Today is International Women’s Day: Let’s celebrate…and redouble our efforts

The U.S. can learn from progress other nations have made in expanding reproductive freedom

This article by Executive Director Tara Romano originally appeared in NC Newsline.

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day set aside more than 100 years ago for women around the world to advocate for our rights and liberties.

This IWD we can expect to see inspirational memes and graphics across social media, coming from corporations, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and politicians from all political backgrounds touting women’s empowerment.

It’s enormously important to see and hear this kind of public affirmation — particularly during a time in which some supposedly mainstream outlets, institutions, and politicians are fomenting a backlash against gender justice progress and even attempting to revive the archaic idea that “a woman’s place is in the home.” 

We should also remember and celebrate the fact that IWD originated as a way for women in different countries to rally for fundamental liberties — like the right to vote, to hold public office, to work in safe environments, and to call for peace and for an end to discrimination and misogyny. IWD is a day to advocate for gender justice and to build solidarity across borders — something that will obviously take more than a few flowery #IWD social media posts. 

Of course, one critically important aspect of gender equality is reproductive freedom. Equal access to abortion as part of the full range of maternal healthcare is a key component of ensuring the right to control one’s body without government interference, which itself is critical to gender equality.

And sadly, abortion rights in many states, including North Carolina, have been eroding for years — a trend that’s accelerated at a frightening pace since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v Wade. Since that decision, 21 states have either banned or severely restricted abortion access.

Thankfully, over the last decade, several other nations have been moving in the opposite direction by liberalizing and modernizing their abortion laws. The list includes: 

  • Ireland repealed by popular vote its restrictive abortion ban in 2018.
  • Argentina’s legislature decriminalized abortion up to 14 weeks in 2020.
  • The Supreme Court of Mexico declared the country’s absolute ban on abortion to be unconstitutional in 2021. This same court then ruled that abortion should be decriminalized at the national level in 2023.
  • The Constitutional Court of Columbia ruled to decriminalize abortion up to 24 weeks in 2022.
  • Just this week, France enshrined the right to abortion in the country’s constitution.

And while there is still a long road ahead to ensuring that everyone across the globe who needs access to abortion can get it in a timely and dignified manner, the trend in most countries is toward imposing fewer restrictions on care. Indeed, the United States is now a global outlier and one of only four countries that have rolled back abortion access in the past decade, along with El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland. 

Three of the countries listed above (Argentina, Columbia, and Mexico) have been part of what is known as Latin America’s Green Wave. Abortion rights activists in those countries, where conservative and anti-abortion beliefs were long dominant, have spent decades advocating for change on the local governmental level, as well as on the personal level — organizing communities one household at a time in addition to providing practical care and support for people seeking abortion, even at great legal risk to themselves.

As they organized individual communities to come together on state and national levels, the advocates also looked to their colleagues in other countries, including the United States — to learn what was working, how to modify and adapt successful campaigns to be relevant to their communities, what traps and pitfalls to avoid, and how they could collaborate to further move their efforts forward. 

Now, in keeping with the spirit of IWD, it may well be time for advocates here to take a cue from this practice. While the dominant U.S. media narrative portrays our country as the all-knowing model for other democracies and too unique and exceptional to derive any lessons from others, the success of activists elsewhere tells a different story. Those victories make clear that it’s past time for abortion rights advocates to look to our colleagues in the Global South to help lead us out of our dangerous backslide.

And the truth is that anti-abortion actors, particularly from our country, are already sharing their ideas to restrict reproductive freedom around the globe. It’s time we built real solidarity across borders to counter those forces.

There are obviously significant differences for every community, even within countries, so that there will rarely be a “one-size-fits-all” solution that can be delivered fully formed to all of us doing this work. But the ideas, inspiration, tools, and empowerment that we can develop through cross-border cooperation will help enormously in keeping us engaged for the lengthy and often difficult challenge that lies ahead — the challenge of not just restoring what was lost, but of building the world of our deepest aspirations in which reproductive freedom is a genuine reality for everyone.

This International Women’s Day let’s make a commitment to look beyond our borders, whatever those may be, to build a community of bold and connected advocates. 

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