— Vilma Ibarra, the highest authorized adviser to the president of Argentina

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In his annual speech earlier than Congress in March, President Alberto Fernández of Argentina did one thing few, if any, of his predecessors had completed earlier than: He devoted a big chunk of the 90-minute speech to the “rights of girls.”

He vowed to assist moms get again to work by constructing extra preschools and stated that “the struggle in opposition to gender violence” must be a high precedence for everybody in Argentina.

The speech got here simply months after the nation grew to become probably the most populous in Latin America to legalize abortion, fulfilling one in every of Mr. Fernández’s key guarantees throughout his marketing campaign for president.

Mr. Fernández stands out as the spokesman for this feminist agenda, however behind the scenes, three womenwho confer with themselves as “feminists” and “activists”, are driving the change: Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the nation’s first minister of Girls, Genders and Variety; Vilma Ibarra, the president’s high authorized adviser who has the authority to jot down payments and decrees (she wrote the nation’s landmark abortion invoice); and Mercedes D’Alessandro, the nation’s first nationwide director of economic system, equality and gender inside the Economic system Ministry, and the creator of “Feminist Economics.”

Mr. Fernández was inaugurated in December 2019, simply months earlier than the coronavirus pandemic hit Argentina. Nearly instantly, the three girls — Ms. Alcorta, Ms. Ibarra and Ms. D’Alessandro — sprang into motion. They labored throughout authorities departments and organizations to categorise shelters for survivors of gender-based violence as important providers in the course of the lockdown. They turned pharmacies into areas the place survivors might use a code phrase (“purple face masks”) to discreetly point out they had been being abused in order that the pharmacist would then name the police for them. They arrange emergency meals supply methods and despatched money funds to the unemployed, in addition to casual employees and home helpers — a majority of whom are girls — to make up for misplaced earnings.

The nation was rapidly ranked by the United Nations as having the highest number of gender-sensitive Covid-19 responses on the planet.

Ms. Alcorta, Ms. Ibarra and Ms. D’Alessandro spoke with In Her Phrases from the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires in regards to the subsequent huge objects on their coverage agenda and the way their WhatsApp group of feminine authorities leaders helps to shake up what continues to be a male-dominated area.

The dialog has been translated and condensed.

Argentina leads the world in its gender-sensitive responses to Covid-19. Might you define precisely what these measures are?

Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta: Many of the measures we adopted fall inside three teams.

The primary group is concentrated on gender-based violence. Along with enhancing current communication channels and coordinating with the judiciary, we additionally labored to create new communication channels via WhatsApp and e-mail. We declared providers associated to gender-based violence key important providers and did the identical with shelters or properties for folks going through gender-based violence.

The second group is concentrated on meals emergencies, particularly with reference to the trans group. Trans individuals are notably weak in our nation and lots of, even as we speak, earn a residing from prostitution. So we established measures for them, together with meals supply to their properties and protections to forestall them from being evicted.

The third group is concentrated on emergency household earnings, which reached 9 million folks in Argentina, a big share of whom had been girls and folks in extremely weak conditions.

Mercedes D’Alessandro: The emergency household allowance was completed with the understanding that many ladies work within the casual sector. So once we launched the help measure, we targeted particularly on girls in precarious positions. We additionally gave girls entry to this emergency allowance in the event that they work from home, so-called housewives. This was a technique to acknowledge unremunerated, unpaid work.

For all of us, it’s a precedence. We perceive that the work completed by girls at residence, together with care work, is a basic pillar of social life and the economic system. Usually, once you use the phrase “employee,” you concentrate on somebody accumulating a wage. However right here, we have a look at a “employee” as somebody who does work, even when it’s unpaid, to help her household.

How do you reply to critics who say {that a} give attention to girls and gender equality shouldn’t be a precedence once we’re coping with an financial disaster and a pandemic?

Alcorta: From Day 1 of his administration, President Fernández stated he was going to begin on the backside, with probably the most deprived, and there’s no doubt that it’s all the time girls who’re worse off in all societies; particularly poor girls.

There could also be criticism however the place do you need to start? And who do you need to help together with your insurance policies? The president has made it very clear that that is particularly necessary not simply institutionally, but additionally — if you happen to have a look at it when it comes to funding — each peso that has gone into the budgets for these areas helps make our societies extra truthful.

D’Alessandro: When the pandemic broke out in Argentina and the lockdown was enforce, financial exercise for women and men fell by 10 p.c. When issues began to open up, males recovered their jobs a lot quicker than girls. At present, based mostly on the information now we have for the third quarter of 2020, we see that ladies’s financial exercise mirrors their financial exercise from 2002 — so we went again 20 years! We will’t pause the agenda proper now — quite the opposite, we have to increase it and preserve going.

In August, the Economic system Ministry printed a report on the unpaid care economy. It discovered that unpaid care and home work quantity to nearly 16 p.c of G.D.P. — making it the most important sector of Argentina’s economic system — and that 75 p.c of care work is carried out by girls. What are your plans to handle the gender hole in unpaid home work and care?

Alcorta: The Ministry of Girls, Genders and Diversities has created a particular workplace to cope with care insurance policies. In February 2020, we put collectively an inter-ministerial fee, together with 14 ministries and strategic departments, targeted particularly on crafting care insurance policies.

We’ve additionally introduced the creation of 800 kindergartens, nurseries and day care facilities across the nation, and we additionally need to have a look at go away insurance policies to be shared by mother and father — so paternity and maternity leaves — to create extra equality on the office. Earlier than President Fernández’s administration, we didn’t have any of this stuff that we at the moment are taking a look at.

D’Alessandro: Within the pandemic, we discovered that exercise within the unpaid care sector is the one sector that went up, whereas all different sectors fell. So, it’s necessary from an financial standpoint. And people 800 day care facilities — they don’t seem to be simply making a bodily area the place kids might be sorted, however they’re additionally a technique to create jobs and alternatives. Whenever you create a brand new system, you might be professionalizing the care work and you might be additionally recognizing the worth of that work.

Violence in opposition to girls is an enormous downside in Argentina. The variety of girls killed reached a 10-year excessive in the course of the lockdown, and there have been main protests in opposition to violence relationship again to nearly six years in the past. Why is that this nonetheless occurring?

Alcorta: The femicide charge in Argentina has remained excessive for the previous 20 years and people of us who examine this phenomenon know that there are various points that create the circumstances for excessive violence. Usually, greater inequality is correlated with extra violence. Gender stereotypes even have lots to do with this as does the tradition — some Latin American societies are extra tolerant of this violence. And naturally, there are the shortcomings within the state businesses, just like the police. Till 2015, Argentina didn’t formally monitor femicides. They was referred to as “crimes of ardour.” And there was no institutional construction that regarded into violence in opposition to girls, so we created a nationwide, federal company.

The modifications wanted are enormous and structural in nature to allow them to’t be resolved in a few years or with one administration.

The president has made gender equality a precedence, however girls are nonetheless a minority amongst ministers and different excessive positions in authorities. Will that change?

Ibarra: Not so a few years in the past, there weren’t any girls in any respect in high-ranking positions and the creation of the Ministry of Girls is a serious spotlight of this administration. Now, is that sufficient? No. However we’re significantly better off than the place we was.

We began a bunch on WhatsApp referred to as “Girls in Authorities” — a community of greater than 250 girls. And we get collectively, now we have discussions, we share experiences and assist each other. It’s necessary as a result of we come from a tradition that’s male dominated and it’s simpler for males to workforce up. So every girl and feminist who joins the federal government is opening up doorways to alter issues.

Alcorta: This administration has the very best share of girls in high-ranking positions — 37.5 p.c, in contrast with the earlier administration which had 22 p.c. Actually, as you go as much as the extent of ministers, you see that share get smaller. Argentina was additionally the primary nation in Latin America and the Caribbean that set a gender quota for Congress in 1991 and, since 2017, now we have a parity regulation for Congress.

Till we took workplace 13 provinces had parity legal guidelines, and there was nonetheless one other 10 left. Final yr, seven provinces carried out provincial parity legal guidelines as effectively and now now we have three left. One among our targets is to work with these remaining provinces so that every one provinces have parity. This can be a course of — participation in Congress permits girls to additionally change into officers within the government department.

D’Alessandro: We will advocate legal guidelines associated to gender parity and request that ladies are represented within the excessive ranges of presidency and in Congress, however we nonetheless have many critical issues. Within the judiciary, there’s a transparent gender hole, but additionally in commerce unions and within the enterprise sector. I believe this demonstrates the difficulties of society, which, at its core, continues to be a male-dominated patriarchal, unequal construction with clear discrimination in opposition to girls. That’s what we have to struggle.

It’s fascinating that you simply usually name yourselves feminists and activists. That form of language is uncommon — possibly even radical — for presidency officers. Do you face any backlash for that?

Ibarra: Sure, however we welcome that. Every time somebody says, “The place is the ministry for males?,” we are saying, “Effectively, males don’t have to get collectively and defend their rights and that’s nice. However we have to guarantee that girls have the identical rights.” That’s why we’re feminists. We’re not in opposition to males. All we need to do is take aside a system that has abused and damage girls.