amnesty and women’s rights and wrongs

Amnesty International have been at the Hay Festival this past week, collecting signatures for their latest action on Nicaragua. You can see their ‘butterfly’ action here. This is the third Amnesty action in under six months which has focused on sexual violence and the banning of therapeutic abortion in Nicaragua.

What can be wrong with that? Anything that adds its support to the Nicaraguan organisations which are campaigning on women’s rights, sometimes in difficult circumstances, has to be welcomed? Well, when we asked Amnesty Wales to sign a very similar letter of protest to the Nicaraguan government in 2007, after we had meetings with Nicaraguan organisations, we were told that the ban on therapeutic abortion wasn’t a priority.

What is even stranger is the singling out of Nicaragua. Though Amnesty press releases have also focused on El Salvador and Chile as other countries where all forms of abortion are banned, Nicaragua has been repeatedly targeted for actions. Strange when the two countries have recently had Left leaning Presidents. One of them, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, has been appointed head of the new international body, UN Women, though she made no efforts to decriminalise abortion.

The reality is, whatever the intentions of the Presidents of Chile and El Salvador, it would have been very difficult for them to overturn the ban. Partly it’s a matter of parliamentary arithmetic. Partly, it’s a matter of culture, where deeply patriarchal societies across Latin America have led to the conditions where sexual violence and the lack of reproductive rights can be deeply ingrained. One of the most complete accounts of the current state of reproductive rights on the continent is available here, at the always interesting Upsidedownworld website.

News out this week about the number of women prosecuted in Nicaragua for having illegal abortions, and recent reports of sexual violence, are deeply disturbing. However, the problems faced trying to overturn the ban on therapeutic abortion are illustrated by an article earlier this year on tortillaconsal. Karla Jacobs summarised recent research into attitudes towards abortion in four countries. It showed that whilst most of the countries would welcome more flexibility on the current limited (or no) access to abortion, there wasn’t large support for extending the provision.

For an idea about the tensions that exist within the women’s movement in Nicaragua, see Karla Jacobs again with an interview with Nicaraguan Feminist Marcia Saavedra.

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