Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
Protesters holding a sign stating Not a single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion’ ;

The 'Pañuelo Verde' Across Latin America: a Symbol of Transnational and Local Feminist (Re)volution

The pañuelo verde (green scarf) has become the defining symbol of contemporary Latin American feminism. Emerging in Argentina, a ‘green tide’ (marea verde) of reproductive rights activism has swept from there across the continent. Based on my research with feminist activists in Peru, by following the travels of the pañuelo verde we can see how it reflects both the transnational and local dimensions of feminist activism. This blog post will explore the role of the pañuelo as a feminist symbol and what this can tell us about contemporary Latin American feminism.

Protesters holding a sign stating Not a single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion’

‘Not a single woman dead as a result of clandestine abortion’ (Photo: Twitter ‘Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito’)1

While it has become increasingly visible in the last three years, the pañuelo verde was born in Argentina in 2003. It is the emblem of the Argentine ‘National Campaign for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion’ (see Figure 1). This campaign explicitly links legal abortion to several other issues; the slogan on the scarf reads ‘sexual education to decide, contraception not to abort, legal abortion not to die’. It also ties this campaign to the history of women’s activism in Argentina, as it is directly inspired by the white scarves worn by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo2. This symbolic link between mothers campaigning for the return of their children and the campaign for legal abortion has been controversial given that the Madres’ activism was explicitly tied to a politics of motherhood. However, for abortion campaigners, motherhood is fundamentally a matter of choice, summed up by the feminist slogan as ‘motherhood will be wanted, or it will not be at all’ (la maternidad será deseada o no será).

One of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo wearing a white pañuelo, 2008

One of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo wearing a white pañuelo, 2008 (Photo: Wikipedia)3

The journeys that the pañuelo verde takes across Latin America, symbolically and physically, are revealing about feminist networks. In the last few years, the pañuelo has also spread from Argentina to become a symbol of renewed feminist activism across Latin America. Briefly, in 2018, countries came up with their own colours of pañuelo for nationally-specific campaigns, such as lilac in Ecuador, white in Mexico, and beige in Peru4. However, it quickly became clear that the green pañuelo was the symbol that feminists were going to use across all of Latin America. The transnational dimension of the scarf gives it greater symbolic weight and allows activists to draw strength from movements in other countries. While activists in Argentina, Mexico, and Chile have had some success5 in arguing for changes to abortion laws, in Peru support for legalising abortion is still much lower than its neighbours6. As of 2020, abortion is illegal in Peru except in case of a threat to the life or health of the mother (and in practice it is extremely difficult to get a legal therapeutic abortion). In practice, clandestine abortion is rampant, each year more than 300,000 women undergo illegal abortions7. Legal progress in other Latin American countries shows that change is possible, as epitomised by the campaign’s hashtag ‘#SeráLey’ (It will be law), and is therefore a huge inspiration to Peruvian feminists who face harsh and at times violent opposition.

An activist wears a pañuelo verde during an anti-gender violence protest in Lima, June 2019

An activist wears a pañuelo verde during an anti-gender violence protest in Lima, June 2019 (Photo: author’s own)

As well as being a symbol, the pañuelo is also a tangible object that exists in physical space, one that travels with feminists around cities and across borders. On a daily basis, the decision to wear a pañuelo outwardly expresses a feminist identity, communicating with other activists but also exposing oneself to backlash from the public. The position of the pañuelo on the body communicates different messages. On marches, particularly those linked to abortion rights, Peruvian activists wear it in the ‘traditional’ way, tied around the neck, so that the logo and slogan are visible, centring the issue of abortion and reproductive rights. In performances, marches that are not explicitly feminist, or just in their everyday life, feminists may wear it tied around the wrist. This a way of communicating a particular identity in a more subtle way. For example, when feminist activists met with Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra in January 2020, they wore their pañuelos around their wrists, rather than around their necks. When it is tried around the wrist, the slogan disappears, but the green is still visible and communicates the message to those who understand. However, wearing the pañuelo in public, the wearer has to deal with the potential responses of people around them8.

President Martín Vizcarra receives relatives of victims of gender violence, feminist activists and women’s rights’ defenders demanding that violence against women be declared a national emergency, January 2020

‘President Martín Vizcarra receives relatives of victims of gender violence, feminist activists and women’s rights’ defenders demanding that violence against women be declared a national emergency’, January 2020 (Photo: Mano Alzada)9

The physical movement of the pañuelo verde across borders shows the ways that feminist movements are interconnected both internationally and locally. Obtaining a pañuelo verde has become a sort of feminist rite of passage. Activists obtain pañuelos through feminist networks and use them to mark their belonging to a transnational movement. Some activists sell them as a way of raising money, for example in Peru, activists sell pañuelos bought in bulk from Argentina on the e-commerce site Mercado Libre and advertise their sale through Whatsapp, Twitter, or Instagram. Others make DIY pañuelos from green fabric cut into a large triangle, writing on their own slogans using permanent marker. In its travels around Latin America, the pañuelo is shaped and transformed by local practices but remains a symbol of transnational feminist activism.

Alternative pañuelos hanging in an activist’s house, Cuzco, Peru

Alternative pañuelos hanging in an activist’s house, Cuzco, Peru, September 2019 (Photo: author’s own)

The pañuelo verde is a key symbol of feminism in Latin America and part of the new activist’s toolkit; it features in a variety of feminist protests, not just those campaigning for legal abortion. It is part of a process of feminist identity creation. It also shows the ways that feminism in Latin America operates on transnational and local levels; Peruvian feminists using the pañuelo give it new meanings in a different context, while still retaining its importance as a transnational symbol.

 

  1. UNIDIVERSIDAD, ‘La Marcha Federal por el Aborto Legal culminó frente al Congreso de la Nación’, UNIDIVERSIDAD, accessed 27 July 2020, http://www.unidiversidad.com.ar/la-marcha-federal-por-el-aborto-legal-culmino-frente-al-congreso-de-la-nacion.
  2. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo are a group of mothers who campaign for answers and justice for their children who were ‘disappeared’ by the Argentine state during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
  3. ‘File:Madre de La Plaza de Mayo - 2008.Jpg’, in Wikipedia, accessed 3 August 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Madre_de_la_Plaza_de_Mayo_-_2008.jpg.
  4. ‘Proyecto de ley de Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo’, Revista Furias (blog), 18 June 2018, http://revistafurias.com/proyecto-de-ley-de-interrupcion-voluntaria-del-embarazo/.
  5. ‘Presidenta Bachelet Promulgó La Ley de Aborto En Tres Causales - Cooperativa.Cl’, accessed 27 July 2020, https://www.cooperativa.cl/noticias/pais/salud/aborto/presidenta-bachelet-promulgo-la-ley-de-aborto-en-tres-causales/2017-09-14/115154.html; Forbes Staff, ‘Entra en vigor ley que despenaliza el aborto en Oaxaca • Forbes México’, Forbes México, 29 October 2019, https://www.forbes.com.mx/entra-en-vigor-ley-que-despenaliza-el-aborto-en-oaxaca/; ‘Argentina Moves to Guarantee Abortion Access in Rape Cases - The New York Times’, accessed 27 July 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/12/world/americas/argentina-abortion-rape-hospitals.html.
  6. ‘Opinión sobre el aborto en América Latina 2018’, Statista, accessed 27 July 2020, https://es.statista.com/estadisticas/1057681/opinion-aborto-america-latina-pais/.
  7. Alvaro Taype-Rondan and Nicolaz Merino-Garcia, ‘Hospitalizaciones y muertes por aborto clandestino en Perú: ¿Qué dicen los números?’, Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Pública 33, no. 4 (13 December 2016): 829–30, https://doi.org/10.17843/rpmesp.2016.334.2573.
  8. ‘Córdoba: atacan a un joven por llevar un pañuelo verde de la Campaña por el Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito’, ANRed, accessed 27 July 2020, https://www.anred.org/2018/10/09/105032/.
  9. Mano Alzada, ‘Presidente Martín Vizcarra Recibe a Familiares, Activistas Feministas, Defensoras de Los Derechos de Las Mujeres Que Reclaman Declarar La Violencia Contra La Mujer En Emergencia Nacional’, Facebook, accessed 23 April 2020, https://www.facebook.com/manoalzadalima/posts/1516163051876165.

Feminist Perspectives

Feminist Perspectives is a blog created to publish research-based work – like academic research and think pieces – and art-based projects that uses gender as a category of analysis or…

Latest news