Birding and conservation. Birding and environmental advocacy. Birding and progressive politics. Birding and feminism. See where I am going here?
Some people want to keep politics out of birding all together, but I am of the mind that politics rule our lives in every decision we make, even in our recreational lives. Birding and conservation—and I lump reproductive rights of women into conservation—go together, in my opinion. A woman’s choice to control her child bearing means less human impact on the planet, something our planet desperately needs.
Strong women have long been pioneers in the birding world, contesting chauvinism and making history as authors, artists, scientists, field guides and leaders. But the word “feminist” didn’t overtly enter the lexicon of birders until the advent of The Feminist Bird Club by Molly Adams in 2016. Adams’ use of the word and its weight with birding—to the ire of some and the delight of others—brought a distinct political and social leaning.
And it was this social and political vigor ( and club mission statement offering a safe place for anyone identifying as female or non-binary, and their allies) which attracted Victoria Boano of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Boano, 37, is an translator, editor and writer, and the author of the children’s book in Spanish, Aves de Buenos Aires. She is also the founder of the first international sister chapter of the Feminist Bird Club, called Colectiva de Observadoras de Aves Feminista (Feminist Birders Collective), or COA Feminista.
Boano brought a very specific angle to the Feminist Bird Club ethic, too: Abortion rights. It was not a stretch to combine abortion with a spin-off of the Feminist Bird Club, as the US Feminist Bird Club donates proceeds from bird badge sales to a variety of non-profits supporting progressive causes, among them women’s health clinics that provide reproductive services.
Abortion came close to being legalized in Argentina last summer, and the debate about it was fraught and headline making. Boano established COA Feminista before the vote in Argentina was determined, when the political climate was intense on this issue throughout the country. Those for legalizing abortion wore green bandannas and makeup, while those opposed wear light blue bandannas. Despite this latest setback for abortion rights advocates, their outreach continues, as you will see below in the frequent appearance of those green bandannas among the COA Feminista members.
I emailed with Boano throughout December 2018 and below is the resulting interview with her about this group of women birders bringing a social cause and environmental agenda with them into the field. All photos courtesy of COA Feminista.
Why did you decide to create this group?
I'm not an expert birder by (any) means, but I was inspired by an article posted in the NYTimes about Molly Adam's Feminist Bird Club, and thought it was a fantastic idea, so I contacted her first to do the Feminist Birding Club here in BA, a chapter of her group, but then it morphed into a thing of its own when other members started to join in.
Once I decided I wanted to be a part of something like this, I contacted a very experienced birder and journalist to tell her about my idea, and she loved it, and told others, and soon we decided to meet at somebody's home and the rest is history.
What is the demographic make up of the members? age range, professions, political leanings, how many members?
I live in the city of Buenos Aires (the group consists of members living in Buenos Aires city and different areas of the province of Buenos Aires. The age range is wide, 20 to 50 something, I would say.
Most of us are biology students or biologists or future park rangers, but we also have a couple of wildlife experts, journalists, a professional cello player and myself, I'm a translator and author. We are all left-leaning but with different perspectives on some things. For now, we only welcome women and dissident identities. On our last couple of walks we have been around 20.
Are there other chapters of this group in Argentina?
Not that we know of.
Does your group have formal scientific ambition, such as citizen science auditing for conservation?
We have discussed it, and we have an eBird account to record the species we find in each walk. Some of us are scientists so we try to make each walk an educational experience: those who know more about birds or plants always share their knowledge with others. We are taking it slow because most of us have careers, families and other political commitments.
How do you recruit for your group?
Word of mouth mostly, and we also get a lot of responses when we post on FaceBook, because our members share the event in their walls and it reaches people who might be interested and think it's a wonderful idea!
I notice a connection to the abortion rights movement with the color green and the bandanna. Is this intentional?
Yes, very much so. We make it a condition to be a part of the group, to agree with the legalization and de-penalization of abortion in Argentina. We can disagree on many things but we decided we at least have to agree on this.
I've read that feminist groups are very active in Argentina. How mainstream is the movement? What percentage of Argentine women (an estimate or your perception is fine) embrace feminism?
I really can't say that, but I do see that a high number of young people consider themselves feminists. For older generations, it's a little bit trickier, they are more traditional and feminism and feminist were considered and used by some as insults. I do think that now that feminism is present in mainstream media (not all the time, but almost every day there is something happening connected with gender violence, feminism, women and transgender rights, etc), it has gained a little bit of a more positive connotation. It's a huge step forward, and the result of patient work by activists for years, that now everybody is talking openly about abortion and other issues.
What is the atmosphere in Argentina that inspires and supports such feminist groups?
It depends on where you are. The city of Buenos Aires is a little bit more progressive, but if you go to the provinces, particularly in the north and center (of the country), the situation is very (traditional). Abortion is not legal and (women are) even penalized (if they seek an illegal one). Women are murdered and raped every day (as an example of the disregard and complacency for women’s rights in general).
It's not the atmosphere (in Argentina) that is supportive, it's the activists' groups' work and the fact that women and other identities feel like they (have) had enough. We have gay marriage and other very advanced legislation but abortion is still not legal.
Is the feminist movement younger women or also older women, 50s and up?
Some older women paved the way, but now it's the daughters' revolution, as Luciana Peker aptly described it (in this article in Ms Magazine, Inside Argentina’s Revolution of the Daughters).
What kind of response does your group get when in the field--support? curiosity?
Yes, but most people don't say anything. I think they are surprised, we have gotten some questions. We usually go to less common places so we don't run into other birders. We have created quite a ruckus in the birding "scene" of Buenos Aires, a very male-dominated field, that's for sure, but they have mostly been very polite and have not contacted us or discouraged us in any way so far.
What are the birding hot spots on your route, in BA for instance?
We try to visit different parks and reserves in the city. We have been to Reserva Costanera Norte, Reserva Ecológica Vicente López and Reserva de Bernal. We try to go to urban green spaces that are in danger or not very well known, as a way of claiming that space and showing that it is a good birding space.