The green scarf in Argentina or when the right to abort comes out of the closet
Written by Margaux Barbier
Translated by Kaouther Bouhi
It is enough to pace up and down the streets of Buenos Aires (or to look at the logo of Basta Ya) to run into it. Far from hiding, it is displayed on bags, on the neck and sometimes on the wrists. For all that, the green scarf is not one more accessory. It plays a key role in the pro-choice mobilizations in Argentina. The current exposure of this object in the Argentinian society, particularly in the urban areas, reflects a real social change : although addressing the topic of abortion was for a long time considered “politically incorrect” (Tesorio, 2013), the public debate on the subject of the right to abortion has never been as established as these past two years. So here is a small overview on the symbolic, the uses and the role of this green scarf in the pro-choice mobilizations for the right to abortion in ArgentinaAccess to Induced Abortion in Argentina is very restrictive. Abortion is not punishable in two specific cases : when the pregnancy is the result of rape and when the pregnancy endangers the life or … Continue reading.
From white to green: the scarf in the struggle for human rights
In concrete terms, the green scarf (pañuelo verde) is a green triangular fabric on which is drawn a white scarf itself surrounded by a message: “Sex education to make decisions, Means of contraception to not have an abortion and Legal abortion to not die” which is from the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion. Established in 2005, this Campaign is a federal alliance that brings together activists from diverse political backgrounds around a common cause: the decriminalization and legalization of abortion.
The drawing of a white scarf on this green scarf is no coincidence : it is a direct reference to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, these women who, from 1977, during the last Argentinian military dictatorship (1976 – 1983), demanded the truth and the return of their children which were victims of state repression. To protest, they would wear a white fabric on their hair, which represented the swaddling clothes of their missing children. The white scarf is therefore a real symbol for the human rights movement in Argentina.
Consequently, to take over the symbol of the scarf is, for the pro-choice movement, a way of claiming its filiation with the human rights movement and thus founds the legitimacy of the claim : abortion is as much a public health issue as a human rights issue. As early as 2003, during the National Women’s Convening (ENM– Encuentro Nacional de MujeresSince 1986, a National Women Convening takes place every year in a province of the country. This event is independent, self-organized, pluralist, federal and horizontal. Two days per year, women and … Continue reading) that took place in Rosario, green scarves were handed to participants at the initiative of the organization of Catholic Women For the Right to Choose, for the final demonstration of the event. The green is first chosen because it is a color that is not associated with an existing political or religious affiliation.
The adoption of the scarf comes therefore with a change in strategy. The brainstorming workshop “Contraception and Abortion” that would take place every year in the last ENM is replaced with a workshop entitled “Strategies for the right to abort”. The legalization of abortion becomes a common goal and the workshop aims to deepen the discussions on this right that would often be blocked by the disruptions of Catholic fundamentalists. Thereby, the search of a way to make the struggle visible using the scarf fits into a new strategic line of the movement.
A banner of the pro-choice movement
Despite the creation of the Campaign in 2005, and the first presentation of the bill for Induced Abortion in 2007, the use of the green scarf remained for a long time solely at the hand of the most knowledgeable feminists.
As a dissemination tool, the Campaign’s activists would offer the scarf to public figures, but it would often be rejected before 2016. Following the Ni Una Menos movement (2015) that put the theme of gender-based violence in the foreground, the scarf was more widespread in feminist circles. A financial contribution, allowing the funding of the Campaign’s actions, begins to be requested in exchange of the scarf. For the first time on September 28th 2017, as part of the International Day of the Right to Abortion, the Campaign organizes its own event (whereas until then it would participate to events organized by other groups). It is a success.
However, in the narrative of the Campaign’s activists, the element that shifts the mobilization is the appearance of the green scarf in television in January 2018. As a result of this, the number of phone calls received by the Campaign explodes as well as the demand for scarves. While in 2016 – 2017, around 8 000 green scarves were produced each year, the Campaign had already distributed 100 000 pieces between January and June 2018.
Production methods of the official scarf are reconsidered to adapt to the demand but it is really hard to attain it at the beginning of the year 2018 : during the march in March 8th 2018, many are the protesters who are asking others where they managed to get their scarf from. In view of the shortage of the first months of 2018, individuals started selling green scarves just like the ones from the Campaign.
The scarf has therefore two main uses. First, it gives visibility to the everyday struggle. It is, in this way, tied by women and girls, for the majority, on their bag and worn every day. Walking in the street, going to work or to high school with this scarf attached therefore represents an act of micro-activism: the theme of abortion is no longer limited to the private sphere. Displayed by thousands of people, it embodies the social decriminalization of abortion: it is no longer taboo to express a favorable political opinion toward this right. In some settings, alternatives to the scarf are used. The green color alone becomes a sign of support to the pro-choice movement (green pendent, green ribbon, …). All the people that wear the green scarf do not necessarily participate to the events organized by the Campaign.
From 2018, the scarf gained another use: during public pro-choice meetings, activists are called to raise it and wave it. This mode of action, the pañuelazo (from pañuelo : the scarf, and the suffix -azo which designate the kick / the impact) was used for the first time February 19th 2018. The images of green tides created by this kind of action have an important media coverage. The parliamentary debate on Induced Abortion has thus been put on the agenda by the president Mauricio Macri at the end of March 2018, despite his opposition to its legalization. From this moment forward, the actions of the pro-choice movement have been multiplying and the green scarf is always present. Thereby, a few days before the historical vote of the Argentinian deputies in favor of the legalization of abortionJune 13th 2018, the bill carried by the Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion is voted by deputies, which means that it is going to be discussed in the Senate for the first time, … Continue reading, 3 years after Ni Una Menos a large-scale pañuelazo has been organized in front of the Parliament.
The dissemination of the green scarf in the Argentinian society depicts, therefore, a victory from the pro-choice movement in the struggle for the change of mentality regarding the status and role of women in it. The emergence in 2018 of the light blue scarf (pañuelo celeste) by opponents to the right to abortion (with the message: “let’s sav
e both lives”) shows that the Campaign’s strategy is winning. Its detractors are using the same methods to try to counteract this progress.
An insignia of the feminist movement
Wearing the green scarf does not only express a pro-choice position, it is a sign of belonging to the feminist movement.
Detaining the scarf is often the sign of a prior feminist engagement, yet it sometimes represents an invitation to join the movement. According to interviews with young women from the province of Buenos Aires, the scarf is often offered from women to women : offered to a friend that is not part of the organization or that is discovering the mobilization; offered from committed girls in the mobilizations to their mothers that sometimes have gone through an abortion but were not, until now, joining the movement. Offering the scarf is therefore a way of sharing with other women its own engagement.
Through this object, women and girls that wear it recognize themselves and experience sorority. Wearing the scarf is being conscious of the experienced domination in a patriarchal structure and having the will to end it. In the public transport or in the streets, according to activists, seeing that a woman is wearing the green scarf leads to a sense of greater security. They will be a potential support in case of sexist outrages or all kinds of assaults.
In one hand, activists recognize allies in the public space thanks to the scarf but this one, due to its subversive agenda, can generate, in the other hand, violent reactions, both verbally and physically, from opponents to the right to abortion and antifeminists. Behind the right to abortion, there is the questioning of a social assignment of women to maternity that is claimed. Consequently, if the green scarf bothers, it is because it symbolizes the social change in action.
The green scarf is therefore a component of the current struggle for the right to abortion in Argentina : it testifies the legitimacy of the claim, it gives visibility to the cause and federate, daily, the people who take part in the movement. At the heart of a visibility strategy, the omnipresence of the scarf has contributed to the support of the actions of the pro-choice movement and to make the right to a legal, safe and free abortion an essential theme during the presidential campaign in 2019, despite a context of economic and social crisis in Argentina.
Finally, building on its success, the green scarf has been taken up and adapted by organizations advocating the right to abortion in Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Equator, etc. As a symbol of a shared and global struggle, this object reunites, nowadays, a big part of Latin-American feminists.
To quote this article : Margaux Barbier, “The green scarf in Argentina or when the right to abort comes out of the closet”, 01.06.2020, ¡Basta Ya!.
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|↑1||Access to Induced Abortion in Argentina is very restrictive. Abortion is not punishable in two specific cases : when the pregnancy is the result of rape and when the pregnancy endangers the life or the health of the pregnant person.|
|↑2||Since 1986, a National Women Convening takes place every year in a province of the country. This event is independent, self-organized, pluralist, federal and horizontal. Two days per year, women and people from gender minorities come together in a same city, participate to workshops, hold debates on subjects that affect them and organize themselves.|
|↑3||June 13th 2018, the bill carried by the Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion is voted by deputies, which means that it is going to be discussed in the Senate for the first time, after 6 presentations of the bill in 10 years. In August 2018, the senators rejected the bill.|