INTERVIEW WITH WLW 2015 FELLOW, VICTORIA TESORIERO
At 15, Victoria Tesoriero needed an abortion but had no legal access to one in Argentina. Ten years later, as an adult with a burning passion for social justice, she felt called to action in the fight for abortion legalization so that other women would not have to go through what she did.
In 2015, Victoria was recommended by Global Fund for Women to apply for Women Leaders for the World, and the experience of meeting other women leaders from around the world only further drove her conviction for her cause.
At the end of 2020, Victoria and her fellow pro-choice activists prevailed in their fight for Argentinian reproductive rights. We caught up with her to chat about her journey in the fight for abortion legalization and where she thinks this journey will take her next.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
Interviewer is in bold
Victoria is in normal font
Hi Victoria, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I’m so excited to hear and share your story. I want to start by giving a huge congratulations on achieving abortion legalization in Argentina. That's a huge feat and such exciting progress for women’s reproductive rights. How does it feel to finally get that across the line?
I really can't believe it yet. I have a lot of free time now to think about what I'm going to do next! It was a huge effort for thousands of activists here. You can't even begin to imagine the amount of time and effort it took and the level of support that we had. It was an unbelievably great experience for me.
That’s amazing. So I want to start from the beginning, and hear a little bit about you, how you got involved with this, and what inspired you to join the movement.
I had a pregnancy at 15. I was a very good student, and I didn't want to be a mom at 15. That was 20 years ago, and no one was talking about abortion or anything, so it was very difficult and traumatic for me. I went to a private clinic and paid $1000 (which is a lot of money in Argentina) for an abortion at 11pm. I discovered that there were so many women having underground abortions, and no one was talking about it.
I couldn't talk about that for 10 years, until at 25, when I became an activist, because I always had a sensibility for social justice. It was 2001, and the country was suffering from a huge social crisis. People were organizing and lining up in the street just to get food. It was terrible. So I started there, and that’s when I saw how unfair things were for women, so I committed myself to women's rights and women's issues. I ended up joining the National Campaign for Legal Abortion, and every year I just got more and more involved -- organizing, mobilizing, preparing arguments for the activists to convince political parties, human rights organizations, and social and political organizations to join us in the fight for legal abortion.
Since I was very into politics, I started to lobby for legal abortion in congress to create the social and political conditions for more pro-choice people to join the discussion. For 10 years, we tried working with congress in different ways to convince people of our cause.
How did you find out about the Women Leaders for the World program and what motivated you to apply for it?
Because we needed money for our cause, Global Fund for Women supported us for years. They gave us between $15-$20,000 a year, and I was the one who was filling out the applications and submitting reports to them for the funds, so they knew me through that and recommended me and supported me to go through Women Leaders for the World in 2015.
In what way do you feel that going through WLW empowered you to go even further in your leadership journey?
The training was very exciting for me and so useful. But the best thing was meeting the other women and hearing their experiences of living through different difficult situations. It made me feel seen, and it made me realize that yes, this path, with struggles, is what you have to go through in order to get the goals you want.
I still stay in touch and catch up on what everyone has been doing every couple of months.
You've been at this for such a long time, and along the way there have been a lot of challenges. How did WLW better prepare you to navigate the challenges of fighting for abortion legalization?
I think it helped that the coaches reminded us sometimes experiences are successful and sometimes they are not. The importance of being a leader is to stick with your end goals and keep trying. You can have many obstacles, but you have to see them as the path to success. The obstacles have to happen for you to see other things you were not seeing, and to feel comfortable with that. Don't feel defeated by things that happen in the middle. Those are all of the learnings that you have to take with you to continue on your path. And I think that was a very important message that helped me turn mistakes or difficult situations into opportunities.
What advice do you have for other women who are looking to be like you and be more active in driving social justice forward?
Keep on mobilizing and meeting people and taking action. Be very persistent, and know how to value yourself and what you are doing for the world. Valuing yourself is very important. As time goes, you’ll see your goals solidify.
When it got hard, what gave you the resolve to push through?
Happiness, great ideas, and a lot of energy to bring those ideas to life! Everyone with their different skills and different personalities came together in mass support of this collective goal. The solidarity for the movement was amazing. It was an incredible experience, and I’m very happy to have lived it.
I know Monica [Menini] has been a part of this movement as well and also later graduated from WLW. Did you know her from the very beginning?
I met her some years after I joined the National Campaign for Legal Abortion. She was a part of a different organization called Catholics for Choice. In our culture, the influence of Catholic Church is very strong, so Catholics for Choice was a strategic voice for us to show there are Catholics who support abortion. She was our reference there inside the organization and a champion of feminism in a very Catholic and conservative province.
That's amazing that you two ended up meeting in that way and joining forces. You mentioned quite a few different smaller movements and organizations that all banded together. How many different organizations were there?
Yes, we were all allies, and I think it was the most important strategy to have so many organizations talking about legal abortion. Some of the alliances were very direct. For example, the alliances with the human rights organizations here were very strong because they had fought against the last dictatorship in the 70s.
That's so powerful. Do you have an idea of what you're tackling next? I imagine you're going to continue your activism and be really involved in social justice issues.
I think I’ll always be invested in feminist issues. We're thinking about going and helping other countries in Latin America to legalize abortion. This law really impacts the lives of women and girls, and we want to try to expand the right to decide.
We are also thinking about how to empower women to be in powerful places of decision. We still have a lot to do! It's great what we can do when we are united, when we join our ideas and our energy and our thoughts. I never imagined we could get to this place where we have super massive organizations. We have a new generation of girls from age 10 to 15 joining us in the movement for feminism. It’s very touching, and I want to keep on that path of trying to advance.
I love that. Thank you so much for sharing your story. This is the part that I love most about being a part of How Women Lead -- just hearing stories from women like you. I really appreciate your time and the work you do for your community and the world. I look forward to following your journey ahead, especially as you take this movement to neighboring countries in Latin America.
Well, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity and the interview. I hope that I can continue motivating other girls and women around the world!
To learn more about the National Campaign for Legal Abortion, visit http://www.abortolegal.com.ar/
Interested in accelerating your impact as a change-maker in your community? For more information about how you can join our global network of women leaders solving some of the most intractable problems in nonprofits, social entrepreneurship, media, politics/government, and business, visit us at https://www.howwomenlead.com/women-leaders-for-the-world-fellows.