclusive, that is innovative, of a state that is present, and a state that is attending to, and listening to the new demands,” said political scientist Paola Zuban, director of the public opinion consultancy Zuban Cordoba & Associates. But the issue of abortion remains deeply divisive, according to polls she has conducted.

 

The Catholic Church is likely to play an influential role in the debate. During the president’s speech, the Episcopal Conference of Argentina sent a tweet reminding people of the mass it is planning for International Women’s Day on March 8 to express opposition to abortion and “yes to women, yes to life.”

 

“The culture of death advances,” Monsenor Jorge Eduardo Scheinig, an archbishop, said in a recorded message. “We need to pray so that in Argentina, the yes to life is stronger than death.”

 

Lipovetsky believes that the votes are there for approval in the lower house, but the Senate will be close. Still, he is optimistic.

 

“The chances that this will finally become law are many,” he said.

 

And Correa says the feminist movement will keep the pressure on.

 

“There’s no doubt that we’re going to stay present in the streets and we’re going to keep insisting so that legislators vote in favour,” she said.


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