Columnist Vijay Prashad: This feminist is the future of Argentina

  • Ofelia Fernández and Vijay Prashad. Fernández is running to be a legislator for the city of Buenos Aires; if she wins, she will be the youngest person to do so. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 10/7/2019 6:00:56 PM

Ofelia Fernández bursts into the room with a large smile on her face. She has come for an interview between a million other things.

On Oct. 27, Argentina faces an important election from the presidential to the municipal levels. Ofelia is running to be a legislator for the city of Buenos Aires; if she wins, she will be the youngest person to do so. Ofelia does not want to talk about her age. She wants to talk politics.

Argentina has a vibrant feminist movement, which became a major political force a few years ago with the Ni Una Menos or Not One More Woman movement. Massive demonstrations in her native Buenos Aires drew Ofelia into this orbit. “Ni Una Menos,” the protestors chanted, and then others answered, “viva nos queremos!” (we want us alive).

At that time, Ofelia was the president of her high school student union. Her society, she said forthrightly then, is “100% machista, but we are now starting to hear about abortion, about women’s trafficking, about femicide. We are starting to speak about gender inequality.” Ofelia, then 15, said  “Being a feminist is about understanding these realities, criticizing them, but mostly it is about doing something to transform them.”

Argentina has been in the midst of a terrible economic crisis, exacerbated by its President Mauricio Macri. A visit to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year put Argentina at the mercy of Washington, D.C. Borrowing came alongside demands by the IMF for austerity inside Argentina. The country’s currency plummeted, its people’s incomes and savings collapsed. Because of the widespread unhappiness with his government, the situation is known as the “Macrisis.” 

“There is a sensation of chaos,” Ofelia tells me, “an uncertainty about the future, a feeling that this government is simply unable to keep up with the problems that it faces.”

Feminism

Ofelia is running as a candidate of the coalition known as Frente de Todos – Everybody’s Front, which is led by Alberto Fernández and Christina Fernández de Kirchner (the former president). Neither Alberto nor Christina are related to Ofelia. The logo of the Front is clever. The second “o” is replaced by a sun. This removes the masculine sense in the word “todos”; young Argentinians often use an “x” or an “e” as part of their anti-patriarchal culture. The bright sun in the logo also offers a symbol of hope and aspiration.

Feminism is key to Ofelia, but in a broad way. Last year, the feminist journalist Luciana Peker described the new movement for abortion rights as “the revolution of the daughters” (la revolución de las hijas). Ofelia was happy to talk about the abortion campaign. If her coalition wins, she said, it will take up the issue vigorously and not allow it to fail as it did last year.

But Ofelia does not want to define her politics narrowly. She wanted to make it clear that feminism must take up all the social issues from a feminist perspective – not allow itself to be restricted to “women’s issues,” which are themselves, she pointed out, everyone’s issues.

In the poorer parts of Argentina, organizations have emerged to fight against the outcome of the crisis. Hunger is a serious issue, with special emphasis on the hunger of children. Most of the leaders of these popular organizations, Ofelia said, are women. Their fight around the economy of care and against austerity must also be seen as a feminist fight. The fight against hunger, Ofelia said, is also feminism.

The political system imagines that women are only interested in “women’s issues,” she said, when women in politics must be interested in power. The entire framework of policymaking – what is known as neoliberalism – must be challenged. Governments must create policies that lift the capacity of the people, not that only answer to the bond holders and the creditors. This is the kind of politics imagined by Ofelia.

Youth

In the election this year, 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to cast their votes for the first time in the national election. There are now 6 million people between the ages of 18 and 24. They comprise 22% of the electorate.

The major social campaigns of the past few years – particularly the feminist campaign – galvanized many young people, including Ofelia, into politics. Polling data shows that these young people define their political landscape around the issues of gender violence, abortion and racism. This suggests that they will vote for the coalition to which Ofelia belongs.

Across Argentina, I run into young people who belong to Ofelia’s political tendency – Frente Patria Grande. This political organization emerged out of the mass demonstrations in 2001-02 around the collapse of Argentina’s economy. Large numbers of people blocked streets and banged pots and pans, earning themselves the name the “piqueteros” (the picketers). Most of those who took to the streets were women, which is why there are so many women in Patria Grande.

Ofelia says that her generation needs a new utopia. They want to believe in anything other than the reality that does not meet their expectations. They want a world of gender equality and without environmental destruction, a world where bankers do not suffocate dreams.

“We are impatient,” she says. “Our impatience is a strength. It must be accompanied by perseverance. We cannot give up.”

Vijay Prashad is the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He lives in Northampton.


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