Out with the gender perspective: Javier Milei and Nayib Bukele are leading the extreme right’s latest crusade in Latin America

The region’s far-right leaders are waging a battle against the gains made by the feminist movement

José Antonio Kast, Javier Milei y Nayib Bukele
Latin American anti-rights politicians José Antonio Kast, Javier Milei, and Nayib Bukele.Agencias / EL PAÍS
El País
Buenos Aires / Mexico / Bogotá / São Paulo / Santiago -

The culture war led by President Javier Milei in Argentina aims to erase the policies of equality put forward by feminists over the last decade. After having denied the existence of the wage gap between men and women — which official statistics place at 25% — and demoting the Minister of Women, Gender, and Diversity to the level of undersecretary, the government announced that it will prohibit inclusive language and “anything related to the gender perspective” in the national administration.

The official argument is that the gender perspective has been used “as a political tool” and has contributed to destroying values, which is why it is necessary to get rid of it. The president has not specified how it will reverse policies that are interdepartmental and that are part of international commitments that Argentina agreed to, such as the United Nations 2030 Agenda or the Belém do Pará Convention against gender-based violence. However, the effects of budget cuts are starting to be felt in key programs such as the telephone line 144 for victims of gender-based violence and the shelters created for them.

“It seems very serious to us as an institution,” says Carolina Villanueva, director of the Grow Género y Trabajo organization. Villanueva doubts that the government can stamp out the use of inclusive language in public institutions. Even so, she considers that the announcements are part of a broad strategy to repeal hard-won rights, such as the country’s comprehensive sex education law and the legalization of abortion. The response from feminist movements will be heard in the streets on March 8, International Women’s Day. Milei, however, has been joined by other ultra-right Latin American leaders such as Nayib Bukele.

Bukele, against “gender ideology”

The educational authorities of El Salvador have decided to “remove” what President Nayib Bukele has called “gender ideology” from the public school curriculum. The decision was announced by the Minister of Education, José Mauricio Pineda. The action has sparked criticism from feminist organizations, who claim that the Central American country has one of the highest rates of violence against girls and women in the region.

The measure comes after Bukele attacked the gender perspective at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in the United States. The controversial president assured attendees that he will not allow “those ideologies in schools and colleges.” Minister Pineda has stated that “every use or trace of gender ideology” has been “removed from public schools,” without giving more details about the implications of this decision.

Statistics show that women in El Salvador suffer high rates of violent deaths. Data from U.N. Women reveals that in 2019 the rate was 6.48 per 100,000 women. In addition, the organization cites reports from the country’s Attorney General’s Office, which indicate that in the first half of 2021, 315 women were reported missing, while the 2019 National Sexual Violence Survey reflected that, nationally, 63% of women (6 out of 10) said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual assault. “In general terms, women and girls experience continuous forms of violence and discrimination that are based on the patriarchal system and that require a comprehensive and integrated approach to eradicate it,” U.N. Women warns.

Colombia: from the peace process to María Fernanda Cabal

The year 2016 revealed the hidden power that conservative groups can exercise in defense of the “traditional family.” On October 2, in a scenario that no one had foreseen, Colombians rejected the peace agreement signed between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerrillas. Among the various reasons that led a majority of citizens to vote no to the agreements, the point on the gender approach — which highlighted equality between men, women, LGBTQ+, straight, and people with diverse identities — was the one that generated the most controversy.

The rejection that took place at the polls that October had been brewing for months. Evangelical and Catholic groups, with the support of former president Álvaro Uribe’s party, had taken to the streets that summer to protest against the government’s “indoctrination in gender identity” due to its guidelines on sexuality. The debate was ignited and fueled by fake news and viral information that distorted reality, but increased the anger of a sector of Colombian society that is so deeply conservative that it can set the agenda. María Fernanda Cabal, the leading senator of the most radical right wing, is a firm defender of these theses. She repeated the phrase: “Gender ideology is disgusting.”

Brazil: Bolsonaro and his children

In Brazil, Bolsonaro and his children used the diffuse concept “gender ideology” on their social media at least 206 times between 2014 and 2022, according to a count by the Diadorim agency. Use of the term has risen each time elections approach, demonstrating the potential to mobilize certain bases, especially among the powerful evangelical electorate. Far-right deputies even presented bills to prohibit the gender perspective in schools, but none advanced. The Supreme Court struck down up to four municipal laws that were along those lines, as they were found to be unconstitutional.

Unlike in some neighboring countries, in Brazil inclusive language never really took root. However, Bolsonaro’s head of cultural policy vetoed its use in projects that sought tax benefits, and the former president himself mocked the Argentine government when Alberto Fernández announced that he would use it in his official communications. “How does that help your people? The only thing that has changed is that now there are shortages, poverty, and unemployment. May God protect our Argentine brothers and help us get out of this difficult situation,” he said.

Chile: the balances of Kast

Inclusive language and the gender perspective have not been the main focuses of the Chilean Republican Party under José Antonio Kast’s extreme right political and conservative crusade, but they are present. The political group, which he founded in 2019, opposes equal marriage, the adoption rights of same-sex couples, abortion, sex education in schools, and an abstract set of ideas called “gender ideology.”

In his first presidential run ahead of the November 2021 elections, part of Kast’s program on culture called “Let’s recover the language, no more cultural deformation,” pointed out that “the so-called inclusive language is part of a political-ideological agenda, and not a cultural agenda. We are going to strengthen the correct use of language, with no forced imposition of its deviations or discrimination of any kind.” But, when he went to the second round to compete with Gabriel Boric, who was elected in December of that year, he did not mention the idea again.

In August 2022, a group of deputies from different groups, including Benjamín Moreno, from the Republican Party, presented a bill that modifies the General Education Law to establish “the correct use of language and the prohibition of so-called ‘inclusive language’ within the duties of education professionals and assistants in all educational institutions.” The parliamentarian then said that this language “[that comes] from ideology is trying to change the way we communicate and is starting to indoctrinate our children from an early age.”

The ultraconservatives of Mexico

In Mexico, ultraconservative groups have also put eradicating what they call “gender ideology” at the center of their agenda. This is in direct response to equality policies and the expansion of the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community. However, they are not the only ones who have spoken out against these hypotheses. For decades, more traditional parties such as the National Action Party (PAN) have voted against legislating in favor of abortion or have tried to stop same-sex marriages in some states. Perhaps the only difference between them is visible in the way they show their opinions, but not so much in the substance.

Eduardo Verástegui, a former actor, fanatical Catholic, and the last representative of the most conservative right, tried to get on the ballot for the next June elections. However, he did not get enough signatures to be able to register as a candidate. Nevertheless, he received the support of more than 160,000 of his fellow Mexicans and managed to capitalize on part of the discontent towards the López Obrador government. For several years, Verástegui has been linked to far-right circles. He has links to the far-right Vox party in Spain and leaders such as Donald Trump and Javier Milei. Like them, Verástegui has found a place on social media in which to spread his anti-rights speech in the search for clicks, likes online, and votes, as when he stated that abortion “is a crime,” or when he perpetuated the trope that being part of the LGBTQ+ community is linked to pedophilia.

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